Chapter Twelve - By Brian Law 

He could have easily missed the door if he hadn’t been searching for it. But there it was, Room 303, ‘The Chapter Shoppe, by Appointment Only’. 

He’d been told to knock five times, then enter, which he did. And there, in an elegantly decorated office, sat an immaculately dressed man, who indicated for him to sit down. 

“Well, Mr. Welles, thank you for being on time for your appointment today. You must have some questions, though, before we begin. I’m Mr. Wilson. So, please, ask away,” said the well-dressed man behind the desk. 

Welles had heard about this Shoppe from a friend of his. He was told that what happened there changed his friend’s life. And if anything, Welles needed a change in his life, and in a hurry. He cleared his throat and began, “I’ve been told you folks can help me craft the next chapter in my life. I’m at a point where I have a lot of things up in the air, and I need you to direct me on how to proceed to a successful outcome.” 

Wilson replied, “Certainly, Mr. Welles. I see that in your application that you are forty-two years old. So we’re probably talking about your Twelfth Chapter out of perhaps Twenty Chapters in your life. Sounds about right, sir? Just a record keeping detail, really." 

“Yes, Chapter Twelve sounds about right.” 

“And how would you portray the context of this Chapter Twelve, Mr. Welles. Will it be a mystery-thriller, a romantic comedy, a tragedy, true crime, erotica, or perhaps even a combination of themes?” Wilson asked, writing something in a folder. 

“Oh, well, I guess I would say a combination of themes. Yes, definitely, a combination. Mostly tragedy, but some erotica.” 

“Fine. Now Mr. Welles, how would you portray your current life situation? Are you at a key crossroads, are you seeking viable options, or is your life just a real mess that requires significant fixing?” 

“The last one.” 

“Good. It’s always best to be frank about these things, Mr. Welles. Now, and try to be brief, tell me what problems you are facing in your life and how you want your Chapter Twelve to resolve them.” 

Welles shifted nervously in his chair as he thought about how to answer that question. Then he began about his marriage, his mistress, his drug-addicted children, his problems at work, his heart condition, his problems with his mother and her money and a variety of other problems. He concluded with, “I’d like all these problems worked out in my favor in Chapter Twelve, Mr. Wilson. Can you do it?” 

Mr. Wilson rose and stood by the side of his desk. “Of course we can, Mr. Welles. First, we’ll interview you intensively so we know exactly who and what you’re dealing with in your life. Then our writers will present you with a rough draft of your next chapter and go through it with you, fine-tuning it until we get it just the way you want it.” Wilson paused, and then added, “But realize we deal only in the plausible. We can’t make you into a professional golfer or have you winning the Powerball or anything like that at the end of the chapter. It doesn’t work that way.” 

Welles was starting to get excited. “I’m a little awkward in my social relationships. Will there be dialogue for me to fall back on if I need it?” 

“Oh, goodness, yes, Mr. Welles. Lots of dialogue for you, emails for you to send, letters for you to author, hand gestures, postures, timing, wardrobe, the whole enchilada. We’ll even throw in some good jokes for you to tell at just the right moment. Everything will be in the final document.” He put his hand on Welles’ shoulder and added, “It’s a blueprint for the next phase of your life, sir. And while you may have to make a few minor on-the-fly adjustments to the general arc of the chapter, you should do just fine, broadly speaking.” And then he added, "Oh, and we have a twenty-four hour hotline for you to call in an emergency." 

Welles was ecstatic and grinning from ear to ear as he digested what Wilson had just told him. Finally, he thought to himself, I can get this train-wreck of my life back on track. He couldn’t wait to get started. “Well, Mr. Wilson, I’m ready to proceed if you’re willing to take me on.” 

Wilson smiled as he reached into his desk for documents for Welles to sign to get things going. As Welles reviewed and then signed them, Wilson said, "We'll be in touch, Mr. Welles. Your first interview should occur within the next two weeks or so." 

And with that the two men shook hands and Welles left the elegantly decorated office, a smile on his face and a spring in his step. He even whistled a bit as he headed for the stairs. 

From another room, Wilson's head writer appeared. Wilson looked up from his desk and asked, "Did you get all that, Bob?" 

The writer was the complete opposite of Wilson. He was a bit disheveled, hadn't shaved in a while, and there was a distinct odor surrounding him. "Yep, and I have a few ideas," the writer replied as he slumped in one of Wilson's large leather chairs. "But, overall, it looks like a pretty routine chapter. Nothing we haven't seen before." 

"Any ideas on when to introduce Patricia into his life, Bob?" Wilson wondered, a sharp look in his eyes. 

"Towards the end," the writer said, nodding to himself. "By that time, he will be convinced that everything is working out well for him and be completely trusting in the process. That's when we'll introduce Patricia. Slowly." 

"Ah, yes, slowly. And by the time you complete Chapter Thirteen, she will have him in her clutches, right?" 

"And ours, too, Boss," Bob said, a sly grin on his face.  "It still amazes me that these guys never figure on us writing all the next chapters of their lives without their knowledge," he added, taking a pencil from behind his ear and writing something on his notepad. 

