The Black Spoon - By Brian Law 

“And what, dear Uncle, do you require in return?” the Nephew asked, glancing impatiently at his phone. 

His Uncle reached over for his pipe, tapped it twice on the ashtray, and then sitting back in his rocking chair, replied, “Merely that you keep me company, my dear boy. That’s all. Just visit with me a bit each day and check on me at night before I retire. Not too much to ask for a rent-free cottage and a small monthly allowance now, is it?” 

With no prospects of a job, no car and with no savings, the Nephew was in no shape to negotiate with the old man. But the thought of being stuck out here ‘in the sticks’ with no car and no friends was a bitter pill. “I don’t suppose I have a choice, do I, Uncle?” he replied with no enthusiasm. 

“No,” the Uncle replied, loading his pipe slowly, “I don’t suppose you do, Nephew.” Striking up a match, the old man puffed away on his pipe as he stared stoically at his young visitor for a moment, and then added, “But we can find interesting things to do together, I'm sure.” 

“Things to do, Uncle? Out here? Like what, for instance?’ the Nephew asked. 

“Well, for one, we can go through my spoon collection. You know, clean-up the documentation, organize it, shine it up a bit. How does that sound, Nephew?” the old man said, watching him closely. “In fact, we can start right now if you don’t have anything important to do, Nephew?” 

Trapped, he thought to himself. This is what he feared that his life would come to. Tied to a dreary old man and all of that old man’s dreary stuff. Jesus, a spoon collection. “No, Uncle, I’d love to help you with your spoon collection,” he replied, again with no enthusiasm. 

The old man smiled and gripping his pipe in one hand  slowly pushed himself up and out of his rocking chair and went over to the nearby sideboard. Opening one of its drawers, he extracted something wrapped in blue velvet cloth and returned to his rocking chair. 

Sitting down with an effort, the old man sat still for a moment with the wrapped object in his lap as he caught his breath. Then, putting his pipe in his mouth, he opened the velvet cloth to reveal a black wooden box. 

“What’s that, Uncle? One of your spoons?” the Nephew wondered. 

“Not just one of my spoons, Nephew. The most important spoon!” the Uncle explained, his voice clear. “And one day it will be yours . . .  after I pass.” 

The Nephew showed no emotion as the old man carefully opened the wooden box and beckoned him with his hand. “Here, come closer.” 

Leaning down, the young man saw what was lying in the wooden box. It was just an old silver spoon, blackened by age, probably a tablespoon by the look of it. Nothing special, the Nephew thought. “What’s so important about this one, Uncle?” he ventured. 

“Ah, silver spoons were used by royalty centuries ago to foil attempts at poisoning them, Nephew. In the presence of silver, Sulphur and arsenic and many other compounds would turn the spoon black,” the Uncle explained. 

The Nephew was now getting interested. “So, this spoon was a poison tester for some King? Is that what you’re telling me, Uncle?” 

“Yes, Nephew. And its provenance is flawless!” 

“What King?” the Nephew asked breathlessly. 

“Here, look at the stem,” the old man said, handing his Nephew a magnifying glass. 

Taking the magnifying glass in hand, the young man held the spoon in one hand and peered at the writing on the stem. “It’s in French, with a royal crest and a date, Uncle! This must be priceless!” 

The Uncle took the spoon back from his Nephew and replied, “Yes, it’s very valuable. I was lucky to come across it years ago, Nephew.” 

The Nephew’s head was now swimming with visions of imminent wealth, visions which until now had just been fantasies. “You must keep this spoon safe, Uncle! Are you sure it’s safe?” 

“Way out here, Nephew? Oh, yes, it’s safe. Here, put it back in the sideboard, if you will. I’m feeling a bit tired and wish to retire,” the old man replied. “We’ll do more with my spoon collection tomorrow night, if that meets with your approval.” 

Beaming, the Nephew took the velvet wrapped box and replaced it in its drawer and quickly returned to sit next to his Uncle. “Yes, I look forward to that, dear Uncle,” he said earnestly. “Now, let me help you to your bed.” 

The two slowly moved together from the rocking chair towards the small rear bedroom, each lost in his own thoughts. The Nephew was thinking about that little red Porsche roadster he’s always wanted. On the other hand, the old man was reflecting on how much money he was saving by not having to pay for an expensive retirement home. 

He was lucky to have a gullible young Nephew who could be fooled so easily by a common pewter spoon and some black paint. 

And tomorrow night, who knows, maybe he’d pull out his counterfeit set of sixteenth century Apostle Spoons to show to the Nephew. And, just for added measure, he’d let it slip that he hadn’t long to live. 

That should keep the Nephew around for at least a year or so longer. After that, who knew? 

There was always the widow on the farm next door. She was a wily one, he thought, but desperate. Maybe he could arrange for her to ‘discover’ some hidden cash buried near his garden. Just a taste, but enough to keep her interested and in his service. 

