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ef iction December 2010 1

Issue No. 009

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Letter from the Editor

Masthead Editor-in-chief Doug Lance Submissions Editor Zachary Ankeny Blog Editor Megan Schwark

If you haven’t read eFiction before, it is a free short story magazine. Every month we publish new and fresh stories from authors around the world. Long time readers, I need some feedback from you. How do you like the eFiction format as it stands now? Do you download the issue or read it online? Which do you prefer? What is your favorite format for reading? Drop me a line in the comments, @DougLance, or email editor@efictionmag.com. I am considering a change in the magazine’s format. Tumblr seems like a solid platform that is gaining in popularity. I want eFiction to stay at the forefront of digital reading, so you may see changes in the magazine in the new year. I want to thank everyone who has participated in my little magazine this year. You guys rock! This year has been fun. Here’s to another great one. Happy Holidays,

Doug Lance

Would you like to join the team at eFiction? Email your credentials to Editor@efictionmag.com

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eFiction Magazine - December 2010

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Contents Jersey Surf: A Loss of Words Episode 9

Page 4

Glen Binger

Suga Kara Taylor

Witch on a Rail

Page 9 Page 11

Zachary Ankeny

The Cave

Page 17

Harris Tobias

Reversal of Fortune Harris Tobias

White Falcon Dennis J. D’Amato

Contributors

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Page 20

Page 27 Page 31

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Jersey Surf Glen Binger Episode 9

A Loss of Words

image haunting the inside of his eyelids each time he blinked. “You okay?” Pete asked over his shoulder, lining up three pint glasses. “What? Oh, yeah,” Zach opened his eyes. “I’m good. Just still a little hung over from last night.” He cracked three bottles and passed them to a hipster in a Lady Gaga concert t-shirt. “Six.” The man handed him seven dollars. “Thanks.” Pete slid the full glasses across the bar. “You sure dude? You can go home if you want. I can cover, it’s not too busy.” “Yeah. I’m good.” “Alright.” He nodded and stepped back to lean on the center counter. “So you ready for the winter break crowd next week?”

Sometimes, helping others is the only way to forget a personal apocalypse. Focusing on other’s problems clears the ghosts from your head. They go away for just a little while. A little while that you can be normal again. You are full of all things human. Sometimes, being there for someone can make you alive again. Make you blink and sweat and smile. Sometimes. Zach’s plan worked, surprisingly. Derek and Kim weren’t fighting anymore. He spent all of Black Friday thanking Zach for helping out with his girl problems during Thanksgiving; both, at home and at Club Surf. Each and every time, Zach nodded, modestly, completely taken back by the fact that it actually worked, though he’d never admit to it. But, in being entirely honest, he couldn’t have without Natalie. And he would definitely never admit to that. But now it was back to his own problems. Plus, he had to deal with Football Sunday at work, still full and sleepy from the feast on Thursday; though, it wasn’t too crowded. He mounted his arms on the counter, closed his eyes, and shook his head, trying to rid the

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Decembers got busy when all the college kids came home for break. Club Surf usually threw a New Year’s Eve party at the end of the month, too. “Ready to make some fuckin’ bank.” He laughed while watching Natalie come out of the kitchen from afar. “Damn straight! Should be a good one. I think The Pat Roddy Band is playin’ Christmas Eve this year.” Pete flipped through the schedule tacked to the support beam dotting the center of the middle counter. Natalie spoke to a table, faked a smile, and walked back into the kitchen. Zach knew it wasn’t real because there was no dimple on her left cheek. “Yeah, Pat Roddy on Christmas Eve. Should be a good one. I think I like his cover band the most out of the ones that regularly play here, ya know?”

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“He’s alright,” Zach returned focus. “I like the Matt O’Ree band better.” “Yeah, they’re good, too. I love their 1970 neon blue tour bus.” He laughed.

watched Zach drag his feet up the stairs to the office and fade into the dark doorway. “Kim?” She asked, without removing her eyes from the office. “Can you do me a favor and cover me for a second? Table four’s food is ready. I gotta run to the bathroom real quick.” “Sure,” she smiled, without looking up from the kiosk’s illuminating monitor.

“Yeah.” Zach nodded at a cute brunette, smiling and waving “Thanks.”

a $20. “Can I get a vodka-Red Bull and a J.D. on the rocks?” She batted her eyelashes. Zach’s eyelids fell, momentarily. His brother used to take J.D. straight – drink of choice. “Yeah, sure,” he turned away and pinched his brow.

Natalie followed Zach’s fresh footsteps up the stairs. “Zach?” Her voice split through the darkness. She flicked on a light, searching the office. “Babe?” The bathroom door was closed but no light leaked beneath it. Then she heard him clear his throat. “Zach? Babe?” “Yeah?” He answered, muffled by the slab of wood between them.

“Seriously, man.” Even Pete’s voice sounded lanky. “Go home. I got it covered.” He put ice into two glasses. “I’m ok, bro. Seriously. Just back off.”

“You okay?” He blew his nose, then sniffled, voice crackling; “Yeah, I’m fine. Just taking a piss.” “Zach.”

“Alright, alright. Sorry.” Zach poured Red Bull into the vodka, picked up the two glasses and placed them in front of the girl. “Twelve.” She handed him the twenty dollar bill. He stepped to the register and then back, handing her the change. She left a tip and walked away. “Hey man,” he said to Pete, “I gotta piss. I’ll be right back.”

“What?” “Come on, it’s me. What’s wrong?” “Nothing, I’m fine.” A fluorescent light blinked on beneath the door.

“You got it,” Pete said, turning one of the TVs to the Giants’ She rolled her eyes. “Okay, then come out, won’t you?”

game.

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***

“Give me a second, geez.”

Arms folded across her chest, leaning on the kiosk, Natalie

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she giggled and took a step back to sit on one

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a step back, folding her arms tightly beneath her breasts. It pushed them up and together, distracting him.

of the empty desks. Still stifled by the door, the faucet spit water into the porcelain sink bowl. There was a pause between the sound of spitting and the tearing of paper towels, and then another between the lock clicking open and the door being pulled open. Zach emerged with wrinkles across the chest of his shirt and a glaze in his stare. “Hey,” he said. Natalie smiled. “Hey.” She stood up and wrapped her arms around him, eyes locking with his. “What’s wrong?” “Nothing. Why?” She tilted her head to the side, smiling – dimple glowing. “Really?” He studied her eyes for a moment, growing dry. Then he said, “How long have we been seeing each other?” Natalie slid her hand up his back, over his shoulder, around to his face, and gently wiped her thumb across his right, soggier eye. “I dunno, few months. Why?”

She didn’t know how to respond. She only wanted to help but how could she when he was pushing her away? Eyes still linked with his, the only thing she could say was: “Okay.” She unfolded her arms and repeated, “Okay. I’m here if you change your mind.” Without hesitation, she turned around and went back downstairs. “Great,” said a motionless Zach. His eyes felt damp again, so he went back into the dark bathroom and locked the door behind him, trying to figure out why he always had to sabotage himself. *** At the bar, Natalie leaned over the counter and threw a pen at Pete’s back. “Hey Lanky. What’s the score?” He turned from the game, scratching the shoulder blade of which the tip struck him. “Uhh, twenty-seventeen, Jacksonville.”

“Just about four months.” “Okay.” She chuckled. “Why?”

“Damn.” She smiled. “So, hey, I’ve got a question.”

Zach took a deep breath. She wasn’t ready to know. “Dunno. Just wondering how serious we were.” “That’s why you were in the bathroom in the dark?” She let her hand glide down, again, resting in the muscular cup of his lower back. “Yeah. So how’s work tonight?” “Come on, Zach. Talk to me.” She pushed off him and took

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After fighting the urge to smile, he linked their eyes. “I don’t know what you want from me, Natalie! I’m obviously having a rough night. Can’t we leave it at that?”

He shifted his body weight to entirely face Natalie and leaned both elbows on the counter, entering her personal space and smiled. “Shoot.” “Well,” she said, leaning back, “first, not a chance in hell this will ever happen again.” She pointed her index finger repeatedly back and forth, still smiling and confident in her attractiveness. “Second, have you talked to Zach lately? Something’s bugging him.” Pete stood up straight off the counter, acknowledging his

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rejection. “Yeah, I noticed that, too! I asked but he wouldn’t tell me what was wrong.” “Hm. I wonder what it could be. He doesn’t get this upset over the Giants.” She gnawed on her lower lip, which Pete, of course, read as a sign. He grinned but before he could open his mouth Natalie chuckled and said, “I said never again, Lanky. Zach’s better in the sack.” He laughed. “Damn, you’re mean, girl.” “I try.” She winked. “But seriously, I wanna know what’s wrong. I’ve never seen him like this. I’ve never seen a dude cry before and he’s you’re best friend, so I figured you’d probably know, ya know? You really have no idea?” “Wait! What?! He’s crying?” “Ugh, Pete. Don’t make a thing out of this. Shit, I shouldn’t have said anything.” “No, no. Listen. I know what’s wrong. I mean I’d bust his balls any other time but this is different. What’s today?” “Sunday. Why? Wait, you know what’s wrong?” “No, I mean, the date. What’s today’s date?” He started cracking his knuckles. “November 28th. Why?! What’s wrong with Zach?!” She pressed her stomach against the counter and whispered, “Tell me why my boyfriend is crying in the bathroom upstairs.” Setback by her advance, Pete paused before saying, “I can’t tell you. This is one of those things he’s gotta tell you.” “Are you kidding me?”

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He matched her glare. “No. I’m not.” *** Zach unlocked the door, flicked off the light, and stepped out of the bathroom. He froze at the first thing he saw. Natalie stared at him from the chair of their empty, managerial desk. She smiled, attempting to comfort him, but it came off creepy. “Whoa, creeper.” He forced a laugh. “What are you doing up here?” “Waiting for you to tell me what’s wrong,” she said, her smile finally doing what it was supposed to, dimple twinkling. He walked over to the desk and hunched down on the corner adjacent to Natalie. She immediately stood up and pressed herself into him. He wrapped his arms around her waist and chinned her stomach, looking up to her looking down. She bent over and kissed him. “Your lips taste salty,” she laughed. He sighed. “Yours taste like cheese fries.” “Mmmmmmmmmmm,” she rubbed her mental tummy. Zach laughed sincerely. “Ha! Got you. You laughed.” He blinked, unresponsive, still troubled with the image on the inside of his eyelids. Step one. “Tell me what’s wrong, boo. Please? I just want to help.” “I know you do, shawty. I know you do.”

