Life Giver

I posted this a year ago. But I’m putting it up again for the three new followers I’ve accumulated over the last 365 days.

 

 

We are here to create … I do it with words … but we all create … if nothing else, we create our lives each and every day as soon as we get out of bed.

I once had a mystical experience when I was quite young and on the road.

That experience forms my writing … it forms me … I spoke with God … once upon a time …

I swear this is all true. This is an abbreviated version of what happened on that magical, mystical night.

Back in 1968 when I was eighteen and hitchin’ around the country, I was going from LA to Miami. Thought I’d go home for a spell. Along about sundown, a blue pickup truck picked me up on Old Highway 90 in Arizona. One thing led to another and the next thing I knew, I was spending the night with a young Apache Indian. His name was Jimmy.

After his grandmother fed us, we walked out into the desert and sat down on a small rise. The western sky was aflame with bright orange and pink clouds. Another day was coming to an end. Jimmy talked of Geronimo. He spoke for over an hour. I listened with my eyes closed.

Then things grew quiet. I was hesitant to open my eyes; I did not want to break the spell. Though, eventually, I did open them and looked directly into the face of God!

While Jimmy was talking, the sun had traveled to the other side of the world and the stars had come out. Never had I seen anything like it. For three hundred and sixty degrees the stars touched the horizon. No light impeded their brilliance. There were no buildings to block my view of that wondrous sight. There was just as much starlight as there was black sky. I felt as though I could reach out and touch them, they seemed that close. I could see how Ptolemy believed the earth was encapsulated within crystalline spheres. In the dry desert air, the stars did indeed look as though they were made of fine, delicate crystal. I saw the Great Bear … and Polaris, the only star that does not move. Orion seemed as though he could lower his arm and smite me with his club. I was in the midst of searching for other constellations when Jimmy broke my reverie. He said, “It is time.”

Jimmy handed me a wooden bowl; he had one just like it. We each held our bowls with two hands in front of us, about chest high. I was told the potion would help me go within, to commune with the Old Ones. Jimmy said: “It is my hope to speak with Life Giver at times like this, but it has not happened yet. Although I have been trying for many years. I am told by the older men to be patient. That Life Giver will speak to me when I am ready to hear what he has to say.”

Jimmy reached his bowl towards me, as in a toast. I did the same. Then we drank whatever that concoction was. (Hey, I was young and open to anything.)

He said that we would not speak again until morning. He would continue facing west, and I should face north. I walked ninety degrees around the rise to Jimmy’s right, sat down, and awaited whatever was to come. It was starting to get a little cool, and I thought it would have been nice if I had had the forethought to bring a jacket. In an effort to keep warm, I brought my knees up to my chest, folded my arms about them, and rested my chin on my knees.

Time started to stretch out. A second felt like a minute. After a while, I noticed I wasn’t cold any longer. I unfolded myself and lay back to look up at the stars. As I said, time was playing tricks on me. I don’t know how long it was before I heard The Voice. At first I thought it was Jimmy, but when I looked in his direction, he was staring off into the western sky, oblivious of me and his surroundings. Then I heard it again. It was in my head.

Aloud I said, “Are you calling me?”

“There is no need to use your vocal cords … think … and I will hear you.”

For some reason, this all seemed perfectly natural. As though I spoke with disembodied entities every day.

My first … or if you want to be technical about it,  my second question was, “Who are you?”

I swear this is what I heard:

“I have many names, and have had many other names in the past. I am known to your friend Jimmy as Life Giver. I am known to you and your culture as God. Some refer to me as Jehovah. I am called Allah and Krishna by others. Some call me The Tao, or The Way.”

I don’t know why, but, for some reason, it did not seem strange that I was having a conversation with God.

“If you are who you say you are, why do you speak with me when Jimmy has been trying to speak with you for years?”

“I have been with Jimmy all those years, and more, waiting for him to notice me. I am with my children—all my children—always. I am never not with you.”

NOTE: To cut down on the prose, I offer a transcript (as I remember it) of my conversation with the entity, which I have come to believe was indeed who It claimed to be: Life Giver. Before you make up your mind, read the transcript in its entirety. Then decide if what I heard makes any sense.

ME: It just doesn’t seem fair that I’m here speaking with you when it should be Jimmy instead.

LG: Jimmy and I do speak, all the time, but not in this way.

ME: Have you come to teach me some great truth?

LG: You have nothing to learn. None of my children have anything to learn. You only have to remember.

Me: Remember? Remember what?

LG: Who you are, and where you come from.

ME: Now I’m getting confused. Aren’t you God?

LG: We are God. Some refer to me as All That Is, which is more descriptive of the truth. There is only ONE. We are both a part of that ONE. This planet’s first religion was The Law of One. In a time long forgotten, man knew from whence he came. That is what I mean when I said you have only to remember.

ME: So, why can I experience you and Jimmy can’t?

LG: As I have stated, Jimmy, you, and all of humanity experience me every day.

ME: What I mean is why am I talking to you tonight, and Jimmy is not?

LG: How do you know he is not speaking with me now as you are?

ME: Well, I guess I don’t. I reckon God can carry on more than one conversation at a time.

LG: You reckon?

ME: I didn’t know God had a sense of humor.

LG: I have what you have, you have what I have. We are ONE.

ME: I guess I was pretty lucky when Jimmy picked me up this afternoon, or else I wouldn’t be here speaking with God.

LG: It was no accident that Jimmy offered you a ride and a place to sleep. Jimmy and I arranged it while he slept last night. We spoke in his dreams. Though he has consciously forgotten our talk, he has remembered it subconsciously.

ME: Then why am I here?

LG: Do you mean why are you here tonight, or why are you here on the planet Earth?

ME: Both … I guess.

LG: You, and everyone else extant on the physical plane, are here because you want to be here. You, personally, are here tonight because I have a message for you, and this was the only way to make sure you heard it.

ME: Before you give me the message, may I ask just one more question?

LG: You may ask as many as you wish.

ME: What is the meaning of life?

LG: The meaning of life, the reason you, and all our brethren on this planet and on all the other planets in other star systems, is to choose. Making choices is the reason for life. The choices you make is the way I express myself. When a life is completed, the experiences you bring back to me are a gift. A gift from a loving child who has volunteered to endure the hardships of the physical plane in order that its parent may BE.