End

The Court Reporter - By Brian Law 

She glanced at the wall clock as the witness droned on trying to answer the district attorney’s questions, or evade them, or whatever. Twenty minutes or so, she figured, and this witness would be done and she’d be down the street with the girls, partying. It was her retirement party and it had been planned for weeks. Everybody was going to be there. Was this assistant district attorney ever going to get to the point with this guy? 

She’d been a court reporter for almost thirty years, ever since she got divorced in 1956. Mostly she did trial work and depositions. Her retirement plan was still a work in progress. She was moving on and maybe getting into interior decorating or pottery or something like that. She wasn’t sure, just anything except what she was doing right now. 

She smiled to herself as she continued to type. Did anybody really understand that court reporters could do their jobs and still have a completely different line of thought going at the same time? A separate little voice working in the background. She didn’t think so. The girls always joked about this, usually after their second cocktail. 

The current criminal case was a manslaughter trial. The witness was a jailhouse snitch who had overheard the Defendant make certain incriminating statements. Bored and restless, she continued to type the questions and answered testimony word for word: 

"D.A. Jones: “Did the Defendant ever tell you about any other criminal acts that he had committed, Mr. Webster?” 

Webster: “Yes sir, he did.” 

D.A, Jones: “And can you tell this court what the Defendant revealed to you in that regard, Mr. Webster?” 

Webster: “He, the Defendant, said he raped a young woman back in 1956 near the Bayside Beach pier early in the morning. June sometime, I think he said.” " 

She froze and stopped typing as the District Attorney continued. Quickly recovering, she interrupted him and asked, “Can the witness please repeat his last answer?” 

The judge so instructed the Defendant and everything got back on track except for the little voice in the back of her head that was screaming, He was the one who raped me! as she caught a quick look at the Defendant who was staring back at her with an evil half grin on his face. And he knows I know. 

She looked at the clock. Maybe another fifteen minutes of testimony. Just enough, she thought to herself, just enough. She put away the little voice and focused completely on the task at hand. And fifteen minutes later, it was over. The judge indicated that the proceedings would recess now and reconvene at ten o’clock Monday morning. 

As the jurors, the Defendant, the lawyers, and the rest filed out of the courtroom, she busied herself packing up for the last time. She knew from experience that the case against the Defendant was rock solid. He’d get the maximum sentence and would be out of her reach. And he’d never be charged with a purported rape decades ago on a lonely beach that had gone unreported. 

But she also knew a few other things. She knew that the Defendant would have to appeal. Otherwise, he’d die in prison and he knew it. And she knew that even a rookie appellate attorney would pick up on the egregious stenographic errors in the transcript. The intentional ones she made during the last few minutes of testimony. And that alone would get the Defendant a new trial. 

And he’d get out on bail pending the new proceedings. 

Her true purpose in retirement was now very, very clear. And it had nothing to do with interior decorating or pottery or whatever. 

End

The Spanish Door - By Brian Law 

"As you both are probably aware," the real estate agent explained to the prospective buyers, "this home was once owned by the famous painter, Ramon Cruz." 

Neither of them had heard of Cruz, but they reacted as if they had and feigned being impressed. Encouraged by this, the agent then went into great detail about how the artist had imprinted the home’s interior with his distinctive style. 

“Here, for instance, is the actual Spanish Door which Cruz used in his 1956 masterpiece, ‘El Jardin Oscuro’,” she pointed out. 

The pair, intrigued by the intricacy of the door’s design, stopped in front of it and one of them asked, “Where does it lead?” 

A bit embarrassed, the agent admitted, “Well, it’s not a real door. It’s a ‘trick of the eye’ painting, a ‘trompe l’oeil’ work. And anyway, there’s no doorknob. It’s just one of many quirky things about this house.” She ended with a nervous laugh and then indicated that the couple should follow her into the living room. As they did, both of them couldn’t help but glance back at the door and wonder. 

While they listened to the agent as they toured the rest of the house, the couple’s thoughts were continually drawn back to that Spanish Door. And as they walked down one of the many long hallways in the home, they both noticed something that the agent hadn’t. There was a small, unlit alcove in a wall. And laying in there was a doorknob. 

As his wife kept the agent preoccupied with a few questions, the husband surreptitiously pocketed the doorknob. He kept his hand on it as they moved onward with the tour and he was surprised at how cold it felt, almost as if it had been outside all night. 

“Well, I suppose you two want to take some time by yourselves to go back and revisit some parts of the home,” the agent said at the end of the tour. “I’ll be out front by my car when you’re ready to head back to the office. Take your time. It’s a big place.” 

As the two of them headed back towards the front door, she tugged on his arm and whispered, “What does ‘El Jardin Oscuro’ mean?” 

“It means ‘The Dark Garden’,” he replied as he opened the door for her. 

