Saturday, November 29, 2008

Welcoming the Christmas Season

We put about fifty or sixty miles on the car today getting a Christmas Tree. We can't afford it, but what the hell? If the bottom's falling out anyway, then at least we'll have a nice tree. Anyway, the weekend following Thanksgiving is our traditional time to put up a tree.

We got a white pine. I like white pine because the needles are soft. Growing up, we always had norway pine. Those were free. We would visit relatives near Grand Rapids and hike out into the woods to find the perfect tree. Cousin Alfred would bring along a saw and my dad would let my sisters and me choose the tree we wanted. Since the trees were wild the one we chose had to stand at least ten feet taller than my dad, who was 6' 2". Alfred would then cut the tree off high, leaving a still living tree to continue growing in the forest.

Both Alfred and my dad are gone. Gone for some time now. So we didn't venture into the north woods of Minnesota to get our tree. Instead, we went to Jan's Treefarm, north of Big Lake. We stopped and got the map and instructions, and the warning that "if you cut it, you bought it, so be sure it's the one you want before sawing". The white pines were on the absolute far side. I guess they're not popular. Most people seemed to be taking spruce and fir.

I parked the car and got out to find a most beautiful tree only ten feet or so away. But my son was concerned it was too tall. So we walked another twenty or thirty feet and found an equally magnificent tree, but a couple of feet shorter. We cut it down and he dragged it to the shaking station. I said we could put it on top of the car, but I think it made him feel "outdoorsy" to drag it. The young man who pulled it through the wrapper was nice enough to tie it onto the car.

Fifty dollars, plus tax. I know there are many who would criticize me for buying a fifty dollar tree when the money just isn't there, but - I don't give a damn. We're in our seventh year of crap, and I'm tired of it. The bottom is coming up fast, and there doesn't appear to be anyway to stop it this time. We've run out of options. Pity. But we're going to enjoy this Christmas. The presents will be cheap, but we'll have some. Maybe like last year.

I don't particularly like admitting it, but last year we got most of our Christmas presents from the food shelf. Someone we will never meet volunteered to sponser us for Christmas - without telling us. The presents just showed up. I didn't want to cry, but I did. It touches me now to remember. We thanked Jesus. We couldn't thank the Givers, so we just asked God to bless them. There was a time when I gave to Santa Anonymous, and Toys for Tots, and the Salvation Army. Like the food shelf. Once a blessing to others, now a burden. It wasn't how I felt when I used to give, but I can't help feeling that way now that I'm on the other end.

Our tree is up now. There is a cheap bed sheet on the floor with a tree skirt on top beneath it. My son crawled on the floor to plug in the cords and I wrapped the tree with electric lights. He has finished hanging ornaments and now the tree stands in a corner all lit up. There is something beautiful about a Christmas Tree. It seems to cry out that there is still good in the world. I like looking at it. I like pretty lights and a quiet snowfall.

I have a brother-in-law who doesn't much care for Christmas Trees. He allows his children to have one, but he says when they grow up and leave home he will stop putting them up. Maybe. I don't think he's thinking ahead to grandchildren. Anyway, he bases his opinon on the book of Jeremiah. (Hear the word which the LORD speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord: "Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are false. A tree from the forest is cut down, and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. Men deck it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move. Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Be not afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good." Jeremiah 10:1-5 RSV)

He may be right in his thinking, but I doubt it. For one thing, I do not put up a tree to honor God. I put it up because it is pretty, and it makes me feel good to look at it. When things are going bad, I really want to feel good. This tree I am looking at now reminds me that I was once as young as my son. It reminds me of the house which leaked air like a tea kettle. We were poor, but we always had Christmas. I want my son to remember that he also had Christmas.

The holiday is to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I don't think he minds that we enjoy it for ourselves, too. As long as he's invited.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Recollections of My Dearest Friend

I was going through some of my old writing again this afternoon and I came across a tribute booklet I began writing for my good friend, Steven. There are 27 chapter titles, but only 12 have been written. They vary in length, but I believe they are all under 2,000 words.

In the introduction I remark how difficult it is to capture the essence of someone who is gone. But I had to try. He is the best friend I have ever had. Ever will have, I expect. God, I miss him. Damn it. I'm tearing up. Get on with the tale, Ducky. The blue is an edited excerpt from the Introduction. The green are song lyrics. The gold is one of the chapter tributes.

We met in 1970, at the start of 9th grade. It wasn't my idea to become friends. That was his idea. He always had great ideas. Some were screwier than others, but they were all great. Our friendship was both platonic and deep. We became important to each other. This was revealed in the way each could always count on the other to say the truth. Steve could say things to me I would not accept from anyone else. I could always see past the words. He reciprocated this honor to me.

In all the years we knew each other, we suffered four separations: once after graduation. My family had moved away. My father was dying of cancer and we could no longer keep our house. Steve found me. He began calling everyone who had the same last name as me until he found a relative of mine who told him where I was. Why didn't I call him? I was afraid. Despite our closeness, I feared the separation only proved to him that he didn't need me after all.

We were separated again only a couple of years later. We had had a fight. A silly thing, really. Most fights are. But in his anger, Steve had said things to me which made me believe our friendship was truly over. I went to the college he was attending to find him, but I had no luck. Then, when I got home, Steve called.

Our third separation lasted fifteen years. My life changed dramatically during those years. I had become marginally successful. I had a house, and I had a son. Again, it was Steve who found me. By this time he was married and had a daughter. We got together to relive old times and catch up on new. Shades of Mary Hopkins, "Those Were the Days".

Through the door there came familiar laughter
I saw your face and heard you call my name
Oh my friend we're older but no wiser
For in our hearts the dreams are still the same

Our reunion lasted only three short years. Then an accident (in a hospital, of all places) took him away. Now I have to wait until he comes for me again. I don't know when that will be.

Here is one of the chapters, slightly edited. It's not the first one I wrote, but they don't really have to be read in any particular order.

The “Johnson Stall”

Steve loved basketball. I think it was his favorite sport. He was good at pool, too. He liked most sports, and was reasonably athletic. He was small and fast. I suppose one doesn’t normally associate small with basketball, but one of the starting guards on our high school varsity team was only 5’ 4”. Compared to him, Steve was a giant.

I suppose it was Steve’s love of basketball that made his not making the starting squad all the more pitiful. Even twenty years later he ached over the politics which forced him to sit and watch while less able players took the court. But apart from the fact that the starting players were all part of the same clique, I think there was another reason why Steve warmed the bench: the Johnson Stall.

The “Johnson Stall” was an infamous strategy, invented by Steve during his Freshman year at high school. Unlike the equally infamous “Lay Down Strategy”, which Steve implemented during sandlot play, the “Johnson Stall” was implemented during a real game, for a real school, against a real opponent, in front of real spectators when it really counted. Like all mistakes made by members outside our school’s High Society, this one was never forgotten – or forgiven.

For myself, I didn’t see the problem. True, it went contrary to established protocol, but from my point of view it worked, so I fail to understand the hysteria. Let me explain.

In the years preceding Steve’s arrival, and even for a good many after his graduation, our school produced one losing team after another. It was a small farming community, and the only thing the school ever won at was wrestling. Big, strong farm boys can be tough. Well, Steve wasn’t a big, strong farm boy. He came from the suburbs outside Minneapolis. Anyway, any victory our school got in any sport outside wrestling was considered a major accomplishment.

Well, our Freshman team, including Steve, had finally come up against a team even more inept than themselves. Between our over-short guards hogging the ball and trying to drive the lane against an entire team who knew they couldn’t pass urine, much less the ball, and supporting players who actually managed to get the ball sometimes and score, we had taken an eight point lead with just under two minutes to play. To the coach, it didn’t look like we could lose. That meant it was time to put in “the scrubs”, later known as the “Bomber Squad”. That meant Steve.

The coach was all excited because a win would put us close to .500 for the season. Not bad, for our school. I am sure he had dreams of things finally turning around. I doubt it entered his head that the only reason we were winning was because the other team was so incompetent.

The “scrubs” were excited, too. Scrubs never got to play until a game was so out of hand the outcome was certain. That usually mean we were behind by at least ten or twenty points. This time they would be playing with an eight point lead. It was the chance they had been waiting for. They were all thrilled – until the coach announced the strategy: “Stall!”

Now back in the 1970s our school implemented the stall by having the forwards and guards positioned themselves in a large square with the center in the middle. (Like the five dots on a die.) This would have the effect of “spreading out” the defense and causing them to run about and get tired while the offense just passed the ball here and there, wasting time and thus winning the game because the other team never got the ball. There was no 24-second clock in the 1970s. Neither were there 3-point baskets. Implemented correctly, a stall could demoralize an opponent. (I heard that Bill Musselman’s Minnesota Gophers once stalled for more than eight minutes.)

Well, we had the ball. Zinns passed to Steve, who passed back to Zinns. This went on for a few seconds and then, suddenly, Steve drove the lane and scored. There were some cheers, but someone was yelling. The other team scored on a fast break. No one had expected Steve to do what he did, and so no one got back on defense.

Steve and Zinns went back and brought the ball up court again under a full court press. The press failed to stop them. Once they crossed mid-court Steve saw their defense was out of position. So, he drove the lane again and got another easy lay-up. More cheers. Louder screaming. This time there was no doubt about it. It was Coach Jacobson yelling at Steve.