ME: What if we make the wrong choices?

LG: You cannot make a wrong choice. Whatever you choose will eventually lead to evolution, and over time evolution creates balance as part of the nature of existence.

ME: Even if we make a choice based on hate?

LG: Remember this: Ultimately, there is only Love. All so-called negative emotions—hate, anger, jealousy, greed, just to name a few—stem from fear. The only way to combat fear is Love. Love always wins out over fear.

ME: WOW!

LG: WOW, indeed.

ME: You said you had a message for me?

LG: Yes, you are planning on going home. You, of course, may do anything of your choosing. However, you came to the Earth to teach. Some of those you have agreed to teach will miss their lessons if you go home now.

ME: I thought you said we have nothing to learn, we only have to remember.

LG: The lessons help you to remember. As a song will bring back memories of the time you first heard it, the lessons you, and all teachers, impart, help those involved to remember.

ME: I’m just a kid, how can I teach anyone anything?

LG: First of all, you are as old as I am. We existed before time began. Secondly, you teach by example. Some will learn from you after seeing you for only a moment, others will have learned their lessons after many months with you. As you, in turn, will learn your lessons from others you will encounter.

ME: You say I have a choice?

LG: Of course you do.

ME: Okay, as long as it’s my choice. I don’t like to be pressured, even by God. When will I know when it’s time to go home?

LG: I will tell you.

ME: Sounds like a plan.

LG: Yes, it does. It is almost daybreak. It would be better if you left without disturbing  Jimmy. He is speaking to his inner self.

ME: Well … good-bye.

LG: I am always with you.

I got my carcass up, looked over at Jimmy, and mentally said good-bye. I walked the few hundred yards to his house, picked up my gear, and walked into a new day.

Three years later, I finally made it home.

 

 

 

Fishin’

fishingJohnny Donohue was my best friend when I was twelve years old. On Saturday mornings, we would go fishing. Because we would arise at 3:00 am and meet shortly thereafter, we called it “going fishing at three in the morning.”

This particular Saturday morning when I arrived at Johnny’s house, two of his three brothers were milling about outside. His brother Terry was a year younger than Johnny and me and sometimes hung out with us, so it was no surprise to see him. But, to see his youngest brother, Matthew, who was only six, was a different story. Before I could ask Johnny what was up, Matt came running up to me and said, “I wanna go fishin’.”

Johnny approached me. “If I try to leave him behind, he’ll just follow us or make such a racket he’ll wake up my parents.” So we bowed to the inevitable and let Matt follow us as we started for the lake. It wasn’t really a lake; it was what was called a rock pit. A rock pit being a place that was once dry land until a company came along and started dredging gravel, dirt, and muck for development out west near the Everglades. What was left after they had taken as much as possible was a small lake. We were fortunate; there were two such lakes within blocks of where we lived. They were identical, about a quarter mile long and half as wide. Between them was about a hundred yards of fine, sugary-white sand.

Our 3:00 a.m. fishing routine consisted of me, Johnny, sometimes Terry, our fishing poles, a frying pan, a can of baked beans, and a stick of butter. At sunrise, we would stop fishing, clean our catch, build a fire, and cook the fish we had caught moments before. And of course, coming from good Irish (Boston) stock, the beans were always Boston Baked Beans.

As a rule, we always fished the north lake. Why, I don’t know. Probably because that’s the lake we swam in and we felt comfortable there. However, this morning we were fishing the south lake, and by the time the sun was fixing to come up over the horizon, we had caught nothing. Matt may have helped our bad luck along by throwing rocks into the water right where we were fishing. So, we decided to call it a day, or a night, or whatever. It was still dark out when we reeled in our lines and started for home.

Johnny, Terry, and I were walking along the shore of the south lake. Matt was somewhere behind us. Or so we thought. There was no need to fret about Matt. We were only blocks from his home, which he knew his way to as well as we did. And there were no “Bad Guys” to worry about. It was 1962, after all. But with what happened in the next few minutes, it just goes to show you how wrong a guy can be. At this point, it’s still pitch black out, but a gray sky in the east was only minutes away.

As we neared the bit of land between the two lakes, we heard a sound that immediately put us on guard. In those days, our neighborhood was way out in the boondocks, and we had never run into another living soul in all the time we went fishing at three o’clock in the morning. The sound was a scratching sound, immediately followed by a sound that sounded like thud, scratch, thud, scratch, thud—it had a kind of rhythm. By then dawn had broken, barely. It was finally light enough to see where the sound was coming from.

We could make out the silhouettes of two men and a car. The bigger of the two was leaning against the car, arms folded, watching the other man as he dug a hole. Those were the sounds we had heard, the scraping of the shovel as it was thrust into the sand, and the sand as it was dumped onto a slowly growing pile. As we stood there watching this strange sight, it got stranger still. The big guy went to the trunk, opened it, and dragged out a dead body. Or what sure as hell looked like a dead body.

All three of us dropped to the ground. After all, we were the first generation of children raised on television; we’d seen enough to know that witnesses always get “rubbed out” and dead men tell no tales.

Johnny and I were right next to each other, with Terry behind us. We lay in that position for about five minutes, wondering what would be the best course of action to take that would not end up with us getting shot. Johnny and I were for staying on the ground and slowly crawling away so as not to be seen. Terry was for jumping up and making a run for it. Well, wouldn’t you know it, little Matthew decided which course of action we should take, and it was neither of the above.

As we lay there conducting The Great Debate, we saw Matt walking up to the two men from the opposite direction. He must have circumnavigated the lake, and was heading in the general direction of home. The only problem being two bad guys were between him and his destination. Because he was so small, and the men were so intent on what they were doing, Matt was able to walk right up to the hole still being dug and peer into it. Even from our vantage point, we could see the men react as all reasonable men would react when discovered burying a corpse at six o’clock in the morning. They nearly jumped out of their skins.

After taking a moment to regroup, the bigger of the two, the one not shoveling, grabbed Matt by the arm, and force-marched him about ten feet before flinging him in the direction of the street. Of course, the little kid stumbled and fell. He sat there looking up at that big bully as the man pointed to the street. You didn’t need to read lips to know the guy was telling Matt to scram.

