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Bless My Soul

I’m so in love. She is so fine. I don’t give a damn what anyone says. She’s my girl. She’ll always be my girl.

I met her in church. I was on my knees praying for forgiveness. She sat down next to me. Her smile … her eyes … set me free. My soul was in torment. I was a sinner.

Her name is Ecstasy.

She came to me when I needed her the most.

She raised me from my knees.

She had me stand as a man.

I had done bad things. I was a wretch. But she blessed my soul.

Please, please, I must have a little more time.

Please, please allow me to make amends.

If you knew how I regret my sins.

How my heart yearns to set things right.

But I think my time has run out.

She points the pistol at me.

Ecstasy says that I must die this night.

So be it.

Bless my soul.

Naked Before the Sun

I stand here naked before the sun. There is no place to hide. I wear my sins as a cloak for all to see.

I’m on my knees, begging for forgiveness.

Although, what I have done in this life is unforgiveable.

Her name is written on the skein of time and space.

I sit here in my drunken stupor and regret so much.

There is so little time … so little time.

Soon I’ll be dead and gone.

How long before my sins are forgiven?

When my bleached bones wash up on a distant shore?

When she who I have wronged and demeaned is in heaven?

If I could … I would go back and undo what I have done.

Know this … my karma will follow me into the next life. Hopefully, once there, I will be allowed to make amends.

I loved you … I loved you … I loved you so much. And I am so goddamn sorry.

Andrew Fitzgibbons (The Story is True, the Words are Mine)

It was in the first year of The Great Famine—a hot July day—the sun was splitting stones, it was. On that day, Andrew Fitzgibbons’ world ended and his hell began.

Like most, his potato crop had failed, but unlike most, his family was eating, thanks to his son’s vegetable garden, and his rent was paid up to date. He did not know how long that would last, but for now he was holding on.

His wife was kneeling over the peat fire, boiling a cabbage for their noon meal. Andrew’s oldest son, Daniel, fourteen years of age, was tending his garden with love and care. The boy had the gift of a bhfuil ordóg glas—a green thumb, as the English would say. The younger children were playing near the house, under Andrew’s watchful eye.

Yes, things were bad in Ireland and getting worse as far as Andrew could tell, but for the moment, all was well. Then the clock ticked one tick and the fateful moment arrived.

A gang of the landlord’s drivers came up the stone path that Andrew’s father had laid when Andrew was but leanbh beag—a small child. There were seven in number, led by Thomas Cohan. Andrew knew him well. Tommy was the town bully and a thoroughly unpleasant man. He was tall, almost six feet, and his arms were thick with muscles. The smirk he wore upon his face announced to the world that he was enjoying himself.

Cohan got right to the point. “You have ten minutes to gather your possessions and your rabble, Andrew Fitzgibbons. His Lordship is increasing his pasture lands and you and your hovel are in the way.”

That was the moment Andrew’s world ended. But he did not yet know it.

“What do you mean, Tommy Cohan? My rent is paid.”

“’Tis no concern of mine. I’ve been told to move you off the land and that is what I will be doing. The ten minutes starts now.”

Andrew was dumbfounded. He could not think straight. He could not move. This was too much to take in all at once. His mind was reeling off the possibilities. Could he fight the seven men before him and drive them from his house? No. Could he plead for time so that he might beseech the landlord to reconsider? The look in Cohan’s eyes said no. Would God send down a lightning bolt to strike Cohan where he stood? Probably not.

“You now have nine minutes.”

Andrew called to his son. “Daniel, gather the little ones and bring them inside. Hurry!” He went into the house and told his wife to stop what she was doing and gather up all that she could carry of their belongings and take them outside. “Then come back for more.”

She stood immobile at the fire with her stirring stick in hand and a questioning look upon her face.

“I will explain later, but right now you have to do as I say.” Just then the children came in. Andrew told them the same thing he had told his wife. Daniel had overheard the conversation, so there was no hesitation on his part. The younger children thought it a grand game and readily joined in. His wife, seeing the fear in her husband’s eyes, placed the spoon into the pot of cabbage, picked up a rag, and took the pot off the fire. She took it outside and placed it on the ground. She was put off at seeing Cohan and the other men, but said nothing and hurried back inside.

When everything that they owned—which was not much—was standing in heaps outside the house, Cohan gave the order to remove the thatch. The family had no alternative but to stand there and watch the destruction of their home.

Andrew’s wife stood with her three small children, ages nine, seven, and five. Daniel stood next to his father. With the roof reduced to a pile of hay, the men started in on toppling the walls. Missus Fitzgibbons started to cry.

