Thursday, December 29, 2016


I seem to be favoring short fiction nowadays, so will continue the trend. Hope you get some pleasure out of my Christmas gift to you.
Courtesy of
The sound of a laboring engine drew Mitch Hills to the front porch of his log cabin. You could hear a motor a mile off in this high New Mexico mountain valley. Unusual to catch one on a Christmas morning at the tail end of the fiercest snowstorm they’d had in the last ten winters. Wasn’t anybody up in this country this time of year. Most of the six cabins spread out over twenty square miles were owned by summer folk. Lived down in Albuquerque or Santa Fe or Las Cruces most of the year. He and Hank Gillis were the only ones to winter over. Mitch’d get the snowmobile from the outbuilding before the new year rolled around and go have a drink with the old son of a bitch. They always visited at least a couple of times before the weather broke and the pantywaists came drifting back in.
Truth be known, he liked it that way. Didn’t miss having folks to talk to. Except for today. He missed company at Christmas time. Didn’t know why this day was different, but it was. All his people were gone now. His wife Chrissy lost to cancer nearly eight years back. His boy, William, went over to the Gulf War and came back in a box. Rested over in Santa Fe at the National Cemetery now. Brother gone. Sisters both dead. A couple of nephews and nieces he’d never met and didn’t care to. Neighbors were all there was, and now they’d headed for lower ground.
The vehicle was close now, working its way through an unplowed, snow-clogged road on the high side of a copse of pine and spruce sheltering the rear of his cabin. The front opened out onto a meadow broken by a year-round creek that would rise until it almost reached his front porch when the spring runoff came. The driver of that car wouldn’t even see his rooftop as he passed. Of course, unless he was snow-blind, he’d catch sight of the fireplace smoke.
The engine quit pulling so hard as the car slowed on the approach to Mitch’s turnoff. Sure enough, he heard the squish of tires as they turned right and angled down the hill on virgin snow. Hands in his parka’s pockets, Mitch drew in the crisp, clear mountain air as he watched a Jeep Wagoneer make its slow way down the road and turn into his place. It came to a stop near the foot of his steps and disgorged a young man. After the car door banged shut, the world was totally silent for a moment as Mitch regarded the stranger. Oh well, it was somebody to talk to, wasn’t it?
“Come on in and have a cup of coffee,” he called.
“That would be welcome,” the man answered in lightly accented tones as he approached with hand outstretched.
Mitch noted the firm grip and a touch of foreign features on a handsome countenance. Dark hair, burnt chocolate eyes, a brownish cast to the skin that didn’t come from a sun tan. Good, strong teeth in a broad smile. Probably somewhere around twenty-three… -four.
“Thank you for your hospitality,” the stranger said. “Something warm would be appreciated.”
“Coffee’s as hot as you can stand it. Go on inside.” Mitch held the screen door open. “My name’s Mitch Hills.”
“I am Will Salah. At least, my mum and most of my friends call me Will.”