If I may, I’d like to digress for a moment and tell you about Johnny, Terry, and myself. Johnny and I were good kids. We were altar boys; we never gave the nuns at school any trouble. We kept our noses clean. Of course, as we got older and joined the Boy Scouts, Johnny made Eagle Scout while I never made it out of Tenderfoot. Johnny went on to become an FBI agent, and I went on to break many, many laws with impunity. But on that morning, we thought alike.

Now Terry, on the other hand, was a holy terror. Whenever he hung with us, we could expect to either be reprimanded by someone, or punished by our parents when we got home. All the Donohue boys, except Terry, had red hair and freckles. Terry was different, he was a blond. Come to think of it, he was different in a lot of ways. I tell you these things so you will understand why things turned out as they did.

Back to the story: When we left off, Matt was sitting on the ground with Mr. Big standing over him.

Johnny jumped up and yelled, “My brother!” and started running in the direction of all the excitement. Because he was my pal, I was two steps behind him, and Terry was a step behind me. We reached the scene of the crime and injected ourselves between Mr. Big and Matt. When he saw us, the big guy laughed and turned to the guy shoveling. “Hey, Nicky … the cavalry to the rescue.”

Nicky dropped the shovel, pulled out a gun that he had tucked into his belt, and pointed it at us. At this turn of events, Mr. Big said to Nicky, “Put the fuckin’ gun away, pick up your fuckin’ shovel, and dig the goddamn hole!” I thought Nicky was going to shoot him. I would have if someone spoke to me like that. But Nicky only shrugged, slipped the gun back into his belt, and resumed his spadework.

“So, kids, what’s the problem?” said Mr. Big. “Why don’t you be good little tykes and just run along home?” When we heard that, Johnny and I looked at one another. We knew our troubles were over. All we had to do was walk away, go home, tell our parents, and they could take the appropriate steps to deal with the situation.

As Johnny took Matt by the hand and we turned to leave, we heard, “You guys gonna bury that dead body?”

Fuckin’ Terry! was my only thought at the moment. I don’t know what Johnny was thinking, but by the look on his face, he was thinking along similar lines. With that bit of oratory, Nicky again dropped his shovel and pulled out his gun. Mr. Big stared him down until Nicky meekly put the gun away. But in an act of defiance, he did not resume his shoveling duties. So there we were: four kids, two bad guys, and a corpse. What next? was probably the only thought going through everyone’s head—except for Matt and Terry. Matt was too young to comprehend the situation, and Terry was just getting warmed up.

As we stood there in this Mexican standoff, we heard a groan coming from the corpse. Then the corpse raised itself on one arm and shook its head. Now I’ve got to hand it to Mr. Big. If nothing else, he was a fast thinker. I could tell he was just as surprised as the rest of us at the resurrection taking place, probably more so. But without missing a beat, he turned to Terry and said, “You talkin’ about Marty? He’s no dead body; he just had too much to drink.”

I was thinking, Saved by the bell. All we’ve got to do is play dumb and we can walk out of here.

No sooner had I thought those encouraging thoughts, I heard, “Then why are you digging the hole?”

You guessed it. Fuckin’ Terry again. But no one paid any attention to him. Marty was slowly getting to his feet, and all eyes were upon the Lazarus-like spectacle. The only one present who did anything was Nicky. He pulled out his gun again. Mr. Big walked over to him and slapped him on the back of the head. “Not in front of the k-i-d-s.”

How old did this guy think we were that we couldn’t spell kids? But that was cool, if he wanted us stupid, we could be the stupidest sons-of-bitches you ever saw. But unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to exhibit our acting skills. Just then, Marty said to no one in particular, “You fuckin’ assholes. You tried to kill me!”

“We ain’t done trying yet,” was Nicky’s retort. With that brilliant statement—in front of witnesses nonetheless—Mr. Big lost his cool. He turned to Nicky and shouted, “Alright, just shoot the bastard once and for all. Kill him before I kill you, you sorry sonavabitch!”

Nicky grinned from one end of his face to the other. “Right, boss,” was his reply, just before he raised his gun and put two right in Marty’s head. The rest of those assembled, with the exception of Mr. Big, jumped a foot in the air with the explosion of the first shot. Marty did not take it so well. He was flung back against the car and stared at Nicky for a long moment before he collapsed like a wet dishrag. Us kids were frozen to the piece of earth we each happened to be standing on at the moment the shots were fired. Even Terry couldn’t think of anything stupid to say.

As soon as Marty hit the ground, Mr. Big ordered Nicky to pull the body away from the car. Mr. Big got behind the wheel and yelled for Nicky to hurry up and get into the car. Standing at the passenger side window, Nicky asked, “What about the kids?”

We were still rooted to our respective pieces of earth, so we were close enough to hear Mr. Big’s reply. “Nicky, fuck the goddamn kids, fuck Marty, fuck you, and fuck this miserable town! Get your ass in here or so help me, I’ll blow your fuckin’ head off right where you stand.” With that, Mr. Big pulled out his own gun and pointed it at Nicky’s head. Having his boss point a gun at his head didn’t seem to faze Nicky, not at all. Before getting into the car, Nicky turned to Johnny and me and winked. “See ya, kids.” He then got into the car and Mr. Big backed it out onto the street, driving out of our lives forever.

But wait, the story isn’t over quite yet. After our friends had left, we formed a circle around Marty. We stood there looking down at him. He was lying face down in the fine white sand with a small pool of crimson-colored blood forming next to his head. Terry said, “Cool.” Johnny looked like he wanted to throw up. I was paralyzed and Matt was building sand castles. After a few minutes, Johnny said, “Let’s go home.”

The walk home was the least eventful part of that entire morning’s fishing expedition, at least until we arrived at Johnny’s house. When we got there, he said, “You guys wait out here. I’ll go in and tell my parents what happened.”

A few moments later, we heard a scream, followed by the exclamation, “My babies!” Within seconds, Mrs. Donohue, wearing an old blue bathrobe and with curlers in her hair, flew through the front door, stooped down, and like a mother hen, enfolded Matt and Terry into her arms. After a few moments and a few sniffles, she stood up and, while pointing at the door, shouted, “Get in there, misters, before I beat you!”

