The Pebble - By Brian Law 

Hearing him turn the lock on the back door, she waited until he entered and moved closer to her. Then, obviously annoyed, she asked, “Where have you been all this time? You just went out for a short walk and that was three hours ago! We’ve got a dinner party to go to!” 

As he took off his coat and hat and laid them down, he shook his head in response as he approached her. Slumping down in his chair, he sighed heavily and began, “I’m sorry I didn’t call, but things happened. Can I explain? Can the party wait for a bit?” 

Intrigued, she sat down across from him and waited, taking a quick look at her watch as she did. He continued, “Okay, I did intend to just go for a quick walk. But I got a small stone in my boot out by the old Jacob’s place and so I sat down on their stone wall to take it out.” He watched her for any indication that she might still be annoyed but got just the opposite impression. She was leaning in and was clearly expressing interest in his story. “So, I shake my boot and this small pebble drops out. And here’s where it gets interesting. This little stone looks nothing like any of the gravel on the path. It’s completely different in color, texture and shape. And I’d never seen anything like it myself. Ever.” 

She interrupted, “Did you keep it? Can I see it?” 

“Wait,” he replied, “I’ll get to that. So, I put my boot back on and am getting ready to head home when what’s-his-name walks up, the Professor who lives over by the creek. You know, the old guy who walks his dog all the time. Turns out he’s a geologist. What are the odds, right?” 

“You mean Dr. Weisenberg?” she wondered. 

“That’s him. He told me to call him Aaron,” he answered excitedly. “So he saw that I was holding this little pebble and asked if he could take a look at it. So, I gave it to him and he took out this eyepiece he carries around with him and he took a really, really close look at my pebble. And he’s mumbling and whispering to himself as he does. You know, sort of like what you’d expect from the typical absent-minded professor.” 

She looked at her watch, pointed to it and asked, “The party, remember? And did he mumble and whisper for three hours? Or is there more? Please tell me there’s more.” 

Smiling for the first time since he got home, he told her there was more, much more. “So, after he’d finished inspecting this little pebble, he gave it back to me and he sat down next to me on the stone wall and wanted to know where I might have picked it up. He’s really excited. I could tell. So I asked him straight out - ‘What’s so interesting about this little pebble?’  . . . and that’s when he offered to buy the pebble from me. Just like that! Cash!” 

“You’re kidding? How much?” she asked, forgetting all about the party, and watching him closely. 

Grinning, he replied, “Five hundred bucks!” 

She said nothing, expecting her husband to show her the money, but he didn’t. Instead, he continued, “I told him I’d like to have the little rock appraised before I gave him my answer. And that’s when he raised his price to five thousand bucks! Five thousand! Right there on the spot. He took out his checkbook! Can you believe it!” 

“Wait, wait,” she urged him. ”Is it possible that he lost the pebble and was actually out there searching for it?  Did that cross your mind?” 

“Yep. Exactly my thinking. So I played hard to get. I shook my head, stood up and again told him I think I ought to get it appraised . . . but that I’d give him first dibs on the rock when I got an independent appraisal.” 

“Oh, this is getting good,” she said, completely absorbed by his story. “So, what did the Professor do then?” 

“Well, he looked at me and then asked me to sit back down on the stone wall. He said he had something important to tell me about the pebble, something that might change my mind,” her husband related. “So, I sat back down and he started to tell me this story. And after he finished, I gave him the pebble and came home.” 

“You just gave him the pebble! He was willing to pay you five thousand dollars, but instead you just gave it back to him!” she yelled, jumping to her feet, clearly upset. 

“You haven’t heard the story,” he calmly said. “Please, sit, and maybe you’ll understand after I’ve finished the story.” 

Still upset, she sat stiffly and waited for his answer. “Okay, here it goes,” he began. “It was early 1943 when Aaron and his family were taken from the Warsaw Ghetto to a concentration camp. He never saw his mother or sisters again, but he and his father and three brothers were housed in the same barracks together.” 

“Oh, my God!” she uttered, a horrified look on her face. 

Her husband continued, “And one night his father got them all together and showed them a rock he’d picked-up in the yard. He told them that each day one of them would have custody of the rock. And that whenever possible the one with the rock would roll it over and over in their hands and . . . “ 

She interrupted and finished his sentence in a voice shaken with pain, “ . . . and would work to smooth the rough edges off the rock. And as they did that they would forget where they were and remember their family. Am I right?” 

“Yes, and he was the only one to survive and today he was walking the path with the pebble in his hand  .  .   . and he lost it! Can you imagine?” her husband managed to mutter. 

“And then there you were with it in your hand! It must have been like a miracle to him!” she said, her face brightening with joy. 

“But the strange thing about it is that I was wearing high boots with my pants legs over them. No way that pebble could have gotten into one of my boots! No way!” he said, puzzled. 

She got up, went to him and put her hand on his shoulder. “Oh, there’s a way, alright. There’s a way.” 

End

The Sock Drawer - By Brian Law 

He poked his head into the utility room, saw that the Repairman was almost finished, and asked, “Find anything back there while you were fixing my dryer?” 

“Like what?” the Repairman replied. 

“You know, like odd bits of clothing. Socks, in particular,” he wondered. 

Reaching into his back pocket, the Repairman produced a handful of mismatched socks. “Like these?” he asked, his face showing no emotion as he placed them on the dryer. 

Approaching the Repairman, his excitement grew as he stared at the bundle of socks. “You found all those just today? That’s odd because I checked behind there before you came and didn’t see anything,” he said, unsure of what was going on. 

“It’s not that odd,” the Repairman continued. “I know where to look. I’ve been doing this a long time. And there’s more down there. But I bet you can’t see them. Go ahead, take a look.” 

