FICTION

A Mother’s Tripe

By Sylvia Hamilton

I was twelve the summer Mother decided to buy a cow. I overheard her and my stepfather, Earl, discussing the purchase one evening. He grumbled about the expense, but since I knew he thought all pets were worthless, I interpreted these statements as more of the same from him.

We always had a menagerie at our mountaintop home, most of them I knew Earl considered a waste of space, time and money. His opinion was seldom taken into account. Mother’s was the final word.

I loved animals. I kept a small collection of Continue reading

Drug Run – Chapter 2 The Spy

By Dr. Rocket with Ms. Gonzo

*Last time, as you recall, a beautiful young singer was unexpectedly offered a great deal of money to drive a van filled with pot from Texas to L.A.*

Suze slowly realized just how tightly she clutched the cash-stuffed envelope as she stared out the front window of Rob’s big Delta 88. She fought the urge to count the bills.

Come on, even if it’s not exactly seven thousand five, it’s more money than you ever had in your life. Plus another payment like it in L.A.!

“Whooo,” she sighed, the sound masked by the engine. Put the stuff away, now, let’s show some dignity.

She tucked the precious mass into her big purse and refocused on her now-former bassist and new boss, who hunched silently behind the wheel, his grim expression dimly visible by the glow of the dashboard. This is a switch, gonna be takin’ orders from ol’ Robbie. Gotta get used to that, I guess.

“Well, what’s next, chief?” She put just enough of a funny inflection in her voice to make Rob’s lips twist upwards a bit.

“Out to the farmhouse to get us the van, and Billy. We are pretty much ready, or should be, if my bro’s on it. He wanted to make the gig, but I told him he hadda finish packing the load.” Rob fell silent a moment, thinking about the music.

“By the way…”

“Yes?”

“You really sang great tonight.”

“Thanks.” I’m gonna miss the compliments, ain’t I.

“What a night. I didn’t think we could do better than that first set. Was I wrong. After the break we tore the roof off.”

“It’s called warming up.” She stopped. Remember, he’s the boss now. Gotta not forget.

“Maybe if you put a band together out in California…” he mumbled, and ground to a halt. How cute, he cares. She was hit by a sudden thought.

“Coffee!” Suze exclaimed. “If we’re drivin’ tonight, I gotta have coffee.”

Rob nodded and pulled into a brightly-lit 7-11. She realized where they were, and opened her mouth to stop him, but it was too late. She looked around the parking lot anxiously. Well maybe he’s not here, that last time was enough, Lord.

One of the main reasons Suze was determined to give up her band and leave Garland was an exceptionally strange and obnoxious former schoolmate named Imants Haselberger. He was obsessed with her, as well as what he called “fighting crime.”

In recent months he often hung out at this very convenience store at night, writing down the license plates of late evening patrons he thought were suspicious. What he did with the plate numbers, no one knew. Suze had run into him here a few weeks back, and it had been an awkward mess.

She’d known him from seventh grade on, and he had been emotionally fixated on her for most of that period. She dreaded seeing him at any time, but under the current circumstances it would be unbearable.

Because on top of everything else, Imants’ father was a high-ranking FBI man.

Imants was earnest but strange-looking, with very thin lips, a narrow face, ears that stuck out and bulging eyes, an appearance not unlike that of the pulp horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. Due to his father’s rigid upbringing, he was aggressively ultra-conservative politically, and a religious zealot.

Suze had done everything possible to discourage Imants’ constant efforts to be around her, but somehow he often found and cornered her. His persistent ability to pop up in her life at random was uncanny.

As she poured her coffee at the self-service bar, a familiar sinking feeling came over Suze as Imants strode in and hurried down an aisle towards the rear of the store. How the hell does he always find me? She paid, hoping to get out before he noticed her, but Imants unerringly approached. She took a deep breath and tossed her blonde hair. One last time, she would try to be polite.

“Imants, what a surprise.”

He blinked at her, still in her low-cut stage dress from the gig. She knew he thought her music was the Devil’s work, and her provocative clothing an outrage. “Suze, I’m so glad to see you,” he finally blurted. “Your phone was shut off and when I went by your apartment they said you had moved.”