After that, there was nothing left for me to do but make my way home. I was hungry; we hadn’t caught any fish that morning. And, for some reason, we were never again allowed to go fishing at three o’clock in the morning.

Treasure

He stumbled upon the treasure quite by accident. He had been exploring the vicinity when he happened upon it. His first thought: This cannot be real. He cautiously approached. Someone might be playing a trick on him. Perhaps he was being observed. But no one sprung from a concealed location—no one yelled for him to halt his advance. It seemed safe enough to move forward. When he arrived at the treasure, he bent down to touch it, just to make sure it was real. It was real! After one touch, he fled to better-known and safer environs.

That night he could not sleep for thinking of what he had discovered. He thought and thought of ways he could explain it to members of his tribe. If he suddenly showed up with the treasure, anything he said would be suspect. One does not find treasure of this sort every day. No, he would have to think this through.

The next day he went back to where he had found the treasure, but dared not get too close. Instead, he peered at it from a far. It was still there and untouched! But for how long? A fire burned within him to possess it. If not for the taboo placed on matters of this sort by the Law Giver, he would claim the treasure as his own. But no, the Law Giver would never allow it.

As he tried to sleep on the second night after his discovery, he thought perhaps the Law Giver would understand. Perhaps he should approach her, and tell her of his find. No, then if she forbade him from keeping the treasure, it would be lost forever. Conceivably, he could bring it to his village and hide it from the Law Giver. But … where could he hide it? The Law Giver was all-wise; she knew the secrets of his heart.

Quite unexpectedly, he overheard the Law Giver speaking of the place he had found the treasure. This is what he heard: “When they moved out, they told me they left a few things behind, and if we wanted anything, we were welcome to it. I’ve been too busy to go over there, but I think I’ll take a look this afternoon. Maybe there will be something Billy might like.”

Something I might like. Something I might like! Was she toying with him? Did she indeed know of the treasure? Later that afternoon, his mother called Billy to the front of the house. He was not allowed far from home because he was only five years old, so he appeared right away. His mother said, “Look what I found next door where the Simms used to live.” And there it was—the treasure!

His mother handed little Billy the bright red, toy fire truck that had caused him to lose so much sleep. You see, Billy had been afraid his mother would think he had stolen it, even though it seemed to have been abandoned. And in his home, stealing was the one thing his mother, the Law Giver, would never tolerate.

 

48 Hour Deal!!!

Mahoney is on sale for 99 cents today and tomorrow (March 23rd & 24th). Reviews are averaging 4.8 stars.

“In this compelling, richly researched novel, author Andrew Joyce tells a story of determination and grit as the Mahoney clan fights to gain a foothold in America. From the first page to the last, Mahoney is a riveting, historically accurate tale of adventure, endurance, and hope.”

In the second year of an Gorta Mhór—the Great Famine—nineteen-year-old Devin Mahoney lies on the dirt floor of his small, dark cabin. He has not eaten in five days. His only hope of survival is to get to America, the land of milk and honey. After surviving disease and storms at sea that decimate crew and passengers alike, Devin’s ship limps into New York Harbor three days before Christmas, 1849. Thus starts an epic journey that will take him and his descendants through one hundred and fourteen years of American history, including the Civil War, the Wild West, and the Great Depression.

 

 

I Saw Jesus

I saw Jesus the night before he died, the night before he hauled that damn cross up the hill. I ran into him outside that little bakery, the one across from the wine shop on the main street. He was sitting on the stoop, talking to a gaggle of children. He always did love the kids.

“Hey, Jesus. What’s happening?”

“Hello, William. I’m just hangin’ with my little buddies.”

“If you can tear yourself away, how about I buy you a cup of wine at that shop over there? We can sit and talk and catch up. I haven’t seen you since forever.”

He smiled that smile of his.

“I’d like nothing better, my friend.”

He stood, patted one or two of the kids on the head, and whispered into one little girl’s ear. She looked up at him and smiled a thousand-watt smile.

“What did you say to the kid?” I asked.

“Nothing you’d understand, you old fart. Let’s get that wine.”

Of course, I had to buy. I never knew Jesus to have a dime on him. In the old days, I used to see him on the street with a bowl in his hand, begging for food. I would always tell him he didn’t have to do that. I’d be more than happy to buy him a meal. And he always said the same thing. “There are many hungry people in this city. Buy them a meal and you will have fed me.” I never understood what he meant, but then, Jesus always was an odd duck.

With wine in hand, we sat at a table overlooking the street. It hadn’t rained in a while and there was a bit of dust in the air, but we didn’t mind none.

“So, Jesus, what have you been up to?”

“Just walking the streets, talkin’ of love. What have you been up to?”

That was too much for me. “Never mind me. What do you mean you’re walking the streets talking of love? You’re in your mid-thirties. You should have been married long ago. When I knew you back in Nazareth, you had a thriving business going with your old man. Then you gave it all up. I worry about you, brother.”

He supped from his cup and smiled. “I thank you for your concern. But do not worry for me, I’m just passing through … as we all are. My needs are few. And come tomorrow, they’ll be fewer still.”

“What are you talking about, pal?”

“It’s not important, William. What’s important is that you live your life in love and not in fear.”

“Whatever. How about meeting up tomorrow? I’ll buy you lunch.”

“Sorry, my friend. I have an appointment with the governor. I’ll catch up with you in the next life.”

Jesus was always kidding. He had one wicked sense of humor. So, I paid no mind to what he said. I wish I had.

I was with Honest Abe the night before he died. He had lost a lot of weight. And he had more lines on his face than I remembered. He smiled at me as I walked into the room. “Well, well, William, it is good to see you. How have you been?”

“I’m cool, Abe. That was some war you just won. And I love how you had the band play Dixie right after Lee surrendered. You got class.”

He did an aw shucks gesture and asked me to sit down.

“So, Abe, tell me. What are you gonna do with all those traitors, all those rebels now that you beat the hell out of ’em?”

Abe stroked his beard and looked to the ceiling before answering. “I’m gonna treat them like I’d want to be treated. I’m gonna treat ’em like any human being would want to be treated. I’m gonna treat ’em with love.”