He knew the socks that the repairman was holding were his long lost socks. He’d been losing socks for years and it was frustrating. But now he was being told that he just hadn’t looked hard enough all this time. That the socks were really down there all the time, just waiting to be found. 

The situation intrigued him, and he couldn’t help but ask the Repairman, “So you guys know something about where these lost socks go that the rest of us don’t. Is that it?” 

Packing up his tools and without looking him in the eye, the Repairman replied, “That’s about all I’m allowed to say about this.” 

“So, you’re telling me this is some sort of deep, dark secret held closely by the ‘Loyal Order of Dryer Repairmen’? ” he scoffed, watching the Repairman closely. 

Clearly annoyed, the repairman shot back, “You people, you’re all the same. You look down on us, take us for granted. And you’d never for a minute entertain the notion that maybe, just maybe, there’s more to what we do than you could ever possibly comprehend.” 

Standing there eye to eye with the Repairman, he desperately wanted to call ‘bullshit’ on the Repairman’s incredible comments. But there was just the chance that the Repairman might be telling the truth. And if he played his cards right, he might find out more about this guy’s secrets. 

So he replied, “You’re right, of course. You guys are sort of invisible to the rest of us. We call you, you come in and fix our stuff, and then leave. We never even learn your names. And if you guys really do know secret stuff, it must be frustrating as hell!” 

The Repairman stood still, his eyes searching the other’s eyes for any sign of deception. Then, after a few moments, he put down his tool bag, smiled a bit and held out his hand in friendship. “My name’s Bill. And I thank you for understanding what we Repairmen go through.” As they stood there shaking hands, the Repairman added, “And if you promise to never, ever tell anyone, I’ll show you where to look for your lost socks.” 

Taking a deep breath, he looked deep into the eyes of the Repairman and replied, “I promise.” And as he said those two words, his excitement grew to levels he’d never experienced before. 

“Okay,” the Repairman said, grabbing the dryer, “I’ll move the unit just enough for you to look down at the lower left corner. The place you want to look is right above the manufacturer’s sticker. Here, take my flashlight.” 

Moving between the washer and the dryer, and using the flashlight to peer down towards the lower left corner of the dryer, he cautiously asked, “What am I supposed to be seeing, anyway? All I’m seeing is the sticker.” 

“Keep looking,” the Repairman instructed. “It will take your eyes a moment to adjust. Then you’ll see it. And you’ll know it when you see it. Lean down a little lower.” 

“Okay,” he mumbled as he leaned over a bit more. “Wait, I think I see what you’re . . . . .” 

The flashlight dropped to the floor and rolled a bit until it stopped at the Repairman’s feet. He bent down, picked it up, put it in his tool bag and gently pushed the dryer back into its proper position now that there was nothing in the way. He looked around the utility room, saw that everything was as it should be, and then turned and left. 

He wasn’t real sure that the ‘special spot’ on these older Maytag models would absorb more than just socks. But now that he knew, he’d tell the boys at the ‘Loyal Order’ how he dealt with the one guy in the whole world who'd guessed their secret. 

End

The Hummingbird Feeder - By Brian Law 

She sat alone in the sunroom knitting socks for her grandson, a smile on her face. Classical music was playing in the background and as she watched her gardener working in the nearby garden she thought, 'it was at moments such as this when everything seemed just perfect'. 

There was a time not too long ago, however, that things looked gloomy. Her gardener, Carlos, had revealed that he was seeing very few bees and even fewer butterflies than the previous Spring as he prepared the garden for the new season. And no hummingbirds or other birds, either. He worried that in his forty years of working gardens in the area this had never happened and that the gardens would certainly suffer. 

She, too, had seen the changes and had been concerned. But recently all had changed, and rapidly, too. The bees were now plentiful, the butterflies were abundant, and her bird feeders were as popular as ever. In fact, things had not just gone back to normal! Her garden was astonishingly alive with a huge assortment of flying life! 'Maybe', she mused, 'the changing climate was not as bad as everybody was expecting. Maybe the government was doing something! Maybe they had a plan!' 

Carlos tapped on the sunroom’s window and motioned for her to please come to the door. Putting down her knitting, she slowly rose from her chair and walked  towards her waiting gardener. 

“Yes, Carlos, what is it?” she asked. 

His hat in hand, the gardener explained that he was finished for the week, but that she needed to refill her hummingbird feeder soon. 

Thanking him, she headed for her kitchen where she kept a pitcher of sugar water for just this purpose. She was surprised, however, to be refilling the feeder so soon. She had just filled it yesterday afternoon. 'Hungry little things', she chuckled to herself, 'They’re lucky to have me doing their bidding'. 

The feeder was not far from the back door and she could readily see that it was nearly empty as she left the house. But as she got closer, she saw what the real problem was. Something had perforated the container with numerous small holes, really just pinholes. And as a result, the fluid had slowly dribbled out into a puddle on the ground. 

Puzzled, she decided to take the feeder into the house for a closer look, but before she could take hold of it, a charm of hummingbirds swarmed nearby, anxious for a feeding. She couldn’t resist their presence and decided to fill the feeder knowing that they could get their fill before the fluid drained out again through the myriad of small holes in the container. 

And sure enough, as she replaced the cap on the feeder after replenishing its contents, the little birds hungrily flitted about, some feeding while others waited. She watched for a moment, mesmerized by the intricate natural ballet they presented. But then she saw something odd, something very odd. 

The little creatures weren’t using their tongues to extract the fluid from the plastic feeding holes on the feeder. They were all just pecking at the container’s side, causing more little holes and more damage! And then they would fly away without feeding while the others would fly in and repeat the same process! 