Suze, her smile perilously close to a grimace at the thought of Imants questioning her former landlord, spread her hands out palms up. This was going to require outright prevarication, she realized. “Yes, stayin’ with friends until my new place is ready.”

The young Asian clerk handed her the change with a wide grin for his buxom blonde customer. The clerk’s eyes flicked over to Imants, dismissed him, and snapped back to Suze. “Thank you, please come again,” he said, nodding vigorously.

Imants, averting his eyes in ongoing embarrassment from her stimulating décolletage, struggled to speak. “Friends. Ah, I see. May, uh, I have your friend’s number? I want to discuss the church picnic next Saturday. You haven’t been to church since your father died and I am worried…”

Suze hastily interrupted. “Imants, please understand. My personal spiritual beliefs are really none of your business. I believe God loves me whether I go to that church or not.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way, but your father…”

“My father is none of your business, either, bless his soul. I won’t… I don’t want to talk about him.”

Imants was numbed by this assertion. Suze had changed. Why? Maybe the shock of her father dying last year had triggered some madness. If Suze doesn’t go to church, she’ll be condemned to hell for all of eternity. I won’t let that happen. I owe it to her father. I do.

“Can we talk about this later? How do I reach you?”

“I, I don’t have the number with me. Maybe I’ll give you a call, been real busy. Hey, gotta go, see ya!” She walked rapidly out into the warm Texas night, trying to remember the last time she had called Imants. Five years, back when she felt sorry for him?

A couple of teenaged boys standing outside gawked at her as she walked quickly towards Rob’s Olds, grateful Imants hadn’t thrust some damn book at her. He was always trying to get Suze to read various tracts and texts including, memorably, a book by J. Edgar Hoover. Suze, who loved books, glanced at a few pages, cursed, and threw away the dog-eared paperback in disgust. “Masters of Deception,” bah. What she knew of the FBI, just from the recent news reports, horrified her.

Undeterred, Imants quickly followed her out the door and right up to Rob’s Olds. He stammered questions about where her friend lived and where she was going at the moment. Suze waved him off, miffed at his annoying creepiness, and hastily but firmly said “Goodnight, goodnight, see you soon,” opened the door to a blast of music, hopped in the front seat, and firmly closed it.

Imants’ bulging eyes stared at Suze, then over to Rob through the window for a moment. A wave of sadness mixed with anger overcame him, and he frowned at Rob, who was listening to a James Brown tune on the radio.

Rob noticed him, as he turned to face Suze. Frowning in turn, Rob stared back at the figure standing outside. Imants turned away, and his groan of despair was lost in the funky bass, blaring horns and thumping drums on Rob’s’ stereo.

Suze settled into her seat and exhaled sharply, shaking her head. Rob grunted, turning the music down. “Who the fuck was that? He looks familiar.”

She glanced over at him. No way I can explain Imants, and if I mention the FBI dad, Rob will bust a gut. Anyway, I’ll never see Imants again! That was an amazing thought, and she beamed, feeling liberated. “A final ghost of my old life.”

“Ghost, eh?”

‘Yessir.” Her voice shifted down a half octave. “Let’s blow this town, baby. Crank that music back up!”

Rob did so, his attempts to figure out the bass pattern forgotten, just in time for James Brown to yell “Hit me!” Rob nodded at her exuberant dance movement to the music, while seated. Somehow, he noticed, she managed to not spill the coffee in her hand as they motored out of the lot. “Poppa don’t take no mess,” sang The Godfather of Soul, and Suze sang along cheerily.

He slowly smiled. This might be the best run ever.

Imants watched from the brightly lit and buggy store entrance as the Olds drove off, his pale face now expressionless, brain racing. Carter, that guy was, Rob Carter. Played evil music in the group Suze sang in. Imants searched his memory. From the high school, right, Carter’s class was two years older. Dad in jail for tax evasion.

That long hair was a clue, some kind of hippie. Devil spawn driving away with Suze, his love.

A passenger jet roared overhead, and Imants shivered. Hate planes, hate flying. One of the teenagers at the edge of the 7-11 lot laughed loudly at something being said, then yelled “Hey Eee-monz, ain’tcha gonna write down that plate number?”