Mitch poured two mugs and indicated cream and sugar on the table. The stranger waved them away. Good. This Will fellow took his coffee like a man. Mitch led the way to two easy chairs in the sitting area of the open space that served as kitchen, dining, and front room. Because of the overcast, the light from the big window was muted, but it was comfortable without the need for a lamp. Flames dancing in the fireplace turned the room rosy.
Mitch was hit by the thought it was almost like having William… his William sitting opposite him. A shudder of sadness wracked him momentarily. He shook it off with a sip of the hot, bitter coffee. “What you doing up in the mountains in the middle of a snowstorm?”
“It seems to have quit now,” came the answer.
“It was still going when you set out, I’ll bet.
“Shortcutting between Cuba and Los Alamos.” It almost sounded like a question, not an answer.
“Not in this weather, you won’t. Few miles down the road you drop into Wild Onion Canyon, and the road down that grade’s hair-raising when it’s dry and dusty. You try it in this weather, and you’ll take the short way down.”
“I think that’s what Mr. Gillis was trying to tell me when I stopped at his place. He told me you could give me a better reading of the situation.”
“Well, that’s my reading. Turn around and go back to Cuba.”
“Thank you. That sounds like good advice.”
His heart skittering at the thought he might chase off the opportunity for some decent conversation, Mitch added. “Can probably scare up a meal to reinforce that coffee before you take off.”
“Kind of you, sir. I haven’t eaten since this morning, so a meal would be welcome.”
“Have some good venison stew on the stove. Let me heat it up. Warmed over cornbread and a hunk of sweet onion will probably make it passable.”
Once that was underway, a rich, inviting aroma flooded the room. Mitch sat back down. “There’s some Salahs that own a ranch up north. You from that bunch?”
“No, sir,” the young man said, his head held at a familiar tilt.
The eye doctor used to say a little bit of astigmatism caused his son to hold his head that way. Mich swallowed hard to drive away gathering ghosts. That could be William sitting over there in the gloom. Same six-foot frame. Weight about the same. One sixty… one seventy.
“Where you from?”
“Originally from Kuwait. I have been at university in Chicago for the past two years.”
Flutters hit Mitch’s stomach. “K-Kuwait? That’s where my son died. He was named William, too. He….” Mitch paused to take in a breath. “He was over in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Killed in a scud attack on February 25, 1991.”
“Yes, in the attack on the 14th Quartermaster Detachment’s barracks at Dhahran in Saudi Arabia.”
Mitch gasped. “How did you know?”
“My mother Mariam was living there at the time. My family had been exiled from Kuwait by the Iraqi invasion.”
“M-Miriam? My son wrote me about a woman by that name. A young woman from Kuwait City.”
“I am not here by accident, Mr. Hills.” The young man set his coffee mug on a table beside him in such a familiar gesture that Mitch’s heart stuttered. “I am that same Miriam’s son.”
Mitch closed his eyes and managed to speak despite the hope clogging his throat. “And your father?”
“My father was your son. Your William. I am your grandson.”
Mitch lifted his lids and drank in the evidence his eyes provided. His son sat there. Except it was the seed of his son. Almost afraid to speak lest he somehow fracture this precious Christmas gift, he simply whispered.
“Welcome home, son.”