And as she watched in amazement, one of the hummingbirds’ beaks fell off into the feeder’s tray! And that bird continued to function as if nothing had happened! 

Reacting instinctively, she reached in quickly, grabbed the ‘beak’ and moved a short distance from the feeder to take a better look at it. Putting on her reading glasses, she wiped the fluid from the object and held it up for a closer look. 

It was man-made! And even had a set of numbers imprinted on it! Looking back at the feeder, she realized as she watched the birds that they were identical, all the same size and coloring. Absolutely no variation at all! 

On a hunch, she approached a flowering plant nearby where a butterfly had perched, it’s wings drying in the sun. It didn’t take long to determine that it, too, was not natural, but instead some sort of drone! And it was pretty clear that a nearby ladybug was probably a fake, too! 

She wiped her hands on her apron, took off her glasses and walked slowly to a garden bench under a nearby tree. Sitting down, her hands in her lap, she watched her garden intently, keeping very still. After a few minutes, she sighed, got up and walked back into her house. 

Sitting down, she picked up her knitting and resumed the work she had left earlier. The click of her knitting needles was the only sound in the sunroom as she worked quickly and expertly, taking only a moment now and then to wipe a tear from her cheeks. 

End

The Broken Lamp - By Brian Law 

The two of them had been browsing antique stores all morning and both had found some interesting items but had bought nothing. That is until he discovered the lamp. It was almost hidden away in a remote corner of a small store they’d never visited before. He called her over and asked her to bend down for her opinion. 

The lamp was squeezed in between a porcelain elephant of indeterminable origin and a mid-century vase. She moved the lamp a bit to get a better look at it and looking up at him, remarked, “Early twentieth century, and probably middle eastern in origin. Some repair needed. Your guess?” 

“No, you’re probably right. But what do you think? How much would you offer for it?” he replied, bending down beside her. 

“It depends,” she continued. “If the shop owner has the broken piece and you think it can be reattached easily and won’t show, I’d offer five hundred. Maybe six, but no more.” 

He nodded and asked, “What if he doesn’t have the piece that broke off? And we have to figure out a way to repair it.” 

“Twenty bucks, max,” she countered, rising slowly and dusting off her dress. “In fact, I wouldn’t even bother. That base is probably pewter. Very difficult to find someone these days who can work with pewter.” 

“Well, let’s go ask the proprietor. This could be fun,” he said, rising, too, with a gleam in his eye. 

She shrugged as they both headed to the counter and the proprietor. “Hi,” he began, “We’re interested in the pewter lamp in the corner. The broken one. We were wondering why you would have a broken item for sale? Is there something special about that item?” 

The proprietor was a smallish man in his seventies and was wearing a smock and a visor. “Ah, something special, you ask?” he replied. “Yes, something very special. And I do have the broken piece. People always ask if I have the broken piece.” 

“Oh, so there has been some interest in that particular lamp in the past?” she wondered. 

“Oh, my, yes,” the proprietor said, moving out from behind the counter. “I have sold that very same lamp many times over the years. Each time with the provision that if the buyer couldn’t repair it, I would take it back with a complete refund. It’s pewter, you know.” 

The two looked at each other and he asked the next question, “So, is there a story behind that lamp which makes it interesting, other than just its aesthetic appeal?” 

Moving towards the rear of the store, the two shoppers following closely behind, the proprietor looked over his shoulder and answered, “It belonged to a rabbi in Chicago during the nineteen twenties. Whenever a member of his congregation needed advice or consolation or spiritual guidance, he’d have them come into his office and sit down at a small table. And there on the table between them would stand that little lamp.” 

“A rabbi’s lamp? Is there more to this story?” she prodded. 

As the three of them got to where the lamp sat, the proprietor leaned down and retrieved it, blowing some dust off it as he did. “Well, the rabbi would instruct the person he was counseling to place their hands on the lamp and to tell the lamp the nature of their problems. It seems that the rabbi thought that he could get a more honest response that way.” 

“So, let me get this straight,” she asked. “These people, these troubled people, would spill out all their problems, all  their suffering, all their troubles to this rabbi through this lamp. Is that what you’re saying? And why does that make this little lamp any different from any other lamp?” 

He handed the lamp to the man and responded, “Because, as the story goes, the lamp became the depository of all these emotions. It purportedly absorbed their troubles and all the rabbi had to do was gently help them on their way, trouble free. Now, is that interesting enough?” 

The two looked at each other again and both shook their heads in disbelief. “Sounds a bit farfetched. Interesting, but unlikely. Anyway, tell us a little bit about how it got broken,” she said. 

“Ah,” the proprietor continued, “One cold winter’s afternoon, a man came into the rabbi’s office and sat down with him at the small table. As he went about explaining his problems, the lamp broke. It seems that the lamp could absorb just so much suffering and no more.” 

“Now that’s interesting!” she exclaimed. “And would explain why no one has been able to repair it. Wonderful story! I love it!” She looked at her partner with a big smile and asked, “Let’s just buy it and put it on a shelf without repairing it. When people ask about it, we could tell them the story. And we could have the broken piece framed and hung on the wall close by.” 

He nodded his agreement, turned to the proprietor, and asked, “Would you take three hundred for it? And we won’t be returning it since we won’t be trying to fix it.” 

The proprietor paused, looked at both of them, and replied, “Four hundred and fifty. Firm!” 

The two looked at each other and then agreed. As they returned to the counter with their newfound treasure, the proprietor retrieved the broken piece and placed both the broken lamp and the piece in a box and wrapped it up. 

