Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Baseball Thief (Short story)


This is a Fiction Short Story published a while back...

Jimmy Gaines swatted his pant leg with his cane when he saw the Plexiglas-encased 1939 baseball signed by Babe Ruth was missing.

"Kenny! Kenny, where are you? You and that damn monkey will be the death of me. Kenny!"

Jimmy stuck his head out the window overlooking the back alley.

"Kenny!"

"Yes, sir?" Kenny stood shirtless, batting a tennis ball against the alley wall.

"My Babe Ruth ball—"

"What?"

"My ball!"

"Yes, sir?"

"Oh, for goodness sake. Get up here, will you, please!"

Jimmy limped to his easy chair and set his cane against the TV table. He could hear Kenny banging his way up the three flights of stairs.

"Yes, sir?" Kenny barged into the room, pulling his shirt on over his head.

"Take a look over at my memorabilia hutch."

Kenny turned around and stared at the glass enclosed shrine, framed photos of baseball players, service metals from the Marines, a 1967 Red Sox jersey worn by Carl Yastrzemski.

"Notice anything missing?"

"No."

"My Babe Ruth ball!"

"Huh?"

"It’s missing." Jimmy raised an eyebrow. "You wouldn’t know anything about that?"

"No."

"Just because I let you come up here, tell you stories, and let you bring that monkey up here—"

"You said I could bring Milo on a leash."

"What I didn’t say is that you could help yourself to my memorabilia."

Kenny stood back, eyes wide.

"Honest, Jimmy. I wouldn’t take any of your stuff."

Jimmy leaned back in the chair. "That’s not the first thing I’ve noticed missing. I’ve had other stuff taken from my collection. I thought perhaps I’d misplaced them."

"What?"

"A few of my service ribbons."

"You’re blaming me?" Kenny took a step toward the door, his hand on his chest.

"Now, don’t get in a huff. Perhaps that monkey of yours."

"Milo couldn’t take anything without me knowing it."

"Maybe, he gets loose. Runs around the yard, sees an open window and makes his way in."

"No."

"You don’t watch him every minute do you? Monkeys are infamous for their curiosity, is all I’m saying."

"Maybe there’s a thief in the building," Kenny suggested.

"That’s exactly what I was thinking."

"It can’t be Milo. He’s a good monkey. What about Buddy Brown? He’d take anything."

"Buddy Brown from down the street? Hardly. What would he be doing way up here in my old apartment? No, Kenny, it’s somebody we know, with access to this building. Someone with a key."

"Gee."

Jimmy leaned in at the boy. "'Gee' is right."

"Who, besides me, has a key?" Kenny asked.

Jimmy’s eyes locked onto Kenny’s.

"You still think it was me?"

Jimmy eased back in his chair, putting his gouty foot on the ottoman.

"So, that’s it, huh? You think I’m a dirty rotten criminal!"

"Kenny!"

"You think I’d do a thing like that? After I help you all the time? Well, forget you!"

Kenny walked to the door. "You’re a mean old man!"

"No! Kenny, wait! Don’t leave. Please!"

Kenny stood with his hand on the door handle.

"I haven’t been myself lately. I’m sick, Kenny. You can understand that."

"That doesn’t make me a criminal. I thought we were friends!"

"We are, Kenny. We are friends. Please don’t run off."

Kenny put his hand to the back of his neck and stared at Jimmy.

"I haven’t been sleeping well, you know. Up all hours of the night. Feel like I’m not getting any sleep."

"Why don’t you take some pills?"

"I have, Kenny. I have all these pills the doctor gave me."

Jimmy reached into his robe pocket and pulled out a fist full of small prescription bottles. Kenny took a few steps into the living room.

"What are they for?"

"Oh, for everything under the sun. It’s no fun getting old, Kenny. You're lucky you have Milo to keep you company. I’m all alone up here. Except for visits from you and the monkey."

Kenny took another step into the room.

"Oh, I have my memories, the First Marines, Korea, my medals and all. But they are poor company on a cold night. Remember that story I told you about winning my Purple Heart? About getting shot."

