Hank and Me

I had just left an Apache Reservation in Arizona after having spent a night there. I was hitching west and had been picked up by a guy named Jimmy. I never did learn his last name. He was a full-blooded Apache and he invited me to crash on his couch. I didn’t get much sleep because we stayed up most of the night and talked … well … he did most of the talking. He told me of the Denéé—The People—as he referred to the Apache. I learned of their history, their medicine, or religion, as we would call it. I even did some peyote with him and spoke with God. But that’s another story. Today, I want to tell you about Hank.

Jimmy was still asleep when I left. I didn’t have it in me to wake him and ask for a ride back to the highway. The sun was just over the horizon, it was still cool out even though it was the desert and it was summertime. I had been brought onto the reservation in the back of a pickup truck and had not followed our progress as we drove the back road onto the reservation; after all, I was facing backwards, looking at where we’d been, not where we were going.

As I started my walk, I saw the mountain I had been looking at as we drove onto the Apache homeland. It seemed as though it had taken us about half an hour to get from Highway 90 to Jimmy’s house. So, I reckoned that if I just kept the mountain in front of me and walked in a relatively straight line, it would not take me more than a few hours to make my way back to the highway. Boy, was I mistaken.

I started my trek across the desert full of vim and vigor. After all, I was nineteen years old; I was immortal, as are all young people. Of course, I had no water with me; ha … who needs water! Well, as it turned out, I needed water, and I needed a lot more than just water. I needed a sense of distance, and maybe even a sense of direction.

Allow me to explain. I set out at sunrise, headed towards a particular mountain, and after four hours treading the desert floor, that damn mountain seemed no closer than when I started. I had no watch with me, so I did not know the exact time, but judging by the sun, it must have been mid-morning—about ten o’clock—when I realized I had made a colossal mistake. When I first set out, I thought the walk to the highway would take two, maybe three hours at the most. But here I was four hours later with not a car—hell, with not even another human being—in sight. I was not even smart enough to follow the winding road we came in on. No, I had to play it cool, thinking I could shave off some time by cutting across the desert and walking in a straight line. Well, once I left the road, I never found it again. I pressed on, keeping the mountain in my sights.

Now, I’ll tell you folks something I didn’t know at the time. A mountain is a pretty big item. I was heading south, so I could wander a few miles either east or west and still have the same perspective of my destination, the mountain. And without a compass that is just what I did. I was zig-zagging all over the place, but I thought I was walking in a straight line.

By noon, or when the sun was directly overhead, the desert had started to heat up. And so did I. At that point, I would have killed for a glass of cool water. Maybe even with some ice in it. Those were my thoughts as I walked towards that goddamn mountain that kept retreating from me.

So as not to bore you all to tears, I will not tell you about that afternoon. Suffice it to say the afternoon consisted of walking and thoughts of water. The sun was on a slow descent to the other side of the world, and I had been walking for about ten hours when I saw it. There up ahead, unless it was a mirage, was a shack. I thanked God I saw it when I did. Complete darkness was less than an hour away, and I might have walked right past it in the night.

I was too tired to run, but I did pick up my pace a bit. When I got to within twenty yards of the place I saw my salvation—an old fashioned water pump, long handle and all. I ran right to the pump and without asking anyone’s permission, pumped that handle up and down like there was no tomorrow. And from my point of view, if I didn’t get some water in me, there would be no tomorrow, at least not for me. For all my effort, only a few dust swirls and a few grains of sand emanated from the spout. Then I remembered something, a pump has to be primed, and you need water to prime a pump. It’s kind of like—you need money to make money, and I needed water to get water. A catch-22.

Now that I was not going to have my fondest wish granted—a few measly drops of water—I turned my attention to the shack. I could tell right away that the place was abandoned; the fauna, or sagebrush, or whatever the hell grows in a desert, was three feet tall and blocking the door. The shack was about thirty feet wide, and after circumnavigating it, I discerned it was also thirty feet deep. There were no windows, so my ingress would have to be through the door.

As the night was fast approaching, I returned from my excursion of circling the shack and proceeded to the door, expecting to do battle with it to affect entry. However, to my everlasting surprise, the door flew open upon my touch. How inviting. With no windows, the only light entering said shack came from behind me and from the spaces between the boards that made up the walls of the shack. They were more like the walls of an old barn; there was about an eighth of an inch of open space between most of the boards. Some did join together, but they were of the minority. The wood was warped and old. This place has been here for a while.

The gloom within the shack made it hard to see what, if anything, was inside. As my eyes adjusted to the low light, I saw a table in the middle of the room. I started for it, and then saw a single chair about five feet to the right. I had not noticed it sooner because it was in the shadows. The only light, as I’ve said, came mostly from the door. And that light was only as wide as the door, about three feet. It did not reach the corners or the far side of the room. Upon the back of the chair were draped some clothes.

For the time being, the chair and its accouterments held no interest for me. My attention was focused on the table. For upon the table stood a clear bottle about twelve inches high with a candle stuck into its mouth. It looked almost new, only an inch of its ten-inch length had been used. Maybe I would not have to spend the night in darkness after all.

I did not (and still do not) smoke. But I always carried a book of matches with me. One never knew when one might want to start a small fire and heat up a can of beans or a can of soup to get one through the night.

I went right for the candle, pulled out my trusty matches, and lit it. The light it gave off did not reach very far, maybe a couple feet past the table’s edge. By the way, the table was only about four foot square, and there was nothing else on it but the candle in the clear bottle.

Once I had a little light, I figured I could relax. I was still dying of thirst, but there was nothing I could do about that. I was thankful that the sun had retreated, giving me a respite from the heat for a few hours.

I pulled the chair over to the table and sat down. As I leaned back, I felt something bulky and hard. I stood and removed the clothing, which consisted of a “duster,” and two flannel shirts. You folks know what a duster is, don’t you? I am sure most of you have seen them in Westerns. But for those who are unfamiliar with the term, I will describe one. They were white, made of cotton, and looked something like a modern-day raincoat, except they were full length, falling to almost the ankle. And as the name implies, they were worn over one’s regular attire to keep the dust from soiling one’s clothes.

However, it was not the duster that caught my attention; it was the old-time six-shooter, lying in its holster, which hung from the back of the chair. Cool. Then I saw what was also hanging on the back of the chair, a canteen. I placed the candle on the table and with fear and trepidation, the fear and trepidation coming from the fact that the bloody thing might be empty, I lifted the strap attached to the canteen. I could tell by the weight that it was full. But even if there was water, chances of it being any good after sitting there in the desert for God knows how long were not good.

After returning the duster and shirts to where I had found them, I pulled the chair up to the table, sat down, and turned my attention once again to the canteen. I quickly pulled the cork from the opening and sniffed the contents. It didn’t smell bad, so I dribbled a few drops onto my tongue. It didn’t taste great, but I was thirsty enough to chance being sick, because at that point I was very dehydrated and would die in the desert the next day if I didn’t get some moisture in me.

Just as I was tilting my head back and raising the canteen to my mouth, a thought struck me. I did not have to chance anything. I could use half of the canteen’s contents to prime the pump, and if the well was dry, I would still have the other half for tonight and tomorrow. One way or the other, I was going to drink water that night even if it killed me. At least I would not die with my tongue hanging out, swollen from thirst.

I grabbed the candle, for it had gotten dark by then, and went out to the pump. I’m a city boy, there was only one other time I have had the pleasure of meeting a hand pump that pumped water up from a well. On that occasion, the pump needed priming and I watched my associate as he repeatedly primed and pumped, primed and pumped. So I felt pretty confident I wouldn’t screw things up by putting the water in the wrong place, like the spout, which is probably what I would have done if not for my previous experience with a pump.

I placed the candle on the ground so I could uncork the canteen; the candle gave just enough light so I could see what I was doing. With one hand, I poured water into the pump, and with the other, I took hold of the long handle at its end and started to pump. Up and down, faster and faster. The water seemed to be going in at an alarming rate, but I still poured and pumped. I had gone through more than half of that precious liquid and was about to halt my endeavor when the first few drops came out of the spout. And with every downward motion of the handle, more water came pouring out onto the ground until it was a raging torrent … a small raging torrent granted, but I had no complaints.

Then I could stand it no longer. I put my head under the spout, face up and mouth open, as I continued to pump. I have never tasted water so sweet in my entire life. And that would include any bottled water you may wish to proffer. After I had drunk my fill, I poured the contents of the canteen onto the ground and pumped a small quantity of water into it. I sloshed it around for a moment and emptied that also onto the ground. Then I filled the canteen, recorked it, and went back into the shack. Now that the water situation was taken care of, I could have gone for a light dinner, but hey … ya cain’t have everything.

I know most of you are asking: “Where the hell is Hank in all of this?”

Well, just hold on to your pantaloons. He’s on his way.

When I got back into the shack, I closed the door. As I’ve said, I’m a city boy. I didn’t want any desert critters coming in during the night, looking to start up a friendship with Yours Truly. In all likelihood, if any of the denizens of the desert did enter during the night, it would have been for the warmth of my body rather than my friendship. I allude to Crotalus Oreganu, better known as the western rattlesnake. I’ve heard that they like to snuggle up with human beings at night for our body heat. So the door would remain closed until morning.

Speaking of rattlesnakes, I said to myself, maybe a few are already squatting in this shack. I better take the candle to look around the perimeter, and into the far shadows to see if there are any ensconced hereabouts.

I saw nothing in the first three corners. But in the fourth, leaning against the wall, was a shovel and pickaxe, and on the floor lay a saddle and reins. There were no Crotalus Oreganu present, thank God, but there was a presence of another kind. Of course, I am speaking of Hank.

A bed stood against the back wall. I had not noticed it earlier because of my preoccupation with the canteen and the darkness of the room vis-à-vis the limited light of the candle. Upon the bed lay Hank. Now Hank wasn’t the most talkative hombre I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. But that might have been because he was dead.

Holding the candle over the bed, I saw a human skeleton completely intact, probably because it was a bit mummified. The dry desert air will do that to a corpse. The skin was drawn tight and shrunken. For some reason, the eyeballs were missing.

The skull was still attached to the neck. The hair of the cadaver was jet black and full. If the hair had been all that I could see, I’d have sworn it belonged to a young man who was still among the living. The eye sockets, as I’ve said, were empty and dark. The missing eyeballs were a mystery I was in no hurry to solve. Years later when I mentioned it to someone, I was told that insects had probably eaten them.

Keeping the candle high over the bed, I saw that his hands were clasped together and resting on his belly. Hank—and I’ll tell you in a moment how I came to know that Hank was his name—was fully dressed.

Starting from the top and working down, he had a red bandana tied around his neck, and a faded cotton shirt (because of the light I could not tell what the original color was). He had on a pair of Levi’s, held up—well, not at the moment, but in life—by a belt with a square buckle that looked to be tarnished silver, with the name “Hank” engraved onto it. And on the belt was a knife in a sheath. His feet were covered by beige-colored socks. It seems his boots were off when he died. I don’t know if it’s more advantageous to die with your boots on or off, I’ll leave that up to the individual. I then moved the candle a little lower still, and perceived on the wooden floor, next to the bed, a pair of scuffed boots, black in color, one lying on its side. Oh yeah … I forgot to tell you. Everything—Hank, the table, the floor, the bed … I mean everything—in that shack was covered with a thick layer of dust.