Another fast break for the other team resulted in another score for the other side. Steve and Zinns went back for the ball. They beat the press again, and again Steve saw an undefended basket. He drove the lane and got a third easy layup. And all of this happened within twenty or thirty seconds. More cheers. Hysterical screaming. Another fast break for the other team.

I looked to the bench and saw the starting guards head to the scorer’s table. My heart sank. I looked at Steve, hurrying back with Zinns to get the ball after another fast break kept the margin at eight. He didn’t know he was about to be taken out of the game.

It was Steve’s last hurrah as a Freshman basketball player. Coach Jacobson never got over the “Johnson Stall”, as it came to be known, and designated Steve permanently to the “scrubs”. Steve never really understood why he was taken out of the game. For that matter, neither do I. What he did was no worse than the starting guards refusing to include the forwards and center in the passing game.

As it turned out, hard as it was on Steve’s self-esteem, I think it actually worked out well for him in the end. The coach eventually chose two or three scrubs to keep on hand to rest his starters. The rest were sent off to play the other school’s scrub players in another gymnasium. No referees. No coaches. Just basketball. They called themselves the “Bomber Squad”. Steve was in his element. Since he was actually good enough to be a starting guard for the primary team, he outclassed all other players in those bomber games. That is not to say he never mucked up, or missed a shot or allowed his player to score. But he was free to do as he wished. And since he was no ball hog, the other “Bombers” benefited from his presence because he would draw so much attention to himself that he could pass off and let someone else score. It was street basketball, and that was what Steve excelled at. The “First Liners” piled up a 3-11 won/lost record The “Bombers” had a winning season. They may have won five of eight. I don’t recall for certain. Steve usually scored in double digits.

So, in the bomber world, the “Johnson Stall” was implemented over and over again with great success. I still think Steve had the right idea. Isn’t that the whole idea behind the game of basketball – scoring? Isn’t that what the stall is about? The team in the lead forces the other team’s defense to spread out and eventually leave the basket unguarded. Once done, the offense scores. That is what Steve did. You can’t lose if you score. But I would gladly have given up the win to have Steve on the court. He was fun to watch if nothing else. And that is what the game is all about. Fun. Steve knew that instinctively.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Early in the Morning

According to the three clocks which are visible from where I now sit it is about ten minutes past four in the morning. I have been up since shortly after midnight.

It is now 4:35 a.m. and I have just deleted everything I wrote after the second sentence. I don't know that I want to say that after all. Not now. Not yet.

Suffice to say, I am not feeling joyful. Yes, it is Thanksgiving, at least, in the United States. It is a time to be thankful, and I do have a lot to be thankful for. But I was counting on being alone today, and now that is not going to happen. My relatives are the most wonderful people I know, but I wanted to be alone. I have missed most family functions over the past few years, and no one has minded. But my son wants to go, and the relatives all love having him visit, so we're going. The only time I have attended any functions these past years has been when he wants to go. If it doesn't matter to him, we stay home. It's not so lonely then.

Change of Subject

I have been reading the Evil Editor blog, going back in its history. Many of the blog's comments make me laugh out loud, but there was one I found amusing which sticks in my head. I didn't laugh. It wasn't funny. Just amusing.

Somehow, one of the Minions was prompted into revealing the size of his hands, including fingers. He boasted (he didn't brag) about how large they were. The reason I found his boast of large amusing is because his hands aren't that much larger than the smallest person in my family. My hands are certainly larger.

When they were all living, my family consisted of nine members: mother, father (now deceased), three sons and four daughters (one now deceased). I did some calculating and discovered our family's average height was 6' 1". The average height of the men: 6' 3", with the tallest standing 6' 6". The average height of the women: just under 6' 0", with the tallest standing 6' 4". All of the men, and two of the women have larger hands than the Minion who sees himself as large. But it's a matter of perspective. I've heard of families for which the shortest height is 6' 6". In comparisson, that makes my family seem like a bunch of shorties.

Shift Back

It's after five now. I'm still feeling sorry for myself (the diversion didn't work). It would be pitiful, if it wasn't so disgusting. Only I just can't help wondering when things are going to really change for the better. Since the bottom fell out of my life I have seen no lasting success. I try, and I fail. I try again, and again I fail. Nothing works. I've tapped out my strengths and I'm fast losing the energy to try again. People don't like to hear that. People want to hear about overcoming despair, not wallowing in it. Well, when I've finally put it behind me, I'll let the world know - perhaps. In the meantime, I guess I would rather show good manners - and spare others the annoyance of being around me while I helplessly struggle to survive - by staying home. But I've failed to even achieve that.

All bitterness and self-loathing aside, I hope this Thanksgiving Day is a happy one for you - even if you don't call it Thanksgiving Day. It's still a day, and every day offers new hope. I expect mine will be better than I've intimated.

Have a good day.

(It's 5:35 a.m. now)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Gamesman

I have been rumaging through some of my old stuff and came across my Case Histories of Detective LaManch. It was an 8,000-word satiracal approach to crime stories I wrote back some time in the 1980s. The names are all based on goats and milking goats, to amuse my sister-in-law, who raises goats for that purpose. The idea was that I would write an entire series of short stories for Detective LaManch, but I ran out of juice after one entry and put it away. So, here is the sole entry, edited just the once, in its entirety.


The Gamesman



He clutched the gun and collected his breath. Two traps had been beaten, but eight remained. Eight ways to die. A cackling laugh brought him up short.

"Frightened?" the voice mocked. " I'm disappointed, Mr. Brookshaw. Surely you can handle a little pressure?"

He threw his back against the wall. "You're mad!" he cried.

"Am I indeed, Mr. Brookshaw? That isn't going to help you through the maze."

"I'm done with this!" he screamed. "Do you hear? I won't play your silly game any longer. I'm going to wait until help comes."

"Help?" the voice was angry. "There will be no help, Mr. Brookshaw. That’s against the rules. The game has rules, Mr. Brookshaw. Rule number one: You can't quit once you've started. If you won't search for my devices, then my devices will search for you."

He heard noises, like doors opening and closing and wheels carrying a load. Panicked, he ran. The noises were getting closer. Finally, he could stand it no more. Collapsing in a corner, he tried to shield his ears.

"You're mad! You're mad!"

He began running. Rounding a corner, he heard the voice for the last time.

"Now the game is over, Mr. Brookshaw. You lose."

Chapter One

The incessant ringing of my door buzzer interrupted my sleep. Opening my eyes I realized it was still dark. Not a pleasant way to begin a day.

I heard Karyeata get out of bed, open the closet door and rustle some hangers. The sound of feet shuffling and a door opening and closing assured me she had the situation in hand. However, I retained an attentive ear.

Blast that buzzer! So help me, I would shoot it. When I got up.

"Ah, Detective!" Karyeata's faint voice was pleasant.

"Where is he?"

"In bed."

"Get him. And hurry!"

The bedroom door opened. allowing light from the next room to pour in like hungry relatives.

"Cappy, it's Detective Hopper."

"Wonderful," I groaned. "Tell him I'll be right there. Oh, and Karye, could you fix tea, please?"

"Sure thing, Spike," she said with a teasing smile. I chuckled, fully aware of the reason behind my new monogram.

It did not take long to dress. I entered the main room and found Detective Hopper pacing. Seeing me, he rushed to shake my hand.

"Cappy! Thank God you're here!" his urgency slapped me like a cold shower.


"Cappy, I really need your help on this one."

Claude was moving right into his pitch. Whatever it was, it had had him at full steam.

"Excuse me." I didn't want to get into any details until I was fully awake. Besides, there was something I needed to do. I opened the flat drawer in the bureau and retrieved my forty-five. Then, as Claude watched in wonder, I fulfilled my vow to the buzzer. I replaced the gun to its repose and sat down on my lounge to await tea. Claude dropped onto the sofa across from me.

"One of these days that eccentric behavior is going to cause you more trouble than even you can survive," he said.

Karyeata peeked into the room. "What's the shooting about?"

"Cappy just shot the hell out of your door buzzer."

"Oh. That is annoying. I wonder why they even bothered to put one in a penthouse suite?" She disappeared back into the kitchen.

"Ask Cappy. His money built the thing. And right on top of his summer home, I might add."

I braced myself for the tirade Claude was about to launch. It wasn't so much that he was jealous of my inheritance as it was his practical mind was irked by what he considered useless extravagance. I simply saw it as a means of keeping people employed.

"Cappy, why in the hell did you build a high-rise penthouse on top of your summer home?"

"So we could get away from it all."

"Get away from it all? My God, man! You haven't gone anywhere. Your entire ranch is visible from the picture window."

"No sense in going too far. Some people might think we were being wasteful."

Claude shook his head. It was cruel to rile him, but it was also fun. And I needed something to help me wake up. Fortunately, Karyeata entered with the tea.

"Detective Hopper, would you care to join Spike and me in some morning tea?"

Claude looked up with relief. "Yes, Miss Milkworth. That would be nice. I need something to relax my nerves." He took a sip and then looked at Karyeata again. "Why are you calling him Spike?"

"Because we were up until two this morning playing volleyball," I said as Karyeata handed me my tea. "Honey, you're about to spill."

"I'll go put some clothes on."

