“Ark City Confidential” – Excerpt

“I never heard the shell that exploded some fifty yards behind me, never felt a part of my skull chipped away. I could only see a mass of barbed wire coming straight for my face as I fell and wondered if those tiny pieces of metal actually could completely pluck out my eye. A soldier who witnessed the event told me I was like a wild beast caught in a trap, twisting and gyrating so fervently I actually caused more pieces of my face to be ripped away from the bone. Strange thing was I was trying to get away. Maybe I was always trying to get away. Fortunately for him, George McAllister never knew the tortures of the damned. If he was lucky, he never would. I hoped it wouldn’t take something tragic for him to learn.

I remember when Charlie Noble got himself an Indian and had the honor of being Arkansas City’s first motorcycle cop. They offered me a chance to ride one but I declined. I preferred walking my beat, which is probably why my feet were always bothering me. I liked being around the people I was protecting and keep a watchful eye over them. It was important to look at them and see their faces, look into their eyes, look into their hearts. They thought they could see into mine but they were usually wrong. Most of them were respectful when they looked at me, trying to see beyond the scars and remember the boy that grew up in their midst. I was grateful for that. It made it easier for me because I didn’t always remember as well.”

Worldwide release date, January 11, 2017 at The Wild Rose Press and Amazon.

“Ark City Confidential” – Excerpt

“It was supposed to be my day off but George McAllister had been sick. Chances are he was hung-over. Rogelio Lopez wasn’t the only person in town to go a little crazy on a Friday night after getting paid. Chief Taylor preferred to have a minimum number of men on patrol to prevent any lapse where trouble might spring up so we could be prepared. Seems he always called on me to fill in seeing how I didn’t mind. It was something to do to pass the empty hours. George often acted like a young version of me, except without the war experience. Too bored to work on a farm all his life and wanting to do something a little more exciting. He had built up his body so he didn’t look like a pipsqueak, but he had no concept of death, certainly not the way I witnessed it in the trenches. It was dark and muddy, devoid of dignity, and stank of decay. He probably never thought about getting killed trying to stop a robber. Worse than that would be getting into the middle of a fight between a couple where the husband was madder than a hornet. He didn’t think this wasn’t a charmed life, and he’d have to work every day just to take another breath.”

Worldwide release date: January 11, 2017.

Currently available for pre-order at The Wild Rose Press and Amazon.

“Ark City Confidential” – The Blurb

Baron Witherspoon, a disfigured WWI vet, now a beat cop in a small Kansas burg, is on a collision course with Jake Hickey, a volatile Chicago gangster. While Baron wants merely to provide residents with a safe place to live and escape the memory of the horrors of war, Jake is looking to recapture the glory of Prohibition. Forced to hide out in Arkansas City, Baron’s town, Jake’s impatient nature drives him to put together his own gang. The local crime outfit is wary of Jake’s dealings and lack of cooperation. Baron has his own suspicions but can’t prove anything. A mutual acquaintance from the past, a dead war hero, holds a secret that raises the stakes even higher. Baron has too much to lose, but the town’s future is in the balance.

Worldwide release date for “Ark City Confidential” will be on January 11, 2017 through The Wild Rose Press and Amazon.

“Ark City Confidential” – The Cover Reveal

My Prohibition-era crime novel Ark City Confidential, will have its world-wide release on January 11, 2017 through The Wild Rose Press. In the meantime, please enjoy the stunning cover.

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Ark City, KS, known as “Little Chicago”, has secrets buried as deep as its underground tunnels. But police officer Baron Witherspoon has secrets of his own.

The 9 MM. Solution – Excerpt

First Chapter:

I don’t know when we abrogated our sense of personal responsibility, when it became acceptable to put the blame on anyone and everyone but ourselves and to only take credit for the positive and not the negative, somehow denying our culpability in anything that did not turn out well.  There used to be a time when a person would own up to an act or event or causality.  ‘It was I who broke the lamp.’  It was I who let the dog in the house with muddy paws.’  ‘It was I who did not do my homework.’   At best, these are simplistic examples in which there is very little harm in the actual outcome.  When the act results in destruction, defamation, or death, it seems that we have stepped away from accepting due process and rather defer the entire matter in an entirely alternate direction.  And when you consider the waning moral values now prevalent and a softening in the justice and penal systems, the results are a pure sense of outrage that can not be suppressed any longer.