When the destruction was complete, Cohan informed Andrew that the family was to be off the land by sundown. “Thems me orders,” barked Cohan. “And I’ll be wanting no trouble from you, Andrew Fitzgibbons.”

“Where are we to go? What are we to do?” demanded Andrew.

Sneered Cohan, “Again, ’tis no concern of mine.”

Daniel, knowing the family would be needing food, ran to his beloved garden and started picking anything that was anywhere near to being ripe.

Cohan yelled, “You there, stop! That be His Lordship’s property.”

Daniel ignored him and continued with what he was doing. An enraged Cohan ordered two of his men to restrain the boy and hold him. To another he said, “You go along into town and bring back a constable.”

Andrew pleaded with Cohan to release the boy and they would be on their way. But Cohan was deaf to Andrew’s entreaties.

The constable arrived shortly thereafter, and based on Cohan’s testimony—and the law that stated a landlord owned everything on his land—he promptly arrested Daniel for thievery and destruction of property. He would not listen to a word from Daniel’s parents or the crying of his siblings.

The next day, Daniel went before a judge and was sentenced to two months in jail.

Just one story from An Gorta Mhór—The Great Famine.

The Saga of Ellis Continues

Note: This is all true.

Chapter Four

In the year of our Lord, 1700, it’s a gentle breeze that pushes the small sailing ship southwest, towards the northern coast of Cape Ann. The master and owner of the ship is John Lane who, together with his wife and children, is coming from Falmouth, Maine, after being run out by Indians during the First Indian War. It is a new century and a new beginning for the Lane family.

As the ship approaches land, John sees the dense forests he had been told about. His plan is to first clear a parcel in which to build their house. Then he and his sons will fell trees and sell the wood for the making of ships. There certainly is no shortage of raw material.

The ship anchors ten miles north of Gloucester Town, off Flatstone Cove. John and his eldest son, James, row a small dory to the shoreline. There is no beach, no soft white sand to set foot upon. The coast, as is the entire island, is made of granite. There is a small hill overlooking the cove, and it is there that Lane decides to build his house. The family will live onboard the boat until the house is inhabitable.

By 1704, John Lane had been given a grant of ten acres in and around the cove. It has been four years since the Lane family set foot upon the rocky shoreline. There were six children in the Lane clan when they landed, now there are nine. Before they are finished, John and his wife, Dorcas, will have brought a total of twelve new souls into the world. Not all of them will make it to adulthood, but enough of them do so. The land is eventually named Lanesville. And, in time, Flatstone Cove becomes known as Lane’s Cove. So it went, generation after generation of Lanes populating the northern region of the island known as Cape Ann.

• • • •

The year is 1974. The place: Cape Ann Marina.

Ellis and Wayne have just come in from a day of tuna fishing. The men who had charted the Cape Ann for the day are a happy lot. They got themselves a tuna—almost 800 pounds. By now, the Japanese had discovered the tuna-rich fishing grounds off Gloucester. And any fish they could not catch themselves, they bought from the local fishermen. The price had risen from the three cents of Ellis’ youth to six dollars per pound. There’s a lot of sushi sold in Japan.

After having taken numerous pictures with their prize, Ellis’ customers gave him the tuna, as a tip, to dispose of as he saw fit. He sold it to a Japanese buyer for $4,800.00—without having to leave the dock. He split the cash with Wayne and he headed over to the bar.

Everybody in Gloucester knew Ellis, and that included all the people in the bar that evening. It took him a few minutes to respond to all the salutations he received as he walked through the door. It was a big room and he had to make the rounds, shaking hands with the men and winking at the women. Luckily, the barmaid knew his poison, and it was waiting for him when he finally sat down on the barstool.

He sipped his drink slowly. It was early and he was wound up from the day’s adventures. He thought he’d have one more drink and then order dinner. After that, he’d see how things panned out. It had been a good day. And with money in his pocket and a gleam in his eye, he was looking to make it a good night as well.

As Ellis sat on his stool contemplating his drink and looking in the mirror behind the bar, a vision of loveliness caught his eye. She had legs that just would not quit. Her hair was auburn, her eyes green, and her smile brought joy to the hearts of men. She was a direct descendant of John Lane.

“Who’s that girl?” he asked the barmaid.

“She’s the new waitress.”

“Why haven’t I seen her before?”

“Probably because she’s the new waitress,” came the sarcastic reply.