It’s hard to imagine that happening, but I suspect it occurs more often than we realize. I can just see Will arriving in Albuquerque with nothing but a name and address and finding that his grandfather no longer lives at that address. A neighbor who knew the old man starts him on a journey to unfamiliar mountains in the middle of a snowstorm. The only other man who remains in his cabin over the winter steers the young man in the right direction, and Will at long last faces his blood kin.

In a personal note, let me say my younger son served in Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and Desert Farewell. He came back a changed man. He helped dig out the 40 or so fellow soldiers killed and 100 injured in that scud attack on the barracks in Dhahran.

Please feel free to contact me at As usual, thanks for being readers.

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

Thursday, December 22, 2016


Despite knowing that “perfect” is an absolute and not subject to degrees, I couldn’t resist the title. So forgive me. Hope you enjoy the little fable I concocted.
What time was it!
I sat up and glanced at the clock on Luann’s bedside table. One fifty-five in the morning. Good Lord! I’d fallen asleep after she wore me out around midnight. What the hell would I tell my wife?
While scrambling around in the dark trying to separate my duds from Luann’s, I fabricated my yarn. I’d been at a bar. The Stoop. With two of my associates. Bart. Yeah, Bart was a barfly. And Christopher was a hanger-on.
I rushed into the kitchenette for a swig of bourbon to put alcohol on my breath before racing to my Lexus parked on a nearby street. My tires burned rubber on the way home, as I delicately balanced the need for speed with the need to avoid getting a ticket.
On the approach to the broad drive of my North Valley home, the perfect symmetry of the brick and stone edifice struck me anew. A perfect home. A perfect job. A perfect wife. A perfect life. Except something was off about it.
My accounting firm brought in someone from the outside to take over management when my boss retired rather than give the position to me. This perfect home suffered from aging plumbing and a structural fracture in two of the trusses supporting a heavy clay tile roof.
Helen, the beautiful, educated, cultured woman I married, was very good in dealing with people. A perfect mate for my profession. But all that beauty hid sharp talons capable of ripping the psyche as well as the flesh.
I entered the house through the garage to find Helen in a recliner reader absorbed in a New Mexico family saga novel called The Eagle’s Claw by local author Donald T. Morgan.
“Good book?” I asked, catching a whiff of the rosewater she usually wore.
“It holds my interest." She arched an eyebrow. "Aren’t we getting home a little late? Without even a telephone call.”
“Met some of the guys at The Stoop.” I spun my tale of lies, submitted to the inevitable questions, and considered myself lucky. Until I turned to walk away.
“What’s that caught in your belt?” Her voice hardened a little more with each deliberate word.
A chill ran down my back. With no idea what she was talking about, I stood glued to the carpet until she bounded out of the chair and snatched something that came free with a tug of my shorts. A pair of Luann’s pink, delicately laced panties. Oh, Lord! So much for carefully separating my clothing from hers.

Needless to say, my life was not so perfect any longer. Banished from the house, I now lived in a motel room. News of my marital problems spread after Helen’s divorce attorney interviewed Bart and Christopher about our non-existent night on the town. My problems affected my work. I’d be immersed in a client’s tax problem and find myself distracted by what had been my perfect life… before Pantygate.
After my new boss gave me a veiled warning about shaping up or shipping out, I woke to the fact that I might end up with nothing of that life left. Any divorce court in the land would award Helen the house and half my assets—there went the perfect house and the perfect wife. With my job in jeopardy, the rest of it could vanish, as well.
Frightened, I undertook a search for salvation—financial, not spiritual. Although I could probably use some of that, as well. I didn’t realize how desperate I was until I remembered Nick Shazinski.
We’d gone to school together back in the day but didn’t pal around. From the wrong side of town, Nick ran with a rough crowd. The local cops knew him well... even before we graduated. But we’d always gotten along in an arm’s-length sort of way.
I’d lost touch with him, but we reconnected one day in the office of a client named J. Butterfield Thomas, known to be the local mob’s preeminent attorney. My old friend did some of the lawyer's investigative work. Nick and I went to lunch a couple of times, and I even had him over to the house, mostly to see how my socially conscious wife would react. But Nick cleaned up well, and Helen seemed drawn to his rough side
I’d heard enough stories to suspect Nick might be the solution to my problem. So I put in a call to my old buddy to let him know I had a problem.
“I heard. You wanna talk it over?”
“Yes, but in private,” I said.
“My place or Butter’s office?”
“Somewhere we won’t be noticed. By anyone.”
“Oh ho. I get your drift. It’s that serious, huh?”
Uncomfortable over saying too much over the phone, I simply agreed.

An hour later, I nosed my Lexus into a big deserted warehouse on Commercial SE. Nick had chosen well. It didn’t appear anyone visited the premises often. As I got out of the car, Nick walked out of what had been the office when this was a functioning business.
“Thanks for meeting me.” I licked my lips and tasted fear. Could I go through with this?
“Problems, huh?”
“Big time. Ones that call for desperate measures.” I moved away to avoid looking at him as I spoke the fateful words. “I want to hire you. I brought $5,000 as a down payment.”
“Sorry, pal. But I already got a job. But thanks for the five grand bonus.”
My back prickling, my heart somewhere below my belly, I turned to find him screwing something long and chilling onto the end of a wicked-looking handgun.


No-name wasn’t a very good individual, was he? Of course, Helen was likely cut from the same cloth. Hope you got a kick out of this one. Feel free to contact me at As usual, thanks for being readers.