"Good idea."

"Volleyball? You two are different."

He watched her go into the bedroom and disappear to the left.

"Say, isn't that your bedroom?"

"I have slept in there on occasion."

"But she just went in there to dress."

"That's where her clothes are."

"You mean she's sleeping in there with you?"

"No, she's dressing in there. I am sitting here drinking tea and wondering when you're going to get to the point."

"You know what I mean. She slept in there with you, didn't she?"

"You might say that."

"Indeed?" he gave a loud chuckle and then looked at me more seriously. "But I don't get it. You two have always slept in different rooms."

"We're enlightened."

"Indeed? Now I think I know why you built this high-rise," he looked back into the bedroom and suddenly jumped to his feet. "Wait a minute! Those are twin beds!"

"I know. But they’re pushed together."

"Big deal," he said, planting himself in front of me as if to force the third degree. "There's a four foot wall of plywood between them."

I shrugged. "I guess we're not that enlightened."

"Ha!" Claude sat back down on the sofa. "She just doesn't trust you, right?"

"No more than I her."

"C'mon. What's the board really for?"

"We used it to play volleyball," said Karyeata, coming in from the kitchen.

"What? Say, how did you get to the kitchen? I saw you go into the bedroom."

"The dressing room adjoins both," said Karyeata, sitting lightly on my lap. Claude sat and shook his head.

"Why don't you two get married? Stop all this playing around?"

"We like to play," Karyeata said with her 'sweet and innocent' voice. She shifted gears. "So, Detective Hopper, why are you here?"

"I need your help on a case."

"My help?"

"Well, you too. But mainly Cappy."

"Sorry," I said. "I told you yesterday we were taking a vacation.

"But you can't!" Claude said.

"Why not?" asked Karyeata.

"In the first place, because he doesn't have any."

"Well, what about the other places?"

"Damn it, Cappy! Must you always let her do this?"

"Do what?" Karyeata feigned offense.

"This, this...," he waved his hands like he was flinging mud. "This utter nonsense! Volleyball! Humph! That bedroom bit was a set-up, wasn't it? Staged for my irritation."

"Kind of," she said. "I left the door open so you would notice. However, we did play volleyball. I won the first five games."

"I won the rest."

"Only because I let you spike."

"Enough of this!" said Claude. "I came here because I need help. I don't want to leave in worse shape. Will you help me?"

"We've already left on vacation," I said.

"Left? You haven't gone anywhere, damn it! You're right where I left you yesterday."

"Not true," corrected Karyeata.

"What do you mean, 'not true'?"

"She means..."

"I know what she means, damn it! What I want to know is, what the hell does she mean?"

I shrugged and looked at Karyeata. She turned to Claude and spoke in contrastingly soft tones.

"Yesterday we were at our summer home," she said.

"This is your summer home," Claude's voice was thick.

"Well, actually no," I said. "This is our penthouse suite. I had it built so we would have someplace to go on vacation. This is our first day."

"Oh for crying out loud. All I ever get from you two is ridiculous crap."

"What kind of..."

"See? There she goes again! I want to know if are you going to help me?"

"Maybe we should at least hear him out," Karyeata whispered in my ear, though none too softly.

"It might calm him down."

"Good idea," I whispered back. "We don't want him having a stroke. That isn't covered in the maid's contract."

"And you know how union people are?"

Claude looked surprised. "The maid belongs to a union?"

"A small one. But she is the majority leader," I said.

"How small?" asked Claude.

"She's the only one in it," I said.

"No wonder she continues to be reelected," said Karyeata.

Claude groaned and threw up his hands.

"Okay, Detective Hopper, we'll listen to what you have to say," said Karyeata.

"Thank you. Now what's happened is a man's been murdered."

"I figured as much," I said.

"Don't start that again, Cappy. Please."

I held up my hands as a sign of apology. "Please continue."

"Well the man's name is, or was, Casper Brookshaw. He was the executive vice-president in charge of new products at Smithereens Toy Company. You've heard of them? He was found dead three days ago propped up on a horse on the merry-go-round at Fun Rides Amusement Park. He had been shot fifty-seven times with a machine gun."

“I don’t think I’d like that ride,” said Karyeata.

“It would be thrilling,” I said. Then I turned to Claude. "Three days? Why so long to decide you need my help?"

"Because the case was turned over to me only four hours ago. I’ve had even less sleep than you."

"Why was it turned over to you?" I asked. "Your department only deals with special cases. What makes this case special?"

"The note attached to the body."

"Let me see the note."

Claude handed me the note. I held it so Karyeata could read it with me.

Let it be known that this shall be the fate of the true loser who gets in my way.

I shall be on top of the world.

Claude gave us plenty of time to ponder over the note before speaking again. I handed it to Karyeata for a more detailed analysis while I turned my attention back to him.

"Strange, isn't it?" he said, giving me a grim smile. He knew he had my interest.

"Kind of makes one think there are future victims," I said.

"Exactly. Only who are those people? The note doesn't give us much on that. Homicide has no leads. No one saw anything. No one heard anything. Interviews with family and friends have turned up nothing."

"What about his enemies?"

"Oh, damn it, Cappy! I thought you were serious about this. He was a business man. Who in the hell's got the time or manpower to interview a business man's enemies? Wake up!"

"I am awake, Claude."

"I should hope so," said Karyeata. "I put this on for that very purpose."

"And you were quite successful, my dear."

"Of course I was."

"But you misunderstand me, Claude. I was not referring to his enemies in general."

Claude's head nodded. "You mean organized crime? Yes, that would make sense. He was a business man. And he was killed with a machine gun."

"It would make sense except for the note," I said.


"Well I hardly think organized crime would be so foolish to leave a note."

"Then who were you referring to?" asked Claude.

"Who would have the motive and means to commit such a murder and still be stupid enough to leave a note?" I asked. Then I looked at Karyeata.

"A politician," she said.

"A politician!"

"Yes, Claude," I said. "Not organized crime, but legalized crime."

"You mean to tell me that you think a politician is behind this? That's ridiculous! What would the motive be?"

"You haven't got a motive for anyone yet," I pointed out. "But a politician needs the least motive of anybody. Nothing they do ever makes sense."

"Hmm," Claude scratched his chin in deep thought. "So you are suggesting we find out who Brookshaw's political friends were and ask them some questions?"

"No, I'm suggesting you do that."

"And what will you be doing?"

"I'll be involved. Don't worry."

"Excellent!" Claude rose to his feet. Karyeata slid off my lap and we walked Claude to the door.

"You will want to come to my office for a full rundown of course?"

"Of course," I said and Claude shook my hand.

"I knew you wouldn't let me down," he said.

"Even if it meant giving up our vacation?" asked Karyeata.

"I'll make it up to you after the case is solved."

"We'll take care of that," I said. "You take care of the politicians."

"Don't worry about me."

"I never do."


"Don't mention it."

As he was just about to leave, he looked around. "How much did it cost you to build this anyway?"

"I have no idea. I leave those things up to my brother."

"Malcolm?" he frowned. "That boy's a shady character if I ever saw one. He used to be a lawyer, too. Before pressure from the OCLC caused him to resign."

"His resignation was unrelated," I said. "And his name is Milkum."

"Besides," added Karyeata. "You can't hold a grudge forever."

"I can do as I will. And I deliberately called him Malcolm."

This last was for my benefit. Claude always suspected my brother was, in fact, Chief Attorney Malcolm Drei - the Lawyer in the Mask.

Drei never lost a case, though sometimes his clients faced a tremendous amount of discriminating evidence. Also, he was well connected into the political scene. As far as anyone knew no one had ever seen his face. And since he always wore gloves, it seemed unlikely he would ever be identified.

But when the Organization to Control Legalized Crime (OCLC) received an anonymous tip regarding the legal profession the lid blew off and lawyers everywhere were scrambling for their lives. Many committed suicide, and many more simply turned state's evidence. When it was all over there were only a few lawyers and judges left. Yet they were honest. The 'Honest Few' became their slogan.

Malcolm Drei disappeared. He was never brought before the OCLC as no one knew who he was. That was when Milkum resigned, though charges were never brought against him. Claude had been assigned the Drei case and had attempted to enlist my help in finding the elusive public servant. No doubt my refusal was his reason for believing Milkum and Drei were one and the same. It was the only case of his I had ever refused. It was still open. Claude knew I had run my own investigation.

"I never said Malcolm Drei was my brother," I said.

"You never said he wasn't, either," Claude studied my face. "You'll come to my office?"

"We'll be there."

He turned to Karyeata. "Thanks for the tea. You know, you had better keep an eye on him.

There's a fine line between legal and legal-crime."

"I know. It's called a hyphen," she said.

I watched him walk down the short hall and get into the elevator. I closed the door and turned around. Karyeata was at the telephone.

"Do you really think a politician is behind this?" she asked.

"I'm convinced not."

"They why send Claude after them?"

"It'll keep him out of our way while we make our investigation

"Very wise."

"I thought so. Who are you calling?"

"We're going on the case, aren't we?"


"Well, I'm calling the front desk and letting them know we're checking out."

"Good thinking."

The Second Crime

He turned the corner only to be confronted by three doors. All were tightly closed. When and how would this end?

"Confused, Mr. Zeloet?"