“You know what I mean. I know every female on this island between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five and I’ve never seen her before. What’s her name?”

“It’s Laura … something. Wait. Now I remember—it’s Laura Lane.”

“Where is she from?”

“Jeeze, Ellis. You want her phone number and bra size too? I was just introduced to her when I came on shift. You can do your own dirty work. I got drinks to serve.”

The young barmaid walked away in a huff. Probably because she was an ex-lover of the man who was asking all the questions about another woman.

Ellis moved to the end of the bar, to the serving area where the waitresses picked up their drink orders. It was a safe bet he’d be able to get in a few words while the beauty was waiting for her orders to be filled.

He let her come and go twice before he said anything. He was letting the line run out. On her third trip back, after she had just placed an order for two vodka martinis on the rocks and a draft beer, Ellis tried to set the hook.

“Hi. My name’s Ellis. I’ve been watching you and I gotta say that you are sensational. I’m not trying to hit on you or anything. I just want you to know that I think you are beautiful.”

The girl smiled, and her eyes grew wide. “I know who you are. Everybody knows who you are.”

Ellis thought, This is going to be easy. But before he could go on with his spiel, the girl continued. “And everyone knows that you are the horniest hound dog around. You’ve bedded three of my girlfriends that I know of, but … I must admit … they all speak quite highly of you. And that’s amazing, seeing as how you dumped each of them after a few romps in the sack.”

Just then her order was placed before her. She put the drinks on a small tray and departed without saying another word.

The hook had not been fully set.

Well, it might not be that easy, thought Ellis. But it may be a lot of fun trying.

When she came back, Ellis asked, “Wanna have dinner with me some night?”

In spite of herself, Laura was attracted to the smiling man who looked straight into her eyes. After she gave her drink order to the barmaid, she said, “If dinner is all you have in mind, then I see no reason to decline your kind offer.”

“That’s great. When is your next night off?”

“I’m off Mondays and Tuesdays. Take your pick.”

“I think Mondays are the best day of the week to sit down to dinner with a beautiful woman.”

Laura blushed at the compliment. She wrote her phone number on a bar napkin and handed it to Ellis. “Call me Monday afternoon to confirm. For all I know, you’ll be entangled with some other woman by then.”

With a light laugh, Ellis replied, “Don’t worry. I’ll fit you in somehow.”

Laura rolled her eyes and said, “I would appreciate that considerably,” before leaving with her drink order.

Monday finally rolled around, and Ellis, after having called to ascertain the address and confirm that he was still looking forward to seeing her, was at Laura’s apartment at eight on the dot.

Ellis held the car door open for her. As she slid in, he once again appreciated her long legs. He took her to a small and intimate place on Rogers Street, owned by a friend of his. Out back there was an enclosed garden with one table—“Ellis’ Table.” When Ellis walked through the door with Laura, the proprietor welcomed him as a long-lost friend and escorted them to Ellis’ private dining room.

It was a warm summer night and the scent of flowers filled the air. Colorful Japanese lanterns adorned the walls of the garden and soft music emanated from unseen speakers. No menus were presented, only a bottle of crisp, dry white wine.

While the waiter uncorked the bottle, Ellis said, “I hope you don’t mind, but I called ahead and ordered our dinner. And I hope you like white wine. I’m not big on the red stuff. But you can have whatever you’d like.”

“No, white is fine. What’s for dinner?”

“Why not be surprised?”

Laura consented to be surprised and shyly sipped her wine.

“Okay. Now that we have that out of the way, tell me about yourself.”

Ellis had downed his wine in two gulps. He was a little nervous. He raised the wine bottle out of the ice bucket and refilled his glass.

Looking at Ellis from over the rim of her wine glass, Laura countered, “Most men like to talk about themselves. Why don’t you go first?”

“You’ve already told me that you knew all about me. I’m the horny hound dog, remember? So, I’d like to know a little something about you. For instance, how long have you lived in Gloucester? Where do you come from? And how did you get to be so goddamn beautiful?”

Laura put her glass down and thought for a moment before answering.

This guy’s on the make alright. This place would soften up any woman. Stay on your toes, Laura girl. He’s just asking about you to put you off your guard. I have to admit, he’s done everything right so far. But just remember that he only wants to get into your pants. Enjoy the meal, enjoy your night out, and then have him drive you straight home. No going over to his place for a nightcap.

“Well, Ellis, I’ve only lived in this part of Gloucester for a few weeks now. But I was born on the island. In fact, my family has been on Gloucester since the year 1700. You ever been up to Lanesville?”