"Yeah, tell me about Korea again!" Kenny stood at attention, did a smart salute. "Captain Jim Gaines, reporting as ordered, Sir!" Kenny took a bullet in the stomach and fell to the floor, crawled slowly over to Jimmy. "I’m hit. You gotta help me, Doc!"

Jimmy howled with laughter, picked up his cane and shot Kenny.

"Oh, you got me!" Kenny sprawled out on the floor, dead.

Jimmy sat quiet for a second. A tear glazed his eye as he watched the boy pop to his feet. He wiped his eye with his index finger and sat up straight.

"You know, I’ve been thinking, Kenny. Since we know it couldn’t be you and that stinky monkey of yours."

"Milo!"

"Yes, Milo. Why don’t we set a trap?"

"What kind of a trap? Like one the marines would do?"

"No. I’ve got something better in mind. You know how they are always monitoring babysitters and ATM machines with cameras?"

"A hidden camera! Cool!"

"We can set it up over there." Jimmy pointed to a bureau above the memorabilia hutch. "I’ll leave out something shiny for them to try and take."

"And then we play it back for the police!"

Jimmy slapped his good leg, laughing out loud. "Something like that."

"We’ve got a video camera I can use."

"Excellent. We’ll set the trap tonight. You bring the camera, I’ll set up the loot."

"Deal!"

They shook hands. Kenny winked and Jimmy nodded in agreement.

"Show me again how you die."

Kenny took a hit to the chest and fell to the floor in a lump as Jimmy howled with laughter.

That evening they positioned the video camera and set it on slow record. Jimmy left the door of the memorabilia hutch open.

Jimmy had a rough night of sleep. He tossed and turned until nearly 3:00 a.m. when he finally passed out from exhaustion.

The next morning, when he noticed his Purple Heart medal missing, he felt dubious—like that morning was an evil Christmas. His heart sunk when he rewound the tape and watched the images that appeared in the view screen. At first it was just black, then as the monkey pulled away from the screen, he could see Kenny, Milo riding his back, as he poked around in the memorabilia. Milo turned and shot a big-toothed grin at the camera.

Jimmy stopped the tape, sat down hard on his chair, and slapped his cane on the floor. The boy is all I’ve got, he thought. How can I lose him now?

When Kenny came upstairs with Milo riding his back, it was as if they’d stepped out from the video viewfinder. Jimmy sat stony faced and silent as the guilty pair entered the apartment.

"I’m glad you’re awake, Jimmy. I was worried about you," Kenny said, as Milo ran down his arm to the floor.

"Worried? Why?"

"I was afraid you’d hurt yourself."

"Oh, really?"

"Man, you can sleep!"

Jimmy sat up, smacked the cane on the floor. Milo let out a yelp and ran up Kenny’s arm.

"I saw the tape, Kenny. I saw you and that stinking monkey of yours helping yourself to my things."

"How could you?"

"It’s on the tape."

"We tried to wake you. I yelled and yelled. I shook your arm. We couldn’t wake you up!"

"What are you talking about?"

"I’ll show you." Kenny grabbed the videotape out of the camera and plugged it into an adaptor for the TV and turned it on. Milo and Kenny appeared on the screen as before, but when they stepped aside, Jimmy walked into the picture, took the Purple Heart and walked away with it. The camera followed Jimmy as he put the medals into a box, slid it under his bed, and crawled under the covers. Kenny’s voice could be heard asking Jimmy to please wake up, but Jimmy was like a stone.

"Oh," Jimmy said. "I know that box. It was a gift from my wife. To hold my keepsakes. Kenny, I don’t know what to say. It was me the whole time?"

"That’s okay, Jimmy. We all make mistakes. My dad sleepwalks sometimes, after he has a few beers."

Kenny took the bottles of medicine from his pocket and looked at one in particular.

"Thanks, Kenny. For not running away when I thought it was you."

"That’s all right, Jimmy. I know how it is."

Milo ran up Kenny’s arm and pulled something from his back pocket. The Babe Ruth ball fell to the floor. Jimmy and Kenny locked eyes.