“There you are, you two. I hope you are very happy with your new purchase and I would welcome you back in my store anytime,” the proprietor said, handing the box to the man. 

As the two left the store, the proprietor went to the front door, closed it, and placed the closed sign in the window. With that, he retreated to a small storeroom in the rear of his store, turned on the light and closed the door. 

There, on the shelves, were dozens of little pewter lamps, identical to the one he just sold. 

Taking one down, he carefully broke off a piece from its base, blew some dust on it from his pocket, opened the door and turned out the light. 

As he bent down to place the little broken lamp on its new shelf between the porcelain elephant and the mid-century vase, he trusted in his judgement that the two would never return to his store. No one who had ever bought one of these hot little items ever had. 

End

Managing Expectations - By Brian Law 

There were twenty-two tables in the dining room, but Table One was for them. They were the wealthiest seven residents at the Chatsworth Senior Residence Home and they ensured a proper class structure by assigning each new resident to a table best befitting his or her social standing. In essence, they were the snobbiest and they held sway over the rest. Cross them and you ended up sitting at Table 22. 

Each new resident was invited to lunch, but just once. He or she would get a written invitation and was expected to be properly dressed and on time, and after which he or she would be questioned about their backgrounds, their financial situations, what colleges their children attended, and so on and so forth. At the end of lunch, they would be dismissed and would receive a table assignment slipped under their door later that day. 

Jim got his invitation to lunch within minutes of his arrival in his suite. He hadn’t shaved for several days and his clothes looked like he’d slept in them, which he had. Two days ago he’d received notice that he’d been accepted at Chatsworth and that his lodgings would be available two days hence. Bringing nothing with him but an old suitcase, he arrived by cab and checked-in just after lunch. As he was escorted through the sitting room to his suite, the other residents had a good look at their newest arrival. The Table One crowd huddled together shortly thereafter and decided to invite Jim to tomorrow’s lunch and get it over with as soon as possible. 

At lunch the next day, he arrived at Table One on time. “Hi, I’m Jim Jablonski. I live in Suite 148 C. Just got in yesterday. I appreciate the invite to lunch,” he said, the odor of his strong aftershave catching everyone at the table a little off guard. “What’s for eats, anyway?” 

The others, their eyebrows all raised, looked at each other realizing that Table 22 would have another place setting this evening. Nevertheless, they went ahead with their interview. “Jim,” one of them asked, “What did you do for a living, if you don’t mind us asking?” 

Digging into his salad, his mouth half full, Jim managed to mumble, “Janitorial work, mostly. And some handy-man work around the neighborhood. Oh, and I drove a school bus when the regular driver was out.” 

“Interesting,” another at the table commented. “Did you inherit money, Jim?” 

“Me? God no. My family’s got nothing,” he replied, shoveling another forkful of salad into his mouth. “And I sure as damn well didn’t marry into it neither.” 

The group, a bit mystified, said nothing for a few moments, and then the head snob asked, “Well, Jim, just how are you able to afford Chatsworth? Not on a janitor’s retirement, certainly.” 

Jim wiped his mouth with his napkin, belched, and sat back. He looked around the table, smiled, and replied, “So, that’s what this little get-together is all about, huh? Where does Jim get all his dough?” Then, leaning forward and staring each one in the eyes, he chuckled, “Well, maybe I stole it.” 

The group let out a collective gasp with some of the women holding their hankies to their mouths and some of the men letting out with loud ‘Tsk-Tsks’. Jim watched them for a moment and then announced, “Now, don’t get your panties in a bunch, folks. I ain’t no crook. I made my money straight up  . . . and a lot of it, too.” 

“Well, really, Jim, we’re certainly glad to hear that. Just how did you earn your fortune?” one of the men wondered. 

“I found something I was really, really good at. Better than almost anyone out there, too. It took me years of self-learning, a lot of hit and miss, but when I hit my stride, I was the best at what I did. And the money just rolled in,” Jim explained. 

They looked around at each other again and then one asked, “The best at what you did, Jim? I don’t recollect seeing your face or name in anything I’ve read over the years. Just what were you so good at doing?” 

Jim cleared his throat, picked-up a spoon and started, “Okay, let’s say this spoon represents a jewelry store that sells estate jewelry. And let’s say that this here fork is old Jim Jablonski, dressed in his janitorial clothes, his name sewn on his shirt. So the spoon takes one look at the fork and asks, ‘Yes, Jim, what can I do for you today?’.” Jim stops, lets that sink in, and continues, “Now, the fork has taken a quick look around the store and has realized that there is just one item in the whole damn store that is seriously underpriced. Let’s say it’s this knife, okay?” 

They all nod as Jim arranges the spoon, fork, and knife on the table in front of them and continues, “Now, the fork has spent years figuring out what jewelry is really worth. He knows that the shop owner is real good at this, too, but he’s better. There’s something about the knife that the fork has spotted that the spoon has missed. And it’s the difference between selling the knife for three thousand dollars or for thirty thousand dollars! You all with me?” 

Enthralled, they all nodded together, their eyes fixated on the silverware arrayed in front of Jim. “So, Jim,” one of them asked, “That’s how you made your fortune? One piece of jewelry at a time? That’s an amazing story. And you managed their expectations by wearing your janitorial work clothes! Wonderful, Jim. And that store owner probably went home to his wife and bragged how he had made a killing on a piece of jewelry on a sale to pardon the expression, some poor working man.” 

Jim sat back and was asked the next question, “So, Jim, was that typical? Could you make that kind of profit margin on most of your discoveries?” 