"What's going on? You promised me the door out would be here."

"And so it is, Mr. Zeloet. It is before you."

He looked at the three doors. "Which one is it?"

"Ah! Now you have come to the most interesting part of the game. They all lead out, Mr. Zeloet."

"All of them? What's the catch?"

"The catch, Mr. Zeloet?"

"Damn it, I know you do not intend to just let me walk away. What's behind the doors?"

"You are the eager one, Mr. Zeloet. I like that. I like that very much."

"I don't give a damn what you like."

"Temper, Mr. Zeloet. Temper. Each of the doors is the way out. However - and this is the fun part, Mr. Zeloet - only one is safe."

"And the others?"

"Quite ingenious, if I may be so bold. One fills with water after the door closes, and the other wraps a rope tightly about your neck."

"But you said they all lead out!"

"They do, Mr. Zeloet! In the one with ropes, you will be lifted to the outside. In the other, you will be sent through a pipe."

"You insane bastard!"

"Perhaps so, Mr. Zeloet. But you have a choice to make."

"No! This is insane! I'm going to work my way back through the maze."

He turned, but heavy iron plates fell from above and blocked his way.

"That is against the rules, Mr. Zeloet. You can only go forward. It's too late to back out, so why not be a good sport? If you do nothing you'll starve. At least you have a chance if you try. Don't you feel lucky?"

"You'll keep your word?"

"I've kept my word so far, haven't I? It wouldn't be much of a contest if you had no chance to win."

He didn't know if the voice was telling him the truth or not. It didn't matter. He had three chances to die, and one to live.

Forcing himself to remain calm he pushed the button for the middle door. It slid open and he looked inside. There was nothing to suggest danger. He stepped inside. Nothing happened.

"Well done, Mr. Zeloet! All that remains is for you to push the floor button and you're on your way."

Relieved, he pushed the button. Immediately the door closed and he felt something close about his neck and jerk him into the air. As he struggled and tried to gasp for new air he could hear the voice fading outside his consciousness.

"It is just as well, Mr. Zeloet. I would have requested a rematch anyway."

Chapter Two

While at Claude's office, word came that another murder victim had been found with a note attached. His name was Alvin Zeloet, and he was also a business man who worked at a toy manufacturing plant. Now we had a definite lead. Karyeata and I went straightway to Zeloet's office to question his office staff. We were met by his secretary, a Miss Sabra Lenette.

Miss Lenette was one of those women who always seemed to come up short when deciding which skirt to wear and how many buttons to fastened on her blouse. Her height was enhanced by five-inch heels. Her blouse was as tight as a wino on a Friday night. I had seen the type before. So had Karyeata.

"He was such a good man, Mr. LaManch," she said, wiping her eyes with just the right touch of sincerity.

"I'm sure he was."

"I suppose they'll want to promote me to his position now. But a man like that. He was so good at what he did. But I suppose you know all about him?"

"Just that he's dead," mumbled Karyeata.

"How do I replace someone like him in my life? Can you possibly know how I feel?" she asked.

"I've a pretty good idea. I believe I know the kind of man you're after," I said.

"I think I do, too," said Karyeata.

Miss Lenette gave Karyeata an annoyed glance. "Who's she? Your sister or something?"

"Or something. Now, Miss Lenette. Would you like to do me a favor?"

"I'm sure she would," said Karyeata.

"What kind of favor?"

"I need to get inside Mr. Zeloet's office."

Her accommodating behavior turned suddenly cold. I debated whether or not to send for overcoats to combat the chill.

"You cops or something?"

"Or something," said Karyeata.

"Well no one gets in there unless they got some kind of warrant. So, Mr. LaManch, unless you're the kind of guy who likes to beat up women, I'd say you were stuck. Or do you like to beat up women?"

I wasn't sure if that was a dare, a threat, or an invitation. Fortunately, I had Karyeata.

"We don't have time for that now, Honey, so why don't you stow it?"

"Besides, I never hit women when I have Karyeata to do it for me," I said.

Karyeata took an aggressive stance. "So, unless you want me to put out your balloons, I suggest you open the door."

Sabra eyed Karyeata, apparently to sizing up her capacity to follow up on the threat. Karyeata was probably the most feminine woman I knew. However, she was well able to do what she promised. I could attest to that. But only under extreme duress.

"All right," Sabra wisely decided to give in. "You've got five minutes."

She opened the door and we went inside. I stood and surveyed everything while Karyeata began turning everything inside out.

"Does she have to do that?"

"First order of business," I said. "Don't you ever watch detective movies?"

"Well just what is it that -"

A cry of triumph from Karyeata sent us to the closet where she was foraging. I reached in and took the heavy, black suit of fur from her arm. It was a single piece which was meant to cover not only the torso, but the arms, legs, hands and feet, too. Putting it on was done by opening the Velcro in the back.

"That's - that's Mr. Zeloet's workout suit," said Sabra. "He exercised in his office to lose weight."

"Yes. I'm sure the matted fur effect does wonders for the hemoglobin," I said.

"One could go ape over an exercise routine like this," said Karyeata, coming out with a second, smaller suit. "This one must have been for when he lost weight."

"What are you looking for?" Sabra demanded.

"Records of inventors turned down by Mr. Zeloet," said Karyeata, stepping into the smaller suit.

"Those chatter heads! What can they have to do with anything? Them and their harebrained ideas!"

"Nothing. Perhaps everything," I said, testing the suit I had for a fit. Karyeata was correct. There was definitely something primal about these suits.

"They’re over there! Just what in the hell do you think you two are doing?"

"We're investigating a murder," I said.

"But the suits!"

"Yes. They fit very nicely, thank you," said Karyeata. "You know, Cappy, I think I've seen something like you in a zoo."

"It's quite possible," I said. "I only wish I could say the same about you."

I opened the files and removed about forty pounds of paper which detailed the efforts of toy and game inventions which would never see the inside of a department store. Creativity without reward. How unfortunate.

"There must be hundreds of them," said Karyeata.

"Maybe thousands."

"And our clue is in there somewhere?"


"It'll take days to find it."


"Months maybe?"

"An incredibly big job."


"It's the only way," I said. "I'll have him gather up Casper Brookshaw's files for comparison."

"That's an awful amount of work."

"It'll keep him out of our way."

"Good thinking."

"I know."

We began to gather up the files, but Miss Lenette was uncooperative.

"Just where do you think you are taking those files?"

"Police business," I said.

"I thought you said you weren't cops?"

"We aren't," said Karyeata. "We're just bringing them the work."

"Well is there anything else you need?"

"Yes," I said. "Where do you keep the heads for these things?"

"After all," added Karyeata. "An up and coming executive shouldn't begin a new position with skeletons in her closet."

“Or ape suits,” I added.

She stared at us a few seconds. It was clear she had already been wondering how to dispose of the simian articles.

"Do you want them now, or shall I have them delivered?"

I exchanged glances with Karyeata.

"Delivered will be fine," I said.

The Third Crime

He groped along in the dark, feeling his way with his hands. Fear urged him forward even as he felt its paralyzing grip.

"Hurry up, Mr. Orntanu," said the voice, that hideous voice which had been tormenting him since this ordeal began. "You have only so much time to find the next weapon before your adversary."

He wanted to answer. He wanted to cry out and accuse this voice of insanity. But he could only weep.

"Tears, Mr. Orntanu? How very unprofessional. And after all I've done to help you. Very well, I shall offer you further aid. But you really aren't much fun at all. And working for a toy company, too. Ah, well! Life is full of its inconsistencies. But do try to do things on your own. You are only a short way from it. Take the next right and go straight. Then you'll be there."

He stumbled forward as the voice urged him to hurry. He made the turn and began to run. Then, when he was close enough to activate the switch, the goal was lit up in a flurry of lights. A long, bright sword stood on a pedestal with its point upward. He hurried forward to grab it, but as he got close it fell toward him and he was impaled.

"I do wish you wouldn't cry, Mr. Orntanu. Nobody likes a poor loser."

Chapter Three

Karyeata and I entered Claude's office. We had received a message telling us he had important new evidence. Claude was pacing. I seated myself behind his desk and Karyeata sat on my lap. He tossed a folder in front of us.

"Willard Slurps," he said.

Karyeata opened the folder. "So do you. What's that got to do with this?"

"Willard Slurps is the name of our murderer!"

"I wasn't aware we had been murdered," I said, absently scanning the information in Karyeata's hands.

Karyeata smiled. "Hmm. Must have died and went to..."

"Damn it, you two! This is a murder case. Can't you take it seriously for even a moment?"

"I thought we had," I said. "Didn't you?"

"Yes,” said Karyeata. “I think it was four days ago."

"Some day you two are going to drive me to insanity."

"How far away is that?" asked Karyeata.

"Not far!"

"Good. We can take the Rolls then,” she said.

I looked at her in surprise. "I thought you didn't like rolls?"

"Only the jelly kind."

"Can we please get down to the business at hand?" said Claude.

"Which is?" I asked.

"Willard Slurps! I believe he is the murderer of three executives from toy companies."

"Of course he is," I said.

"Then can we please go over this?"

"We already have," said Karyeata, tossing the folder back to Claude and leaning back against me.

"But you hardly looked at it!"

"We've seen enough," I said, giving the now sleepy Karyeata a nudge. She sat up and recited the folder.