He stared blankly at the kid, and felt something shift in his soul.

Heart beating faster, he walked quickly back to his father’s new ’75 Chevy Monte Carlo sedan. Driving the car, specially modified by the Bureau, always made him feel larger than life.

As he got in he reached over and put his hand on his father’s classic dark leather Gladstone Bag on the passenger seat, and felt a strange surge of confidence. The bag, which had belonged originally to his father’s German father, somehow always gave him a mild jolt when he came in contact with it. He clenched his fist. I gotta do this, gotta save her.

He cranked the starter, shoved the automatic transmission into drive, and raced out of the lot, burning rubber down the road after the Oldsmobile. The teens stared in astonished silence.

Imants steered with one hand as he wiped the sweat from his forehead, still accelerating, his eyes searching the darkness ahead. There, those tail lights way up there. He jammed the gas pedal to the floor.

Enough was enough. Time to figure out exactly what that freak Rob Carter was up to with his, well yes, his future wife Suze Benson.
(To be continued in Chapter Three: The Drug Van)

Dating Hell

By Karene Horst

He introduced himself because he saw my whitewater kayak and mountain bike strapped to my car roof racks.

I hadn’t brushed my teeth or my hair. I tugged at the grungy T-shirt I’d worn to bed the night before. It was early and my roommate had dragged me out of our apartment to meet this guy who stopped her in the parking lot to inquire about the car’s owner.

He was sort of cute, even with his glasses. We exchanged e-mails and phone numbers because I was new to the area and needed to network with the kayaking community.

He helped me connect with some boaters the next Sunday; he apologized that he couldn’t join me as he had other commitments. On Monday, he e-mailed to find out about my day on the river, then he asked about meeting the following weekend.

Would you like to go to the air show Saturday?

Would this be our first date? Should I go along just to see where this could lead? First date or not, I was definitely not interested in attending an air show. But I couldn’t just say no, so I asked if he wanted to join me for a hike instead. He chose the air show.

We arranged to carpool for a day of kayaking, although we went on separate runs because his whitewater skills exceeded mine. Afterward he asked if we could make a Costco run, as it was on the way home. Then it was dinner time. I offered to pick up the tab since he had burned through gallons of gasoline that day. He accepted my suggestion with a sweet smile.

During a subsequent phone call I proposed a camping trip. An overnighter. Silence. Then he blurted out:

I just got through a bad breakup.

I was not sure if I was even interested in him other than as a hiking-biking-kayaking buddy. I certainly had planned on sleeping in separate tents. We hadn’t even kissed. Just what the hell was he thinking?

I didn’t want to have this discussion. We shared common interests and loved the outdoors. He was attractive and nice, but I’m planning to travel outside the country for extended periods for the rest of my life and have no interest in a relationship. Someone to tie me down and limit my options. And I really didn’t want to have to start shaving my legs on a regular basis again.

Maybe he was just being leery himself. We had both ridden this roller coaster many times before. He’s 60. I’m 53.

After ending a 20-year marriage, I returned to the dating “scene” more than a decade ago with a vengeance. I immediately fell with a sickening, resounding thud for a man who told me I was beautiful. After he dumped me, I dated a younger man who made me feel way too old. Then I tried the online thing. Yikes! Exhilarating and creepy all at the same time. After years of heartache and headache, I decided to give up on relationships and focus on my lifelong desire to travel the world instead of finding my illusory soulmate. I was only 49.

Then I spotted this gorgeous creature sitting alone at the end of the bar. I wouldn’t even dream of approaching him. Instead, I toyed with my drink and babbled with my girlfriend.

He’s looking at you.

No he’s not, he’s watching the game. The TV is right over my head.

But he was looking at me and after we all started chatting, he eventually scooted his bar stool closer and by the end of the evening, he was resting his hand on my knee. We bantered over our shared interests and experiences. He said he wanted to travel the world too, and in short order he would be financially set and ready to join me.

On our first date we went to see Skyfall, and as the camera panned Hollywood’s dazzling version of Macau’s coastline, he whispered in my ear:

Let’s go there!