It is quite easy to read or watch examples almost daily.  Some miniscule technicality of the law results in someone being released from custody, at times never even being brought to trial for a heinous crime.  Lack of evidence, tainted evidence, or doubt created about valid evidence, any of these winds up freeing a perpetrator.  A prosecutor more interested in the idea of the celebrity associated with a case winds up making crucial mistakes which result in an unfavorable verdict.  Judges granting bail or bond of such a pathetically small amount that a defendant almost certainly does not appear for trial.  Even worse is the idea that a prisoner, an individual who has committed a crime against society, gets the use of athletic equipment for working out, television service, some internet access.  A working class family, struggling to make ends meet, struggling to simply put food on the table, would have to pay in the neighborhood of one hundred and fifty dollars per month or more simply to enjoy these amenities. They have done nothing wrong against the rest of us and yet they pay.  Twice.  Their tax dollars are paying for the criminal to enjoy these same amenities.  That means that the convicted criminal has victimized still more people.

Perhaps I digress.  Perhaps you would consider my anger and frustration to be misplaced.  The human scum, who sells drugs, molests innocent children, violently rapes women, murders indiscriminately—they should be the subject of and focus of our attention.  But it is We, the collective group of all the rest of us, called Society, that have allowed the laws to become porous and the prisons to become festering units of men and women virtually laughing at us.  Since when is punishment allowed to be enjoyable?  Yes, there is lockdown and routine and regimentation and the idea that there is a loss of humanity.  This much might be true.  But there is the same routine and regimentation found in the military.  I know this to be a fact.  I am a veteran.  I went through boot camp, a series of drills designed to submerge the individuality of the recruit in order to create a collective consciousness for a greater good.  This was a choice.  I, as countless of my brothers in arms had done before and after, chose to devote myself to a unit, an infrastructure, designed to combat evil and unrest in the world.  We allowed ourselves to be molded into a fighting machine.  Prisoners are regimented only by scheduling.  Lights out.  Meals.  Exercise times.  Their minds are not retrained or reorganized to eradicate their violent behavior.  And therein lies the difference.  The concept of rehabilitation is, at this point, virtually non-existent.

It is not the criminal who is to blame for this system.  In the end it is us.

If it were up to me (a satisfying yet highly impractical expression) the prison system would consist of twenty-three hour lockdown in individual units; the windows would be sufficiently high enough to allow light to enter but not the actual world to be viewed.  By the very definition, a convicted criminal has given up his or her right to be associated with the civilized world and as such should not be able to view it.  Nor should that individual be allowed to have knowledge of the world they violated by having access to news or information of what transpires.  Nor should they be allowed the hard-earned amenities that so many of our decent members of society find difficulty in obtaining legally.  The idea of rehabilitation would then be to contemplate the nature of the crime and nothing more.  To realize that the harshness of the penalty is warranted and that, should a parole be considered, the individual will not reconsider actions or activities that would return them to this ignominious and ignoble condition.  I would bet you then that the recidivism rate would decrease dramatically.  As it stands now, the misguided Judeo-Christian ethos of redemption and rehabilitation is used by these vile creatures to mock us into believing that they have any redeeming values.

As I have previously stated, the sense of personal responsibility has diminished to an abysmal low.  The Menendez brothers of the late eighties, after brutally murdering their parents with shotguns and then going out and living lifestyles of a supremely gaudy nature, had the audacity through their mouthpiece of a lawyer to suggest it was done as a result of lifelong abuse, of an emotional, physical and sexual nature, by their father, and that their mother was killed to have her avoid the pain of losing her husband.  That same lawyer was accused of having one of the brother’s psychiatrist delete and rewrite some portions of his notes, presumably to substantiate this claim.  These were supremely ridiculous man-children who had, up until the time of their murderous rampage, the most pampered lives imaginable.  Their father had actually taken the Concorde, during an important business deal, to fly overseas to witness one of his son’s tennis matches and then flew back to conclude the deal.  To claim in any small measure repeated instances of abuse is nothing less than tragic.  A decade earlier, a pathetically insecure city supervisor in San Francisco, had the impudence to claim that an abnormal intake of sugar laden junk food from this so-called health food advocate resulted in diminished capacity that resulted in the murders of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.  There was never any legal argument that Dan White had not assassinated these men.  But the defense team strategy worked; the jury determined that White, due to these circumstances, was incapable of the premeditation necessary to be convicted of murder and brought back a verdict convicting him of involuntary manslaughter.