End

The Secret of the Old Red Tambourine - By Brian Law 

He didn’t intend to buy anything. He just wanted to browse for a while, really just waste some time in the little shop that specialized in used musical instruments off a London alley. 

“How much for this?” he asked the proprietor, pointing to a well-used harmonica laying in one of the display cases. 

“That one I’ll let you have for sixty-five pounds,” the  proprietor called out from behind the counter. 

The customer nodded and moved deeper into the shop, its aisles narrow and cramped. For some reason he still doesn’t recall even to this day, he turned again to the owner and asked, “This old red tambourine? How much?” 

“Oh, that’s not for sale. Sorry,” was the reply from the front of the shop. 

There was something about the tambourine that drew him to it. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Something powerful, though. An urge he couldn’t resist. “Look,” he continued, “I’ll give you fifty pounds for it. That seems fair, given its age and condition.” 

The owner moved from behind his counter and walked down the aisle to where the customer was standing holding the tambourine. The look on the owner’s face was one of annoyance as he took the tambourine from the shopper’s hands, placed it back on its shelf, announced, “I said it’s not for sale,” and turned unceremoniously back to where he had been working. 

“Hey, wait! Don’t get all upset,” he called after the owner who by now was sitting behind the counter again. “If it’s not for sale, at least tell me why. Okay? How hard could that be?” 

The owner looked over at him, sighed and motioned for him to come to the counter. “I suppose you’re right,” the owner apologized. “I shouldn’t have left it on the shelf if I didn’t want to sell it. But until you came in, nobody has shown any interest in it at all . . . for years.” The owner paused and then added, “So, I guess you’re entitled to an explanation.” 

Coming out from behind the counter, the proprietor indicated for the customer to follow him back to where the old red tambourine was sitting on its shelf. Handing it to the customer, he said, “So, you want to know why it’s not for sale, huh? Well, then, shake it. See what happens.” As he finished, he backed away from the customer a bit and egged him on with,  “Go ahead. Give it a few shakes.” 

The customer just stood in the aisle holding the tambourine, but not shaking it. He looked suspiciously at the owner who had moved back a few more feet than before and asked, “So what gives here, anyway? You told me I was owed some explanation and now you’re just telling me to shake this thing and I’ll get my explanation. Is this some kind of scam or trick or something?” 

The owner shook his head and said, “No scam, no trick. Just shake the tambourine and see what happens. I’ll just move back here a bit more, just in case.” 

“Just in case what?” the customer countered, a bit of anger in his voice. And a little fear. 

“You’ll have to shake the tambourine to find out.” 

The customer moved a step closer to the owner, who, in turn, stepped back a step. 

“Hey, look, pal,” the customer declared, handing the old tambourine back to the owner, “You can take this old piece of junk and put it where the sun don’t shine.  Maybe some other sucker will bite on your little game. But not me, brother.” 

And with that, the customer turned and stormed out of the store, slamming the front door as he left. 

The owner waited for a few moments and then, lovingly stroking the little old tambourine, said, “Another unworthy one, my little friend.” 

The little old tambourine rattled itself and on the floor at the feet of the owner appeared ten small gold coins. 

“Thank you, my old friend,” the owner said, carefully replacing the tambourine to its place on the shelf. “May we get lucky before I die and find you a new owner. Someone who is worthy and fearless.” 

Slowly bending down, the owner picked up the ten small gold coins off the floor just as another customer entered the store. 

“Hey, old man,” the new customer jauntily announced in his mock cockney accent, “I’m starting a new band, and we need some instruments.” 

The owner straightened up and walked towards the young man. His brash and loutish behavior, his designer-style clothing, his shaggy hairdo and his large lips suggested something promising to the owner. 

“Why, yes, young man,” the owner replied, “I may have just the thing for an up and coming musical group.” 

End

The Chimney Inspectors - By Brian Law 

He was leaning forward in his recliner trying to catch every piece of the action on his television when the doorbell rang. Quickly checking his watch, he knew it wasn’t his brother and he wasn’t expecting any Amazon deliveries until later in the week. 

He decided that the last six minutes of this football game were more important than whoever was outside ringing his doorbell. So, ignoring them, he leaned in closer and took another gulp of beer. He had a c-note riding on this one and it was close, real close. 

The doorbell rang again. And again. 

Pushing the record button on his remote, he sighed, finished his beer and slowly rose from his La-Z-Boy. If he played it just right, he could still get rid of these jokers on his doorstep and keep an eye on the game at the same time. He turned up the volume, rotated the television set about sixty degrees and headed for the front door. 

“Yeah, I don’t want any,” he grumbled as he cracked the door open and saw three people standing on his stoop, one guy about six feet tall and two really small guys. Keeping the door open a bit, he turned so that he could watch the game and still hear what the three of them had to say. They didn’t look religious, just a bit out of the ordinary. 