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“What did he say?” “So then why won’t you let me?” “I don’t know! It’s hard to talk about and I’m used to bottling my emotions until they become a ball of anxiety attacks.” He chuckled in self-defense. A bead of sweat rolled down his forehead. Step two. “Boys are so retarded.” She shook her head, still smiling. He studied her left cheek before regaining eye contact. “And that’s why I can’t tell you.” “Oh, stop, Zach. I’m only messing around.” “No, you’re not ready.”

Before she could put one foot on the staircase, Zach said, “My brother died.” Not sure why, he felt guilty for not telling her sooner; probably her objective of this confrontation. He blinked and wiped some moisture from his brow. Still on two. Natalie’s feet pegged into the ground.

“How am I not ready to know?” His forearms grew moist in their embrace – still stuck on the second step. Natalie remained persistent; not nosy, kindhearted and compassionate. “You’re just not.” Still, though, there was an ounce of jealousy in that hugsandwich. “Then why is Pete?” “Huh?” “Why can Pete know but not me?” “What does Pete have anything to do with this?” Natalie pushed away and took a step back from Zach, sitting back in the chair. “I don’t know! I asked him what was wrong with you.”

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“That he couldn’t tell me and you have to tell me! Ugh! You know what? Forget this. I’m just trying to help and you won’t let me.” She stood up, as if about to leave. “Who’s really not ready, Zach? I love you but you don’t love me enough to tell me what’s bugging you.” It was useless; tapping her toe, Natalie waited for a response that felt as if it were never coming. He stared at her, voiceless. “Okay. Fine.” She paced towards the door. “Once more, I’ll be here when you’re ready.”

“My brother died.” He paused. “In a crash. Two years ago, two weeks from today. December 12th.” As if her head was separated from her body, she looked at him over her shoulder before turning to float back to him. How the fuck was she going to handle this? “You wanted to know. So there. You know.” Tears welded up in his voice, as if he were keeping them from seeping out his eyes. “My brother is dead.” She took a hold of his firm shoulders and pulled him up so he was standing. Then she wrapped her arms around his waist while his shifted into place around her. He stood tall, attempting and failing to remain emotionless. Through only his nose, he inhaled immensely and exhaled entirely, warming the back of her neck through his scratchy beard. She tried to sync her breathing with his to create a sense of unison for reassurance. It wouldn’t work but she had to try something to avoid the lack of words. There had to be something warm she could offer in return for not being able to talk. Some sort

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of aura she could at least radiate to show that she was here and trying and desirous to support. Why hadn’t anyone said anything at his family dinner on Thanksgiving? Did he look like Zach? What kind of car did he drive? How close were they? So many things darted through her mind but she couldn’t find one to vocalize at this point in time. The only thing she could do was hold him as tightly as possible in hopes that it would help. Step three wasn’t coming anytime soon.

Suga Kara Taylor

I shivered. Ben tugged at my arm to hurry up, but I wanted to take my time because I was scared. I wrapped my scarf tighter around my neck and tried to keep up with him as he quickly trudged through the snowing, flinging it back at me. We headed toward the train. “What’s wrong,” he said slightly out of breath. “Nothing,” I replied but really wanted to yell, “Maybe we shouldn’t.” This was a once in a life time thing. Ben and I never really had alone time, and my parents had finally skipped town to go visit my sister in Michigan. They trusted me but I don’t trust myself. We continued down Roosevelt Road to the Red Line train. My hands began to shake and my mind wondered… “What if they are home? What if I am bad?” Ben loved me; I knew this was a big step for us. Finally, we reached the Red Line and I saw a familiar face. It was a homeless man I always passed on my way home from school. I was always friendly and cheerful because he sort of reminded me of Ben. I would sit on a bench near this homeless man, sometimes giving him half my sandwich while waiting for Ben to arrive after work. Ben would just stare sometimes before he would come and speak to me,

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as if he needed to observe the situation before entering it. I told Ben that they resemble each other and he got mad. “How does a bum remind you of me?” It was their smile and eyes, they both had this way of looking at me as if they really understood who I was.We passed him pretty fast but he noticed me still. He grabbed the end of my jacket. He never touched me before and looked at me in a way he never had before either. I am only familiar with this look from Ben, it was a look of lust. He was going to rip my jacket. “Suga, do you have some spare change?” Ben continued to tug at my arm and the homeless Ben tugged at my jacket tail. “Please Suga, can you spare some change?” “I don’t have any,” I lied so he would let go of me before Ben realized who he was and what he was doing. “I said please, Suga,” he continued. I dug in my pocket. Ben turned around. “Get your hands off her.” Then Ben snapped. He kicked over the homeless man’s things and threw his money into the street. “C’mon Kate, let’s go.” I just looked at him and he knew exactly the feeling of remorse and anger now burdening me. I felt bad but followed Ben as he continued down the stairs to the train. Before I was out of sight, I looked back and saw him gathering his stuff from Ben’s attack. He looked up and just stared at me. From the way he stared, I saw his pity and disappointment in me. Not in Ben, just me. The train was already there and we rode it three stops and walked the rest of the way. Ben figured it would be faster to walk because the Redline was under construction. “Kate, I am sorry for what happened back there.” “It’s okay,” I said but knew it really wasn’t. We continued to walk in silence. We got to my house and the time had finally come. Ben wasted no time. I barely got in the door before he led me up to my room, closed the door and turned off the lights. I took off my coat and was still shaking. “Close your eyes,” Ben whispered in my ear before he left the

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room. I could hear his footsteps going down the stairs and I just sat there waiting, anxious and scared. I wanted to do this but didn’t know how. “Are your eyes still closed?” he playfully called up the stairs. I heard something drop downstairs and it sounded heavy. I figured it was the coat rack. It always fell because usually there were entirely too many coats on it. The thud was followed by a fumbling sound; he probably broke that rack for good. “Just leave it,” I called out. I heard Ben’s footsteps running up the stairs. He was out of breath again, but this time his breathing was somewhat frantic. “Wow, someone needs to work out,” I said playfully nudging him. He didn’t reply. He took off my cardigan and my pant, and he pushed me back on the bed. It was time and my eyes remained closed, I wasn’t ready. Ben loved me. He mounted me, something was different and just didn’t seem right. My room began to reek of spoiled food and urine. I gagged then Ben whispered in my ear, “I said please, Suga.”

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Witch on a Rail Zachary Ankeny

Dennie and I were never the closest of cousins. He was a year older than I was—he was fifteen. That single-year difference meant that we were paired together to hang out for the summer; my other cousins were considerable younger. Dennie was not only older, but bigger. He was born a big kid; chunky in his youth but a well-built athlete in his adolescence. Dennie’s size was suiting for his reputation—that of a bully. If Dennie saw a mud-puddle, he’d push you into it… If Dennie saw the opportunity to beat you up and embarrass you, he would take that opportunity and exploit every one of your insecurities. I—being his cousin—was spared the physical brutality that Dennie could bring. Instead, he tormented me in ‘softer ways.’ He always had some scary story he was trying out on me… something to test my bravery. If I failed, I would be ridiculed. Succeeding only bought an hour, or so, worth of Dennie’s respect… So I wasn’t surprised when He told me we were going on an adventure that night… “This is our opportunity to see a real live ghost,” Dennie said as we drove up 13th Street toward my grandmother’s house. Summers were always spent with my grandparents in Sidney,

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Nebraska: a small town by my standards—I lived in from Phoenix, Arizona—but a larger stop on the highways wrapping across the Nebraska Panhandle. This summer, upon my arrival, Dennie was eager to take me out on the town in his new pickup. He had gotten his farm-permit; meaning, he could drive a car all throughout the county during daytime hours at the age of fifteen. In rural Nebraska, kids as young as thirteen years old were allowed to gain driving permits—in case they needed to run agricultural errands. We spun the truck quickly onto Main Street; Dennie slowed down to point out a grey-gravel parking lot. “That’s what we call ‘The Square,’” Dennie explained. It was a simple lot, wedged between a three story hotel and the hardware store… But to Dennie, it was the center of the universe. “I hooked up with these two girls there, last summer…” Dennie recalled. “…Everyone usually gets-together in The Square, and then we find a place to go party. Usually, we go out to the supply barns, but sometimes we party closer to the city.” Dennie had clued me in to what the ‘Supply Barn’s’ were… …The kids Dennie hung out with were popular… and rich! Their parent’s owned so much land throughout Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and as far as Canada; that these kids had access to hundreds of silos, barns, and private-land. With a playground stretching across the American Plains and into Canada; the teens growing up in the Nebraskan Panhandle had the world around them—literally! Dennie assured me that a ‘barn-burner’ wouldn’t be happening tonight… He had other plans… “Think about it!” Dennie said. “The past 2 summers we have been searching grandma’s house for a ghost, and we haven’t seen anything. Tonight, we’ll finally get to see a ghost.” Ghost-hunting in my grandmother’s house was a favorite pastime for all us kids. My grandmother’s house was nearly a hundred years old, but looked even older. We were all convinced that it housed a vengeful spirit that was angered by our presence. Needless to say, we never saw a single thing, nor heard a single unexplained noise. As far as I know, there’s no such thing as ghosts. But there’s something much more frightening that we should have been afraid of… Something much darker…

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Staying with my grandparents meant was like taking the batteries out of my watch. They kept to a regular schedule that seemed to be an hour and a half earlier than everyone elses. “At 9:00pm-sharp, they take out their hearing-aids and go to bed,” Dennie had said. “After that, they don’t hear a thing until 5:00am, when they wake up. That’s when we’ll sneak out…” “Wait! Sneak out?” I asked, a resurgence of nerves tearing at my gut. “Yeah… You wanna see a ghost, right?” Dennie sneered. Afraid that showing my apprehension toward sneaking out would ruin my credibility with him, after he invited me to hang out with him for the day; I nodded, “Of course! But is it a real ghost or another one of your bullshit-stories?” For a moment, Dennie tensed up, a jerk-reaction that screamed he wanted to hit me for the insult.” I recoiled, “I mean… is it real or are you just trying to scare me?” “Oh,” he seemed calmed by my quick reprisal. “Well I guess you’ll never know for sure unless you come with me, right?” I’d backed myself into the corner and he presented me with my only way out—I’d have to go with him to see his ghost; or wimp-out… …I should-have wimped-out. It was 9:45pm when we decided to sneak out. Plenty of time to allow our now-deaf grandparents time to fall asleep, and extra time for my dad to fall asleep as-well—he was in his prime and would surely hear us if we weren’t perfectly-quiet. But we were perfectly-quiet, and were out in the yard without a stir from inside the house. We hopped over the six-foot wall surrounding the house and were onto Cedar Street. Cedar was a better way to go—more foliage to cover us on our way downhill. The town had a 10 o’ clock curfew for anyone under the age of 15—meaning I was out past curfew. “Where are we going?” I asked as we snuck from tree-to-tree along the road. “Downhill,” said Dennie. “We go to the train tracks and follow them down the line maybe a mile or so. That’s where the house is…” “What house?” I asked, unsure if I really wanted to hear more.

