Category Archives: Fiction

Emory Crisp’s Tales From an Expanded Universe – 2

Emory-Crisp-Title

EC – Personal Log – 0120053118 – The Flaxtor Carrier Pigeons of Death – Part 2

For the record, some history.

Flaxtor was a nice quiet planet on the far edge of the Katakan Nebula. Even after hole-jumps started to boom, Flaxtor was not on the list of places to go. It was a simple, basic planet that filled a hole in space.

That is until Textr Crimm happened to make a jump into Simmaer, he says on purpose, but others say not so much. There he “discovered” a population of peaceful, trusting inhabitants who were also – a pushover. They were adept at making miniature electronics, mostly for the creation of music, art and furthering ideas through advanced artistic expression – almost like what they might call “high functioning hippies” on Earth back in the day.

Crimm also “discovered” the Flaxtorian invention we now call “Pops”,  a super-advanced nano-technology that induces mental euphoria with hallucinogenic properties that not only make the artificial seem more real than real, but it also taps into and feeds the pleasure centers of the brain heightening imagination for what is described simply as the highest of highs.

Crimm went to work exploiting his new finds immediately and in short order, Flaxtor devolved from a quiet oasis into one of the six most accessible, and officially Union ordained, public pleasure planets within several universes. Or, as one might better refer to as one of six supremely universal shit holes.

I’m not sure what it is about artificially altered mind-states, or the ability to induce artificially altered mind-states that makes people crazy. Maybe the question is its own answer. Either way, once somebody knows there is a new way to escape from what they carry around in their heads all day, they get hell-bent on trying it. Once they try it, most can’t forget it and have to get it again. Once there is a stable demand, there’s always someone like Crimm working to control the supply – or at least monetizing it. And as history shows, that generally leads to all kinds of unsavory behavior.

That brings me to the Shags. There wasn’t much of a law enforcement function on Flaxtor because, for the most part, it wasn’t needed. Flaxtorians lived in some near Utopian, peaceful mindset where everything was all good all of the time. Even now, the Shags aren’t really for the Flaxtorians as they are to better control the off-world elements. That’s where all the big trouble comes from.

And for beings that lived in harmony most of their lives, those drafted into the Shag corps seemed to take right to the military-grade training they got from humanity, and other more militant civilizations, making them a force to reckon with – at least when one was outnumbered.

As I struggled to get my eyes adjusted to the beaming light, without making any sudden moves, I counted five Shags total. Five was a lot. That was about four more than you’d see on a routine investigation of any kind and about five more than you’d see anywhere during sleep hours. Certainly, more than you’d see in a fairly non-descript alley where no crime was taking place. At least as far as I knew. So, what’s the give?

The incredible light, made brighter by the dimness of the alley came courtesy of cell drones. One of the Shags pulled radial blasters, one in each hand, and trained one on me and one on Strom. Two shags stepped into the light with the shade shields down on their helmets and grabbed Strom while two stepped out of the darkness behind me, seizing my arms and pushing us closer together.

Having a radial blaster pointed at you is deterrent enough to avoid any sort of resistance. Best case scenario, if and when it works like it’s supposed to, it stuns the assailant to the point of temporary paralysis. As you recover and the feeling moves back into your body, you get one hell of a headache as a reminder not get yourself into situations where you might get blasted again. That’s a fresh weapon mind you, straight out of the box.

Most of the time, however, someone gets to tinkering with them. Quite often the safety sticks on them so that’s the first thing to get hacked away. Then there’s the aiming beacon, the power regulation, blast recovery cycle time… the long and the short of it is you never really know what you’re gonna get when one of those things goes off. Depending on the settings, if those are still operational at all, and depending on who’s using it, at it’s worst, I’ve seen it basically gut a man in seconds from the inside out, leaving little more than a smoking husk to sweep up after the party’s over.

“YOU GIVE ANSWERS!” the voice repeated.

“Of course, of course,” Strom warbled. “We are more than happy to help!”

“STATE THE NATURE OF THIS BUSINESS!”

Now, I don’t know a whole lot about Flaxtorian anatomy, but I think Strom was sweating.
And my intent was straight enough, I’m just here to pick up the thing and tap out of here. But before I could open my mouth, Strom changed the whole dynamic.

“There is no business here, sirs,” forcing his mouth to smile as he spoke. “I came out for some air after a long day, and this man is passerby.”

“YOU HAD BUSINESS. STATE NATURE OF BUSINESS.”

“Business? There was no busi…,” Strom’s voice stopped quick as a muffled, scratchy recording of his own words filled the air.

“BE CAREFUL DIS, YES? HOT. HOT. HOT.”

Then it was official, small streams of sweat limped across Strom’s course features.

“Oh that,” he said in a more high-pitched warble. “That was nothing. Just me commenting to a passerby on how it is such a warm evening.”

“Look,” I said as plainly as possible. “Nobody did anything here. I’m just here to…”

“He was lost!” Strom blurted out. “I was gived him directions.”

“PROVIDED INFORMATION IS FALSIFIED.”

“No,” Strom said, “This is all the true. This man was lost, looking for his tap-out. I was gived him directions and he was on to go.”

“PROVIDED INFORMATION IS FALSIFIED. TAP IS CANCELLED. AWAIT TRANSPORT OT CENTRAL.”

My mind flew. Central?! We need to go to Central for this? I ran through all the things I could recall about this job from the moment Bodie Marcum contacted me at the start.

Blah, blah, blah, Flaxtor, blah, blah, blah, get turbo-drive, blah, blah, blah, in and out quick and easy, blah, blah, blah, fast money.

Nope. I wasn’t missing anything. Bodie’s not much of a talker, but he was always one to give me a head’s up if he thought things would go sideways on a job. There were no clues about Shags getting involved and certainly no information about ending up in Central. I’m a good boy. At least, I’ve been a good boy on this trip. Straight business.

Where Flaxtor was seen as a pleasure planet, Central, the primary criminal holding, and processing center was anything but. Outside of the Shags who did the footwork, the real peacekeeping effort was all outsourced to Cankton-Ho. This giant off-world conglomerate provided criminal handling and prison resources to multiple systems. They prided themselves on incredible success with rehabilitating the damaged members of many societies. That was the print anyhow. The fact is Central, formally known as the Cankton-Ho Criminal Restoration Corporation, was as reliable at prisoner reform as a hacked radial blaster. You knew what the intent was, but the end result was anybody’s guess. Many people who ended up in Central, even for small and seemingly trivial infractions, were often never heard from again.

I never signed up for a trip to Central and since I accomplished my objective and had the drive tucked neatly away in my pocket, it was clear to me that my business here was done. True, it sounded like the Shags had eliminated my current tap-out, but that was a temporary problem The bigger problem was staying upright, whole and free long enough to find a new tap-out and get the hell out of here.

The mention of Central caused Strom’s breathing to hitch and wherever the heart of that creature resided within that bulbous mass, I was certain it just hit-skipped up a few notches to where – for whatever reason – full panic was about to take over. The broad, artificial smile he worked so hard on faded to nothing as his eye grew wide. He started to shake.

“AAAAAAAYYYYYEEEEEEEEE!”

Damned if I ever heard such a thing in my whole life before or since, and I’ve heard and seen some shit, but the noise that tore out of Strom in that moment, that ear-piercing, head-splitting scream, threw us all out of whack.

Strom’s body pulsed and recoiled. His hands shot to his ears, and while I don’t think he had any intention of resisting or escape, an eye in the moment could see it as such and it did. The Shag with the blasters turned both on Strom and fired.

“AAAAAAAYYYYYEEEEEEEEE!”

The intensity of the scream began anew as Strom’s body jerked in response to the blast. He was on fire. The two Shags holding him must have been newer for they forgot that much like electricity, the pulse of a radial blaster runs through whatever, or whomever the target is in contact with. They forgot to let go in time and in seconds, their screams joined him.

The Shag who fired quickly held the guns up before him as if what happened was so disconnected from what expected that he needed to see if the guns were in fact what he thought they were. In any other instance, the gaze would have been comical.

In the same instance, the tight grips on my arms loosened and the Shags holding me dropped my arms to shield their faces from the spectacle before them, even though they came in with face shields down.

Chance is a fickle mistress. For as ugly as things got as fast as we got there, I learned enough in my travels to know that when a chance comes along – you take it. I stood there watching, trying to process everything that was going on until that moment when a single word flashed across my mind.

Run!

turned *Editor’s note:
To read other fantastic tales, search for Emory Crisp at the top of the page.

Copyright © 2018 – The JEFFWORKS

 Subscribe in a reader

 

On any given day… 1

Any-given-day

“She could be a professional smiler, ” Barton thought. “If there was such a thing.”

He stood at his register mindlessly passing the goods from Mrs. Fromeyer’s cart, one at a time, across the scanner. He waved each item back and forth over the single, red-flashing laser eyeball of the machine that logged the purchases until it noted success with a short, innocuous beep.

April, who stood at lane number 7, just two registers away, did the same work, but with more…

Words flashed across his mind as he sought out just the right one. Style? Flair? Zest?

Panache.

Yes, panache was it to a T. It felt like an old word. Like something his grandmother might say, but it fit April and what she was doing in this moment perfectly. While he scanned by rote, April talked to people. She was genuine. She cared. She gave little tidbits of information about the products the people were buying and asked them about their day.

Even though she had a scrunchy at the ready on her wrist, she kept her hair down most of the time. It constantly fell across her face, which required that she constantly pull it back and tuck it behind her ear. An exercise in futility for the hair, but for him each pull back revealed that amazing smile. It hit him like a kid watching a magician pulling his cape back to reveal the end of an amazing illusion.

Barton looked around the store. Most people don’t smile. Mrs. Fromeyer wasn’t smiling. He wasn’t smiling. They were all capable of smiling, sure, but everyone seemed to dole them out as if they were a precious and limited resource best used exclusively for special occasions.