There we were, Hank and me, staring at one another—me with eyes, him without. I needed to sit down after that.

I sat at the table, purposely not looking over to where Hank lay in repose. I was staring at the table, the top of it to be precise, when I noticed what looked like a small depression on the edge closest to me. It looked like someone had carved something into the wood. I took a deep breath and blew the dust from that area. It allowed me to read clearly what had been carved. The message was a simple one: “Hank Wiley 1889.”

I reckon ol’ Hank had been hangin’ out here waiting for me, or someone like me, to come along for eighty years. The year was 1969. However, more surprising than finding Hank, and almost as spiritually uplifting as getting the pump to work, was what I was about to stumble upon next.

When I first saw the shack, I was so tired from the day’s march that I envisioned being asleep almost before the sun went down. However, “The best laid plans …” Finding the canteen and then finding Hank kinda got my juices flowing if ya know what I mean. So here I am, sittin’ in a one-room, thirty-by-thirty-foot, broken-down shack in the middle of the Arizona desert with an eighty-year old skeleton and I’m wide-awake with nothing to do. So, like any good ex-Boy Scout, I went exploring.

I took the candle and retraced my steps back to the bed and Hank. I knelt down next to the bed and placed the candle so the bottle that held it rested against Hank’s neck and chin. I first felt the two pockets of his shirt. Nothing. I rummaged in the left front pocket of his jeans, then the right. Nothing. I picked up the candle from its resting place and placed it on the floor. I wanted to check his back pockets. I put a hand on his shoulder and a hand on his hip, and I turned Hank onto his side. It was easy, I could have done it one handed he was so light. I held him in that position while I felt in the Levi’s rear pockets. The left pocket held nothing, but in the right, I felt something that might have been a wallet. I extracted it and lowered Hank back onto the bed. As I did so, his head became detached from the rest of his body and rolled onto its side, facing me. Those empty eye sockets seemed to say, “Why have you defiled me?”

I did not want to touch that withered skin, so I left Hank’s head where it was.

I picked up the candle and returned to the table. It was not a wallet, but a piece of leather cut into a rectangle, about eight inches long and folded in half. Lying between the folds were an envelope, a piece of folded paper, and an old, faded photograph. It showed who I believed to be Hank (the man had the same thick, black mane) and a woman with hair as light as Hank’s was dark, standing at the tailgate of a wagon. And on the wagon was a banner of sorts. Because Hank and the woman were standing in front of it, there were only eight letters visible, two to the right of Hank (“JU”) and six to the left of the woman (“ARRIED”). The banner obviously read “JUST MARRIED.”

I looked at the picture for a long time. I thought of the unnamed woman and wondered whatever had become of her. She was quite pretty, and now as I write these words and I see once again that picture in my mind, I recall they were also very young, although, at the time, that did not enter into my thinking. Being nineteen and believing myself fully grown, I considered anyone else my age to also be an adult. But as I think of that picture today, at the tender age of sixty-seven, I know they were just kids; they couldn’t have been more than nineteen themselves.

I next removed the letter from its envelope. It had a return address of Boston, Massachusetts, and it was addressed to Mr. Henry Wiley c/o Forrester’s Hotel, Tucson, Arizona. Surprisingly, the paper was not brittle; it was old and brown, but did not fall apart in my hands. The handwriting was feminine and it was addressed to “My dearest husband.” I did not read the letter just then. I put it to one side and opened the piece of folded paper. It also was a letter, but written in a different hand. This handwriting was masculine, and it started with “Dearest Andy.”

Before I go on, I would like to digress, or jump ahead, whichever term is proper. All this happened forty-eight years ago, and for forty-eight years I’ve held on to those two letters, never knowing the reason why. Through many incarnations—business man, criminal, fugitive, junkie, and now writer—I have kept these letters. While my mother was alive, they were kept safely at her home, and then in a bank safety deposit box. They sit before me as I write these words and I now know the reason I’ve kept them all these years. It was so that one day I might share them with you.

I will present them in the order they were written. The first one is dated 9 July 1888, and it is from an Andrea Wiley to her dearest husband Hank Wiley. Without comment, this is the text of the letter.

My Dearest Husband,

I hope this letter finds you well and happy. I am sending it to the address you gave me in Tucson.

Do you know it has been twenty months since you went away? I write you every week. Some of my letters are returned with the notation that you are not known at that locale. I pray that this letter gets to you, my love. This November will mark the second year of your absence. I miss you so very much.

I am fine. I am making dresses for the ladies of society. My work is very well thought of, and I am kept quite busy. I do miss Kansas, but you were right, it is better that I stay with my mother while you are gone. Mother sends her love.

I know you are seldom where you can post a letter, but please try to write more often. Only three letters in all this time makes me miss you all the more.

Henry, I know we discussed this before you left, however, can you not come home now? Yes, our farm in Kansas was doing poorly, and we both worked very hard. But you never heard me complain because I had no complaints. I loved you, and I loved our farm. I know you wanted things better for me. You did not want me to work so hard, you wanted to buy me fancy clothes and nice things. Henry, I never wanted any of that, I only wanted you. And by going away you have taken away the only thing I truly desired.

Will you please come home? There is a reason I ask this of you now. I know how stubborn you can be. Until you find your fortune in gold you will stay away. You will think that you have failed me. Henry, the only time you have failed me is when you went away.

I have not wanted you to worry so I have refrained from telling you this before, but Henry, you have a son. He was born eight months after you left. His name is Henry Addison Wiley, Jr. and he looks just like you. His eyes are the same, and so is his smile. However, his hair is fair like mine. He needs a father. All the riches in all the world cannot take your place. Henry, you are not a failure, not with a son like Henry Jr. Please come home.

I am starting to drop tears onto the paper and they will make the ink run. So I will close for now. Henry, know that I love you with all my heart and that I need you with me; you are my treasure, you are my riches. Henry Jr. and I need you, please come home.

Your adoring wife,

Andrea

P.S. I miss being called Andy. You are the only person who has ever addressed me as such.

A.

The other letter was from Hank to his wife.

Dearest Andy,

I have just received your letter. I see by the date that you wrote it seven months ago. I don’t get down here that often, but my friend who works in the hotel kept the letter for me. The reason some of your letters have come back is if the owner of the hotel sees them before my friend, he sends them back. He and I do not get along.

So I have a boy? I cannot wait to see him and you too. I will be coming home shortly. I stumbled upon an abandoned shack and decided to use it as my headquarters. And what do you know, not two miles to the west I found my fortune. It is in a small outcropping of rock. It comes out of the ground and gradually slants upwards to about the height of three feet. The rock is about four feet thick, and right in the middle of it, running the whole length of the outcrop is a vein of pure gold nine inches thick. I shoveled the dirt away from where she comes out of the ground and the vein continues. It could go on for miles. But I have no plans to find out. I too miss you.

I broke my pickaxe trying to break the rock away. I came down to Tucson to buy another one and to buy some chisels and a sledgehammer. If I had not found what I was desperately searching for these last two years, I would be leaving for home today. I just need to go back for one or two weeks. I am not greedy. I will only mine as much as I can carry on my horse. With it we can go back to Kansas and buy us a really good farm and hire us some help. You will not have to work so hard.

I will mail this when I come back to Tucson so you will know that I am om my way. I want to write more, but will do so at night in the shack. Until then, kiss Henry Jr. for me.

Hello, I am back in the shack. I have been here ten days and have all the gold I can carry. Tomorrow I start for Tucson, then for home. I cannot wait to see you and Henry Jr. As you know I am not much of a letter writer, so I’ll save my words until I see you.

All my love,

Your Henry

 There was more to Hank’s letter, but it was written in a different hand, a hand that seemed to shake as it wrote. It is hard to read, but after all these years, I know what it says. The script is in one continuous sentence without punctuation. For ease of reading, I have added the correct punctuation and separated the words into sentences and the sentences into paragraphs. Here are the last words of Henry Addison Wiley, Sr.

Wouldn’t you know it? The night before leaving for home and you, I have to go and get myself bit by a rattlesnake. I lanced the punctures and sucked out the venom, but I don’t think it was enough, or I wasn’t fast enough. I am feeling light headed.

I was getting packed up so I could get an early start in the morning, and I reached under the bed to pull out the box I keep the gold in, and a rattler bit me. I made short work of him with the shovel. But that doesn’t help me. I was going to transfer the gold from the box to canvas bags for the trip to Tucson.

I don’t think I have much time so I better get down to what I want to say. You were right, Andy; we were rich back in Kansas. I am so sorry I did not know it at the time. I guess staring Death in the face changes a man’s way of looking at things.

I know of your love of animals. Before I got too weak I took the saddle and reins off my horse and set her free. You taught me of the dignity of animals.

You were my shining light. I must have been crazy to have ever left you, now I will never know my son, and he will never know his father. Tell him of his father’s folly so he will know what is important in this life. Tell him that is something his father learned far too late. I have botched things up good. I write these words in the hope that someday someone will find them and forward them on to you. I want you to know that my last thoughts were of you. In the end, I have failed you … I am so sorry. Not for me, but for leaving you and Henry Jr. to the mercy of this world while I am in another. If possible, I will look after you from my new world as I have never looked after you in this one. All my love …

 The last few words were almost impossible to decipher because the writing had deteriorated to such an extent that they ran together, but I think I got it right.

After reading the two letters, I sat in the chair and just watched the candle burn. My thoughts were of Andrea and Hank, of their life on the farm in Kansas. I thought of Hank Jr. and wondered what kind of man he grew up to be. I think … no, I am pretty damn sure that reading those two letters is the reason I have had a life-long aversion to acquiring material wealth.

By now it was getting light out, but I kept the candle burning because I wanted to see something. I went over to the bed and knelt down. I used the candle to see if there were any snakes under the bed. When I didn’t see any, I grabbed the box that was under there by one hand and pulled. It did not move. I put the candle down, and using both hands, I dragged the box from under the bed. It was very heavy. When I slid it far enough out so I could see the contents, I lifted the candle and held it over the box. What I saw were two canvas bags lying on top of something. With my right hand, I removed the bags to expose rocks that reflected the light of the candle as a prism would. The light bounced off those rocks and reflected on the wall like one of those disco ball things that hang over dance floors in night clubs.

The rocks, of course, were pure gold. I call them rocks because that is what they were. They were not puny, little nuggets of gold; no, they were substantial rocks of gold. I looked on in amazement for a few minutes before replacing the canvas bags and sliding the box back under the bed. I can see how some can easily come down with gold fever. I must admit, for one half a second, I too had the fever. But the memory of what I had just read was all I needed to cure me.