“Many times.”

“That’s where I’m from.”

“Why haven’t I ever seen you before?”

“Probably because you don’t hang out at high schools all that much. You’re about ten years older than I am. When I was in school you were down here doing your fishing … for both tuna—and the way I hear it—women. When I graduated high school, I went off to college. I’m home for the summer now, but there’s no work up in Lanesville or the vicinity. I thought it would be cool to go to Gloucester and get a job. I didn’t want to commute, so I got myself an apartment down here. It’s small but cozy. There you have it. My whole life story.”

Ellis refilled her glass and said, “Not quite.”

“What do you mean?”

“You haven’t told me how you got to be so goddamn beautiful.”

Laura laughed and said, “You’re too much, Ellis.” Ellis tilted his wine glass toward her in a silent toast and said, “I try to be.” Then they talked about this and they talked about that. Small talk mostly, until dinner was served. During dinner, Ellis confessed that his family had also settled in the area during the 1700s. “But a little later than yours. I think it was about 1750 or thereabouts.”

They lingered over dinner, enjoying the food, the company, and the conversation.

On the way back to Laura’s apartment, Ellis was talkative, but did not mention stopping by his apartment for a nightcap or anything else of that sort. He asked questions about her family history and seemed genuinely interested in her answers. At her place, he again opened the car door for her and escorted her to her apartment.

Here it comes, she thought. He’s going to ask to come in “for just a little while.”

However, he did no such thing. Instead, he held out his hand and shook hers, saying, “I’ve had a wonderful evening, Laura, and I’ve enjoyed your company. Goodnight.”

With a perplexed look on her face, Laura watched Ellis’ retreating figure as he descended the stairs.

He didn’t even try to kiss me goodnight. Maybe I was wrong about him. Either that or he didn’t like me.

She got out her key and let herself into the apartment. After making sure the door was locked, she leaned against it and was stunned to realize she was a little disappointed that Ellis had not made a move on her.

Chapter Five

Five days went by before Laura heard from Ellis again. It was over the phone that he asked her, “Tomorrow is Monday and I was wondering if you’d like to shoot a little pool?”

Laura smiled into the phone before answering. He’s interested in me after all.

“I don’t know how to play pool.”

“Neither do I. So don’t worry about it. There’s an Irish pub right down the block from you. Perhaps you’ve seen the green and white sign. The name’s Mulroney’s.”

“I’ve seen the sign, but I’ve never been in there.”

“They also have dartboards and they make the best hamburgers in town. If you’re free, I thought we could meet there about sevenish. We could play a few racks and throw a few darts while drinking draft Guinness. Then we’ll have us some hamburgers and call it an early night. I’ve got a charter Tuesday morning.”

“Sounds like it might be fun. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

They met at the prescribed time, played the aforementioned games, and consumed said beer and burgers. In the course of the evening, they got to know one another on a slightly deeper level. Even though things were lighthearted, or maybe because no one was trying to impress anyone, they let their true selves show through. And they both liked what they saw.

Ellis was quiet as he walked Laura back to her place. He hadn’t meant to feel this way. At first he was just out to bed a beautiful woman. And that was all. But a monkey wrench had been thrown into the mix. She had turned out to be more than a set of long legs and a pretty face.

She’s smart and fun to be around and so much more. This one, Ellis old buddy, you’ve got to treat a little differently. You’ve got to show a little respect.

“What are you thinking about, Ellis?”

“I was just thinking. Seeing as how you’ve got the day off, I was wondering if you’d like to come over to my place tomorrow night and have dinner. I haven’t told you before, but I’m a gourmet cook. I’ll dazzle you with my cooking.”

If it had not been for the first two dates with Ellis where he behaved as a perfect gentleman, Laura would have declined the invitation. But now … she wasn’t so sure she would mind Ellis getting into her pants.

“Sounds like fun. What time?”

“We dine at eight. I live on T Wharf over in Rockport. There’s a long staircase on the outside of the building going up to my place. You can’t miss it. But if you do, just ask anyone to point the way to Captain Ellis. You’ll find me.”

At her door, Ellis did not ask to come in … or shake her hand. He leaned into her and gave her a kiss on the cheek and then he was gone.

Ellis had some work to do before the next night. Rockport was a dry town. That meant no bars, no liquor stores, no nothing. Hence, his apartment became the de facto place to hang out at night. There was always a crowd. The young guys came to have a few drinks and watch the Celtics or Bruins play. Or if the season was right, the Boston Patriots. The young girls came because that’s where the boys were. There was a party happening every night up in his apartment, regardless if Ellis was there or not.