Perhaps the easiest way to affect change would be to work from within the system.  If I were to be elected congressman or senator from my state I would then have an opportunity to help pass legislation that would, in essence, change the structure of jurisprudence and the penal system in this country.  It would be for the above-mentioned reasons and countless others that I would seek to readdress issues of laws and prisons.  However, it would be impractical.  The political system in this country is such that an individual, interested largely in civic responsibility, must select one of the two major political parties to affiliate with in order to present themselves to the voting public.  These parties have the funds and machinery to ensure successful election.  They also have a specific agenda which the candidate must adhere to in order to insure election, thereby eradicating the concept of the individual working for the betterment of his electorate.  The notion of a third party in order to present alternate views is amenable but highly unlikely to result in success.  As wealthy and successful a businessman as Ross Perot could only garner nineteen percent of the national presidential vote in 1992; he created some dialogue of interest but just as much humor for the nature of his campaign.  I lack both the funds and resources to be anything other than a major party candidate.  And yet I am unwilling to immerse myself in the machinations of either party as my individual intent would more probably be overwhelmed by the party platform.  Beyond that is the idea of change within the Beltway.  A congressman has but two years for a term with perhaps a third of that focused on re-election.  It is possible, were a congressman to become a favorite son of his district, to be re-elected several times before the district becomes dissatisfied.  A senator has a lengthier six years but to break into that brotherhood is nigh upon impossible unless the party sees you as a viable candidate.  A Gulf War veteran with an impeccable record and credentials, such as myself, may be just such a choice.  But I lack the resume necessary to be considered.  And the steam of this concept wanes even further when one considers the heavy pressure applied by lobbyists.  One can only think back to the considerable efforts of Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” and realize that something as simple as a boys camp can interrupt the plans of men of power who find nothing gratifying in the personal development of youth and will do everything within their power to crush Innocence on a millstone until it is a fine powder for their pleasure.

Look around you.  No one of power, no one IN power, wants change.  The structure would be altered and their power would be eradicated and they would be required to fend for themselves as the bulk of us do now.  Those of us who want change can not find the means, financial or otherwise, to initiate change.  It is as though it were all a merry-go-round.  Colorful and tuneful, stopping and starting at regulated intervals, going nowhere.  Where is the progress?  Where is the resolution?  It gets to a point where the options become increasingly limited.   A growing sense of frustration can result in a feeling of acquiescence.  Since there is nothing that can be done, nothing will be done nor attempted to be done.  It is, after all, in this particular state of mind, pointless.  And life continues until the end of life and the accounting is done then.  Anger is another alternative. But misplaced anger only winds up metamorphosing the individual into the same object of derision.  In essence, the concept of degrading one’s self into the thing that has created the fear or hatred or disgust.  This is counter-productive to a resolution of a situation.  This scenario winds up with the feeling of an intellectual paraplegic.  There is the mind working, integrating ideas, collating information, processing data, but the body completely incapable of acting upon any satisfactory ideas.  However, to allow that mindset to take hold permanently is a greater paralysis than anything else.  If resolution is strong and purpose is clear, it is apparent, without the monetary resources, that some sort of sacrifice is required.  From a positive standpoint, I have encountered hundreds of stories of well-meaning individuals, not clergyman or community leaders, but simply honest-to-goodness everyday people, who have given of themselves and their time and their lives, and yes, what little money they had, to affect a change, albeit within a smaller circle.  But like a pebble tossed into a pond, the circles spread out and touch the other side of that pond.  It is feasible to make a difference.  It is possible to change, even one small miniscule segment of society.  Not perhaps an entire state or county or city.  Perhaps just a neighborhood.  A household within that neighborhood.  A family member within that household.  And what if that family member is involved in a gang or was abused by another family member or close acquaintance or was a victim of a scam in which their life savings was eradicated and now the entire family will struggle even more and have to face to indignity of government assistance?

What can be done then?


“Kansas Two-Step”

This is chapter one of my novella “Kansas Two-Step”, now available at lulu.com.

 

ONE

 

          I’m not overly concerned when a prospective client questions me in any great detail.  After all, I’m not a book whose dust jacket you can read or a song you can download from the internet after listening to a sample.  And often, looks are deceiving and things are not what they appear.

          But this guy was pissing me off with his incessant attitude and his repetitive questions for which I was forced to give him the same answers.  Over and over again.  You would think he was deaf or had some kind of a short-term memory impairment.  He came across as a guy who couldn’t make a decision even if it were wrapped up in pretty pink ribbons.

          “So, it’s Bellicki?”

          “It’s pronounced Bell-Itch-Key.”

          “What is that?”

          “It’s Romanian.”

          “You’re Romanian?”

          “No.  The name is.  I’m American.”

          “And what does the ‘R.C.’ stand for?”

          “Is this germane?”

          “German?”

          “Germane.  Relevant.  Important.  Does it have to do with anything that we’re discussing?”

          “Well, Mr. Bellicki, I’ve never hired a private investigator before and I’m just worried…”

          “And as I told you on the phone,” I droned, irritated that I was mentioning this all over again for the umpteenth time, “I’m not a private investigator.  I do research for various firms.  Background checks for businesses or employment agencies.  I find hidden bank accounts for divorce lawyers.  I provide information services and dossiers for actual, real private investigators and sometimes even law enforcement agencies.  But I don’t go around in a London Fog with a fedora pulled down low over my eyes, walking the rain-soaked streets of Wichita.  I sit here most of the day at my trusty computer.  Occasionally I go to the library or the Epic Center.  More often than not, I go to Old Town for lunch and a beer.  But I figure it’s within walking distance so it’s easy to stumble back here.”  Yes, there was a bit of snippy sarcasm in my voice but it was designed to make a point.  One final point.