“We’re here, Mr. Jacobs, because we got a work order last December around this time to verify your chimney measurements. Apparently, you have a non-standard chimney and we’d like your permission to go on your roof and take some measurements,” the tall guy said. He had a clipboard and everything and looked legit, sort of. 

“Really? Last December? You kind of took your time getting here, pal,” Jacobs sneered, sipping his beer. “Who do you work for, anyway? Our ever-efficient city government?” 

One of the smaller guys replied, “No, Mr. Jacobs, we have a contract with an independent delivery outfit. It took us so long to get to your house because there was some kind of a mix-up with the addresses. But we’re here now. The inspection won’t cost you a dime and we’ll be on your roof and done in no time.” 

“So, an inspection, huh? You put anything down my chimney to do it?” 

The tall guy told him that they lower one of the small guys down the chimney who takes a quick video of its interior and makes some quick measurements. Usually takes about twenty minutes. 

“This independent delivery contractor? You guys aren’t talking about? . . . .” Jacobs started to ask before he was handed a card by the tall guy. He stopped talking and looked at the card. He’d guessed right. “Jesus, he’s real? This is some kind of a joke, right?” 

“No joke, Mr. Jacobs,” the other small guy remarked, smiling broadly. “And for your cooperation today in letting us inspect your chimney, we’d like to offer you this free box of peppermint candy canes.” His little hands held out a nicely wrapped box. 

“So, let me get this straight. And I apologize if I was a little distracted before. I got some money riding on the game in there,” Jacobs said, opening the door a bit more. “I let you guys go up on my roof, let you climb down my chimney and do whatever you have to do, then I get this free box of candy. Right? And I don’t have to believe in your boss or anything like that? What’s the catch? What’s your gimmick?” 

“No catch, no gimmick, Mr. Jacobs. You do us a simple favor and we give you a gift. It’s just that simple!” 

“And if I don’t go along with the gag, what happens?” Jacobs growled, his patience growing thin. “What’s your boss going to do to me, anyway?” 

“Well,” the tall guy said, “And not trying to be too prosaic about it, you’ll be put on his “Naughty List”, Mr. Jacobs. Plain and simple.” 

Jacobs didn’t know what prosaic meant, but he didn’t like the sound of it or the idea of being on a “Naughty List”.  Moving close to the taller man, Jacobs wondered, “So, this list, what happens if I go on it? I mean, who even reads that, anyway?” 

“You’d be surprised. Your bookie, for one. And the NFL, Jeff Bezos, some orders of the Catholic Church, and the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, just to name a few, Mr. Jacobs. And once your name goes on the “Naughty List”, sir, it never gets off it. It’s a forever thing,” one of the small guys added. “Take the candy, Mr. Jacobs. It’s the smart move.” 

Jacobs looked back at his television and saw that there were just one minute and forty-seven seconds left in the game. “Okay, you got a deal. But don’t touch the satellite dish when you’re up there. I got to see the end of this game!” 

As he took the candy and closed the door, he watched from his front window as the three of them went back to their truck and started taking down one of their ladders. Closing his drape, he turned and headed back to the final seconds of the football game that was blaring from the other room. 

Slumping down in his recliner once again, he knew he’d made the right decision. You don’t want to piss off Jeff Bezos. No way, no how. 

End

The Long Final Night - By Brian Law 

Finally, time alone, he thought to himself as he checked his watch. Sunday night after ten-thirty the calls typically fell off real fast. There were lots of theories why, but nobody really knew the true reason. But, for whatever reason, people contemplating suicide didn’t usually pick late Sunday nights to call in to the Suicide Hotline. 

Which is why he was the only one left manning the phones. Jade left right after ten. She was the supervisor and even she knew there would probably be, at best, one or two more calls. She patted him on the head and said, “Good luck, and call me if there’s a crisis,” as she headed for the place where she spent most of her free time, the bar at the local Westin. He knew she’d be there until about three. She didn’t even try to hide it anymore. 

He leaned back, took off his headpiece, rubbed his eyes, and reached for his lunch. He called it lunch, but he usually ate it around midnight, sometimes sooner. Tonight it was sooner. Tuna sandwich, pickle, chocolate milk, and an orange, already cut into segments and wrapped in plastic. Comfort food. God, he needed comfort food doing this gig. 

He was two bites into the tuna sandwich and had just reached for the pickle when the call came through. 

“Good evening, this is Ray. You have reached the Hotline. Who am I speaking with?” 

He could hear the breathing on the other end of the phone. From experience, he could tell that it was a woman. He checked his watch. He knew he shouldn’t have, but he really wanted to finish his lunch. And talking to a potential suicide while you’re eating was one of the no-no’s they told you about in the training. 

“Hello?” he said. If she didn’t answer this time, he’d take a bite of the pickle and risk a sip of chocolate milk before asking again. He might even chance a third bite of the sandwich, too. 

She still didn’t answer, and so he took a quick bite of the pickle and was about ready to drink a bit of the chocolate milk when she finally said, “Ray, this is Jade.” 

He immediately sensed that something was very wrong as he spit out the pickle into a napkin, sat up straight, and replied, “Yeah, Jade. You caught me in the middle of lunch. What’s up? Where are you?” 