I got up off my knees and walked over to the table. I folded the two letters, putting Andrea’s back in its envelope. I put them both in the back pocket of my jeans. Leaving the piece of leather on the table, I picked up the picture of Hank and Andrea. I walked over and unclasped Hank’s hands, now I had no qualms about touching him. I placed the picture between his hands and laid his hands back on his belly. Then I gently put his head back into the position it was when I found him.

I stood over him for a moment or two before saying out loud: “Hank old buddy, if you don’t mind, I’m goin’ borrow your canteen. I am sorry for disturbing you last night, but you and your lovely wife have been very good company. The rocks that you gave up so much for are where you left them. I have no need for them any more than you have. I know Andrea and your son are with you now, and I am glad for all of you. Thank you for your hospitality, and I’ll be seein’ you someday up yonder.”

I left the shack, closing the door behind me. Three hours later, I could hear the highway’s whine. An hour after that, I was standing on the side of US Highway 90, hitchin’ my way to California.

 

 

Click To See On Amazon

Six Feet

I come from the projects and I ain’t no pussy. In fact, I’d just as soon slit your throat as look at you.

They have me now. I was stupid enough to get caught after that gas station robbery. What’s the big fucking deal? We got only forty bucks. The cops came a-shootin’. My man Daryl took a bullet to the head.

Under the law, I was charged with murder in the second degree because someone died in the commission of a felony. How do you like that shit? The cops didn’t have to shoot. We were not armed … we carried toy guns. Of course, I was convicted. It was an all-white jury. What else can a black man expect in America?

Now I’m looking at twenty years to life. I sit in my cell and think of my girl. Her skin is chestnut brown in color. It’s the softest thing I’ve ever known … next to the love she has given me. Her smile used to send me to heaven. But I can’t see her smile no more. Her name is Gloria. She was my life. Now my life is trying not to get shivved in the food line.

She has written me, asking to visit. I will not allow it! I do not want her to see me in a cage. I wrote her back and told her to forget me. Get herself a man as unlike me as possible.

It really don’t matter no more. I will not live my life in a cage. Big Dog runs us blacks in this place. He is big, I’ll give him that. We are in the yard … the whites are on the far side … the spics opposite. And us niggers have the middle ground.

I rush at Big Dog looking like I’m holding a shiv. I’m not. One of his lieutenants cuts me down before I can get close.

As I lie on the green grass of the prison yard, looking up at a blue sky that I’ll never see again—my warm blood pooling beneath me—I think of my girl and of all the wrong choices I’ve made in my twenty-three years of life. But that’s cool … there are no more choices that have to be made, unless you want to ask me how deep I want to be buried.

Just for the record, it’s six feet.

 

Bobby the Big Blue Bunny

Bobby the Big Blue Bunny wasn’t always big, and he wasn’t always blue. However, he had always been Bobby, at least for as long as he could remember.

When he was only a white bunny, Bobby used to live in the woods with his other bunny friends. His closest friends were Homer, Janice, and Tommy. They would play together every day. They would play many games, but their favorite was hide-n-seek. That was ever so much fun.

One day, Bobby decided that he was going to be the champion hide-n-seek player of all time. He would hide so well that no one would ever find him. Not even Janice who was the best hide-n-seek player in the whole wide world!

On that day, as Janice covered her eyes and counted to one hundred, Tommy and Homer hid in their usual places. But Bobby went deep into the woods, farther than he had ever gone before. His mommy would have been so worried about him if she had known how far from home he had traveled.

After a while, he came to an old fallen-down-and-hollowed-out log in a quiet glade. I can hide in there and Janice will never find me, thought Bobby. So he hopped into the log and made himself comfortable. It was cozy. It was so cozy that after a while, Bobby started to get sleepy. I’ll take a short nap. Then I’ll go back and surprise them all. How all the other bunnies will cheer when I hop into the clearing after Janice has given up looking for me. These were his thoughts as he fell asleep.

The next thing Bobby knew, it was nighttime. He had slept longer than he had intended, and he was afraid. It was too dark to find his way home; he missed his mommy. He wanted to cry, but decided he would be a big bunny and not cry. He would wait for the sun to come up and then he would scamper home as fast as he could.

Once again, Bobby fell asleep.

When he awoke this time, the sun was out and the birds were singing. It was a beautiful day. “Oh, good! Now I can go home,” said Bobby.

He started to squirm his way out of the log and he was almost out when he heard, “Dum-dee-dum-dum. Dum-dee-dum-dum.” Someone was humming to himself. Then the phrase was repeated: “Dum-dee-dum-dum.”

“What is this?” Bobby wondered aloud. There was only one way to find out, he would have to leave the safety of the log. The voice did not sound scary. In fact it was quite a pleasant voice, so he made his way out into the sunshine.

There, before him, stood the biggest bunny he had ever seen. And to top it off, he was pink in colour! The bunny was stirring something in a big black kettle. And there were many more kettles spread throughout the glade.

Bobby was about to turn and run away when the pink bunny said, “I was wondering when you were going to wake up, sleepyhead.”

“You knew I was in the log?” asked Bobby.

“I surely did, but you were sleeping so soundly, I thought I’d leave you alone for the time being.”

“What are you doing?” Bobby wanted to know.

“I’m getting the colour ready for my eggs,” was the bunny’s reasoned response.

“Your eggs?”

“Yes, my eggs! I’m the Easter Bunny. You’ve heard of me.”

“I’m sorry, but I haven’t.”

“It doesn’t matter. Now, come and give me a hand. I have to mix the next colour.”

The Easter Bunny walked over to a kettle and lifted what looked like a heavy sack. He poured the contents into the pot. “You stir this while I go on to the next one.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but I have to go home. My mommy will be worried about me.”

“Yes, mommies are like that.”

“It’s been nice meeting you, sir.”

“Yes, yes. Now be on your way. I’m running late, and this year I have much work to do.”

Bobby turned away and hopped down the trail. But an hour later he was back. “I can’t find my way home. I’ve gone too far. I’ve never been this far into the woods before.”

The Easter Bunny sighed. “I will see that you get home, but first you must help me. Pick up a stick and stir that kettle over there,” he said pointing to the biggest kettle of the lot.

“It’s a little too high for me to reach,” said Bobby.

With another sigh, the Easter Bunny went over and opened a short step-ladder that was nearby and put it next to the kettle. “Here. Stand on this, and make sure the colour is thoroughly mixed with the water. There is nothing worse than spotted eggs.”

Bobby climbed to the top of the ladder and started to stir. Then he asked, “How long do I do this?”

“Until I get back,” answered the Easter Bunny. Then he added, “I won’t be long. I have to get the eggs.”

Bobby was warming to the task. It was fun to watch the colour swirls as they mixed with the water. His attention was so fixed on what he was doing that he did not notice he had moved a little too close to the pot. When he did notice, he tried to take a step back, but he lost his balance and fell into the kettle. That was all right; the water was not hot, but the edge was too high for him to reach. He yelled for help, but there was no one there to hear him.

In a few minutes, the Easter Bunny returned and saw the splashing in the kettle Bobby was supposed to be tending. He peered over the rim and saw a thoroughly soaked Bobby swimming around in circles.

“Can’t I leave you alone for even a minute?” the Easter Bunny asked. And without waiting for an answer, he reached down and pulled Bobby out of the water.

The Easter Bunny gave Bobby a towel and told him to dry off. “And sit over there, out of the way. As soon as my eggs are coloured, I’ll see you home.”

A few hours later, Bobby was standing in front of his burrow waving good-bye to his new friend, the Easter Bunny. When he went inside, he saw his mother standing at the sink and he called to her. She turned to him—and dropped the plate she was washing. His brothers and sisters snickered and laughed. “What is it?” he wanted to know.

“Look in the mirror,” said one of his brothers.

And so Bobby did look in the mirror and was surprised to see a very blue bunny staring back at him. It had been the blue dye kettle he had fallen into.

From that day onward, everyone called him Bobby the Blue Bunny. And when he grew up, he became known as Bobby the Big Blue Bunny. It was then that he stopped playing hide-n-seek. Being big and blue, he was always too easy to find.

The End

Michael

You might want to listen to this before you read my story.

******

Michael was my friend. Michael died saving my life.

Michael row the boat ashore . . . sister help to trim the sails . . . the River Jordan is chilly and cold . . . chills the body but not the soul . . . the river is deep and the river is wide . . . milk and honey on the other side.

I can only hope that Michael has found his milk and honey.

This is the story of Michael.

Michael and I grew up together. We went through grade school together. Then on to high school, where together we stayed. Neither of us wanted to pursue a “higher” education, so we decided to travel to broaden ourselves, as the terminology was in those days. At that time, we thought good would always win out over evil. But we were yet to be taught our lessons of the real world. Evil does sometimes triumph over good.

Michael James was six feet tall. He had straight blonde hair and blue eyes. The bluest eyes I ever did see. If limpid means clear as I think it does, then Michael’s eyes were limpid pools of blue. The color was that of the sky, perhaps a little lighter with flecks of yellow throughout the irises. Upon meeting Michael for the first time one was taken aback by his eyes. They did not bore into your soul—they lit up your life. Then there was his smile. I had known Michael for many years and I don’t think I ever saw him without that shit-eatin’ grin on his puss. And that grin, and its persistence, was amazing, given the fact that Michael suffered from a skin problem. He had large red patches on his skin, including his face. They came and went. I thought the name of the disease was psoriasis, but of that I am not certain.

Michael had no mother. She died when he was quite young . . . before I knew him. He had no siblings; he was reared by his father, which is probably the reason I am alive today. By that, I mean he was raised to be a man. He was taught “The Code” of real men, which is: You do what you have to do.

Michael row the boat ashore

Though we both had the travel bug, my case was more pronounced than his. During the summer between our junior and senior years of high school, I took off and bounced around the country while Michael held down the fort, so to speak. When I returned to finish my last year of school (at that time I still bought into the myth that you needed at least a high school education to survive in the world), I regaled Michael with tales of my adventures.

Well, after hearing what a wonderful world awaited us out there, Michael could not wait to hit the road. He wanted to leave immediately, but seeing as how I had just come in from a three-month run, I prevailed upon him to wait a few months and allow me to at least try to get my diploma. He said he would wait, but he did not, or he could not. Within six weeks of my return, Michael was on the road.

the River Jordan is chilly and cold

Michael was hip, and the only place for a hip guy to migrate in 1968 was San Francisco. And that was the end of Michael’s roaming. He fell in love with the city. I endured my senior year as long as I could, but two weeks short of graduation I said, “The hell with it!”, stuck out my thumb and headed for San Francisco to rendezvous with my friend.

When I arrived, I didn’t know where Michael was living; however, I knew if I hung out on Haight Street long enough, I’d see him. It took less than two hours.

This will tell you something about my friend Michael: He always had a place to live out there, and never paid rent. People were always asking him home, and once there, he just moved in. They were always glad to have him. And when I would hit town, he’d take me to wherever he was living and tell me to make myself at home. The person who actually owned the domicile never looked askance when he brought me through the door, they all loved Michael, and any friend of Michael’s . . .

it chills the body, but not the soul

For the most part, Michael stayed in San Francisco. I, however, could not stay in one town for more than a few days. I was like a pinball, rebounding from coast to coast, and from Canada to Mexico. While on the road I was alive. When on the road, I interacted with humanity and had to live by my wits. I loved being on the road. Because of Michael’s reluctance to leave San Francisco, I had two homes, one on each coast. My mother’s in Miami, and wherever the hell Michael was staying at the moment in San Francisco.