“So, what’s your plan, Abe?”

“Stop by tomorrow and I’ll tell you all about it. I’m gonna heal this country, by gob. I have a plan to bring the South back into the fold. But right now I have to get ready for the theater. There’s a play Missus Lincoln wants to see. But remember this, William. Approach your adversaries with love and there’s no way you can fail. I’ll leave word with Mister Kennedy that I’ll be having lunch with you tomorrow. Till then, my friend, pray for me. I have a big job to do in the next four years.”

I was with Martin King, Jr. the night before he died.

“So, Marty. What’s shaking?”

“Please don’t call me Marty. You know I don’t like it.”

“I’m just fucking with you, Martin. You’re finally getting there. You’re about to bring your people into the Promised Land. And it’s about fuckin’ time as far as I’m concerned.”

“One thing at a time, William. Yes, we’ve gotten to the mountain top, but it’s a long way down to the fertile valley below.”

“At least it’s all downhill now. I remember when you were in the Birmingham jail. Things looked pretty bleak back then.”

Martin smiled a sad smile.

“I don’t think I’ll make it to that valley,” said he. “I think it’s an illusion. There are so many more miles to travel and I’m running out of steam. But I can say with pride that I got the ball rolling. So, let’s not think about it now. How about a drink?”

We toasted with bourbon and branch water. We laughed and talked of old times. We hugged at the door as I said goodnight. The last thing he said to me was, “Go gently into the future. Go with love. You can never have enough love. Leave your fears at home. Go with Jesus.”

I saw Jesus the night before he died. I saw him in Abe and I saw him in Martin. I’m still waiting to see him in me.

 

Before I Die … Give Me a Drink of Cool Water

She was beautiful. She was like a sip of cool water on a hot day. I first ran into her on the beach. Romantic, huh? Damn right it was.

Her name was Maria. I flashed my killer smile, we talked for a while, and then she was mine. We made love in the sand, right there and then. I have never loved a woman as I have loved her.

There was only one problem; she belonged to another man. Not just any man, but the biggest bad-ass within a hundred miles. Hell … within a thousand miles. The asshole’s name was Jake.

Maria and I snuck around for a few weeks, but then I couldn’t take it no more. Was I a man or was I not? Fuck Jake! I told Maria that I was gonna confront him and tell him that now she was my woman.

She cried and begged me not to do it. She feared for my life. I asked her if she loved me. She said that she did. That settled it.

Jake owned a strip club down on 5th Street. I knew I could find him there on the weekends. So, it was on a hot Saturday night that I dressed in my best and took a cab to his club.

It was no problem gaining entrance to the inner sanctum once I told the bodyguard that it concerned Maria.

Jake was affable as I walked into his office. But that didn’t last once I told him why I was there.

“What makes you think you can take my woman from me?” he demanded.

“Because she loves me and not you,” I answered.

Those were the last words to pass my lips.

How was I to know he kept an old-fashioned Colt .45—the kind cowboys used to wear—in his desk? He cocked back the hammer and put a bullet into my chest.

Now I lie on a dirty floor as my life-blood pools beneath me. As I grow cold, as my vision tunnels, as I’m dying, I yearn for only one thing: A drink of cool water. And damn right, it’s a metaphor … I wanna see my Maria before I die … my drink of cool water on a hot day.

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 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.

Wise Guy

Gangster

He was dead when I got there. Dead as a doornail, deader than a dead fish, deader than Kelsey’s nuts, dead as … well, I think you’ve figured out the message I’m trying to convey here. The son-of-a-bitch was fuckin’ dead!

The door of the hotel room was ajar, so I had entered without knocking. Someone had bashed his brains in. No, that’s not accurate. Someone had bashed his brains out! They were oozing from the wound and congealing on the floor where he lay. His name is not important, but, for the record, I’ll tell you. When he was breathing, he was known as Vinnie “Five Fingers” Diamonte. Now that he is no longer breathing, you can call him anything you want, which would have been a dangerous thing to do when he was among the living. He wasn’t called “Five Fingers” for nothing. (I’ll leave it to your imagination.)

I was sent by my boss, Tony Shivs, to pick up three hundred large from Vinnie. Now Vinnie was dead and I had thoroughly searched the room, but there was no money to be found. You know whose fault it’s gonna turn out to be, who was gonna get the blame. Yeah, that’s right: Yours Truly.

Perhaps I should back up a little so you’ll know what I’m talking about. My name is Billy Irish. That’s not really my name, but it’s what the wiseguys call me. My real name is William Michael Andrew Doyle. Andrew is my Confirmation name.

Through my girl, who was “connected,” I fell in with a crew of Italian-Americans. That’s what I called them to their face. When I was with my own kind (Irish-Americans or micks), I referred to them as wops and guineas.

Anyway, I’m getting off track here. I was an employee of Anthony “Tony Shivs” Salvintore, and I usually did as I was told. I was low man on the totem pole because I’m not a wop. But that’s cool with me. Not being of Italian descent, there’s no way that I can be “made.” To be a made man, you’ve got to off someone … you know, kill a fellow human being, and that’s just not my style. I’m a gofer, a courier. It doesn’t pay well, but it beats the hell out of working for a living. At least it did until I walked into Vinnie’s room and found him dead and the money gone.

Making sure that I did not walk in congealing brains, I stepped over the body and sat down in a nearby chair. I thought about my future, which, at the moment, did not seem very bright.

I knew that Tony, being the psychopath that he was, was going to think I killed the guy and stashed the moola. Because that’s exactly what he would have done in my place.

When he sent me there, he told me only three people knew about the pick-up and where it was to take place. And I was to, as he phrased it, “keep my big yap shut.” It was obvious that someone else was also privy to the information. But knowing that I was innocent of any wrongdoing didn’t mean shit. Yeah, eventually Tony would believe that I had not taken his money. But by then I would probably be missing a few digits (fingers mostly), and I’m sure I’d need a wheelchair to get around for the foreseeable future. So, as I sat there looking at the mortal remains of Vinnie “Five Fingers” Diamonte, the only thought going through my mind was what the hell do I do now?