          “I wasn’t expecting Phillip Marlowe.”

          “Good.  Because I’m R.C. Bellicki.”

          He took in a lungful of air and released it slowly, as much to calm himself from the additional anger and frustration that I must have instilled in him.  His glance darted up to the ceiling and came back down to face level with the same exactness and precision.  When he spoke, it was with the tone of a teacher who was having difficulty explaining the lesson to his student.  Now he knew how I felt.

          “I’m certainly sorry.  But my situation is delicate and personal.  A family matter.  I thought that you could provide a certain degree of, shall we say, discretion that I’m certain the traditional law enforcement agencies could not accommodate.”

          I had spent twenty minutes jawing with Charles Bennington about irrelevant issues and matters of propriety and I still had no idea what the nature of his ‘personal family matter’ might have been.  He was slight of frame and seemed more concerned with his appearance than his constitution.  This was a man who lifted a brush to secure each hair on his head far more readily than a set of dumbbells.  Dick’s Sporting Goods was as foreign to him as a manicure was to me.  He appeared to be in his early fifties; evidence of a dye job to cover the salt-and-pepper made him look more like a ridiculous Elvis impersonator raised by William Randolph Hearst.

          He finally indicated that his stepson had “disappeared” as he mysteriously put it.  Meaning largely that the kid had grown tired of his parents and decided to live his own life, as all kids eventually do.  The kid’s mother, his second wife, had bore him when she was still a teen and her lack of maternal instincts had created a bond of sorts with Bennington, who was no great patriarch either by his own admission.  It was stated with an openness designed to show vulnerability and exact compassion.  But the openness was phony and the compassion merely play-acting. 

          His caring and sensitivity, according to him, gave the boy a safe haven.  Except that the boy, despite the attention, was sorely lacking in any form of appreciation, courtesy, or respect.  Nevertheless, Bennington still felt obligated to find him and, at the very least, get him back on his feet.  Assuming that he wound up sunny-side-up.

          It was my turn to pause for effect, breathe in lightly, exhale heavily, and show demonstrably my level of frustration.

          “And, as I’ve already indicated to you, this is so far removed from my capabilities that I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

          “Well, if you’re not up for the challenge…”  He spoke with a bored panache that made me doubt any sliver of sincerity he might have had just exhibited.

          “No, I’m not.  Especially where someone’s life is concerned.  And I wouldn’t have expected you to look upon this as a mere challenge.  Considering the circumstances.”

          My comment sliced his psyche like a paper cut.  It was obvious he was desperate and saying anything he could to get me on his side.  He didn’t seem like a bad guy, someone who deserved any extra misery over and above what life already doles out normally.  He just seemed out of touch with the so-called Real World, choosing instead to live his life in a way that was as clean and uncluttered and emasculated as possible.  That, above everything else, annoyed me.

          “Does he have an ATM card or a credit card or a checking account?” I asked clinically.

          “Credit card, yes.  Mine actually.”

          “His usage can be tracked.  It might create a chain of events to locate him.  You know, gas purchases, food, etc.”

          Bennington recognized that I was acquiescing, at least partly, taking a step closer to his side.  Not all the way, just leaning.

          “So, do you get, like, fifty dollars a day plus expenses?”

          “That’s a romantic notion based on 1940’s film noir.  I’m a research specialist.  I get 27.50 an hour.  Which is a hell of a lot less than lawyers charge.”

          “Yes.  I suppose so,” he said quietly.

          He filled out my cursory application form, provided me with as many details as he could muster and appeared to deflate like a helium balloon twenty-four hours after a birthday party.  And then out of the blue…

          “Why do you wear Hawaiian shirts?  It’s not some sort of Magnum-P.I. thing, is it?”

          It was all I could do the hold myself back from committing Shaken Baby Syndrome on him.  I was going to make one last attempt at logical and sensible clarity.  I was doubtful on my attempt even before it began.

          “You seem to have a pop culture view of life, Mr. Bennington.  I wear these shirts for the same reason a corporate CEO wears a three-piece suit or a garage mechanic wears coveralls.”

          His “Oh” belied the fact that he didn’t understand me.  He never did.

“Strength”

This is a poem entitled “Strength” which was largely influenced by Robinson Jeffers’ poem “Nova”.  There is a kind of sober cynicism to it:

 

The girth of Goliath was his strength.