On one of my forays to San Francisco, I was introduced to Linda, the love of Michael’s life—his soul mate. They had met at a Clint Eastwood marathon. A movie house was playing the three Sergio Leone films. You know, A Fist Full of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly … non-stop, twenty-four hours a day. Michael had a bag of Red Acid, and in 1969, what girl wouldn’t swoon toward a man who was into Clint Eastwood and had a bag of LSD? It was love at first sight.

sister help to trim the sails

Now that Michael had himself a woman, he got his own digs. Every time I hit town they were living in a new place. It wasn’t always easy to find them, but somehow we would always meet up on Haight Street. I stayed with them on Geary in the Tenderloin. We stayed south of Market in the low rent district, we stayed across from Golden Gate Park, and at the end, we were again in the Haight-Asbury district.

One thing I must tell you about Michael so you can get a sense of the man. And yes, he was a man; though we were the same age, he was a man, while I was just a kid. I think Michael knew he did not have much time in this world. He could not wait for anything. Back then, we were doing acid all the time. Normally, you would swallow a pill and wait for it to take effect. But not Michael. The twenty minutes or so that it took was just too long for him. He had to shoot the acid into his vein to get off instantaneously. Of course Linda and I would have to follow suit or there would be no peace. And in those days, I just did not have it in me to stick myself with a needle. Michael did the honors.

the river is deep and the river is wide

The last time I came into San Francisco and saw Michael and Linda was in 1970, it was July. They were living in the Haight. It was a crummy neighborhood; the Summer of Love was three years gone by then. All the shops on Haight Street were boarded up with sheets of plywood, and the denizens of the street were the leftovers from that long ago summer.

True to form, it was not Michael’s apartment he took me to; he and Linda were living with a guy named Bobby. Bobby was a likable enough fellow. He just didn’t know bad men when he met them. Bobby had set up a “drug” deal to buy two pounds of marijuana. Nowadays it seems ridiculous to term buying two pounds of pot a drug deal, but in those days, that was heavy shit.

It was my first night in town and we were sitting in Bobby’s pad smoking a joint when Michael told me he was going to be a father. I looked over at Linda, she was radiant, and she was also blushing. I was just about to say something appropriate when the door crashed open, and two guys burst through the entrance. They were the assholes that Bobby was supposed to buy the pot from.

Michael row the boat ashore

Only one of them had a gun, but that was enough for us. When told to lie on the floor, we did so without protest. They then said to Bobby, “Where’s the cash?”

Bobby answered, “In my pocket.” The guy covering us with the gun told the other guy to get the money. Bobby, trying to be helpful, reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out a wad of cash. Then it seemed like a lot of money, but now, as I look back on that night, it couldn’t have been more than $500.00.

As soon as the money was in the asshole’s hand, the other one with the gun walked over to Bobby, placed the gun to the back of his head, and killed him. Upon hearing the shot, Michael and I looked at each other and knew that we were next.

the river is deep and the river is wide

Before I could think of anything to do, Michael bounded to his feet and rushed the guy with the gun. When I saw Michael go into action, it released me from my paralysis, but not soon enough to help Michael. He took a bullet to the chest. While Michael was being shot, I picked up a lamp from a table and smashed it over the gunman’s head while his partner stood frozen in place.

it chills the body, but not the soul

The man with the gun went down hard and the gun fell from his hand. All this went down fast; in a blur, I did not have time to think. I picked up the gun from the floor while the other guy still stood frozen. Obviously they were not professionals, though, at the moment, that did not enter into my thinking. I aimed the gun at the one standing and shot him dead with two shots. Then I turned to the one on the floor. He was moving and about to get up when I put a bullet into his head.

sister help to trim the sails

By the time the second one fell to the floor, Linda was bent over Michael. I dropped the gun and went to them. He looked at her and smiled, then he looked at me and said, “Get her out of here.” We both, Linda and I, said at the same time, “No!” Then Michael died.

Michael row the boat ashore

It took me a full minute, which at the time felt like an eternity, to make a decision. I grabbed Linda by the arms and pulled her into a standing position. She was numb. I told her we had to get out of there; that this was a drug deal gone bad, and there were dead bodies—four of them! I told her prison was no place to have a baby, and Michael knew that. That is why he wanted her out of there.

if you get there before I do

I told Linda to collect everything of hers and Michael’s that could identify them. I had the presence of mind to wipe the gun clean, but not to pick up the cash lying on the floor. Linda could have used it; she had a baby on the way. I took Michael’s wallet. He had never been arrested so I knew they couldn’t identify him by his fingerprints. After I had Michael’s wallet, and while Linda went about collecting her things, I took the time to vomit all over Bobby’s carpet. It was, after all, the first time I had killed. We left Michael and never looked back. Though it wasn’t actually Michael we left, only the body that housed that wonderful, brave man.

tell all my friends I’m coming too

Linda’s folks lived in New Jersey, so I hitchhiked with her to the east coast. She was in a state of shock, and because Michael’s last words, though not implicit, were to look after her, that is what I did. After getting her to her parents, I stayed in the northeast for the next seven months. I kept moving, but would drop in to see her every few weeks. Seven months later, when the baby was born, I was there. I was there for my friend Michael. It was a boy and I was asked to be his godfather.

milk and honey on the other side

Once Linda had the child, and I knew she was in the goods hands of her parents, I said good-bye. And while still on the road, I dropped in to see Linda and my godson every few months.

There are three human beings extant on this earth because of my friend Michael James. I am one of them.

Michael row the boat ashore . . . Hallelujah.

Click To See Reviews

Mahoney: An American Journey

This is the first chapter of my latest novel that I’ve been avoiding working on like I would avoid the plague. I’ve got five chapters in the bag and I figure I might as well get back to work after a month of getting drunk, passing out, and walking my dog. Anyway, it still needs a ton of editing, but if something big jumps out at you, please let me know in the comments section. Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta get a beer and go to work.

Chapter One

 It started out as a dream. A dream of a place where no one ever went hungry and fine Irish whiskey flowed from the fountains—a land of good and plenty. But first the nightmare had to be endured.

 In the second year of An Gorta Mhór—The Great Famine—MacMurragh stepped into Devin Mahoney’s cabin, but stopped short just inside the door. There was not a stick of furniture present; it had been sold off, one piece at a time, as the hunger grew. Devin had not eaten for five days, and then it was only a meager cupful of cornmeal. Before that he had gone three days without a morsel of food passing his lips. Devin Mahoney, the descendant of kings, lay on the dirt floor of his small, dark cabin.

≈≈≈≈≈

Near in distance, but leagues away in time, a lone horseman ascends a small hill. He is wearing his bronze breastplate, but no helmet. A sword dangles from his left hip. When on the crest of the hill, he dismounts and looks about him. To the east, the green, undulating hills roll on until they touch the azure sky in the far distance. To the west, the green carpet flows gently into an angry, grey sea. To the north and south—nothing but the green verdure of the land can be seen. It goes on forever.

The man’s name is Màel Muad mac Brian. He is the master of all he surveys. He is Ard Ri, the High King of all of Ireland. There are many lesser kings, but there is only one High King. It is a tenuous hold that he has on the crown. But for the moment, he is ruler supreme.

Year later, his son, Cían mac Máelmuaid, chief of the Cineal Aodha, married the daughter of Brian Bóruma mac Cennétig, the man who had killed Cían’s father and became High King. His daughter’s name was Sadb ingen Brian. She was a comely lass with emerald-green eyes, and whose golden hair shimmered in the sun—like pale yellow sunlight reflecting off a small, placid pond.

Cian’s lands extended from Cork to the steep cliffs of Mizen Head in the south. He and Sadb had a son who they named Mathghamhain. His progeny would become the sovereigns of Southern Ireland and be known as Mahoneys.

≈≈≈≈≈

Devin Mahoney was too weak to sit up, but his eyes bored into the landlord’s agent as he stood in the doorway, blocking the feeble light from an Irish sun trying to cast its rays through a grey and overcast Irish sky.

“Aha! I see you’re still drawing breath, then,” said MacMurragh, the landlord’s lackey.

“Aye. For a few days more, at least,” whispered Devin.

Devin Mahoney was nineteen years of age and the last of his family left alive. His mother was the first to go when the blight hit. She lasted only four months. She had always been a little on the frail side. But going days at a time without eating just wore her down. One day, she put on her finest dress and sat in her old rocker. She informed her family that she was tired and needed a rest. The next morning when the family awoke, she was still in her rocker. Dead.

The agent took a few steps into the dreariness and nudged Devin’s leg with the toe of his boot. “I be wanting to talk to you.”

“Speak, damn you. Then be gone and let me die in peace.”

“You’ll not be dying. At least not this day. The master has sent word that he will pay your way to America if that’s what you be wanting. If it was up to me, I’d let you die and then we’d be rid of you for good.”

“Why would he be wanting to send me to America? He has never given a tuppence worth for any of us Mahoneys.”

≈≈≈≈≈

Six months earlier and four hundred and forty miles due east, on an estate comprising two hundred and eighty-four acres in Warwickshire, England, the Seventh Earl of Denbigh, William Basil Percy Feilding, sat in the library of his ancestral home, Newnham Paddox. With him were three of his closest friends: Lord Beckham, Lord Beaumont, and his old school chum, the Marquee of Hertford, also known as Pinky to a select few.

The men had just adjourned from the dinner table, leaving the women free to get on with their gossiping. The men had important matters to discuss. There would be no talk of cricket scores or the latest method of cattle breeding that evening.

After serving the gentlemen their port, the butler quietly departed. Left alone, the four men, sitting in large, high-backed chairs, clipped the ends off their cigars. When the fragrant aroma of the West Indian tobacco filled the room, and the sweet, rich Portuguese wine had been tasted and savored, Lord Denbigh cleared his throat and said, “Gentlemen, what are we to do about this damnable Irish problem?”

Lord Beckham leaned forward and seemed ready to say something. Instead, he shrugged his shoulders, sipped his wine, and leaned back into the warm embrace of the overstuffed chair.

The Earl of Denbigh sighed. “All of us here have landholdings in Ireland. What are we to do about the tax? That damn tax will ruin me! If the blighters over there are starving, why doesn’t the government send them food? Why tax us?”

Francis George Hugh Seymour, the 5th Marquee of Hertford, rose from his seat and picked up the decanter of wine from his friend’s desk. As he poured the dark purple liquid into his now empty glass, a wiry smile played across his lips. “If I remember correctly, Bill, you were the one always so sure that you’d be sent down for failing an examination while we were at Oxford.”

“That was a long time ago, Pinky. I do not think that I am overstating the severity of the situation when I say that the tax on our number of tenants will cost us plenty. How are we to pay it?”