"Oh, yeah. I was gonna hold onto this until you woke up."

Kenny handed Jimmy the ball.

"Thanks, Kenny. You’re a true friend."

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Sequence


Colin took a deep breath and lay down in the grass. "The Fibonacci
Sequence is found throughout nature. It's a golden ratio, a sequence
that represents a recurring growth pattern. It determines the number
of branches and leaves in a simple meadow flower, the number of seeds
in the design of a sunflower core, all according to the golden ratio.
Even the whirlpool of a far away galaxy follows the sequence to form a
perfect spiral." Colin lifted his head toward the sky. "Where do you see these things in concrete polymers?"
"Concrete is ancient history," Matt said, as he plucked a blade of
grass and studied it. "Nature is very commendable, though."
"Nature is for the rich," said Colin.
"And you’re complaining because?"
"I'm not the sole holder of earthly delights. Nature should be enjoyed by all." Colin took a breath and stared up at the blue sky.

Matt chewed the blade of grass and squinted into the sun. "If nature
was meant for all, we all would be rich." He spit the blade of grass
out and smiled. "Besides, there are too many now to just let the
hoards trample nature's beauty."
"Father says the people have finally gotten what they've wanted."
Colin said.
"The people can go to hell." Matt got to his feet and started walking
toward the main compound. "Come on. We have to start the preparation."

"Do you know what I mean, though, Matt? About the golden ratio?" Colin
asked.

"Get to your feet, fool. We'll miss the first bell." Matt continued to walk. Colin followed close behind.

"The golden ratio is confirmation the world was created by an
intelligence, don't you think?"

"What propaganda have you been reading?" Matt asked.

Colin put his hands out to touch the waist high grass and ran, letting
the blades touch the undersides of his hands. The slight wind was warm and dry. Matt ran ahead of Colin and stopped near an ancient apple tree, its dead branches brittle and falling.

"How many apples does your golden rule say this tree will grow?" Matt asked.

"As many as the people can eat!" Colin laughed as he rushed past Matt
toward the barns.

The first of the three barns was open to the wind and captured the
golden rays gleamed from the sun, filtered through the polished glass ceiling. Colin ran inside and pushed the three purple buttons that closed the watering systems. Matt climbed the steps to the catwalk and turned the brass ringlets that shut the metal roof shields. A loud beeping blared throughout the barn as the stainless steel outer roof slowly slid closed.

"Just made the first bell!" Colin yelled.
"Bells are for apes." Matt yelled over the beeping.
"And apes are for apples," answered Colin.
"And apples are for?" Matt asked.

Colin walked across the sleek shiny barn floor and sat on the green sofa facing the large wall screen. Matt joined him a moment later and
handed Colin ripe red apple.

"Apples are for people." Colin said, as he bit into the apple. "Hmmm,
delicious."

"I made it myself." Matt sat next to Colin and pressed the white
button near the table. The large screen lit up and a narrative began in mid-sentence. "Mary's family had many reservations of the coming drought. They took many precautions-"
"I don't want this story." Colin clicked off the screen and looked at Matt.
"What news?"
"No news so bad abroad as that at home," Matt quoted.
"Oh," continued Colin, "Is the king sickly weak and melancholy?"
"And his physicians fear him mightily," Matt said. They both laughed.
"Alright, no more Shakespeare for a while."

"Seriously though, what news from home?" Colin grew serious and
anxiously rubbed his hands on his knees. He nodded to Matt, urging him
to start the screen again. Matt pressed the white button and said, "News."

The screen clicked on and an out of focus, older male face could be seen too close in the frame of the picture. The old man sat back and cleared his throat. Matt stole a glance at Colin, who watched intently.

"Day two thousand forty one, the old man began, “Today was a special day. Many who thought the great experiment would fail have been proven wrong. Earth 2 Systems in well beyond the unsafe zone and trajectory is as planned-"

The picture froze with the man was caught open mouthed, in mid-sentence. Colin slid down on the sofa.