He passed the word around that his apartment was off limits for one night. If anyone felt the need to hang out, they could drive down to Gloucester. It was only ten minutes away.

Laura showed up a few minutes after eight. Ellis met her at the door with his signature smile. “Please come in. Did you have any trouble finding me?”

“Nope. You’re right where you said you’d be.”

He sat her on the couch and said, “I’ll be right back.”

He came back holding two glasses of wine, one of which he held out to Laura.

“Thank you,” she said.

Ellis sat down on the couch, but not right next to Laura. He sat at the other end so that he could turn sideways and look at her as they spoke.

They sipped their wine in silence for a few minutes, and then Laura asked, “What’s for dinner?”

“I want to surprise you again.”

“Do you need any help?”

“No, thank you. I’ve got it covered.”

Laura looked around the apartment, and just for something to say, remarked, “Nice place you’ve got here.”

“Yeah. I had to pay one of the neighborhood girls to clean it while I was out fishing today. I didn’t want you to see me in my natural habitat.”

She laughed nervously. She was feeling differently toward Ellis. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it. But then it dawned on her. What if he doesn’t make a pass at me tonight? How am I’m going to feel about that?

Being the straightforward type, she decided to get it out in the open before dinner. She could deal with whatever the answer was, but she wanted it out of the way before she ate or else the food would lay heavy in her stomach. No matter how good it was.

She steeled herself, took a deep swallow of wine and then blurted out, “What’s the matter with me?”

Ellis was taken aback. “As far as I can see, nothing.”

“I mean, why haven’t you tried to talk me out of my clothes?”

“Do you want me to talk you out of your clothes?”

“Yes. I mean, no! But it would help my ego if you’d at least try.”

Ellis smiled a crooked smile and put his wine glass down on the coffee table. He moved over and took the glass out of her hand and placed it next to his. He touched her cheek with the back of his hand and said, “I’ve held off because you’re special.”

Looking into her bottomless green eyes, he leaned over and softly … gently … kissed her. She responded. All their pent-up inhibitions dissipated as they caressed one another. They were free. Ellis whispered in her ear, “The hell with it.” He stood and scooped her off the couch and carried her to his bedroom. Still holding her in his arms, he kicked the bedroom door closed with his right foot.

Two hours later, when the door next opened, they emerged with contented glows on their faces. Laura sat on the couch while Ellis went to retrieve the bottle of wine. Once their glasses were replenished, Laura inquired, “I suppose your dinner is ruined by now.”

“Not by a longshot.”

Ellis reached for the phone sitting on the coffee table. With the receiver in hand, he dialed a number from memory. “Hello. Tony’s Pizza? This is Captain Ellis. I’d like the large deluxe, the one with everything on it. Of course, with anchovies.”

When he had finished with Tony’s, Ellis lifted his glass toward Laura and said, “Here’s to you, Beautiful.”

“Not so fast, Captain Ellis. Didn’t you promise me a gourmet dinner?”

“I promised you a dinner. I said I was a gourmet cook, but I lied. What are you gonna do about it?”

“This is what.”

Still holding her wine, Laura wrapped her arms around Ellis’ neck—spilling a little wine in the process—and gave him a great big kiss right on the lips.

“What are you going to do about that?” she wanted to know.

“As soon as we get the pizza out of the way, I’ll show you.”

The summer of ’74 was the time that Ellis came the closest to being hooked, reeled in, and put on display. Even though their schedules were different—he worked days, she nights—they spent as much time together as possible.

During the days that Ellis had no charter, he’d take Laura out on the Cape Ann ostensibly to teach her to fish. However, very little fishing was ever attempted. Laura always packed a picnic lunch and Ellis brought a cooler of beer. They would anchor a few miles out and enjoy the warm sun on their bodies, each other, and the vast expanse of blue ocean that lay before them. Those were idyllic days.

A few years back, a woman had spied Ellis walking out of a restaurant and approached him. “Hello. My name is Patty Sullivan and I’m kind of a talent coordinator. Have you ever thought of modeling?”

Ellis grinned and said, “You gotta be kidding me.”

“No, I’m not. I can get you what’s called catalogue work. Most male models are what I call soft-handsome. You have a rugged look about you. You’d be perfect for catalogues that are selling manly items. Like hunting gear, cars, that sort of thing.”

“How much does it pay?”

“By industry standards, not a whole lot. But it’s more than an average Joe makes in a day. Besides, it’s not hard work. All you’ve got to do is stand there and look ruggedly handsome.”