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

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Irving, Zelda, and Horace

I failed to make a fool of myself this week (at least that I’m aware of), so it’s time to go back to using the imagination a little. The result is some flash fiction.
Irving liked Zelda. Zelda liked Horace Hastings Miffin. Horace Hastings Miffin liked Horace Hastings Miffin.
At least that’s the way things seemed to me when I met the trio of UNM underclassmen at The Bongo. The Friday night crowd, mostly kids from the U, carpeted the place wall-to-wall. Brew in hand, I plowed through the hubbub, punctuated occasionally by laughter and a strident voice, in search of a seat. The only unoccupied chair I spotted was the extra one at their table. After asking permission, I sat down. My fingers on the cool, glossy Formica tabletop contrasted pleasantly with the warm humidity of the tavern.
The lay of the land became clear during introductions when everyone stuck to first names except for Horace who gave all three of his. When people do that, I wrack my brain trying to figure out if they’re someone I ought to remember or if they’re just striving too hard to be memorable. Within three sips of my beer, I knew Irving was Zelda-struck, Zelda was Horace-struck, and Horace was struck by all three of his appellations.
They were a squirrely bunch—squirrely-looking and acting. But somehow they fascinated me. Irv wore ragged dungarees—not the kind with expensive, deliberately placed holes—while Zelda wore a peasant blouse and skirt, probably from Gap rather than Wal Mart. Horace Hastings Miffin was all buttoned up.
Unwilling to put up with all that malarkey, I told him to his face he was gonna be HHM to me. I got the feeling he kind of liked that. Put him up there with MM and JFK and luminaries of that ilk. Little did he know that in my mind he was already relegated to a hhm… you know, a hum.
While I was sipping and absorbing the atmosphere, Irv asked Zelda to dance. She shook her head and claimed Hum had already asked her. From the look on his face, that was patently untrue, but he manfully rose to his feet and assumed a robot-like stance while she fitted herself into his outstretched arms. Then they were off like two wind-up toys. Old Irv’s eyes followed their every step.
“Where you from?” I asked through the lingering residue of Zelda’s perfume. Or maybe it was Hum’s cologne.
Huh? What? Umm…Clayton.”
I savored the flavor of yeast and hops and alcohol on my tongue with another draw on my brew before prying facts from him while he watched Zelda. “What year you in?”
“Huh? Uh, sophomore.”
“What? Oh, liberal arts.”
I mentally rolled my eyes. “Zelda your girlfriend?”
“Huh?” Then he snapped to my question. “Oh, no… well.”
“But you’d like it that way, right?”
His ears lit up our semi dark corner of the club. I expected him to say “aw shucks,” but he fooled me. “Wouldn’t mind. But she’s pretty independent.”
“Independently stuck on old Horace, I’d say.”
“Naw, that’s just…. Well, maybe.”
“You gotta be more aggressive, guy. You want her, go after her. Cut in on the two of them. Right now would be a good time.”
“I couldn’t do that.” He paused for a long moment to scratch the tip of his nose. “You think I could?”
“I could, if I wanted to. Which I don’t. So can you.”
“I can, can’t I?”
“First, you have to stand up. Then charge.”
By the time he managed to get to his feet, the song was half over. “Robin’s Egg Blue” by Kenny Keeback and the Four Kennies. Too much alliteration for me. He made his uncertain way to the couple but hesitated before making his presence known by tapping her on the shoulder. Her not him. Fortunately, no one took that as a sign he wanted to dance with Hum. The couple parted—he rather eagerly, she less so. As Irv awkwardly shuffled across the floor with a pouting Zelda in his clutches, Hum made his way back to the table.
He sat and fixed me with a stare as a wide grin split his fleshy lips.  “Thank God, Robert.” He winked. “Now we can have some time together… alone. It is Robert, isn’t it?”
“Bob,” I corrected automatically as an old Jimmy Durante expression my father used to quote flashed through my head.
What a revoltin’ development this is!

Hope you got a giggle or two out of this story… or perhaps a memory or two. Feel free to contact me at Oh yes…thanks for being readers.