He could hear her gasp slightly as he spoke those words and as he closed the door behind them, she grabbed his arm and demanded, “Why didn’t you tell me when you first knew?” She trembled and her eyes filled with tears as she waited for his answer. 

“I had to wait until we were alone. You understand now, don’t you?” he replied, holding her closely and speaking softly into her ear. “If I had told you while the agent was still with us, I wasn’t sure how you’d react.” 

They had lost their young daughter last year to illness and a psychic had told them she had gone to ‘a dark garden’ and nothing else. And now here they were in a house with a strange door perhaps leading to ‘The Dark Garden’. The coincidence was almost too overwhelming for them. 

“Should we call the psychic?” she asked. 

“I think it’s clear we should open the door right now,” he said, retrieving the doorknob from his pocket. “Are you ready?” 

“Yes.” 

They both breathed in deeply and then walked slowly out of the alcove and down the steps to the waiting door. 

They looked at each other for a long moment and then, as she held his hand in hers, he slid the doorknob gently into the door with his other hand and turned the knob. The door opened itself slowly. and as he let go of the doorknob, they stepped back, waited and watched. 

Minutes passed as they stared with wonderment at the scene behind the door. Finally, gathering their thoughts, they closed the door and astonished by what they had witnessed, headed for the front of the home. 

“Well, have you decided?” the agent asked them as they approached her at the curb. 

“We’ll take it,” they both said in unison. 

“Oh, that’s great. Let’s head back to the office and I’ll get an offer together.” 

They looked at each other and then he responded to the agent by saying, “We’d like to stay with the home for a while. We’ll be here when you get the offer ready for signing. Will that be alright?” 

“Sure thing. I’ll see you two in about an hour. There’s some snacks in the refrigerator. See you soon.” 

As the agent departed, the couple turned back towards the home, clasped hands and walked silently together. It would be their first hour with their daughter since her illness and they had so much they wanted to share with her. 

End

Checking In - By Brian Law 

He stood waiting for the librarian to finish what she was doing. She looked a little young and pretty to be a librarian, but he still waited. He was looking for something special and she might be able to help, even if she wasn’t the real deal. 

“Yes, may I help you with something?” she finally asked him, her voice lisping slightly probably due to the tongue piercing. Sort of Drew Barrymooreish, in a way. 

“Yeah, I’m looking for a really good L.A. private detective novel. I thought you might have some ideas, some recommendations.” He wished he’d shaved before he left his apartment. Maybe he was too old for her, but you just never knew. 

“You guys kill me,” she replied. 

“Okay, that sounds good. Who’s the author?” 

“No, I’m just saying that you guys all come in here and ask questions like that thinking we know stuff right off the top of our heads. C’mon, give me a break,”  She looked at him with a slight smile that sort of took the edge off her attitude. 

“Right. Well, is there some sort of crime novel collection in the library, maybe?” 

“No, nothing like that. Ever think about a google search? We got computers you can use. You do know how to use a computer, don’t you?” There was that attitude again. 

“Sure.” He knew how, sort of. 

“But you’ll have to leave your gun with me if you want to enter the library, though,” she added. 

He didn’t think it showed. He looked at her with a slightly new respect. She was good, this one. 

“How’d you spot it?” he wondered. 

“My ex carried a piece. Smaller than yours, though. What is it, a thirty-eight?” 

“Unh-huh. How do we do the hand over? I mean, right out here in the open?” he asked. 

“No, just go over in the corner there and drop it in the slot.” 

He looked over at the slot in the corner. Should be big enough, he figured. 

“Okay, sounds good. So, you’re single, right?” 

“Yeah, today I am. Why?” 

“Just thinking about when I come back for my gun. Maybe we could talk some, get to know each other better. See where it goes.” 

She looked at him and her smile got a bit bigger. “You’re kinda cute in an older sort of way. You’re not a cop or anything like that, are you? I don’t like cops much.” 

“Me, a cop. No. So, you’re good with me coming back in a bit for a chat?” 

She looked down, shuffled some paperwork, and said, “Not really. You need any more help finding something?” 

He shook his head and looked past the desk and into the library proper. There was a kind of cute older woman browsing the stacks. Maybe she’d have some ideas on a good private detective novel set in L.A. 

His gun made a loud noise as it clunked through the slot and down the chute and into the adjoining room. The older woman heard it, looked up and smiled at him. 

The older ones usually don’t mind if he wasn’t clean shaven. He wondered at what age that changed as he turned and entered the library and smiled back at the older woman. 

End 

 

The Reluctant Gambler - By Brian Law 

The Casino’s Security Chief leaned down, looked at the security camera’s screen, and asked the operator, “Okay, so what am I looking at?” 

“You’re looking at Dewey Smith, sir. He’s just entered the Casino and is heading towards the blackjack tables.” 