The Marquee tilted his head back and blew out a stream of blue-white smoke, then sipped his wine before addressing his friend.

“If I understand you correctly, you have two questions you would like answered.”

Lord Denbigh nodded.

The Marquee continued.

“First of all. One cannot just feed people when they are hungry. They must work for what they receive or else they will become indolent, and the Irish are already a languid lot. The Prime Minister knows this, hence, the creation of the work gangs and workhouses. However, someone has to pay for those things, and Her Majesty’s Government has decided that it should be us. I agree with the concept, but not with who should pay for the program.”

“I don’t care who pays for it as long as it’s not me! I can’t afford the tax. It will ruin me,” Lord Denbigh practically shouted.

“You just built a third story onto your house. At how many thousand pounds sterling?” asked his friend, the Marquee. “You used to have thirty-four hearths throughout the house. How many do you have now? You needed a third floor like you needed another head. And don’t look at me like that, Bill. My point is that we can afford just about anything. But that being said, why should we pay the tax?”

Lord Beaumont rose and reached for the decanter. After he had refreshed his glass, he said, “We will pay the tax because we have no alternative. If those damn Irish did not breed like rabbits, then perhaps this year we would make a profit from our farms. The rents I collect do not come anywhere near what I’ll be paying in taxes.”

Having had his say, he relinquished the floor by sitting back down with a full glass of the best port to be had on the British Isle.

Francis Seymour, The Marquee of Hertford, eyed Lord Beckham. “Have you anything to say?”

“Yes, by George. May I have a spot more of that port?”

The Marquee filled Lord Beckham’s glass and leaned back on the desk. Eyeing his three peers, he said, “We would not be in this pickle if we had not subdivided our land to such an extent. When the law was made giving us one vote in the Irish Parliament for each tenant farmer on our land, we got greedy for votes, not to mention the additional income. When the famine came along, the additional tenants became a liability because of this new tax. Prime Minister Peel and the Colonial Secretary, Lord Stanley, have deemed it necessary to tax us landlords for the creation of workhouses and work gangs.”

The others in the room vigorously puffed on their cigars in silent agreement.

The Marquee of Hertford continued. “My only concern is to remove the tenants from my land, and I think I have found a way to do so without throwing the poor buggers off onto the road to starve to death. That might not look so good and it may have unpleasant repercussions. You can push a people only so far before they will rise up against you. Look what happened in America under King George.”

The others nodded their agreement and leaned forward in eager anticipation for what the Marquee would say next.

“I have given the matter thorough consideration and I think I have come up with a solution.” Here he stopped speaking to avail himself of the enticing port.

“Out with it, Pinky!” declaimed Lord Denbigh.

The 5th Marquee smiled at his old friend. “The solution is simple. We send them all off to America.”

“What?” the three other men said in unison.

“It is less expensive to send a family of six to America than it is to pay the tax on them for one year. I have spoken with a few ship owners and they have all agreed to take the tenants at a reduced rate if we use their ships exclusively. It’s not much different than shipping cattle,” said Francis George Hugh Seymour, the 5th Marquee of Hertford.

“I think you’ve got it,” said a smiling William Basil Percy Feilding, the 7th Earl of Denbigh. “Let’s finish our port and rejoin the ladies. And Pinky, I’ll be wanting the names of a few of those ship owners of whom you spoke.”

≈≈≈≈≈

Looking down at the recumbent Devin Mahoney, MacMurragh shrugged his shoulders. “You ask me why His Lordship would send you off to America. Well, I ask no questions. I do as I am told. Do you want to go to America or lie in your filth and die? The ship leaves from Cork in two weeks.”

Devin forced himself to sit up and leaned against the stone wall of the cabin. There were no windows; the agent was a dark silhouette against the soft brightness coming in through the door. Addressing the gloomy specter, Devin said, “I could not walk out that door behind you. How am I to get to Cork? And how am I to live for two more weeks with nothing to eat?”

“If you agree to go, I’ll send the cook down with a little food to get you back on your feet. When you leave, you are to be given enough to keep you alive until you board ship. Once on board, you’ll have nothing to worry about. And in America, employment is plentiful and everyone is rich.”

“Again, I’ll ask you . . . how am I to get to Cork?”

“You’ll walk, be damn’d. You don’t expect the master to send you off in his fine coach, do you?”

“I’ll go. Send down the food.”

Devin had said he would go to America only to get something to eat. He had to think on what his next move would be. The agent would probably allow him food until he was strong enough to make the trek to Cork. Then he would be given a sack of meal to prepare and eat along the way. But what if he did not board the ship? Whatever he decided, he would no longer be living on the farm where he was born.

He lay back down and thought of his father and two brothers. His sister, Hannah, was safe. She had married before the famine struck and moved to the North where the suffering was not as widespread—at least not yet.

A few months after his mother died, Devin’s father and brothers checked themselves into a workhouse. It was a decision of last resort when it became apparent that they would all starve to death unless something was done. The three older men would subject themselves to the indignities of the workhouse—the wearing of a uniform, the bad food, and the twelve-hour work days. At least in the workhouse, they would be fed twice a day.

The salary wasn’t much, but what there was would be turned over to Devin who was to stay on the farm to protect the tenancy. When the famine was over, the Mahoneys would check themselves out and return to the farm. That was the plan.

What they had not planned on was being exposed to disease. Bathing was practically unheard of in the workhouses and most of the inmates were infested with lice. Two months after entering, all three of the Mahoney men came down with typhus. Three weeks later they were all dead. And now here lay Devin, close to death himself.

A little while after the agent had departed, the cook from the manor house came in with a bucket of stirabout.

“Here, this will give you strength.”

Devin struggled to sit up but was having a hard time of it. The cook placed the bucket on the dirt floor and went over to help. Once Devin was leaning against the wall, the cook brought the bucket over.

“Now you go easy, with ya. If you eat too much, you’ll make yourself sick, sure enough.” She reached into the big pocket in the front of her apron and pulled out four slices of bread and a spoon. “I wasn’t supposed to give you any bread, so let’s keep this between us.” She handed him the bread and spoon as he smiled up at her—his first smile in many, many a day. The cook smiled back, then left him to eat his porridge alone.

Devin first ate a slice of bread. Before the famine, he had never thought of bread as having any flavor, but as he chewed, his taste buds awoke with the sensation of little, intense explosions. The coarse brown bread was the most wonderful thing he had ever eaten in his life. He chewed slowly and enjoyed the feeling of food filling his stomach once again.

With the bread settled warmly and comfortably in his stomach, Devin dipped the spoon into the still-warm porridge. After three spoonfuls, he felt full and lay back down to wait for his strength to return.

If MacMurragh had just a spark of humanity in him, he would have let Devin work around the manor house in exchange for food. However, the man hated the tenants and did everything he could to make their lives miserable. The cook was a good woman and used to give the Mahoneys a little food at the start of the famine. But one day, the agent caught her at it and threatened to terminate her if she did anything of that sort again. She, being a widow and having a small child to look after, had no choice but to cease with her philanthropic endeavors.

As he pondered his future, Devin fell off to sleep and dreamt of times before the famine.

During the week, there was cabbage and potatoes to be had, and maybe a little milk. Sometimes the potatoes were fried, sometimes boiled together with the cabbage, and sometimes roasted in the fire. For most Sunday dinners, there would be meat on the table, usually pork. And at Christmas-time, there was always a pudding. As a child, he and his siblings awaited Christmas with wild anticipation. There were never any presents; the family was too poor for things like that. But they always had a pudding. It was the high point of the year.

Devin slept through the night. And as he slept, his body absorbed the nutrients from what he had eaten. In the morning, he was strong enough to stand and go outside. But first he ate his fill of cold porridge, which had congealed in the bucket overnight. For dessert, he had a slice of bread.

He met MacMurragh right outside the cabin.

“I see that you’re strong enough to move about. Would you be leaving us today?”

“You said the boat doesn’t leave for two weeks. I’ll need a day or so to get my strength back. I can make it to Cork in five days. So don’t worry, Your Lordship. You just keep up your part of the bargain and I’ll be on my way as soon as I am able. There’s no longer anything to keep me here.”

“When you’re ready to go, see the cook and she’ll give you enough food to get you to Cork. The name of the ship is The Archimedes. Tell the captain your name and that you are a tenant of Lord Feilding; he’ll have a place for you. I’ll expect you to be gone by tomorrow—before I get back from town. I’ll be wanting to burn that hut of yours and be rid of the stench.”

Devin had never liked the man, and if he had been at the top of his game, he would have punched the agent right in his big, fat, ruddy face. Instead, he turned without a word and went back to his cabin.

He looked around the empty room and thought of times past. Over there stood the table where so many family dinners had taken place. During the happy times, before the famine, dinner had been the best part of the day. It was a time to come together as a family and discuss things of great import. Such as Hannah’s insisting she needed a new dress. “How do you expect me to attract the boys if I have to wear that raggedy grey thing?”

His father had patted her hand and said, “We’ll see what we can do right after the harvest.” She got her dress and she got her husband, and thank the Lord in heaven for that.

Devin smiled sadly at the memory.

Over there, against the south wall, is where he and his siblings slept. During the winter, they would drag their beds near the fire, and the three brothers would take turns keeping the fire lit throughout the night. He could still hear his oldest brother, John, yelling at him in the darkness. “Devin, you’ve let the fire go out. It’s your turn. Get your arse out of bed and do your duty!”

Again, Devin smiled a sad smile.

His parents slept in the adjoining room—the only other room in the cabin. As a young boy, he had once asked his father why he and his mother did not sleep by the fire in winter. Remembering his father’s answer caused another smile to play across his lips. “Your mother is all I need to keep me warm at night.”

Now the cabin was as empty as his heart.

It was at that moment Devin made up his mind. He would go to America and become a very rich man. He would return, buy the land from Lord Feilding, and find himself a good, strong Irish lass to bear him many children. He would live out his days as lord of the manor, surrounded by his children and grandchildren. Never again would a Mahoney be driven off the land!

He sat down on the earthen floor, next to the cold fireplace, and lay down to spend his last night in the only home he had ever known.

In the morning, he knocked upon the kitchen door. Shortly, the door opened and the cook handed him a canvas sack. “Here. This will keep your body and soul together until you’re on the boat. There’s five pounds of meal and two of oatmeal. I’ve also given you a small kettle and some matches.”

Devin thanked her and turned to leave, but was stopped in his tracks with the words, “Wait a minute. I’ll be right back.” It was a cold November morning, and she had noticed that he was shivering in his tattered rags. She was soon back, holding a gentleman’s overcoat.

“Take this and be gone with you before Mister MacMurragh returns. It is the master’s coat and I would surely be put out upon the road if it was known that I had given it away.”

“I cannot take it. You and your child would starve if you were thrown out.”

“Do not worry. The master will never miss it. He has three more just like it. The only danger is if Mister MacMurragh sees you wearing it.”

Devin leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. “You’re a good woman, Aife Meehan. When I return from America, I’ll build you the grandest house County Kerry has ever seen, and you’ll never have to work another day.”