A brute beast, six cubits and a span, a champion

      of his people; not actually willing

      to give his life for a cause so much as

      believing there was no chance to die.

But one sling, one stone, one great faith,

      and there was thunder as the great body

      came crashing like Babel down.

 

I used to believe that knowledge and wisdom were strength,

      was bred to believe that, instilled by

      the volumes of books even in the nursery.

      And to that end I studied immaculately.

Yet whatever knowledge and wisdom I may now possess

      is used for this day, one day only,

      this time, the only time I know of.

For I am told of the Great Uncertainty of things,

      explained by scientists in elaborate detail

      of the impermanence even of the sun.

 

The great explosion that brought all this into being

      may come around again to end it finally;

      by ourselves or by the eventuality of Nature,

      the impenetrable fuse will be lit.

At that time, the seas and oceans will dry up completely,

      the forests turn to deserts, the cities rust

      and erode until they are dust once again.

 

Long before then, however, the arrogant creature that we

      have become will fade like a passing thought,

      simply slip away into the void, never realizing

      that the end was beginning.

And the towers and monuments and words that we have created

      will be a Nothing that No One will remember.

 

This is the only real knowledge that I have gained.

And it is my strength.

“Weekend Getaways”

Enclosed is Chapter 28 of “Weekend Getaways” which emphasizes the luxurious nature of food and wine to a man who sidelights as a contract killer to relieve the boredom of his day job:

28

 

          I knew I was in trouble when I wound up with two out of town assignments on consecutive weekends.  We had just started to really hit it off and now I was sure that this was going to be a setback of some sort.  With Audrey, I wanted to try to be as honest as possible with her, within reason of course given my alternate circumstances.  I really hated making excuses.  Since each job paid in excess of seven thousand dollars (on average), I could not very well turn down the more lucrative opportunities that came my way.  Also, I was now starting to develop a reputation that I needed to maintain.  Late Friday afternoon of the second weekend, I called her at work.

          “I WILL make this up to you.  I promise,” I beseeched.

          “Oh, yeah.  How?”  It was a direct challenge even though her tone sounded more acquiescent and I knew that I needed to respond quickly.

          “I’ll give you a tour of the absolute BEST the city has to offer.”

          “Best of what?”

          “Everything.  No matter the cost.”

          “You’ll get your chance, mister.  Call me.”  She hung up, not angrily but in a way to let me know that I was, indeed, getting a chance.  Perhaps a last chance.  And I knew I had to take full advantage of it.

          I followed my man most of Saturday.  He was an innocuous looking man in his late fifties, perhaps early sixties.  He looked more like an antique dealer with his specific manner of walking and moving.  I stopped my personal analysis there.  Knowledge of the individual and/or empathy was not only not necessary, it created interference and distraction.

          As he came out on Sunday morning to get his newspaper, I broke his neck and dragged him back inside to his foyer.  I closed and locked the door.  I was home before lunch.

          I watched the Travel Channel during dinner and beyond as I held a clipboard with a pad of paper.  I was taking mental notes, and then transcribing the ideas onto the paper.

          After a while, my huge list had many things crossed out, numbers placed alongside the remaining items, arrows drawn from one line to another.  On a clean sheet of paper, I made the final list.

          It was getting close to eleven o’clock on Sunday.  I called Audrey because I was keen on starting the anticipation now and causing her heart to flutter the entire week.

          “I’ve got this plan,” I said mysteriously, like I was a Watergate conspirator.

          “I’m sure you do.”  She was pretending boredom.  I heard through it.

          “I’m picking you up at six o’clock on Friday night.  I need you to dress for dinner.  Nice, but not too elegant.  Stylish and attractive, like you’ve got something to show off.  And one other thing.  Pack an overnight bag.  Goodnight, sweetie.”  I hung up, not angrily but in a way to let her know that she was in for an experience.

          I was at her house by six o’clock sharp.  I beeped the horn and waited for her to emerge.  She seemed somewhat confused that I was not going so far as to meet her at the front door.  However, I did very gallantly open her door and put her overnight bag in the trunk.

          “You’re being very mysterious,” she said.  “I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”

          “It’s a good thing,” I replied nonchalantly.  “You can count on it.”

          Despite my patronage of Monty’s, we went to the Hyatt’s Oak Room Lounge where they served the best martini in the city.  They called it The Perfect Martini.  Chilled Tanqueray is poured in a sterling silver shaker with extra dry vermouth-infused ice cubes which is then shaken vigorously and poured into a chilled Waterford crystal martini glass.  A rangpur lime twist is dropped into the final result.  The bartender touches only the stem as to not allow the temperature of his hands to alter the delicate balance.  I instructed Audrey to do as much.  3-5 sized Key West Pinks were served as the shrimp cocktail with a homemade sauce on the side that seemed to have a touch of citrus, perhaps mandarin orange in it.  I was never able to determine the exact ingredients.  It was a refreshing change from the typical spicy cocktail sauces designed to blunt the palette.