Not April though. If smiling was a precious and limited commodity that should be tightly managed, nobody told her. She had smiles for everyone. She had smiles for no one. She looked as though she could have been born with a smile on her face. She could have been the hardest birth known to humanity and Barton could only imagine the new infant April lying in a small hospital crib and struggling to “make it” – all while smiling.

It was a sweet smile, natural and full. It fit her face perfectly. It never faded. If it ever went away, and he was pressed to think of a time when that happened, you could rest assured that a new fresh smile was coming up to take its place any second.

When some people smile, it looks forced, fake, off-putting in some cases and foreign in others, as if gracing the face it sat on was a mistake. It’s not that these people are unhappy, but more that they are not properly gifted with adequate smile features.

April’s face was made for smiling. Whatever bone structure and musculature nature set up for her provided the optimum conditions for maximum smile efficiency. She had more than a mouth smile. Her whole head was symmetrical and balanced. The trigger of the smile caused her eyes to widen just so to add that extra gleam to them and a subtle, soft blush would grace her cheeks with just the right amount of color. It was art. She was smile incarnate.

He could imagine her face on magazines, billboards, giant animated screens and on TV, not hawking cars and overpriced, sludge-creating, high-speed juicing machines, no. That did not suit her. Instead, she would represent ideals, assurances and lofty aspirations, inspiring  those seeking help or who search for a pathway to a better existence to take those steps needed to be who they want to be in this life. Quit smoking. Read books. Meditate. Recycle. Save puppies. Feed the homeless. Use energy efficient LED light bulbs. Retire at Shady Oaks. Consider Tyler Funeral Home the best option for your loved ones as they head to the great unknown. And more.

He knew he was staring. He tried not to, but still he found himself looking without looking, gauging her movements to make sure that if she were to look up, he could effectively shift his gaze off to some other direction without getting caught with his eyes on her like some distant, creepy, stalker.

He was not proud, but it could not be helped. In his 19 and three-quarter years of life, he had never encountered such a force. It knocked him off balance. Yet, in 19 and three-quarters years of life, he still he knew well the notions of fate and impermanence. His best friend “for life” David Berkingham moved away that fateful day in June the year they both turned eight and look how that turned out. It was like David never existed. Nothing lasts forever. So if the universe saw fit to align his path with that of April Timmons and the smile that could generate universal peace and harmony, who was he to argue?

*Editor’s note:
To read other story entries, just search for On any given day at the top of the page.

Copyright © 2018 – The JEFFWORKS

 Subscribe in a reader

 

Emory Crisp’s Tales From an Expanded Universe

Emory-Crisp-Title

EC – Personal Log – 0120053118 – The Flaxtor Carrier Pigeons of Death – Part 1

Medi-tech once again performed a miracle of modern science by getting my thumb back where it belongs with one hundred percent of the nerves connected, restoring full feeling and range of motion.

Good thing too. I’ve had a lot of good times with this thumb and I’d hate for that to end just because I didn’t pull it back fast enough in the clutch. And, being the fourth time I’ve nearly lost that thumb…completely, it’s fair to believe that it might reject me strictly on the basis of neglect. Nobody wants their thumb turning on them. I don’t.

And as I sit here, pumping my reborn digit up and down like I’m cracking the detonator of an X-13 Plastisplode Peacekeeper, I have nobody to thank for the return of my thumb – and the Nexit Commodore turbo-drive I was sent to retrieve – than Turp, supreme Flaxtor Carrier Death Pigeon.

Breaking it down, calling this creature a pigeon is just wrong. It’s an obvious joke of whoever had the job to name things that we humans started to encounter once hole-jumping became a thing. A standard CDP looked more like a large bat with leathery skin, stubby, metallic looking feathers, and near reptilian facial features instead of your standard issue pigeon beak…or bat face. They’re substantially larger than even the largest pigeon could dream of being and they are fast, tactical fliers, nimble and agile, with the ability to get in and out of the tightest of places with ease and turn on a dime with great finesse.

The carrier part was spot on. Their large feet and strong talons, combined with a healthy extended, wingspan made them perfect for carrying notes and small packages over long distances. The spooky part is that these things have the ability to absorb suggestion and process information in a way that allows them to understand what you want them to do quickly and where you want them to take something all while figuring the fastest possible route. They say it’s part chemical reaction, part telepathy and brain synapses something or other. Who knows? All I know is that they can cut through the mental clutter to get directly to the bit, the thing you want them to know, and make that bit their mission.

The death part is right too. Despite their mostly calm demeanor and being bred to serve, this is not a “pigeon” you want to piss off. Aside from the talons, which are formidable weapons in and of themselves, the CDP also has lengthy retractable fangs that carry a lethal venom, at least lethal to humans. Whether they bite you or spit on you, if you come into contact with that venom…you’re done, good night.

On paper, my assignment was supposed to be a standard, by the book pick-up and delivery. After the incident on Bahtch, which I maintain was a total misunderstanding, my income stream hacked to odd jobs and hole-jumps too menial, or unsavory, for others to do. Hm…technically, I was reduced to being little more than a CDP myself really…you know, except for the wings and the venom spitting fangs and…

But I digress. The job was a simple hole-jump to Neb 15 with a tap-in spot set in the heart of the Vax complex which was nestled serenely in the third quadrant of Simmaer, Flaxtor’s biggest city. There, I would meet up with Strom Gorman, “purveyor of fine goods”, as he put it, pick up the disc, head to the tap-out and hole-jump home.

Easy, right? Should have been, but somewhere along the line, the whole plan went scrap.

Getting in was rage – smooth and easy. The tap-in was pretty close to where it was supposed to be, about 100 feet away from Strom’s place. Which was lucky. Lately, a string of miscalculations from the senders put the taps off by miles. In one case, hundreds of miles; just another thing eroding the once fevered interest in jumping.

As I  got my bearings and headed down the street, Strom stepped out of the door of his storefront. He was a large, beast of a Flaxtorian male, but with many years behind him. He walked forward slowly while dramatically arching his back as if it were stiff. He breathed in a full helping of the cool night air, holding it for a moment before letting it escape with a loud sigh as if the day had certainly taken a toll. For someone who acted like he was looking for nothing, the awfulness of it all made it obvious he was looking out for someone…me.

“Strom,” I said, raising my hand up to identify who was calling out. Dumb move now that I think of how barren the street was at the moment. Who else would be yelling at him at this point?

“Mr. Crisp?” The sound sort of warbled from him as he spoke. The Flaxtorians found English a bit more challenging than some of the other languages they encountered in this sector, but it was clear enough for me. I got it.

“E.C., please.” I stepped up to him and suppressed the reflex to shake hands. His race found it to be a disgusting ritual. “I guess you have something for me?”

“Right to the businesses,” he warbled. “I like that.”

Strom looked both ways up and down the street with a serious and stern expression before reaching into the pocket of his robe-like coat.

“Here,” he said pulling his chunky, three-fingered hand out and palming the small silver data bank. “Be careful dis, yes? Hot. Hot. Hot.”

He laughed a little, as far as I could tell, then he shoved the disk hard into my front coat pocket. Funny that they don’t shake hands, but they seem to have few qualms with aggressively violating one’s personal space.

“Wha…,?” I said. “Oh yeah. Right. Hot.” He patted my pocket down for safety. “Hot data. I get it.”

He gave me what I think was a wink, but it was so slow, it looked like he might be starting to nod off. I guess Strom liked the sense of drama that came with delivering a data disk to little more than a courrier on a dark street…at night, artificial as it may be.

“OK,” I said, rocking back on my heals a bit while trying to avoid any longer a good-bye than what already transpired. “Gotta jump.”

I took a few short steps back, giving a small, polite wave and a nod Strom, you know, as people do, then turned and walked with more intent back to the tap-out.

It was about step number three when the section of street we were on lit up like daylight forgot something. My eyes clenched as I recoiled and turned as if slapped on the back by an invisible hand.

“NO MOVES!”

A voice rang out from, well, from everywhere.

“NO MOVES!”

The voice boomed and warbled.

“NO MOVES! YOUR TAP TERMINATES! YOU GIVE ANSWERS!”

There it was. The blinding light and the booming voice. Whether it’s Brooklyn direct or a Flaxtorian warble, the unmistakable tone proved the authorities had arrived. Still squinting too hard too see, I slowly raised my hands in surrender. It was the Shags – the Flaxtorian police.

*Editor’s note:
To read other fantastic tales, search for Emory Crisp at the top of the page.

Copyright © 2018 – The JEFFWORKS

 Subscribe in a reader

 

An open letter to all American voters

java-1

Java typed with determination and focus, as she was prone to do in these situations:

An open letter to all American voters – Dear Voters:

You don’t know me…well, I suppose some of you do, but the bulk of you don’t. And that’s OK.

You see, we don’t need to know each other on a super personal level to know that we are all part of a giant community of Americans who share the most important, and some might say daunting task that is electing our new president. That’s right, come November, we – collectively – get to pick who is going to represent us, protect us, nurture us, guide us, promote us, support us, inspire us, engage us in combat, embarrass us and calm us over the next 4 years.

Thing is, as I watch you on TV and such, campaigning or protesting or sharing your views with the world as to which candidate you back and why, the thing I keep coming back to is the notion that very few of you – OK, very few of us – really know what we’re talking about.

First, understand that I want every able-bodied and capable American to vote in this election. It’s our right to vote and it’s important to participate in the process. Secondly, every able-bodied and capable American who wants to vote in this election owes it to himself, herself and every other American to do the homework.

You see, I don’t really care who you vote for if you come to a responsible, educated, well-informed decision that suits your personal ideals of where this country should go. But – if you’re gonna pick who you vote for based on your gut, what spews forth from whatever news channel you favor, who slips you a fresh $20 bill, what your mom tells you, what lies in the bottom of your tea-cup, what Ben Franklin told you in a dream, what way the wind blows or whatever other magical seventh-sense, mystical voodoo that motivates you, stay home. If you’re gonna guess, stay home. If you just don’t like the way somebody looks, or you just want to vote the way you’ve always voted, stay home.