The two watched the screen as Smith, dressed in a V-neck t-shirt, swimming trunks and flip flops, walked slowly to one of the empty blackjack tables, nodded to the dealer and purchased one thousand dollars in chips. 

“Now, sir, watch closely.” 

Smith bet one thousand and won the hand. Collecting his winnings, he went to the cashier and then left the Casino. 

Standing upright, the Security Chief took out a cigarette, lit it and then asked, “What was I supposed to be seeing there, anyway?” 

“Sir, you just saw what Dewey Smith does every Thursday morning about this time. He walks in dressed just like today, buys a thousand in chips, plays just one hand, cashes out and leaves.” 

“And?” 

“Sir, he wins every time he plays. Every time. One hand, a thousand dollars, and he wins every time! Like clockwork,” the operator replied. “We wouldn’t have even noticed except one of our dealers mentioned to the pit boss that she’s seen Dewey Smith doing the same thing at two other casinos she’s worked at. So, when we heard this, we started taping him every time he entered the casino. We’ve got eight videos on file of him if you want to watch them.” 

“Is he doing this at the other casinos, too, as far as we know?” 

“We put a tracking device on his car and, yes, he goes to a different casino each morning. We shadowed him for a week, and he’s doing the same thing in each one of those joints that he does here. Wins every time at blackjack and with just one hand each time, sir!” the operator related. 

“Have you been able to determine how he’s doing it?” 

“It can’t be collusion with a dealer, sir. He goes to a different dealer each time. And he can’t be counting cards either. It’s just one hand. And he’s not marking them, either, for the same reason. That’s why we’ve brought this to your attention, sir. You’ve been at this much longer than the rest of us, so you must have seen every way to cheat at blackjack there is.” 

“You got the tapes of this guy, Dewey, on file so I can watch them?” 

“Yes, sir. I can have all eight hands put up on your office screen in a few minutes. They’ll all be time synchronized.” 

“Good. It shouldn’t take too long to figure out what he’s up to. Have a fresh pot of coffee sent up to my office, will you. I’m going to take a leak before I get busy with our Mr. Smith.” 

“Right, sir.” 

Ten minutes later the Security Chief was in his office, smoking another cigarette and working on his second cup of coffee. He’d watched the synchronized videos three times, twice in slow motion, and each time he took notes. 

No glasses. 

No watch. 

No hat. 

No buttons. 

Short sleeves. 

He’s alone at each table. 

He never looks up from the table. 

Never talks to the dealer except for change. 

Never orders a drink. 

After thirty minutes, six cigarettes, two more cups of coffee, and twenty more viewings of the same videos, the Security Chief was still no closer to figuring out how Dewey Smith was winning than thirty minutes ago. 

He stayed at it alone in his office for the next thirty-six hours, smoking, drinking coffee, watching the videos again and again, and taking more notes. He wasn’t going to let some penny-ante cheat like Dewey Smith get the better of him. He, after all, had a reputation to defend as the top Security Chief on the Vegas Strip. 

But his heart had other plans for him. 

The Casino’s Floor Supervisor watched as the EMTs discretely carted the body bag out the service exit, loaded it into the ambulance, and headed to the morgue. If any other employee had died at work, there would have been a moment of silence among the staff. There would be some tears, too. 

But not for that son of a bitch, the Floor Supervisor thought to himself. The Security Chief was a notorious bully and harasser of the staff and should have been fired years ago, except he knew too much about the Casino’s shady operations. They finally decided he had to go, but it had to look like a natural death. 

They discovered Wendell Lathrop, aka Dewey Smith, at a donut shop south of the Strip. His business was struggling and while he was an honest man, he was easily convinced to play the role of Dewey Smith for a while. What was funny was that he didn’t know how to play blackjack. They told him just to go to any table, ask for change, and let the dealers do the rest. Which he did, and they let him keep the winnings. 

Good dealers are good judges of character. And all the dealers knew what a scum bag the Security Chief was, but they also knew his weakness. He just couldn’t let a cheater get the best of him. No way, never. 

End

Role Models - By Brian Law 

The kid’s father poured himself another scotch and water and returned to the sofa. His wife had a healthy head start on him, so he was trying hard to catch up. But it wasn’t easy; she’d been practicing all day. 

“So, was he any better today?” he wanted to know, tapping an unfiltered cigarette from a pack on the coffee table. 

“Two f**kin’ guesses,” she growled. 

“Watch the mouth, okay?” he countered. “Maybe that’s part of his problem. Maybe if you tried a little harder, he’d get better. You ever think of that maybe?” 

She muttered something angrily under her breath, then tried harder, “No, he’s not getting any better. Satisfied now? He’s pulled the same sh*t today that he’s been pulling for weeks now.” 

“There’s that mouth again. Give it a rest, will ya. At least until he’s in bed,” he ordered. “Now, what was he like today?” 