“Oh, that’s not how I made my fortune. No, what I’d do next is go to New York, Chicago, or Miami where I’d have contacts and move these pieces in high-end jewelry stores to their very wealthy clients. So, for instance, that knife we’re talking about would sell for over a hundred thousand in a place like Boston. So, instead of making just twenty-seven thousand profit, I’d make a lot more  . . . a lot more.” 

The group gave Jim a muted round of applause with smiles all around. Jim was clapped on his back, his hand was shook, and even one old lady batted her eyelashes at him. But he wasn’t done with this crowd just yet. As they all settled down, Jim pointed out, “That broach you’re wearing, ma’am. I bought that in a store in North Carolina for eight hundred dollars. And I sold it in Chicago where you later purchased it for over seventy-eight thousand. Am I not right?” 

The wearer of the broach blushed as the group turned towards her in shock and embarrassment. “And you, sir, that ring you’re sporting on your right hand. That’s one of mine, too. Maybe the most money I’ve ever made on any single item, I’m proud to say,” Jim announced without hesitation. 

There was a growing sense of anger at the table as Jim went from one person to the next, telling how much money he’d made on one piece of jewelry or another that each was wearing. And at the end of it all, he announced as he started to rise, “Well, I guess I’ll be sitting at Table 22 tonight. But at least I’ll have some tales to tell. Right?” 

It took less than a second for the man on his right to put his hand on Jim’s shoulder and ask him to remain seated. “Now, now, Jim. Let’s not be too hasty about this, shall we. Why don’t you just join us for the foreseeable future here at Table One. I’m sure the rest of us feel the same way I do.” 

Jim smiled, looked around at the rest of them and saw they were all nodding in agreement. And as he sat down, the old woman who had batted her eyelashes at him asked, “Why, Jim, what is that wonderful cologne you’re wearing, anyway?” 

Jim knew that somebody at that table would have his story checked out and would find out it was all a lie. But before that happened, Jim would have sold lots of overpriced jewelry to these folks and be long gone, headed for the next ritzy retirement home and another table full of suckers. 

End

Footwear - By Brian Law 

He’d been quiet the entire evening while the others at the table did all the talking. Not knowing anyone at the table, he just smiled and nodded at what was being said and that seemed to satisfy them. But then one of them turned to him and asked the question he feared most. 

“And you, Malcolm, is it? What was it you did before you retired and moved to Pinehurst Villages with the rest of us?” the high maintenance blonde across the table asked him. 

He was trapped. He couldn’t smile and nod his way out of this one. He’d have to answer the question. “Oh, just odds and ends, really," he replied. "Nothing really interesting. Certainly not like the rest of you. I mean I wasn’t a high powered lawyer or real estate developer or anything like that.” 

The blonde sensed something in his answer and pursued her prey, “Now, now, Malcolm. It must have been something interesting. I mean, not just everyone can afford to retire here. My God, it costs a fortune! Tell us. What was it? Racehorses? Racing cars? Oh, how about gold mining?” 

“I was a shoe salesman,” Malcolm admitted after a brief and mildly embarrassing silence. 

“You owned a chain of shoe stores? Is that it, Malcolm? Nothing to be ashamed of there,” one of the men asked. 

“No, no store. I was just a salesman of a unique brand of shoes,” Malcolm replied, hoping that would end it. 

There was a moment of silence as those around the table reassessed their line of questioning. “Ah, so you catered to a unique clientele. Is that it, Malcolm?” another one asked. 

Adjusting himself nervously in his chair and just barely managing to look up at the inquiring faces , Malcolm managed to reply, “Well, yes, in a sense.” 

“Oh, how intriguing! Malcolm is holding out on us, isn’t he, everyone,” the blonde cut in. Malcolm didn’t respond, but he knew more was coming. 

The group looked around at each other and then one announced, “I think I know what Malcolm is alluding to here, everyone. He was a reseller of very, very unique shoes. He’d bid, along with others, for the rights to certain shoes. Shoes that held a certain unusual significance. Is that right, Malcolm?” 

Malcolm nodded but didn’t elaborate. 

“Oh, this is like twenty questions!” exclaimed the blonde. “How fun!” 

“Malcolm,” another asked, “Did these shoes belong to people who were alive?” 

Malcolm shook his head sheepishly. 

“But you bid on them, right? So, these shoes were worn by famous people who were dead?” another asked. 

Malcolm nodded, knowing they were getting close. 

“Well, that certainly narrows it down a bit!” announced the blonde. “We all know there’s a market for the shoes of dead Hollywood stars that were worn in famous movies. Judy Garland’s shoes in ‘Wizard of Oz’, for instance. Warmer, Malcolm?” 

He shook his head. 

The group huddled and buzzed for a few moments until one of them ventured, “Okay, throw us a bone here, Malcolm.” 

Malcolm smiled wanly, shrugged in surrender and replied, “Think death row.” 

A gasp went up from the group as they looked around at each other in a mixture of amazement and disgust. Then, a quiet voice rose from the group. It belonged to the most respected member, and he asked, “Malcolm, did you buy and resell the shoes of people executed for their crimes?’ 

Malcolm’s eyes met those of the questioner and he nodded slowly and waited. 

Some of the women were repelled by this revelation, but others were fascinated. The men, however, didn’t reveal their emotions about it one way or another. Somebody asked, “Ted Bundy’s shoes, Malcolm. You bid on them?” 

Malcolm nodded and waited. 

“Where are they now?” somebody asked. 

Malcolm looked around the table and replied, “I’m wearing them.” 

A huge gasp went up from the table. Many looked around nervously to make sure they weren’t making a scene and then one woman asked, “What’s it like, Malcolm? Really?” 

“You can’t imagine.” 