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“The McInley House,” Dennie said his own interest peaked by mine. “McInley was a drunk whose wife had left him and moved east to Hastings with some guy from around town. McInley lost it. He was seen around town for a few weeks—he had moved on from booze to drugs… Then no one saw him for a while. The sheriff went to his house, but saw no reason to enter… They figured he might have moved out of town with all the gossip going around about his wife leaving him. It was two weeks before the sheriff returned and found him in his wife’s robe… naked… a shotgun next to what was left of his head.” I was amazed by his story, yet skeptical-still. “They cleaned up the crime scene and the bank tried to sell the house, but it’s old. Not to mention, everyone around here knew the story and wouldn’t dare make an offer on the house. So it was abandoned. They stripped out everything in the house and boardedup the windows and doors… And we are going in there—try and see old half-headed McInley himself.” Dennie gave me an evil smile and narrowing of his eyebrows. He knew he was scaring me. Dennie paused as we came up to Magnolia Street. The rails were on the other side of the street, a 10-foot chain link fence separating the houses from the train yard. “We gotta get over that fence and onto the yard,” he said. “Once we’re on the rail, our chance of seeing a cop is zero.” I nodded, and Dennie gave a whispered 1-2-3-count before we bolted for the fence. The street was deserted and dark, with a single streetlamp lighting the farthest corner of the fence. We scaled the fence quickly and hid in the shadows of the parked railway cars that proudly displayed Union Pacific Railway adjacent to a colorful layer of graffiti. With our backs against the rusted metal shells on wheels, we sided our way onto the rail. “A mile?” I asked. “About a mile… maybe a little more, said Dennie, swinging his head left to right, watching out for any adults, or worse: cops. The abandoned Cabela’s Building faded in the distance behind us, and the outer neighborhoods sprung up ahead—the curve of the rail leading us onward. “Here, take a swig,” said Dennie, producing flask of bourbon

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from inside his jacket. I didn’t want a swig of anything, but Dennie wasn’t asking. “Take it,” he demanded. I took the bottle and pressed it to my lips, tipping the flask back all the way but only letting the tiniest sip into my mouth and down my throat. “A swig, not a sip!” Caught, I made my second attempt to appease Dennie, taking a full mouthful of the bitter liquor. Immediately after swallowing, the burning taste spread across my chest and I wanted to gag—but put on my best pokerface and handed the flask back to my cousin with a nod. A ribbon of light snapped across the black sky, lighting the clouds that were hidden to us. “There’s not supposed to be rain tonight,” Dennie said. And I believed him. Growing up on a farm, and—because of his premature size—Dennie was put to chores at an early age. Learning when to get the equipment in the barn before the rains came in to rust everything uncovered, was a skill he had learned early. How this storm had snuck up on him, I do not know. “There’s a yard ahead… If we run, we can make it.” We broke into a simultaneous sprint as another flash lit the coming storm in the west. Nebraska’s late-summer storms were vicious and electrical; the dry air coupled with resonate static in the ready-dry wheat fields coupled together to make fierce lightning. Tornados were the big-scare though. In a storm that sneaks up like this one had, the possibilities of freak tornados was ensured. That’s what why we ran. The train yard came into view. There were three box cars strungtogether laying just off the main railway. They were cattle cars—metal boxes with wooden floors so that cattle wouldn’t be harmed in case of a lightning storm just like this one. We ran to the opened door of the second middle car and heaved ourselves up. The car hadn’t been cleaned since it was parked and I ended up face-down in a butte of manure. Dennie helped me to my feet as I spit-out grassy clumps of hay that had seen the inner workings of an Angus. For a moment I though the liquor, forced down my throat, was also going to make an appearance, but my stomach and attention were hastened by the man’s voice. “Your face down in your future boy,” he said. The man scooted

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on his ass out of the shadowy back corner of the car. “Take it from me.” Dennie was still helping me to my feet and I felt him tense at the sight of the man. He was a hobo, a tramp; a homeless wanderer riding the rails and sleeping day-and-night in the same filth I’d just tasted. “Here, wash your mouth out with this,” said the hobo. He crooked his hand out; a dirty hand sleeved by a heavy down-jacket, clutching a brown-bag wrapped bottle. Before I could decline, Dennie accepted; saying, “Let me get a blast before he gets shit on the bottle.” He pulled back on the bottle, taking a hearty gulp before passing it on to me, his fallen comrade. I took a mouthful of the whiskey and spit it back into my cupped hands, splashing and wiping away the last of the brown smears across my face. “So you boys from here in Ogalalla?” the man asked, taking the bottle back against his lips. “Ogalalla?” Dennie laughed. “If that’s where you think we’re at, then maybe you better just let me take your hooch. Ogalalla is a hundred miles east of here…” “Really?” he asked with more amazement than worry. “Where the hell are we?” “Sidney,” I answered. “I Must’ve slept through Ogalalla then,” the man wheezed. Dennie nodded. “You’re in the Western Panhandle.” The man looked a little confused, but took another sip of his bottle to right his thoughts. “Well if you boys fancy to keep-on knowin’ where you are, you’d be smart to leave this sort of drink to people like me!” The winds howled past the cracked-open cargo door and whistled into the boxcar as the old man settled onto a circle of hay bales he had set up as a sort of bench. In the center of the bales was a pile of half-burned tinder and logs on an old metal sign. The man put a small drop from his liquor bottle onto the kindling and lit the fire. Within seconds the charred twigs erupted into hot glowing coals. Dennie and I took the other two barrels to seat, bringing us face to face with the man.

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He was as you would expect a hobo to look: long speckled-grey beard, long speckled-grey hair, oily-black smudges across the ridge of his cheekbones. The clump in his beard, though, was what kept me unsettled. It looked like a wad of white chewing gum had fallen from his mouth and nested in the wiry hairs of his chin, but was never removed—left to morph into the crusted hairball that now graced his face. “What are you boys doing out here on the rail anyway?” the man asked. “No kind of place for boys your age… You should be with your friends drinking out in Peetz Canyon… Dennie and I looked at each other immediately. How would he know that the circle of kids we had been with earlier, were going to Peetz? He didn’t know where he was!” Dennie held his hand flat; signaling me to keep it cool. “That’s where you should be alright…” he drifted off into whispers. “Um, sir?” I nudged the man as he drifted away. “What were you saying?” The hobo began a quick snore—he was asleep! Dennie cocked a smile that lit-up our rusted-out old boxcar the same as the lightning had. “He’s had it man…” said Dennie. “The dude just drank himself to death right in front of us. Whoah! We might see a ghost sooner than we thought.” He was almost jolly as he flirted with the details of his story… “The tortured soul, of Hobo-Joe… He died tonight, His flesh gone-cold. But he will be back, For your life—it’s told. Dennie cackled and wriggled his fingers in my face, ending his poem on a high-scare. He poked at my face as I yelled at him to stop… “Stop… Stop… Stop!” I yelled. “Stop…!” the old man grumbled through the end of his final snore. His head was still dipped between his legs, eyes closed—but he seemed to now be awake.

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Dennie’s taunts were detracted from me and he sat back on his bale, eying the old man—his smile, not yet shrunk. “You boys won’t make it to the house…” the old man groaned. Dennie’s smile finally dropped as he looked to me. “What did he say?” I couldn’t answer. “What did you say?” Dennie lunged at the man shoving-back his shoulder. The hobo’s back straightened with a crackle of worn-bones and his head lifted slowly—eventually greeting us with wide white eyes. “You wanted to see a ghost tonight right?” his voice sounded calm, normal, and nonchalant; but the horrid, dead look on his face spoke louder. Neither Dennie, nor I could move a muscle; frozen by his chillywhite eyes. “Ghosts,” said the man, “don’t exist… Stories made-up by people like Dennie that want nothing more than to see you scared. Right Dennie…? And still we couldn’t move—couldn’t speak. “You know, ghosts are the last thing you have to worry about out here on the rail… It’s the witches that can get you.” The man’s voice waivered as he spoke. “The witches…” he mumbled again, his speech trailed off into a high-pitched inhale. “They love the rail…” The man gurgled and thin strand of blood and spit flew from his mouth and dripped to his clumped beard. He slumped to his side, tipping off of his hay bale. Behind him, though, came a short black figure, her features flickering in the spinning light from the fire. Her eyes were as white as the hobo’s: dead-white. A ratty black blanket, covered in lint, draped over her from her head to her heels. She smiled at us with a face so wrinkled; it was as if she were melting. “They love the rail,” the witch said in the hobo’s voice, “we love them.” She moved slowly, staring directly at me. I couldn’t move, hypnotized by the gloss of her frozen white eyes. Dennie noticed her slowly stalking toward me; whatever power she had over us, keeping her prey still, began to weaken on Dennie. He mustered the strength to raise his right arm and dig it into his jacket, retrieving his bottle of whiskey. The woman was face to face with me, her yellow skin and

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pale eyes only inches from the tip of my nose. The crackling of the fire dulled to a cottony, mute silence, and I felt my eyelids growing heavy—I was falling asleep, just as the hobo had. Dennie stood up—the witches control gone from him—and sent the glass bottle crashing over the top of her head. Glass shards scattered and the whiskey dripped down her shoulders and down into the fire, starting a slow ignition that began at her feet at quickly licked upwards, engulfing the blanket that covered her. She stumbled backwards with a look of shock, horror and— above all—anger. She howled as the flames went from silky blue to bright orange; she tore at the blanket, trying to cast it off of her. “Let’s go!” Dennie yelled as he tried to pull me to my feet. “We’ve got to get out of here!” I could hear him, but could still barely move. It was as if my entire body had fallen asleep and the blood was slow to pulse through and wake it. The witch recoiled into the corner of the car, tearing away the last shreds of her smoldering cover. Now she was naked, her frail and emaciated body steaming and bubbling from her collar to her eyes. She screeched like a hawk, turning Dennie’s attention away from me and back to her. Dennie jumped over the fire and knelt beside the hobo’s corpse, trying to pull the booze from his stiffened grip. Freeing the bottle, Dennie gave it a full forced toss, shattering it at her feet. He kicked the metal sign cradleing the fire, sending it across the floor boards and lighting the old woman up again. Now fullyengulfed—and no clothes to cast off—she twisted around, floating off the ground and out through the crack of freight door, disappearing into the night. “Let’s go… Now!” Dennie yelled pulling me by the arm. I was having trouble moving, my legs wobbled underneath me, too weak to carry me faster than a dragging walk. “Where did she go?” Dennie asked as we made our way to the edge of the field bordering the rails. “Is she gone?” He kept looking behind us as we ran full speed toward the fence. I didn’t dare look behind me. Getting over the fence was more difficult this time; we struggled and slipped as we rushed to get past the barrier. Dennie was off the fence, and I was taking my last descending steps as the sirens came.