If you feel all those things above, or you driven by spirits or whatever and you still want to vote, just go ahead and jot your choice down on a piece paper and cast it to the wind. I assure you that the magical elves of Clannor will gather up your vote and see that it gets where it belongs. No harm, no foul.

It’s like this. Let’s say you watch a thousand hours of a medical drama (or a combination of medical dramas – there are some great ones out there) how likely would you be able to safely and successfully remove somebody’s appendix based on what you’ve seen? I think most of us would see ourselves as absolutely unqualified no matter how many hours we’ve watched and would step away from the challenge entirely. Why? Because we know we would likely do more harm than good. We could kill somebody.

It’s not a sign of failure. It’s the human brain being reasonable. You realize that the only way you will likely, successfully remove somebody’s appendix is to actually learn how to do it. You need to understand the anatomy of the body, where to cut, what to take out, what to stitch up and a whole host of other things plus, you need to know how to react if something goes wrong. It’s complex. Body parts aren’t conveniently labeled.

Now, there are those out there who would take on the challenge and want to step up, grab that knife and give taking out that appendix a go. These are the truly dangerous among us and don’t kid yourself, these people do exist. They will push their way up to the body and maintain that not only do they know what they are doing, but they can probably do it better than most because they are just all that. Even when things turn sour and they find themselves in trouble, they will maintain they know what they are doing and keep at it rebuffing help and wisdom, until it is way too late. Finally, as the body cools after their tragic ignorance does its terminal damage, they will not take ownership of the loss. No, they will likely blame the darned fool who let them have the knife in the first place. They are forever and always without fault.

You see, the average American voter is lazy, yet pompous and full of bluster. They don’t want to do the work. They don’t want to invest the time to figure things out. Rather, they pick, they commit, then sit back and have a fit when things don’t go as they thought they should. They are ready to go poking around for America’s appendix without having so much as an inkling about what lies under the skin and we can’t afford that. The world is a complex place. The issues we face are complicated. You just can’t pick a stance out of the blue based on a headline. It just doesn’t work that way.

The average American voter stands solidly behind the candidate that tells them the prettiest story or stirs the greatest anger within them. They don’t allow themselves to believe that the stories are stories and that solutions are useless unless people work together to make them a reality. They refuse to understand and accept that the backstory of our decaying government was written by their own hands and that they made the world we live in by filling the government with people who sit under their favored label or are apt at stroking the voter’s frail and fragile ego.

You can’t invite separatists, extremists, isolationists, egotistic, narcissistic bigots and zealots into your government and suspect that things will go well.

You need to get at those folks who are willing and able to do the job and who actually understand that the job is doing the work of the people, for the people and not the just relentless task of constantly getting re-elected. Seriously, we have enough of those do nothing career politicians.

I truly believe people spend more time looking at a dinner menu than they do evaluating their prospective elected officials, their qualifications, or what they really bring to the table.

I hesitate to blame the politicians. They only do what politicians do and that is press their advantage. If they can get voters to put them into office with pretty words and platitudes, they’re going to jump on that opportunity like a crow on roadkill. However, their work is a matter of public record. You can see what they do and don’t do. They’ll tell you they’re doing the good work, but it’s easy to see there’s not much work getting done.

We are the ones that keep putting people into places they don’t belong. Then we expect that we will get some sort of magic out of them when they get into office. Like they really heard us or something. It used to be cute; voters being all naive and aw shucks and such. Now, it’s just sad.

It’s time for each and every American voter to get off their proverbial backsides and start rubbing some brain cells together. The bluster and partisan pageantry of the conventions are over and now the real work begins.

How loud you yell, doesn’t make you a good voter. The size of your sign doesn’t equate to how well you get the message. You don’t “win” by being able to shout someone else down. You don’t “win” by vilifying another because their beliefs don’t align with yours. You don’t “win” by voting for one because you hate the other.

This ain’t a TV show folks. Do the research. Check the facts. Demand information. Ask questions then shut your mouth, open your ears for a moment and listen. Resist the urge to attack and disparage the moment you think you hear something that bumps up against your tender sensibilities. Dare to hear and understand the debate that takes place on both sides. Dare to expect more.

I’m talking to you American voter. You’re never going to teach someone else a lesson by wasting your vote. In fact, every wasted vote, every voter who withdraws from the process or treats the right to vote as anything less than the real and sizable responsibility it is, is an insult, a slap to the face of every person who fought for, died for and still fights today for your right to continue to vote.

The world is watching. We can show the world we still know what we’re doing and that we do it with mindful purpose and intent. That we give the right we have to vote the respect it deserves by taking the time to push beyond laziness, ignorance, apathy, bitterness, dogma, prejudice, spite, anger and more to ensure that our decisions truly reflect and serve the needs of our people. Do the right thing the right way. See you in November.

Your friend in the cosmos,

Java

 

 

An open letter to the Republican party

As she was prone to do in these situations, Java typed with determination and focus:

An open letter to the Republican party – Dear Republicans:

You don’t know me, but I wanted to take a moment to share some thoughts with you that may well represent a portion of the voting population of the United States that you might have yet to hear from, or have not yet decided to tune into.

I grew up with a kid named Billy McCabe. For the most part, Billy was hands down the most hilarious person I ever met. He probably still is. I imagine him in jail somewhere for some reason, for the only problem I’ve ever know Billy to have is, he never really knew when to say when. He couldn’t recognize when perhaps the jokes had gone too far and his ability to wield the magical healing power of laughter turned from a relief and a blessing to a curse and an embarrassment. At times, he just got so deep in the ruse that he couldn’t see a clear way out of it, so he just kept at it.

Most of the time, his taking things too far ruffled a few feathers, but on occasion, people got hurt. Not the kind of physical hurt where people need medical care, although one time Billy took a fairly solid blow to the nose that drew blood. No, this kind of hurt was personal, internal. It was the kind of hurt that you remember and it festers in your soul. It can shatter your confidence. It can fill you with doubt. It can create hate and bitterness over healing and compassion.

Now, I’m not saying that what you all have brewing is a joke gone too far, but when I look at it all – when I watch and listen – I can’t help but continue to search for the moment when someone in your group pops up, with hands waving in the air, yelling, “Ok, stop! It was just a joke. We’re kidding! You didn’t get it. No harm. No Foul!”

I mean…seriously?!

The initial set up looked like a joke. You had so many potential candidates, you couldn’t get them all on the same debate stage.

Hilarious!

The array of personalities were diverse, stark and bigger than life and when they all started talking about stuff…it was real ROTFL kind of material.

They were all calling each other names and poking at each other’s ideologies and records of achievement (or lack there of), making faces at each other, there was lots of aggressive pointing and other standard playground behaviors culminating in some real juicy, knee-slapping, good times. It’s kind of like you rolled up a limo at the premiere of the presidential election that looked regal and all serious, but when you opened the door out rolled this happy clump of buffoons. I swear, if any one of them could make balloon animals, you’d have a show ready to take on the road.

But now, things are getting serious, and as my grandmother Chamile used to say, “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.” My dear Republicans, you are in the dangerous realm of potentially losing that proverbial eye.

We’ve seen the Grand Old Party slowly, but surely degrade over the years. You’ve been so busy bullying, obstructing, posturing and promoting that you seemed to have lost touch with your political vision. You have such a splintered, distorted view of things, that I’m not sure you are even aware of how deep in trouble you appear to be. You’ve become a mockery of your former self, kind of like Vegas Elvis in the latter years of his career. You don’t know who to pander to, so you collectively to pander to everyone – well, everyone who you think will vote your people in. You can’t win on record or deed, so you inspire division and are stuck in the mud stubbornness.

Let me break it down for you. Your number one guy, the guy who appears to be your pending nominee, may be the very best thing for reality television, but the very worst thing for you as the leader of the modern free world. You have to see that, right? The sad part is, numbers one through four after him offer little else in the way of smarts or substance. It just makes us shake our heads even harder. You were so busy worrying about what Obama was up to and trying to put the kibosh on that, that you lost sight of what was going on in your own backyard. You hate what’s going on, but you have nothing brewing in your own kitchen to offer up as an alternative. Bad plan.

Now on the upside, Trump could win and you would have your guy in the White House once again. Then again, Trump could win and you would have your guy in the White House. I don’t get the idea he will be as easy to direct as the last guy you had in there.

Could he do an about face and start to genuinely care about the American people and working to make the country a better place? Sure, maybe. But I don’t think we’ve seen any evidence of that. And in the absence of that possibility, you must start to envision the probable. When you have your guy in the oval office and he starts enacting his particular brand of “presidenting,” and things really start to head south – guess who’s going to suffer? Trump? Nah. No matter how he leaves the office, he’ll say it was amazing and he was the best president ever. He’ll go back to his life, kick up the apprentice thing again and be none the worse for wear. You however, collectively, will likely have a lot of explaining, apologizing and rebuilding to do. And it might just turn out to be too much and your efforts will be too little, too late. At that point, you will be Billy McCabe.

Your Friend, Java

 

 

An Open Letter To Donald Trump

Java typed with determination and focus, as she was prone to do in these situations:

An open letter to Donald Trump –

Dear Donald Trump:

You don’t know me, and while the chances are greater that we might one day meet now because you are running for President, I’m not holding my breath. So, let’s just leave it at you don’t know me, and you probably never will.

Still, despite – at least based on my research – what appears a complete and total disconnect between us, I think it’s appropriate and important for me to reach out to you because of your interest in representing me, and the interests of our country, as the President of the United States.

You see – the job of President is a complex one. We the people need to respect the person who gets that job. More importantly, the person who gets that job needs to respect the job itself and the mantle of responsibility that comes with it. If you want to be my President, you better grab a seat and give a listen to what folks like me have to say.

