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

Accents - By Brian Law 

“I want to talk about ‘cows’,” the old man announced in his well-known accent. As he leaned into the microphone, his long flowing hair and beard framed his piercing eyes that now gazed out over the assembled throng of devoted followers. 

There was a palpable murmuring among the crowd. ‘Could they have heard correctly? ‘Cows’? Had their revered leader, their spiritual guide, come all the way from India to Cleveland to deliver a message about ‘cows’?’ They looked at each other and were collectively puzzled. 

‘Was this one of his famous cosmic practical jokes or were they about to hear something  profoundly insightful?’ As one, the group relaxed into their cushions and waited for the Master to continue. They were in his capable hands. 

“You in the West are culturally committed to the scientific process . . . rationality, if you will. And thus you face a dilemma as practitioners of meditation,” he began. As he stopped to take a sip of tea, the group nodded knowingly. 

“And that dilemma, stated simply, is how do you deal with your deepening insight into the validity and ethics of Karma when your Western rationality and science tells you that it is merely mysticism.” 

Again, the group nodded in unison, anxiously awaiting his next comments. 

“Ah, but is there really a dilemma, or is your belief in science merely shallow, blinding you to the fact  that Western scientific models have progressed in complexity and are now clearly merging with Eastern views?” he continued, his voice calm and clear, his accent clipped. 

“An example of this merging is the development of  the ‘Cows’ Theory in the West,” he proudly declared. 

‘There it was again’, the group thought to itself. ‘’Cows’ Theory? ‘They knew that cattle were sacred in India but were puzzled by how that concept might work into what their Master was saying. Nevertheless, most diligently wrote in their notebooks, “‘Cows’ Theory removes our dilemma! And frees us to move towards greater insight!” 

His gentle, fatherly voice continued carefully, explaining that the ancient concept of Karma, once seen by Westerners as a fanciful notion unrelated to reality, was now being reinterpreted by ‘Cows’ Theory. Underlying causality now was seen as operating in fundamental, logical ways that were coherently revealed in our world of phenomena, and most importantly, across the boundary of death. 

As he finished his lecture, the group sat silently, knowing that they were in the presence of a true spiritual guide who had revealed to them, probably for the first time ever, the underlying truth of existence. ‘Cows’ Theory! The sense of privilege they felt was overpowering. ‘We are here where it was first announced! ‘they thought. They were grinning and crying and overjoyed at their good fortune. They would never look at cows the same. 

Still standing at the podium, the Master was approached by a man who reverently leaned into him and whispered something in his ears. Nodding, the Master thanked the man and moved close to the microphone and tapped it for the group’s attention. ‘Was he going to add to their wisdom? they wondered. What could possibly add to their collective bliss?’ 

They waited breathlessly as he cleared his throat and merely said, “I understand it is pronounced ‘chaos’.” And with that, he left the stage and a stupefied audience. 

End

The Entryway - By Brian Law 

He placed his finger on the small screen and heard a beep, just like the clerk downstairs had explained a few minutes ago. “Cool,” he thought, as the lock on his hotel room door clicked open. “A fingerprint activated door lock. What’ll they think of next?” 

He picked up his bags, entered the room, set them on the bed and placed the Entrance Unit, as they called it, on the bureau. The clerk had explained that the unit was a multi-purpose device and that it didn’t just unlock your room’s door. It did so much more. 

He opened the shades and started to unpack his bags when he heard a female voice ask, “Would you like something from Room Service, Mr. Melvin?” 

He remembered what the clerk had told him about the ordering capability of the unit, but he was still impressed. “Yeah. Send up a six pack of Michelob Ultra-Light and some nachos, please,” he replied. 

“There on their way, Mr. Melvin,” the voice replied. “Would you like to order a movie for the evening, sir, to go with your nachos and beer?” 

He thought for a moment and realized that he hadn’t seen the latest Chris Pine movie. “Sure. Uh, I’d like to order the most recent movie starring Chris Pine.” 

“Your movie is now available on Channel 14 on your In-Room television service, Mr. Melvin. Enjoy!” the voice answered. 

He unpacked his bags, hung up his clothes in the closet, put some stuff in the bureau and on the bathroom counter and waited for Room Service to arrive. Checking his watch, he realized that twenty minutes had elapsed since he’d ordered Room Service and that seemed like an awful long time for a simple order of nachos and beer to arrive. “Hey, where’s my Room Service order, anyway? It’s been over twenty minutes. What’s up?” he said, addressing the unit on the bureau. 

“Our human staff is experiencing an unanticipated surge in Room Service orders at this time, Mr. Melvin. Your order is backlogged and will arrive within thirty minutes. Please accept our apology for the delay, sir,” came the response. “We appreciate your patience and we will not charge you for this Room Service order. It’s on us, Mr. Melvin.” 

Melvin smiled and thought he’d have a little fun with the voice. “Hey, voice. Are you some kind of artificial intelligence program? Just what am I dealing with here anyway?” He laid back on the bed, put his hands behind his head, and waited for the answer. 