You would think I had learned. I had heard it all before:

Oh I love dancing … Vegetarian for dinner, that sounds great! … I can quit anytime if that’s what you want … We’ll move to Colorado as soon as …

What the hell was I thinking. After I moved into his apartment, I discovered that his favorite sport was watching football from his favorite lounge chair. And his ship never docked, so he couldn’t afford to travel the world with me. I made solo trips while he stewed in front of the TV: I kayaked the Youghiogheny in Pennsylvania, snowboarded in the Rockies, rafted the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, checked out a writer’s conference in Chicago and bummed around Spain with a backpack for six weeks. When I returned after four months of wandering through South America, I walked in the door and knew it was over. Actually, I had figured that out on my own while somewhere in Buenos Aires.

Since my teen years, I had relentlessly searched for my dance partner, my travel buddy, my best friend. My prince.

I was ready to quit again. Not long ago I wrote a friend that all I want from a relationship is a man who has the guts to put a bullet in my head to prevent me from suffering an excruciating, slow death from cancer or dementia.

Then this guy with muscular arms and a nice ass shows up outside my apartment, wondering who belongs to the Jackson Little Hero and the full-suspension Trek Lush.

So we camped out and hiked in Yosemite, separate tents of course. We held hands while watching the latest Bond movie on the big screen. Chopped brussel sprouts for stir-fry dinners together. Walked in the moonlight. Traded massages. We’ve met each other’s parents. We’re planning a kayaking trip to Ecuador.

For Christmas, instead of a silly diamond necklace or an ugly sweater, he gave me a drysuit for boating. This guy gets me! I think I’m in like.

What the hell am I thinking.

by Karene Horst

Big Party at the Crumps: Book Excerpt

By: Barry Finnerty
So here it is. The moment I’ve been waiting all my life for. I step up to the microphone, brush my hair back, pull up my pants a little bit. Tap the mic. OK, it’s on. We finish up the medley with a rousing version of Jimmy Durante’s “One Of Those Songs” with four or five upward modulations at the end. Hardwell points at me. “Let’s go, let’s go!” he shouts. Even a ten second break between tunes is too long for him. And now – it’s Star Time at the Apollo, ladies and gentlemen! At least for a split second in some parallel fantasy universe. I break into my best James Brown impersonation. Which for at least this one first word is quite convincing. If I do say so myself.
 
HEY!
 
I play the first five notes of a C ninth chord, going up: C-E-G-Bb-D!
 
“I said, HEY!
 
The horn section joins in, playing those same notes again. C-E-G-Bb-D!
 
HEY!” 
 
C-E-G-Bb-D again, this time in harmony. You know what those notes are. They are instantly recognizable. World famous. They’re the intro to…
 
“I Feel Good.”  Dadaladaladala. Like I knew that I would. Dadaladaladala. Etc. etc. etc. Awright. We’re rolling now.
 
The crowd is up and dancing. So I do a few more numbers. Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock N’ Roll”. Michael Bolton’s “Love Is A Wonderful Thing”. That is the tune the Isley Brothers recently sued him for. Copyright infringement, they claimed. Bolton fought it all the way. “Hey, I wrote that tune all by myself. I never heard of their version.” Sorry, Michael. Your song had the exact same melody, the same beat, and even the same title of the Isleys’ single that was released in 1964!  I am willing to concede that you might not have consciously known that you were stealing their tune. But a subconscious rip-off is still a rip-off. Pay up, white boy!
 
We do “My Girl”, and then Hardwell sits me down so they can serve the birthday cake that took them the last 20 minutes to slice up. But you know what was amazing? You know who was checking me out and giving me some serious eye contact while I was up there just now? You are not going to believe this!
 
It was Yuvana Crump! That’s right. You probably know who I am talking about. The statuesque blond Hungarian former fashion model and ex-wife of the notorious New York billionaire real estate tycoon, Ronald Crump. I am sure you know who he is. He is the guy whose haircut loudly and unmistakably proclaims: “I am the biggest prick on the face of the earth!” And if his hair doesn’t totally convince you, just look at his face and listen to him talk for about thirty seconds. That will close the deal.
 
