Thursday, May 28, 2015

Marshaling the troops in THE BISTI BUSINESS

Time to return to one of the BJ Vinson novels, The Bisti Business, for this week’s post. Our PI is on the hunt for two young men from California who disappeared during a summer trip to New Mexico. His investigation takes him to the Four Corner’s area where he enlists a couple of locals to help in the search. In Chapter 26 of the novel (Page 213) he sees the opportunity to marshal a much larger force when he encounters a group of military veterans while searching homeless camps for one of the missing students. We pick up the story just after he braces the obvious leader of the group and tries to turn suspicion and hostility into a positive force. He’s just offered the men $500 if they locate his missing “nephew.”
“Nephews oughta be worth more’n five hundred. ‘Sides, I ain’t so sure he’s your nephew.”
“Think what you want, but five hundred’s what I’m offering. We have a deal?”
“We got one when I get my twenty.”
After handing the man his money, I gave his two pals ten each. Then I faced the big fellow in the duster and held out my palm.
“I want to shake on it.”
He hesitated a moment, and then engulfed my hand in a big, rough fist. “Name’s Gunner.”
“Good to meet you, Gunner. You picked up that tag in the military, didn’t you?”
He nodded. “Yes sir, the Corps. Copter gunships mostly.”
“Should have recognized it. That was my service, too.”
“Officer material,” he said flatly.
“I had my silver bar.”
Gunner straightened his spine and came to attention. “We’ll find this fella for you, Lieutenant.”
“When you do, protect him, okay? Somebody else may be after him.”
I considered the question for a moment and then answered honestly. A man’s entitled to know what he’s getting into. “The FBI and the County Sheriff are looking for him.”
“Them’s the two guys that was here a few days back. They didn’t learn nothing.”
“And there’s somebody else, too. Don’t know exactly who, but I’m not sure he wants my man in good health.”
So help me, Gunner saluted. I returned it automatically. It was exactly the right thing to do. Semper Fi.
I left the area and set about finding the “loony-toons” camp along the Animas River Gunner had told me about. It was after midnight by this time, so most of the camp inhabitants were already wrapped in blankets, newspapers, cardboard, or whatever else they could find to conserve body heat against the brisk night air. Some of them didn’t stir when I flashed a light in their direction; too drunk or stoned to react. The remainder cursed or fled into the brush. I made a complete round of the small camp without coming up with Lando or anyone who remotely resembled him. Discouraged, I returned to the motel.
I felt good about having Jazz and Henry on the lookout for Lando, and now the rather rowdy-looking homeless vets were also on the prowl for him—more of the local assets. If they happened to find him, I just hoped they wouldn’t rough him up too much. Maybe I should have made more of a point of that.
Thanks for reading. Be happy to hear from you.

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

It Wasn’t Me!

