I Was There
From pockets to purses
From vaults to venues
I was the nickel that made a shared date night soda possible
I was the coin you tossed into the fountain as you made your wish
I was that half dollar you discovered, at age 9, to start your collection
I was the quarter you flipped, calling head, landing tails, making you wait your turn
I paid for your first dime store novel
I was there to offer your two cents worth
With me, you went in for a penny when others went in for a pound
Now I patiently wait in a jar or a drawer or a piggy bank
For your child to discover me
And when their wonderment catches fire
I will be there for tiny hands and big dreams
Just like I was there for you
Cadet Andrews (courtesy of Showbear Family Circus and 2020)
I heard my name called, and yet I didn’t answer. For if I did, I would only hasten that which I did not want to proceed. If I didn’t, damned if I do, damned if I don’t was the current colloquialism.
The courtroom was as antiquated as I believed it would be. Old vids from long ago showed as much. I always wondered just how old those vids were if a single image remained intact. Our society did not value history. Our society treasured progress. I championed that notion and tirelessly sojourned toward that goal. Since my schooling, all I ever wanted was to make a positive contribution toward society as a whole. I saw myself as one man advancing toward PLEASANTNESS and lighting the way for others to follow. Who wouldn’t want what I offered? Who couldn’t say yes to such abundance I presented? Who shouldn’t assist in every manner possible? Every additional question I quietly asked began with who this and who that and remained unanswered as I moved closer to the stand.
My stand itself was of little consequence to the dramatic effect THE NINE presented. Each seated themselves, evenly spaced among a semi-circular altar elevated with a prestige the accused would never get. I stood with a single overhead torch light metaphorically imprisoning me in a cone. If I were to have a jury, this image would sway them toward a guilty verdict. However, I knew no jury would receive that opportunity. Today was not to be about justice. Today was to be about theatrically displaying power. Impressive, and not yet over. My guard struck the hilt of his sword against my stand to help focus my attention on my situation. And focus I did. In sequential order, from my left to right, I could view the partial faces of THE NINE when their lights projected only enough illumination for them to read from what I believe were view pads. Not the chalked tablets of the CENTRAL DISTRICT AUTHORITIES, but view pads! Once again, my mind went racing back to my classes for an explanation I knew would not come. View pads. To see one meant bragging rights. To see nine fully functioning meant something else.
“Now class, could someone please explain the symbolism of Mr. Clark Humphry’s excursion toward his judgement?” Professor Barclay knew no one cared about Clark Humphry and his story. He built a machine and saved the world by curing hunger. We celebrate his birthday every year and learn just a few additional scraps about the man who feeds all 600 million people each day. Humphry was a father to us all. Humphry fed those who could have died during the wars. Humphry did this. Humphry did that. So what! I heard this all before. Each person here heard this story all before. All 40 cadets needed this one hour lecture prior to venturing out into the world tomorrow to make our mark. And make our mark we would! Not like previous classes who promised much and delivered nothing. No! My class would make history and rise through the system for our achievements, not our failures. I would lead them. I would make General before the age of 30.
“Cadet Andrews!” I stood at attention when even Professor Barclay called upon me.
“Cadet Andrews, if you could take some time from your busy schedule to correctly answer my question, I would be so obliged.” Professor Barclay’s passive aggressiveness does not become a scholar of his stature, but he outranked me, so answer I did. “Mr. Clark Humphry’s use of symbolism illustrates to the most uneducated the dire nature of his predicament. He was to stand trial on an as-of-yet charge associated with an as-of-yet crime.” I smile the smugness of the confident only a fraction of a second before incurring the wrath of Professor Barclay.
“Insolent fool, Cadet Andrews!” He threw an antiquated book (obviously there for this sole purpose) from his desktop at me. I stood at attention as it sailed wide right. “Cadet Andrews, if I wanted a plebe’s reply, I would have found a plebe to reply.” I remained at attention awaiting my turn to spar this nuisance to my career. It never came. However, the next word did.
“Attention!” We all automatically arose when Professor Barclay gave orders. “Cadet Andrews believes I am wasting her time. Cadet Andrews believes I am the impediment to her career advancement. I should even think Cadet Andrews believes I am boring her.” Now I became worried. Being singled out does not bode well before graduation, let alone for choice assignments. Even though the Professor was my superior officer, I didn’t report to him. I reported to the Commandant, and report to him I would.
“Well class, I shall illustrate to the most uneducated the dire nature of your predicament. Cadet Andrews shall remain. The rest of the Class of 114, you are dismissed. Congratulations on your impending graduation.”
I found my blood boiling with a rage never before challenging my training. I wanted to burn Professor Barclay. I wanted him gone. But, I remained at attention and mentally prepared myself for a fight in the time and place of my choosing.
“Sit down Cadet Andrews. Remain silent. As of today, you are a woman of limited choice.” With that, Professor Barclay removed the vid disk the class had been viewing and replaced it with one he removed from a small biometric safe he removed from his desk. The opening of the safe meant the hard locking of the classroom door. “What you are about to see is for your eyes only. By the order of the CENTRAL DISTRICT AUTHORITIES, you will never speak of it. By viewing this vid, you may consider this your first assignment as an officer.” With that simple monologue, Professor Barclay and I watched what really happened to Mr. Clark Humphry.
The beginning remained the same. The faces of THE NINE retained their eerie glow, but now the guard did not remain for the proceedings. He did not need to. Mr. Humphry retained complete focus throughout.
The first of THE NINE (the one on the left) spoke first to me. He asked for the record; who I am, where I live, and what I do for a living. He knew the answers to these three questions before he asked them. I told him I was Clark Humphry. I live in Boston. I was an engineer. I am now an inventor. The second from the left asked what did I invent? I played along. “I am the inventor of the Molecular Entropy Device, aka the MED.” The third from the left wanted to know the purpose of the MED. “The purpose of the MED is to disassociate the triple bonds of one molecule of molecular nitrogen to two molecules of atomic nitrogen. In doing so, any viable plant can fix the readily available nitrogen in a process of self- fertilization. Unlike previous attempts, the MED is neither catalytic nor photon activated. The power source is not as important as the process. I use the term entropy as a catch all to deflect the exact explanation of the MED from the unwashed masses. Needless to say, the MED will revolutionize the world as we know it.” Now the fourth spoke clearly, “How so?” I figured I would eventually hear from each and then be sentenced for whatever crime I committed. As long as I didn’t reveal the details of the MED, I might have a few cards to play during the endgame discussions.
“By fixing atomic nitrogen to viable food plants, self-fertilization occurs. By fixing a near infinite supply of nitrogen, you grow a near infinite supply of food plants. This can feed a huge population of humans and farm animals. Areas of the world barren to agriculture would instantly convert into farms. The Great Saharan Desert could be the Great Saharan corn field. The Gobi alone could feed the billions in close proximity. Imagine the quality of life increasing because each of the 15 billion people on Earth has an abundance of food to eat. Imagine how much capital might be freed for better uses if the few remaining fertile areas need not be guarded. Imagine the aquatic agricultural boom if the few remaining fish species found ample food to eat. To whatever the nine of you call yourselves, the MED can do nothing short of turning Earth away from today’s misery toward tomorrow’s future. All I ask is the opportunity to use the MED to benefit all of mankind and not waste another moment in this kangaroo court awaiting extortion and imprisonment.
Professor Barclay hit pause for a brief discussion. “Obviously, Cadet Andrews, this vid displays the time before the wars. Analyze what you have seen. Comment when you are ready.”
I found a new level of respect from the professor and wondered if it was meant to lure me into a sense of unearned trust. Our training included mental preparedness against torture so I remained guarded in my answer.
“Mr. Humphry displays a level of conceit often associated with inventors and academics who feel themselves above the law. My comment on the fairness of the law from that time has zero merit. Only the fact he feels superior to it matters.”
After a brief eyebrow raise from the good professor for the inclusion of academics, he continued with the vid.
The fifth of THE NINE had a gravelly voice with a Baltic accent. His words came slow with an undercurrent of something hidden. I expected much and listened accordingly.
“Mr. Humphry, please detail what you will do should we choose to let you go free? How will you finance the MED? Who are you associates? What other inventions will you move from the idea phase to the construction phase? Be specific. We are all very interested in what you have to say.”
They were never going to let me go. I knew this. THE NINE knew this. It was an age old story of a few seizing power and wealth for themselves at the expense of entire populations. So for whatever they may present themselves as, this group of nine was just a bunch of thieves. Highly connected, very powerful, extremely rich, but common group of thieves. So I told them so, via gesticulation.
I expected a retort, definitely physical, possibly mental, from either them or their lackeys. I waited awkwardly for what I was sure to arrive, but never did. What I did receive was a laugh. First from the fifth, then from them all. An extended coarse laugh meant to be a painful to hear when directed at no one as it was when directed at me. For two minutes, each of THE NINE laughed at me. When it began to slow, the sixth took his turn at speaking.
“Cadet Andrews”. The professor’s voice simultaneously matched the pausing of the vid. “I spoke earlier of you having limited choices. Allow me to clarify that statement. You actually have only one choice. You may continue viewing this vid and accept the assignment associated with it or. . .” I knew what the impending OR was. I was to be privy to information few may even knew existed. I was to be part of the inner circle. Maybe even a ticket to THE NINE. I would be a fool to reject Professor Barclay’s offer; even half an offer. I went all in when I spoke the words, “I want this assignment.”
Professor Barclay smiled a crooked grin; the type of grin of someone who knows more than he lets on. He spoke of casting the die or the die was cast or some sort of archaic nomenclature. I must have been gloating when the vid began again.
The voice of the sixth began in sharp pitch dictation. His was all facts and no emotion. He spoke of Earth as it really was. He told me of the problems. There were too many people already. There were too many in prison. There were too many wars. There were too few resources. There were too many weapons. There was too much suffering. There was too little time. Despite all anyone ever did, there were too many questions and not enough answers. Nothing anyone could do helped to solve the fundamental problem facing Earth of too many people wanting to create too many more people. The rest nodded in agreement. The seventh rose and spoke in a completely different tone. He spoke with desperation. He spoke with trepidation. He addressed me personally.