"Willard Slurps. Born to wealthy parents twenty-five years ago. Was last survivor when entire family was sent to prison or committed suicide. Inherited the family estate and several million dollars. Disappeared for five years. Recently began approaching toy companies with new game ideas: all of which have been rejected. Seems his idea of fun doesn't fit with typical wholesome family entertainment. Executives from approached toy companies have now been found dead."

"Humph! Well did you also happen to notice where his father worked?"

"I did," I said.

"He worked for Malcolm Drei!"


"So maybe he's a link to him."

Karyeata's sat up. "The missing link?"

I sighed. "You have high hopes, Claude, but I'm on this case to find a murderer. What you do after is your affair."

"And what we do after is ours," said Karyeata.

"Well anyway, we're pretty certain who our - the murderer is," said Claude. "All we have to do now is find out where he's hiding."

"That's the easy part," I said.

"Easy? Hell, he could be anywhere."

"But he isn't," said Karyeata.

"Then where is he?" Claude looked at the wall with the map of the city. "With his money, he could have built a place where we'll never find him."

"Well, consider this, Claude," I said. "If you had several million dollars and wished to get away, where would you go."

"And you are an eccentric," Karyeata gave my cheek a tweak.

Claude turned around and stood in shock. "You mean?"

"Exactly," I said. “He never left home.”

"But we searched his mansion!"

"So you missed a spot? We'll never tell. Will we, Karye?"

Claude sat down across the desk from us. "Well, if he is there, I have only one thing to say: I'm glad you're on this case. Only a lunatic like you can catch a lunatic like him."

"We'll take that as a compliment," said Karyeata.

" It wasn't meant as one."

"Did you notice some of his game ideas?" asked Karyeata.

"Some are quite interesting," I said.

"Interesting?” said Claude. “They've clearly been conceived by a lunatic. Who would buy them?"

"One never knows," said Karyeata.

"Even so," I said, letting Karyeata slip off my lap and get to her feet. "I think we should go over to Willard's. Say, when are you going to get some good cigars, Claude?"

"When you give up smoking."

We started for the door, but Claude wasn't finished.

"Oh, by the way. A Miss Sabra Lenette called to ask when we planned to return the records."

"She gave you records?" asked Karyeata. She looked at me. “Bolero?”

I shook my head. “Johnny Cash.”

"She also said she does not want to be disturbed any further."

"I don't think that's possible," I said.

"What do you mean?" asked Claude.

"You haven't met her?" asked Karyeata. Claude shook his head. "Shame. A girl like that."

"Yes,” I said. “I think you should whip over there sometime."

"She'd love that."

"No doubt. Yes, she'd be the perfect girl for you to get tied up with."

"She'd love that, too."

"Yeah, yeah," said Claude. "More of your silly jokes. I hope you two realize that when I opt for early retirement before I'm forty I'll have both of you to thank."

"Glad to be of help," I said, and ushered Karyeata out the door.

"Anything for a friend!" she called back.

Claude made one of his patented sounds of disgust and slammed the door behind us. Karyeata giggled.

"Do you think he'll bite?" I asked.

"She'd love that, too."

Chapter Four

Finding Willard Slurp's mansion was no problem, and finding Willard Slurps was of no concern. We knew he was there and so we knew we would find him. But, with the case so close to resolving, we were both eager to be done with it. And we didn't know when we would find him.

"It would have been nice had he thought to build a high-rise," said Karyeata.

"Yes, but he has obviously gone the other way. So the question is, 'Where is the access?'"

"You know we have to split up to find it?" she said.

I could not help my look of concern. It did not elude Karyeata's eye and she smiled.

"You look so cute when you're worried about me," she said.

"So do you. I'd like to keep it that way."

"But it needs to be done. Don't you ever watch detective shows?"

"Quite right. Pardon my falling out of character. You go that way. I'll go this way."

"And I'll get to the bottom before you."

"I won't be far behind."

“You never are.”

"Then let's be off."

"Some accuse us of that already."

"They're right."

I watched Karyeata walk away and before walking in the opposite direction. I knew finding the entrance would be easy now. It's always that way when partners split up. Together, we could search for years and never find the passage. But separate? We'd have all we could do not to find the way. I don't know why this is so. It just is.

It took me less than ten minutes find Willard's secret door. Karyeata would already be inside. That was another quirk about male/female partnerships. No matter how fast the male gets to the door, the female would already be inside.

I chuckled at the inability of the police to find the entrance. But again, that was just the way these types of cases went. The police were never able to find anything. It had nothing to do with how bright they were. If this case were normal, the police would have nabbed their culprit in about four hours. But then they wouldn’t have needed me. Police incompetence was just fact about the unusual murder case. Of course I was expected.

"Welcome!" the voice hailed me as dim lights came on and a steel door closed behind me. "You have come to play?"

"Perhaps. What's the game?"

"First things first. I must have your name."

"It's yours."

"You misunderstand. Tell me your name."

"Think of me as 'The Player.'"

"Ah!" the voice chuckled. "How refreshing to find an eager contestant. But I make it a rule never to play with strangers."

"A wise precaution. LaManch."

"LaManch? Sounds French. What does it mean?"

"It's my name."

"Oh, of course! First or last?"

"Well, since I'm the only one here, I guess I'm first. But if no one else shows up, I guess I'm last."

"No," the voice sounded wearied. "LaManch. Is it your first or last name?"

"It's the only name I've ever had."

"Is there any more to it?"


"What? Oh. Very well. Now, I suppose I should introduce myself."

"You're the Gamesman," I said.


"I read your file. Willard Slurps, Gamesman extraordinaire."

"Gamesman." He was speaking to himself now. "I like that."

"Figured you would. Now, what game are you proposing?"

"I like your style, Mr. LaManch."

"Let's drop the formality. Call me Cappy. Most of my friends do."

"Friends? You may change your mind about that after you have heard the game. But Cappy it is."

"And I shall call you Gamesman."

"I like that better all the time. But here's the game, Cappy. It's called 'Damsel in Distress,' and the object is for you to rescue a fair maiden from her captivity before you are both killed. Like it?"

"It has potential. How is it played?"

A door slid open in the wall before me. A gun was lowered from above.

"The maiden is at the far side of the maze. She is shut in a small room with a glass door which can only be opened from outside.”

“I have to go outside?”

“No! Outside of the room. Roaming the corridors are eight deadly robots. Your task is to take the special laser gun and fetch her back here."

"Sounds simple enough."

His laughter echoed the halls. "Indeed, Cappy? Well, consider this: the robots move slowly and in a pattern. But should you be spotted by any, an alarm will sound and they will close in. Also, the robots use real bullets."



"And what are my advantages?"

"You are a unique man, Cappy. None of the others had the your kind of spirit."

I shrugged. "I like games."

"It's a pleasure to have you. Yes, you do have certain advantages. There are small rooms stationed throughout the maze which the robots never enter. By hiding yourself in them you can elude detection for short periods. However, infrared sensors will activate a special thermostat, causing the doors to open – and alert the robots. Shoot any robot and it is out of the game."

"How many shots do I get?"

"More than you'll possibly need, I assure you."

"And firing the gun sets off the alarm?"

"Of course."

I stuck the weapon inside my coat. "And what's my motivation to play?"

"You're going to love this!" he laughed. "The maiden on the other side? She's the one who came with you! Don't you just love it?"


His stunned silence was nearly as loud as his laughter. He had not expected this.

"What do you mean, 'and’?"

"I mean, what's my motivation?"

"I just told you."

"No, you just told me Karyeata is the other player."

"You don't believe me?"

"Of course I do."

"I'll let you talk to her. There. Go ahead."

"Hi, Cappy!" Karyeata's voice was bright and unconcerned.


"What are you doing?"

"Nothing. You?"


The Gamesman was annoyed. "Stop it! This isn't what I want."

"What do you want?" asked Karyeata.

"I want you to play the game."

"Why should we?" I asked.

"Because if you don't, I'll kill you anyway."

"Oh, that's no fun," Karyeata moaned. "Cappy, I thought you said he sounded like a fun guy."

"I did. I guess I was wrong."

"What's going on here?" the Gamesman demanded.

"What's going on is nothing," I said. "And that's the way it's going to stay until you give us a good reason to play."

"I'm offering you your lives!"

"Oh, we've already got those," said Karyeata. "What else have you got?"

"What else have I got?"

"Yeah. Offer us something we don't have or you'll have to play spoil sport and kill us anyway.
That won't be good for your reputation."

"It won't be good for us, either," I said.

"At least we won't have to live with it."

“Good point.”

The Gamesman’s silence indicated his hesitancy. It was obvious he was beginning to sway.

"What have you got in mind?" he asked.

"How about you?" I asked.


"Yes. We play your game. If you win, we're dead. If we win, you have to play a game of our choosing."

There was a short pause. Then the sound of laughter.

"Well done! Well done! So you want to raise the stakes?"

"I prefer mine grilled," said Karyeata.

"With the right touch of spice," I added.

"Bar-B-Queue sauce?" he asked.

"A little."

"Excellent! Very well, Cappy. You win now and we'll play something else."

"One condition."

"What's that?"

"Your word as a gamesman that you will not interfere once its started. If you do, the deal's off."