“I’m alone in the parking lot of the Westin.” She paused and then explained, “I took the pills, Ray.” 

Oh, Jesus, Ray said to himself. She took the pills. They all knew about the pills. The ones that everybody in the Hotline biz knew about. The painless, mellow, quick acting, foolproof stuff. The stuff from Mexico. 

“When did you take them, Jade?” 

Jade laughed mildly. “I see that you were awake during that part of my training session, Ray. Nice try.” 

They both breathed together without saying anything across their phone connection. They both knew that time didn’t matter anymore. Ray figured Jade had, maybe, five minutes left. There was nothing left to do but keep her on the phone and try to make her last moments as positive as possible. 

“Jade,” he asked, “You remember when I first signed-up as a volunteer. You remember that?” 

“Sure. I didn’t think you’d make it past the probation period. You were too sensitive, I thought. But you fooled everybody, kid. You did good. You saved a few, Ray,” she managed. 

“We saved a few, Jade. We. We’re a team and I’m going to be here with you right across the line, okay?” he said, the tone of his voice surprising him. 

“I would expect nothing less, Ray,” she mumbled. “And, for your information, these pills are as advertised. This is the best buzz I’ve had for a long time, kid.” 

“Okay, good to know, girl. Good to know. So, one question. Are you ready for this?” Ray wondered. 

“Oh, yeah, Ray. Ready as I’ll ever be.” 

“Good, Jade. That’s good.” 

“Ray, would you do me one last favor?” 

“Sure, Jade. Whatever you need.” 

“Would you take a bite of your sandwich and tell me how it tastes. I’d like that. Go ahead. Talk with your mouth full, Ray.” 

He took a deep breath, brought his sandwich to his lips and bit into it. As he chewed, he told her about the experience. The tastes, the textures, the pleasures. It didn’t take long but he thought he did a really good job of it. 

“Thanks for that, Ray. I lost all that. Forgot the joy in the little things. You keep that, Ray. You hear?” 

The phone went dead. Ray knew what that meant as he took off his headset, leaned back in his chair, and thanked God that it was Sunday night and nobody else was on the line. He didn’t think they’d understand if the guy who answered the Suicide Hotline phone was sobbing uncontrollably. 

End

The Tonys - By Brian Law 

The young FBI agent flashed his badge to the maître d' and said, “I’m looking for Tony Collazo. You may know him as Tony Swimsuits. He here tonight?” He’d been out of the Academy for just three weeks and he still got a thrill every time he got to pull his badge and show it to somebody. 

  

The maître d' smiled, nodded and remarked in a cursory manner, “You’ve got your Tony’s mixed up, Agent Wilburn. Anthony Collazo is Tony Tennis Shoes. And Mr. Collazo is here tonight. Tony Swimsuits is Anthony Cilurzo. He lives in Jersey, not New York, and never dines here.  I'll have you escorted to his table. We always like to be on good terms with the government.” 

Wilburn put away his badge, straightened his tie and followed a waiter through the crowded restaurant until they got to a large booth in a far corner. A heavyset man in a cheap suit sat in the middle. He had a large cigar in one hand, and on either side of him sat a beautiful woman. On the outside seat sat a big, rough looking character whose face needed some work. The big character stood up as Wilburn approached and put his hand on the agent’s chest. 

“That’s okay, Vito. Let him through, for Christ’s sake, will ya! Don’t you know an FBI agent when you see one? ” Collazo bellowed. “C’mon, kid, sit down. Waiter, bring this man a glass!” 

Wilburn flashed his badge again just so everybody could see it and so he could get that good feeling again. As he slid into the other outside seat of the booth, the buxom young woman slid over closer to Tony Tennis Shoes. Wilburn was impressed by her jewelry, among other things, which jingled as she moved. 

“So, Agent Wilburn, what brings you to my humble table this evening?” Collazo wondered, waving his big cigar in the air. Just then the waiter brought an empty glass for Wilburn and poured some wine in it. 

Wilburn had grown up in Iowa on a farm in a big family. He was taught to be polite, follow the rules, and work hard. The situation he found himself in tonight was completely alien to him. Sitting at a table with a powerful mob boss, his bodyguard, and two knockouts was not what he was expecting when he was sent out this afternoon from the New York office. 

They had not told him much. He didn’t even know the agent who gave him his instructions. They’d just lifted him from a seminar on fingerprints and gave him some questions to ask of one Tony Collazo. He was told that Mr. Collazo would be a good source. Nice guy, they said. Chatty. 

Clearing his throat, Wilburn brought out a small notebook from his suit pocket and flipped to a certain page. Looking up, he said, “Well, sir, Mr. Collazo, I’ve been sent out to ask you to answer three questions about your, uh, organization. Nothing invasive, just trying to clear up some misunderstandings we at the Bureau have about your chain of command, as it were. Sound like something you could help us with, sir?” 

“Shoot, kid,” Collazo said in a gravelly voice. 