“Mr. Clark Humphry, we need your assistance. We need the MED. We need you to use the MED. We just need you to use it in a different way.” I informed the seventh that I would listen.
“Earth is dying. Man is dying. We, THE NINE, have been able to control the death but we cannot do anything to stop it. We are not even in agreement if we should postpone the inevitable. Earth will die if we do nothing. Earth will die if we do something. The result is preordained. Even as I speak, word is spreading about the MED. With it, 15 billion will become 20 billion. They may have food. But what if they all want land? What if they all want a home, a doctor, an education, or a higher quality of life? What if they want more children? What if they want a future? What if they want hope?”
I had to reply. “I can give them that hope. The MED can give them all they desire. Why can you not see this?”
I let this sink in before I drew breath to continue. However, the eighth raised his hand and motioned for the seventh to sit. His was a voice of reason, nothing more, and nothing less. “Mr. Humphry. We have calculated the MED can do all you say it can do. But for how long? The 20 billion will soon become the 30 billion, then the 40 billion. We, THE NINE, can no longer resist the pressure of the 15 billion. Please do not add to the problem for we have a way for you to solve the problem.”
I heard all the first seven had to say. For the first time I now was dying to hear what the last two were to say. I was glad I had the time and the solitude away from others to do so.
The eighth began a proposal I knew no one could believe. It was rash and brash. It was unbelievable. And it began as such. “Mr. Clark Humphry, you are a man of limited choices. In reality, you have but one. Either you can do what must be done, or you can watch the last days of Earth.”
I told the eighth I was listening.
“Mr. Humphry, you must use the MED to reduce the human population to a more sustainable size. The ninth among us has already reversed engineered your device and knows this to be possible. What we want you to accomplish is to eliminate, to remove, to murder, to kill, or whatever your conscious requires you to name it, as many people as possible in the shortest period of time, without anyone knowing. We want you to dissociate all the molecular bonds within a human so they return to their atomic components leaving no tangible evidence.”
Playing Devil’s Advocate, I plied THE NINE for more information. “You want me to use the MED to turn people into piles of calcium and carbon off-gassing oxygen and hydrogen?” The eighth said yes. “You want me to reduce the world population under the guise of helping feed the world?” Again the eighth said yes. “Just how many people do you want me to kill?” Without a change in tone, the eighth replied, “14.5 billion people before the end of the year. When you succeed, and succeed you must, that day will be known as PLEASANTNESS and you will be known as the man who saved the human race.”
I was shocked. Who wouldn’t be? Was all this a joke? Who could devise such a plan? Forget all of the wars of history. Success for me would make me the greatest villain in the galaxy.
PLEASANTNESS my ass! I told THE NINE as such. They expected my reply. The eighth rose first then the remaining eight together. The eighth spoke for the rest. “We, THE NINE, concluded you would not be a part of this plan. We concluded you have the means but not the desire. Regrettably, it has come to this. PLEASANTNESS is already in full motion. The few remaining resources are manufacturing the MED for installation worldwide. Mr. Clark Humphry, you are not the desirable citizen capable of performing the one task you should perform. As such, we sentence you to life. Not life in prison. We sentence you to a hero’s life. We will never speak of this meeting. You can do as you wish. Wherever you go, the remaining population will greet you as the savior you should have been. The remaining ones will sing your praises and name their children after you. The suffering will be great, but, because of you, Mr. Clark Humphry, not all will suffer. Humanity will have PLEASANTNESS. Thank you for your cooperation.”
In the final diatribe, my guard returned and restrained me until THE NINE left. Then the guard left. True to their word, I was free to go. I was free to go and watch the monumental accumulation of elements wherever I went. I tried to explain. I tried to stop it all. No one listened. It was as if everyone bet they would be one of the survivors. And THE NINE were right. The survivors revered me as a god. I made the Sun shine. I returned the quality of life everyone read about in history books. And I met baby Clarks and baby Humphrys wherever I went. The Earth had the population’s PLEASANTNESS. I had the Earth’s guilt.
The final entry on the vid showed Mr. Clark Humphry committing suicide with a MED on his 42 birthday.
Professor Barclay did not have to pause the vid. He did do what he was ordered to do. In accepting my assignment, Colonel Barclay field promoted me to the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade and assigned me to visit the Hall of THE NINE. The current world population was 600 million, 100 million more than was necessary. Colonel Barclay handed me a vid on the schematics of the MED and ordered me to familiarize myself to its operation.
Much like Mr. Humphry, I had a difficult task ahead of me.
I Climbed Stone Mountain (courtesy of Underwood Press and June 24, 2019)
On the East side of Atlanta, in the town of Stone Mountain, Georgia is a park featuring a monolithic piece of quartz monzonite (close to granite) ascending 786 feet above ground and nearly 9 miles below ground. Officially known as Stone Mountain, it is one of the largest monadnocks (single exposed stone) on Earth.
It is here I decided to tempt fate and climb it.
For the record, I am a 53 year old math and science teacher with a large brood of summer school students and a planned field trip to meet the mountain. Not one to shirk a challenge, I agreed to go with all 28 of my healthy, fit, 13 year old students.
I made the climb.
I was sweaty, out of breath, in desperate need of multiple rests, and suffering from what I will describe when I get older as “a heart attack with each step”.
But, I made the climb.
My students finished in 20 minutes. I clocked in at 45 minutes. I wasn’t the last up the mountain, but I looked like a disaster during the entire climb.
On both the ascent and the descent, I passed a number of individuals, each with their own reason for being on the mountain that day. Some were there for fitness, some for adventure, and some for fun.
One was there for another reason.
I have no idea what his name was, so I will moniker him as Bob.
Bob climbed and talked (out loud) to himself. He spoke of times of his life running the entire spectrum of pleasantness to sheer horror. He must have lived each episode and been affected accordingly. His pace matched my pace. His words resonated with me. He married young and she died young. His single child ran away from home and never returned. His army days scarred him of actions too heinous to repeat.
Bob broadcasted his struggles with drugs and alcoholism, his repeated attempts at recovery, and his time spent behind bars.
Bob detailed the life of his last best friend, his dog. While never stating his name, Bob rejoiced in the few years they had together. He stopped the tale mid-sentence, both to catch his breath and to wipe away a tear on his face. I took that time to mirror his pace and actions. Sweat and pain followed me upward. History and therapy pushed Bob.
At the first rest station, Bob found a respite on a water smoothed rock perfectly accessible for a single person requiring such a place to rest. I lurked nearby, unable to hear Bob’s constant banter, but wishing I could. I am not a professional who might have helped Bob so I should have continued independent of him, but I found myself drawn to his solo conversation.
I became an uninvited spy in the life of another.
Bob moved on and so did I.
The vertical steps between rocks became smaller, but my lack of energy made even this part of the ascent difficult. I am out of shape from the days of my youth and felt every painful leg lift to continue propelling myself forward. If Bob (who looked a decade older than me) had the same problems, he didn’t show it. Mimicking a metronome, he proceeded at the same pace he began.
In for a penny, in for a pound; I had to keep up.
I heard Bob speak of his faith in God and the times he lost his faith.
I heard Bob curse someone named Melissa while never breaking stride.
Bob reached an adjacent gravel road and decided to travel its constant slope for the next quarter mile. So did others. So did I.
Bob became silent during this portion and rededicated himself to a successful conclusion. I kept pace for I could see the top. I would collapse there (as would others).
The rest of the climb became uneventful for the two of us. I heard Bob breathing as hard as I was and walking as slow as I would, if I set the pace.
Upon reaching the summit, I did require a rest, but only one in close proximity to Bob. I have no right to make this decision and no right to eavesdrop for as long as I have, but I had no other choice but to finish what we (Bob and I) started.
Ironically, this was the first time today I used the pronoun “we”.
Once on top, Bob walked to the edge of Stone Mountain and gazed upon the wonder of what nature bestowed upon man and what man found the courage to preserve for posterity. He took his time, looked about, and began a long guttural scream a long time coming. It was as painful to watch as it was to perform. My ears hurt. My heart ached for Bob. This had to have been his metamorphosis or cathartic release or some other reason justifying what he did and where he did it. Perhaps this one spot atop the mountain had a powerful meaning only he and his ghosts could fathom. Perhaps he had survivor’s guilt from being the last of his kind and the journey was one last goodbye, screamed to the winds. Whatever was Bob’s purpose, whatever pushed him upward, or pulled him through, I believe he became a better man for playing the role he was cast to play.
After catching his breath and exercising his demons, Bob gave thanks toward the sky and began the slow and careful walk back down to his life in Georgia.
I chose not to follow him. I had my own purpose for being on the mountain.
My students greeted me from the snack shack atop Stone Mountain and laughed at my sweaty appearance. I did look disheveled and far from the norm of teaching excellence I wished to always convey to them. My heart was still racing, my pulse was too high, and my face looked flushed.
But I made it when none of my students believed I could do so.
In honor of this small achievement, I walked to the edge of Stone Mountain, gazed about, and proceeded to yell at the top of my lungs to the wind.
My students rarely understand the subtlety of what I say or do.
If Bob had heard me, he would have.
Of that, I am sure.
Comeuppance (courtesy of Thirty West and 2019)
I began working as an intern at the age of nineteen for the summer between freshman and sophomore years in college. I could type, file, schedule and answer phones. I needed money for the next semester. I found, what I believed, to be the perfect job for my talents. I was incorrect in my conclusion for my acknowledged skills. I was absolutely correct in my conclusion for my soon-to-be-learned skills.
My problems with my boss began on my first day. At lunch, he asked me to remain and help him with payroll. What he meant was he wanted me for a different type of filing. It happened so fast, that I became a victim in less than twenty minutes. However, soon after, I also became rich (by my standards). He left me alone in his office to clean myself and count the $50 he left as payment for my “dedication” to the job. I felt used and wanted to quit. But, then I thought. I was on the Pill, he used a condom, and he did not hurt me during the act. As despicable as he was, I was equally reprehensible for pocketing the money and returning to work; silently. From then on, when he mentioned “payroll”, I was ready. My job title did not match my job description, but my checking account increased at a rate faster than my lack of penitence. I was bought and sold, nearly four times a week, and understood my place in the Universe.