"Well, the signal, I mean you know it will take a while to reach and-"

"Shut up!" Colin stood and threw his apple at the screen. "That's the
same message we've seen for three months. There is no news. It's all a waste!"

Colin ran into the inner chamber and down a white corridor marked B level. Stopping at a large plate glass window that opened up onto the lower level of the Growing Fields, he counted how many of the young saplings were barren or turning brown. Many of the young trees drooped over and dropped leaves. Three this time. Last time two, at least one per day. They would all be dead in a matter of weeks. His hand slid down the glass leaving a large smear. Wiping the moisture off with his finger, he noted his own secretions were changing. The smear was thick and viscous, not the gentle sheen of oil nature intended.
Colin ran into his quarters and yelled, "Intercom." A low beep emitted from a wall and a green light came on. "Matt, meet me at station three. You hear me?"

"Will do." Matt's voice echoed throughout the hall as Colin made his
way down a flight of metal stairs onto C section toward a large dome
structure at the end of the hall.

"Execute one," Colin said. The dome lit up and the large white door slid open. Inside, Colin found a grid on a large wall facing an oblong
pod. "Begin pressurization life supports green, alpha, nine."

A large cylindrical tank swiveled onto the pod as steam vapors shot out from the connection until it was sealed.

"Why are you firing up the escape pod?" Matt asked, as he made his way
into the sphere.

"Look at this." Colin held out his hand. Matt leaned in to look at it and Colin smeared his fingers on his face.
"Hey, what the?" Matt stepped back.
"Now feel it. Feel the slop I just left on your face. It’s in a
non-sequential state. I am non-sequential, you understand? We are non-sequential!."

"Hey, now buddy. Come on. Don't be so fast to blow the lid off this thing."

Matt touched Colin's arm. "You know we can re-sequence this. Have you
tried a re-calibration?"
"I am not doing that! I’m not doing a thing. I don't want to be recalibrated. I am out of sequence."
"What the hell are you talking about?"

"Come on, Matt. I give up. The trees are dying. The messages are
garbled and old and I'm getting bored, okay?"

"You just can't take off when you're ready. What about me?"

"Man, this is really starting to be redundant. We can't win this
thing. It's too complicated."

"We can start at the sequence machine."

"I'm sick of the sequence machine. Sorry, Matt. I'm out of here."

"Do you want me to save it, at least?"
"I don't care."

"You little selfish prick, as it gets hard."

"My head hurts."

Matt stood staring at Colin. "You were going to blow it up again,
weren't you?"

Colin smiled. "At least it's something I know how to do."

"Oh, brother." Matt pressed a button on his wrist band and yelled,
"Game over!"

The surroundings turned bright white then faded to a light green.
Padded walls surrounded them. Colin pulled off his receptor suit,
pulled the wires from the energy back pack and slid the suit off to the floor.
"Man it feels good to be out of that thing." Colin said.
"All right, you don't like 'Project Earth 2' what else do you want to play?"
"I don't know. It's your birthday. How much time do we have left?"
"I think about twenty minutes."
"Let's go surfing."
"Okay, but I choose the wave size!"

Matt and Colin walked out the green room and into the arcade center. They returned the suits to the guy at the desk.
"All done with Planet Earth 2, already?" The guy asked.
"Has anybody ever won that game?" Colin asked.
"Yeah," said the guy, "but it takes like 30 hours."
"Two for Big Surf, please", said Matt.
"Two Big Surf coming up."
"How much time do I have left?" Matt asked.
"Long enough to catch a few good waves, my man," said the guy behind
the counter.
The guy handed them two new suits and pointed them toward a large room
with surfboards hanging above the door.