Listening is a critical skill for a successful President. My mother always told me that the best way to listen is to keep your mouth shut so that the message you’re supposed to get comes in clear, avoiding anything your mouth might try to throw at it to confuse things. The second part of listening, is hearing – actually hearing the message that’s coming at you. Since you are everywhere these days I’ve had some good opportunities to watch you, and yes, listen to you.

Two things on that, first, as I listen to you, I hear what you’re saying. And while I’ve never been quite sure what a “bejeezus” is, I know that when I listen to you and I hear what you say, whatever bejeezus I have in me is scared shitless. Because when you boil it down, I’m not hearing much of value at all. Like a handful of those puffy cheese curl snack things, what you say lacks all kinds of substance. What I see is that you have throngs of people who do hear something in your words. I surely don’t begrudge them for that, even though I’m not clear on what it is they’re getting. To me it seems that on the surface, what they hear from you centers on, and seems to incite hate, violence, separatism, intolerance, misunderstanding, ignorance and a few other tasty negatives, which they appear to be OK with. The truth is, you have followers. Therefore, you have a responsibility to them and for them. You owe them the courtesy of your attention, your humility, your sincerity and your respect.

The second thing is that I’m not sure you’re listening or hearing. I get the feeling that instead of listening, you talk until you get tired, you pause for a bit, and then you spend your time looking for your next opportunity to speak out loud. Then when you do – BOOM – there goes my bejeezus again! It’s a terrifying cycle.

Look, I am one voter. While I have my doubts, they tell me my one vote counts, so like anything extremely personal to me, I’m very careful about where I put that vote. In my mind, it’s so much more than a single vote. It is an expression of who I am as a human being, as an American and it is a representation of what I stand for in my life. I don’t give my votes away. A candidate has to earn them. And I can tell you that no hot, steaming pile of rhetoric or reality show based shenanigans will earn my vote.

I’m a voter who needs solutions, solid ideas, compassion, a broad vision of the future, an understanding of the global circumstance, temperance, tolerance, empathy, strength, courage, common sense, a dash of humor, and a slew of other tasty attributes.

My hope is that you got into this because you are sincere in your efforts and intents to guide this country in a way that is beneficial to all. My hope is that you are not just some pot stirring, bile spewing, hate mongering, short-sighted, cartoon strip, ego driven, narcissistic, circus master who’s pulling his show into the center ring because he found someone who’ll shine a spotlight on him.

The fact that you are currently leading your party certainly says something about America. I’m not sure what it says yet, but it has a very sort of “monkeys running the zoo” kind of feel to it. It makes me sad in my soul. Don’t worry. While you are a huge part of that, the whole field of candidates seems lack a certain sense of…gravitas.

I’m thinking maybe you started this thing as a lark and it all got out of control and now you just don’t know how to get out of it. Mostly because you’re tossing some real doozies out there that make it feel like you are just begging someone to eject you from the game. For if they kick you out, you still win. You save face. You can say you didn’t quit.

Look, if you really want out, my first suggestion is to take a page from the Jeb Bush campaign. Look at that poor man’s face. Have you ever seen anyone who wants to be President less than him?

The long and the short of it is, you have yet to earn my vote. I don’t get the feeling that you truly respect the job or the responsibility that comes with it. You are welcome to prove me wrong. Should you do that, I am more than happy to make a full, fair and public apology for doubting you. Until then, it’s all just a big show, a big joke, a whim and a scam, but a scam with severe consequences. I urge you to dance on that line carefully.

Your friend in the cosmos, – Java

The Glorious Sunset of Taffeta Spaulding – Epilogue

“Will there be anything else ladies?”

Taffeta stirred awake from a light nap, as the waiter, whose name tag identified him as Damerae, placed their drinks on the small table next to their lounge chairs.

“Oh, no thank you,” Taffeta said. “This is fine.”

“Not right now Damerae,” Myrna said. “But don’t go too far. I never know when I might just feel like dancing.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Damerae said with a wink.

“Myrna?” Taffeta said, as the waiter moved on. “You are a shameless flirt.”

“I am,” Myrna said, settling deeper into her chair and her sense of self-satisfaction. “I don’t see any reason to change at this point.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Taffeta said, lifting her glass.

She let the cool, fruity concoction work it’s magic and closed her eyes again behind her large sunglasses.

In the dark, the shadows of the past rose up as they always do now. The imprinted residue of resilient memories that can’t be erased, but instead, must be endured until they fade away of their own volition.

A shadowy room materializes, strewn with the bodies of those unfortunates who lurked in alleyways and around corners waiting for a crack at an easier life, but always at the expense of another.

Bright spatters and dark puddles of blood broke up the monotonous, dusty grays and dingy browns. The smells of dirt, mold, decay and gunpowder mixed in a choking, nauseating haze.

Once again Myrna stands with her outstretched arm holding a smoking, hot Cora covered by a patent leather purse now with a sizable hole in the side. The long and broken couch. The money.

Yes. Even in the midst of chaos and fear and death, the siren call of money is strong and clear and seductive.

Once Taffeta and Myrna calmed themselves, Myrna was ready to go, to cut bait and run and just clear out and start the work of forgetting. But how does that happen? For all that went on in that room. The screaming, the fighting, the gunfire, they were still alone. They were in a place that nobody on the outside must have cared much about. When it was over, it was quiet. More than quiet. Silent. No sirens. No men with megaphones shouting “Come out with your hands up.”

Nothing.

It was just the two of them, the bodies and the money.

“Myrna, wait,” Taffeta remembered.

“Wait? Wait for what?” Myrna asked.

“Let’s…just see how much.”

“How much what? How much more mayhem we can get into? No thank you!” Myrna turned again to leave, but Taffeta held strong.

“The boxes. All those boxes must be filled with money. I mean, look at how much it is on the floor.”

“You’re kidding right? It’s bad money, Taffy. Blood money. Money from drugs and crimes and…”

Taffeta looked back at her friend. “And what if we call they police? What if they come and see what went on here. What do you think happens?”

“I’m sure I don’t know.”

“You do,” Taffeta said. “You know they will come and clean up the mess and lock everything up and that’s the end of it.”

“You want to take the money?” Myrna asked. “Really?!”

“Let’s see how much.”

“No. It’s blood money.”

“It’s lost money Myrna. It’s not like this is from a bank or something. I mean sure, some of it’s stolen, but you heard them, a lot of this money people gave willingly – stupidly, sure, but willingly. Just to get high or whatever.”

“It belongs to somebody,” Myrna said. “It always does.”

“Why not us?”

“What?”

“Sure, why not us?” Taffeta said. “We were kidnapped, victimized, harassed, tied up, probably traumatized for the rest of our lives and they were going to kill us. Can we just walk away from that? Can you just, forget all that? Forget it all and just move on?”

Myrna took another step toward the door and stopped. “I killed a man, Taffy.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t get me wrong. I’m not sad about it. He was certainly going to kill you and if it happened all over, I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

“But…”

“I don’t know. It feels wrong. The killing feels wrong even though it was the only thing I knew to do. Taking the money, just feels wrong.”

“I know. You’re right,” Taffeta said. “And we can leave right now and go home and call the police and let them deal with it all. And we will get on with the rest of our lives, however long that is, and try to forget it all and hope that we are stronger than our nightmares, because I don’t think this is going away any time soon. I mean, just look! I’m just not sure that’s how I want my ending to be.”

“How?”

“Alone in an empty house, making sure I’m up by a certain time so that I can take my medicine before my nap and be awake for my afternoon doses of whatever so I can do it all again tomorrow and the next day!”

“Taffy…”

“Myrna, we almost died here today. Right here in this horrible, disgusting, vermin-infested wreck of a place. Right here where we would be forgotten as soon as the next news story came along to replace the one that tells the tale of two stupid old women who got themselves killed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time!”

Taffeta spun away from Myrna and stared into the shadows, at the bodies and the ocean of bills that poured from the boxes Petey tipped over.

It was some time before she felt Myrna’s hand on her shoulder. “Let’s just see how much.”

It took them a while, but they loaded quite a few boxes into the car that waited for them outside. There was too much to count right there. It was all sort of thrown together. And there was the matter of the three dead bodies. Once they decided to move on their idea, the ladies moved effectively.

For as troubled as he was, Danny Mackenoy, the New Capone, did a fair job of gathering up quite a lot of money. Who knows? If he stayed away from the drugs himself, it might have dawned on him that he was close to getting exactly what he wanted.

They took what felt right. Nothing more. It came as a silent decision between them after loading one of the boxes into the car. At one point or another, it just seemed like enough.

Once they were loaded, they made certain they had all their belongings, and they crawled into the car and headed home – at last.

About halfway home, they found a payphone and called the police. They didn’t know that address specifically, but they gave the general area and expressed concern over what they were certain was gunfire before hanging up.

Once at Taffeta’s house, they ate and had a good sleep before they started rooting through the boxes of money in the front room. With few expectations, it just became clear that it was a lot. Anytime they came across a random pill or other chemical, they promptly flushed it down the toilet.

They split the money into two piles then sat down looking at them for the longest time wondering what next.

They watched television news for any information on their story from the other perspective and it was as it was expected, “Three unknown victims were found dead in quarantined building, two from blunt force trauma and one from multiple gunshot wounds. Along with the bodies, police found a variety of prescription drugs and a large amount of money, possibly related to a recent string of thefts from several local pharmacies. Police suspect gang and, or drug related violence as the cause, but continue to investigate.”

Two days later, the story all but evaporated from the headlines, due to a warehouse explosion on the other side of town with the potential of releasing toxic smoke that posed a danger to the local population.

Then things got quiet.

Taffeta called Angela Deffert of Deffert, Smith and Deffert, blah, blah as her brother did some time ago. Proper and professional, Miss Deffert acknowledged the memory of working with Taffeta’s brother and the firm’s handling of his affairs, including the distribution of the various crates that he left in his will.

Miss Deffert confirmed that Taffeta’s brother had indeed secured their services, not only because they were a top ranking firm, but for their reputation for being discreet.