That was until the first Monday in August. That is when I found my boss interviewing my replacement. She was not even a high school graduate, nor a lady of “practical” upbringing. She was barely sixteen and knew how to resist. Thus, my boss decided to accelerate her education with a few punches and slaps. I heard him tell this girl that it was for the best and she should not resist the inevitable. He went so far to tell her that I was his whore and that was just the way things work. I heard her get up weeping and offer a weak agreement to him verbally. That is when I decided to enter with a coffee pot and drop it on the floor. I said I was clumsy and offered the girl an opportunity to exit before it became too late. She took her leave from my employer. I took her beating. I also took a brutal hour on the couch. What I didn’t take was any cash for my effort. So much for being his whore. At least they get paid.
For the remainder of the month, I spent my time photocopying financial records and downloading all business and personal files. I also spent more than an hour per day as my boss’s piece of tail. My decision was a tradeoff; my soul versus my ability to endure. By the end of the month, both had worn thin. On my last day, he offered to take me to dinner. He was polite. He offered me a reference if I wanted one or my position when I was on holiday or during next summer.
I declined both.
He was not happy with my decision and wanted to know why I was being rude. I told him he was a rapist. He told me I was a whore. I told him I was “heavy with child”. He told me he was HIV+. I took a sip of water and told him I was going to the police. He replied I was going to the morgue. I met his blank eyes with my small grin. I let everything we just spoke of settle in before I replayed it again for all in the establishment to hear. With that, he slapped me hard enough to knock me out of the chair.
It was difficult to keep from laughing as I repeated his social security number out loud. Then his credit card number. Then his checking account number. This gave him a second to recover his composure and assist me back into my seat.
“Please relax before I inform the police. Another outbreak of violence will be met with violence from your future cellmate.” He now took me seriously. I explained I had all financial control of his life and his business. I would return 10% per year to him, if and when, he could demonstrate a better level of emotional control. I might even go so far as to hire a gay overseer to view his books on a daily basis and his rear on an equal level of frequency.
With that, my former boss rose and left the restaurant without saying another word. He did attempt to assault me in the parking lot when I left the restaurant. I expected as much.
What transpired was the father and two uncles of the interviewed sixteen year old restrained my boss with a few fists and ropes. This permitted one last conversation with him.
I approached him and used a pair of pliers the father had in the ready. I applied the pliers to my former boss’s genitals to “grab” his attention. I heard the men force my weakened boss into the trunk of a car. I never saw the car or my boss again.
I anonymously sent my report and copies of all his records to the IRS for auditing.
So, what is so scary about this story?
Maybe it is the fact that none of it is true. I never did get even with my boss. He did abuse the teenage girl. He fired me and had me arrested. My release came at the cost of my silence toward his sexual escapades. I left without any payment for my “payroll” assistance. I left without much more than a shattered ego and a series of bounced paychecks. He is still out there, attacking and raping women, without a care to the consequences.
He has no reason to believe otherwise.
Darch (courtesy of Zimbell House and 2019)
Commander Franklin always spoke to me in terms best described as harsh. Today was no different. I was only a few moments into the first watch when I instinctively responded.
“Sir, yes sir!”
“Ensign Hollister. You are hereby relieved of your duty station. You will report to the auxiliary bridge and wait for further orders.”
With that, Commander Franklin turned his attention to a new ensign and began his systemic destruction of ego he was so famous for. This gave me the briefest time to exit the Commander’s proximity and transverse the red line of urgency (Morovian for shortest distance between any two points) to hurry and wait. I am positive that phrase did not originate with our people, but I have no proof to think otherwise. Since entering the service on my day of ascension, I have been innerlocked (Morovian for axially stowed) aboard the Nibiru for nearly two standard years. I have not seen a star, a planet, or another ship in that time. I have stood watch waiting to actually see something worth watching. Until now, all of my effort has been in vain; until now.
It takes only twenty standard moments to traverse the red line (no axial gravity here for the Nibiru creates radial gravity by rotating) and enter the auxiliary bridge. I find Lieutenant Briggs there, alone, with sealed orders. I can only suspect they are for me.
“Ensign”. His commanding voice foretells of something worth hearing and foreboding. “As of this moment, by the power vested in Captain Seech, you are promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade.” I am astonished and almost fall out of attention. Almost. “With this promotion comes your first off ship assignment. You are to depart, at once, via a one man civilian shuttle, to the coordinates programmed within. The trip will be long, your supplies few, and your fuel insufficient for a return. Your orders are to gather intelligence on the second planet of the Glieset system. Pay close attention to the single remaining sanctuary city, Darch. You are to investigate the city, the inhabitants, and their way of life. You will disclose your status as an Officer of the Consortium. This will almost be under a first contact protocol.”
Lt. Briggs let the word “almost” hang in the ether as if he wanted to scrutinize my face for a reaction. Ensign Hollister may have fallen for such a trick. Lt. JG Hollister did not.
“We estimate you will have one standard year to collect your data. At that time, representatives of the Consortium will return and exchange you with another during your debriefing. Afterward, you will be assigned to duties normally associated with an officer of your rank. Do you have any questions, Lieutenant Hollister?”
“Only one sir. When do I depart?”
Lieutenant Briggs has no sense of humor. He does a flair for the dramatic. I began my journey on self-imposed rations for food and fuel. I kept life support at a minimum to conserve both and spent the time reading and sleeping. I expected numerous mission reports to brief me on what to expect. The sum total of what the Consortium decided to avail to me about Darch could be condensed to a single word.
Since the First Pegasi Excursion, the inhabitants of the Glieset system either volunteered to fight or dug in to resist. Orbital bombardment with mass-drivers terraformed Glieset-2 to a waterless desert. Both population choices seemed futile in the aftermath. What was a nearly agrarian world soon became a memory of its past glory. The few remaining people wrote poems about their plight in the hopes someone of importance would remember and offer assistance. No such person ever read a single word of their desperation. However, since I had nothing but time, I did.
On what was once the River Shallz
Between the lands of the Palatine Pfalz
Meandering amongst the mangrove groves
Laid the City of Darch and all of its woes
It was all I could take to suffer through the first verse. The poem continues for another ten. In retrospect, the inhabitants of Glieset-3 suffered through an atomic holocaust of unimaginable horror. No survivors meant no poems. In that small difference, the remaining inhabitants of Glieset-2 lived a charmed life.
The heat of Darch seems almost splendid by comparison. Records indicate an average daily high of 35% above human body temperature making all sources of surface water non-existent. If Darchers remained, I hypothesize they must spend most of their life subterranean. That meant a limited amount of sunlight for photosynthesis, thus a limited population. If I was to make contact with any population (it had been nearly two generations since the last conflict), I would first have to find them.
Four sleep cycles later, I entered orbit above Glieset-2. I spent half of my remaining fuel maneuvering to scan all geographic features of what remained on the surface.
It was not much to see.
Indeed, Darch was the only surviving city, if you can call what remains a city. As per the poem, the dry banks of the River Shallz scored the land leading to Darch. I found no vegetation or signs animal life. An overly thorough search pattern indicated no recent signs of human activity. I am almost relieved neither the Morovian Consortium participated in the bombardment nor I would ever encounter someone who believed we did.
Without fuel to choose otherwise, I decided to land in what looks to be the city square of Darch. The site is flat and paved with stones suitable for a makeshift landing pad. My shuttle lands with insufficient fuel remaining to break orbit, but more than enough for shelter and life support for half a Darch year.
I have provisions aplenty, a variety of low tech weaponry (firearms, bows, swords, and a few grenades) to dissuade the natives, and bivouac supplies, and two transmitters (one I keep on me, one I leave in the shuttle). Missions such as mine do not permit the deployment of Consortium high tech grade equipment should the entire cache fall in enemy hands. I hope this could not happen. To ensure it did not happen, I booby-trapped the remaining shuttle supplies with two of my grenades. If I could not occupy my shuttle, no one else would.
With night quickly approaching, I settled in for a planet side sleep and set my sensors on auto. The last scan reported 1.05 Morovian normal gravity and 98% Morovian normal atmosphere. Note to self, zero percent humidity and a night time low of 105% body temperature does not constitute Morovian normal atmosphere.
I found my handgun, set a mirror to see the door from all blind spots, grabbed a blanket and went to sleep. I have an entire Darch year to unravel anything remaining to unravel.
I awoke to a stuffy cabin atmosphere and a blinding sun that seemed to permeate the skin of my shuttle at well past an annoyance level. I heard myself utter “Welcome to Darch” as I prepared for the scorching morning of Day 1 of my assignment.
I exited my shuttle confident in my traps and my plan for the day. My backpack is balanced, my rifle visible, and my front pack filled with supplies for five Morovian sleep cycles (maybe only two on Darch). Since I landed in front of city hall, I decided to spend the day there browsing through any and all records I could find. In the time before the First Pegasi Excursion, Glieset-2 was a temperate agricultural planet of nearly ten million inhabitants with no visitors other than the commercial shuttle traffic from neighboring Glieset-3.
When the attacks began, Glieset-2 was hit immediately. Then Glieset-3 was surrounded and ordered to surrender resulting in four billion residents deciding on a first strike before facing the inevitable.
According to the records, the missile barrage from the surface was intense. The first wave destroyed nearly 10% of the invading fleet.
There was no second barrage from below.
The attacking fleet permitted the few satellites of Glieset-2 to record what came next. In a blink-of-an-eye, twelve descending missiles detonated simultaneously over Glieset-3 in an atomic devastation reminiscent of ancient vids in the early years of Morovia and her abundant wars. Not a single person of the planet survived. Not a single invasion force landed. For these people, the First Pegasi Excursion ended in less than one cycle. For the survivors of Glieset-2, it had just begun. With all major cities annihilated and all water evaporating, the remaining population gathered what they had and moved to Darch, the first and only declared sanctuary city on the planet.
Why was Darch spared? I continued reading the records and could only uncover theories. One person said it was out of compassion. Another said the attackers ran out of rocks to hurl at the city. I continued reading until I found what I believed to be the real reason.