          “All right,” Audrey started, sounding like she was easing up a bit.  “It IS truly unlike any martini I’ve ever had.”

          “It is the best in the city.  But, please, this is only designed to whet your appetite.  Not quench your thirst.”

          Larry’s Chophouse has a name that sounds like it is frequented by a bunch of biker’s.  But ‘Larry’ is Lawrence Edelston, THE premier restaurateur when it comes to fine dining involving meat.  True to the chophouse style, all meat is cooked over a wood grill.  Oak.  Only and always oak.   The meat, which is aged as much as forty days, is hand-carved each day.  The portions are not for the dieter or health-conscious.  All side dishes are extra.  Sauces of all kinds from béarnaise to barbecue are offered as condiment.

          We ordered 14 ounce rib eyes, exquisitely marbled, cooked to just the rare side of medium, with a side of roasted Yukon gold potatoes Françoise and wild rice pilaf with almonds and porcini mushrooms, starting the whole thing off with a wedge salad with chunky blue cheese dressing.  We opted for the lemon béarnaise and the chimichurri sauce to accompany our steaks and a Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

          The walls behind the bar contained racks and racks of wines.  The predominant ambience was several shades of wood and brick, fire and warmth.  There could have been a major snow storm blowing outside and you would never have noticed it in there.

          “I must admit,” she stated, “this IS exquisite.  I’ve heard of the place but I wasn’t aware it had this degree of elegance.”

          “As far as I’m concerned, you can keep all those Texas-style roadhouse steak places.  Those places are for people who don’t know what real meat is.  And I KNOW that you do.”

          I smiled lasciviously.  This was a romantic, adventurous evening and I was enjoying the hell out of it.  And it was nowhere near to being over.

          North of the city was a new shopping development that was centered around a circular man-made lake with an elegant series of fountains that created an orchestrated water and light and music show a la Las Vegas.  Tucked away was Il Romano, a gelateria that had authentic equipment imported directly from Rome.  Twenty different flavors were made fresh daily.  Their biscotti were far superior than anything a cheap coffeehouse had available.  And as for coffee, well, I didn’t bring up the Cappuccino that Audrey had originally gotten for me at the bookstore.  We had traveled well beyond that point by this time.

          We sat with our espresso and gelato (she got hazelnut, I got raspberry cream) and it looked like Connie Francis and Tab Hunter out of a teen heartthrob movie from the 50’s, only a lot more refined and a lot more expensive.  She sighed.

          “What’s wrong?”  I was genuinely concerned.

          “I think you’ve more than made up for your two week disappearing act.  And on top of that, you’ve made me feel better than anyone I’ve ever known.”

          I reached over and softly placed my hand on top of hers.

          “Wait.  The adventure is only just beginning.”  I looked at my watch.  “Sorry to interrupt this magical moment but we’ve got to get going.”  The look on her face deserved to be captured for eternity.  I just didn’t have a camera or the time.

          The windows were open, the wind was blowing in and through her hair.  It didn’t have to be perfect now.  We were not going to be concerning ourselves with other people and our appearance at just this moment.  I pulled into long-term parking at the airport.  She was non-plussed.

          “Okay, wise guy.  You said pack an overnight bag.  All I brought was a sexy babydoll and jeans and a t-shirt with some makeup.  Do I have enough?”

          I pulled out a medium sized suitcase from the trunk.

          “You do now.”

          I already had the tickets and we could go right to our gate.  I didn’t have to worry about anything that I was carrying or that was on my person.  My cell phone and wallet were all that I had and all that I needed.  At least for this particular “assignment.”

          When we got to the gate, part of the surprise had been revealed.  Grand Bahamas.  She looked at me with an utterly lost look on her face.  I imagined she had a myriad of questions.  I answered them without even being asked.

          “I bought a small wardrobe for you with what I thought that you would, a, need and, b, would look good in.  I hope I wasn’t too presumptuous.  We get in around nine a.m. So make sure you get some sleep on the flight.  Time is short and we have a busy weekend.  We should get back about five p.m. our time on Sunday.  Granted, you might be worn out come Monday.  But I have a feeling that adrenaline might get you through the day.”

          THOSE weren’t the questions she had.

          “HOW can you afford this?  All of this?  I can’t imagine on your salary, I mean, this must have cost you a fortune and I, well, I didn’t mean to make a big deal out of the lost weekends…”

          QUICK.  THINK.  RESPOND.  ANSWERS THAT WILL BE ACCEPTED AND NOT QUESTIONED LATER.  EVER.