She said not a word, but a single tear rolled down her right cheek as she slowly closed the door.

Devin put on the coat and hefted the sack over his shoulder. It was forty-two Irish miles from Killarney to Cork. Fifty-three miles if you’re figuring as the Americans did. The sun was trying to assert itself over the eastern horizon. It was a new day in more ways than one. As he stepped through the gate and out onto the road that would lead him to Cork, and ultimately to America, he thought of something his parish priest had once said in a sermon.

The journey of 1,000 miles starts with the first step.

 

Night Moves

They are always with me. At times they appear out of the ethereal mist, and other times they speak directly to my mind. I wish they would leave me to myself, but that they will not do. No, first I must do their bidding.

They come in the night and stay until the black sky fades to gray. When the stars leave the sky and the clouds to the east turn pink, I am allowed my rest. But I ask you, what respite can a murderer have? At their behest, I have killed again this night. And I will continue to kill until they go back from whence they came.

After all I’ve been through, I still remember the first time they came to me. It was a little over a year ago, and since then I have killed twenty-nine people. Please do not think me insane. I assure you these beings are real and not immanent. At first, I, too, thought myself demented when they stood before me telling me they came to save the human race, and to accomplish their mission, certain people must die. They explained that the demise of the race was not impending, but if action was not taken, and taken soon, it would be too late to set things on a course to ensure the continuance of mankind.

You are probably wondering, if you do not think me crazed, why they cannot do their own dirty work. That is a very good question and one I have asked them. They, of course, are not of our time and space. They appear—when they appear—as diaphanous specters; they cannot manipulate physical matter. Thus, I have become their instrument here on earth. Where or when they are from, I do not know. And why, out of all the billions on this planet, I was chosen, I know not. But it has been a long night and I must sleep. I will continue this at a later date, and continue it I shall, for I want there to be a record of my actions and the reasons for them.

I am back. It has been two days since my last entry in this journal, and tonight they had me kill again. That makes thirty people—thirty innocent people … men, women, and children—I have dispatched from this world. Yes … I am sorry to say that they have had me kill children. However, I was told that after tonight there would be no more need of my services. The human race was safe for the foreseeable future.

I refer to my tormentors as they or them because I do not know what they call themselves. Their form is vaguely human … two arms, two legs, and a head of sorts atop a torso, but their gossamer appearance precludes calling them human.

Tonight’s victim was a man in Moscow. I was directed to him and given his name. I then set about their business. I was told that his son, yet unborn, would one day invent something that would cause the death of billions. Being told the basis for this particular death was a departure from the norm. I had never been given rhyme nor reason for any of the others. The man’s name and the names of the other twenty-nine, including where and when they died, are in the addendum attached to this missive. I remember every one of my quarry.

I guess I should have mentioned this earlier, but my victims were scattered around the world. I do not know how they did it, but one minute I was in my room behind a locked door, and the next minute I was standing in a foreign locale with the name of that night’s victim swirling through my brain. Then into my mind came the place I could find him or her in the city, town, or hamlet.

Now, the thirty-first person will die. They, at last, have left me to myself. I am now free to end this the only way it can be ended—with my death. I’ve been saving and hiding my medication for quite a while now; there is enough to kill three of me. May God have mercy on my soul.

I affix my hand to this document this 3rd day of May in the year of our Lord 2017.

Signed,

Francis Fitzgerald

≈≈≈≈≈≈

When Dr. Allen had finished reading the above, he turned to Dr. Harris and said, “Interesting, but why have you brought it to me? We both know that the man was a certified, delusional schizophrenic. How long have we had him here at our institution?”

Dr. Harris hesitantly answered, “He’s been here at Oakwood twelve years, sir.”

“Well, there you have it. It’s too bad he took his own life; it doesn’t help our reputation any, but these things happen.”

“Yes, sir. However, there is something I think you ought to know.”

“Yes?”

“I’ve taken the liberty of investigating a few of the names on Fitzgerald’s list. It’s taken me three weeks, but I’ve verified eleven of the deaths and their time and place. They all correspond with what Fitzgerald has written.”

Dr. Allen straightened in his seat, glanced at the papers in his hand, and looking Dr. Harris in the eye, forcefully said, “Preposterous! If there is any correlation, he read of the deaths in the newspaper or heard of them on the television.”

“Excuse me, sir, but Fitzgerald had no access to newspapers. He was denied them because they would agitate him to no end. And the only television he had access to was in the day room where the set is perpetually tuned to a movie channel.”

“That still does not give credence to this fairytale,” said Dr. Allen, waving the Fitzgerald papers in Dr. Harris’ direction.

“No, sir, it does not. However, there is one more thing I think I should make you aware of. My sister is married to a Russian physicist, speaks fluent Russian, and lives in Moscow. I called her about the last name on Fitzgerald’s list. She made a few calls for me and it turns out that Fitzgerald was dead before the body of the man he mentions was discovered. And just one more thing, sir. The man’s wallet was found in Fitzgerald’s room. I have it if you’d like to see it.”

Turning a color red that is not in the regular spectrum, Dr. Allen shouted, “NO! I DO NOT WANT TO SEE THE DAMN WALLET!” Then handing the Fitzgerald papers to Dr. Harris, he said with ice in his voice, “Burn these, burn them now. And if you value your position here at Oakwood, you will never speak of this matter again … to anyone. Do I make myself clear?”

Dr. Harris accepted the papers with a meek, “Yes sir,” and walked out of the room. When he was in the hall and by himself, he muttered, “I’ll be goddamned … the old bastard is afraid.”

But Dr. Harris did not burn the papers. He placed them, along with the wallet, in his desk drawer and locked it. He had some thinking to do. As he started on his rounds, a quote of Shakespeare’s kept repeating itself in his head. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

 

Click To See Reviews On Amazon

If anyone feels so inclined, I’d appreciate it if you’d like my Facebook page. You can click on the button on the right side of the page. Thank you.

The Café

To those of you who have been following my hitching adventures, I want to thank you for reading my stuff. This is the last of those adventures I’ll be posting. There just ain’t that much more to tell. I wrote this in a rather flippant style, but I assure you, when it was going down, I was shaking in my boots. Also, now that the statute of limitations has run out on most of my crimes, I reckon it’s safe to tell you that Andrew Joyce is my pen name. In another life, I was known as Billy Doyle.

It all happened in a little café just across the border. The year was 1971 and I was twenty-one-years old. I was hitchin’ west and was let off outside of El Paso, Texas. It was just before dawn and I had not slept or eaten in a day. But at twenty-one, that’s not a big deal. This is a story of friendship, and how the length of the relationship does not matter. What matters is the commitment and intensity the participants feel for one another.

As I stood on Highway 90 waiting for my next ride, a little man walked up to me and said, “Excuse me, sir, but would you like to make some easy money?”

Now, if you know me, you know money has never interested me all that much. However, the unknown—something new—drew me as a moth to flame.

I said to the man, “Whatcha got in mind?”

It seemed that, because I was a gringo, he thought I might be able to help him. He then laid out the plan to me. His wife was being held captive for a debt that he owed. She was forced to work in a café just across the border in Juarez. He wanted me to go into the café and ask for her, and then pretend I wanted to go upstairs with her; but I was to bring her out the back door and walk her across the border. For this, he offered me the princely sum of twenty-five dollars. Son-of-a-bitch! Even to a kid who hadn’t eaten in a day, $25.00 was chump change.

But his story got me angry. How could those damn assholes keep a man’s love from him? It got my Irish up. And goddamn it, I was going to get that man’s woman out of that café if it was the last thing I ever did. And it nearly was.

But first things first. If this guy had money on him, then he could buy me breakfast and fill me in on the details at the same time. I suggested we adjourn to the nearest diner and he readily agreed. We walked a few blocks until we found a hash house that was open. We entered and made a beeline for the counter.

Because I had not eaten in a long while, I ordered the biggest damn breakfast you’ve ever seen. Of which I could only eat half. I don’t know how many of you have gone a day or two without eating, but a funny phenomenon takes place. The first day you’re hungry as hell, but by the beginning of the second day, the hunger, for the most part, is gone. Mentally you’re hungry, but physically you’re just fine. At the time, I was told it was because your stomach shrinks, but I don’t know how true that is. I’ve never gone a full forty-eight hours without food, so I don’t know what happens then. Anyway, that’s why I could only eat half of what I had ordered. But while I was eating, the little man, whose name turned out to be Miguel Delarosa, told me his story.

He was of Indian descent, as are the majority of Mexican people. There are two classes of people in Mexico: those descended from the Spanish who own most of the country, and those descended from the people who used to own the land, the Indians.

He came from a town in the estado (state) of Oaxaca, which is located in southern Mexico. The town’s name, which I never did learn how to pronounce properly, was Tehuantepec. He had been married about eight months by the time we met. Three months after getting hitched, he made the determination that he wanted a better life for himself, his wife, and any children that might someday come along. So it was decided that he would go to America to get work and get settled. When he had saved enough money so his wife could make the trip by bus, he would send it to her and they would be reunited. The reason his wife, whose name was Asuncion, or Asun for short, did not accompany him to begin with is that they had no money. Miguel would have to make the trek by walking and hitchhiking; and he’d be traveling the entire length of the country. Not the sort of trip a man wants to bring his bride of a few months on. The trip would be not only arduous but also dangerous. There were still bandits roaming the highways and roads of Mexico. A man and women alone could very easily find themselves in dire straights out in the countryside.

Now we come to the part of Miguel’s story where he fucked up. It seems he was homesick, so on Saturday nights he’d walk across the border into Juarez and hang out at this particular café. Of course, he was in the country illegally. And with all the hysteria today about the great horde coming up from Mexico to take our jobs, rape our women folk, and pillage our cities, it may be hard to believe that in those days the border guards where hip to the goings on. I mean they knew the guys going and coming on Saturday night were not kosher, but the local farmers and ranchers needed their labor, so everyone was cool.

The name of the café was “The Mouse Trap,” or as the sign above the door read, Café La Ratonera. It was owned by a man named José. He’s the villain of this piece. He was big and fat, but more big than fat. He stood 6’ 4”, wore a grizzled black beard, and had a large scar in the form of a lightning bolt on his right cheek. (No shit. This guy had the scar on his cheek just like I said. He was right outta central casting!) When he smiled, the gold front tooth that he was so very proud of shone brightly in the dim light of his café. He was a bad motherfucker. No … bad is not the right word. The man was downright evil.

José could spot an “illegal” a mile away. By illegal, I mean a man who was in the United States without documentation, without his “papers.” Most seemed to get homesick at some point, as Miguel had, and would walk across the border for a little bit of home. And the biggest, gaudiest place in all of Juarez was the Café La Ratonera, so naturally that is where most of the men ended up.

José’s choice of name for his establishment might have been a coincidence, or it may have been by design; but regardless of serendipity or intent, he did snare the weakest of men in his “trap.” His method of doing so was quite simple; once he had scouted his prey, he would befriend his intended victim in some small way. He might forgive that evening’s bar bill, buy the man a few drinks, or perhaps, if he was in an expansive mood, give the man a few pesos to put toward bringing his family to America. All the men José preyed upon were working, and saving for one reason, and one reason only, to be reunited with their loved ones. Of the men’s longing to be with their families, José was able to make a very despicable living.