Another woman next to him leaned in and whispered sensually, “Have you come across the shoes of any executed women, Malcolm?” 

“Yes.” 

She leaned back, a sly smile on her face. Malcolm pushed his business card discretely under her napkin and watched the rest of the group. 

It was going to be another good year, he thought to himself. 

End

The Death Certificate - By Brian Law 

The American peered over her assistant’s shoulder as he carefully brushed away the last vestiges of millennia of dirt from the stone. Holding the lamp, she could see that with each sweep of his brush the wording on the stone became clearer. Finally, the assistant stopped working, looked back at her, and in Hebrew asked, “Is it Latin?” 

She stood up, clapped her hands over her mouth with joy, and then in her broken Hebrew exclaimed, “Yes! Get the Professor here! Quickly now!” 

As the assistant rose and headed for the cave entrance, she grabbed the brush and continued to brush away at the stone, interpreting the embedded wording as she worked. Her Latin was only fair, so some of the phrases took her more time than others to understand. As such, the scribbled translation in her notebook was replete with corrections. 

Within minutes, she heard her assistant and the Professor enter the cave. She smiled broadly as they approached and held the lamp close to the stone for the Professor to view it. She said nothing as the Professor knelt down in front of the stone and read silently for the next few minutes. Finally, he turned and looked up at her and asked, “A death announcement?” 

“It may be more official than that. It might actually be a death certificate. Two certificates, to be more accurate, sir,” she replied, checking her notes, and pointing to two sections of the stone for emphasis. 

“Hmmm, you may be right about that. But what do you make of the fact that each certificate, if you’re right, is for the same person, but three days apart?” the Professor asked. “Does that make any sense?” 

She knelt down next to him and pointed to the date on the stone. “Ah, very interesting. That date fits, doesn’t it. But where’s the name of the deceased? I didn’t see it in my first reading.” 

She pointed to two different phrases on the stone. “The deceased is referred to only as ‘The Troublemaker’, here and here. No name, but in the first section it says he died as a result of punishment at ‘the place of the skull’. See the word ‘calvaria’ in Latin, here. That’s Calvary, Professor.” 

The Professor whistled softly. He pointed to another section of the stone and concluded, “Looks like three days passed and then this person was seen alive again. But I don’t see how or where it says he died the second time. Do you?” 

“You’re right. The language about the second death is very vague. All it refers to is that after he was seen alive again, he was never seen alive after that. So, they concluded that he died again soon thereafter, but that’s it,” she added. 

The Professor stood, brushed the dust off his pants, and waited for her to get up, too. Then he began, “Okay, so, the date is right, the two sequential deaths of the same person fits, and the use of the term ‘The Troublemaker’, while not conclusive, is very important evidence, especially since he died the first time at Calvary.” 

Before he could continue, she interrupted him, “I know what you are going to ask. You want to know why this is even being reported by the Romans. I mean, the Romans must have understood the incredible significance of recognizing the escape from death by this person.” 

“Exactly. Why give the followers of ‘The Troublemaker’ any grist for their mill?” the Professor added. “Why not just leave it out of written history altogether.” 

“And in such a banal way,” she continued. “But I think I know why they did it. Look at this phrase here. It’s part of the second section.” 

The Professor leaned in where her finger was pointing. He brought the lamp closer to be able to see the words clearly. Squinting a bit, he silently said the phrase to himself, nodded, and then drew back from the stone. “That explains everything. That was their motive. They wanted that phrase to explain who this person was. They wanted it to end there in Jerusalem, to go no farther, and they thought that phrase would do the trick.” 

She underlined the phrase in her notebook. “Unemployed carpenter.” 

End

Out of Print - By Brian Law 

“What the  . . .?” he exclaimed in a muted voice as he crouched down in the crawl space of his two hundred and thirty year old Massachusetts home. He’d been laying mouse traps under the house and was almost finished when the cuff on his right trouser leg got caught on something sticking up from the dirt. 

Shaking his trouser free, he noticed that whatever caught his pants was man-made and not just a root or rock. Keeping his flashlight focused on it, he moved back closer for a better look. ‘Damn,’ he thought, ‘it looks like an old metal case of some sort.’ 

Using a trowel in his right hand to carefully clear the dirt away from it, he kept his flashlight in his left hand and was able to dig enough away in just a few minutes to reveal one complete side of the case. 

Age had darkened the brass material, but as he used his fingers to clear away some remaining dirt on the side of the case, the ornate designs of the maker became evident. ‘This is something very special,’ he thought as he continued to clear the dirt from around the rest of the casing. As he got closer and focused his flashlight on one corner, a name appeared. It read ‘Rufus King’. 

Something in the back of his mind was triggered by that name, but he just couldn’t put his finger on it as he gently pulled the old case from the ground, brushed some more dirt from it, and placed it in the bag with the mouse traps. A smile crept across his face as he crawled towards the access door. ‘My wife’s going to go nuts over this,’ he grinned. ‘She just loves this old stuff!’ 

“Warren!” she yelled, “How many times do I have to tell you to dust yourself off before coming into my house? And take off that ridiculous red hat, too. He lost the election fair and square, okay?” 

He just stood there in the kitchen, his hands behind his back, a great big smile on his face. 

“You’re up to something, aren’t you?” she said, calming down a bit. “What do you have behind your back, Warren? C’mon, show me.” 

Holding the old case out in front of him, he just said, “Am I forgiven?” 

“Oh, my Lord, Warren, that’s an old tobacco case. Here, let me hold it, please,” she asked. 

Taking it into her hands, she marveled at the intricate scrolling on the cover. Then she saw the name. “Warren, this belonged to Rufus King!” she shrieked. 