See if you can figure out what's going on in the short-short that follows before you get to the explanation at the bottom.
"Let's go do something. I don’t want to sit around and do nothing all day.”
That was Sarah. She didn’t hang with us all the time, but she was here now. She wasn’t as pretty as she ought to be, but she was okay looking.
“Whadda ya wanna do?” Bart was always here. If he wasn’t right in my face, he was lurking in the background. I didn’t like him much and privately called him Black Bart after that old highwayman. Besides, he constantly tried to take over the group and get me into trouble.
“Let’s go window shopping.”
“Nah,” Bart came back at her. “Let’s go shopping! Leave out the window part. Bet they’ve got some great new games down at Best Buy.”
“Don’t have any money,” I said. “Besides, I’ve got all the computer games I need.”
“Cain’t never have enough of them. More’s better. More’n that’s even more better.”
“You sound like a dipstick when you talk like that.” A new voice. Mitch was a pretty cool guy who didn’t show up nearly as much as I’d like. Funny thing, Bart sounded like my father when he was talking to me. Mitch was like him talking to someone else.
Sarah ignored them both. She did that sometimes. “Let’s go to Dillards.”
“They don’t have windows,” Mitch pointed out.
“Then we can walk around inside. That’s better. You can touch things. You can tell a lot about a dress by just feeling the material.”
“Yeah, let’s go inside. I need a new belt. Bet I can snatch one so’s they won’t even know,” Bart bragged.
“You’d steal it?” Sarah’s voice dripped with scorn. “That’s dishonest.”
“Nah, that’s practical when you don’t have no money.”
“Not practical at all when you consider the chances of being caught. You’re sixteen now, so they won’t just call mommy and daddy. They’ll throw your fanny in a cell.” Sarah reminded me of my mother when she talked like that.
“Gotta catch me first.”
“Sonny, wouldn’t approve,” Sarah said.
“Sonny? Who’s Sonny?” Bart asked.
“He’s the new kid. Seems okay … even if he is different.”
“How come I ain’t seen him?”
“You don’t know everyone in the neighborhood,” Sarah said.
“Whadda ya mean different?”
Mitch handled that question. “Well, he looks like us, but sometimes he sounds like Sarah.”
“Oh, one a them, huh? Better not hang around me. I’ll mash his nose in.”
“You’re such a barbarian, Bart. Nothing but a bigot.”
That sounded like Sarah, but not quite. I took a look around, but didn’t see anyone else. Then I made my mind up. “Okay, we’ll go window shopping, but not at Dillard’s. Let’ go to Wal-Mart.”
“Yeah, they have a bunch of games there,” Bart said.
“Okay, but if you go with us, you better keep your hands to yourself.”
“Just try keeping me away.” Bart’s tone held a threat.
“No stealing,” Sarah said.
Wal-Mart was okay. Lots of things to see, but there were always too many people for the narrow aisles. The place had a smell and a sound all its own. People. It was people sounds and people odors.
Sarah was disappointed because the women’s clothing wasn’t up to her standards. Mitch liked the automotive department, but I don’t know why. He didn’t even own a car. If Sonny had come along, he was quiet and off by himself somewhere. But I felt his presence.
Bart kept leading us back to the computer games section even though I resolutely walked on past. Finally, he was so insistent that I stood at the rack and scanned the games for something I didn’t already have. I spotted one: “Army Rangers in Fallujah.”
“Yeah. That looks neat.” Bart centered in on the one I was looking at.
Then just as I suspected he would, he snatched the game and tucked it into the waistband of his pants. After he smoothed his polo shirt over it, the bulge was hardly noticeable.
“Don’t do that,” Mitch said. “You’ll get us in trouble.”
“You don’t like it, pantywaist, get outa here.”
“That’s what I’m going to do.” He disappeared.
“Me, too. You’re disgusting.” And Sarah went away.
No sign of Sonny, so I don’t know if he’d ever been there. At any rate, it was just Bart and me who sauntered toward the exit. We didn’t even make it halfway through the door before a man stepped in front of us.
“Hold on there, son.”
“What is it, sir?” I asked.
“We take a dim view of shoplifting at this store.” With that, he lifted my shirt and plucked the Army Rangers game from my waistband.
I looked around, but Bart was nowhere in sight. I regarded the security man through half-dollar-sized eyes. “It wasn’t me! I didn’t take it.”
Note to Readers: Someone whom I know well was diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) some years ago. The psychiatric community now calls the condition Dissociative
 Identity Disorder (DID). From what I read (and can comprehend) it is a condition not terribly well understood and very difficult to treat. It apparently has its roots in childhood abuse and involves either mistreatment by or disassociation from a parent (usually of the same sex). In laymen’s terms, the sufferer cannot cope in a normal way with his environment and develops other “personalities” to help him. As an illustration of how difficult this field is, the definition of personality is not universally agreed.

In the case of the individual I know, his earlier doctors attempted to “meld” the personalities, but even when that difficult and time-consuming effort was successful, previously unknown “identities” emerged to fill the void.

At any rate, the intent of this story was not to engage in a knowledgeable treatise (something I am not capable of doing), but to try – with my imperfect understanding of the process – to imagine what goes on in the head of someone afflicted with this debilitating disorder.

Thanks for reading. Be happy to hear from you.