The invaders spared Darch because Darch wasn’t worth the effort to destroy.
From the city plans, Darch may be a sanctuary, but it doesn’t qualify as a city. Most of the residences are adobe. None of the buildings rise above three floors. There is not a single electrical station listed anywhere (pre-attack) in the entire city. Darch was a large town before. Darch is a ghost town now.
And Darch is hot and getting hotter by the moment.
With a quick time check, I gather all I have yet to read and move quickly back to the shuttle.
Or what is left of it.
My grenades did not explode, but my provisions are gone. The fuel is gone. All of the weapons are gone. Even my blanket is gone. All that remains are the supplies I have packed upon my person and a spatter of blood, from an ill-advised encounter with my broken mirror.
So, whoever it was, was clever enough to disarm a series of explosives, but became injured by a mirror. The footprints outside indicate a single barefoot human. They also indicate a direction of travel, to the underground shelters I read about earlier. Whoever it is, is hurt and on the run. Unfortunately, whoever it is, is also clever. I have to go after him, if only to retrieve all that I lost. However, this is his home and he (how do I know it is a he?) knows his territory better than I.
Damned if do. Damned if I don’t.
Note to self: Research the previous expression, in terms of origin and original meaning.
A quick equipment check, as I move to descend the stairs into what I do not know.
I have a flashlight, but chose not to use it. If I were him, I would use the bow in the dark and shoot at anything that moved. Instead, I opted for a diversion. I crept to the first flight of stairs, acted like I tripped, cursed, and froze. I could wait him out, if he was curious. If he wasn’t, at least I was out of the direct sunlight and heat.
It took only a few moments to see I was right.
His first bow shot was very accurate. Had I remained where he thought I was, I would be dead. His second shot was for insurance.
I kept waiting. And listening.
What he heard was the trickle of my canteen water, silent in a normal conversation, deafening in this darkness. I bet he could not resist investigating a leaking water source. He had my hardware, but on Darch, hardware is useless and water is king.
So he came to me. Bow in hand, shotgun slung over his back. Either he did not know how to use the latter or he was worried someone may investigate if he did.
Either way, my knife would solve both problems.
He took his time doubling back. This one was experienced. I heard his steps as his feet crunched the dust below. I would have stepped in my descent tracks. He would have also if he had not initially run down the steps.
Moments passed slowly. My tongue began to swell from my own elevated body temperature. I strained to hear every sound. He was human and a male. The slow draw of air through his teeth emitted a small whistle in his labored progress. I concentrated on that whistle. He was almost there, almost in range. I tightened my grip on the knife’s leather straps. I would thrust upward to avoid his parry. It was all so easy.
Until I heard her.
And then nothing.
My prison cell is cylindrical and I am not bound. The light is low, low enough to recon the cell dimensions, too low to catalog details.
My beard is thick and my hunger is strong. I am left with shoes but no other clothing. My head lingers of a concussion one sleep cycle removed.
I am no longer bleeding through the field dressing I don.
This combination of circumstance and inventory keeps me bewildered. Somebody wants me alive. For how long and why are the questions still unresolved.
Unlike my last encounter with the citizens of Darch, I found answers to my questions quickly.
Within moments of regaining consciousness, the man who stole my supplies opened the metal panel in the cell door and inquired about my health. His voice seemed a bit nervous, a bit rehearsed, and a bit forced. He may not be alone or acting in his own best interests. However, he does speak the trade language of this sector and I can understand more than just his words.
“Do you have a name?”
“I am an officer of the Consortium, Lieutenant Hollister, Junior Grade. I want to speak to someone in charge.”
“For now, you are a guest of the citizens of Darch. We regret our first contact with you, but you have supplies we require. We distribute all resources evenly for the greater good.”
“Then why did you leave me with my shoes?”
“If you are a Lieutenant, then you will understand the purpose of an interrogation and the results of lying during one. On Darch, there is but one penalty, exposure. I am going to ask you a series of questions. You are going to give a series of answers. When you lie, the ceiling will open permitting sunlight and the associated heat to enter. Each incorrect answer will correspond to a larger ceiling opening and an increase in the temperature. You have the entirety of your cell to move about to avoid the inevitable. However, the entire room will soon surpass livable conditions if you cannot be truthful. If you fail to answer each question to our level of satisfaction, you will become burned, dehydrated, and dead.”
“I understand torture. What I do not understand is the need for the shoes.”
“Since you are in relatively good health and could resist even a prolonged exposure, we have
given you the shoes to resist the effects of the floor during your question and answer period.”
“I still do not understand. You seem to be hurried. Don’t my shoes work against your schedule?”
His voice waivered prior to his answer to my question. I believe he did not wish to answer, but answer he did.
“For expediency only, we have placed a large lens suspended from the ceiling. Such a device will intensify the absorbed heat of the contents of the cell. This will include both you and the floor. Thus, your incorrect answers will result in your hastened departure. I am certain you understand the nature of the shoes Lieutenant Hollister.”
I was now certain of the nature of my shoes.
I awoke as bewildered as before. The difference is, this time, I understand the nature of my predicament. While no longer thirsty, I am severely burned over 20% of my body and moderately burned over the rest. I most likely will not live in time for Consortium help to arrive.
My captors enter my room and move to sit in the chairs. I must stand. He was correct. The shoes did provide an oasis from the heat. Nothing provides any relief from the pain.
This time, she does the talking.
“We have studied the transcript of your interrogation and have more questions. Some of your answers cannot be corroborated. It is in your best interests to clarify your answers.”
With that, she rose and injected me with a pain killer from a prepared syringe. I can offer little in the way of resistance.
“This will ease the pain enabling you to speak without too much trouble. The effects are temporary, but the doses are many. Please advise us when you are ready to begin.”
I re-explained to both of them that I had no idea of the current state of Glieset-2 prior to my arrival. I repeated the Consortium was not responsible for the destruction of the inhabitable planets of this system or the subsequent formation of the only sanctuary city, Darch. I told them (for the first time) I tried to read that poem about the city and found it boring and not worth my effort. They wanted to know about my transmitters and why they could not adjust from the single frequency each was assigned (another Lt. Briggs precaution). All of this was trivial. All of this was leading to something else. Who would go through all of this work for so little gain? If the situation were reversed, Commander Franklin who have his answers in mere moments.
“Lieutenant Hollister, could you please explain the nature of your mission? I know we asked before during your last session, but we feel you are still holding back information. For example, if you found no life on Glieset-2 or in Darch, what were you to do? You did not have sufficient supplies to last the entire year. You told us you would be here, prior to transmitting your report to the Consortium. Did you believe you could live off the land on a barren planet? Please elaborate.”
I did not have an answer for her. I did not even want to answer her. Part of me was hoping I would find a thriving civilization hidden somewhere on Darch. Part of me wanted to do anything to for an adventure and prove my worth. My superiors must have viewed me as expendable. I did not want to explain this to the two of them.
The pain was returning and I needed to rest. Without a new injection, the latter could be horrific. With a new injection, I was merely buying time.
So I told them the truth. I was expendable and not expected to return. But, as an officer, I would perform my duties as expected and transmit my report as ordered.
They seemed pleased with my answer and she empathically rose to administer another injection.
“This one, Lieutenant Hollister has both a pain killer and a stimulant. It looks as if your require both.”
I let the elixir course through my body. The effect became systemic and I felt better for the temporary relief it brought.
She waited until I became stable again before she continued.
“Lieutenant Hollister, why is it your Consortium equipment did not register the two of us in Darch? We are as human as you are. We have to exit outside, albeit infrequently. Certainly, as your shuttle’s computer records indicate, in your search pattern should have detected us. Why did it not?”
I was pacing back and forth thinking, ironically, about that poem when she spoke. Without even trying, I began mouthing the words,
On what was once the River Shallz
Between the lands of the Palatine Pfalz
Meandering amongst the mangrove groves
Laid the City of Darch and all of its woes
In what was once a beacon of desire
With nights of stars and days of fire
When too many fires burned the land
Left too few people to understand
Perhaps I was in a delirium, maybe initiated by the pain killers or the stimulants. I did not even want to recite that poem, but I did and for the next few moments, they listened and took notes.
Then she tapped my burned shoulder and asked the questions again.
Her touch sent pain surging through my arm. I screamed from the contact and screamed again from screaming. My burns do not permit normal movement or even the normal response to normal movement. She realizes the extent of how I suffer. That touch was not by chance.
Once I began to recover, I let her have her answer. It did not have to be true. It did not even have to make sense. Nothing on this world makes sense. I don’t condone, but I do understand why Glieset-3 and its inhabitants were destroyed. They had a large technological population and could resist an occupation. But Glieset-2 was an agricultural planet with a small population. It had everything an invading force could desire. There was no reason to destroy paradise.
“Lieutenant Hollister, why did your shuttle not detect our presence?”
When I hesitated again, she arose with a new syringe.
To avoid more pain, I made my answer clear. It was a lie, but I was clear none-the-less.
“Perhaps my shuttle did not detect your presence because, perhaps, I was scanning for the wrong type of life.”
The look on their faces indicated they did not expect my answer. I was on to something. Something just out of reach. For the first time since I landed on here, I had a modicum of power.
I used this respite to figure my next move.
They budgeted their time to confer with each other.
A few moments of awkward silence before he spoke. “If we repaired your shuttle, healed you, and provisioned you with fuel and supplies, would you promise to never to return here or speak about what you have seen?”
Now I had to think about their offer in a serious manner. Even if their offer was true, the Morovian Consortium would not believe any tale I could conjure for the time spent in Darch. They would send another and another until they became satisfied Glieset-2 was indeed uninhabitable and Darch posed no threat. I told the two as much during my interrogation. They looked as if they knew my answer before they even posed the question.
“So, whether we heal and release you, your consortium will eventually come to Darch. Is that correct?” I could only nod in agreement.
This time, ignoring me, she spoke to he. “It is time to send the transmission.”
For the next precious moments, I heard my voice, send a transmission of my mission success by which I did not find any population in the sanctuary city of Darch, but I did discover underground storage tanks of water and seeds to rebuild once the heat of the scorching passed. I spoke of the future for Darch and my own injuries that I would not survive. With that, the transmission to the Consortium concluded.