He didn’t want to admit he couldn’t remember who that was so he just replied, “I know, I know. Isn’t that exciting!” 

“He was one of our delegates to the Constitutional Convention way back in 1787 and he was one of the signers! This is his tobacco box, Warren! This is so exciting!” she gasped. “This is a collector’s item and incredibly valuable!” 

He moved behind his wife, put his hands on her shoulder and excitedly said, “Well, open it, then!” 

Which she did, finding a bundle of old letters wrapped in a silk ribbon. Carefully removing the ribbon, she laid each letter out on the table and then ordered them by date. After a few minutes, her husband wondered, “What are they about, honey?” 

“Well, as far as I can tell these are correspondence between Mr. King and various other members of the Convention. And they’re all dated after the signing. And they all deal with what would later become the Amendments. Basically, these are serious discussions about how to protect personal rights of citizens through an amendment process,” she explained. “And this one here deals with the consensus of the beliefs about the rights of citizens to keep and bear arms. You know, gun rights!” 

“Oh, really,” her husband pondered. “In simple words, anything surprising?” 

“Way beyond surprising, dear. If this ever gets out, it will change everything about gun rights in this country. Here, just look at this sentence. It’s underlined!” she said, her voice quivering. 

“Listen, why don’t you call your friend at the Museum and have him come over for a look at these. I’ll just stay here in the kitchen and read these while you make the phone call,” he urged. “Go ahead, this is important!” 

She nodded, grabbed her sweater from behind the chair, and headed for the hallway and their home phone. And as she did, her husband sat down and read and reread the underlined sentence. As he heard his wife talking on the phone, he took out his lighter and lit the corner of the letter and held it until it disappeared in smoke and ash. 

He wasn’t going to be the one to upset the whole apple cart. Not him, not now. 

End

Lift - By Brian Law 

It had taken the two boys an hour of hot, dirty struggle to grapple the last piece of aluminum up the slippery hillside to where they were building the glider. Finally, standing together, the rising sun revealing the glistening sweat on their bodies, they looked down at their encampment far below. 

The cross where their mother was buried could clearly be seen, but the hut where their injured father lay in pain was still hidden in shadows. As their breathing slowed, they turned to each other, nodded, smiled, and then turned towards what they hoped would carry them off the deserted island. 

The glider had been their father’s idea. He had built the yacht that the family was sailing the South Seas on when it wrecked against the reef surrounding their little island that wasn’t on the charts. Their father had survived, as had the two boys, but their mother hadn’t. 

And for the first few weeks, as their father lay in pain from his back injuries, the two boys had scoured the island for food and water. When they told him one evening that they had discovered a wrecked airplane not far from their campsite, he got excited and asked them all sorts of questions about the debris. The next day he got them together and told them about his idea, using a stick in the sand to explain how it might work. 

His idea was to use the salvaged material from the plane wreck to build a glider high up on the little island’s main hill. Their father had been on watch the night they stranded on the reef and he knew that they had passed an inhabited island some twenty-five miles to the southwest sometime during the night. There was a chance, a slight one, that under the right conditions, one of the boys could fly a glider that far, land it and bring rescuers back. He told them that flying a glider wasn’t that much different than sailing a sloop and each day when the boys returned to the campsite from their construction duties, he would explain how he thought it could be done. He even fashioned a scale model of the glider out of driftwood and palm fronds to use in his flying lessons. He used a small rock to represent the weight of the pilot. 

Their father was an uneducated mechanical genius. He could build and fix anything using whatever was available at the time. So the boys knew that the glider would fly and they named it ‘Maureen’ after their mother whose grave was behind the campsite. And while neither of the boys had inherited their father’s innate skills, they could follow instructions and they both had his competitive drive, which showed up from time to time . 

“Dad, I figure that I’m the one who’ll fly ‘Maureen’, right?” the older one asked one evening around the fire.  “I mean, it just goes to figure. I’m older and more experienced. Not by a lot, but whoever flies will need every edge he can get.” 

The younger one was mature beyond his years so he didn’t respond right away. He wanted to give his father a chance to respond to his brother’s argument before putting in his two cents worth. The father, in great pain from is injuries, propped himself up the best he could and explained, “Your brother weighs a lot less than you. And he’s stronger in his upper body than you and he was always the better sailor. He’ll be doing the flying.” And that was that. The subject never came up again. 

Their father brought them together late that one afternoon after they told him the glider was finished. He grilled them hard about how each joint had been fashioned, about the exact dimensions of the wing, and about how much they thought the damn thing weighed. Then, flopping back down on his makeshift bed, he explained to the younger boy, “You go tomorrow at dawn. The weather conditions will be in our favor. Get some sleep. I’ll wake you up when it’s time, boys. And remember to watch the birds!” 

He didn’t wake them. Sometime during the night, he died without a sound. They woke up late and immediately knew something was wrong. They buried their father that morning next to their mother and then sat down together on the log next to the campfire. They didn’t say a word for quite a while until the younger boy reached out and grabbed his brother’s hand and told him emotionally, “I’ll fly the glider, but we’re both going. I’m not leaving you behind.” 

The older boy reached down for the model glider their father had built and held it in his hands for a moment as he put the stone that was supposed to represent his brother’s weight under its wing. Then, he picked up a slightly larger stone, added it to the wing, stood and launched the model into the wind towards the beach. 

Both boys watched intently as the small glider struggled and wobbled into the onshore wind. It would rise for a moment, then drop down as if to crash, then suddenly rise again, wobble some more until it cleared the shore break and slowly flew on its own gaining some altitude until they couldn’t see it anymore. 