She took a deep breath, leaned back on the sofa and began, “Remember all last week when he was talking like Bogart in ‘The Maltese Falcon’ and ‘The Big Sleep.’ Well today he changed it up a little. He’s not in the 1940’s anymore. He was walking around talking like Jim Rockford, you know, from the ‘Rockford Files’.” 

“Hmmm. When I was twelve, I was out all day on my bike shooting birds with my BB gun. Kids today. Whatta ya gonna do?” he mused. 

“When I was twelve, I was locking myself in the bathroom trying to escape my step-father’s grubby paws,” she admitted. “Twelve year olds don’t know how good they got it today. And what does he do with it? Escapes into a fantasy world of being some hard boiled private eye. Jesus, what a little sh*t-bird!” 

“Hey, hey!” 

“Okay, I’m just saying.” 

Just then their son walked into the living room deep in character and oblivious to their presence. He pretended he was Jim Rockford talking to his Dad, Rocky. “Hey, I'm sorry Dad, you just caught me at a bad time. Reading that detective fiction doesn't help. I mean things aren't like that you know? They're not black and white. There aren't any heroes left, they die young. That book you’re reading. His gun is deadly? Mine's in a cookie jar.” 

The two parents silently watched the boy, sipped their drinks, and waited for him to leave the room. When they were alone again, the boy’s father reluctantly admitted, “You know, if you listen really close to what he’s spouting, it does make sense, sort of. Maybe this is just his way of figuring things out. Maybe someday he’ll just walk out of his bedroom one morning and he’ll be a normal kid again.” 

“Yeah, but in the meantime . . .” she worried. 

“Hey, it could be worse. He could be doing what his friend Jimmy down the street is doing,” he added. 

“You mean?” 

“Yeah, that kid's walking around all day pretending to be Marjorie Taylor Greene, for Christ's sake!” 

“Oh, sh*t!” 

“You can say that again!” 

End

The Little Shop of Missing Things - By Brian Law 

He stopped and looked up at the little shop’s sign that extended out over the sidewalk. ‘Missing Things’ it read. His day ahead was full of things he had to do, places to be, people to see, but for some reason he reached for the doorknob and entered the little shop. He was missing something in his life. The problem was that he didn’t really know what it was. Maybe the answer was inside. 

Which made his conversation with the proprietor a bit awkward. “Yes, may I be of some help today?” said the proprietor, looking up from his paperwork. 

“Well, I’m not really sure,” he replied. “But you probably get that a lot from people like me who walk in off the street.” 

“You mean people who feel they’re missing something, but don’t know what it is?” the proprietor declared. “Sort of a nagging, persistent, undifferentiated feeling that comes and goes? That sort of thing?” 

He nodded, removed his gloves, brushed the snow off his overcoat, and unbuttoned it a bit. The little shop was warm and inviting and he decided that for some reason it was important for him to stay a while and find out if this proprietor could help him in his search. Moving towards the counter, he admitted ,“Yes, that sort of thing. It’s Christmas time, and I’ve been running around getting presents for everyone, and it just dawned on me that maybe I should get myself something. Not a watch or anything like that, but instead something I really need, something whose absence causes a deep longing. But I just can’t put my finger on what that might be.” 

The proprietor put away whatever he was working on and replied, “Well, is it something you had along the way, but lost and are trying to get it back? Or, instead, is it something you never possessed? See the difference? Try to narrow it down for me, and let’s see where that takes us.” 

He told the proprietor that it was the latter, probably. He explained that sometimes he felt like he was swimming against the flow, not in sync with things. Floundering when he should be floating, that sort of thing. And people around him sensed it. What he was missing, he guessed, was a skill. That was it! A life skill that would put him in harmony with instead of at odds with the world around him. 

“Is that something you might be able to provide?” he asked the proprietor. 

He watched as the proprietor thought for a moment, then turned, reached up for a large volume on the shelf behind the counter and then pulled it down and opened it and started flipping through its pages. From time to time, the proprietor mumbled something as he perused the large book, sometimes chuckled to himself, sometimes shook his head and said, “No, no, not that.” 

Finally, after a few minutes, the proprietor stopped, thrust his finger to a point on a page, exclaimed, “That’s it!”, closed the book and replaced it on the shelf behind the counter. 

“You found something?” he asked the proprietor. 

“You mean about what you are missing? No, no, I was just looking for a present for my granddaughter before you came in, and something you said triggered an idea and that’s what I was doing. Following up on that idea. Found what I was looking for, though. Thanks,” the proprietor said, a broad smile on his face. 

A bit perplexed, the customer reiterated his problem to the proprietor. “What about the thing that I’m missing in my life? Any ideas on how I can find that? You sounded earlier like you may be able to help me. As you might have guessed, I’m a little desperate.” 