          I was smooth and precise and didn’t sound the slightest bit rehearsed.

          “After my divorce, I realized two things.  First, I was never really conscientious about money and finances.  And second, that I never actually DID anything.  So, I learned about money markets and investments and stocks and bonds and started to aggressively save and watch my money grow.  It took a few years of living like a monk but I’m doing pretty okay.  Well, maybe a little better than okay.  Bill Gates I’m not.  But between my 401k and my pension and my personal investments, I don’t have a lot of financial worries.  Of course, as far as the second part goes, I never had much of an opportunity to do anything quite like this.  Sure, it costs a bit to do what we’re doing but…”  I acted all Jimmy Stewart-like “I think you’re worth it.”

          There were tears in her eyes.  The sun was hot without baking us.  The sand was almost pure white.  The sound of the surf was magical, as though being on a flying carpet. The atmosphere was exotic, other-worldly, fascinating. The sex was great that weekend, exotic, other-worldly, fascinating.  I could disappear for weekends at a time and not be questioned.

          I had the best of all possible worlds.

“Weekend Getaways”

Enclosed is the first chapter of Weekend Getaways or Adventures in Contract Killing as referenced in the entry on “Tragressive Fiction”:

 

 

1

 

          I had never given any serious thought to killing people, outside of the usual, of course.  The usual being:

 

          PRESSING THE MUTE BUTTON ON THAT EXTREMELY OBNOXIOUS CUSTOMER, THE ONE WHO SOMEHOW “KNOWS” THAT THEY ARE BETTER THAN YOU, THE ONE WHO CAN’T EVEN STRING TOGETHER A COHERENT SENTENCE IN WHICH TO INSULT YOU, AND THINKING “IF ONLY I COULD REACH THROUGH THIS LINE, I’D STRANGLE YOU WITH THE OTHER END OF YOUR PHONE UNTIL YOU WERE AN EXQUISITE SHADE OF BLUE.  FOR RIGHT NOW, YOU NEED TO EITHER JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP OR DROP DEAD”

 

          …or SEEING THE INSANE LUNATIC FROM YOUR DRIVER’S SIDE MIRROR (THE LEFT SIDE), WATCHING HIM RACE UP TO YOU AND KNOWING FULL WELL IN YOUR GUT INSTINCTS THAT HE’S GOING TO PASS YOU AND THEN CUT YOU OFF, CUT RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU ONLY TO WIND UP CROSSING OVER TO THE RIGHT LANE TO MAKE A TURN BECAUSE HE’S LATE FOR SOMETHING MEANINGLESS OR JUST WILDLY IRRESPONSIBLE, AND HOPING THAT HE DIES IN A FIERY CAR CRASH EVEN IT MEANS KILLING HIS INNOCENT WIFE AND FAMILY AND YOU GET TO WITNESS THE SCREECHING MADNESS, THE TWISTED METAL, PERHAPS EVEN THE FLAMES, AND YOU ARE SADDENED BECAUSE YOU DID NOT CAUSE IT TO HAPPEN

 

          …or TRYING TO ENJOY A QUIET DINNER IN ONE OF THE CITY’S FINER ESTABLISHMENTS ONLY TO BE OVERWHELMED BY THE CLASSLESS GOURMET WANNABE SITTING TWO TABLES OVER WHO PROCLAIMS THAT THE ‘SORBET’ IS THE GREAT FRENCH COOKING SCHOOL.  ON TOP OF WHICH HE’S PAYING NO ATTENTION TO HIS DINNER COMPANION (AN ATTRACTIVE YOUNG WOMAN OF MAGAZINE-INFLUENCED STYLE WHO, EVEN IF SHE IS NOT AN ADEQUATE PERFORMER IN BED IT WOULDN’T MAKE ALL THAT MUCH DIFFERENCE BECAUSE HE WOULD NEVER NOTICE), HE IS UNAWARE OF HER BECAUSE OF THE EXCESSIVE CALLS HE’S MAKING ON HIS CELL PHONE, THE DETAILS OF WHICH YOU CAN HEAR IN EXCRUTIATING CLARITY BECAUSE HIS VOICE IS CARRYING ACROSS THE QUIET ROOM.  THE MALLET FOR CRACKING THE LOBSTER SHOULD DO JUST NICELY TO INFLICT BLUNT FORCE TRAUMA AND MAYBE THE METAL PRONG COULD WORK AS A TOOL FOR A PREFRONTAL LOBOTOMY.  PERHAPS IT’S NOT LONG ENOUGH.  THEN AGAIN, PERHAPS HE HAS NO BRAIN ON WHICH TO PERFORM SUCH AN OPERATION

 

          or…

          No, there are too many examples.  Far too many.  They flow as freely as random lyrics from mellow 1960’s pop songs with catchy vibes or quotes from hip 1970’s movies which could never be possibly uttered in decent company.  Unfortunately it is not as though I spend my free hours plotting and planning and thinking of ways of eliminating human beings from the face of the Earth.  These thoughts float by, like the wisps of cotton from a cottonwood tree.  And they’re dainty and interesting and we take note of them and their passing.  And we wonder.