In short order, Taffeta and Myrna had set up the money in a living trust with conditions suitable to their liking. They arranged for the pick up, delivery and possible long-term storage of a certain crate, which now contained a well cleaned, well oiled and well packed Cora along with the remaining ammunition.

They each sold their houses and pretty much everything else they had short of their most prized possessions and made the plan to head some place, “South. Tropical. Caribbean.”

“Well, I do declare,” Myrna said, in what was the very passable, if not stereotypical accent of a Southern belle. “Why, with all this heat I fear that I am fixin’ to perspire!” She leaned over and tapped Taffeta on the shoulder stirring her again, from her visit to the past.

“I’m heading inside to take a shower before we go to dinner,” she said. “Don’t stay out here too long now, ya hear? Why, you’ll just bake!”

“Go!” said Taffeta, laughing lightly. “Get out of here, you loon!”

“Seriously, you don’t want to burn.”

“I’ll be along,” Taffeta said, downing the very last of her cocktail. “I don’t want to miss the sunset.”

Taffeta shifted in her chair and draped a towel across her legs. Her gaze moved along the beach and out across the water. She squinted and pushed herself to see as far as she could, far beyond the horizon and up into the sky until the very essence of her soul seemed to melt into the churning warm hues of the evening sun, set to drop away to mark the end of another day.

THE END

The Glorious Sunset of Taffeta Spaulding – XI

“The other one was going to let us go,” Taffeta said softly.

Myrna’s hands squeezed hard into her arm as the words left her mouth. She could hardly believe she spoke out loud. She wasn’t thinking about talking, but there were her words, cutting through the silence like a hot knife.

While she tried to look away when the one continued to drive the head of the man with the hammer over and over again into the floor, there was no way to shut out the horrible noise that came with it.

Then, out of the blue, she spoke, as if in a dream.

Danny looked up from his seat on Hover’s body.

“Excuse me?” he said.

Taffeta gave Myrna a quick reassuring look, took another deep breath and turned back. “The man who got hit with the hammer, Petey? He was going to let us go.”

“Yessss,” Danny hissed softly. “And you can clearly see where that got him.”

“The point is,” Taffeta said, pressing on. “He realized we’re not a threat… to him, or to you or to whatever you have going on here.”

“Well, lady,” Danny said shaking his head. “All that seems to have turned into tough shit for you now, considering that your benefactor seems to have had his brains scrambled. And whatever it was you didn’t see before. Since then it seems to me that you’ve both seen quite a bit more. I mean, look around you. We’ve got bodies now. This is what they call, a bona fide shit storm.”

Whatever it was that had bolstered Taffeta’s confidence, faded quickly as a smile crawled across Danny’s face and he began to climb off Hover’s body.

“Now, you look like a couple of smart ladies to me,” Danny said, trying again to wipe the blood from his hands as he gained his balance. “Although, how smart can you be really? I mean look at where you are.”

Taffeta leaned back into the couch.

“Just a bit ago, whatever Petey there was feeding you, was still pretty fresh and I guess, not far from the truth. But now, he’s dead. Hover there is dead. They spilled my money all over the place while doing the dance of the idiots. And, now I’m left with you two. And, you think I should let you go?”

Taffeta cleared her throat. “Yes,” she said. “You should let us go.”

Danny began to pace, laughing to himself before turning to face the old woman. “You…,” he said, pointing with a dramatic flair. “Make a very compelling case. However, I can’t let you go. You know that, right?”

“You’re a horrible human being,” Myrna said, lurching up and throwing herself into the mix.

“Yes,” Danny said, feigning reproach. “I’m sure you see it that way. But you see, none of this was supposed to happen!” He went back to pacing and sliding his bloody hands across his shirt. “I mean really, look at this mess!”

“This isn’t our mess,” Myrna shouted back. “We’ve had just about…”

“SHUT UP!” Danny shouted, spinning around and ducking down to get into Myrna’s face. And while it may have been the rest she got after Danny knocked her out, or she may have just reached her limit, Myrna didn’t flinch and she didn’t waiver. She set her one good eye sternly on his gaze and they stared at each other, each one not daring to flinch.

“Let us go,” Taffeta said softly into the heart of the stand-off. “Let us go and we won’t say a word. I promise.”

The silence flowed between the three of them with little resistance, like a barely there summer breeze.

Danny blinked first. Breaking the stare down with Myrna, the turned his glance to Taffeta. “You’ve got guts lady,” he said, before reaching up to pat her cheek with a smile. “Both of you! You’ve got a lot of guts.”

He kneeled down before them to finish the work Petey started, untying their legs and tossing the ropes aside. He stood uneasily before them. “Hell, if my mother or grandmother had half the guts you two have, who knows where I’d be today.”

“Thank you,” Taffeta said, reaching down to rub at the spot where the ropes nibbled into her ankles.

“The sad thing is,” Danny said as his smile melted away. “Guts can make you stupid. They can give you a false sense of right and wrong, and of power. They make you careless. If I let you walk out of here, we both know where you’re gonna go. And I can’t have the police showing up here. Not before, at the very least, I get a chance to spruce the joint up a bit.”

He looked around his domain almost sensing the possibilities that could come with a good cleaning.

“No,” he said. “You’re going to leave all right, but you’re not going home.”

Again, with an unsuspected speed and seemingly peculiar strength, Danny lunged forward grabbing the front of Taffeta’s coat, and jerked her up and out of the couch to stand before him.

She let a small whimper slip as her legs wobbled and tingled a bit from sitting so long.

Danny looked into her eyes with a dark determination and he spun her around to drag her from the room.

“Wait!” she cried. “Please! Wait! Just let me say goodbye.”

Danny paused, letting the words sink in. The day was getting long and his patience thin, but a quick goodbye seemed reasonable. He spun Taffeta around like a giant doll and without letting go, leaned her out toward her friend.

Myrna reached out. Taffeta reached out. Their hands met and clasped around each other.

“I’m sorry,” Myrna said as tears trickled down her face. “I’m so sorry.”

“Shhh,” Taffeta said, closing her eyes softly and shaking her head ‘no.’ “I love you. You know that right?”

Myrna shook her head, squeezing Taffeta’s hand.

Taffeta squeezed back as hard as she could. “Myrna,” she said, searching for her friend’s eyes. “Don’t worry about me. Do you hear me?” She started to cry. “You can get out of this thing. You get out of this thing and you get out of here and you go far away where it’s safe. Do you hear me?”

Myrna gave her an obligatory nod, holding back a sob.

“Ok,” Danny said, pulling at Taffeta. “That seems good enough.”

“You get out of here,” Taffeta urged. As Danny pulled their arms stretched between them, but their hands held tight.

“You do what you need to do!” Taffeta shouted, fighting to stay with her friend. Danny pulled again, finally breaking the link between them and trying to spin the old woman away and into the shadows.

“You get free!” Taffeta yelled. “You let Cora protect you!”

Taffeta pushed back as hard as she could, but Danny held tight. She bounced around as he fought to control her. She tried to point at Myrna. “You get Cora!”

“SHUT UP!”

Danny pulled Taffeta up in front of him with a hearty shake and a head-jarring jerk that stilled the fight in her. He stared directly into her eyes, again silently communicating all the seriousness he was about to bring down upon her.

“The show’s over lady!” he spat.

Taffeta stared back for a moment before squeezing her eyes shut as tight as she could make them.

Two seconds later, the room exploded.

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop!

Holding her eyes shut, her ears began to ring as the sound of Cora’s report filled the small room like thunder. Wood, glass and molding drywall shattered around her making the air thick with dust and debris. She felt her captor wriggle and shake. She heard him grunt and howl, but his grip held tight through the storm.

Thirty shots later, with a soft click, it was over.

An aggressive silence sought to recapture the space, save for a few bits and pieces that had yet to find their way to the ground.

Taffeta, with a measure of hesitation, slowly opened her eyes.

Danny face filled her vision. His eyes darted across her face showing anger and hate and fear and finally, emptiness. Like she has seen in Petey’s eyes, Danny’s life slipped away from him. One single, small smile crossed his lips before he loosed his grip and crumbled to the floor in front of him.

Taffeta took in a huge breath, and tried to blink away her tears. As he eyes adjusted, she say Myrna standing before her. Myrna’s arm stretched out. And at the end, where one would have expected to see her hand, Taffeta saw her purse. Coming from a dark black, powder-burned hole in the side of the purse, a thin, delicate stream of smoke rose up into the sky.

Myrna sobbed.

“I heard you!” she said. The words poured out of her like water from a rusty bucket. “I heard you and I didn’t think I knew what you were telling me, but then I realized. Then I couldn’t get it out. The gun got stuck in the bag. I tried to get the safety off and I really wasn’t sure if it would work because I couldn’t see.”

Taffeta walked to Myrna as she spoke, smiling and wiping away the tears that streamed from her eyes.

“Then I pulled the trigger and just hoped,” Myrna said. “And it did, but then I couldn’t aim, and you were right there and…”

Taffeta reached up slowly, felt into the bag and softly urged Myrna’s hand to let go. She hefted the bag with the gun off her hand and set it on the floor. She moved Myrna’s outstretched arm down to rest at her side.

“…and you were right there. And my God, what if I had killed you? But he was horrible and he said horrible things. And the way he kept slamming that other man’s head over and over. He was never going to let us go he…”

“Sh, sh, shhhh,” Taffeta said, moving in to hug her friend in earnest. “It’s over now. It’s ok. It’s over.”

Myrna kept talking, kept saying every word that came to her head until there were no more, and the trailed off into the dark silence. They stood together, hugging each other, rocking back and forth ever so slightly and assured themselves that they were both alive and that everything was ok.

A long while passed before they moved. Eventually, Traffeta broke from the embrace, pulled a pair of tissues from her pocket and offered one to Myrna.

Together, the wiped their eyes, gathered their wits and calmed their souls.

“Such a mess,” Taffeta said first. “Such a waste.”

“They were horrible, right?” asked Myrna. “I mean, I killed…”

“Sh…,” Taffeta cut her off gently. “Don’t.”