“Oh, you mean about that life skill thing you were talking about,” the proprietor replied. “No, that’s not something I can help you with. Maybe you should consult with someone who specializes in mental health. You know, a shrink or something.” 

The customer was irate now and shouted, “Now wait a minute here! Just a minute ago you gave me the distinct impression that you could help me find my ‘missing thing’, what with that sign outside and you asking if you could help me and your ideas on how to narrow down the type of thing I’ve been missing. Now you’re telling me ‘never mind’ and to go see a psychiatrist! What kind of place are you running here, anyway?” 

A bit sheepish, the proprietor replied, “I’m sorry if you got the wrong idea about what I do here in my little shop. But you have to realize that I opened this shop to help me with what I was missing in my life. I’m terrible at making decisions! I found that the only way for me to decide on anything, like my granddaughter’s Christmas present, for instance, is to listen to other people’s problems. And then, like magic, my decisions are made for me as I ponder their problems. I know it sounds crazy, but there it is.” 

“So, you just use people under the ruse of helping them. Is that it?” the customer asked, a bit disgusted. 

The proprietor just shrugged and added, “But if it works for me, it might just work for you.” 

“What are you getting at?” 

The proprietor leaned over the counter and whispering, said to the customer, “It’s a franchise. Here, read this brochure.” 

And there it was in color. The scheme. Open your own little shop, it said, and let your customers show you the way to your ‘missing things’. There were a series of testimonials from various proprietors throughout the country. One in particular touted, “I only open my shop for two hours a week, but you wouldn’t believe how much my life has improved. A Godsend!” 

“So, no inventory, no real overhead, nothing but a store front, a counter and some slick patter. Am I right?” the customer asked, suddenly forgetting about his anger, and now showing some sincere interest. 

“Yes,” the proprietor continued. “And, if you’d like, I can sublet this shop to you for a few hours a week for a few months just so you can take it for a spin, so to speak. Interested?” 

Just then, the bell over the front door jingled, and a woman entered tentatively. She looked over at the customer and the proprietor standing at the counter. As the proprietor was about to say something, the customer put his hand on the proprietor’s arm, shook his head, and then turned to the woman and said, “Yes, may I be of some help today?” 

End 

  

I’ve left something behind 

I don’t know what I left or where I left it 

I just know for certain that I’ve left something behind 

I’ve returned to see if I can find it 

Even though I have no idea what it is 

I’m missing something; It’s a feeling I have

The Afterlife Motel - By Brian Law 

The two had left Cincinnati in their car early that morning and had passed through Wichita about an hour and a half ago, heading west. They were exhausted, needed a place to stay, and were not too choosy about where. 

“We’d like a room for two with a king bed, please,” he asked the clerk at the little rundown motel in the middle of nowhere. His wife stood next to him thinking about nothing but a hot shower and a bed. 

“Sorry, we’re booked up, sir,” the clerk responded dryly. “But there’s a place about an hour down the road that you might get into tonight if you get going right now.” 

He put his hands on the counter and said, “Look, there are no cars parked next to your rooms and you’re telling me you have no vacancy. We’ve been on the damn road all day and we’re tired and need a room. So don’t tell me you can’t put us up for the night. You must have something!” 

“No, sir, got nothing at all. We deal in a special clientele here and are booked up months in advance. Our clients don’t come to us in cars. So, you best just get going on down the road, you two,” the clerk explained, a  tone to his voice. 

The wife moved close to her husband, gripped his arm and whispered, “C’mon, honey, let’s just forget it.  This place gives me the creeps, anyway. We can hold out for another hour.” 

Her husband turned to her and in a loud voice said, “No, we’re getting a room here tonight and that’s it. This guy can’t tell me that this little dump of a motel out in the middle of nowhere is booked up for months in advance.” 

Then, turning to the clerk, he asked, “So, what’s the rent for a room with a king bed for one night?” 

“You did see our sign outside, sir? Didn’t that kind of give you a clue as to what’s going on here?” the clerk said. “This isn’t just your run-of-the-mill motel, sir.” He gave them a sly little wink as he finished. 

She tugged at his arm again, this time more aggressively. “Honey, let’s go, now!” 

Shaking his head, he held his ground. “Look, honey, I don’t care what these fundamentalists out here in the sticks want to name their motels. That’s their business. Doesn’t mean anything to me, and it shouldn’t mean anything to you, either.” Then, turning back to the clerk, he pounded his fist on the desk, thrust his driver’s license and credit card at the clerk, and demanded a room. 

“Okay, sir, okay. If that’s the way you want it, I’ll rent you folks a room. Just sign the register, if you will,” the clerk explained as he typed some information from the license and credit card into the computer. 

“Dear, will you sign the register while I sign the credit card receipt?” he asked his wife as he retrieved his license and credit card from the clerk and was handed a room key. 

She nodded and as she signed their names to the book, she took a moment to read some of the other names recently entered into the register. She was stunned. 