"I agree," he said. "I truly like you, Cappy. I kind of hope you do win."

"So do I," I said.

"So do I," said Karyeata.

I walked as quietly as I could, wondering how tuned into sound the killer robots were. Finding the rooms to hide in wasn’t difficult. There were many, and all clearly marked. I tested one early and discovered I had less than ten seconds before the door reopened. Slurps laughed.

"Not a whole lot of time, is it?" he asked.

"Enough for my purposes," I said.

"What purposes?"

"My main purpose is to win."

"But to do that, you must defeat my robots."

"Not necessarily."

"What do you mean? What do you mean?"

"I don't have to tell you everything."

I knelt next to a door near a corner passage and waited. After a couple of minutes I heard the sound of an approaching droid. When I judged it to be close I opened the door to the side chamber. Sure enough, the droid reacted to the sound and sped up its approach. It came around the corner to wait until the door opened. Then it would blast me. Except the door wasn’t closed. I was holding it open and, as I hoped and expected, the droid continued its merry way into the side room. Then I let the door close. The droid had no ‘body heat’ so the door never reopened.

“What are you doing?” the Gamesman sounded alarmed. “You can’t do that!”

“Why not?” I asked.

“My robots aren’t supposed to go into the rooms.”

“Then they’re cheating.”

“What do you mean they’re cheating?”

“You just said the robots aren’t supposed to go into the rooms. This one did. I call that cheating.”

The other droids, attracted to the noise of the first, were on their way. I quickly followed the path of the first away, dodging into known ‘blind alleys’ as the pursuers went past. I could hear the Gamesman moaning and mumbling. He had not anticipated this at all. Within a few minutes the droids were all huddled around the door, waiting for their prey to emerge. Now I just had to get Karyeata. In just a few minutes I had found her.

“Where are your robot buddies?” she asked.

“I left them at the corner. They’re hanging out together.”

“So now we just have to get to the maze’s beginning,” she said. “I suppose we have to get past your robot friends?”

“You suppose correctly.”

“Of course you have a plan?”

“Don’t I always?”

“I think perhaps you could do with some humility.”

“Which happens to be my plan!”


We crept back to where the droids were huddled in a large group. We got down on our stomachs. I took out the special laser gun and opened it up with the handy little screwdriver on my key chain.

“This sure comes in handy,” I whispered.

“Does it have a bottle opener?” Karyeata whispered back.

I proudly displayed one to her. “And it has a flashlight, a magnet and a corkscrew.”

“That is handy. By the way, do you know anything about special laser guns?”

“Only that they use power, and that too much power at one time is a problem.”

“Why is that?”

“Well,” I had finished my work and now the gun was beginning to glow and hum.

I quickly crawled to the corner and tossed it around and came back and huddled with Karyeata next to the wall. There was an explosive flash and then the sound of a single droid trying to get out of a closet. Karyeata and I got to our feet and walked around the corner. All of the droids were shut down.

“Too much power means an explosion. An explosion means light. Bright light. Lots of it.”

“And these robots don’t like too much light, do they?”

“No. They really don’t.”

Chapter Five

We walked back to the beginning of the maze where we were met by Slurps. We had won the game. The Gamesman was not happy.

“I’m not sure this was a fair game,” he said.

“You mean because you cheated?” I asked.

“I didn’t cheat!”

“It’s all right. We forgive you,” said Karyeata.

“Forgive me! Wait a minute!”

“Now. Our game,” I said.

“Your game?”

“Yes. You agreed to play a game of ours, if we won. Well, we won.”

Willard eyed me with suspicion. “What is this game?”

“It’s called, ‘Making it Through the Court System,’” I said.

“It doesn’t sound promising. How does it go?”

“You go to court and see if you can get a reduced sentence instead of the normal death penalty.”

“That’s not a game!”

“Why not?”

“Because in order for it to be a real game I have to have a chance at winning. There is no way I can get a reduced sentence.”

“Sure there is.”


“You need a good lawyer.”

Willard laughed. “There are no good lawyers. All the best lawyers are in prison.”

“Or dead,” added Karyeata.

“Not all of them,” I said.

“Who do you know?” asked Willard.

“My brother is a good lawyer. He wasn’t even indicted.”

Willard was unconvinced. “Then how can he be any good?”

“He worked as an associate of Malcolm Drei.”

Willard’s eyes went wide. “Your brother worked for MD and A and never got indicted?” I nodded. “You’ve got a deal! I’ll play. Let me get my things. What kind of reduced sentence do you think I’ll get?”

“You can probably count on special lodgings,” I said.

“Special lodgings? You mean an asylum? I don’t want to live in an asylum. People are strange there.”

“Only because they’re different.”

“Besides,” added Karyeata, “it’s better than the alternative.”

“But what about my game inventions?”

“Oh, don’t worry about those,” I said. “I’ll sponsor your games and get them patented in your name.”

“You will?”

“Sure. I saw your ideas during the investigation. Some are quite interesting.”

“Like ‘Ring Around the Thorn Bushes,’” said Karyeata.

Willard smiled. “Yes. I like that one. You have to play it in the nude. Very good. Let’s get going!”


I lay back in my lounge chair. The sweet scent of fresh tea wafted in from the kitchen. The setting sun was breaking over the horizon and casting long shadows. Everything was peaceful now. Not like an hour ago when the repair man was drilling holes and nailing up new trim around the door. I should have had that done while we were gone. Karyeata came in with a tray. She poured out two cups of tea and handed me one. Then she eased herself down onto my lap.

“How nice it is to be back on vacation,” she said.

“It is. Very nice.”

“Do you think they will ever let Willard out?”

“Not likely. But I fancy he’ll be all right.”

She sighed. “It’s amazing.”

“What’s amazing?”

“Willard. I mean, its been years since anyone got off on an insanity plea.”

“Well, it was more a case of getting in than getting off.”

“Even so. It was a pretty good job of lawyer work – considering the current judicial climate.”

“I was beginning to worry that Claude might have to join Willard.”

“Yes. He was going to go after poor Milkum. It was nice of you to distract him.”

“Well, I think Miss Lenette was getting bored anyway. Now that the two are together they can wrestle with each others problems in a more constructive manner.”

“I know she will like that.”

“As do I, my dear. Are you up for a game of volleyball?”

“No spiking.”

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Do I Have the Personality For This? Do I Have Personality?

I visited a blog site of one of Evil Editor's minion followers - AC's to be specific. It is called A Novel Idea, and here is its address:
I do hope she doesn't mind I've mentioned her and provided a link. However, since no one visits my blogs anyway, I suppose it doesn't matter. (I can't ask because I promised I wouldn't comment on the minions' blogs without permission. I suppose that was silly, but having said it I feel I should be bound by it. So, my posting comments requires the unlikely scenario of a minion visiting my blog and posting a comment.)

Anyway, AC's blog is interesting. I like it. Recently, she posted a link to personality evaluations based on blog addresses. According to it, she is an ESFP - A Performer. I love these kind of evaluations - especially when they are free - so I entered this blog's address. I was informed I am an ISFP - An Artist.

ISFP - The Artists
The gentle and compassionate type. They are especially attuned to their inner values and what other people need. They are not friends of many words and tend to take the worries of the world on their shoulders. They tend to follow the path of least resistance and have to look out not to be taken advantage of. They often prefer working quietly, behind the scene as a part of a team. They tend to value their friends and family above what they do for a living.

It's cute, because it did get some things correct: gentle, worries of the world, taken advantage of, value friends and family over occupation. But it got some things wrong: few words, not part of a team. I may be wrong about the team thing, because I do like to work quiety, but for several years at a certain company - which shall here remain nameless - I was known as THE team player. And if you have ever read anthing I have written you will understand I am quite the friend of many words.

Since I run three blogs, I was curious what my results would be for the other two. So I gave each of them a go.

For the Great Sea I am an ISTP - A Mechanic.

ISTP - The Mechanics
The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment and are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts. The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like to seek fun and action, both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

Again, I both agree and disagree with the evaluation. What is interesting, is that now I am told I ENJOY working as part of a team. Well, I am independent. I like problem-solving (when it isn't too difficult for me.) I've always liked fun. (Hell, who doesn't?) But I've never even been close to a race car, much less driven one. And I don't think I would especially care to be a police officer or firefighter.

For SOF People I am an INTP - A Thinker.

INTP - The Thinkers
The logical and analytical type. They are especialy attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications. They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

I like to believe I am logical and analytical (but then, isn't that everyone's self opinion?). However, I am not ALWAYS looking for something complex to dig into. Hell, I have The Great Sea. That is quite complex, thank you very much. Subtle connections? Far-reaching implications? Yeah. I suppose. Imagination models of reality? If they're talking about The Great Sea, then sure. (There is also another one, but the way, but to date I have only explored that reality in my thoughts. I can't recall having written much, if anything, down.) Not good at seeing the needs of other people? I don't think that's true. The needs of other people often break my heart. Arrogant? Impatient? Insensitive? I have been accused of all of those things, as well as commended for my caring. And people frequently tell me they don't know what the hell I'm talking about.

AC also had a link to a Meyers-Briggs Jung Typology Test. I took that, too. I am an INFP - A Healer. This one is really cool. That's what I love about taking these tests. They can really feed my ego.