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The whirling whine of the storm sirens jolted me and I fell the last three feet, landing on my backside. “What is that?” I asked. “It’s a tornado,” he said, “a tornado’s coming!” I hobbled to my feet and we ran again. The winds were growing fiercer as we drew closer to the house. We came up the lane to 15th street and Dennie stopped running. “You hear that?” he asked. It was a thick, deadening pulse of booming noise; like a heavy steel stamping machine, each pounding thud rang in our ears. I didn’t know what the sound was, but Dennie did. Dennie knew it was the sound of a tornado, but didn’t tell me. Of course he didn’t have to. A crack of lightning flashed in the distance, backlighting the funnel and casting its monstrous silhouette directly at us. It was as they say on TV, the tornado… It looked like a swirl of filthy water twisting down a drain; it sounded like a train roaring off its tracks and screaming toward you. This time Dennie was the one standing still, unwilling to move, his eyes glazed with awe and fear for the funneling maelstrom. he had seen storms before… Apparently never so close. The spinning winds lashed against the side of the Cabela’s building, tearing at her old wooden roof and collapsing the attached tin shed. It was headed straight for us… past the old building and up 13th street toward my grandparent’s house. Moving slow, but quicker than we could run. Dennie yelled something close into my ear, but it was lost in the loud static of the wind blowing all around us. He pointed toward the 13th street tunnel, and I understood what he meant. We pulled up our feet and sprinted full force for 13th. I don’t know if my adrenaline had me running faster, or if Dennie held back his speed for me; but we were elbow-to-elbow all the way past the fenced yard, over the concrete shoulder-block and down into the tunnel. The sound was greater in the tube below the tracks; the whipping winds whistled and pierced our ears. Again, Dennie tapped my shoulder and pointed—a service door. Dennie went to the door while I braced myself on a bundle of copper pipes protruding from the concrete wall. The tornado was nearly at the opening of the tunnel at this point, and I found myself clutching the pipes harder, unable to withstand the sucking vacuum at the tunnels mouth. Dennie pulled

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at the door, releasing its lock; the door flung open wide and quick, propelled by the winds, hitting Dennie in the center of his forehead and knocking him backwards. He stumbled, stepping backwards toward the tunnel’s mouth, maybe 8 steps before he finally fell flat on his back. He was flat and motionless; unconscious. I called his name and loosed my anchoring by one hand, only to have the pulling force of the suction stretch at me, pulling me off my feet—beckoning me toward the funnel. I regained my hold on the pipes and weaved my body between them, stitching myself back into a firm hold against the force. The brown outer edge of the cyclone disappeared as it rolled over the lip of the tunnel, and a newer, clearer funnel appeared inside the tunnel, feeding the storm directly above us. I looked at Dennie from the safety of my copper harness, and saw him begin to slide along the wet concrete. Slowly at first, his cotton cloth’s dragging along the pavement; but just as quickly gaining momentum and coasting away toward the tunnel’s opening—dragged away by the unseen force of nature at its worst. I fought with myself as I was sewn safely in those pipes… I wanted to help him, wanted to be able to hold onto the edge of his boot and keep him from slipping away. But I couldn’t and I didn’t. I stayed where I was and watched him as the suction pooled him in. 20 feet from me… 30 feet from me… until finally the winds turned and slammed him against the rebar at the corner of the tunnel’s mouth, pinning him against the exposed metal spokes. That’s when I saw he wasn’t the only one at the corner of the tunnel. The image was dulled by the brownish-red haze of swirling dust; but I knew it was her. The witch, her skin still blackened from flame, stretched her arm out from the rail above the tunnel and grabbed Dennie by his collar. She slid him out of the rebar with ease, and seemed to not be affected by the vacuum’s pull. She pulled him under her arm and slipped away back onto the rails.

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The Cave Harris Tobias

Eastern Tennessee is cave country. The hills are dotted with small family owned caves that compete with each other for passing business. They bear names like Horse Cave, Haunted Caverns, Hidden Cave. Sometimes touting their mystery, sometimes their beauty. One of my favorites was Horseshoe Caverns in Kentucky that billed itself as America’s underground play land. It had a room lit with colored lamps and formations named for amusement park rides. Hazel liked it, I thought it was imaginative but juvenile. Another favorite of ours was Elephant Cave in Virginia. That one promised a mammoth frozen in stone. It turned out to be, surprise surprise, a natural formation enhanced by lighting that, when you stood in a certain place, looked vaguely like an elephant. Well what else would you expect from a roadside attraction? Often these small family operations tend to be cheesy. I think, for most people, that’s a big part of their charm. As for me, I’m attracted to caves. They excite something deep inside me. Where else on the planet can you find a world so alien, so utterly dark and silent? It’s a world that neither needs nor wants human beings, and even though we tame them with lights, walkways

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and railings, we cannot kill the mystery and menace caves evoke. The ancients believed that caves were entrances to the underworld, where the dead reside and maybe they were on to something. I know for me, the feeling of being buried alive is never very far away. To a cave critic like me, a good cave is hard to resist. I especially enjoy the more obscure, out of the way family run caves and try to visit them when I can or rather when Hazel’s schedule permits. Visiting caves just might be the only thing we share; although, for the life of me, I can’t understand what she likes about them. She doesn’t appear to like anything else in the natural world. Sometimes I think she’d just as soon pave over the planet and make it into one big outlet mall. For us the honeymoon was over years ago. My first wife, Debora, got me interested in caves. She was nuts about them. Unfortunately she was nuts about a lot of things. Perky to the point of distraction, she loved everything with a little too much enthusiasm for my taste. It was a relief when she went missing. The police suspected me but of course they couldn’t prove a thing. Hazel’s my second wife. We met on a cave tour a few months after Debora’s disappearance. That was four years ago. Hazel has been making me miserable ever since. We fight about everything. I question her commitment to caves, she questions mine. I think she just uses her so called love of caves as a way to keep me from pestering her about her manic spending. I already made up my mind about Hazel. Arrangements had already been made. This was to be our last trip together. She just didn’t know it yet. Hazel was the first to see the sign. Indian River Cave 5 miles— World’s largest underground waterfall. “Ooo. Now that’s something I’d like to see,” she said. I was immediately on board. If nothing else, it was a break from bickering about Hazel’s profligate ways. She’d just spent $180 on a sweater I was sure she didn’t need. She insisted she did. “I don’t think someone with your taste in clothes ought to be giving fashion advice,” she said, “and besides, it was half off.” That clinched the argument in Hazel’s mind. She never passed up a sale regardless of whether she needed another pink cardigan or whether we could afford it. Frankly, I was sick of fighting with her about money. A nice,

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peaceful cave promised some welcome relief. We pulled into the weedy parking lot a few minutes later. Ours was the only car. Hazel put on her new sweater. A veteran caver, she knew how chilly caves can be. I grumbled as she bit through the plastic strings that fastened the tags. “Will you come on already?” I grabbed my jacket and hat from the back seat. We walked to the entrance together our animosity temporarily overcome by our mutual interest in all things cavern. The entrance consisted of a log cabin style residence with a tiny gift shop tacked on to one end. Inside the small room it smelled musty like it hadn’t been used in years. I went directly to the ticket window while Hazel made a bee-line to the merchandise. I clenched my teeth when Hazel held a shirt up to her ample chest to get an idea of how it looked. We have an unspoken agreement that when we’re caving, we don’t pick on each other. I slipped some bills across to the cashier, a sour faced old codger who looked like he needed a bath. He pointed to a sign that said “Please enjoy our slide show the tour will begin shortly”. He had a curious home made tattoo on the back of his hand, a crudely drawn scorpion. It reminded me of a gang sign or something you’d get in jail. It looked out of place against his Park Ranger jacket. We took our seats in the tiny theater. I couldn’t help notice that we were the only visitors. I guessed that this cave was struggling to survive and predicted its demise at the end of the season. I leafed through the brochure the ticket seller handed me while Hazel filed her nails. I was tempted to ask her how much of my money she spent on manicures but I held my tongue. In less than a minute a slide show came on. A voice explained basic stuff about caverns, how they took millions of years to form blah blah blah. It was basic High School geology, made for uneducated idiots. I was sure I knew more about caves than anyone around there. The slide show was mercifully brief, perhaps a dozen pictures of spectacular cave interiors. All slides of caves other than the one I just paid twenty dollars to enter. Curiously, there were no slides of the “world’s largest waterfall” or of the “breathtaking natural cave formations” the brochure boasted of. I would have complained to the management but there was only me and Hazel in the room.