If I disappeared, then there’d be no doubt as to my “guilt.” And I couldn’t go back to Tony without the money. I’d been sent to pick up a package and if I did not return with said package, then I was a fuckup. And I had heard the old bastard say on more than one occasion, “I ain’t got no room in my outfit for no fuckups.”

Sitting there staring at Vinnie wasn’t gonna help my situation any. So I figured I might as well test the water, so to speak. I got up, walked over to the phone, and started to call Tony. Then I remembered there would be a record of it, and once the body was found, the cops would be on Tony’s doorstep faster than I can write these words. Perhaps not that fast, but you know what I mean. Of course, Tony would give me up in a New York minute. Then I’d have Tony and the cops after me. So I wiped my prints off the phone and put it back down. I got out my cell phone and made the call I didn’t want to make.

I had been right. Tony was filled with sweetness and light. “That’s alright, Billy boy, as long as you’re okay. Why not come over and tell me all about it?” I knew that if he ever got his hands on me, I’d be lucky to hit the streets again with all my fingers. Hell, I’d be lucky to hit the streets again, period! No friggin’ way was I gonna walk into his lair, but I told him I was on my way and disconnected.

So that you get the full picture here, I’m gonna have to give you a little background info. The crew I was associated with worked mostly out of Miami Beach. Sure, the mainland entered into a lot of what went down, but we all lived and hung out on Miami Beach. Tony lived at Collins Avenue and 50th Street, in the same building that Myer Lansky had lived in for ten years and was still living in when he died. The building was a massive structure that had been built in the 60s. A real class place if your taste ran to garish and gaudy. My girl, Terry, and I also lived on Collins Avenue, but up at 65th Street. Our place was a seedy hotel that had been built in the 40s. Threadbare carpet in the halls, the halls themselves dark and dank. But we called it home. And for those of you who are not familiar with Miami Beach, it’s a long narrow island separated from the mainland by a body of water known as Biscayne Bay. Collins Avenue runs from the art deco district at the south end of the island to Golden Beach at the north end. The whole mess is eight and a half miles long and no more than a half mile wide. So if one needed to disappear, Miami Beach was probably not the best place to do it.

Okay, now back to my shit. The first thing I needed to do was get in touch with Terry and tell her to get the hell out of our room. I knew if Tony couldn’t get his hands on me, he would have no compunction about grabbing her in my stead.

No; actually, the first thing I had to do was get out of that goddamn hotel room. Vinnie was starting to turn ripe, and how did I know some wise-ass had not already called the cops (anonymously, of course). I called Terry as I went down the back stairs. No elevators loaded with witnesses for me.

By the time I hit the street, I had Terry on the phone. I told her to ask no questions—like women love to do—and pack for the both of us for a few days out of town. “Be out of the room in ten minutes and wait for me in the bar across the street.” She asked no questions, and that is why I loved her … that and a few million other reasons.

Vinnie had been ensconced in a hotel across from the airport on the mainland. Not that there’s an airport on The Beach, but I’m trying to be precise here. It should have taken me twenty minutes to get to the bar and to Terry. However, thanks to some broken-down piece of shit car on I-95, traffic was backed up and moving at a crawl. At the time, I cursed and fulminated about the goddamn traffic, but in hindsight, it was a godsend. It had given me time to think, which is something I had not been doing since I found Vinnie.

What I thought about was something Tony had told me. He said only three people knew about the pick-up. Him, Vinnie, and me. But that wasn’t exactly true; there was a fourth, Johnny Tits. Johnny was a breast man, hence the name.

Johnny was Tony’s bodyguard, a Neanderthal masquerading as a human being. He had been in the room when Tony gave me my marching orders. So, I’m sitting there in traffic thinking maybe Johnny might know who iced Vinnie and where the money disappeared to. I made up my mind to have a little talk with him before departing for parts unknown. But before I could do anything, I had to get Terry to a safe locale.

I finally got to the bar, double-parked, ran in, grabbed Terry and our bags, threw a Hamilton on the bar to cover her tab, and got her into the car—all in less than a minute. We drove north on Collins Avenue in silence for a while before Terry turned to me and said, “Okay, when the hell are you planning on letting me know what the fuck’s goin’ on?” That’s one of the million things I loved about her. She could get right to the point with no bullshitting around.

Considering that her health, if not her life, was up for grabs, I decided to be magnanimous and answer her query. “I’m in deep shit, baby. A job Tony gave me went south. There’s three hundred thousand smack-a-roos missing and I’m the fall guy.” Of course (and I don’t blame her), she wanted to know all the details. So I told her, starting with my finding Vinnie, sans brains, and ending with my epiphany concerning Johnny Tits.

When I had finished my narrative, I told her I wanted to talk with Johnny before we left town. That’s when she hit me (figuratively speaking) SMACK! right between the eyes. “What do you mean ‘leave town’? What are you? Some kind of pussy? I’m not leaving town!” Blah, blah, fuckin’, blah.

I told you I loved her, but sometimes … Hey! Did she just call me a pussy?

The upshot was, she tried to convince me that together we could find the money, get it to Tony, and everything would be cool. That broad could talk me into anything when she looked at me with those yellow-green eyes of hers.

I may be a pussy, but I’m not so much of a pussy as to drag my girl into something that could get her killed. If I couldn’t find out who offed Vinnie and took the money, and she was running around with me, then when (not if, but when) the shit hit the fan, she’d get splattered too. You married guys can relate to this: I said yes to everything she said while thinking how and where to ditch her while I took care of business.

As we crossed the causeway to the mainland, she was going on about what we should do first, which was to run down Johnny. I loved her, but only one of us could wear the pants in the family, and it sure as hell wasn’t gonna be her! Anyway, I knew of a motor court (yeah, right out of the 40s) where I could stash her until I became either her hero or she had to make my funeral arrangements.

Just in case some of you may not know what a motor court is, it’s kind of like a motel, but with individual, separate units grouped around a courtyard. At any rate, the place we went to was across from Gulfstream Race Track, a horse-racing establishment.

The place was a real dump, and I think they got all their business from guys who’d lost the kids’ college funds at the track and went there to commit suicide. But it was just what I needed. I could pay with cash and not have to show a credit card or ID. Tony’s pretty well connected; he had more than a few cops in his pocket, and I thought he might have one of them run down activity on my card when I didn’t show up.