I had to inquire with a single one word question. “Why?”
She decided to speak for the both of them.
“Here on Glieset-2, very few of us survived the bombardment and even fewer made it to Darch for shelter. The lucky among us did not find a sanctuary city. Instead, we found a different type of death.”
Now he spoke in earnest. “Those that destroyed Glieset-3 and attacked Glieset-2 are known as the Karcz. They are a silicon based life form with simple goals. They consume human hemoglobin. They feast, in particular, on the iron in its variable oxidation state. They have traveled far to find a place where they could continue to dine at their leisure.”
Now they alternated.
“Glieset-3 had too many people to live off of. This population would eventually use its technology and discover the Karcz and kill them. For that reason, the entire population had to be exterminated. However, Glieset-2 had a population of a more controllable size. A population to be herded in a sanctuary city, to be managed, to be culled when necessary.”
“It has been two generations since the bombardment. The Karcz have dined well. So well, there is a need to recruit new feedstocks for their growing population. We made a deal to delay our culling to after the conclusion of a normal lifespan in return for our assistance in bring additional provisions to Darch. See, the Karcz thrive in heat and have become pleased with our arrangement. You might say we are symbiotic.”
Now I had to interject. The pain was building again and I do not trust her with her syringe collection.
“You are telling me everything I went through was all a ruse for this Karcz? Where are they? Are they hiding? I want to speak to them now?”
Both he and she smiled. I was suffering and dying. I had trouble breathing and what remained of my skin was slowing bleeding. I could not run or fight. But, I still had to know.
“Lieutenant Hollister. You already have met the Karcz. You might even say they know you intimately. The Karcz are sub-microscopic in size. I injected you with them. As we speak, they are scavenging your iron rich blood, inventorying every vein and artery in your body. You are feeling the effects of their efficiency, but only for a few moments more. Soon, you will be an appetizer for the future feast of Consortium soldiers, speculators, and their families. The Karcz will grow as an invisible population among the unknowing who will listen to your report. On behalf of the Karcz and the two of us, we all thank you Lieutenant Hollister. None of this would be possible without you.”
I tried to reach out to grab something, anything.
As I fell, all I could think about was that poem.
Only If I Cared
I have mastered time travel.
Not for me, for I have to remain in my current time stream to run the mechanics of the machine, but for others. I have the ability to pluck someone from the past into my present or place someone from my present into my future. The subject need not be cooperative during my machinations or knowledgeable of my intent; the subject need only be.
Now for the morally complex. I wish to have one more child before menopause. My husband does not. He was not always this way. Thirty years ago, during his 18 to 80, deaf, dumb, and crazy phase, he would have engaged in any such activity resulting in procreation. That is the reason we raised six children in four years (two sets of twins). For his enthusiasm during my requests, during this time, I am grateful. However, today, his lackluster exuberance leaves me desperate.
I want one more child and I want him to be the father.
So, I have plucked my Mr. Right, circa 1993 to be Mr. Right now, circa 2023. I chose him from 1993 because our six children would have already been born. I chose 1993 because he is an unemployed child-raising genius and I still am a successful stockbroker. I could use a bit of his esprit de corps should I have my plan fulfilled and conscious appeased. I chose 1993, because once he does arrive, I will want to keep him over the current 2023 model.
I have a time machine, soon a seventh child from an adulterous? affair with my husband without my husband’s knowledge? in a bigamous relationship? that robs my older husband of his rightful past as my younger husband? all for the selfishness of my desire to do so because I can do so.
I speak only of can “do so” with certainty and not should “do so” with any modicum of moral authority.
Thus, I have resolved to retrieve Mr. 1993 to live with a woman (me) who was 2 years his junior and now will be 28 years his senior. Should Mr. 2023 complain I can always send him to 2053 to reside with that same woman (me) who will still be 28 years his senior.
By 2053, I might have a reasonable explanation for my actions.
Archaeological Extension Proposal for Planet 258B (courtesy of antilang 4 and 2019)
Title: Archaeological Extension proposal for Planet 258B
Regarding: Newly discovered, planet-wide, doomsday cult
Auto-translated: Galactic Standard
“Professor Herbert, you have repeatedly asked for an audience with this committee and we have repeatedly refused your requests. I speak for more than myself when I state for the record I do not enjoy my subpoena to appear in open court to defend my decisions. In lieu of that, and because of that insular act of yours, you have the committee’s attention, today, and only today, until such time as we deem your presence unworthy of our attention. Thus, make the best use of your one and only appearance. Do you understand Professor Herbert?” I nodded in agreement and stood to address the members. I decided to lead with my best.
“My archaeological teams have excavated various sites on Planet 258B and have concluded the extinction level event (ELE) that instantly exterminated all life WAS NOT caused by the irrational actions of the primitive governments. We conclusively believe Planet 258B’s ELE was caused by the presence of a worldwide, highly organized, highly funded, doomsday cult. It’s enormous and secretive membership permeated all levels of both government and industry infiltrating all branches and steering the decisions of all officials to this cult’s doomsday agenda.” I inhaled and decided to wait until all the committee membership fully understood the scope of my research.
Once the murmurs subsided, I continued. “As the sole representative of numerous research teams, I speak for all involved. We conclude that studying the actions of this cult may help prevent similar events, on similar worlds, using directed tactics, proving less costly, and more effective than traditional means of action.” I never finished the thought.
“Professor Herbert! Are you advocating sedition? What gives you the right to question the policies of legally authorized officials to conduct their legally authorized actions? Explain yourself, Professor Herbert!”
And so I continued, temporarily ignoring the chairman’s charges.
“This cult managed in a mere span of 70 localized solar years to expand to every continental mass, construct over 12000 temples, and erect an enormous shrine of a combination of rare metals that, as of yet, we are having difficulty identifying. Thus is the nature, but not full extent, of my proposal.”
Mr. Addison, the junior member of the committee interrupted for clarity. “Professor Herbert, you speak of a doomsday cult originating on Planet 258B. What is the name of this cult?”
“Mr. Addison, the cult in question goes by a variety of names and with the ELE, very few records exist to exactly pinpoint its proper name or point of origin (POO). However, we have isolated a few of the most frequently occurring references to the cult. They include MKD (no explanation given), GOLDENA (might be only a partial name), or the one I picked for simplicity’s sake. I wish to refer to the doomsday cult as the inverted catenary curve (ICC).”
Mr. Thomas now took his turn to interrupt. “Professor, why the name ICC?”
Such an easy question.
“Mr. Thomas, I selected the moniker ICC because of the shape of the icons at each of the 12 thousand temple sites and the enormous shrine located in the center of the northwestern continent. It rises upwards of 200 standard units and is the only ICC construct that is only single, not double. My teams have excavated the entire site finding only one curve. We believe another ICC exists somewhere. Furthermore, we have other conclusions based upon data we are sure about.”
“Professor Herbert”, Mr. Jones, the last appointed committee member and only friend to my proposal, “What other conclusions about ICC are you certain of?”
“Thank you, Mr. Jones. The following is a list of specific ICC activities we are certain of.”
The date of origination (DOO) of ICC occurs just after the dominant species on Planet 258B first used atomic weaponry in war. The date of termination (DOT) of ICC coincides with the ELE. No further records exist post-DOT.
ICC labored anonymously, in almost in total secrecy, despite being publicaly known by million and millions, then billions and billions of lifeforms. The funding ICC required did not originate from its religious meetings, but from the sale of low-cost, mass-produced, low-nutritional food-stuffs. ICC financial records proudly indicate the food sales represented nearly 100% of their income and sales on all seven continental landmasses, with the greatest density of sales in the most populated urban areas in closest proximity to the enormous shrine.
ICC records and news reports often bragged that most of Planet 258B lifeforms, at one time, openly worked for ICC, despite the absence of nutritional value in their food and beleaguered status of the populace’s confidence in ICC’s reputation as a business and
not a religious organization. We believe this is the single most important reason of ICC incorporation into so many avenues of worldwide power and influence. If not for the tolerant, often sympathetic reaction of the populace toward ICC employment, no government would permit this level of obvious intrusion in the day-to-day operations of so many positions. Certainly, we have yet to find a single law or restriction against ICC or any of its devout followers. We believe there no such records to be found.
In the waning days prior to ELE, the last formatted ICC documents show the cult’s parishioners refused to sell the remaining quantities of food to feed its flock until civilization returned under ICC direct management. If successful, ICC would have created the entirety of post-ELE documentation. No such documents exist. No such post-ELE activities exist. ICC succeeded in implementing its doomsday scenarios, but failed in surviving the consequences of their actions.
“Professor Herbert, what do you want from this committee?” The chairman gazed at his timepiece when uttering his question.
I obliged the chairman and remembered his previous sedition charges before answering. “Mr. Chairman, I propose that my teams continue to be funded to fully explore all levels of ICC operations on Planet 258B. Furthermore, I wish to be considered for this committee’s enrollment the singular purpose of using the ICC research in applications of destroying all similar ICC activities on empire planets. We cannot forgo the obvious conclusions of repeating the doomsday plots of ICC origin. Too much is at stake. Too much may be lost. Thank you for all of the committee’s time.” With that, I sat down.
I am still sitting. This time in prison, awaiting my execution associated with my guilty plea in my trial (in absentia) for sedition. For my last meal, my guards brought to me a tray of fried starches, overly salted, with a sandwich of indeterminable POO. The card strangely read, “You deserve a break today.” I do not understand the meaning. I do, however, understand my DOT is today.
That Little Red Button
“It is important to review the details of the contract before you sign.” I should have paid attention to those prophetic words. I should have never agreed to listen to the pitch in the first place.
“The party of the first part, that is you, Mr. Smith, also known as the payee, agrees to the following. By pressing (or activating) the red button, you are solely responsible for the death of one person on Planet Earth. You will never know who this person is, where they are, or exactly when or how they died. They may be an infant, a child, a woman, a man, or geriatric. They may die even if you do not press the red button. But, they will die if you do. The party of the second party, the person to die, also known as the damned, has not agreed to anything and is not even knowledgeable of their part in this contract. They will never know the connection of your action and their death. They will never be informed of your participation. No one will ever inform them or their family of these details. Essentially, they will know or learn nothing.”