“Walt,” she said, her voice shaky, “Walt, take a look at the names in the register.” 

Her husband finished signing for the credit card and peered over at the register as his wife moved aside a bit. “Oh, Jesus!” he exclaimed as his eyes went down the list of recent residents. 

He looked back at the clerk who was standing with his arms folded across his chest behind the counter. “Still want that room, mister?” the clerk asked mockingly. 

His wife grabbed the room key from her husband’s fingers and headed for the office door. “I don’t care what’s going on next to us tonight, Walt! I’m going to down two shots of Jack Daniels, take a hot shower, and jump into bed . . . with you or without you!” she announced over her shoulder. “You coming or not?” 

Walt watched her for a moment as she left the office, got in the car and drove over to their room. He turned to the clerk and asked, “Can I ask who’s in the rooms next to us tonight?” 

“Sure, sir,” the clerk answered, pointing to two names in the register. “They’ll be transitioning during the night and will be gone when you awake. Will that be a problem?” 

“No, no problem. I’m just amazed that people would come from all over the world to this little motel just to . . . well, you know,” Walt admitted. 

The clerk smiled and said, “Well, I’ve been here a long time, Walt. Before it was a motel, it was a cattle ranch with just some bunk houses for the visitors. And before the white men, it was a sacred place for any number of native tribes going back as far as anyone can remember.” 

“And there was always somebody like you keeping records?” Walt asked. 

“Not someone like me, Walt. Just me.” 

Walt hesitated before he asked the next question. He took a deep breath and then said, “Have I ever been here before?” 

The clerk smiled knowingly and replied, “Like I said, Walt, we cater to a very special clientele. You’re one of them. You’re just a little early this time around.” 

End

Barrel of Laughs - By Brian Law 

The old truck struggled up the hill to the garage at the top of the slope. It was late, there was snow on the ground, and the truck driver had his hands full with just keeping the truck on the driveway. As it crested the hill and slowed down to allow the attendant to open the garage door, a man approached the truck with a flashlight. 

Blinded a bit by the light, the driver stopped the truck and rolled down the window. “Hey, lower that damn thing, will ya. You’re ruining my night vision, pal,” he complained. 

“I got to check your manifest before you unload. Hand it over, please,” the man with the flashlight demanded. 

“Okay, okay, hold your horses, sonny. I got it right here,” the driver wise-cracked as he handed the paperwork to the man. 

As the man with the flashlight checked the paperwork, he wondered, “Just the one item? Is that right?” 

“Yeah, that’s all they gave me tonight. Just the one barrel. But they said it was important and that I wasn’t to stop between the Government depot and here for nothin’,” the driver explained. “So, can I unload and get back on the road?” 

“We’re going to have to have our specialists check the contents of the barrel before you leave. Shouldn’t take long. They just take a sample for their records. Government red tape. So go ahead and pull into the garage and park where the orange cones are,” the man with the flashlight instructed, shining his light in the general direction. “You’ll be out of here in no time, pal.” 

“Hey, can I get a cup of coffee while I’m waiting?” the driver asked. 

“Sure. But don’t hang out where the specialists are working. It’s some sort of hush-hush thing with what’s in that barrel. Just stay in the canteen. We’ll let you know when you can leave.” 

Nodding and then grinding the gears of the truck a bit, the driver maneuvered the vehicle into the open garage and parked by the cones. Climbing out of the truck, he checked his watch and headed for the canteen for his coffee. He figured if things worked out, he’d be on the road and back in Jersey City by two in the morning. 

  

The specialists meanwhile had donned their special clothing and had unloaded the barrel from the back of the truck and had positioned it in an enclosed testing booth. Robotic arms allowed them to tap into the barrel remotely from behind the safety of the enclosure and extract a very small sample of its contents. But even with all the safety precautions in place, a minuscule amount of the contents fell on the floor of the enclosure. 

The specialists froze in fear as the small sample vaporized. They immediately activated the emergency vacuum pumps, but before the vapor could be completely captured, they heard, “A three-legged dog walks into a saloon, his spurs clinking as he walks, his six shooter slapping at his furry hip. He bellies up to the bar, stares down the bartender, and proclaims . . .” 

Just then the driver emerged from the canteen and having heard what the specialists heard, asked, “Is that what’s in the barrel?” 

The man with the flashlight nodded and then added, “You might as well know. They're jokes in this barrel. The punch lines come in another barrel. You’ll probably bring them tomorrow night.” 

“Punch line? Doesn’t ring a bell, pal. What the hell is a punch line?” the driver asked. 

“Look, just forget you ever heard what you just heard over there and what I said about punch lines, okay? You want to keep healthy, take my advice. Don’t tell anyone!” 

“Okay, okay, no problem. Who cares about gun toting dogs anyway? You guys are really strange around here, you know,” the driver exclaimed. “So, can I get my rig and leave now?” 