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After the slide show, the ex-con ticket taker welcomed us and asked us to follow him. “Please stay on the lighted pathway at all times. Indian River Cave is part of an enormous cave system with over a thousand miles of passages and rooms, much of it unexplored. It’s real easy to get lost, so stay close and don’t go wandering off, is that clear? I’ll be your guide, my name is Bill Truax; are there any questions?” Hazel and I nodded and agreed. We’d heard that same warning many times before. It was true, most of the caves in the area were connected and much of it was unexplored. That was the danger that attracted me to these places in the first place. I can’t say what attracted Hazel except maybe the gift shops. Our guide asked if we had any questions. To my surprise Hazel piped up and asked “How was the cave discovered?” A completely irrelevant question in my mind but I honored our treaty and remained silent. “This cave has been in my family for three generations. It’s been open to the public since 1966. My grandfather bought this land in 1940. He stumbled on the cave entrance while gathering firewood.” It was a typical cave discovery story and most likely a load of malarkey. The truth was less romantic. These hills were riddled with caves. When the local farmers found they could supplement their incomes by charging admission to see them, an industry was born. Selling tickets proved easier than farming and safer than making moonshine. The automobile brought city folk into the hills seeking adventure and the locals were happy to take their money. Most of these family owned caves were nothing special and I was ready to be disappointed. Still, a cave is a cave and one with a waterfall was probably worth seeing. The cave business withered when the Interstates took most of the traffic off the small roads. The only reason these ma and pa enterprises still survive was because of people like me who prefer travelling on back roads. I like back roads. They’re one way of avoiding the malls. But there’s no avoiding them altogether, and Hazel made sure she got in her share. Bill opened a rusted steel door with a big key and we followed him down a long passage. The passage looked more like an abandoned mine shaft than a natural cave. I mentioned this to Bill. “The natural

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entrance had to be enlarged,” he replied. This is exactly what I assumed. Most natural cave mouths are small affairs. The overhead lighting got lower and further apart the deeper we went. Bill switched on his flashlight and unlocked a second steel door. “Beyond this point you must hold on to this rope.” He shined his light on a rope fixed to the wall. The rope wound its way into the blackness beyond. He picked it up and put it in our hands. Now hold on to the rope and follow me. You won’t get lost, I assure you; it’s quite safe. Stay behind me and follow my lead.” “How come there are no lights?” I asked. “We’re re-doing the wiring,” he said. “This lighting problem is only temporary.” That was fine for him to say. He wasn’t the one who shelled out good money to see his stupid cave. “How about the waterfall?” I asked, “Are we going to be able to see that?” “Sure,” he said and led us on. We shuffled forward for a long way. The walls, I noticed, were cut into the mountain not disolved out of the living rock by aeons of flowing water. There were no stalactites hanging from the roof. I had to stoop, the ceiling was so close. “Is it much further?” I was beginning to complain to Bill by now that I didn’t think we were in a natural cave at all but rather an old mine shaft. I was about to accuse him of fraud and demand my money back when I heard the sound of rushing water ahead. Bill remained silent and led us deeper and deeper down the passage. His tiny light the only thing keeping the blackness from closing in and eating us alive. I wasn’t paying careful attention to our route or how the passage twisted and turned. We must have passed a dozen side passages and branched right or left at a dozen forks. It was both frightening and thrilling at the same time. The rope was our lifeline back to the world. It was like real caving, primitive, dangerous and dirty. I realized for the first time in years I was enjoying myself. After a while the passage opened and we were in a natural cavern. I thought I could hear rushing water up ahead. “Hey Bill, how about shining your light around a bit? Bill obliged and I saw a handsome underground room complete

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with the requisite fluted columns and hanging sheets called draperies. I was excited and amazed, this was how real cave explorers must feel. The cave was pristine. It didn’t look like any tourists had been this way in years. I asked Bill how he managed to keep the cave to clean and pure. He mumbled something about how few visitors they got and hurried on. I don’t know when I realized that Hazel was no longer behind me. I had been so busy complaining or admiring that I had forgotten completely about her. “Hey wait up a second,” I called to Bill. “I think we lost my wife.” “Impossible,” Bill said, “she had the rope.” “She had the rope? I mocked his Tennessee drawl. “You don’t see her do you?” “She must have gone back,” Bill said. Come to think about it, I hadn’t seen Hazel since the second steel door. “What do you think we should do?” I called down the tunnel and I heard echo after echo repeat “Hazel where are you?” down the long shaft. There was no reply. Hazel was gone. At first I was frightened for her but then I thought of her wandering the labyrinth until she collapsed from exhaustion and fear. I almost laughed out loud. I got a grip on my self and realized what a blessing it would be if she really were lost. “I’m sure she’s all right,” Bill said. “People turn back all the time. We’re very close to the waterfall now.” Indeed, I could hear the waterfall much louder now. I really did want to see it and add another cave to my collection. Bill was probably right about Hazel. She probably turned back out of boredom It confirmed my suspicion that she never really liked caves in the first place. “All right, maybe a quick peek and then I really have to get back.” Bill led me a short way further along. What happened next is mostly a blur. I remember his light landing briefly on a box. What was it? A tape recorder? What was that doing down here. Then his light shining directly in my eyes, blinding me. There was a shove and I stumbled backwards down a steep slope, tripped and banged my head. When I opened my eyes, the darkness was absolute, a living thing darker than any night. The way blindness must look. I called for Bill, but, of course, Bill was gone. I groped my way up the incline

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and felt about for the rope. The rope too was gone. I realize now that he must have taken it with him. It’s been three days now. I have groped my way around in the blackness calling until I can call no more. I’ve come to understand what happened. It’s really pretty funny. I see now that I drove her to it. She did to me what I did to Debora and planned to do to her. She buried me. I suppose she planned it for weeks. Paid old Bill a few hundred bucks to set the whole thing up. Put up a sign, open up the old cave one more time. Suckered me right in. You have to hand it to her, she was clever damn clever. It’s dark down here, darker than anything and quiet, quiet as the grave.

Reversal of Fortune Harris Tobias

My name is Gordon Bascomb the third and I think I’m dying. My friend and mentor, Wilson Leeds, said he’d be back with help but Wilson tends to say things people want to hear. I come from a family of high achievers. My father, Gordon Bascomb the second, was a self made man. He started out selling encyclopedias door to door. He built it into a chain of ten bookstores before being bought out by Barnes and Nobel for many millions. He retired at sixty with a comfortable fortune. When mother dies, my sister and I will be set for life, until then I’m on my own and struggling. Wilson was showing me how to make a fortune on my own. I didn’t have to wait for mother to die. Wilson had a sure fire method of making money in real estate and for a small fee was willing to show me how. It all started a few days ago when I spotted a small ad in our local newspaper, The Dalton Picayune. That’s my town, Dalton, Arkansas. The ad offered an easy way to cash in on the retirement boom by attending a free introductory talk given by Professor Wilson P Leeds, PhD whose book “Looking Backward” had already made over 400 brand new millionaires in its first year.

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It was obvious to everyone, especially mother, that I wasn’t having any luck making a fortune on my own. Mother was constantly reminding me of my shortcomings. “Your father was opening his second store when he was your age.” I’m 32 and while I have a few skills, making money doesn’t seem to be one of them. All mother accomplished with her constant comparisons was to make me feel small. When I saw Professor Wilson’s ad and the free price it was like a life rope to a drowning man. The introductory lesson was held at the EconoLodge downtown. They have a big conference room filled with folding chairs. About sixty people turned up. I recognized quite a few, mostly poor and desperate young people like me, looking to get rich without having to figure it out by themselves. I took a seat near the front and thumbed through the little pamphlet I found there. The pamphlet said that Professor Leeds had an MBA from Columbia College and a PHD in economics from Kentucky State University where he was a full professor. He was the author of four best selling books on investing and believed that “everyone had the right to be rich, not just the wealthy.” I have to admit, his credentials looked awfully impressive. I was even more impressed when Wilson Leeds himself walked to the podium. He wasn’t a big man but he had a big presence. He wore a white suit with a white tie on a dark red shirt. He looked the crowd in its collective eyes and began to speak in his smooth molasses voice. “People think that making money is hard to do. What’s hard is understanding the market, finding out what people need and perfecting a way to fill those needs. Once you have those three things, you can’t help but make money.” People were scribbling furiously in their notebooks. “I have already made enough money to never have to work another day in my life and I am more than happy to share my method with you. I could give it to you for free but then it would have no value. You must pay to learn the thirteen simple steps I have developed. There are three ways you can accomplish this.” He picked up a book off the pile in front of him. “You can buy this book for $25.00, take it home and read it. All the steps are spelled out in here. Or you can pay $300.00 and stay after for a

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seminar with me. You’ll get the book and a two-hour Q & A to answer any questions; or, you can pay a thousand dollars and sign on as my partner for a day and accompany me on several sales meetings and see how it is done first hand. This is a one-time offer. I will not be coming this way again. Are there any questions?” A half a dozen hands shot up. A young woman in the back asked him if he knew of anyone who actually made any money from his method. Professor Leeds told us about a couple in Tennessee who made seventy thousand dollars on their first transaction and that he himself made six hundred thousand dollars last year. Some smart aleck yelled out “Probably from giving seminars like these.” But Wilson didn’t get angry or upset he simply said he only worked part time and closed maybe twenty deals and, if anybody noticed, he hadn’t made a penny yet in Dalton and it was all the same to him if he did or didn’t. Someone asked him if he was peddling a scheme to make money on foreclosures. The professor said that was a fool’s game and he wouldn’t touch it. Another person asked if it was all about refinancing? Wilson said, “Nope.” How about buying a property and flipping it? Wilson shook his head no. A lady asked him how much money was required for a typical transaction; there was an audible gasp when Wilson said, “not one red cent.” “Well than what the hell is it?” more than a few hollered out. Wilson smiled to the crowd and waved his book in the air. “You can buy my book for twenty five dollars. Stay for a group seminar for three hundred or partner up with me for a thousand. I’ll leave a sign up sheet on the table and take your book orders here at the podium.” And that was that. You either believed him or you didn’t. I saw a dozen folks buy his book. Another eight or ten signed up for the class. I knew what I wanted. I was the only one to sign up for the private partnership. I didn’t have the thousand dollars any more than anyone else in that room but I had a good idea where I could get it. I told the professor I’d be back. He smiled at me and I could feel his eyes drill into my head. “I know you will,” he said.