New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

To Amy with OOOs & XXXes, Forever

Last week’s short, short story started me down memory lane and helped me realize what a dweeb I was (back before there were dweebs). This week, we’ll try another slice of life showcasing a guy who was equally shy and inept at social relationships. Hope you get a chuckle or two out of it. Or maybe it’ll raise some memories in you.
I’d been in love with Amy Schulenmacher ever since she banged me on the head with a tin shovel in our kindergarten’s sand box. After enduring a lecture from the teacher for stubbornly refusing to tell her why I was bleeding, it seemed as though Amy began to respond.
In the third grade, I cemented our relationship when I took on Harold Hardcastle, a big kid a year ahead of us who delighted in yanking her golden tresses. I ended up with a split lip and a black eye and a trip to the principal’s office, but none of that mattered when she thanked me for being her white knight. Then she took a bit wind out of my sails by saying she could have handled Harold better. But that was just her cute way of bonding.
We were inseparable. Went everywhere together. She’d punch me on the shoulder and pinch me and call me Geeky Gene just like one of the guys, but I knew that was her being intimate. Funny how that word still makes me blush.
Even though we saw one another every day, we constantly sent text messages flying back and forth. When we were in the seventh grade, I started adding OOs and XXes to mine, but I’d always delete them before punching the send button. Until just recently, that is. I finally screwed up the courage to put three Os and Xes at the end of one text. She came back with a single X and O.
That was the clincher. She loved me just like I loved her. I frowned and screeched to a mental halt. Or maybe she loved me a third as much as I loved her. But that was enough.
The point was, she loved me. I was sure of that because we’d done it once … just last week. By done it, I mean we kissed. It happened when I mentioned I was a sixteen-year-old sophomore who’d never kissed a girl. She puckered up and planted one squarely on my lips before flouncing away, leaving me sprawled on a park bench tingling all over and absolutely boneless. Well almost, anyway. She loved me! No doubt about it.
Then Harold Hardcastle showed up again. Actually, he’d been here all the time, but I ignored him as much as anyone can ignore the school’s football quarterback and basketball guard. And tennis champ. But he couldn’t calculate the square-foot area of a turnip patch.
Then today came along. Today comes along all the time, so what was so special about this one? It’s the day my world fell apart. My life ended … aside from continuing to breathe, that is. It all started in the park near the school after classes.
“What time should I pick you up for the prom?” I admired the way a long tress fell over her left eye just like some old movie star. Veronica Lake, I think. Amy might be having trouble seeing through that cascade of blond hair because the other eye seemed to work harder when she looked at me.
“What do you mean? You didn’t ask me to the prom.”
I held out my hands in supplication. “We always go to the prom together. Ever since there’ve been proms.”
She sniffed and looked away. “Well, not this year. Harold asked me to go with him.”
“Harold Hardcastle? He pulled your hair. I had to fight him to make him stop.”
She sighed one of my mother’s sighs. One that dripped with exasperation. “That was in the third grade. Grow up.”
“But we’ve X’d and O’d our texts. That means I love you.”
“No, dummy. That means hugs and kisses. And I love you, too. Just like I love my other brother.”
Other brother! She only had one. A stuck up doofus named Peter who was away at college. “B-but we kissed!”
“That wasn’t a kiss. It was a peck. And a sympathy peck, at that. Anyway, I’m going to the prom with Harold.”
With that, she turned and stomped away, leaving me sitting on yet another park bench, boneless again. Completely boneless, this time.
I don’t know how long I sat there feeling my world was at an end. No reason to live. Maybe I’d have a heart attack. She’d see the ambulance whisking me away and come to her senses. She’d rush to my side and beg me to get better. Come back to her. We’d marry and have loads of kids, and she’d be mine forever.
Movement interrupted my misery. I sensed rather than saw someone take a seat at my side.
“What’s the matter, Gene? You look like you lost your last friend.”
I turned my head and saw Margaret Ann Mandalay – the girl the kids called MAM on account of her initials – perched on the bench beside me. Her black hair shone in the spring sun so much it nearly blinded me. Her green eyes spoke of care and concern. I swallowed hard and stared at her.
“Everyone wondered when you’d see Amy for what she is. But don’t worry, there are plenty of other fish in the sea.” She giggled, a bright, tinkling sound. “I might even be persuaded to be a minnow, myself.”
And just like that, my spine returned. My formless body filled up with bones. I sat straighter. Felt the breeze on my face, tasted pollen in the air, heard birds tweet and kids laugh. The hair on my arms stood up as if they’d received a shock. I smelled honeysuckle and wondered if it came from Margaret or the bush across the park.
“Hi, MAM. Do you have a date for the prom, yet?”

Were we ever so young and innocent … and dumb? As always, thanks for reading. I’d appreciate hearing from you.

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Turn Around, Look at Me

Like many teenagers back in the day, I was a misfit in the world I inhabited. As such, one of the pop songs of the era expressed my longings, my wants, my hopes almost perfectly. Jerry Capehart wrote Turn Around, Look at Me in 1961. It was a popular hit back then and apparently remains so today. I wove a little tale around it. Hope it tickles your fancy.