The End

Monday, January 4, 2010

On Being A writer

The last words of the great general, Robert E lee before he died, years after the end of the war, on his death bed were, "Strike the tent..." Oh, how we live in our dreams, our guilt and pleasures of the past, present and future. I have lived memories over until they were worn thin and lost impact. I have seen how I wanted things to be and argued with ghosts of the past only to awaken and see them for what they are. There was a time when I refused to commune with certain people because I did not want the memory of them in my head. I see things over and over again after they are gone. I am an observer. I have a keen interest in cause and effect. I see people as they are, as they try to be, as they hope they are...The past haunts me until I tell it to go away, then it does for a while until stirred up again by some inane comment or situation. This is why I write. I see things clearly enough, can hold them still long enough for me to write it down…

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Trio Of lemons


Painted using lemons from the tree in the back yard. They weren't quite ripe at the time. 9x12 Oil on canvas, 2009.

Casting With Clay


The painting to the left is a detail of "Chris", oil, 9 x 12, 2007.
This story was published a few years ago in an online magazine...


“How you doing, tonight, Julie?” He smiles, and leans in from the shadows, resting his hand on her apartment doorframe.
“It’s Saturday night and I’m home alone, how do you think I’m doing?” She tightens the sash on her bathrobe and crosses her arms on her belly.

“Your ex-husband around?”
“What do you want, Mickey?”
“Can I come in?”

She steps back from the doorway and he slinks into her dark studio apartment. Clay heads mounted on her work shelf greet him; their glass eyes reflect pinpoints of light.

He takes her hair in his hand and lets it flow through his fingers. It’s smooth and silky, like she just washed it. He stares silently into her dark eyes and pulls her close, kisses her on the mouth, but she pulls away at the last second. He stands upright and glares at the clay heads.

“So, how are things in the world of forensic art?”

“Busy. People being killed, buried, found, all the time. It’s a cruel world.”
She pauses and looks him in the eye. “We can’t do this, Mickey. It’s just not gonna happen.”

He tilts his head to the side. “No matter how many times I see these heads you make, I just can’t seem to get used to this one.” He taps a small clay skull mounted on a side table.

“Why are you here, Mickey?”

Beyond her shoulder is her unmade bed, looking warm and soft. Secluded from the rest of the world. He turns and faces another skull, the features barely discernable the darkness of the room. He shudders at her reconstructed roommates.

“What’s this, a new one? Hey, that looks like-” He leans in and pulls the skull into the light. His face goes white, and his jaw drops.

“My new assignment. They found him last week.”

Julie feigns professional disinterest, but continues to watch him from the kitchen.

“They just found this skull? Who, who is it, you know, yet?”

“I just finished the final layering.”

Mickey takes a deep breath and slowly lets it out through his nose.

“How can you stand having this stuff near you?”

“Where have you been tonight?” Julie asked.
“Aren’t they all dead people, anyway? Murder victims?”
“Jane Doe types mostly. You out at Sawyers?”
“Over at The Town House. Had a few beers.”

She heats up a pot of water. He sits at the table, takes the saltshaker into his huge hand as his eye search her robe for the line of her still young body.

“You want some tea?”
“Tea?”
“Coffee?”
“Got any beer?”
She hesitates, turns to face him.
“You can’t stay, Mickey.”
“Who said I wanted to stay?”

Mickey picks up the clay head. “Ugly little prick, ain’t he? I bet he got what he deserved.”

Julie turns to face him. “What do you mean deserved? What do you think happened to him?”

“I don’t know. People do things, you know, get what’s coming to them. How do I know?”

“You recognize him, Mickey?”

“What? Are you kidding me? Him?”

She glares at Mickey.

“It’s a clay head, for cripes sake. What do I know? How am I gonna know? Who is it? I don’t know…Howdy Duty?”

“You’re flustered.”

“Mickey’s face flushes red. “I don’t know any of them, your creepy little dead friends.”

Julie places a hot cup of tea in front of him. He snickers, takes the cup up in his hands, and breathes in the steam, and scowls in disapproval.

“How are things at the shop?” She asks.
“Busy, had two new orders come in this week. A couple of classic choppers. Custom chrome tear drop on one.”
“That’s a gas tank, right?”
“Yeah.”

He sips the tea.

“Mickey, I said I would be your friend and you know that I am.”
He scrapes a “Yeah” from the bottom of his stomach and stares down at the table, like he knows what’s coming.
“But, I don’t think coming here on Saturday night, after a few beers.”
Mickey looks up, a grimace on his face. “Drunk?” He finishes for her.
“Horny.”