I was just about to leave, when he continued.
“Upon pressing the small red button, you, the payee, will receive one million dollars in one hundred dollar bills immediately. Upon payment, with no receipt, our business will conclude and you agree never to speak of your participation in this arrangement to anyone, at any time. Do you understand the exact details of the contract? If so, Mr. Smith, please affix your signature to receive your money. The sooner you sign, the sooner you will become wealthy.”
That was it. All so tidy. I press a button, someone dies, and I am rich. It was all so easy, so sterile, and so antiseptic. No one would ever know. Could I live with murder? Worse yet, could I live with being a paid murderer? One million dollars to blindly kill someone with friends, a job, a family. I needed the money, but did I need it that badly? I have bills. I have a family. I want to be important. I want it all. But, is it worth the price?
I took a few deep breaths. Press the damn button! Press it! What was I waiting for?
It was one of those weird out-of-body experiences where you get to see yourself. The paramedic finally gave up with CPR. I heard him tell the other paramedic to note the time of death. He even confirmed my stroke and seizure for his report.
I saw my own death and no one saw me see me die.
I take that back. Someone saw me.
I saw the contract man walk up to me (or what was left of me) to inform me of my official passing. He informed me that he also represented a group of people who he offered the same red button contract. I believe, apparently, in my hesitation, another payee acted to receive his one million dollars and kill before I could act to receive my million dollars and kill.
I asked him who the other payee was. His only reply, “As per the contract, we never inform the damned the connection to such action and their untimely death. However, we will inform you of your required presence in accordance with your agreed recent moniker.”
I never saw the two demons approach to take me away until it was too late.
Sauté in Olive Oil Instead of Butter (courtesy of Castabout and 2021)
It was getting late and I was pulling a double shift. I don’t normally have problems, but tonight I did. Having no previous experience with this type of case and no other detectives to help, I went by the book. I told the Desk Sergeant to place these two in different rooms after booking. I was going to have to ask a question (or two), walk to the other room, ask the same question, and walk back to the first room to repeat the question in order to see who was lying. I figure a minimum of four hours and two miles on sore feet. This was not going to be my night.
What was to make it worse was the report. How do I write this one? Even the book had no precedent on this type of crime. In all fairness, I do not know it there even was a crime committed by anyone. And even if there was, I do not believe either of the accused may want the other charged. Oh, the patrons of the restaurant will want their pound of flesh. Either way, the owner will sue. As will the waiter. As will the bartender. As will all who frequented The Arbitrage tonight. But as far as criminal offenses, the jury is still out on this one.
First, the details. He is Gunter Mach. I know his name has one of those umlauts above the u, but I can’t find it on this computer. It seems Gunter Mach (GM) knows everything there is to know about German food. Tonight was game night and GM was to butcher the meat. Apparently his knife skills are above reproach. From what I know about chefs, most have similar talents. She is Concetta Delfina (CD) and every bit as Italian as GM is German. If she can cook half as good as she looks, then I would buy a place and hire her to run the house. It seems CD is the counterpart to GM in the kitchen with neither conceding anything. The owner disclosed a wager he has with the two of them. After one week, whoever has the most favorable written reviews from the paying customers becomes the new Executive Chef. Whoever comes in second place becomes the other’s Sous Chef. My guess is the pay difference is equal to the title difference. At least I have motive established. Now for the questions.
I decide to begin with GM. He did not fight the arresting officers nearly as much as CD. Two hours in a room, by yourself with nothing to do but wait, and one begins to think clearly. Such magic worked its spell on GM.
“Hello Mr. Mach, My name is Detective Mason. You made a statement to the arresting officer and he made his. How about you go over it with me, line by line, word for word?” GM agreed. Too easily for my tastes. But, his eagerness did allow the work to pass quickly.
GM began with a mild German accent tempered by a few years in the states. When he remained calm, I understood him clearly. “I began my shift earlier than normal to ensure that Concetta did her job. This kitchen was mine and she knew it. Mr. Kobart (the owner) hired me three years prior to that Fotze seducing her way into the job.” I had to ask. “Who did Miss Delfina seduce?” I would look up Fotze later. GM replied with a rising anger in his voice. “The customers and the staff. Have you seen her? What she has on is more than she usually wears. The kitchen is sacred to me. The customs, the recipes, and the uniforms are not to be changed. What she did was make her body the reason to frequent The Arbitrage and not the food. I worked for years to prove myself. She reversed everything on her first day.” I let him calm down before I continued. “Then why didn’t Mr. Kobart fire Miss Delfina immediately? If she cannot cook and has to use her charms, couldn’t he see through her?” As instantly as GM began to relax, he began to smolder. “I never said she couldn’t cook. She just cannot cook as well as me. Her attire and her sex appeal did increase sales. That is why Mr. Kobart kept her. She is a distraction in my kitchen; nothing more, nothing less.” With that, I began my marathon between GM and CD. When it was her turn, I asked the same questions.
“So, when the pigliainculo speaks, you listen, Detective Mason. I understand. The Kaiser’s right hand man grumbles and suddenly it is all my fault.” CD then began an entire rant in Italian complete with gesticulation. If the department had video, I wouldn’t have to try to write anything down. “He thinks he runs the kitchen? Ha! All he can do is run his mouth. He complains about what I do. He complains about how I look. He complains about how I flirt. I think he is jealous, maybe gay. More of the customers come because of me than him. I think Mrs. Kobart wanted to see a tall, blonde, muscular man, look like a Viking, and work in the kitchen. That is exactly what she got. If you want to see muscles flex, then watch Herr Mach perform. However, if you want to eat the best food, then watch me cook.” As I left CD, I began to understand. This was not just a contest for a job. This was a clash of egos with a decent amount of sexual tension tossed in. Freud would have a field day with these two. I however, had a job to do and very little time to do it. So I cut a few corners. The rest of my report omits the repeating of initial or follow-up questions and my travels between the rooms. While GM and CD remained separate at all times, I wrote the report as if they sat next to each other during my interrogation.
“The waiters reported hearing shouting then breaking of glass. How did this start?”
GM: “She came to work 1 hour late so I yelled at her.”
CD: “He thinks if you are not 2 hours early you are late. I had to use small words so he could understand me.”
GM: “The kitchen requires discipline. I have it. She does not. One thrown glass and she understood.”
“Mr. Kobart told me of the contest. Did this contest have anything to do with the trouble in the kitchen?”
GM: “Of course it did. I am the clear favorite. She is the pretender.”
CD: “The contest was mine to win. I used all that I have to win. He may be good looking, but I am better looking. He is just jealous.”
“Tonight was wild game night. The menu listed boar, elk, and pheasant. Tell me, what happened?”
GM: “As usual, I had to begin breaking down all of the meat by myself. I had each piece weighed and wrapped so as to minimize cooking time and maximize flavor; in the strict German style of preparation.”
CD: “When I arrived, I began correctly preparing the menu for the night. Gunter may know how to use a knife, but only on meat. When it comes to vegetables, he won’t lift a finger. When it comes to stock or soups, let’s just remember all the great German soups renowned the world over. Unless the entire clientele for the night consisted of carnivores, Mr. Kobart should move Mach to a prep station where he belongs.”
“The menu had the boar listed two ways; roasted and sautéed. I have had roasted, but never sautéed. Why sautéed?”
GM: “Because Concetta unbuttoned another button and begged Mr. Kobart to add it to the menu. Who ever heard of sautéed boar?
CD: “Who ever heard of sautéed boar? Who hasn’t? If you can roast it, fry it, bake it, or sear it, you can sauté it. My grandmother used to sauté fresh game in olive oil. Not butter. Just olive oil, and some garlic, some herbs, and some magic. This brings out the flavor trapped within. The boar is boring otherwise.”
GM: “She said boring! I’ll give you boring. Have you ever seen a single person attend to a single chop for 10 minutes spooning olive oil over it? It may be a great tasting dish for one customer. But with a packed house of over 150 people, it would take 25 hours to feed them one piece each. She gets one nicely written review. The other 149 bored patrons suddenly have the time to write 149 nice reviews for me. Who is boring now?”
I decided to change gears. “Who started the food fight?”
CD: “Mach threw a plate of elk at me. Each of the medallions went flying across my work space. He disparaged the food. In the kitchen, that is a crime. Politically, it is similar to treason. Since a few of the medallions became unservable, I threw two of them and the plate at his head. This way, at least he had to think about the venison.”
GM: “It is a good thing this Concetta does have a great body. Because she now has two skills she displays with no talent; lying and cooking. First, the venison was NOT to be sliced into medallions because it was to be carved table-side to enhance our guests dining experience. She cut the medallions with a dull knife and wanted to sauté them also.
Everything does not go well with olive oil. Venison requires fire and butter and time. I prepared the tenderloin hours before opening by searing it first to lock the flavors in and then slow roasting it over low heat. The tenderloin she butchered was an extra. Even so, her method was not on the menu. I threw the plate toward her, not at her. Once again, she is lying.”
CD: “Detective Mason, ask Thor about the lump on his skull. You will see who got the better of whom.”
“How did the olive oil spill on the floor?” I already knew the answer to this one from interviewing the dishwasher.
GM: “Since she swims in the stuff, it should come as no surprise some makes it to the floor of her station.”
CD: “When I left the kitchen to receive congratulations from a table of guests who thoroughly enjoyed my service, Mach must have spilled olive oil on the floor in front of my station. My next request from additional pleased guests had to wait until I recovered from slipping and crashing into the busboy. I KNEW what caused my fall and I knew who was responsible. All tonight, Mach has been calling me a liar. It is he who is lying.”
“Who threw the first knife and more importantly, why?”
CD: “Mach threw first. I just replied.”
GM: “I threw first and second and third and fourth. I would have thrown fifth and sixth also. She left high quality knives to soak in the sink like a common set of dishes. If it was in the sink, I threw it. Besides, I am very good with knives. She never got hit once. I only threw them as close as I did to get her attention. Any reaction she displays is merely acting. Ask her about the incident. Watch the tears flow upon command. When you return to her, she will have her legs crossed and her skirt raised just enough to be provocative. The tears will be unnoticeable if her top is unbuttoned. Her chest will begin to heave. Watch if you dare detective. Sirens are beautiful but deadly.”