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

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Dash D™ Rapid Egg Cooker

Another week of personal failure and humiliation, so I might as well get it off my chest. So hear now, my tale of woe.
A friend of mine who knows I don’t have a stove in my apartment was interested in seeing that I didn’t die of starvation, so she gave me a small, compact device called the Dash D™ Rapid Egg Cooker. The handy little device makes soft-boiled eggs, hard-boiled eggs, poached eggs, and omelets. My favorite is fried-over-easy, but Dash D™ hasn’t learned how to do that yet.
B—that’s my friend—also knows that I recently changed my middle name to Doofus (and why I did so), prompting her to give a demonstration after delivering the gadget. I watched carefully as she stirred the ingredients, reassembled all the moving parts, added water where it was needed, closed the bubble top, and turned on the cooker.
We sat in my living room (which also happens to be my dining room) while we waited for the little thing to perform its chore. Well, the buzzer (actually, a high-pitched, shrill screech) went off signaling the omelet was done. Except it wasn’t. She’d added a little too much milk which required more cooking to reach the required consistency. We also discovered that too much condensation on the bubble top causes the cooker to alarm, as well.
The result was a very good egg, bacon, cheese, and onion omelet. The first I’d had in many a year, I can tell ya. And the service was almost like in a restaurant… except she left the mess for me to clean up. Knowing me as well as she does, the last thing she did before leaving was to shove the instruction manual into my hand.

Saturday morning, I decided I wanted an omelet with ham instead of bacon. The first thing I learned was that I should probably do the mixing in a bowl rather than in the little round plastic container called an Omelette Bowl (fancy, huh?) that comes with the cooker. At that point, I considered consulting the instruction manual to see if it had any more useful tips, but I was on a tight schedule that morning, so I didn’t bother.
Once the ingredients were properly scrambled and poured into the Omelette Bowl (without too much of it being spilled) I put it on the stainless steel plate of the cooker. Next, I filled the water measuring device to the level labeled "Omelets," but couldn’t find any place for it, so I dumped it in the bowl with the ingredients. Well, that filled the container to the very top, making it difficult to put it back in the cooker without spilling more of the contents. Next, I took the little flat, round, perforated plastic device—that served no purpose so far as I could tell—and put it on top of the bowl. Then I turned my new Dash D™ on.
I hadn’t even gotten to my chair in the living room before the thing started shrieking. I turned it off, checked everything, and decided to clean off the dome even though there hadn’t been time for any condensation to form on it. No luck. Hit the on button, shrieked, turned it off, unplugged, turned it on…shrieked.
Time to get the instruction manual out. Seems I’d done a few things wrong. Like ignoring the warning to never set the Omelette Bowl directly on the burner. Okay, that’s easy enough to fix.
At least I thought so. But the bowl wouldn’t budge. Wouldn’t move in any direction. Ever inventive, I got a butter knife and tried to pry the partially melted plastic bowl off the burner. Had to go all the way around it, levering it a bit each time to finally free the blessed thing… without spilling any more of the ingredients, I’m proud to say. According to instructions, I used the Poaching Tray (that round, brown thingy) to keep the bowl off the hot burner. That solved another problem. The water from the measuring cup went into the receptacle containing the heating plate. That done, I turned the cooker on, and it did just that… cooked. I had to add more water couple of times because the ingredients were so goopy with all that extra water in the wrong place, but when I finally declared it done, I enjoyed a very good meal.
While my heating plate is somewhat discolored from coming into direct contact with a brown plastic bowl and my brown plastic bowl is rather rough from having its bottom halfway melted from said contact, that magic little cooker is right on my counter, clean and ready to have another go at it.
You know, just talking about this made me hungry. I’m going to take out my Dash D™ Rapid Egg Cooker and fix me an omelet (or is that omelette?) for dinner.