Once we checked in and Terry got all the bitching out of her system about what a shit-hole I’d taken her to, I told her to relax. I’d go get us something to eat and we could start our Nick and Nora Charles routine in the a.m.

As Terry will readily tell you, I’m a fuckin’ liar. If she was hungry, she could order a pizza. I was going to see Johnny. Tony always sent him home at six sharp every night so he, Tony, could have a private dinner with his mother. Johnny lived on a houseboat across the street from Tony’s place. I knew that and Terry didn’t, so there was no way she could follow me. And just to make sure I was not bothered, I shut my phone off.

So it was back to The Beach for me. I parked a block away from Johnny’s boat; I didn’t want anyone who knew me to see my car because by now Tony would have the word out that I was on the lam. And the sycophants that hung around Tony would have loved to make some points with him by bashing me over the head and delivering me to him in a cardboard box.

As I approached the boat, I saw Johnny’s car, so I knew he was around. Then I hesitated. What the hell was I thinking? If Johnny was the one who took down Vinnie, what chance did I have? I wasn’t even heeled. But then I remembered Terry calling me a pussy, so I squared my shoulders, stood tall, and did the dumbest thing I’d done in a long time. I knocked on Johnny’s door. I was kind of hoping there wouldn’t be an answer, and there wasn’t. So then I did the second dumbest thing I’d done in a long time—I tested the door. It was unlocked, and I went inside.

The lights were out. Maybe he went for a walk. Yeah, right. Johnny’s not the walking-in-the moonlight type. I’d never been on his boat before and I didn’t know where the light switch was. Do houseboats even have light switches? Maybe he used a kerosene lantern. As I was pondering those weighty questions, I walked farther into the room and tripped over a large obstacle lying in the middle of the floor … or was it a deck … considering I was on a boat.

As I lay sprawled on the floor/deck, my eyes became adjusted to the dim light coming in through the door. What I had tripped over was Johnny. Great! My second dead body of the day.

This, I had to ponder, but I couldn’t do it lying on the floor (I’ve decided to call it a floor). I got my ass up and looked to my right and saw a lamp on a table. I felt for the switch, found it, and got some light in the room. I closed the door, and for the second time that day, sat in a chair and stared at a corpse.

I liked to read. I’d rather read than watch TV, and I’d been reading Raymond Chandler recently. When his hero finds himself in a predicament like the one I was in, he always searched for clues. And he always started with the body. If given my druthers, I’d like to be with Terry at a fine restaurant, swilling down martinis while waiting for the sumptuous meal we had just ordered. I was getting hungry and I sure as hell could have used a drink right about then. But no one offered me my druthers. So I bent down and gave Johnny the once-over. He was lying face down, and there was a neat little bullet hole at the base of his skull, just above the neck. There was very little blood, which meant that he had died instantly. It looked to be the work of a .22, the gun of choice for professional killers. They always go for the back of the head.

Next, I turned him over so I could go through his pockets. I found only one thing of interest: He had Vinnie’s pinkie ring in his inside coat pocket. This was significant because if you knew Vinnie, you knew there was no way in hell he’d give up that ring. I don’t think he would have done so at the point of a gun. It was his pride and joy. He was always flashing it in your face and telling you about the three-carat diamond it housed.

After searching Johnny, I did the same to the room. His gun was lying on the table next to the lamp. I picked it up and gave it a sniff. It hadn’t been fired. It was a snub-nose .38 police special—a revolver. Johnny always said he liked it because it didn’t jam the way automatics are wont to do. (Of course, Johnny did not use the word wont.) I don’t know why, but I stuck it in the waistband of my pants and pulled my shirt out to cover it. Actually I do know why. There was a sicko running around killing people I knew. I may not like them, but I knew them—and I was only one step behind him. If I kept blundering around, it would be just a matter of time before I blundered into whoever had iced Vinnie and Johnny.

Despite looking for clues, I was clueless. So I sat back down and thought things over. I’m not the brightest bulb in the patch, to mix metaphors. But after a couple of minutes, a few things penetrated my thick skull. First of all, it must have been Johnny that did Vinnie; it’s the only way he could have gotten the ring. And second of all, the money was not on Johnny’s boat and probably never had been. The boat had not been tossed. Whoever killed Johnny came for the hit, not the money. It’s the only thing that explained why Johnny had only one hole in him. If someone wanted the money, they would have put a minimum of one into his knee to loosen him up. You don’t kill someone if they have info you want. And knowing Johnny, he’d take a lot of loosening up. He was dumb as shit, but he was one tough motherfucker. Johnny knew his killer. It’s the only way someone could get behind him with a gun. Johnny was a pro. And his gun was on the table, not in his hand. He knew his killer.

I had some more thinking to do, but I wanted to do it alone and without a dead guy with his half-closed eyes looking up at me. So I hightailed it out of there, after wiping down any surface I touched or may have touched.

I wanted to walk along the water, but of course, the goddamn monstrosities like Tony lived in impeded my ingress onto the beach. Consequently, I walked up and down the sidewalk in front of Tony’s building. After about an hour of that shit, the pieces started to fall into place. It was time to talk to Tony Shivs.

Now we come to the crux of the matter. No, not the crux, but another one. I’ve been having cruxes throughout this whole goddamn story. This particular crux was that I needed a way to get into Tony’s building without being announced by the security people. But I had a plan.

I went to my car and retrieved a baseball cap. It wasn’t much of a disguise, but it was better than nothing. I went back to Tony’s building and walked down the incline into the underground parking garage. The plan was, I would secrete myself behind a car near the door that led into the building; of course, the door was always locked. And then when an unsuspecting resident went through said door, I’d jump out before it closed. I would grab the handle and let it close almost, but not quite. I was counting on the person or persons to be too intent on getting up to their abode to notice what the door was up to. And guess what? It worked like a charm.

Okay, now I was in the building. I kept the hat pulled down low, kept my eyes on the carpet before me, and made my way to the elevator, hoping all the while I didn’t meet up with anyone. I didn’t. When I got outside Tony’s door, I took a deep breath and knocked.

“Yeah, who is it?”

“The doorman sent me up, sir. Someone left a package for you.”