Myrna drew another breath and nodded. “I want to go home.”

“Me too,” Taffeta said.

“Can we just…go?” Myrna asked. “Are we allowed to just…leave?”

“I guess.”

“What about…”

“I don’t know.”

Myrna reached down and took Taffeta’s hand. “Then let’s go. Let’s get out of here before something bad happens.”

Myrna stopped. Her brain caught up to what he mouth just said and she couldn’t help but giggle. “Before something bad happens. Did you hear that?”

Taffeta nodded.

“Let’s go!” Myrna said. “Medication be damned, I need a drink!”

She held on the Taffeta’s hand as she gathered up her own purse and moved to maneuver around the bodies and to the door, but Taffeta pulled at her.

“Myrna, wait.”

The Glorious Sunset of Taffeta Spaulding – X

Taffeta stared down into Petey’s eyes which in almost the same moment, popped wide with the realization of what Hover just did to him, then dimmed as his consciousness, and his life slipped away from him.

With a soft grunt, he tipped forward dropping his head into Taffeta’s lap, then slid down from her knee and along her calf as his body slumped to the floor.

Taffetta’s breath caught as she tried to pull her eyes away from mound that was Petey, or at least tired to squeeze them shut, but they would not comply. Instead she slowly lifted her head tracing the room until her gaze fell upon Hover. Her face twisted in to disbelief and fear.

“Dammit!” Hover shouted, dropping the sledge to the floor. His body grew rigid as his hands clenched into and out of frustrated fists.

“Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!”

He stomped around in a small circle as a child might while having a tantrum, shaking his fists and at one point, raising them up to hit himself in the forehead several times in quick succession.

“Dammit, dammit, dammit!”

He kicked out at Petey’s lifeless body, catching him in the leg and making the body shift with its force.

“You stupid son of a bitch,” he said, grinding his fists harder into his head. “You couldn’t just leave it could you? Could you?”

Taffeta stared at the building, brooding mass of anger and frustration before her, her heart beat rising in pace with the escalation of the situation which had quickly deteriorated from a moment of hope and possible escape to…this.

Whatever this was now, whatever their situation had become, it came with a heavier weight than anything up to this moment, as her husband might say, “This was the shit and they were up to their armpits in it. Time to do, or be done in.” She missed that about him.

When Hover kicked out at his associate’s corpse, the alarms screeched through Taffeta’s head.

She burrowed deeper into her friend’s side trying in earnest to elbow her awake, but without drawing attention.

“C’mon, Myrna,” she shouted silently in her head. “C’mon, c’mon. I need you now.”

For the first time since plopping her into the dilapidated sofa, Myrna uttered the very softest of groans causing Taffeta to jerked her head toward her friend’s face.

“That’s it,”she dared to whisper. “C’mon Sweetie, wake up.”

Myrna uttered another soft and barely audible moan as her right eyebrow raised up ever so slightly.

Even that ever so subtle response set Taffeta’s heart to beating faster, but with a greater sense of comfort and relief than compounding fear.

Hover’s swearing boiled down to a base growl as he continued to smack and berate himself while churning in a small squall of a manic pace.

“Myrna,” Taffeta whispered, following another nudge. “You have to wake up now, but you have to be quiet…really quiet.”

An eyelid quivered, then lay quiet for a moment before both eyes popped open.

“What the…,” Myrna said, sitting bolt upright.

Taffeta grabbed the lapel of her friend’s coat and pulled her close to her.

“Sh, sh, sh,” she whispered directly into Myrna’s ear as loud as dared, but with the intention of being heard. “Keep calm. Keep quiet. We’re OK, for the moment.”

Myrna’s eyes shot around the room as her brain worked to put everything together as fast as she could. She remembered the…pharmacy, yes the pharmacy, they were going to get, but then there was that horrible, dirty boy and… She turned a face twisted with fear and a dash of panic back to her friend.

Taffeta raised her hands to catch Myrna’s face and made her focus on her. Her own face mimed deep, careful and calming breaths before she mouthed a long and silent, “Shhhhh.”

Myrna nodded, working to match her breathing to Taffeta’s. The two calmed each other to the point where Taffeta could finally hear something other than her heartbeat banging in her ears. At least until…

“Sweet Jesus! What the hell?!”

Hover stopped instantly, dropping his arms and turning to face the voice that blew out of the shadows like a child who got caught lifting the goods from the family cookie jar. Whether knowingly or by reflex, he took a small step to the side in an effort to block the greater problem, which was the slumping dead pile of Petey Chambers.

“It’s not what you think Danny,” Hover said, pleading his case. “He was gonna let them go.” He pointed accusingly at the ladies cowering on the dilapidated couch. “He was gonna let them go, just like that and you know they would rat us out! I mean he was untying them and everything! He…”

“SHUTUP!” Danny Mackenoy, leapt from the shadow swinging a fist wide and fast that caught Hover square in the jaw, knocking him to the ground.

“Just,” he said, through dangling, dirty strands of hair and a heavy breath, “Shut up.”

Hover lay on the ground rubbing the side of his face as a small tear welled up and dripped down to his cheek. Danny slogged forward, kicking as Hover scurried out of the way, clearing a path to Petey’s body.

“Jesus,” he said, leaning down to poke at the corpse that lay in the dark. “What the hell have you done? What the hell, Hover!?” He spun around and lurched toward Hover who tried to spider walk himself into retreat.

“Did you forget the plan?” Danny asked. “I made a plan! A careful plan that uses three legs of a stool made up of my brain, your flair for on the job security, and Petey’s gift for distribution, everybody playing to their strengths. But you, you with no brains what so ever decide that you will, kill our key to effective distribution!”

Danny’s words started clear enough so as to emphasize his point, but as his own words sunk in along with the realization that his plan, which worked perfectly up until this point, was now messed up beyond reasonable repair, his words grew tight and forced. He began to spit them out through gritted teeth. And as Hover tried to slink away, Danny inched ever closer.

“No distribution, no cash! It’s a pretty simple formula!”

Danny jumped forward grabbing Hover and dragging him across the floor to Petey’s body. “No distribution, no cash, Hover!”

He forced Hover’s face to the floor so that his gaze would have to meet Petey’s lifeless stare. “No cash, no plan!” He brought Hover’s face up to his own. “Did you ever think of that? Did you?”

“No!” Hover yelled, “No, I guess…”

Danny forced his head back into the floor. “Of course not!” He yelled. “You didn’t think!” He raised Hover’s head and forced it back into the dusty, dirty wood floor with a heavy thud.

“You never think!”

Thud.

“You aren’t paid to think!”

Thud.

“But I guess you wanted to give it a try anyhow!”

Thud.

“Now, look what we’ve got!”

Thud.

“No distribution!”

Thud.

“And, that means…”

Thud.

“No…”

Thud.

“More…”

Thud.

“Cash.”

Thud!

The last blow pushed Hover’s head in a way that his now similarly lifeless eyes stared into Petey’s. Danny sat, perched on top of Hover’s body, holding his one time partner’s head against the floor until the slight twitching in Hover’s left foot stopped completely. Then he slowly forced out a heavy breath before sitting upright and shooting his head back in a way that should have flipped his hair back and out of his eyes, but the dirt and sweat held it back. He brushed it away with a bloody palm leaving a smear of red across his forehead. He looked up.

“Ladies,” he said, matter of fact. “I’m sorry you had to see that. However, the poor behavior of my associates has brought us to a rather uncomfortable crossroads in our relationship.”

He looked down at his hands covered with blood. The tops. The palms. He clenched his fingers to feel the stickiness before dragging them hard across his shirt.

“Idiots,” he muttered to himself.

Myrna and Taffeta sat still, clutching at each other, trying to remain calm, in the face of this recent turn of events.

The Glorious Sunset of Taffeta Spaulding – IX

Taffeta managed to move Myrna across the sidewalk and into the passenger seat of her car near the door of the pharmacy. Not that she expected any help from the younger man who was causing her this pain, but it seemed worse to have him watch her struggle.

As gentle as she tried to be, Myrna’s head bobbed with every tug and pull. The whole left side of her face was swollen now, effectively closing her eye.

Once Hover emerged from the store, Danny crawled into the back seat slouching low and leaning into to the window. He pulled a pair of sunglasses from his pocket, slid them on his face and settled into the oncoming high. Hover jumped in next to him wiping the blood from the end of his sledge with some paper towels he pulled from aisle 4.

It was Hover who told Taffeta which way to go. Four miles down Wilkes, take a left, then a right, then two miles, then a right and so on. Taffeta aptly followed his directions, but was more concerned about Myrna whom after twenty minutes of driving still had yet to come to. Besides, she was pretty certain Hover was taking the long way around to wherever it was they were heading, just to throw her off.

Another fifteen minutes later, in a part of town Taffeta never knew existed, Hover had her pull around to the back of a series of brick row houses, mere shadows of what they once were, now boarded up and settling into at least a decade of decay.

“Pull up here and stop the car,” he said. Silently, she did as she was told while keeping one eye on Myrna and the other on any possible pathway to escape.

“Now get out, and get her,” Hover said, climbing out of the backseat and setting the sledge on his shoulder. Taffeta stepped out of the car then walked around to the passenger door. She opened it and leaned in to unclip Myrna’s belt, grab their purses and start to heft Myrna out.

“Hey, wait,” he said, just as Taffeta got her friend to stand limply beside her. “I don’t think you need the bags.”

“She has asthma,” Taffeta blurted out. “She needs her medicine. Doesn’t your mother carry a purse?”

“My mother never carried anything, but a bottle of whiskey and a grudge,” he said dropping the sledge to the ground. He stepped over to her and pulled one of the bags from her shoulder. Looking at her the whole time, holding her gaze, he yanked the purse open and reached his hand inside. His hand moved around the inside of the bag feeling for anything.

“Bah,” he said. “Asthma, my ass. You got nothin’ in there but a wad of tissues, a compact and a handful of candy.” He tossed the bag at her feet. “Pick it up, let’s go.” He turned to get his sledge and start up the steps to the first row house.