“Knock, knock,” the man with the flashlight mysteriously announced. 

“What? I asked if I could leave. What is it with you guys, anyway?” the truck driver complained. 

“Yeah, you can leave. You’re all cleared.” 

As the driver got into his truck and backed it out of the garage, one of the specialists sidled up to the man with the flashlight and asked, “You think he’ll keep his mouth shut?” 

“That guy? Oh, yeah. No problems there. I gave him the ‘Knock, Knock’ check. He passed with flying colors.” 

“So, one more barrel and we’ll be about done here,” the specialist said with a sigh of relief. “Tonight’s barrel was all the ‘Guy walks into a bar’ jokes. Tomorrow will be the punch lines. That'll make it six thousand barrels all together.” 

The man with the flashlight shook his head in wonder and replied, “It’s been a couple of years now since the country lost its sense of humor and the Government's been collecting every joke we could find and saving them for . . . .” 

The specialist stopped him and put his hand on his shoulder. “Don’t get your hopes up, kid. It could be a very long wait.” 

End

Stand In - By Brian Law 

He’d been told that he didn’t have to come to the front door and that the boy would be in the back by the pool, expecting him. It was always like this with his clients. Their kids were alone all day while the parents were away, wherever. That’s why they called him. They needed someone to give their kids some structure, some guidance, even if the kids didn’t want it. 

He moved along the path by the hedge that led alongside the house and to the rear. He could hear music playing. He took a deep breath and turned the corner to the pool. 

The boy looked up and asked, “You the guy my parents called?” 

“Yeah. You Carl?” 

The boy nodded and took another sip from a beer bottle. Two empties stood on the table. It was eight-thirty in the morning. 

“Okay, Carl. Let’s lay down the ground rules. You do what I tell you to do today and your parents get a glowing report. You good with that plan, Carl?” 

“I haven’t made up my mind yet.” 

“Then there’s a military school with your name on it in your very near future, Carl. It’s in Arizona. They wake you up at five in the morning, Sundays included.” 

Carl sat up, drained his beer and put on a shirt. “Okay, what do I have to do to get you off my back?” 

He directed Carl to take him to his room. It was on the third floor, overlooking the pool. A James Dean poster was tacked to one wall. The room was a mess. 

“Okay, Carl. Let’s start with the bed. Strip it, get fresh linen from the linen closet, and I’ll show you how to make it properly. When we’re done, you’ll be able to bounce a quarter off of it.” 

“Really?” 

“Five in the morning, Carl. Even on Sundays.” 

“Okay, okay, I’m on it. Jeez!” 

An hour later, after watching Carl make and remake the bed over and over again, he was satisfied Carl had acquired the skills needed to do it alone next time. It took another hour for him to direct Carl in the process of properly cleaning one’s room from top to bottom. James Dean would have been proud. 

“Okay, Carl. You know where the waste baskets are in the house? And the kitchen garbage can?” 

“I think so.” 

“Good. Empty them all in the receptacles in the garage. Then you can make us both lunch.” 

“Maria makes lunch.” 

“Not today, Carl. You’re up. Just keep thinking about that glowing report.” 

“Okay, okay.” 

Twenty minutes later, Carl met him in the kitchen where he’d laid out the ingredients for lunch. An hour and a half later, they’d eaten and Carl had cleaned up the kitchen using some of the skills he’d learned cleaning his room upstairs. 

“How am I doing?” Carl wondered as they sat together in the clean kitchen. It was one-thirty. 

“You know anything about lawn mowers, Carl?” he asked, knowing the answer. 

“Manuel does all that stuff.” 

“Not today, Carl. Let’s go,” he said, heading out the side door to the garage and holding it open for Carl. 

Carl picked-up on how to operate the lawn mower quickly. He had some mechanical aptitude which would appear in the report to his parents. They’d be pleasantly surprised. And he mowed the lawns reasonably well, too. The kid was okay. 

As Carl finished dumping the lawn clippings and putting away the lawn mower, he was summoned over to his father’s car. 

“You’re going to change the oil in this car, Carl. Ever done anything like that before?” 

“Nah.” 

“You got any ideas on how to go about it?” 

Carl thought for a moment and then he laid out what he thought he’d need for the job. He was handed the car’s operating manual and told, “Never guess, Carl. Always check the manual.” 

Carl read the manual and smiled. He’d got most of it right on his own. 

An hour later, cleaned-up and proud of his day’s accomplishments, Carl asked, “How’d I do?” 

“Good start, kid. I’ll be back tomorrow. We’re going to change the filters on everything in this place and then do some maintenance on the pool equipment. If we got time, we’ll do some plumbing repairs, too. And some varnishing of some outside furniture. You up for that?” 

“But tomorrow’s Sunday!” 

He just smiled, pointed to his wristwatch, and held up five fingers. Then he left. 

End

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