What the hell? It might be fun, thought Ellis. He agreed to give it a shot as long as it didn’t interfere with his charter business.

That’s how Ellis became a model, and modeling is what landed Ellis a spot as an extra in a film starring Liza Minelli and directed by Otto Preminger. The movie was called Tell Me You Love Me, Julie Moon.

When Ellis got the call from Patty asking him if he was interested in playing a man sitting at a table in a restaurant while the stars of the movie cavorted around him, he had two questions: How much does it pay? And can my girl be in it too?

“It pays a little more than you’d get for a day’s modeling. And I’m told the shoot shouldn’t take more than two hours. But it could go on longer. As to your second question, I had to send over your picture to the movie people for their approval. But knowing you, Ellis, I’m sure the girl is a knockout. So I’ll set it up.”

Ellis only agreed to participate because he thought Laura would get a kick out of it. It would give her something interesting to tell her friends about when she went back to college in the fall. Little did he suspect that he would dominate her conversations with her girlfriends when she returned to school.

By happenstance, the part of the movie that Ellis and Laura were to be in was being filmed at The Blacksmith Shop restaurant located right next door to Ellis’ apartment. A crew member seated them at a table on an aisle. They were told to look like they were in a deep conversation as the camera was wheeled past them. The setup was that the camera would go down the aisle and end up taking a shot of the harbor through a big plate glass window at the back of the restaurant.

As people ran around setting up for the shot, making sure the lighting was perfect, that the microphone was set properly, and all the other things that go into making a movie, Ellis noticed that where he was sitting was a little narrower than the rest of the aisle. The camera just wouldn’t fit through the gap. So, Ellis being Ellis, he stood up and moved the table back a foot or two.

Well. You would have thought that he had kidnapped the Lindbergh baby, killed Cock Robin, and any other number of sundry things. Otto Preminger came storming down the aisle, yelling and screaming. “Don’t you dare touch anything! You do nothing unless I tell you!” And on and on he went. He moved the table back to its original position and with a final omniscient glare in Ellis’ direction, stomped off to his director’s chair.

Ellis said nothing. When the tirade was over, he looked across the table at Laura and winked.

Eventually, the camera operator was ready, the sound man was ready, the movie stars were ready, and most importantly, Mr. Otto was ready.

“Action!” yelled the director.

The camera started on its way down the aisle. When it got to Ellis’ table, its movement was halted. It couldn’t fit through the gap between the tables. Ellis shrugged and Laura laughed. Preminger sent the assistant director to move the table back to where Ellis had placed it, and the filming resumed with no further mishaps.

Laura quit her job in late August so she could spend more time with Ellis before she had to go back to college. Ellis thought that was just dandy and whisked her off for a romantic week in Bermuda. While on the island, Laura broached the subject of continuing the relationship while she was away.

They were walking along the beach, holding hands. The water was topaz-blue, the white sand scrunched under their feet, the sunlight warmed the two lovers as Laura began to speak. “This summer has been the best time of my life, Ellis. What do you think? Do you want to keep it going? We can write each other and keep in touch. I’ll be back in just a few months for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Maybe you could come to Lanesville and meet my parents.”

Ellis tightened his grip on her hand. He had a deep affection for the beautiful redhead walking next to him. She was wonderful. She was intelligent, fun to be with, a sensual lover, and best of all, she laughed at his lame jokes as though she really found them funny.

He sighed and told her the truth. “Baby, you are the best. You can have any man you want and I am so flattered that you want to be with me. But I’m not the marrying kind. I like you too much to bullshit you. We’ve had a wonderful summer and I will always remember it. In later years, when you’re surrounded by your children and grandchildren, I’ll have only my memories of this summer … and of you. I’ll never forget you and I’ll always love you. But you have to steer a different course than the one I’m on. To come onboard with me would only break your heart in the long run. Can you understand that?”

Laura looked into Ellis’s eyes and saw the love he had for her. A love that would let her go rather than lie to her. A love that treated her as an equal, a love that was profound and perhaps never ending.

Now it was Laura’s turn to sigh. “When I am surrounded by all those kids and grandkids, and even though my husband will be standing next to me, within my heart there will be a small place for you and this wonderful summer that you have given me.”

When they returned to Gloucester, Laura spent one last night with Ellis. They made slow and sweet love all night long, knowing that it was to be the last time.

The next morning, Laura said her final good-bye to Ellis.

He never saw her again.

 

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.

 

 

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