Taffeta retrieved Myrna’s bag from the ground, almost dropping her, but then righting them both to standing again. “Do you want to check mine too?”

Hover stopped and turned. He took one step toward her then stopped. He thought, then smiled shaking his head and keeping himself on task.

“Keep it up lady,” he said. “I got more things to do than to rustle around in a bag full of tissues and hairpins. Just get inside, huh?”

“What about him?” Taffeta said nodding her head back toward the car where Danny now slept soundly.

“What about him?” Hover said looking over at Danny. “You best mind your own. You don’t really want to be waking him up when he’s, you know…sleeping. Better for me that you just get inside. Better for you too.”

“You could let us go.”

“Lady…,” Hover said, shaking his head again. “Really, just get inside.”

Taffeta struggled to get them both up the steps and inside the dump of a house, again, without any help aside from Hover impatiently holding the door for her as she moved slowly past him. The house was dark, beyond whatever light found its way through the cracks in the boards that covered the windows. She squinted to help her eyes adjust so that she could get a better lay of the land. The smell hit her first, a hearty wave of rot mixed with a touch of urine. As she stood there she could make out a couch, a small table and a couple of chairs and the along the wall were stacks of boxes.

“Don’t just stand there lady,” Hover said, moving up behind her. “Go over to the couch and sit down.”

“Could you get me some water?” Taffeta asked. “For my friend.”

“This ain’t the Ritz, lady. Just sit down until Danny figures out what to do next.”

She found her way to the couch and slowly dropped Myrna into place first before plopping herself down tightly next to her. She could almost feel a cloud of filth, dust and debris billow up around her. Despite the lack of comfort and the layer of disgust, it felt good to sit. She was exhausted.

Hover came over with a hand full of rope and kneeled before her.

“You’re going to tie us up?”

“Shut up lady.”

“Is that really necessary?” Taffeta said. “I mean look at us. She’s not going anywhere, unless I drag her and frankly, dragging her here was more than I was made for.”

“Just…shut up.”

Hover tied her feet the best he could. Then he tied Myrna’s to hers then worked the rope to connect them both to the base of the couch. Then he left them.

Her first intent was to get free and get them out of there, but the distraction of another soft moan from Myrna, sent her into caring mode. She adjusted her friend to make her more comfortable. Then got herself as comfortable as she should. She stroked her friend’s hair calmly in the dark. Who knows what damage she suffered by the blow to the face. Whatever it was, Taffeta hoped it was temporary. It wasn’t long then until the excitement of the day took its toll and Taffeta herself drifted into a soft, uneasy sleep.

It was hard to tell how much time passed before Taffeta jerked herself awake. Myrna leaned hard against her shoulder, snoring, which was probably a good sign. She was sleeping. Not slipping away into a coma.

Worse still was that in the dimly lit room, she squinted to see Danny standing before her, still, stoic, and staring at them. His face was blank and emotionless. He just stood there drifting ever so slightly back and forth, his dirty hair hanging down across his face. A thin string of drool hung from his lip and stretched down towards the floor.

She watched him.

He stood there. An unnecessary standoff, between the victim and the vacant.

She had no idea how long he stood there before he moved, but when he did, he shook his head and squeezed his eyes as if he were trying to close off someone who might be talking to him. He raised his hand lethargically and waived the phantom voice, away.

“Shut up,” he mumbled, but it sounded more like. “Shuup.”

Then he staggered forward a step, then another, then managed to step slowly into the shadows.

Taffeta breathed out a hard sigh, dropping her head forward. She closed her eyes trying to calm the pounding in her chest.

She must have nodded off again, for when her head jerked up again, another young man was kneeling before her, one she had not seen before.

“Hey lady,” the man said. “You want some water?” He held out a plastic bottle.

Taffeta reached forward slowly. Her muscles sore from hefting Myrna around so much moved under protest.

“Thank you,” she said softly.

The young man looked back and forth quickly before producing another bottle from under his jacket.

“What about her?” he said, reaching out again.

“Yes, thank you.”

“What the hell is this?” Hover said, stepping into the dim light of the room. “What are you doin’ Petey?”

The young man on the floor jumped up, “Nothing. Why? What do you care?”

“Seriously,” Hover said, pressing the other. “What the hell are you doin’? Danny aint gonna like this.”

“Danny doesn’t know what he’s doin.” Petey said. “What’s he thinking bringing two old ladies here?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Hover said. “It’s what he wants and he’s making the decisions. Maybe he wants them to clean up around here.”

“You’ve got to be kidding. We should be letting them go.”

Hover stepped closer to the other man, who held his ground.

“I said…we don’t make those calls,” Hover said. “You sell the stuff. That’s your job. The rest is all up to Danny.”

“Have you seen him? He’s really not looking his best today…or any day lately.”

“So?”

“So…,” Petey leaned in. “I’m making this call. I’m letting them go. They don’t belong here.”

“Don’t do it, Petey.” Hover swung his sledge up slowly to rest on his shoulder as his hands shifted along the handle to find the right grip.

“Screw you, Hover!” Petey said spinning around. “I signed on to this thing for one thing and one thing only – cash. Not kidnapping. Not murder. Just Cash.”

Slowly he stood. “I don’t know what you signed up for and I don’t care. Danny is losing it. He broke the first rule, stay out of the product, and now he’s just a mess. He’s sloppy, careless.”

“Brave talk, coming from a small time street pusher.” Hover said working his hands and training his eyes on Petey.

“Small time?” Petey laughed. “Maybe. maybe it started small time, but who is responsible for this?”

Petey lunged at the boxes along the wall and pulled hard, the first toppled to the floor breaking oven and releasing a spray of cash.

“Or this?” He grabbed another ripping at the flap which allowed more cash to escape.

“This wasn’t Danny. And it certainly wasn’t you! Anything we’ve built, I brought to the table. And this…,” he broke off pointing at the two women. “Is not what we do.”

Petey stood in a puddle of money breathing heavily with his arm stretched out and his eyes fixed on Hover.

“Now,” he said. “I’m making this call. You’d be smart to step back or crawl into whatever hole it is you call home and just let it happen.”

Hover shifted his weight, leaning his head back in consideration. His eyes thinned his stare at the other man and they stood quietly, until Hover finally took a single step back and gestured with one hand as if to say, go ahead.

Petey dropped his arm and nodded with relief at Hover’s slow but, ultimate recognition of what made sense here. He stepped back to the ladies, kneeled down and again, began to work the ropes.

“You ladies get out of here. Get right out of here. Get into your car and go home and for get all about this place and anything you saw here.” He looked up for a brief moment at Taffeta. “You got that?”

“No…,” was the only thing Taffeta had time to mutter.

Petey’s face shifted from contorted confusion at what he thought was Taffeta’s denial, to wide-eyed fear as the woman before him tried to recoil deeper into the couch. There was no time to turn, or flinch or duck for in between those taught seconds, Hover’s sledge found its next target and the aim was true.

The Glorious Sunset of Taffeta Spaulding – VIII

Despite whatever went on inside his drug addled mind, and despite the self-inflicted tattoo that boldly, yet sloppily declared himself the “New Capone,” Danny Mackenoy was small time.

On the surface, his story read like the pages of so many others; very few friends, bad in school, truant, fighting, petty thefts, stints in juvie and everything else that would lead one to believe his destiny was either prison or an early death caused by any one of his random acts of stupidity.

On a deeper level, Danny was his own worst enemy. He wanted to be bad. He boldly slapped away every hand that ever reached out to him in earnest with an offer of honest help or reform, opting instead to dive deeper into forming the skin of a big time, hard-core crime boss. The way he saw it, he had the brains, he had the guts and there was nothing but opportunity all around him.

If Danny had anything going for him at all, it was his recent string of pure luck.

His latest scheme involved a line of robberies aimed at amassing cash, for cash meant power and power meant Danny Mackenoy could do whatever he wanted.

The plan was simple enough, steal as much cash as possible or steal whatever he could easily convert into cash. After cracking into a few houses and a gas station out in Millersburg, Danny stumbled upon the notion that drug stores, especially older ones, could render even faster results. They had cash. They had drugs. The drugs could be sold for cash and whatever was left over could help him soothe away the worries of another hectic day. Win, win, win.

Smart enough to know he couldn’t take on such an enterprise without some help, he enlisted the skills of a low-level hacker and petty thief, Hover Johnston. He also brought Petey Chambers in as his primary sales associate to move the various pills and notions into the town’s dark crevices where the lesser knowns hungered for his brand of relief, at a cost, of course.

Once Hover disarmed the security systems, which he often accomplished with a sizable sledgehammer, if there was one at all, they could walk right in and take charge. Hover stood watch at the door, while Danny went to the back to “fill his prescriptions” and otherwise relieve the registers of the burden of their legal tender.

Danny kept an eye on a number of area drug stores, to see if he could tell when their primary shipments came in so they would be ripe for the picking. But it was less an effort to conduct concerted stake out and more an exercise in smoking and aimless loitering. His decision to strike rarely grew from his research, but more from boredom and a lack of patience.

When Cowell’s Pharmacy grew ripe and in his mind, was ready for the picking, Danny was going in shit be damned.

And though he would rather have had the store to himself, Hover was already in the back doing his thing when the two old ladies stepped through the doors. Flies in his ointment to be sure, but small, frail flies at that. Nothing he couldn’t handle.

A soft step or two and he was right behind them without so much as a sideways glance. Dropping his sizable mitts on the far side shoulder of each woman, he pressed them together and brought his face to meet theirs in the middle.

“Good morning ladies. Welcome to Cowell’s. Let’s go shopping!”

He held them there for a moment as his hands curled into a grip on the shoulders of each of their coats, then pushed them forward to walk an arm’s length ahead of him.

“Young man!” Myrna said in a huff, as she tried to keep up with the pace of the man pushing them. She linked her arm through Taffeta’s and they squeezed into each other for strength and balance.