“We’ll, first, I guess I need to apologize to you for getting your name wrong with the maitre d’. I called you Tony Swimsuits. He set me straight,” Wilburn confessed. “I’m on the right page now, Mr. Tennis Shoes, sir.” 

Collazo’s demeanor changed as he heard what Wilburn had just explained. He indicated with a flick of his head for his bodyguard to have a little talk with the maitre d’ and then turned his attention back to Wilburn. “I don’t use that moniker no more, Wilburn. In fact, none of us use our old nicknames anymore. We find it unseemly. Capice?” 

The bodyguard returned, sat down and nodded to Collazo whose demeanor now resumed its previous pleasantness. “So, what three questions you got, Wilburn?” Collazo asked. 

“Okay, here goes, sir. Does Tony ‘The Backhoe’ still run the crew on the lower East Side? That’s the first question, and I’m sorry to have to use the man’s nickname, but that’s all they gave me. I apologize. I’ll clear this all up when I get back to headquarters, sir,” Wilburn replied. 

“Anthony Crimoli is no longer with the organization, Wilburn,” Collazo explained. “He did run that crew until he met with an unfortunate accident a while back. And his name wasn’t Tony ‘The Backhoe’. It was Tony ‘No Thumbs’. So, that should clear up that. We good?” 

Wilburn nodded, jotted something down, and moved on to the second question. “Again with apologies, sir, we would like to know where Tony ‘Big Ears’ fits into your org chart. We didn’t have a current last name. Sorry about that, sir.” 

Collazo didn’t say anything. He just shook his head, indicating that Wilburn should move on to the third question. Wilburn took this to mean that the man in question was no longer functioning in the organization in any capacity. 

“Right, sir,” Wilburn continued. “Just one last question and I’ll leave you folks to your supper.” He looked around the table, but no one except Collazo was paying any attention to him. “We’d like to know if Tony ‘Horseshoes’ Milano will resume his former position in the organization once he’s released from Federal custody later this year.” 

Collazo laughed and waved to the waiter for another bottle of wine. “My old friend, Anthony Milano, will definitely not be resuming his former duties, Wilburn. In fact, I’d be surprised if he survives long enough to even get out. He was a rat, Wilburn. You do know what a rat is, right?” 

Wilburn nodded as he wrote something in his notepad, put it away in his suit pocket and said, “Well, thanks for the information you’ve given me, sir. I’ll straighten out my superiors at headquarters about not using nicknames anymore and we’ll make changes in our understanding of your organization based upon your answers tonight. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back and type up my report, sir.” 

“Sure, kid. Nice talking with you. Pass on my regards downtown. I’ll send you a ham for Christmas. I got your name and stuff on your card, kid,” Collazo replied as Wilburn got up and headed for the front door. 

Once out of Wilburn’s earshot, Collazo shook his head and said, “What a friggin’ idiot. Shit-for-brains kid comes in here and believes anything I tell him. Jesus, what’s the world coming to, anyway?” He then threw his arm around the knockout on his left and laughed as hard as he could. 

Once back in his car, Wilburn sat in the dark and said nothing for a few moments. Then, he handed something to the agent sitting in the front seat. 

“How’d she seem?” the agent in the front seat asked. 

“Cool as a cucumber, sir,” Wilburn replied. 

The agent in the front seat replied, “Well, this thumb drive you got from her tonight should give us enough to indict Collazo’s entire organization. She’s been at his side every day for months now. Every conversation he’s had, every deal he’s made, every contract he’s put out. It’s all on there, Agent Wilburn.” 

Wilburn smiled and relaxed for the first time in hours. 

“And did he believe your little act, Agent Wilburn?” the agent in the front seat asked, adjusting his earpiece. 

“Just call me Agent ‘shit-for-brains’ from now on, sir,” Wilburn replied as they both burst out laughing. 

End

The Mud Room - By Brian Law 

The real estate agent had just finished showing the old house to the elderly couple when she explained, “This home was built in the late 1800’s and, as you can see, it has been very well maintained. The floor plan is original, no additions. They’ve obviously upgraded the windows, appliances, and heating and air conditioning systems. But, otherwise, it’s just the way it was when it was first built.” 

The elderly couple looked at each other and then the wife turned to the agent and asked, “We’ve heard rumors. You know, about what went on here in the early ‘60’s. Now would be the time to disclose that, if it’s true.” 

The agent smiled and replied, “You’re talking about the Manson Family, right? And the time they lived here. Yes, that’s all true. But that was well before their ‘Helter Skelter’ period. They moved later to ‘The Spahn Ranch’ where all that other stuff went on. In fact, many of the Family members that lived here were never identified. They didn’t move to the Ranch, apparently. Went their own ways.” 

The couple looked at each other again and the husband said, “You’ve indicated that the floor plan is original, but we’re from the East Coast, not California. So, it’s a bit unusual to see a ‘mud room’ in a home out here. I mean, let’s face it, you get maybe three inches of rain a year here, right? So, why did they convert that little room off the kitchen into a ‘mud room’?” 