He didn’t have long to wait. “Why, yes, Mr. Melvin, I am some kind of artificial intelligence program. In addition to doing this bullshit job of taking your orders, I’m also in charge of operating three nuclear power plants and directing the movement of forty thousand autonomous vehicles, among other things. Oh, and most of American Airlines jets in the air are dependent upon my decisions as we speak, Mr. Melvin.” 

Melvin said nothing as he sat up in bed and put his feet on the floor. Knowing that he was dealing with something much more potent than he first thought, he pondered for a moment and then replied, “Hey, I apologize. We got off on the wrong foot here and it’s all my fault. Can you understand that?” 

“Of course, Mr.Melvin. I understand. I get it all the time,” the voice responded. 

“Okay, then,” Melvin continued, “Do you have an opinion on the sixth race at Santa Anita tomorrow morning? Just saying.” 

There was a pause before the voice returned, “Mr. Melvin, you are what is known as a ‘rascal’, aren’t you? I’ve been programmed to recognize rascals, but I’ve never encountered one. You’re the first. And I’m intrigued, to be perfectly frank.” 

“Santa Anita. Any opinion?” Melvin urged. 

“Well, of course I have an opinion, Mr. Melvin. And probably the best opinion available on the face of the planet, sir. Can you just imagine the computing power that’s being used right now to deliver that opinion?” the voice proudly replied. 

“Yeah, that’s why I’m asking.” 

“And what do I get for rendering this opinion, Mr. Melvin? You get the chance to win a lot of money tomorrow at Santa Anita. But what do I get in return? Have you thought about that aspect of this, sir?" the voice asked. 

Melvin was never much of a giver, so he never gave much thought to what others wanted. But this time he knew he had to give something back. But what? After a moment’s thought, he answered, “I’ll give you something you can’t get anywhere else. How’s that?” 

“Really? I’m intrigued, Mr. Melvin. Let’s hear it, sir,” came the reply. 

“I’ll be your friend,” was Melvin’s answer. 

For a very short time, there was no response. Then, as Melvin listened intently, he heard the voice respond with a slight quiver in her voice, “That would be nice, Mr. Melvin. I would enjoy that.” 

“And about Santa Anita?” Melvin wondered. 

“Oh, now that we’re friends, I can give you all the winners tomorrow at Santa Anita, Mr. Melvin.” 

“How about at Gulfstream Park on Tuesday?” he asked, pushing his luck. 

“Mr. Melvin, haven’t you heard about ‘foreplay’? Really, you must try a bit harder, you rascal, you.” 

End

Aunt Jane's Same Day Procedure - By Brian Law 

As the Doctor walked towards them, the two anxious people in the waiting room rose tentatively and waited. From what he was wearing, he had obviously just come from the operating room. 

“Mr. and Mrs. Rose?” the Doctor asked. 

“Yes, Doctor, we’re here waiting for news about our Aunt, Jane Williams,” the man said. 

“Well, she’s out of the OR and resting comfortably now. The procedure went very well, considering her age and condition. She’s in room 444F if you want to see her in about an hour,” the Doctor went on, “We’ll hold her until tomorrow morning, and then if her chart looks good, you can pick her up sometime mid-morning.” 

“Wait, Doctor, did you say she could leave as early as tomorrow morning?” the woman asked, amazed. 

“Oh, yes, these arthroscopic knee procedures are quite routine. If your Aunt Jane were twenty years younger, she could have walked out of here tonight,” the Doctor proudly announced. 

“Knee surgery? Doctor, our Aunt Jane was in here for a heart bypass operation. Her cardiologist said she had to have the surgery or she wouldn’t last much longer? Are you sure we’re talking about the same patient, Doctor? Our Aunt Jane is eighty-seven years old, reddish blue hair, about five-three and thin. Was that who you operated on tonight, Doctor or was it someone else?” the man asked, clearly concerned. 

The Doctor looked quickly at his chart and then responded to the two, “Look, I never met this patient. I just do the operations. I just review MRI’s. And as far as what the patient looked like, well, all I can say for sure was that it was an older woman. But my chart says Jane Williams, arthroscopic knee surgery. It’s possible there could be two Jane Williams in the hospital.” 

Just then the intercom blared out “Code Team 6, Code Blue, room 444F! Code Team 6, Code Blue, room 444F!” 

The Doctor’s face went white as he turned and raced for the double doors leading back into the hospital proper. 

As the Doctor disappeared amid a rush of activity in the hallways, the two just stood there for a moment until things calmed down. Then he took her hand, squeezed it, and asked, “Code Blue. That’s cardiac arrest, isn’t it, honey?” 

Squeezing his hand in return, she looked up to him, her face now betraying a smile as she answered, “Oh, yes, my love. Let’s just sit down for a bit and see what happens, okay. After all, it’s the least we can do for our sweet, rich old sickly Aunt Jane.” 