This is how Miguel got taken. José scoped him out and did his usual bullshit, pretending to be his friend. Then when Miguel told him of Asun and how he was working to bring her to America, José laid out his trap.

The trap consisted of exactly what Miguel wanted to hear. José told of how he had connections throughout Mexico, how he could arrange to have Asun brought up to Juarez, and then he, Miguel, could walk her across the border on a Saturday night. Of course, Miguel wasn’t completely brain dead. He did ask, “Why would you do this for me, and will there be a cost involved?”

To which José responded, “Man, you are my compatriot, mi amigo, we are simpatico. Yes, there will be a small cost, not everyone thinks as I do. But we’ll work it out, mi amigo.”

And work it out ol’ José did. He did indeed bring Asun up from Tehuantepec and got her to the Café La Ratonera. But once there, Miguel was told the fee for bringing her up was $1,000.00. It might well have been $100,000.00 as far as Miguel was concerned.

That’s when Jose cut out the being nice crap—the “I am your amigo” crap—and let Miguel have it right between the eyes. He informed Miguel that until the debt was paid, Asun would work in his hellhole of a café. And then to emphasize his intent, he pushed a button that was affixed to the side of his desk (they were in José’s office at the time) and two men appeared out of nowhere. José simply said, “Eighty-six the son-of-bitch.” Eighty-six being a universal term used in the bar and liquor business meaning throw the bum out, and don’t let him return.

Miguel told me that was two weeks ago, and he had yet to set sight upon his wife. And he was beaten if he even walked by outside the café. Of course, he was not allowed in. He knew she was there because he had friends, or more like co-workers, go in and they had spoken with her. She told them that her job was to serve drinks, be nice to the men, and if things were slow, she was to help out in the kitchen. The damn place was open twenty-four hour a day. She had a small room she had to share with two other young girls who were in the same predicament as she.

If my Irish was up when he first told me of his problem, it was through the fuckin’ roof after hearing the details. I might not have seemed upset on the surface because I was so busy shoving eggs, bacon, and hash browns in my mouth, but I was. When I pushed away the remainder of my breakfast, and told Miguel to pay the man, I rose and walked to the door of the place, stretched, scratched my stomach, and looked at the brightening sky in the east.

As Miguel joined me at the door, I asked him if he would be so kind as to answer a few questions. He said he’d be glad to. So I asked the most obvious question first. “How come an illiterate bean picker like you speaks better English than me?”

I’ve got to admit he did have a ready and plausible answer. “The priest in our town was from your country. He taught me when I was very young, and we conversed only in your tongue whenever we spoke.”

Okay, next question: “What the hell day is it today?”

He had a ready answer for that also. “It is Friday, my friend.”

Wait one fuckin’ minute, thought I. I am now this little man’s friend. Then I thought I did have him buy me breakfast, and I did intend to help him out. But holy shit! If he was now a friend, that would mean there would be no pulling out if, or when, the going got tough. So be it, I’ve got me a new friend. What the hell.

Third and last question: “You got a place I can crash for a while? I’m not going to be good to anybody until I get some sleep.”

“Yes, my friend. There is a small shack that I share with other men who work on the farm with me. We will be in the fields all day. You will have it all to yourself.”

There he goes with that friend shit again, but I had resigned myself to that. What touched me, though, was the way he offered his humble abode. He seemed to imply having what I was sure was a shithole all to myself was a high honor. Nothing against my little friend. My point is that the assholes who employ men like Miguel house them in conditions that, if you housed your dog in like manner, you’d be arrested for cruelty to animals.

So, the two new friends turned their backs to the rising sun and Miguel walked me to his domicile. By the time we got there, it was empty of inhabitants. He showed me which bed was his, and told me he would see me at the end of the day. He was late to the field and said he had to vamoose. I dropped onto his bed, and I was so tired I think I was out before Miguel hit the door.

I woke up a few times throughout the day, but thought it advisable to keep a low profile. I didn’t know how the owner of the outfit would take to a gringo, a non-working gringo at that, hanging out in his shithole of a shack. So I went back to sleep to await Miguel.

I was awakened by Miguel shaking my shoulder. When I opened my eyes, I beheld Miguel and three other men standing over me. When Miguel saw that my eyes were open, he said, “Mr. Billy, these are my friends, and I have told them that you are here to help me. They are now your friends also.” There he goes with that friend shit again. I rubbed my eyes and yawned before saying in my best American accent, “Hola.”

I know I’ve used this phrase before, but it is so apt. First things first: “Miguel, I need a shower. Whatcha got?”

He, as it turned out, didn’t have much. I’m not even going to tell you how these people were forced to wash themselves. No, the hell with it, I’ll tell you. There was a hose outside next to the shack and you had to stand there holding the damn thing over your head while cold water poured down on you. The owner of that place, I am sure, is roasting in hell as I relate this tale to you. So everything works out in the end.

After my “shower,” I dressed in the best clothes I had with me, which ain’t saying much. And even though the sun had just sunk beneath the horizon, I asked Miguel to buy me another breakfast. In my mind, I planned it more as a council of war than an eating experience. Miguel and I had to lay out our strategy. His original idea of me just waltzing into the café and walking out with his beloved, I was pretty sure, was not going to work.

As I shoveled my second meal of the day into my mouth, I told Miguel that the “extraction” would take some planning, and most importantly, some reconnoitering. I thought it good that it was a Friday night. If the café was busy, then I might have a chance to talk with Asun. Then it hit me, Does she even speak English? So I asked Miguel, and his answer was a simple “No.” That was going to make my job a whole lot harder. I couldn’t see her just walking outside with a perfect stranger, especially one babbling in a foreign tongue.

We dawdled at the hash house until just before midnight. I figured that the café should be getting up a good head of steam right about then and I wouldn’t stand out as much. But first, I needed Miguel to tell me something I could tell Asun so she would know I was a friend. I had the “Mi amigo … Miguel” down pat, but I thought I should have a closer, just to make sure that if the chance presented itself, she would leave with me.

Miguel thought for a moment before saying, “I gave her a ring for her birthday last year when she became a woman; it was her eighteenth year. No one ever knew of it but us.”

“Okay, Miguel, lay it on me. Teach me to say, “Miguel gave you a ring for your eighteenth birthday.” It took a while, but I finally got it down, “Miguel te dió un anillo cuando cumpliste dieciocho años.”

To quote a man I am not too familiar with, but he did come up with some good lines now and then: “Once more into the breech. Cry havoc, let slip the dogs of war.” Man, I love that quote. I use it whenever I can. But in simpler terms, I merely said to Miguel, “Let’s boogie.” Yeah I know, very archaic, but hey, so am I.

We walked into town and crossed the border without incident. There was never any trouble going into Mexico. They were damn happy to have you and your gringo dollars come into their country. Miguel led me to the café and said, “I better not go any farther. They know the sight of me. It would not be good for us to be seen together.”

Well damn, why hadn’t I thought of that?

Miguel had already told me what Asun looked like, so now it was up to me. I pointed to a little bar down the street and told him to wait for me there. I walked the half a block to the front door of the café and entered.

From the outside, the Café La Ratonera didn’t look half-bad. But once inside, what a fuckin’ dump. You entered, and through the haze of cigarette smoke, the first thing you saw was the bar. It was a massive thing; it stood against the far wall, and ran the entire width of the room. Of course, at that time of night every stool was taken. And there were men and women standing in between and behind every stool. Between the bar and the front door were tables, maybe thirty. They were not set up in rows or anything like that. No, they were haphazardly strewn about, and they too had people sitting at each and every one of them. There was no band, but some kind of noise (some, not many, might call it music) was blaring out of a single speaker situated over the bar.

Running back and forth from the bar to the tables were girls—young girls—serving drinks and talking with the men sitting at the tables. Then I noticed something I’d missed when I first entered. The place was all men, the only women I saw were the ones serving the drinks and the few at the bar who I was sure were “working girls,” if you know what I mean. To me, they—and the drink servers—all looked alike. How was I to tell which one was Asun?

I was conspicuous enough being the only gringo in the place, so I thought I had better order a drink and go into my dumb and stupid act. I saw that the girls were getting their drink orders filled at the far right-hand end of the bar, so that is where I headed. I figured at least there I’d get a chance to ask each girl, “Asun?” When I got an affirmative answer, then I could use my code phrase.

As I stood at the bar waiting for the bartender to notice me, I made another observation of something that had escaped my attention previously. Against the far wall was a staircase that led to a balcony that ran around the entire room. It was hard to see in the dim light, but it looked like there were rooms, one every twenty feet or so. I counted ten doors. That meant that if the layout was the same on the other three sides, there were forty rooms up there. What the hell took place up there, as if I didn’t know? I didn’t think Asun had been there long enough to be indoctrinated into that part of José’s scheme. But, We better get her out of here quick before a fate worse than death befalls her, I thought as I surveyed the upstairs.

As I was thinking the worst, I was asked something in Spanish by the bartender. I guess he wanted to know what I wanted to drink. So I said the first thing to come to mind, and the only drink I knew how to order in Spanish, “Tequila, por favor.”

After being served, I paid for the drink, with a healthy tip for the bartender so I’d be left alone for a while. Hey, it wasn’t my money. Miguel had given me all he had on him, which wasn’t much. But I did need a front, no matter how meager.

As I stood there, the girls, one by one, came up to the bar to order their drinks. I was less than three feet from the serving station. And as the bartender left to fulfill an order, and the girls stood waiting, I’d lean into them and say, “Asun?” The first two ignored me completely; the next three shook their heads, and then ignored me completely. On my sixth attempt, the girl turned, looked at me, and then nodded towards the girl standing behind her.

So it was to be lucky number seven? When number six had departed, and number seven took her place at the serving station, I did my usual, “Asun?” The startled look told me that I had finally hit pay dirt. Before the bartender returned, I went into my act, “Miguel mi amigo. Miguel te dió un anillo cuando cumpliste dieciocho años.” Just then, the bartender walked up and she gave him her drink order. He saw that I had spoken to her, but it looked like he thought I was just hitting on her, which was cool with him. Asun played it cool too. She turned away from the bar, so no one could see, and winked at me. Hey, Miguel got himself a smart one!

Now that I knew my target, I thought I’d get a better lay of the land, so to speak. If there was a back door, I sure as hell couldn’t see it. What the hell was Miguel talking about? Also, José was nowhere to be seen. As I scoped out the skinny, I came up with a plan. Admittedly, a simple plan, but a plan nonetheless. I ordered another Tequila, so not to arouse suspicion, drank it, and left.

Once outside, I proceeded to the bar where Miguel was waiting for me. He was standing outside looking forlorn, like he didn’t have a friend in the world.

“Whatcha’ doin’ out here, amigo? Why aren’t you inside?” I wanted to know.

“I gave you all my money and they won’t let me sit in there unless I buy something.”