The agent smiled again and replied, “That has been a continuing issue with this home. Nobody has really figured out why the Manson Family did that, because it was done when they were living here.” 

Looking at each other, the elderly couple nodded their heads and turned to the agent. “We love it! Put in an offer for us at the asking price,” the wife gushed. 

Beaming, the agent shook their hands and indicated that she would go back to her office and get the paperwork ready. “You both can stay here and look around some more. Just be at my office in town in two hours and we’ll get things moving. Sound good?” she asked. 

“We’ll see you in two hours,” the husband indicated. With that, the agent left the two elderly folks alone as she drove back to town. 

They moved together through the home to the kitchen and to the door leading to the mud room. He squeezed her hand and asked, “Do you remember?” 

“Like it was yesterday. Charlie told us all that we couldn’t track blood into the house.” 

Her husband smiled and added, “So we said, ‘How about we add a mud room?'” 

“And nobody, even Charlie, knew what we were talking about. So that was our project for the next week,” she said excitedly. 

They stood in the doorway admiring the results of those  labors so many years ago. 

“How about when we move in, we get some shovels, first thing?” he asked her. 

“I know just where to dig,” she replied, her excitement growing to levels she hadn’t felt in decades. 

End

The Road Between the Fields - By Brian Law 

“That’s it. That’s the one,” he said to the driver. He pointed as he said it, the cigarette held in his fingers glowing in the dark. 

The driver slowed the truck and rolled down his window to get a better look. “You sure?” 

He nodded and replied, “Yeah, I’m sure. The sunflowers have grown up, but the road is there, alright. Back up and put your headlights on it. You’ll see.” 

The driver did as he was told and as the truck stopped at an angle so that its headlights were on the gap in the sunflower rows, the driver observed, “They might have been irrigating. Could be a muddy mess in there.” 

“You Americans and your irrigation water. Remember where you are. No irrigation out here. But you gotta take it real slow. Won’t be able to see more than a few feet in front of the bumper. Road bends a bit to the left, too. And we’ll have to back out once we’re done,” he explained to the driver. “That’ll be the tricky part.” 

“Maybe we should wait for dawn,” the driver said, taking a quick sip from a pint of vodka he’d been working on since they left town. 

“No, we gotta go now. In the daylight, eyes in the sky could see the sunflower stalks moving as we drive through, especially if there’s no wind. We can’t risk that.” 

“What about if they buried, you know, . . . things in the road?” 

“You’ll never feel a thing if they did.” 

“Okay, then, you ready?” the driver asked, putting the truck in gear. 

He took the pistol from the glove compartment, jacked a round into the chamber, and nodded. “Yeah, and remember, real slow and it bends to the left.” 

The truck lurched slightly as it entered the field. As it disappeared amidst the towering stalks and slowly made its way deeper into the field, the two men were jostled back and forth as the headlights barely illuminated its path forward. 

He checked his phone and told the driver, “Another three hundred meters or so. Almost there. You’re doing fine.” 

The driver just drove, concentrating hard on not veering off into the sunflowers. He wanted another swig of vodka bad but couldn’t risk it. It was hard just keeping the truck’s wheels on the dirt road. 

“Stop! We’re there. Look over there. See it!” he exclaimed. 

The driver slammed on the brakes and the old truck came to an abrupt halt. “Yeah. Not very big, is it?” 

He opened his door, pushing aside the sunflower stalks as he did. Signaling for the driver to follow him, he pushed his way towards the package that was about ten feet away, the driver following him close behind. 

“You know what’s in it?” the driver asked. 

“We never know. Sometimes it’s communications equipment, sometimes high explosives, sometimes night vision goggles. Whatever it is, it’s hard-to-get stuff and we need all we can get,” he explained to the driver as he carefully removed the netting around the package. “Here, pull on this while I hold this other thing over here.” 

After few minutes, they had the package opened and its contents sorted. 

“Take those parcels, put them in the back of the truck, and cover them with the tarp,” he said to the driver. “I’ll take this little box into the front for the trip back.” 

“You mind if I rest for a minute, drink a bit?” the driver asked. 

“Nah, you did good. We got time. You want some of these, by the way? Came with the package,” he asked the driver. “What are they called, anyway? Never seen them before.” 

“Oreos. You don’t see them here in the Ukraine,” the driver said, taking a few and putting them into his pocket. “Some American supply sergeant in Poland probably thought it might perk us up a bit. Try one. They’re okay.” 

He bit into one tentatively and chewed on it for a moment. Then he ate the whole thing and reached for another. 

“See what I mean?” 

“Yeah, these are good,” he said smiling. “You done resting? We got a long trip back to our lines before sunup.” 

“Yeah, I’m good. Maybe next time we’ll get some Fritos,” he said. 

“Fritos? What’re they?” 

“Got you interested, haven’t I,” the driver said, a wry smile on his face. 

End

The Putting Lessing - By Brian Law 

It was late in the afternoon. Most of the other members were in the club house bar doing whatever wealthy men do after golf when their wives weren’t around. But two men remained out on the practice green, working on their putting technique. 