          Yes, we.  I’m certainly not describing anything that millions of people don’t do at some point in their lives, perhaps merely in passing.  They are, after all, merely thoughts, sudden and of seemingly indeterminate origin.  To contemplate them regularly and profoundly would have us marked as sociopathic.  And we are so afraid to admit that we think these thoughts that it is almost as though we are abnormal in some fashion if we don’t have them.

          Acting on them, however, is a totally different train of thought.

 

          I have no recourse but to describe myself as a Divorced Man.  I do so not out of any love for the label or firm regard for the nomenclature.  People are more often than not defined by their marital status.  It is a question on most applications and forms.  It is a question that a new acquaintance will invariably ask.  We are marked by the answer and behave accordingly, despite our better instincts.

 

          [SINGLE  “I have never had the opportunity or desire to engage in legal matrimony.  You think I’m commitment-phobic but I either prefer to live with someone or do not wish to be encumbered.  Or, I’m gay.”

          MARRIED  “I live in bliss, with the exception of honey-dos for men, Football Widows for women, and a handful of sex jokes and mother-in-law jokes.  Overall, I am safe.  Unless I’m acting obnoxious in which case my marriage is failing.”

          DIVORCED  “I am a failure.  Either I was too inconsiderate to maintain a healthy functioning relationship or I was too weak to prevent its dissolution.  In either case, since you know only me, I MUST be to blame.”

          WIDOWED  “I am forever depressed.  Per the sociological tests that evaluate life events that cause stress, the loss of a spouse is the highest on the list.  I will fake having a normal life but I will never get over it.  And you will try otherwise.”]

 

          And once you have achieved your marital status, you are automatically defined by the vast number of people who know of no other form of self-description or actualization.  In essence, you are who THEY see you as.

          In my case, it was nothing Wrong that happened.  In fact, everything was Right.  We did our time as long-suffering apartment dwellers, scrimping and saving and planning.  We bought a 1930’s bungalow in an historic district.  We collected art deco from the 1920’s, silver filigree from the 1890’s, and Japanese woodblock prints from the 1600’s.  We landscaped, blending annuals and perennials and bulbs, mixing colors to create a Feng Shui element of Peace and Harmony.  We bought new appliances AND the extended warrantees because we were careful and cautious and anticipating a very long life together.  We bathed ourselves in all the modern conveniences that were available to us in catalogs and magazines and fine furnishing boutiques.  For twelve years, there was the serenity of a sailboat in a calm lake.  But there was nowhere to go.  The things we bought collected dust and their initial excitement faded into just another item on the insurance inventory.  Food and drink was not a substitute for nourishing the soul, no matter how gourmet or difficult to pronounce it may have been.  I don’t believe either of us knew what we wanted, only sadly that we didn’t want each other any more.  And the responses were as typical in the same pre-defined sort of way.

 

          {THE SINGLE GUY  Now I was free to do whatever I wanted, to party, to stay out late, to have any female that I wanted.  I didn’t need to be married to have the same level of personal satisfaction that he had.

          THE MARRIED WOMAN  I was looked at with suspicion as I may have been the cause of the divorce and that would label me as “just another man” as though all men (her husband included) were void of any conscience or consideration.

          THE MARRIED GUY  He was happy for me because I now did not have any honey-dos, I now could bond with other male friends, I now could experiment more with my life.  But in a paternal way he advised that I would be seeking the comfort of a spouse soon enough.

          THE SINGLE WOMAN  She gave hints that usually all the “good ones” are taken as though somehow I was a green M&M.  And how exciting (for whom I wasn’t sure) that I was available.  And, of course, if I EVER needed someone to talk to, you know, from the female perspective, I could count on her.}

 

          When you’re in your mid to late forties and you’ve been at the same job for over fifteen years and you own a house but you don’t have a companion or partner or spouse, you are (as far as the majority of people are concerned) trapped.  You are defined by your gender and marital status and demographic whether or not you declare to the world “I AM MY OWN PERSON”.

          Selling your house and “downsizing” is an admission of defeat.

          You’re not old enough to retire.  You’re too old to start at a new job or explore a new field.

          And no one accepts your motivations for either wanting or not wanting to find someone for company or conversation or sex.

          Finding your own way entails deep self-examination.  Or chance.