Upon my return, Mach was correct on all counts, except those concerning his ignorance. Miss Delfina showed a section of her uneven hair where one of the knives trimmed a lock. No blood, but a close call none-the-less.
“Why did you throw the knives, pans, and other dishes back?” I asked both of them.
CD: “Mach started it. I was to hold my ground. Let a brute start pushing and there is no end to it.”
GM: “She needed to be taught a lesson.”
“When you were out of hardware, why did you move to appetizers and desserts?” I digressed at this point in my report. Bystanders, both in the kitchen and dining room, unanimously agree that seeing Miss Delfina covered in chocolate pudding and Herr Mach smothered in fondue oil was both frightening and strangely entertaining. Both rolled upon the floor, separated, cursed in their native languages, and went back to their respective combat activities. The bartender was astonished that the combination of chocolate and fondue oil adhered completely and prevented grappling due the slickness of the two. Neither could gain an advantage, though not for the lack of trying. One guest said he had not seen anything like this since his fraternity days. At this time, Mr. Kobart notified police and soon The Arbitrage closed for the night.
So now I ask each, “When you were out of hardware, why did you move to appetizers and desserts?”
GM: “It was all I had left that would not mortally wound her. I wanted her gone. I did not want her dead.”
CD: “If I killed the beast with scalding water or a meat cleaver, I wouldn’t stand a chance at the Executive Chef position, now, would I?”
Always the flirt with CD. Always clockwork with GM.
And always fun with Detective Mason here at the 6th Precinct at 4:30am, Sunday morning. Not just another dog and pony show for public consumption. No sir indeed. In the few hours I spent with each of the contestants, I see an aggressive competitiveness that consumes the two of them. If they were married, it wouldn’t last. If they were dating, they would break up just to get back together again. GM and CD are not fire and ice, they are napalm and lava. To prove each other was the best, they lost sight of the one piece of significant evidence that should matter most to the both of them. In reality, I forgot about this also until the early birds of the day shift began rolling in after hearing the news of the restaurant wars. My early morning flatfoots managed to collect the written reviews from Mr. Kobart composed by the patrons at ground zero. After closing, most of the customers returned to complete the cards so important to the occupational and egotistical sense of the combatants. Of course, Mr. Kobart looked at them. He is the owner, he has that responsibility. Both disgusted and amazed with such behavior, he gave the stack to an Officer, who in turn, brought them to me. I took an elongated coffee break to read the comments. So rarely do I get to savor anything. Today is one rare day.
I returned, with a leisurely pace to a waiting room. I directed two officers to bring both GM and CD into the arena with me, with no cuffs and no other police presence.
Hesitantly, my officers followed orders. Both CD and GM were escorted to their seats.
Even after 6 hours in a police interrogation room. Even after 6 hours covered with dried food all over them. Even after 6 hours of time to think and calm down, they both were ready for another round. And would have begun if I had not flashed the review cards for full display. Securely sealed in an evidence bag, I placed them on the table between CD and GM. The shock on their faces was a Hallmark moment. While the other rooms do not have video, this one does. I know this. CD and GM do not. I think the word for this is Priceless.
“What you see before you is an evidence bag containing 101 review cards for the previous night’s activities at The Arbitrage. And before either of you gets any funny ideas, tampering with evidence is a crime.” I let that sink in so as to stifle any creative urges either might have. After a few awkward moments, I began again. “The two of you have behaved like two year olds with seismic temper tantrums and not the professionals you both believe you are. That is a shame.” I watched both of them finally understand their dilemma. It finally sank in. “Right now, Mr. Kobart was seriously considering firing the two of you, UNTIL, the guests of The Arbitrage returned to fill out these review cards. I do not know about you, but to me, that speaks volumes of the caliber of patrons The Arbitrage has. Will it speaks volumes of the caliber of guests The Arbitrage will have? That I do not know.” CD wanted to speak, but I shot her a look only an angry family elder could use. It worked instantly. GM knew better than to interrupt.
“In retrospect, I do not know what to do with you two. Technically, neither of you committed a crime. However, there is the matter of civil damages. After viewing the damages and loss of income, and loss to his reputation, I suspect it exceeds more than a year’s salary. And if it was up just to me, this case would be settled when you both pay for the damages. However, it is not just up to me. There is the matter of the review cards and Mr. Kobart. I called Mr. Kobart when I received the cards and asked him what he wanted.” The hope implied in this single statement made both CD and GM sit up straight; quite Pavlovian. “Mr. Kobart wants his establishment back to the shining beacon on the hill it was until last night. Mr. Kobart wants a PROFESSIONAL Executive Chef and Sous Chef. And he did not want either of you; until he read the review cards. Then he began thinking. Then he began to wonder. Mr. Kobart is a man of good intentions and he wants to abide by the rules of the contest. So he re-read the cards. Then he gave me the cards. Then I read the cards. They are evidence, so I read them VERY carefully. I even had the results logged in as evidence should there be a trial.” All of the hope CD and GM recently displayed disappeared equally as quick.
I am going to send a thank you note to a psychology teacher I had in 2-year college. He always said that whoever wanted something the most would show it in their face. These two were showing everything in their face. He also said that whoever wanted something the most would pay the most for it. That man earned his paycheck that semester.
“So, the two of you have a choice to make. And since I hold all of the cards here, I get to make the rules we are all going to agree to. To freely walk out of here, both of you two must be in agreement on all points. Any dissention means the deal is off. Both will stay in a holding cell. Both will see a trial. Neither will work at The Arbitrage ever again. Say only yes or no if you understand.”
GM said yes, first. CD said yes, soon afterward.
“Good. Here is the deal. You can walk out of here, only owing the civil damages for last night and never work at The Arbitrage ever again OR you can both open and read the reviews and abide by the decision of the patrons of The Arbitrage. The latter will secure both of you employment and no trial. The cost of this decision is whoever is the Sous Chef will have to work for and not with whoever is chosen as the Executive Chef. Even then, both Mr. and Mrs. Kobart will have new rules to keep both of you two on a short leash. These will include attire, scheduling, language, appearance, and attitude. It will not be easy and a good deal of your pay will be deducted to offset your debt to the ever-so-generous and patient Kobarts. It will mean you will cook with the passion and skills you both have. It is just that your energies will be directed to a more profitable direction.”
“So Gunter Mach and Concetta Delfina, what is it going to be?” Such a simple question. Such a long time to wait. For the first time since meeting these two, I saw them conference with each other. They actually were talking and not yelling. Miracles do happen.
After two minutes they spoke. They would take the deal and open the evidence bag. They promised to abide by the results. I took them for their word and shook hands with both. It was now that I reminded them that the entire conversation was on video. They said they understood. They opened the evidence bag and began reading the reviews. Placing the cards in stacks for GM and stacks for CD took time. The height of the stacks indicated a clear winner. The winner of the Executive Chef position working for Mr. Kobart at The Arbitrage was
Each and Every Bump in the Road (courtesy of Temptation Press and 2018)
“I will NEVER do this again!” I had only 10 seconds, on a borrowed cell phone to leave this message for my brother. He wants to get married so I am happy for him. In his bride’s home town in Western Honduras; no problem there. Two planes from New York to San Diego to Tegucigalpa; I can live with that. Bumped from the first, with a four hour layover, my luggage lost, and I’ve seen better days. But to have to bus ride for ten hours to a small town called Belén Gualcho in the district (or as they call it, the department) of Ocotepeque is where I draw the line. My only shoes have three inch heels and they are killing my feet. I should be happy they are not higher. I am low on toothpaste and perfume. I have a comb, but no humidity-proof makeup. Presently I am presentable because I found the patron saint of chivalry who gave up his chair at the bus station allowing me to sleep for a single hour. From what I heard about my bus is that it is always crowded, with riders carrying chickens, sans air conditioning. I know I will eventually arrive for a wedding. However, I may just depart from a funeral, not mine, but my brother’s.
So here I am, waiting for the sunset bus to meet my new sister-in-law. She had better be worth the effort of moving Heaven and Earth to get here. Previously to her, or should I say, Maria, Robert, or should I say, my ungrateful twin brother, had poorer taste in women than I ever had with men. Both of us have been engaged and both of us have had our hearts broken. All we ever could count on was each other, thus my trek through “paradise” for me to be with him. Maybe I want to see if he could actually get married. Maybe I wanted to see him fail. The last would be both selfish and pathetic, but it would keep us on even footing in true love’s basement. Smart money is on the return of the wedding bands.
Ever the optimist, I hear my bus arrive and confirm my laundry list of low expectations. I could board after the poultry conventioneers, but I choose otherwise. The last few riders must expect to stand for the duration and are dressed accordingly. Sensible shoes, little in the way of baggage, and relatively quiet. They may be of a professional class or church going or maybe solely interested setting an example. Earlier, I felt selfish and pathetic before boarding. Now I feel selfish and (somewhat) hopeful when I board the bus within this group.
My itinerary was as simple as possible. Bus number 112 travels the length of Honduras and back again with a five day frequency (barring roadside repairs). My Spanish is poor, so I have to depend on the driver maintaining his schedule. Should I have to deviate from my Plan A, I will miss the wedding of Robert and Maria and my journey will be for naught. I have no contingency in which to improvise. Should I have to rely on the kindness of strangers, I will be out of my element in asking for such hospitality.
At least I thought so.
While walking to the rear of the bus, to stand, I found no male patrons willing to sacrifice their seat. I did find a somewhat bizarre local who kept motioning me to sit on his lap. Maybe he thought my wrap dress would permit him the adolescent fantasy neither time past or wife present would authorize. I am sure his sleeping esposa was only pretending to be asleep. Scrutinizing his every move, he was not going to be on my dance card. So standing remained my only option. However, standing without a secure overhead grasp was not an option. I may be squeezed sardine style, but I could not be subject to the random motions of spring-less, dirt-road, mountainous, vehicular kinetics. I knew this as a fact. So did he.