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I was burning with desire. This seemed like what I’d been looking for. A sure-fire scheme, private tutor to show me how to do it, to be a success, and a chance to win back my mother’s respect and fulfill her expectations. I headed over to her place, the ten room Victorian father built to show the town he’d made it. I fully expected I’d have to plead with her but she wasn’t home. I checked my watch. It was Sunday; of course she was at church. Not the old country Baptist church we attended when I was growing up but the big stone Presbyterian Church in town. I didn’t have time to wait; I knew where she kept her cash, stuffed in the toe of a pair of brown shoes in her closet. I went right to her room and opened her closet door. The old lady must have had twenty pairs of brown shoes and another twenty pair of black. Who on Earth needs forty pair of shoes? There was nothing for it but to get down on my hands and knees and check every pair. I was doing just that when she found me. She looked down on me with such contempt and pity, I felt ashamed. I got to my feet and muttered an apology. “Oh for God’s sake Gordon get up and stop sniveling. If your father could see you now groveling around like a common thief in an old lady’s closet, I swear I don’t know what he’d do. I suppose you need money again. I just loaned you fifty dollars last week. Well I’m glad I hid my money someplace else. I’m not giving you another cent.” “But mother,” I pleaded, “this is different. This is for private lessons in starting my own real estate business. You always wanted me to have a business of my own well, this is my chance to learn from a master.” “Who is this master and how much money does he want to teach you the business?” “His name is Wilson Leeds. He’s a professor, Professor Leeds. He’s got degrees and books and he’s already a millionaire five times over.” I was getting breathless and there was a note of hysteria in my voice that even I could hear. “I went to his talk this morning at the EconoLodge. There must have been a hundred and fifty people there. He was selling his books and giving lectures and people were lining

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up by the dozens but Ma, I tell you, the private lessons are the way to go. I’ll get my money back in one day. I’ll pay you back tomorrow. Please mother don’t let me miss this opportunity.” “How much does this flimflam man want?” Mother seemed unmoved by my speech. “A special private lesson costs a thousand dollars.” I felt like I was six years old and asking for a second cookie. “You want me to give you a thousand dollars so you can give it to some con-man? Oh Gordon. Do you think your father worked so hard so that you could just throw it away?” “But it’s not throwing it away,” I could hear myself getting frantic. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you, mother. I wish you could have heard him. He has a system.” “Listen to you, ‘he has a system’. Every con man has a system and his system is taking money from gullible boys like you.” I wish you’d stop calling him a con man, mother. He’s a professor. He’s smart. He wrote books.” Mother was just being stupid and stubborn. I could feel myself getting angry. She started up again about hard work and how father had three stores at my age and money not growing on trees. I couldn’t stand listening to another word. I grabbed her arm and pulled her into the open closet. She gave a little cry, tripped over her shoes, and brought down a pile of coats and dresses on top of her. I closed the door and locked it. Then I proceeded to search the rest of the room for her money finally finding a roll of about twenty-five hundreds in the back of her underwear drawer. I could hear muffled cries from the closet. I stuffed the whole roll of bills into my pants pocket and left the house. A few hours in the dark wouldn’t do her any harm, I thought; in fact, it just might teach her a valuable lesson. Back at the EconoLodge, professor Leeds was just finishing up his group class. The faces on the people filing out didn’t seem any happier than they did going in even though they were now privy to the secret. I walked over to the professor and plunked my money down and said, “For the private lesson.” A fleeting smile passed his lips. He took the money and put it in his pocket without even counting it. I

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took that as a measure of trust and began to relax. “Take a seat Mister Bascomb, I’ll be through here in a minute.” I did as I was told and watched as he answered a few more questions and handed out a few more copies of his book. When the last people filed out and the room was empty, professor Leeds turned to me and said, “How about some lunch? I don’t know about you, Gordon, but I’m starving. And, by the way, call me Wilson” “Oh sure professor Leeds, I mean Wilson, lunch would be great.” I was happy to be on first name terms with the source of knowledge and power. “It’s your town kid, where can we get a good lunch?” We took my old Honda to the Davenport Hotel our town’s best and most expensive restaurant. I hadn’t eaten there since I was a little kid and my parents felt like splurging. Wilson seemed to like it. He had the lobster salad and a glass of imported beer. I ordered the tuna fish. Wilson didn’t say much during the meal and I was too nervous to initiate any conversation. When the meal was done Wilson pushed the check to me and said, “The next one’s on me. Now let’s get to work.” He gave me a hearty slap on the back and squeezed my shoulder firmly. I knew my education had begun. He had me drive him to his van, a beat up old Ford delivery van that looked ready for the salvage yard. Inside it was cluttered and smelled of sweat and whisky. Wilson took a box of books off the passenger seat and tossed them in the back. I could see blankets and an old mattress under a clutter of dirty clothes and papers. “ L e a v e your car here,” he said, “I’ll bring you back for it later.” We got in the van and headed out of town toward the Interstate. “Where are we going?” I asked remembering mother. Wilson pointed to a dot on the map and smiled. “Lesson number one—never shit where you eat.” I must have looked perplexed because he went on the explain, “We already worked this town. It’s time to leave before the marks get wise. You always want to leave them with their dreams.” We drove about an hour West to Bentley, Arkansas, a prosperous farming town of about seventy five thousand. It was late

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in the day but the shops were still open. Wilson found a copy shop and had me print a couple of dozen flyers which we distributed in mailboxes in the better looking neighborhoods. The flyers offered the homeowner a chance to retire on the equity in their home without selling it and while still living in it. “Let the bank pay you for a change,” the flyer said, “Our bank representative is in the area right now and will be calling on you soon.” The flyer had a small photo of Wilson whom it described as the Chief Financial Officer of the First National Bank of Little Rock. He already had a stack of business cards that said the same thing. “What happens if they call the bank?” I asked him. “Then they get this,” he said holding up his cell phone. “Tomorrow we knock on doors and see if we can help anyone.” He drove to a Motel just out of town and had me book a couple of rooms. My dwindling pile of cash made me think of mother but I figured a night in the closet wouldn’t kill her. Wilson gave me a copy of his book and said he’d see me in the morning when my education would begin in earnest. I watched TV until I got hungry. I tapped on Wilson’s door to see if he was hungry too but no one answered. He was either sleeping or out. The Motel had no restaurant so I had to make do with vending machines. I noticed the van was gone and felt a little hurt that Wilson would go off and leave me. I went back to my room and fell asleep. I awoke to a rhythmic thumping on the wall and the unmistakable sounds of coitus from Wilson’s room. I put the pillow over my head and tried to get back to sleep. I was impressed at how long the noise lasted. At breakfast the next morning Wilson was taciturn and surly until he had his coffee. I was eager to get to work but didn’t want to seem pushy so I held my tongue while Wilson picked at his food. Back at the Motel, Wilson told me to get cleaned up as best I could, “We’re bankers now and we have to look the part.” He’d changed into a dark blue suit and white shirt with a conservative blue tie. His hair was slicked back and he look like a million bucks. I still had on my slacks and blazer from the day before. Wilson loaned me a striped tie

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and a clean shirt; I didn’t look too bad. “Just keep quiet and listen to me. If I ask you a question, just say the obvious. Don’t get creative until you know how to read the situation.” We started knocking on doors on a street lined with big trees and handsome old houses. Wilson walked right up to the front door and rang the bell. Right away I could see that we were recognized. People had read the flyer and told Mr. Wilson that they weren’t ready to retire just yet but would give him a call when the time was right. At one house an old lady answered the door. She told Wilson that she’d love to have more money to live on. Her social security check was barely enough to see her through the month. She invited us inside. She told us that she was newly widowed and that she and her husband had been living in the house for thirty years. “He managed the hardware store in town.” They lived simply and paid off the mortgage a couple of years before her husband died. Wilson explained, ”My bank is looking for people just like you, Mrs...?” “Clark,” she supplied, “Edna Clark.” “Have you ever heard of a reverse mortgage Mrs. Clark?” “No sir, I can’t say as I have.” “Well, it’s quite simple really,” and here Wilson launched into a monologue I can only describe as a masterpiece of economic bafflegab. Every now and then he would look over at me and ask me for a number or an affirmation which I happily supplied but most of the time he kept his gaze pinned on Mrs. Clark willing her to believe him. When he thought he had spoken enough he asked permission to look around the house to see how much he thought the place was worth. He explained that I was a certified real estate appraiser and my figure would determine how much the bank would pay her each month. “Now remember Mrs. Clark, you get to stay in your house until you decide to sell it. Or you can leave it to your children if that’s your plan. It’s just that each month the bank buys a little bit more of the house just like you did when the bank held the mortgage.” The house was neat and tidy as was Mrs. Clark herself. After the tour, Wilson said, “You have a beautiful home, Mrs. Clark. I must

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say that Mr. Clark kept it in wonderful condition. My colleague here has estimated that the house was worth a hundred and fifty thousand dollars.” He took out his calculator and after a few seconds of figuring he announced that his bank would be willing to pay Mrs. Clark twelve hundred and sixty two dollars a month for the next twenty years. “Wouldn’t an extra twelve hundred dollars a month make a big difference in your life, Mrs., Clark?” “Oh my yes it would Mr. Leeds.” Wilson explained that there were a few simple forms to fill out. “You’re very lucky that the bank’s appraiser is with me as that usually adds several days delay to the process. As it is, I’ll be able to write you your first check today, providing you agree to go with First National.” Mrs. Clark offered us a glass of iced tea while Wilson prepared the forms. I watched in awe as Wilson pulled a batch of forms from his briefcase. He whistled softly to himself as he filled in the blanks. Every now and again he asked Mrs. Clark for some information like her social security number, her husband’s full name and whether she had a copy of the deed to the property. Mrs. Clark seemed happy to oblige. After several minutes Wilson announced that he was ready. ” Now once again Mrs. Clark, let me make sure you understand what we are offering. You are in effect agreeing to sell your house to the First National Bank of Little Rock for $150,000. The bank agrees to pay you $1,262.00 every month for the next thirty years. You can stay in your house until your demise even if it’s longer than thirty years in the future. Plus you can call the whole thing off at any time after three months. I have prepared the first month’s check and will hand it over to you if you sign with us today. All of the other checks will be sent to you by mail or direct deposited into your account. Which method do you prefer?” “I prefer direct deposit,” Mrs. Clark replied distracted by the choice. “Very good. I’ll need your checkbook so I can make a note of your account number.” Mrs. Clark fished in her purse for her checkbook and sat down at the table. Wilson gave her his best smile and said, “Well Mrs. Clark, are you ready to accept our offer?” I saw that the twelve hundred dollar check was on the top of the pile of