One time a few years back we played a job for him down in Florida, at that huge glitzy mansion he bought in Palm Beach that used to belong to the Post Toasties heiress lady. A party for all the real “old money” people down there that he was trying to ingratiate himself with. The parking lot was filled with Rolls-Royces and Bentleys. And the food? Conspicuous consumption at its most ostentatious. The band was playing in a big tent just outside the main house. And, after a time, I had to take a crap. So I got up and walked up the stairs, past the marble columns, to the door, where I was stopped by a servant, a tall middle-aged black man, not coincidentally also in a tuxedo, but his was with white tie and tails. 
 
“Can I help you, suh?” 
 
“Yeah, I’m in the band,” I said. “I just wanted to use the bathroom for a minute.”
 
“Sorry, suh, only Mr. Crump’s guests are allowed inside,” he said. “There are some porta-potties down at the other side of the lawn.”
 
I was incredulous. “But that’s like 300 yards away!”
 
“Sorry, suh.”
 
I never forgot that.
 
It was like he was telling me, “You de yard niggas! You gots to stay in de yard! Only de house niggas gets to go in de house!”
 
Thanks, Ronald, I thought as I trudged the length of three football fields to relieve myself. And back. Thanks for reminding me that all servants need to know their place.
 
This guy is truly a symbol and a symptom of the dried heart and dead conscience of our age. Of the worship of money above all else. People don’t matter. Right and wrong don’t matter. They’re just abstract ideas.  Only dollars and cents matter. Only money, money, money, and continually battling to accumulate more of it. No amount is ever enough. You have to get it all. It doesn’t matter who you screw. Or what you have to do to do it. The only thing that matters is that you are the one who comes out on top. Of that big steaming pile of cash.
 
I read recently that after he bought that apartment building at 7th Avenue and Central Park South – you know, the big one that kind of curves around the corner – that there were a bunch of elderly people that had been living there for over 20 years. They had rent control. So what did Mr. Crump do? He hired some thugs to go around to these peoples’ apartments and intimidate them. To tell them that if they didn’t  accept his settlement offer and move out, that something bad might happen to them. I’m telling you, these bastards will stop at nothing to squeeze every last dollar out of a situation. Even muscling and bullying old people. Yet he is revered in the business community. A shining example of success in America, the land of opportunity. It´s truly amazing how much you can accomplish if your dad starts you off with about $50 million and you have absolutely no morals or scruples whatsoever.
 
But enough about him. The world is full of money-grubbing assholes. In fact, there’s a good number of them in the house tonight! In any case, she’s not married to him anymore. They divorced a few years back. She’s probably four or five years older than me. And still a very good looking woman. Tall and elegant, with that model’s figure. I can see her shoes sparkling from here. Those heels look like they are encrusted with diamonds. Had to cost at least a grand. Probably more. They are definitely some CMFM (IYAB) shoes. I believe you are already acquainted with the first acronym. The second one? It stands for “If You’re A Billionaire”.
 
I’m up at the mic again, grinding out some more rock chestnuts. “Brown Eyed Girl”. “Wooly Bully”.
“Just What I Needed”. “Satisfaction”. The floor is packed. And she’s out there, dancing with some stockbroker type. Oh-oh! She’s looking at me again. I give her a tiny wink out of the corner of my eye. And the quickest smile I can manage while also singing “cause I tried… and I tried… and I tried… and I tried but I just can’t get no!” And holy shit! Yuvana is smiling right back at me! Hmm. Maybe this really could be the start of something big! Yeah, right. In your dreams, buddy.
 
We are now into the only slow number I’ll be doing tonight, Rod Stewart’s “Have I Told You Lately”. Hardwell hates ballads. Except the solo piano ones he plays for dinner music. Which is crazy because people love to dance to them. But he likes to keep everything moving, moving, moving, up tempo all the time. No sense of pace. But he can’t deny that right now, that floor is full. So he is allowing it. This is actually a pretty enjoyable song to sing. I take a nice melodic rock guitar solo in the middle of it, then we modulate up a half step after the second bridge. I can get fairly soulful on it. About as good as it gets on a job like this.
 

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