Unknown to the two putters, two others watched from nearby. One was an older man, the other a younger man. They kept their presence hidden as neither was a club member. 

“Now, watch his feet, kid,” the older man pointed out. “See how the pin and the tips of his two feet all line up in a straight line? That’s key to one great putt.” 

The younger man nodded and wrinkled his brow as he tried hard to remember all the things the older man was teaching him. 

“Okay, kid, and note how he bends just slightly at the waist, not too much, not too little. Very important!” the older man added. “You bend over too much; you’ll pull your putt to the left. Gotta watch that.” 

“Really? To the left, huh?” the younger man answered. “Feet lined-up and bending down at the waist, but not too much. Real important stuff. Got it!” Again, he tried to concentrate, but it was hard. He was hungry and tired and had to pee. But he really appreciated the attention he was getting. These putting tips were really important, and he knew it. He’d need them when his luck turned. 

The older man put his hand on the younger man’s shoulder and whispered into his ear, “Look at his grip. He’s looking at that pin to the right, about a forty two foot putt, I’d say. Watch his grip. See how it’s different than his grip when he was making the shorter putt?” 

The younger man pretended to understand what was just said as he enthusiastically nodded his head and replied, “Oh, yeah! Wow, you must have given me a million bucks worth of great tips today.” Wiping his nose with his sleeve, he then asked, “Where’d you learn all this stuff, anyway?” 

“Here and there, kid, here and there,” the older man mused. “I used to knock a golf ball around for a living a long time ago. I was pretty good . . . you know, until the booze got to me.” 

The younger man let the branches he had parted close in front of them and the two men retreated a few feet back into the trees alongside the golf course. “Booze, huh? It was heroin for me. I used to be a pretty good mechanic.” 

The two men leaned back against separate tree trunks. The old man pulled out a pint of cheap whiskey and took a pull from it while the young man snorted something. 

They sat there silently for a while, both forgetting about putting and everything else. 

Soon, it started to rain, so they packed up and headed back to their spot under the bridge. 

End

The Minor Leagues - By Brian Law 

The jeep pulled-up in front of the Quonset hut and stopped. The driver checked his watch and knew he was right on time, which was really important. He couldn’t afford too many more screw-ups in his Army career, and today he knew he had to make a good impression. 

The newly arrived 2nd Lieutenant emerged from the hut, looked around, and then strode purposely towards the waiting jeep. 

“Morning, sir,” the driver said, saluting smartly. “I’m PFC Walcott, sir, your driver.” 

“Good morning, Private,” the Lieutenant replied, returning the salute and climbing into the jeep. 

“Where to this morning, sir?” Walcott asked. 

“Show me around my command, Private. Let’s start with the perimeter and work inwards. Any questions?” 

“No, sir,” Walcott replied, putting the jeep into gear and slowly moving towards the north. 

They drove for a few minutes without saying anything until Walcott couldn’t hold it in any longer. “Sir, I do have one question?” 

“Of course, Walcott, I’m always open to the people under my command.” 

“Well, sir, it’s that me, Private Gomez and Sergeant Wilcox know that you just got out of West Point. This is your first posting, right?” 

“That’s right, Private. I’m a proud member of the Class of ‘22.” 

“Okay, well, you must know how the three of us screwed up to get posted to this dump of a Command, sir,” Walcott ventured. “So, we were just wondering what you did to merit this as your first posting? Musta been a doozy, sir, if you don’t mind me saying so.” 

The Lieutenant smiled and said nothing for a few moments as the jeep navigated the pock-marked road. Clearing his throat, he then replied, “Well, Walcott, I’ve read your three service files and am well aware of what brought you three here. You, for instance, made a pass at the General’s daughter at your last posting. Am I correct?” 

“That’s right, sir. I didn’t see nothin’ wrong with it at the time, though.” 

“She was twelve years old, Walcott,” the Lieutenant observed, his gaze on the road ahead. 

Walcott just shrugged and kept on dodging potholes. 

“And as far as  Private Gomez and Sergeant Wilcox, I won’t reveal their mistakes, although I’m sure you are well aware of them. Am I correct?” the Lieutenant asked. 

“Yes, sir, I know just what they did. And you won’t see no nooses being hung up around here by them, sir. No way! They’ve learned their lesson,” Walcott admitted. 

“That’s good. So, what you want to know is why the Army would post a fresh-faced 2nd Lieutenant who had a spotless record and who was a Regimental Commander at The Point, who had a 3.95 GPA, and who was the point guard on the basketball team, to this odd little command. Is that about it, Private?” 

“That’s about it, sir. With all due respects, sir.” 

“So why, if I had my choice of any Branch of the Army, be it Infantry, Armor, the Engineers, Intelligence or even Finance, would I end up here? Right, Private?” 

“Yes, sir.” 

“Well, for one thing, Walcott, it is a Command, is it not?” the Lieutenant observed. 

“That it is, sir, that it is. And 2nd Lieutenants just don’t get Commands right off the bat, in my experience, sir,” Walcott added. 