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forms. Mrs. Clark looked uncertain. Wilson sweetened the deal. “Since I’m an official at the bank and you’ve been so kind to us, I’m prepared to wave our normal bank charges and fees if you sign with us today. That’s an additional savings of six thousand dollars. You can get that in a lump sum or we can spread it out over several years. What do you say to that Mrs. Clark?” Wilson kept adding carrots until Mrs. Clark’s resistance disappeared. He led her through a bewildering array of contracts and forms and Mrs. Clark signed every one. When the last one was signed, Wilson handed over the twelve hundred dollar check, gave her a copy of the contract, and packed up the rest. We shook hands all around and bid her a good afternoon. I wasn’t quite sure what had happened. It sounded like a good deal for Mrs. Clark and that made me happy. I just couldn’t understand how Wilson was going to make any money out of this. So I asked him when we were back in the van. Wilson laughed like it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. He laughed all the way to the diner where he stopped for a bite to eat. When we were at the table, Wilson sat there beaming. “Well kid, “ he began, “we just hit the jackpot. You might be my lucky charm. Do you know what we just did?” I confessed it was a mystery to me. Wilson took out his papers, “First of all, we just bought her house for twelve hundred dollars.” He tossed down the deed to Mrs. Clark’s house. “Next, we have her bank account.” He added a blank check and a power of attorney to the pile. “My God we could have had her change her will if we wanted. It’s not often it goes this easy, kid.” I was stunned. I knew Wilson had an angle but I thought it was going to be more subtle than just stealing an old lady’s house. I still didn’t see how he was going to come out of this ahead. “You still don’t get it do you?” Wilson asked me. “I see a pile of forms and papers,” I said, “I don’t see how you turn that into money. And scamming an old lady out of her home, that doesn’t sound like much of a system to me” “You got a lot to learn, son,” Wilson said. “I thought that’s why I was here. Teach me.” “Jesus, kid, what have I been doing? This is the system. I don’t

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often get a whole house. Usually it’s a blank check or a small deposit, sometimes a power of attorney. I can turn all of these things into cash. This house is a real windfall. I know a crooked broker in Little Rock who’ll buy this property for ten cents on the dollar no questions asked. That’s fifteen thousand bucks. Not a bad day’s work. You getting the idea now? The system is— there is no system. You live by your wits and grab the crumbs life throws you. “Don’t look so glum. We’re partners for the day, remember? There’s money in this for you too. So cheer up. Let’s go to Little Rock and turn this crap pile into cash.” On the way out of town, Wilson stopped at the bank named on the blank check he’d lifted from Mrs. Clark. Using his power of attorney he asked the teller for the account balance. He kept a straight face when she told him there was seven thousand dollars in the checking account. He almost lost it when she added that there was an additional twelve thousand dollars in the saving’s account. Wilson withdrew it all explaining that his aunt was moving out of state and needed her money in cash. I have to admit I felt better knowing I was going to come out of this experience financially ahead. I wondered if being partners with Wilson meant a fifty fifty split? I was afraid to ask. I felt badly for Mrs. Clark losing her house and fortune but I was starting to see things from Wilson’s point of view—one man’s loss is another’s gain. I have to confess I hadn’t given mother much thought during this time. We bought a twelve pack of beer to celebrate and drank and howled all the way to Little Rock. It was a long ride to Little Rock and I was tired and dozing by the time we got there. Wilson pulled into an ancient strip mall in a seedy part of town. One of the storefronts had a sign in the window saying Crestar Realty. Wilson pounded on the door until a heavyset man waddled from the back room and opened the door. Wilson signaled me to come in. The fat man locked the door behind us. Wilson introduced me as his partner and the big man as Ralph. Ralph’s hand swallowed mine, “Any friend of Wilson’s,” he said with a toothy grin.

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Ralph perused the documents and seemed to approve. He had Wilson describe the house and its condition and location in great detail. He didn’t ask how the deed and bill of sale came into Wilson’s possession. “She’s a real beauty,” Wilson said. “You can ask the kid here if you don’t believe me. Beautiful bungalow four over four, clean and dry. A hundred and fifty-kay minimum. Best neighborhood, tree lined street. It’s a no brainer.” “There’ll probably be legal trouble. That’s expensive. Knowing you, Wilson, you swindled this Clark person good. I’ll give you ten grand and take my chances in court.” “Ten grand? You’re a bigger thief than I am.” The two men had a good laugh but Wilson was a born negotiator. He finally settled for twelve five. I watched Ralph take the money from his safe and count it out on his desk. Wilson signed the papers over to him and pocketed the cash. We drove through the dark back to Dalton. Wilson was in a good mood and talked of his life as a con man, the people he learned from and those he learned on. He told me he liked me and that he thought I could be as good as him in a few years. “It’s a big world out there. Full of people hungry for hope. Their lives are empty, sad, devoid of dreams. I supply the dreams.” “But they’re false dreams,” I said. “You leave them worse off then when you found them.” “Life is cruel kid and all dreams are equally false. The only thing that’s real is this pile of cash we earned today. All the rest is fantasy.” It was around midnight when we pulled into the parking lot of the EconoLodge. Wilson pulled along side my Honda in the nearly empty lot. It seemed like we’d been away for weeks but it had only been a couple of days. Wilson had taught me a great deal and I had a lot to digest. We got out and stretched our bodies after the long drive. Wilson said it was time we split the loot and went our separate ways. He took his briefcase from the van and propped it on the hood of my old Honda. I was tingling with anticipation. I couldn’t wait to wave a

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pile of bills in mother’s face and give her back her money. Wilson was absorbed in counting out the bills; he didn’t notice the wraith-like figure emerge from the shadows until it was standing beside him. “So you’re calling yourself Wilson Leeds these days,” the man said. Now that he was standing in the light I could see that he was a rail thin grizzled old man in his seventies. “I’ve been looking for you for a long time.” Wilson quickly stuffed the bills back into his briefcase; He straightened himself to his full height and said, “Have we met, sir?” “You don’t even recognize me, do you? Well it was three years ago. You were calling yourself Trout then, Doctor William Trout. I still have your book right here with your picture on it.” He took out a rumpled copy of the same book Wilson had given me. “That picture was the only way I could follow your trail.” “What is it you want, mister ah ...” “Dunstin, Gregory Dunstin from Ames, Iowa. This your new partner or your latest victim?” Dunstin asked pointing at me. “What is it you want, Mr. Dunstin?” Wilson asked him again. “What I want is my life back the way it was before I met you. I’d like my farm, my money and my wife back. Do you think you can do that Doctor Trout? I don’t think that even you have that kind of power. You only have the power to destroy lives. What’s in there?” Dunstin pointed to Wilson’s cash filled briefcase, “More of your ill gotten gains? More suffering. Someone has to put a stop to you.” Dunstin took a small pistol from his pocket and pointed at us. “Now, there’s no need for that,” Wilson said. “There’s no cause for violence. I’m sure we can talk this out like reasonable men. If it’s money you want, give me a figure.” “You think this is about money? Maybe for you that’s all there is. But I had a life, a home. No money can buy that back. What I want now is revenge.” At this point things happened pretty quick. Wilson swung his briefcase at Mr. Dunstin’s head. The gun fired and the bullet struck me in my side. I slumped to the pavement along side my car. I could see Wilson wrestling with Dunstin on the ground. There was another shot and Dunstin went limp. Wilson was on his feet in a second and

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helped me up. “How do you feel? Let me see. Doesn’t look too bad. Can you drive?” I nodded that I could. “Good, we have to get out of here.” Wilson got me behind the wheel, then he stuffed Mr. Dunstin’s body in the back seat. He told me to drive out of town to the old cemetery and wait. He’d be back with medical help. “Just stay there and wait,” he said. “I’ll be back. You’re going to be all right. You’re a good boy, I’m going for help.” It’s been quite a while now. I’ve lost a lot of blood and am too weak to drive. Dawn is here and soon people will be coming to the cemetery. The police will want an explanation about the body. I hope Wilson gets here soon.

White Falcon Dennis J. D’Amato

Andy Cosmo is an old geezer now. You can usually find him at the music store downtown where I work. The place is different from the way he remembers it. The hangers on the pegboard walls that once held saxophones and violins and clarinets for display now carry Les Pauls and Fender Jazz Bass guitars. He always complains about the floor and all of the drum kits and newfangled amplifiers that get in his way when he tries to walk around the place. It is a running joke that he can’t wait to get to the back to the bathroom to take a piss. Seems like he is always taking one or telling somebody he needs to. If you really want to hear him go off, all you have to do is mention somebody like Eric Clapton to him. He can’t stand anybody who started playing guitar after he was born. He tells me that rock and roll really screwed up music and put “real” musicians out of work. “How the fuck can you listen to that crap?” he asks. “You know how many guys can’t get a fucking job because of that crap? That Clapton guy can kiss my ass!” I pretend not to hear him. Besides, when I don’t answer him, it just pisses him off more. The rest of the guys in the store always get a kick out of that. Instead I usually choose to engage Andy in some

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meaningless banter. “Hey Andy, how’s it hangin’?” He responds with the predictable expletive. Like I said, the guys at the store just get a kick out of the old bastard when he’s mad, and I know how to get to him madder than anyone else. He stops by the music store from time to time. I guess it gives him the chance to re-live his career, which, if you ask him, is quite impressive. You see Andy is what is known as a “cat.” A jazzman. You’ve seen guys like him in those old movies about big band leaders. You know, the guy sitting down holding an old Gibson or Gretsch wide body jazz guitar, strumming away and holding the rhythm section in check. Of course, you never realize how important that guitar guy is. He’s usually just window dressing for the band leader or the sort of fictional Frank Sinatra character in Pal Joey. Those days are long gone though. Now he’s a cantankerous old son of a bitch who seems to be mad at everything and everybody. Today he has a particular problem with Tommy Dorsey. “Dorsey? Yeah, I played with him. He was a real prick” This is news to me. Everybody I know who knew Tommy Dorsey can’t stop telling me what a great guy he was to work for. “Why do you say that?” “He wouldn’t let my wife go on the road with me and the band, so I had to make a decision.” “And?” “I chose my wife of course.” “But you got to stay with the love of your life, right?” “Nah, the bitch left me a month later. Fucking Tommy Dorsey was a prick!” He’s not exactly the most attractive person you ever saw either. He’s bald with those red things that old guys get on their heads sometimes and he tries to hide them with a comb over of about ten long hairs. He’s got stubbly grey beard hairs that struggle to the surface but don’t seem to make it. He walks like somebody hit him with a baseball bat across his knees. All bent over rickety. He moves as if he’s using one of those walkers, but he doesn’t have one. He probably should get one I guess. His fingers are all bent out of shape from arthritis and he can hardly use them anymore. The only thing