With that, the boys rose and without looking back started up the hill together. 

End

Don't Go Up There - By Brian Law 

There was a time in the county when the name Nick Travis meant something. He once was a big deal as a cattle rancher and was respected by the folks in the county as somebody who you didn’t cross. 

But those days were gone and now Nick spent his days napping on one of his son’s front porch. He was pushing eighty, and while he still sported the rawhide tough body of a cowboy, arthritis made him unable to stand up straight and he moved slowly with his pain. But his mind was still sharp, and he still remembered things clearly. 

He woke suddenly one Sunday morning from his nap when his grandson Jed let the screen door slam as he left the ranch house. “Sorry, grandpa, I didn’t know you were out here. I’ll be more careful next time.” 

“Sure, Jed,” Nick mumbled, wiping some spittle from the side of his mouth. “Where ya headed, anyway?” 

Jed was dressed warmly and was carrying a shotgun as he stopped, moved closer to the old man and replied, “Brett and I are going up to the old reservoir to hunt birds, grandpa. Hiking the old fire road, you know. We’ll get back in time to have some for dinner. You like game birds, don’t ya?” 

The old man nodded and tried to get out his chair saying, “Here, I’ll go with ya, Jed. There’s something up there you got to be careful of. “ 

“Whoa, old timer, you’re not going anywhere today, okay?” Jed chuckled as he patted Nick on his shoulder and settled him back down in his deck chair. “You just sit there and rest until we get back. We’ll be safe up there. Don’t worry none.” 

Nick gathered some strength and protested, “No, no, you don’t understand, boy. It’s dangerous up there. I know. I never told anybody just how dangerous it can be.” 

Exhausted and in pain, he slumped back down in his chair, his head lolling a bit. He could tell that Jed was still standing there watching him to make sure he was doing okay. He had never told anybody about the old reservoir because nobody would believe it. And especially now, given his condition, they’d just think he was a crazy old man. 

“Jed, boy, come close,” Nick managed, wincing in pain, and deciding now was the time to tell somebody. “I have something I need to tell you. Come, boy. It’s important,” Nick managed to utter as he motioned his grandson over with a weak wave of his hand. 

Jed propped his shotgun against the house, moved closer and knelt down next to the old man. “Sure, I’m listening, grandpa. What’s up?” 

Breathing heavier now, and struggling to get out each word, Nick whispered, “It’s ‘Bigfoot’, boy. I shot him up there forty-seven years ago, but he got away. He’s still up there, Jed. He’s still got my bullet in him and he’s madder than hell.” 

Jed smiled and patted his grandfather on the knee saying, “Don’t worry, gramps. We’ll be safe, Bigfoot or not.” 

“No, no you won’t, boy. I went up there every year to finish the job until I was seventy and couldn’t go no more. He’s mean, kid, real mean and vicious. And he’s smart, too. He almost got me several times ,” Nick warned Jed. 

Jed shook his head and tried to settle the old man down. “I believe you think there’s a ‘Bigfoot’ up there, grandpa, I really do. But hunters go up there all the time and never reported any sign of one. And no stock’s gone missing. So, you just go back to sleep and Brett and I’ll be back before you know it.” 

Nick knew that his smell was on Jed and that the beast would get his revenge on the boy even if he couldn’t get Nick himself. He had to convince the boy that he was not just a crazy old man . “Here, boy, help me out of this chair, will ya? Just for a second. I got something to show you. Then you can go,” Nick pleaded. 

“Well. okay, grandpa,” Jed replied. “Here, I’ll stand here and you grab my hands and I’ll pull you up,” Jed explained, moving around to face Nick, and putting out his hands. Nick rose slowly from his chair as Jed pulled him onto his feet. The old man was wobbly as he stood stooped over, almost unable to look at Jed’s face. 

“Good. Now, boy, help me get my shirt off, will ya?” Nick asked. 

Jed had never seen his grandfather like this before. The old man had a grit to his voice that meant business. “Sure, sure, grandpa. Just pull it out of your pants for me and unbutton it and I’ll get behind you and help you take it off,” Jed replied, unsure of what the old man was up to. 

Jed stood behind Nick as the old man unbuttoned it and then told him he could go ahead and take the shirt off. Slowly slipping the shirt from Nick’s shoulder, and pulling it back towards him, Jed gasped, “Oh, Jesus!” as he saw the terrible ragged scars all over Nick’s back. 

“Put it back on, son. Quick so nobody else knows!” Nick ordered gruffly. 

Jed did as he was instructed and helped the old man get his shirt buttoned and tucked back in. Then, in the reverse of what they’d done earlier, Jed helped Nick to settle back down into the chair again. 

“I’m sorry, grandpa,” Jed apologized. “I didn’t know. Nobody knew. And all this talk about ‘Bigfoot’ this morning I just figured was . . .  well, I just thought . . . “ he said, trailing off. 

The old man smiled weakly and looking up at his grandson he asked, “So, are we clear now about the danger up there, boy?” 

Jed nodded slowly; the image of his grandpa’s scars seared into his mind forever. 

“Good, good. Now let me tell you why you can’t never go hunting over up by the old mine, neither, boy,” Nick grunted, motioning Jed to get closer. 

Still stunned by what he’s seen on his grandpa’s back, Jed hesitantly knelt down again close to his grandpa and listened as the old man’s lips came close to his ear. 

“Look at my neck, boy. Tell me what you see.” 

Jed pulled back enough to see the area of Nick’s neck that was revealed as the old man held down his shirt collar. 

“Oh, my Lord!” Jed gasped again as he saw what were plainly two dark bite marks, one on each side of the old man’s jugular vein. 

End

Heart