“Okay, mi amigo, let’s go in. I’ll buy you a drink … with your money.”

Si, mi amigo.” We went in, got a couple of beers, and I laid out my plan of action.

“First of all, I don’t know what fuckin’ back door you’re talkin’ about, pal, but if there is one, it’s gonna be locked up tighter than Kelsey’s nuts. Next, the only plan I can come up with is just getting Asun near to the front door and then we make a run for it. It might work if there was some interference put in place as we hauled ass. Or more to the point, as you and Asun haul ass. I plan on being the interference. And by the way, that’s one smart broad you got hooked up with. No offense.” Fortunately, Miguel did not understand the lexicon of 1950s America. He took no offense of me calling his wife a “broad.” Then I said, “Miguel, any chance of us getting a firearm?”

“You mean a pistola?”

“Yeah pal, a fuckin’ gun. You know … boom, boom! And don’t worry; I’m not gonna shoot anyone. I just want to use it as a persuader.”

“Yes, one of my amigos I live with has one.”

“Well, go get it, boy. I wanna’ finish this up tonight. I was California-bound when this little detour came up. Comprende? I’ll wait for you here, now git movin’.” I always drop my g’s and talk like I was in a Gabby Hayes movie (look it up) when I’m nervous. And nervous I was. But I said I’d help the little guy, and after getting an eyeful of his wife, it was my mission to get her outta that hellhole.

Miguel was gone two beers’ worth, and returned with a bulge under his shirt. I thought it a good thing he was coming into Mexico, and not going out, looking like that. I told him to sit down, and went to the bar and got him a beer. After we were settled, I asked him to hand me the gun under the table, which he did. Once I had it in my hand, I sneaked a peak at it. It was an old Colt .45, the kind you see in cowboy movies. While still holding it under the table, I checked to see if it was loaded. It sure was—every chamber filled.

While Miguel was gone, I had formulated my plan. I told him to go to the bar and get a piece of paper and a pencil from the bartender. After he returned with said items, I told him to write the following (I didn’t have time to learn any damn Spanish):

“This is a friend. Get near the door, and when he tells you, run out into the street. I will be there waiting for you. Miguel”

Of course, it was written in Spanish.

The plan, as I’ve said, was simple. I’d get Asun out the door, and then the two of us, me and Mr. Colt, would try to dissuade anyone from following her. “The best laid plans …” Another favorite quote of mine, though one I don’t like to use often. It usually means that I fucked up.

“Okay, amigo; let’s get this circus on the road. When Asun flies through the door, you grab her and haul ass.”

“ ‘Haul ass’? ”

“Yeah, run for the fuckin’ hills. Get your asses across the border; I’ll be right behind you. Tell your friend you owe him a gun because no fuckin’ way am I bringing this monster across any border, let alone into the United States.”

Before getting up, I slipped the gun into the waistband of my pants, and covered it with my shirt. Now I had the bulge. When we got back to the café, I told Miguel he better keep a low profile to ensure his being there when Asun exited. It wouldn’t do to have some of José’s bouncers see him and drive him off … or worse.

I left him standing on the street, and that was the last time I saw him until he rescued my ass. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

I went into the café and proceeded to my usual haunt right next to the service station. When asked, I ordered my usual Tequila; everything was as usual. Except for the gun under my shirt. It wasn’t too long before Asun came up for a drink order, and I was able to slip her the note. She, as I’ve stated, was one smart cookie; she took it in stride without even looking at me. I had no doubt she would read it the moment she had a chance. So I thought I better position myself by the door and be ready.

I moseyed (more Gabby Hayes talk) toward the door and stood by the table that was closest to the exit. I stayed there pretending to listen to, understand, and enjoy the conversation at said table, all the while praying that Asun would make her move soon. The guys at the table kept looking up at me, wondering what the fuck I was doing.

It wasn’t long before I saw her come out of the back. I reckon she had to go someplace private to read the note. She went from table to table taking drink orders. All the while working herself closer to the door. When she got to the table I was at, she took the boys’ orders, and then looked at me. I nodded, she nodded back, and then all hell broke loose.

She dropped her tray with the glasses still on it, and made a spectacular dash for freedom. I didn’t, at that stage in my life, know a woman could move so fast. I stepped into the space Asun had just vacated as she went through the door, pulled out my partner, Mr. Colt, and fired a shot into the ceiling. I hadn’t planned on discharging the weapon, but I saw two burly types come charging toward me. They were obviously bouncers, and girl wranglers. The shot stopped them in their tracks, but only momentarily. Then both of ’em pulled out their own version of Mr. Colt and started firing right at Yours Truly. I think the only thing that saved my ass was a conk to the back of my skull. All I remember is seeing stars.

I don’t know how long after all the excitement that I came to. But I found myself in a dark room lying on a bare mattress, which was on the floor. The only light was the light that came in from under the crack at the bottom of the door. My head was pounding. It was worse than the worst hangover I’ve ever had. Before or since, and I’ve had some doozies. I knew I was still in the café because I could hear that goddamn noise they took for music.

When I got around to thinking about it, I figured it must be early morning because the din of drunken revelry had diminished considerably. So there I sat, or more to the point, that is where I lay for what seemed like hours. And it seemed like hours because that’s what the fuck it was.

I know as I relate this to you years later, I may come off as glib at times, but I assure you, I was one scared motherfucker while all this was going down.

Finally, a little action. I heard someone at the door, I guess unlocking it. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you, I did try the door shortly after regaining consciousness. I’m not a total boob, just a partial one. Anyway, the door swings open and in walks the big asshole himself, José, followed by a man in a lime green suit with no tie. He looked like a bookkeeper, which was a good thing, because I was shortly to find out that’s exactly what he was. He wore horn-rimmed glasses and stood a little over five feet in height. And he turned out to also be José’s interpreter.

I was lying down when I first heard them, but I made sure I was standing when the door opened and they walked into the room. José says something in Spanish to the little guy, and he in turn tells me that the man before me holds my life in his hands. Wow, no preamble, no how do you do, no nothin’.

I told you what the bookkeeper was wearing, so I guess it’s only fair to tell you of José’s taste in clothing apparel. From the ground up: cowboy boots, jeans, and here’s the kicker, an oversized Hawaiian print shirt. I reckon he thought it would help cover his bulk. It didn’t.

Now, down to business. José, through his interpreter, tells me that I stole one of his women. His women! I thought, Jesus H. Christ! What fuckin’ balls on this asshole. He then goes on to tell me I have two choices. One, I can be driven out to the desert and have a bullet placed in my head. Or two, I can work off the debt Asun was working off.

I was told José was going to have his noon repast. That’s not how it was phrased, but that was the general idea. And afterward he would come back for my answer. Yeah, let me think about that. Death or servitude? That’s a hard one. Take your time, José ol’ buddy. I’ll wait for you right here.

José and his toady left and locked the door behind them. I sat back down on the rank mattress and thought, Billy boy, how do you get yourself in these messes? Or better yet, how the hell ya gonna get yourself outta this one? Well, at least I made a friend. One who is probably getting laid at this very moment. I know I’d be, if I hadn’t seen my woman in three months. Friend, smend, I hope I never hear the fuckin’ word again.

I was thinking those negative thoughts when all hell broke loose downstairs. At least that’s what it sounded like from my vantage point. I listened with keen interest. Had the Marines landed? What the hell was going on?

Within a very short time, there was a crash on the door, then another, and finally a third. That’s when the door gave way and fell from its hinges. And guess who comes in carrying the leg that used to be on a table? My old amigo, Miguel. He was followed by a few others, but I only had eyes for Miguel.

“What the fuck is going on?”

“We are here to rescue you and the women,” was the simple answer to my simple query.

Because you and I were both out of the loop on this one, I’ll fill you in on what I later learned. When I didn’t return by daylight, Miguel got his housemates to forsake work for the day, and instead they went into the fields and told the men how Asun had been freed. But the man responsible for her freedom was now being held a prisoner at the same location. Word spread as the morning progressed. Somehow word got to the neighboring farms, and some of the men who heard the story also had women held at the café.

Without anyone actually suggesting it, as the noon hour approached, the men walked out of the fields and met at Miguel’s shack. They were about fifty in number, and it was decided that they would do something about the café and its owner once and for all. The men who had women there—and they were the majority—were going to free their women now that they knew it was possible. The others were outraged that the gringo boy who had freed Miguel’s wife was now in José’s hands.

Miguel took charge. He told the men to cross the border in groups of twos and threes and meet up at the little bar down the street from the café. Once they were all there, they simply walked to the café and stormed its battlements. Because the placed never closed, gaining entrance was no problem. And they got lucky in the fact the gunmen were off duty. José probably didn’t think the expense of gunmen was necessary in the middle of the day.

When inside, they broke up the tables and chairs to use the legs as clubs, just in case anyone got in the way. Clubs weren’t really needed. The sheer force of their numbers kept any would-be heroes at bay. As soon as the ground floor was secured, the men, both patrons and employees, were herded to one side of the room. The women were put in a protective area near the door, and while half the men stayed downstairs to keep an eye on things, the rest charged upstairs and went room-to-room freeing women who had been locked in. Oh, and by the way, they also freed me in the course of events. Unfortunately, José was nowhere to be found. Or fortunately, depending on your point of view. I’m sure José found it quite advantageous not being on the premises that afternoon.

Now that the men had me and the women, Miguel issued his marching orders, “Back to America!” It was said in Spanish, but I got the “America” part. We left the café as a conquering horde, but soon split up into twos and threes. Each man with his woman, and those who didn’t have a woman, paired up with the guy or guys nearest him. Miguel was my date.

When we got close to the border crossing, we held back, out of sight, so two of our little group could cross at a time. We spaced it out. Because even though the border guards were hip, they were not going to let almost eighty illegals cross in one fell swoop. Miguel and I were the last to cross. When we got back to the shack, he formally introduced me to his bride. Not being able to speak English, she thanked me in her own way. She put her arms around my neck and gave me a big kiss, one on each cheek.

Asun told Miguel that while he was gone the foreman had come looking for the missing men to find out why they were not in the fields. She told him her story, and he being of Mexican descent, told her to tell the men they all better be in the fields first thing Monday morning. He also said that she could not stay in the shack, that was for single men only. She and Miguel would have to move into one for married couples. He then smiled at her and said, “Welcome to America.”

I didn’t stick around either. I gathered up my stuff, put it in my suitcase, and turned to Miguel and said “Gracias, mi amigo.” He started to say something, but I held up my hand to stop him. “There’s nothing to say. I’ve gotta go.” I turned to Asun and said, “You are beautiful.” She cocked her head to one side, indicating she did not understand. And as Miguel turned to her to translate my statement, I walked out of that shithole of a shack and into a new life, one where I took a man’s friendship to heart.

Well, that’s my story of how I came to believe in friendship. Miguel had what he wanted, but he organized and led the revolt to free me because he had said he was my friend. It was as simple as that.

 

Click To See Reviews on Amazon

If anyone feels so inclined, I’d appreciate it if you’d like my Facebook page. You can click on the button on the right side of the page. Thank you.