I continued to keep my head down so that when he looked out of the peephole, all that he would see would be a teal baseball cap (Go Dolphins!). I did not want Tony answering the door with a gun in his hand, which he would have done if he had known it was me that had come a-calling.

I readied myself as I heard the locks being disengaged. When the door opened an inch, I pushed my way through and said, “Sorry I’m late, Mr. Salvintore, but I got tied up.”

He was startled, but quickly recovered. “It’s about goddamn time you got your mick ass here. And what is this package shit?”

“Just my little joke, Mr. Salvintore.”

“It ain’t funny.”

“No sir, I guess it ain’t.”

“It’s late. Where’s my three hundred grand?”

“As I said, I’m sorry, but things came up. I hope I’m not disturbing your mother.”

“Naw, she’s down in the card room playin’ canasta with them other old broads.”

Now that I knew his mother was out of the way, I drew the gun from beneath my shirt and pointed it at the son-of-a-bitch. “Why don’t you sit down on the couch, you fat, greasy wop. I wanna talk to you.”

You should have seen the look on his face. It was almost worth all the shit he’d put me through since I started working for him.

He was moving slow, so I reiterated my demand and told him that, because his building was so well constructed, no one would hear the pop of the gun when I put one into his fat ass. He must have seen something in my eyes because he kind of wilted and meekly sat on the couch. I availed myself of a nearby chair.

Once we were both seated and relatively comfortable, I asked him a question I’d been dying to ask. “Where did the three hundred large come from?”

“Some guys up in Tampa sent it down for me to invest for them.”

“Okay, why send me to pick it up? Vinnie worked for you, he could have just driven it in. You didn’t need me.”

“Ah … ah …”

“What’s the matter, Tony? Nothing comes to mind?”

“No! That ain’t it. I thought it would be safer if you brought it in. No one would think that you had that kind of dough on ya.”

“Tony, you are full of shit! I’ll tell you why you sent me there. I was to be your patsy. You are a greedy motherfucker. You didn’t want just your ten percent for placing their money. You wanted the whole shebang. And when they asked what happened, you were going to give them me. And then I’d be hanging from a meat hook in some freezer until I told them where their money was. Which of course, I couldn’t do. So me and the meat hook would have been closely associated until they offed me.”

At that juncture, Tony’s right hand started to migrate a little bit. I knew he had a gun stashed between the cushions, and I had been waiting for him to make his move. I let him get almost there and then said, “Touch that gun and you’re a dead man.” His hand rebounded as though his arm was made of rubber bands.

I continued: “Now that we understand one another, why did you have Johnny Tits kill Vinnie?”

“Who said I did?”

I raised the gun, pulled back the hammer, and said, “Any more bullshit and I’ll shoot you in the knee.”

“Okay! Okay! Yeah, I had Johnny take care of Vinnie. Vinnie had to go anyway. He was skimming from me and he thought I was too dumb to notice.”

“Why did you kill Johnny?”

“How the fuck …”

“Were you going to say, how the fuck did I know you killed Johnny or how the fuck did I know he was dead?”

“Alright, you seem to know everything. Man, I thought you were just some dumb mick bastard.”

“Yeah, I know, and that’s how you played me. But tell me about Johnny. There’s no way he could have been skimming from you.”

I could see the wheels turning in his head. He was trying to figure my angle. He was also trying to figure out an angle for himself.

Finally, he said, “I can use a smart operator like you. And I don’t mean as a gofer. It will mean a big raise from what I’m payin’ you now.”

“We’ll get to that in a minute. Right now tell me about Johnny.”

“You’re right. I sent him to off Vinnie and take the money. The plan was to hang it on you so the wiseguys in Tampa would leave me alone. But I’m telling you, if I had known how on-the-ball you were, I would have played it different.”

“I’m flattered, but why did you off Johnny?”

“The son-of-a-bitch wanted a cut of the three hundred large. He even hinted he’d screw the deal if he didn’t get a fair shake. I don’t take that kind of shit from nobody.”

“No, Tony, I reckon you don’t. Did you do it yourself?”

“Yeah, I just walked across the street. I always go for a walk after dinner, but this time I visited Johnny.”

It was getting late and I wanted to get out of there before his mother came back. So I thought I’d bring our little meeting to a close. “Where’s the money now?”

“Why ya wanna know?”

“I just want to see what all the fuss was about, and besides, I think you owe me a couple of grand for the aggravation you put me through today. We can talk about my new job tomorrow.”

The look on his face was priceless. He had weathered the storm. All he had to do was let me walk out of there with a few bucks and then he could pick up the phone and put a hit out on me.

“It’s on the table over there, in the shoe box.”

I went to where he indicated and took the lid off the box. There sure was a lot of money staring back at me. I turned back to Tony and said, “I’ll get the money tomorrow; you give me whatever you think is fair.” Then I looked out his sliding glass doors and said, as I walked behind the couch, “You sure got some view.” When I got behind Tony, I turned the gun around, and with the grip hit him behind his right ear as hard as I could. He fell over onto the couch, but he wasn’t knocked out, only stunned. Moving fast, I picked up a throw pillow, placed it on the back of his head, stuck the revolver into the pillow, and squeezed the trigger. The shot could not have been heard outside of the apartment.

I went to the kitchen and got a dish rag. I wiped the gun of my prints and threw it on the floor. Then I went to the box, replaced the lid, and tucked it under my arm. At the door, I used the rag to open and close it. I also used the rag for the elevator buttons and the exit door to the garage. Luck was with me because I didn’t see anyone on my way out.

When I was back in my car and on my way to Terry, I turned on my phone and called her. She had been trying to call me for a couple hours. The conversation went something like this:

Terry: Oh, Billy, are you all right? I was so worried. I thought Tony might have gotten to you.

Me: No, I’m fine. I just had something to take care of.

Terry: You mean you shut off your phone and didn’t give me the courtesy of letting me know if you were alive or dead? You son-of-a-bitch! I never want to see you again. Drop dead!”

It went on like that for a while and then she got real quiet, and I could hear her crying. It made me feel like a heel. But I’m happy to report that I have been forgiven. I think the money may have helped a little. We’re in San Francisco as I write these words. We’ve just gotten married and we’re going up to Oregon to set up housekeeping. She wants to have lots of kids.