Mickey stares into the other room. She follows his eyes to the new clay head. He catches her looking at him.

Suddenly he stands facing her. “Why you wanna bring that stuff in here for, huh, you trying to ruin your house?”
“Mickey, what has gotten into you?”
“You have all this crap around here. A guy can’t even think! This head staring at me!”

He goes to the head, picks it up, and stares at it. “Certain things should be buried. Stay buried. You people keep digging this crap up.”

“Mickey, you’re sweating bullets. My work has never bothered you before.”

“I hate your work.” He tosses the clay head onto the sofa and it bounces, landing face up on the cushions.

“Mickey, come sit down. Have some tea.” She leads him to the kitchen. He sits and takes hold of the cup. After a few minutes he sighs.

“Better?” She asks.
“You must think I’m crazy?”
“Oh, no. No.”
“I have these feelings sometimes. I can’t tell you what.”
“I know.”
“And those creepy heads, they don’t help.”
“They’re my work, Mickey. That’s all.”
“Well, what you take your work home for?”

He takes another sip of tea and smiles at her.

“Ever since I met you. I mean, a guy like me. A woman like you.”
She smiles lightly, a twinkle in her eye.

“You ‘re an educated woman.”
“You’re a beautiful man.”
He laughs. “Cut it out. A man isn’t beautiful.”
“To me you are. You are a strong, virile-“

“Grease monkey.”

“Who is smart enough to own his own business and has changed his ways.”

“Yeah, I changed. You helped me with that. The guys I used to run with. Things we did.” Staring at her, his eyes well up with tears. “That’s how come I can’t…” His slams his fist on the table in frustration.

“Can’t what?”

“Let you go.”

She pulls back, standing against the kitchen counter.

“I didn’t come just cuz’ I was horny, you know that.”

“I know, but I think you should stop coming here unannounced.”

He stares at the skull on the sofa.

She folds her arms across her torso and backs away. He turns to her.

“What? You’re afraid of me now?”
“No.”
“You are!”
“I don’t fear you.”
“Why you look that way?”
“Nothing. Listen, Mickey, it didn’t work out for us. I’m sorry. We have to let it go.”
“What was the other night, then, huh? You let me into your bed!”
“That was a mistake, I’m sorry.”
“Everything was fine until you went off to that seminar!”
“Was it?”
He pauses, looks into her hazel eyes.
“Wasn’t it?”
“I don’t know.”
“What, were you just pretending?”
“Mickey, no. Please…”
“What, then you tell me…”
“I never meant to hurt you.”
“What was I, some sort of experiment? Go see the gorilla?”
“No!”
“Date the gorilla with the bike. See I can train him?”
“Stop it.”
“I meant nothing to you?”
“Of course you did. I-”
“You what? Loved me? You can’t even say it.”
“I have great affection for you, Mickey.”

Mickey stands up. “You’re just a bitch, like any other, you know that? You think you mean anything more than that? Huh?”
She shakes her head.
“You’re just a lousy bitch in a smart suit. You think you’re so frigg’n smart! Miss Manners!”

The new clay skull is in his hands. He holds it high above her head; about to smash it down; he sees the fear in her eyes, her mouth open in a silent scream. Turning away, he smashes the clay skull onto the floor.

He takes her in his arms, presses hard against her mouth, and probes her with his tongue. She pushes him away, raking his neck with her nails. Tears well up in her eyes, as she looks down at her bloodied fingernails.

“I just wanted to.” He backs away from the kitchen holding his bleeding neck. “I just wanted you!”

Looking out the window, she sees him racing up the hill to his motorcycle. Two sets of headlights pull away from the curb and follow him into the night.

Sheila picks up the phone and dials.

“Hello, Lieutenant? You were right. He recognized the fake skull. No, he just left and I saw two of your cars following. He was pretty agitated. Probably lead you right to the body.

She drops the phone and cups her hand to her mouth. “Oh, my Mickey.”


The End