Healers present a calm and serene face to the world, and can seem shy, even distant around others. But inside they're anything but serene, having a capacity for personal caring rarely found in the other types. Healers care deeply about the inner life of a few special persons, or about a favorite cause in the world at large. And their great passion is to heal the conflicts that trouble individuals, or that divide groups, and thus to bring wholeness, or health, to themselves, their loved ones, and their community.

Healers have a profound sense of idealism that comes from a strong personal sense of right and wrong. They conceive of the world as an ethical, honorable place, full of wondrous possibilities and potential goods. In fact, to understand Healers, we must understand that their deep commitment to the positive and the good is almost boundless and selfless, inspiring them to make extraordinary sacrifices for someone or something they believe in. Set off from the rest of humanity by their privacy and scarcity (around one percent of the population), Healers can feel even more isolated in the purity of their idealism.

Also, Healers might well feel a sense of separation because of their often misunderstood childhood. Healers live a fantasy-filled childhood-they are the prince or princess of fairy tales-an attitude which, sadly, is frowned upon, or even punished, by many parents. With parents who want them to get their head out of the clouds, Healers begin to believe they are bad to be so fanciful, so dreamy, and can come to see themselves as ugly ducklings. In truth, they are quite OK just as they are, only different from most others-swans reared in a family of ducks.

At work, Healers are adaptable, welcome new ideas and new information, are patient with complicated situations, but impatient with routine details. Healers are keenly aware of people and their feelings, and relate well with most others. Because of their deep-seated reserve, however, they can work quite happily alone. When making decisions, Healers follow their heart not their head, which means they can make errors of fact, but seldom of feeling. They have a natural interest in scholarly activities and demonstrate, like the other Idealists, a remarkable facility with language. They have a gift for interpreting stories, as well as for creating them, and thus often write in lyric, poetic fashion. Frequently they hear a call to go forth into the world and help others, a call they seem ready to answer, even if they must sacrifice their own comfort.

There is a lot here about Healers, so I will refrain from addressing everything. But, as I indicated above, this is good for the ego.

Serene face? I remember at a past job walking by two co-workers arguing about the correlation between feelings and intelligence. As I walked past one took notice of me and decided I was the perfect example of whatever point he was trying to make. In effect, what he said was, "Look at Bevie! Bevie has no feelings whatsoever, and yet Bevie is very intelligent." I wasn't sure what to make of that. Compliment? Or putdown? As I was too shy to stop and find out I never learned. What's cool about this first paragraph is the part where it says, "having a capacity for personal caring rarely found in the other types". Doesn't that make me feel like a cat curled up on a lap while receiving soft strokes from a loving hand? Meow.

The second paragraph speaks of idealism and how Healers feel isolated because of it. Yeah, I suppose I am idealistic. And I do feel isolated, but I don't think that's because of my idealism. It's because nobody every comes to visit me, and the only two people who ever call to speak with me are my mother, about once a month, and a sister, about twice a year. The cool part of this paragraph is the comment, "Set off from the rest of humanity by their privacy and scarcity (around one percent of the population)". That makes me unique! (Thank goodness, you are saying.)

I have to confess the third paragraph is quite accurate in describing my childhood as fantasy-filled. But then, aren't most children's lives fantasy-filled? My family was poor, but not so poor that my nutrition was neglected, thus inhibiting the creative processes. I was taught that being dreamy and fanciful, while not necessarilly bad, was wrong. My point here is that while, as a writer, I really like it that I am described as "fantasy-filled", I think that can be said for a lot of people. But I am hardly unique in my creation of worlds. I just may be a bit more prolific in it.

The final paragraph is pretty much a sum-up. Healers like people but can work alone. (That's usefull if one is going to be a writer.) And here's the biggie: Healers "Frequently hear a call to go forth ... and help others ... even if they must sacrifice their own comfort". How noble. I like that. If only I were. While I can think of times I have sacrificed comfort, safety and/or money, I don't know if that qualifies me as noble. I can think of several people, viewed "undesirable", who have done the same. Come to think of it, I believe I am viewed as undesirable, too. Whatever. The really cool part of this last paragraph is as follows: They have a gift for interpreting stories, as well as for creating them, and thus often write in lyric, poetic fashion. As a writer, it is always nice to be described as "having a gift for interpreting/creating stories". I think the part about "writing in lyric, poetic fashion" means I use too many words, and that the words I use tend to be ridiculous.

So what do all of these on-line evaluations of who I am mean, and what am I to take from them?

Well, I don't think they really mean anything. Of the four, the last probably has the greatest value. At least that one is based on my answering questions of behavior. However, I learned back in my teens that these tests more tend to be reflections of how we see ourselves than perhaps how we really are. I took dozens upon dozens of them when I was a teenager and in my twenties. Since I've grown older, I tend to forget about them. I remember one I was forced to take by the owner of a company I worked at.

Everyone had to take it. I had been sick, or on vacation, when the rest of the company took it, so I had to take it alone. (They just stoppped work for a day to do it. It took nearly six hours.) The owner had gone over the test results with the company as a group. There were only forty or so employees, so this wasn't too much of a problem. But the owner, who was about ten years older than I, had just discovered these kinds of tests and was just into them. I came back and took the test. Then I waited two or three days while my results were computed and integrated into the company's results as a whole. Then I met with the owner one-on-one to discuss it.

I don't recall the exact results of my profile. I do remember they were consistent with all the other personality profile tests I had ever taken. This test also divided results into four quadrants, but then it divided each quadrant into four quadrants, and possible another level after that. I'm not sure about the third level, but there were at least sixteen possible squares to be assigned.

First, the owner (how's about I just call her "Shay"? - not her real name) showed me the chart for the entire company. There was one dot for each employee, but the dots were not identified on this chart. Shay knew who each dot represented, but she was keeping that information to herself. However, while she did not give names to the dots, she did point out that there was a logical grouping to them. For instance, wasn't it interesting that the group of dots in this area were nearly all sales people, and that only two sales people were not in this group? (Mental note: I hope those two sales people can find work soon after Shay concludes they shouldn't be sales people and gets rid of them. - This is exactly what happened.) The customer service people tended to be in this area, except for this one. (Mental note: I hope whoever that is likes sales. - There was a move of a customer service rep to sales rep less than a month later.) All of the administration personel were togther (they get to keep their jobs), and most of the programming staff, too. (I hope the ones we're about to lose aren't among our best.)

Finally, Shay pointed out to me that all of the dots were located in 90% of the chart - except for two. Way off, in a corner of a corner, were two dots in semi-isolation. One was so close to the edge of the chart it almost looked like an accidental mark. "This one," Shay said to me, pointing at the dot closest to the others, "is mine." I'm not sure I need tell you who's mark was completely separated from the others, but I will: yes, it was mine. I had suspected it as soon as I realized it was a dot and not an accident. When Shay confirmed my suspicion I felt a cold fear grab my heart. EVERYONE in my department was on the exact opposite side of the effing chart. (Mental note: It's time to polish up the resume.)

But I had forgotten one VERY important piece of information: Shay's dot was also far away from the department she loved most (sales), although not as far as mine BUT, my dot was the closest TO Shay's. Suddenly, we were kindred.

It turned out Shay had not only been feeling bad about being separated from her beloved sales department, but also because she was completely alone out there on the edge of the chart. So now I come along, and I not only join her in the distant emptiness of lonely existence, but I'm even futher out - at the very edge of existence, as it were. Shay confessed to me how happy she was when she saw my results. (Mental note: 1: Don't ever inform Shay that these personality profiles are a bunch of hooey meant to stroke egos and provide sociologists - or whoever comes up with these things - a steady income. 2: Don't ever tell Shay you don't believe she is much like you at all - or vice versa.)

Shay had liked me before (I think), but after this test she really liked me. I had always liked her. I also felt sorry for her, because so few in the company saw her as anything but mean and irrational. She was neither of these things. She owned a business. A small business. That was a difficult task in itself, but Shay had made her life even more difficult by choosing a business in an industry dominated by men: manufacturing. It had been a struggle, but she had fought through incredibly lean times, twice, or three times, having to restructure her business in order for it to survive. At one time she had been reduced to herself and a single employee working out of a garage. No paychecks for a long time. Now she had made it. And in so doing, she had incurred the hatred of many - men and women. This is common for many women who succeed. A man succeeds in business and he is praised for it, no matter his methods. A woman succeeds and she is criticized. I know why this is so. What I don't know is, why the why? It doesn't make sense. Ultimately, Shay would sell her company and become a millionare.

I miss Shay. Partly because, I miss Shay. But mostly (let's be honest here) because, less then two years after Shay's departure, my position was eliminated and my financial life has deteriorated like chicken left out on the counter too long.

Boy, have I gotten off on a tangent!

Sorry about that.

So, to repeat the unanswered final question - What am I to take from these personality profiles?

Nothing. Except, perhaps, the security that, even after a great many years, I can still take these tests and get results that can make me feel good about myself.

I like being a cat. Purr.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Masochist at Heart

I submitted another exercise to the Evil Editor blog. This time it was the first few paragraphs of Flames of Hatred. If it is used, I will once again be chagrined. (I say 'chagrined' instead of 'humiliated' because I'm sick of being humiliated.)