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I ever see him use his hands for is to light up one of those el squillos stinky little cigars you see mafia guys smoke in the movies. That, or to flip somebody a feeble finger when he’s mad enough. Which is pretty much all the time. I sometimes see him getting off of the Chapel Street bus around the corner from the store. Takes him about ten minutes to climb down the three steps to the sidewalk. He’s usually screaming at the bus driver about not taking his transfer or some such. If he’s not getting off the bus and screaming at the bus driver, he’s hobbling down State Street screaming at anyone who is passing by about whatever he thinks is the issue of the day. Usually at the top of his lungs. He always wears this green plaid woolen CPO jacket over a black t-shirt and a pair of stained dungarees. The holes in the jeans seem to move around from day to day, so I think he might have a few of them. But I’m not really sure. Anyway, no matter how he gets here, I can usually tell he’s around by the sound of his screaming voice. Or from the smell of those stinky cigars when he opens the door and enters the store. In spite of all that, I have to say that I kind of like the old bastard. I kind of think he likes me too. Or at least he likes me as much as somebody as miserable as he is could possibly like anyone. He always seems to find his way over to me when he comes in. Maybe it’s because he knows I won’t put up with his attitude. Or maybe it’s because he knows I can give back anything he can dish out. Whatever the reason, I’m usually the guy he bothers when he’s here. The other guys at the music think he’s full of shit. I can see why. After all, we are talking about a guy who once told us that he knew Les Paul before he invented the famous guitar. “That Les Paul son-of-a-bitch! I taught him every fucking thing he ever knew. I shuldda married Mary Ford before she got hooked up with that bastard.” We all looked at him with predictable disbelief. “You taught Les Paul how to play guitar?” “Yeah, I showed him. That prick couldn’t hold a candle to Django. Django. He’s the best you ever wanna see. All these Les Paul bastards are just little pricks!” He loves to call people pricks for some reason. And if they are

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really pricks, he loves to call them little pricks. I can’t disagree much with him about Django though. Django Reinhardt is the best I ever heard. He invented a style of guitar playing called “Gypsy” music. He lost fingers on his left hand in a fire or something, but he played stuff that people with twenty fingers haven’t been able to play the way he did. Andy always says that “Tiger Rag,” a song Django did with legendary violinist Stephan Grapelli, is the best music ever played. I can’t really disagree with him on that either. Anyway, the only time Andy smiles is when he’s talking about Django. If you listen to Andy, Django is the only guitar player he didn’t teach how to play. Andy’s dissertation on Tommy Dorsey ends abruptly when he notices the Gretsch White Falcon on one of the guitar racks. His distraction is somewhat understandable. After all, a White Falcon is a thing of beauty. It’s a pure white lacquered semi-solid classic jazz guitar with all gold appointments. I think it was one of the first stereo guitars too. They say the new ones are not as good as the first ones made in the early fifties. I’ve never played one of the old ones so I can’t really say. The new ones are just fine for me though. I promised myself a couple of years ago that I would save up enough to buy one of those things. Maybe someday I will. Most guitar players kind of smile when they see a White Falcon. Of course, Andy is not like most people. His response is something different. He pulls out one of his stinky cigars and starts to light up. Chucky the drum guy protestd before Andy could get a match to the stinker. “Oh, come on Andy. Give us a fucking break with that, huh? It’s bad enough we have to smell you in here.” Andy blows the match out and leaves the box of cigars on the glass display cabinet and returns his gaze to the White Falcon. “I had one of those fucking things. They gave me the first one they made because I was the best guitar player around.” This is just too much. The first one they made? Andy explains that back in 1954, Gretsch wanted him to promote the guitar. He said that because he taught Les Paul everything he knows and that he taught every guitar player in the world beside Django how to play that he was the only man who could get their new guitar off the ground. Total bullshit of course. Even by Andy’s standards. Doesn’t

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matter though. It’s still quite a story. “Andy, you still got that thing or what?” “Piece of shit! I gave it to some bum about thirty years ago. I think he used it for firewood.” He waives his hand as if to brush the memory of the thing away. Obviously, he doesn’t want to talk about it. Andy notices that the others are not interested in his tall tales and figures it’s time to end the bullshit session until next time. “Fucking bus is coming. You little pricks don’t know jack shit about jack shit. “ Andy stumbles his way to the glass door onto Chapel street, to the corner to wait for the bus. As he walks out the door, Chuck the drum guy yells to Andy as the door closes behind him. “I forgot to tell you, Clapton called and he wants to take lessons.” Everyone laughs. As the bus pulls up, I notice that there is something on the glass display case. “Hey, Chuck, what’s that?” “It’s the old man’s pack of el squillos. I guess the maestro forgot them.” I try to get out to the bus so I can give the old guy his stinkers, but it’s too late. The bus pulls away before I could get the driver’s attention. I know where he lives though. I could drop by later and bring the things to him. I’m pretty sure nobody wants them polluting the air in the store for the next couple of days. And I sure as hell don’t’ want to hear him if he comes in looking for them if somebody throws them out. Like most weekdays, business is a little slow at the music store. Rock star wannabees can’t get their parents to spend money until the weekend, so on nights like this we get to spend most of the time jamming. We like to call it quality control. Somebody has to make sure our customers are getting the best product possible. Some of the regulars come in and join us. It’s really a pretty cool place to work when you are a musician. In honor of Andy, I choose to check out the White Falcon hanging on the wall. I don’t know how nice the older ones are, but I can’t imagine them being any better than the one I’m playing. Plugged into a Fender Twin Reverb and cranked

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up to eleven, it sure works for me. It’s particularly fine for fat blues rhythm stuff. Not exactly the kind of thing you would use to shred, but perfect for the blues. Unfortunately when we are busy jamming, closing time comes around like a flash. We have strict orders to make sure the place is shut down on time. We don’t’ want to cut into the owner’s ongoing poker game downstairs. So we make sure we follow this one rule to the letter. Register counted, money in the safe, lights out, alarm set and me and the rest of the guys are ready to boogie. We’re halfway out the door when Chuckie points to the counter. “Hey, don’t forget Cosmo’s stogies.” “Oh yeah, thanks for reminding me.” I am able to grab them just before the alarm is set, and we all get out before it goes off. We say our usual good-byes and make plans to maybe hook up later to slug some brews and see who is playing around town. Bands love to let us sit in. They figure they can snag a bigger discount if they do. We let them think that. It’s just one of the perks of working at the place. I’m kind of looking forward to playing later. Sometimes no matter how much you play, it just isn’t enough. I had just enough time to stop at Burger King for a Whopper and a Coke and to take a quick shower before meeting the guys downtown. Oh, and I had to drop off Andy’s stinkers on the way. That would only take a minute. I’m sure Andy isn’t the kind of guy who is going to invite me in for a glass of wine or anything. Andy lives in this apartment building on Elm Street. You know the kind. The entry is finished in old art deco tile that probably hasn’t been washed in about fifty years. It reminds me of Grand Central Station’s bathrooms. It sort of smells likes that too. Andy’s apartment is on the first floor and has windows looking out over the busy street. I wonder how he gets any sleep in there. It’s hotter than hell out, and his windows are wide open. The rusted old air conditioner is not on. Probably because it doesn’t work or Andy can’t afford to run it. I have to admit that I’m curious about what he does in there all day by himself, so I sneak up to one of his windows and hear a familiar tune playing on his radio or record player or something. Of course, it’s Django’s “Tiger Rag” playing. It’s kind of strange though. I don’t hear Stephan Grapelli playing along. I never heard of a version with just Django. Now I’m really curious. I move closer to the window and

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poke my head in. I’m amazed at what I see. Andy Cosmo is sitting with his back to me in one of those old tapestry covered over- stuffed chairs you see in funeral homes and old black and white Scrooge movies. And he’s holding it in his hands. Its white lacquer has yellowed with age, and the gold appointments are worn and faded. But that’s it for sure. There can be no mistake. He’s playing the White Falcon. The reason there was no Stephan Grapelli on the record is because it wasn’t a record at all. It was Andy Cosmo playing “Tiger Rag” on the White Falcon. No, he’s not playing it. He’s making love to it. His disfigured fingers are flying over the ebony neck with great ease, as if it were that day in 1954 when he first got it. He’s playing the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard. Every note true to Django’s original rendition. But with the kind of heart and soul that can only be captured by the greatest of masters. Suddenly, I reach into my pocket and I remember why I came here. The el squillos. Of course. I came to give them to him. The melodies and chords continue, though, and I find that I do not want them to stop. No. The stogies can wait. I think I’ll give them to him tomorrow. I’m too busy listening to Andy playing “Tiger Rag.” Maybe he’ll do “Sweet Georgia Brown” or “Honeysuckle Rose” or some other Django classic. The Whopper and the guys downtown can wait a few minutes. Right now, I just want to listen to Andy Cosmo play that White Falcon. And you know, I think maybe he actually did teach Les Paul everything he knows. Maybe Tommy Dorsey really was a prick. I’m not so sure anymore. I’ll wait until I see him next time to ask. For now, I’ll just listen. And I realize that I can’t wait to hear his next story.

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Contributors Kara Taylor

Kara Taylor is twenty years old. She is a first year graduate student in the MFA program at Chicago State University. She specializes in fiction and hopes to become a writer /school teacher.

Zachary Ankeny

Zachary Ankeny is a writer of both fiction and non-fiction works. He is a resident of Phoenix, Arizona, but was born in Dubuque, Iowa. His fiction has both appeared, and been featured, in a myriad of magazines, and his non-fiction historical research has been a staple in the Arizona Historical Society and the Jerome (Arizona) Historical Society.

Harris Tobias

Harris Tobias lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of several novels and hundreds of short stories. His fiction has appeared in Ray Gun Revival, The Calliope Nerve, Literal Translations, FriedFiction and other obscure publications. You can find links to his fiction at: http://harristobias.blogspot.com/

Dennis D’Amato

Semi-retired attorney working more than he ever did before. D’Amato lives in Florida with my wife, three dogs, twelve fish and a bird. It seems he is always writing something. Screenplays, stories, the next great American Novel or a song. Nothing published yet. But you never know.

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eFiction Magazine - December 2010

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eFiction Magazine - December 2010

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eFiction Magazine Issue No. 009  

December 2010

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