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

Thursday, December 1, 2016

My Name is Doofus

Courtesy of Pixabay
I’m not certain why I have this compulsion to prove how incompetent I am, but there it is. Upon receipt of my new CPAP machine from the VA Medical Center, I set about proving my ineptness once again… as if it needed reinforcement.
A couple of Tuesdays ago, I kept an appointment at the VA to pick up a machine designed to force me to keep my airways open while I slept. I arrived confident that I really did not need the device called a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). I had used one eons ago but no longer required it after losing 102 pounds in one year. Sure, I’ve gained half of it back, but 50 pounds isn’t the same as 102.
At any rate, when I arrived at the hospital and read the report of my sleep test, I learned the doctors claimed I not only had the kind of apnea where my throat collapses while I sleep, which denies me life-giving oxygen, I also had the type where my brain ceases to demand oxygen, so I don’t breathe. That’s the kind that kills you.
Now convinced, I listened carefully while the technician, a great lady named Pat—not to be confused with Patty who works in the same department—gave detailed instruction on the use of the machine to me and one other vic—uh, patient.
Firmly committed to making the thing work, I returned home and dutifully set up the device on a bedside table. And it does require some setting up: Enough—but not too much—water in the reservoir that provides the proper amount of humidity; plugging in the cord from the back of the machine to the special cord that goes into the electrical outlet; selecting the proper controls; getting the head harness sufficiently tight but not overly tight. And, of course, reading the operator's manual. But I can dispense with this latter detail because Pat gave such great instructions. And I’m a quick study.
Tuesday night, I went to bed at 12:30 a.m. (I’m a night person), strapped on the odious mask, hit the “On” button, and retired… to the most miserable night I can recall in years.  I felt as if I were suffocating (a condition that I suffered with that long ago CPAP even though it was blowing out my ears with the force of its air flow). This one was supposed to be different. The clever little thing simply gave you a slight breeze up the nose until it sensed you were asleep. Then it delivered the gale force that flaps your lips like a dog hanging out of a car window at fifty miles an hour, which apparently is a requirement to keep you breathing when your brain says, “Who gives a crap?”
I quickly noticed a pattern. Three or four deep, struggling breaths, settling into regular breathing, followed soon thereafter by labored breathing again. I checked the two little vent holes on the mask to convince myself the devilish device was doing its part—giving me a gentle flow of air—and each time felt a slight air flow as I inhaled and exhaled. At 5:30 a.m., I decided that five hours on the CPAP was enough to give them a record, got up, went to my chair for the first fitful sleep of the night.
I did not get much productive work done the next day. Didn’t even touch the new novel I’m working on. Mostly, I merely blundered around in a fog. Nonetheless, I resolved to keep my compact with the sleep clinic by wearing the odious mask at least four hours a night for two weeks straight. That’s so the little spy card inside the machine’s guts can report via Wi-Fi to the hospital when I’m sleeping, when I’m awake, how many incidents I have (no, not that kind), and probably when I mutter curses at being so uncomfortable.
As I prepared to go to bed Wednesday night (again at 12:30), I checked  the machine and made a discovery. The cord from the electrical outlet had come loose from its intended mate from the back of the CPAP. I’d gotten no air whatsoever from the machine the entire prior night! I wasn’t imagining I was suffocating, I was suffocating. All the air I got was from the two tiny vent holes in the mask. I shudder to think what that does to a brain that’s not terribly interested in oxygen in the first place.
After sitting on the side of the bed and laughing until tears came, I made sure it was plugged in properly (the little “On” light glowed briefly before shutting itself off—the machine doesn’t want lights to disturb your sleep), strapped on the mask, and felt a real (not illusionary) stream of air. Folks, I promptly went to sleep and woke up at 9:45 a.m. I haven’t slept nine hours without interruption since… oh, probably about 1950.
This experience reconfirmed that my level of mechanical and electronic proficiency hovers somewhere down near the dodo level. So I am officially changing my middle name to Doofus (look it up in the dictionary).


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

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