By he, I mean the dashing knight who understood my predicament, but maybe not my language. He did not speak with words, but instead, with actions. All he did was turn a mere ninety degrees to face me. Without speaking, he effortlessly raised my left hand and rested it on his right shoulder to help me with balance. His white dress shirt was not silk, but very close. Possibly a synthetic or blended fabric designed for coolness was all the reason he needed to wear it. I found my hand comfortably placed. We became closer together as the last rider to embark did embark, I offered no resistance to such boldness. He belatedly asked permission with his full blue eyes. These were the dreamy eyes I fantasized about as a young girl. These were the blue eyes I dreamed my future husband would possess. I could have broken his gaze, if I had wanted to, but I didn’t. Who am I kidding, I couldn’t. I found no wedding ring or obvious sign of attachment. Likewise, I offered neither for him to discover.
So we just stood in place. He, absorbing the imperfections of the road with his legs and grip on the luggage rack. Me, absorbing the shuffle of the others with my shoulders and touch on his firm shoulder. I might be able to withstand ten hours of his company if past performance is indicative of future returns.
The summer sun sets slowly in Honduras and the riders adhere to strict nocturnal rituals passed thru the generations. The hens bedded down for their silent slumber. The children found their mother’s shoulder in which to rest upon. Even the bizarre man reconciled with his wife and found solace in her company. The bus’s engine provided a soft hum of constant velocity and the night wore steadily on. The temperature began to drop and the proximity of other riders became a scant more distant than earlier. Everyone eventually found their spatial, tolerable equilibrium. Only the man with the blue eyes remained on constant vigil. His strength never wavered in correcting the driver’s aberrant regard to pothole avoidance. I found, as time passed, a host of questions I wanted to ask, but became afraid that if I did, and he did not speak English, or spoke with a buffoon voice, or slurred his words, the burgeoning magic we shared may be extinguished. Weighed against the risk of nine additional hours of uncomfortable proximity versus immediate knowledge, I cast aside the vocabulary requirements of this stranger and began to examine his attributes in silence.
He must have drawn the same conclusion and followed my lead.
By 11pm, I needed to shift my footing to relax some of my leg muscles and divest myself of my heels. I candidly raised my free hand to his field of vision and lightly grasped his left shoulder for balance. His eyes followed my eyes to encourage my action. Fortunately for me, pumps are easily removed with a gravitational accomplice and I found my feet flattened against the wooden floorboards of the bus. Now, three inches shorter, my grip on him became more of a requirement than an option. Now, three inches shorter, I had to raise my head to continue eye contact. If my feet did not hurt as much as they did, I would have never discarded my height advantage. But, because I did, I found relief and opportunity.
Relief from the rescinding pain in the toes and opportunity in that he lowered his free hand to my waist.
It was a deliberate move, deliberately moved. Once again, in doing so, he did not ask, he just did. Slowly, his right hand found the exact place a gentleman finds when contemplating further action. This nexus between my lower back and upper hip welcomed his maneuver prior to cerebral authorization. The hum of the engine and the constant motion of the bus did not jar our fellow passengers from their sleep. In fact, the former helped conceal his actions from the dozens of prying eyes who could have watched. I did watch and found myself incapable of mounting a reasonable defense against further encroachment. He was as brazen as he was polite. His hand did continue its sojourn across my waist. Slowly. Effortlessly. And with all intention, it repositioned. I wanted to remain inaudible, but to no avail. He heard my small gasp and responded with a barely detectable quantity of pressure. So slight his touch, so as not to move me more than an imperceptible distance from the adjacent people and a galaxy closer to him. There I stood, watching him watch me. Minutes passed. I waited for him to make the next move. He didn’t and he did. To explain the first, he remained rigidly composed, as a statue, to counter the constant sway of the moving vehicle. To explain the second, he began to fan his fingers both above my waistline and below. Each finger gradually proceeded to a new position, perhaps to stabilize me during a well-known portion of difficult road or perhaps to engage in reconnaissance of my defenses. The Victorian in me assumed the former. The adventuress desired the latter. I informed “blue-eyes” to my acceptance of his advances by placing my head near his chest. Not exactly resting on his shirt, but in close proximity should further reassurances arise.
The next hour found the two of us watching each other. The next hour found the two of us swaying to the hypnotic rhythm of the resonance between the road and the chassis of the bus. Without thinking, or perchance I was, I began rocking with the sway “of the road”. Its gentle motion permitted me small movements leaving the nearby passengers uninterested.
Choreographed as a slow dance, I slid my hands around his neck and finally rested my head on his silken shirt. While technically not a surrender, I became enamored with his build and his strength. He carried himself well. His shirt had that freshly ironed linen smell that always attracts me. How he managed this, under these circumstances, I would never know. And for the first time since we met, I saw a reflection of him smile.
For the first time since we met, I wanted him and I wanted him to know I wanted him.
And then I became greedy.
I have been in love before. Deeply in love. So deep I felt its full force impact my very existence. Love consumed me, both body and soul. I lost sleep over love. I made mistakes because of love. I lost jobs, opportunities, and my reputation because of what I now know as “what I thought was love”. He would not be my first love and because of where I found myself (and the slim chance of ever making this work), he would not be my last love. But he was here and he was with me and I still wanted him to realize I still wanted him, if only for this ride.
So, slowly, so very slowly, I pushed my pelvis into his. Slowly, I forced him to respond in kind. I think he understood the fallacy of the two of us witnessing the lark’s morning song. He had nothing to lose and became a willing participant. His retort was a long time coming, but it was worth the wait.
He was “interested” in my advance. He broke character, only for a moment, to breathe deeply after my encroachment. I wondered about how far I could pursue this line of attack. The damage to the road would hide sudden corrections to distortions in posture and balance. I might be able to pursue this one way avenue to its complete finish. If I chose this path, he may not have a choice to refuse my advances.
But, I did not have to make such a choice; he declined to defend.
He shifted his weight left and moved his right foot between my two bare feet. Using his hand, he pushed me closer onto his leg. Implicitly understood, I lowered my left hand to assist parting my wrap dress open to expedite his progress. Without missing a beat, I used his trousered leg to garner the satisfaction I desired without the expenditure of disclosure capital. In doing so, I was more selfish than I have ever been at any time in my life. He was my knight and I was using him solely for my gratification. The vibrations moving through the bus pulsated though me. His fingers began exploring across the top of my rear. Within seconds, he understood the full extent my lingerie encompassed. Bra and panties offer only token resistance against the concerted effort he began. I wanted absolution for my actions and he offered it with his. By now, I didn’t want to think. I wanted only to act. I wanted only to be carnal. I had desire and I wanted more than he could offer on this bus.
With each and every bump in the road, my gyrations became more intense. With every pull from his hand, my push on his leg became more concentrated. My thoughts became lewd, beyond that of my control. I craved a scream. I coveted more than his leg. And I yearned for more of his touch. If left to my own devices, I might have raped my suitor. I planned to chew him up and spit him out. If left to me, I would dehydrate this man. No. Wait. I would desiccate him where he stood. His very essence would be mine for the taking and taking is what I planned.
And what he planned also.
His hand found my rear and began a series of caresses that did not divulge his true intentions should he require plausible deniability if the other passengers awoke prematurely. He never raised my hemline, but he did apply a deft touch exactly when and where he fancied. His pinky extended below my waist curling upward once assured contact with my lower panty seam. In essence, he was pulling what little I had on to provide an additional frictional contact. This was an advanced wedging move usually associated with back-seat petting during high school. He was using me more than I was using him. Because I acted the slut, he treated me as one. This man had intimate knowledge of me; knowledge I did not even have myself. I shifted my right foot outward, then my left foot likewise. He accepted the signal to deploy his index finger to the other side of my panties to lift them with similar skills. He could play me with the vibrato of a cello or the masterstroke of a masseuse. I became putty. I became a smoldering cauldron of heat. Within this moment, I became his.
The next large rut in the pavement permitted him to forcefully raise my lingerie upward, pulling the wispiest front fabric tightly against my sex.
I nearly screamed to high Heaven from the pain and (I am blushing here) the pleasure.
I turned my head into his shoulder and bit hard.
Another damaged section of road. Another panty grasped pulled hard and high.
Now, I came. It was silent, but it was epic. My thighs clenched his trouser leg as I rose on my toes to enforce the friction I endured. His hand never released his prize.
Now, I wanted this pose to last longer than the twenty or thirty seconds I held it.
Now, I wanted to be his forever.
And I wanted him to be mine forever.
And when my orgasm subsided, that’s when the magic ended.
I caught myself reasoning.
This led to thinking about what I was doing.
I threw caution to the wind only to run outside and catch it before it became dirty.
And then I felt dirty.
And then I felt I should stop.
Unfortunately, he felt it also. Fortunately, he remained the gentleman. I excused myself to exit his leg and extricate myself from his grasp. I did not want to leave him. I could not leave him, but I had to leave him. I straightened my dress and found my heels. My watch said 3am and I felt flush with embarrassment for my loss of control. I scanned the bus for an open seat. There wasn’t one when the bus first moved and there was no possibility of one now. I began to feel claustrophobic. There were too many people here. I started to sweat and my breathing became difficult. I made a fool of myself to a cast of dozens and an audience of one. Did I jeopardize another chance at happiness? I wanted to sit down for my legs began to show the wear and tear of today’s travel. I looked up to find the ceiling of the bus begin to spin. I wish I had not worn heels today….
When I awoke, the bus stopped and a woman I never paid any attention to dabbed my forehead with a wet cloth. I sat in the seat her son previously sat. I felt safe.
But I also felt lonely for she informed me that during our stop, he had left. I allowed that information to diffuse into my dreams during the remainder of the bus trip.
My seat-mate’s son prodded my shoulder when the bus finally stopped in Belén Gualcho. I exited somewhat bewildered and definitely disheveled. I must have looked a fright when my brother grabbed my hand and hugged me. Instinctively, I reached into my purse for a brush. Instead, I found a business card with his picture on it. His name is Carlos and he left his phone number. Maria, Robert’s wife-to-be told me at the wedding that she saw my first smile from my reflection in the side-view mirror of her car. This time I caught myself reasoning and it made me smile again.