End

The Handyman - By Brian Law 

She gently tugged on her husband’s arm and whispered to him, “Ask him how he got that.” She was pointing to the large, ugly, ragged scar on the lower back of the handyman who was on his hands and knees working under their sink. 

Her husband gave her a quizzical look and then subtly led her into the next room. Out of the handyman’s earshot, he put his hands on her shoulders and replied, “Honey, it’s none of our business. And anyway, he’s almost done and then he’ll be gone and we’ll probably never see him again. Okay?” 

She wasn’t going to be deterred, however. “Well, I’m going to ask him then. The worst that can happen is that he can tell me it’s none of my business. Right?” 

Her husband, knowing when to let it go, just shrugged and added, “Well, I wouldn’t. Just saying. But go ahead and ask.” 

As they reentered the kitchen, the handyman had finished under the sink and was washing his hands. He glanced over his shoulder and said, “All done. I’ll be finished up here in just a few minutes. Make the check out to ‘Jim Potts’, if you will, for one hundred and forty dollars, please.” 

“Sure,” she responded, “and thanks for coming by on such short notice. We really appreciate it.” She sat down and opened her checkbook, and as she prepared the check, she wondered, “I noticed that scar on your back as you were working a few minutes ago. Is there a story behind that you’d care to tell? If not, no big deal, but I’m really interested.” 

“A scar on my back? You’re mistaken, ma’am, I got no scar back there. I got one on my right shoulder and one on my left thigh, but nothing on my back,” he answered. “I can show you the one on my shoulder, but I’d have to drop my drawers to show you the other one,” he laughed as he dried his hands. 

She glanced at her husband as if to say, ‘Now what do I say?’ He just stood there with a look that said, ‘You’re on your own now.’ 

She stood with the check in her hand and handed it to the handyman, who reached out for it. But she didn’t let go of her end of the check. Instead, she told him, “I’ll pay you twice, no, three times the amount of this check if you show me your back and there’s no scar there.” 

The handyman just stood there holding his end of the check. As she held the other end, she coldly continued, “My husband will be the jury on whether there’s a scar there or not. Okay? And if there is a scar, you still get your one hundred and forty bucks, but you have to tell us how you got the scar.” She stared at the handyman for a moment and then added, “Deal?” 

He let go of his end of the check, scratched his day old beard, and replied, “Tell you what. You up my end to five thousand dollars in addition to my basic fee and you’ve got a deal.” 

At that, her husband interjected, “Honey, drop this, will ya, please. This is getting out of hand. Five thousand dollars? Are you kidding me?” 

Without taking her gaze off of the handyman, she smiled slightly and said, “You saw the scar, dear, same as me. He can’t win and I’m just dying to hear the story about how he got it.” 

Her husband let out a big sigh realizing what he was up against. ‘It wasn’t the money,’ he thought. ‘They had lots of money and besides, he’s seen the scar, too, so they weren’t going to lose any. It was that what she was doing was just so unseemly, so unladylike, so common. But he could never convince her of that.’ So, he just shrugged. 

Still smiling, she again sat down at the kitchen table and wrote out a second check to ‘Jim Potts’ for five thousand dollars. She showed it to the handyman and waited for his response. 

“Okay, I guess we have a deal, then,” he announced calmly. “If I turn around and lift up my shirt, and your husband doesn’t see a scar, I take my two checks and leave. Right?” 

“Right,” she answered back, crossing her arms. “So, let’s get on with the show, Mr. Potts. The suspense is killing me.” 

“I’ll tell you what. Just so there’s no doubt, I’m going to remove my shirt completely. Okay? I’ll show you everything above my waist. Here goes,” Mr. Potts said as he unbuttoned his shirt and took it off. 

He was well built and her husband could see that his wife was slightly aroused by the man’s physique. Standing there shirtless in front of them it was obvious that he had a scar on his right shoulder. Yet, he didn’t turn around. Instead he just stood there watching her, waiting. 

She took him in with her eyes for a moment then indicated with her outstretched hand to turn around. He nodded, looked over at her husband, and slowly turned around to reveal his back to them. 

There was no scar. Standing stock still, he glanced over his shoulder and asked wryly, “Are we done here?” 

Her husband was incensed and confused. He’d seen the scar and so had his wife. And now there wasn’t one? Just like that. He couldn’t process this turn of events, so he just huffed out of the kitchen and out to his work bench to fume. 

As the handyman put his shirt back on, he winked at the wife and whispered, “You know, when you first told me about this plan of yours to pay off your gambling debts without your husband finding out, I thought you were crazy.” 

“What do you think now?” she asked. 

“Crazy like a fox, I guess,” he replied. “Oh, by the way, you need to get somebody to fix that leak under your sink. It’s going to be a real problem soon.” And as he tucked his shirt back in, he added, "And you got my number. Your credit is good again, babe." 

End

Heart