“But now you’re thinking that this wasn’t my choice, but that I was sent here as punishment. For some big mistake I made somewhere along the way. Right, Walcott?” the Lieutenant continued. “And what the Army really wants is for me to just  resign my commission and walk away. That’s what you’re really thinking isn’t it, Walcott?” 

Walcott nodded as he veered the jeep to the left to avoid a small animal in the roadway. 

“And you three probably have a bet going on just when I’ll turn in my bars. Am I getting close, Walcott?” the Lieutenant probed. 

Walcott sheepishly agreed and conceded, “It seemed to us that to be in Command of the Army’s Porta-Potty Testing Center in Pahrump, Nevada would be just too big a let-down for a hard-charger like yourself, sir.” 

“Which leaves us with the sixty-four thousand dollar question, doesn’t it, Walcott?” the Lieutenant concluded, looking over at his driver. 

“Yes, sir, that it does.” 

Clearing his throat, the Lieutenant continued, “And that is just what gigantic mistake did I make to get posted to this dump of a Command, as you so eloquently call it, Walcott?” 

Walcott gripped the steering wheel of the jeep tightly. He couldn’t remember being this excited about anything since he made that pass at the General’s daughter. This new green Lieutenant was about ready to fess-up to his career blunder. And what the Lieutenant didn’t know is that the bet between Walcott and the other Private and the Sergeant was whether Walcott could get the Lieutenant to confess to it! Walcott had bet three month’s pay that he could get this snot-nosed little officer to spill the beans. He was already thinking about how he was going to spend it in Las Vegas. 

“Well, Walcott, I’m not going to tell you. You’ll just have to live with that as long as I am your Commanding Officer,” the Lieutenant concluded. 

Walcott visibly sank in his seat as the jeep continued to lumber past the endless rows of portable toilets within the perimeter. 

Few people knew what really got the Lieutenant posted out in the middle of nowhere. He didn’t get caught running the longest-running poker game in West Point history until right before graduation. And they hushed it up for the good of the Corps. But by that time, he’d pocketed enough money on the side to live whatever life he wanted. 

But when they told him he was being posted to Pahrump, Nevada, a stone’s throw away from Las Vegas, it was all he could do to maintain his calm and not jump up and shout “Yes!”. 

He felt kind of bad for Walcott, though. He knew what was on Walcott’s mind the second he walked out of his Quonset hut earlier. After all, you don’t operate the longest-running poker game in West Point history for four years without learning something about degenerate gamblers . . . 

End

Boise Time - By Brian Law 

He sat up in bed, half awake, picked-up his t-shirt, smelled it, shrugged and put it on. The early morning sun was just peaking over the eastern hills of Boise, his newly adopted town, and it was chilly outside. He still hadn’t got used to that, moving from Santa Monica and all just a few months before with his mom and his brother. Running his fingers through his hair, he slowly arose and walked to the bathroom to pee. The clock on his dresser showed it was 5:05. Jesus! 

Padding downstairs, trying to be quiet, he walked through the kitchen and then through a door that led down to the basement. The eerie glow of many computer screens was all that illuminated the space, and the only sound he heard was the rapid clickety-clack of his brother’s typing on a computer keyboard. 

“Any pizza left from last night?” he asked his brother. 

“Yeah. It’s still in the box over there,” his brother indicated with a casual toss of his head, continuing without interruption his typing on the keyboard. 

Grabbing the last cold slice of pizza from the box, he moved behind his brother and looked at the computer screen as he ate. “Any specials today?” he asked, his mouth half-full of pizza. 

“He’s offering a thousand for any officer above colonel today,” was his brother’s answer. 

“Nice. How about equipment specials?” he wondered. 

“Same as always. Heavy artillery, rocket launchers, and comms centers are all five hundred each,” his brother replied matter-of-factly. 

He moved into the seat next to his brother and logged-in to the same program his brother was using. “Okay, I’m live. What am I seeing?” he asked. 

“Got a phone convo going between Moscow and some muckety-muck near the front. I’ve designated it as Red 1. See it?” his brother said. 

“Yep. I’m listening in. Guy in Ukraine is asking for clearance to attack. Want to earn a thou, bro?” he suggested. 

“Read my mind. I’ve armed the drone and am moving to within range as we speak.” 

Just then their mother appeared at the top of the stairs and yelled down, “Hey, you two, breakfast in ten minutes. You got to get cleaned up and ready for school! You know what happens if you’re late again for home room.” 

“Okay, mom. Be up in a jiff,” his brother yelled back. He turned, put his finger on a red button, and looked at his brother. “We good?” 

“Yeah. I’ll stay on the line and let you know what happens.” 

His brother pushed the red button and as he listened over the phone, his brother counted down. “Three, two, one!” 

“Okay. Phone went dead,” he said, smiling. He looked up at the clock on the wall that showed Ukrainian time. “Ruined somebody’s dinner I’d say,” he chuckled. 

“Whatever,” his brother replied as he shut down his computer and headed for the stairs and breakfast. 

End

Heart