This opening is the latest revised opening. After four weeks of floundering to pick what to keep and what to toss in order to reduce the book's word length from 198,000-words to 100,000 and still keep the story, comprehension began to take hold of me. It came - at least in part - because I have been reading what Evil Editor and his Minions have been saying to other authors. Learning from the mistakes of others is far less humiliating than learning from one's own. The original opening was about 240-words. I was able to drop it to 180+. I'm only on Chapter Three and I've already dropped over 5,000 words using some simple techniques provided by the Minions. Regretfully, part of the word reduction is also due to my eliminating any mention of a certain character and the sub-plot associated with him. I'm concerned about this as this character is intended to become a significant character some time after Book Three. It could be that book doesn't get written. It certainly won't if there is no Book One.

I'm hoping my submission will be used. Not because I enjoy people making fun of what I wrote (although that can be amusing), but because I am hoping that with the comical continuation the Minions will comment on what I wrote. Was it more stupid and comical than the continuation? Did it provoke any feelings? Sometimes the Minions give such feedback, and sometimes the writing is so uninspiring the Minions only notice the continuation. That would be a worst case scenario.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Something Old Lives Again

Nearly forty years ago I created a set of characters to star in a series of very short stories entitled: The Furthering Adventures of Eric and Paulette. The stories were all to be done in a satirical, tongue-in-cheek sort of way. If I remember correctly, I only actually wrote one story. I was in high school at the time and submitted it as part of a writing contest. I won honorable mention. I remember being offended when the results were posted because the three winning entries were all poems - and only one was any good. NONE of the stories fared well. I was going to write more but never got around to it. I actually may still have that first Eric and Paulette story in the utility room with all my other historical writing.

Anyway, for some reason I felt like doing it again. Only I didn't want to do Eric and Paulette. I didn't necessarilly feel like being "funny". So I came up with Sassy and Otio. Sassy and Otio may go the way of Eric and Paulette, and maybe they'll get a few stories in. I don't know. But I put together something quick over the last two, three hours and here it is. I have yet to put in any editing. Typically, I will spend three times as much time editing what I wrote as writing it. (And even then it doesn't always - ever - come out well.)

Another in a series of short stories about Sassy Minx, an aspiring writer seeking the gateway to fame and fortune, and Otio Afflatus, an ever eager friend lending support.

Writing From Experience

"So, Sassy. What's the news?"

Sassy left her concentration at the keyboard only long enough to identify her visitor. Then she returned to her intensive typing.

"What? Oh. Hello, Otio. No news. I'm just working on my latest story."

Otio hurried over to the desk and leaned over her shoulder.

"What's this one about?"

Sassy sighed and sat back, taking a rest while her thoughts gathered.

"It's about a young girl who wants to be a waitress, but all of the restaurants in town have gone fast food and now nobody dines in."

"A girl wants to be a waitress? Sassy, that's hardly literature."
"That's not all it's about, stupid. It's about her learning the ins and outs of owing a restaurant so she can start her own business and be free to live as she wants."

"I'm not sold."

"And lots of sex."

"I suppose that's something."

"What do you mean, 'you suppose'? Everyone likes to read about sex. You read sex books all the time."

"Yeah, well."

"Well, what?"

"Well, you're the one who's always saying good writers write what they know."


"So, what do you know about sex?"

Sassy turned to Otio with indignatio.

"What are you saying?"

"Come on, Sassy. When was the last time you had sex?"

Sassy got up and pushed Otio away as she stomped to the kitchen.

"When ws the first time you ever did?"

"Oh, come on, Sassy. Don't be like that. You know what I mean."

"Yes, I do. You're always trying to find out if I've been in bed with anyone. And I keep telling you it's none of your business."

"I thought we were friends."

Sassy opened the refrigerator and took out a carton of milk.

"We were."

"Come on. Don't be mad. You don't really hate me now, do you?"

Otio came close and put his hands on Sassy's shoulders. Sassy turned to him and pushed him away.

"What do you want anyway? Why are you here?"

"I came over to keep you company. I thought I might be able to help you with your new story. You do need help, you know. And I think I can help."

Sassy turned and began pouring herself a glass of milk.

"Not by having sex with me, you can't."

"Don't be mean. You're always mean to me, Sassy."

"That's what friends are for, silly."

"Yeah? Well, sometimes I can't help feeling that maybe you don't like me."

Sassy looked Otio directly in his eyes.

"Sometimes, I don't." Otio recoiled as if struck. Then Sassy smiled and pulled his face down to kiss his cheek. "But we're always friends."

Otio smiled.

"Does that mean I can have some milk?"

"As long as you plan on getting it from the carton."

Sassy went back to her computer while Otio poured his own glass of milk and returned the carton to the refrigerator. She studied the screen as if it held some clue to the inspiration she so eagerly sought. When Otio return she felt more obliging to his criticism.

"So, you don't think I can write sex scenes?"

Otio paused before answering. When he spoke he was cautious.

"No. I don't."

"And you can?"

"I've read a lot on the subject. And I've seen enough pictures."

Sassy grunted in disgust.

"Pictures. That hardly gives you experience. Have you even seen a woman undress for real?"


"I mean recently."


Now it was Sassy's turn to be shocked. But she wasn't convinced Otio was telling the truth.

"When? Where?"

"Right here. Last weekend."

"What? Oh. Yeah. I forgot."

Sassy blushed at the memory of Otio walking in on her, Alana Cole, Erin Cliff, Brittany Steel, Keely Korts and Reaghan Connors last Friday evening, all drunk and dancing about the living room in their underwear. She and Otio did not have sexual relationship, but she had given him a key to her house so he could look in on her two cats when she was away, and she had given him permission to just 'come in' whenver he came over.

"You know," said Otio, "sometimes I don't wonder if you don't get your sexual satisfactions from those girlfriends of yours. Is that what you were doing Friday night? You never did say."

"It's none of your business what we were doing," Sassy said.

It wasn't his business, but that wasn't the reason she wasn't telling him. Generally, there weren't too many things the two didn't share with each other (sex being on that list). The real reason Sassy never said what they had been doing was because she couldn't quite remember. They had been doing some kind of drinking game. Some time after that they had undressed. Why, she didn't know. But they hadn't done anything like what Otio was suggesting. That she knew. Well, she thought she did.

Otio chuckled and sat down in the guest chair Sassy kept near the computer. It wasn't overly comfortabale, being just another office chair like the one she used.

"Well, I wouldn't blame you if you did. Some of those girls are quite hot. So, are you?"

"None of your business."

Otio laughed aloud. He liked to tease, especially about sexual things. Sassy was used to it and generally let him push his humor for a bit before she cut him off.

"Maybe not. But I can't help thinking about that Keely Korts. Boy, would I like to get into a bed with her."

"I bet you would."

Otio leaned toward her.

"So, is she as good in bed as she looks in her underwear?"

"None of your business."

Otio sat back and roared with laughter as Sassy blushed at the ramifications her answer had intimated. With a huff she got to her feet and grabbed Otio's arm.


"What? Where are you taking me? To the bedroom?"

"No! You are leaving. I have a story to write and you aren't helping. Get out, and don't come back for at least four hours. Got it?"

Otio held his hands up as to ward an attack.

"Okay, Okay," he said. Then he became solemn. "I suppose this is one of those times you don't like me, huh?"

Sassy rolled her eyes. Then she pulled his face close again and kissed his cheek.

"We're friends. Now get the hell out of here!"

Otio left with a smile on his face. Sassy closed the door with deliberation, but did not slam it. She took a deep breath and returned to her cmoputer. she closed the project about the waitress and did - File/New. Then she began writing. Sherise Winkel woke t ofind she was not alone in her bed. She opened her eyes to find it wasn't her bed. Where was she? Why was her mind muddled? Slowly, fearfully, she turned to see who was laying next to her. There was no mistaking that wavy dark hair. It was Sigrid Thalssom. How had she wound up in bed with Sigrid Thalssom? Sherise shook the muddled thoughts away and tried to remember the previous evening.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Getting My Feet Wet - At the Risk of Drowning

Well, I actually submitted something to the Evil Editor blog. It wasn't really an exercise. What was requested were the last five sentences of our novels, short stories, whatever. The actual exercise was to go to someone else's work and add a short beginning. That I did not do. I'm not qualified to do that. Not really.

Anyway, I submitted the endings for both Flames of Hatred and Prophecies of Madatar. They weren't the true endings, for I didn't include the Shatahar Interludes, which are the real endings. And I slightly modified them, to condense them into five sentences. But I didn't expect them to be used. I don't write as well as the others. They were both used.

Both were delightfully funny. Freddie wrote a hilarious beginning to Flames of Hatred (see Evil Editor Extremely Short Story 10). Anonymous wrote a very funny beginning to Prophecies of Madatar (see Evil Editor Extremely Short Story 11). If you do visit the blog you should take the opportunity to read the other submissions. There is some good writing there, and the tongue-in-cheek/sarcastic attitude about things is wonderful.

I did received criticism about how Flames of Hatred ends. Apparently, readers are receiving it like a cheap 1950s serial cliffhanger. There's a line between setting up a sequel and just being silly. I guess I've crossed it. Sigh. More rewriting.

One or two did remark that the writing was nice. Considering the quality of the other writing, to have mine spoken of as "nice" is like finding a one hundred dollar bill on the sidewalk. I'll take it.