What was the matter with me? Why wasn’t I like other guys? Well, I was. Yet I wasn’t, either. I could talk my way around the National Football League or the basketball circuit as adroitly as anyone. I got my quota of invitations for beer with the boys, but something was missing.
What was missing was thirty feet in front of me walking down the stairs and out the apartment building. Her name was Gilda, which she pronounced Jillda, and I was desperately in lonely with her. I say “in lonely” because I’m not sure what love felt like. But that pitiful term fit when my heart reached out to her. And it seemed appropriate when I sat alone at my cramped kitchen's tiny fold-up table holding imaginary conversations with her. Or lying in bed at night throbbing for her. Or losing the ability to draw a breath at the first sight of her every day. It was a lovely, miserable condition.
I started leaving my apartment thirty minutes early in order to avoid her on the way to CNM, the Albuquerque community college we both attended. That worked okay, but then I missed seeing her so much that I went back to trailing her down the stairs, silently begging her to turn around and look at me. That’s what I meant about being different. Anybody else would have struck up a conversation. Not me. Not tongue-tied, bashful Louis Pastoria. She might tell me to go take a hike. What would I do then? Bray like a jackass? Shrivel up and die?
Right in the midst of this heartache … bellyache … headache … whatever it was, I was sitting at my  table munching tasteless cold cereal when I heard something on the radio that nearly tore the heart right out of my chest. It was a song. An oldie from the '60s that expressed exactly what I was feeling.
“There is someone walking behind you.
“Turn around, look at me.”
Oh, my Lord! My plaintive cry word-for-word.
“There is someone watching your footsteps.
“Turn around, look at me.”
Thank God I was alone at the time because before the Vogues finished singing that love song, my mouth went dry while my eyes went wet. I swallowed hard and struggled with emotions I couldn’t even name.
Later that morning, I trailed Gilda and her roommate down the steps again, this time with the Lettermen crooning those wonderful lyrics through ear buds from my big brother's ancient Walkman. Surely, she would sense this storm of emotional turmoil behind her and … well, turn around and look at me. But she didn’t.
For the next week, I followed the object of my adoration with that song ringing in my ears. Sometimes it was the Bachelors singing away. At other times, Glen Campbell’s solo made it hauntingly personal. That said, I preferred the final refrain by the Lettermen. It left me breathless. Like she did.
I walked out of my apartment one day just as Gilda was passing, so I ended up closer behind her than usual. She was alone – as was I. Of course, I was always alone. On the top step of the stairway, a book slipped from my fingers. While performing a juggling act to keep from dropping the thing, I accidentally jerked the ear plugs out of the Walkman. Immediately, the plaintive notes of that beautiful song rang pure and clear in the stairway.
Gilda halted in her tracks. Then she turned around and looked at me. She wrinkled a pert nose finely sprinkled with freckles. My heart dropped into my sneakers … both of them, so it must have broken in half.
“Oh, that’s my favorite song,” she said. Her voice was soft and silky and exciting.
“M-m-me, too. Favorite.” Had I developed a stammer?
“It’s a beautiful song, but I prefer the Bee Gees rendition.”
“M-me, too.” Dumb ass! Say something besides “me, too.” I drew a shuddering breath and delivered. “Like the way they open with strings … I do.” My God! Now I was Yoda.
She laughed, a sound like a sterling silver bell struck with a tuning fork encrusted with diamonds and rubies and pearls. “Exactly. Violins are more romantic than drums and brass.”
Was she mocking me? I guess not because she went on.
“They’re mellower, more intimate. At least that’s the way I feel. You’re Louis from 23B, aren’t you? I’ve seen you around.” Her eyes were so green they were spots of colored light suspended in the air before me. She smelled like lilacs, which instantly became my favorite flower. Provided I could remember what they looked like, that is.
She seemed to be waiting, so I lunged down the steps and walked out the front door with her.
She continued talking like this was any common, ordinary day. “I have the Bee Gees’ recording of the song. Would you like to come over tonight and listen to it together?”
My knees failed, nearly dumping me on my face. But I recovered and cleared my throat.
“That would be way cool.”

As always, thanks for reading. A little different from last week’s quirky post, wasn’t it?

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

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