“Shut up lady,” Danny growled at the back of her head. “Just shut up. Not a word from either of you, got it?”

He pushed them through the entryway and turned down the third aisle. Taffeta tried to keep her breath calm as she squeezed Myrna’s arm and caught the blur of the various items that seemed to whiz by them from their places on the claustrophobic shelves. Candy turned into socks turned into lotions before the aisle ended and they emerged on the far end in front of the pharmacist’s counter.

Danny pushed them forward hard into the edge. Myrna whimpered as she took the brunt of the blow. Her breath came heavy.

Danny loosened his grip on Taffeta long enough to reach beyond her and slam his hand down on the small bell that sat innocently next to the sign that read, “Ring for service.”

Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring.

“Hey!” he yelled.

Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring.

“Hey!”

His hand covered the bell. He lifted it up and threw it hard beyond the counter and back into the shelves with a crash.

“Hey, are you deaf back there or what? How ’bout some service?”

He gripped Taffeta’s shoulder again and shifted the ladies together along the edge of the counter so that he could see into the back better.

“Hey!” even louder. “My Nana here needs her medicine!”

The sound of some boxes falling rose up from the back, just before the disheveled pharmacist came stumbling out and into sight. Then he tripped and fell out of sight again behind the counter. Behind him, with sledge in hand, stood Hover Johnston.

“You’re not gonna believe this,” Hover shouted down to his partner. “But Doctor Drugs here was trying to sneak out the back door.”

He dropped the sledge, stepped forward and reached down to grab the pharmacist and heft him up, pushing him too, hard against the counter. A small line of blood slid down over the man’s forehead from a cut somewhere in the mass of his tousled hair.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” the older man spat out through heavy breath, his face held tight against the countertop by Hover’s arm. “How, how,” he huffed. “Can I help you?”

“Like I said,” Danny said, disgruntled at the lack of service. “My Nana here needs her medicine.”

“Which…,” huff. “Medicine.”

Danny stood tall, releasing his grip of the ladies and spread his arms wide before him. “All of them!”

In a swift movement, he stepped back then lunged forward up onto and over the counter landing right next to Hover.

“Keep an eye on ’em. All of them,” he said, before scooping up several shopping bags located behind the counter and stepping back into the promised land.

Hover released the pharmacist long enough to reach back to the floor and grab his sledge. Jumping back, he caught the man just before he slipped off  to prevent him from heading to the floor.

“Where you goin’ Pops?” he said, pushing the man’s head and face back into the counter. “That’s right. Nowhere. Nobody’s going nowhere.

The man on the counter moved his eyes up enough to see the faces of the two ladies. The three stared at each other, wordlessly, with faces aptly contorted to suit their circumstance .

It took three minutes, before Danny emerged with full bags of merchandise – hydromorphone, hydrocodone, oxymorphine and some others just because he liked the colors. All his favorites. His mouth chewed ferociously on some tablets that he tossed in for fun and one small white pill stuck to the side of his cheek for a moment before it fell free and tumbled to the floor.

“That’s it,” he yelled, spitting. “Easy as pie.”

His eyes grew wide as he jumped on to the counter and crowed into the empty store like a victorious warrior.

Then he stopped suddenly, shook his head to shift the greasy long strands of his hair from his face, turned back behind him and said, “Mr. Johnston, our work here is done. While the service here was shit,” he said screaming the last word down to the pharmacist. “We ultimately got what we came for. So, I will let it go…this time, but I doubt we will ever return, and I will be telling all my friends to take their business elsewhere.”

He kicked out at the pharmacist causing him to wince before jumping to the floor, back next to the ladies.

“What should we do with him?” Hover asked, “And the old ladies?”

Danny turned and looked at the three, his mouth gnawing at the last bits of the chalky medications.

“Damn,” he said. “Well, I’m in no condition to drive right now, so ladies – you’re with me. And as for that guy…I don’t care. I suppose the moment we leave he’ll try to call the cops so…whatever might fix that would be…”

“Now you listen to me,” Myrna said through gritting teeth as she stepped forward. “We aren’t going anywhere with you. You have what you want. Just go and leave us all alo…”

Myrna didn’t get to finish before a fist filled with the handles of a shopping bag filled with drugs caught her in the cheek. She fell back slowly into Taffeta, who caught her as best she could, but she couldn’t support the weight and they both fell backward hard into the wall of the pharmacy counter.

“Myrna?” Taffeta said, trying to calm the quiver in her voice. “Myrna, honey. You’re ok. You’re ok now. Myrna?”

Myrna mustered a grown that while soft and weak, was enough to quell the burning fear in Taffeta’s chest. They sat together on the floor  as Danny stepped closer to them and crouched down.

“Wham!”

The sound burst up from behind them, behind the counter followed by a retching scream as Hover’s sledge made sure the last thing the pharmacist’s fingers would do is dial a phone…or do pretty much anything else for a good long while.

“You hear that ladies?” Danny spoke softly. “That there is the sound of anguish caused by an utter lack of cooperation pure and simple.”

“Now, my associate is not very smart. He would be all too happy to make your day miserable with a little wave of his sledge hammer. And the only thing between him and you is me. So, while I like this store enough to fill my prescriptions, this is not where I planned the spend the rest of the afternoon. So if you would be-so-kind, would you get off your fat asses and TAKE ME TO YOUR CAR!”

Danny’s words were well metered until the end when spit filled with the crusty remnants of a handful of tablets splashed into their faces.

Danny stared at Taffeta. Taffeta stared at Danny. Myrna moaned softly as a harsh redness spread across her cheek where the skin began to swell.

Heavy seconds ticked by like minutes.

Then Taffeta blinked. She looked away and hefted Myrna in her arms.

“Come on sweetie,” she said. “We’ve got to go now.”

She moved and struggled until both ladies were standing, Myrna leaning heavily against her friend.

“Now that’s what I’m taking about,” Danny said standing. “Cooperation! After you, ladies.” He swung his arm low as he half bowed inviting the two women to go before him.

Taffeta hefted Myrna one last time to make sure she had a good grip. She settled the strap of her purse on the other shoulder and slowly stepped before their captor heading toward the pharmacy door.

The Glorious Sunset of Taffeta Spaulding – VII

Four weeks later, Myrna’s question still pressed on her.

What now?

“What now indeed,” Taffeta thought, bristling at the notion that the only answer she could muster to the seemingly simple question was no answer at all.

What now indeed.

Life for Taffeta and Myrna went on as it always had, simple, rote and uneventful save for the fact that now they had a submachine gun to occupy some of their free time. And for as big a ripple as it put into their lives initially, even that quickly stitched into the fabric of their day to day, or week to week. For now, instead of parting ways after their Thursday lunches and heading home for an antacid and perhaps an afternoon nap, they drove out to their hill for some quality time with Cora.

After that, at home, Taffeta would wipe Cora down the way she learned from various Internet videos. She loaded the magazines to be ready for their next excursion, and she counted the rounds to…

She had yet to understand why she counted the rounds. It was a woeful exercise. Clarity came the instant she glanced at the once grand pyramid of boxes that shrank now week by week. Each count made it painfully obvious that they were running through rounds with little or nothing to show for it and each count filled her with a sense that once the last round popped away and slammed into the dirt, it would all be over…whatever “it” was supposed to be.

Then what?

Taffeta Spaulding was not one much for obsession. She didn’t have an addictive personality. She never took much to the drink. Smoking made her nauseous. If she took the occasional aspirin for a headache or pain it was only because her tried and true method of a lie down with a cold compress didn’t work first, but oh, that gun.

There was just something about that gun.

If someone had told her she would become so taken with it, she would have brushed it off as utter nonsense. And what was her brother thinking sending it to her in the first place. She was not a violent sort. What place did a gun have in her life, much less a .45 caliber M3A1 submachine gun?

Still, there was just something about that gun.

It was about a week ago that she started to keep it near by her virtually around the clock. She carried it from the counter to the table along with her morning cup of coffee. It sat on the edge of the coffee table in the evenings when Taffeta settled in for a read of the newspaper or some television.

She didn’t stare at it, or hold it, but she would peek at it periodically as a parent might of a young child one, to make sure it was still within eyesight, within reach and two, to make sure it wasn’t getting into any trouble.

These didn’t feel like conscious decisions one might make with purpose, but rather, the actions evolved as Cora’s allure and the mystery of her being, and being here, took deeper root.

The next Thursday Taffeta loaded the car as she had for the past several weeks with headgear, safety goggles, Phillies caps, a Thermos of coffee and bullets.

She found Myrna waiting out front when when she pulled into her friend’s driveway. The second the car stopped, Myrna pulled the door open and worked herself into the passenger seat.

“Is this a beautiful day or what?” Myrna said, closing the door and pulling the shoulder strap of the seat belt across her chest. “I’m glad you’re on time. I was hoping we could swing by Cowell’s to pick up my prescription and then the bank for lunch money.”

“I’m always on time, Myrna,” Taffeta said. “In all the years we’ve been going to lunch, when have I ever been late? For that matter, when have I been late for anything?”

“Don’t get indignant dear,” Myrna said, raising her eyebrows and exaggerating a look away as if surprised by Taffeta’s rebuff. “It’s not attractive.” She paused. “It’s just me and my peculiar way of starting a conversation.”

Taffeta silently backed out of the driveway as she had a hundred times and started off down Larchmont heading towards Cowell’s Pharmacy. Despite Myrna’s odd conversation starters, the car remained quiet. It didn’t really matter Taffeta thought. They had had this exact conversation before, maybe twice. They were certain to have it again.

In the pharmacy parking lot, Taffeta pulled into a spot fairly close to the door, because Myrna liked her walks to be brief and with purpose. She turned off the engine and at sat gazing at the door for a moment.

“Are you coming in?” Myrna asked pawing through her purse to triple check the presence of her wallet.

“I guess so,” Taffeta said.

“Don’t get so excited,” Myrna said. “You’ll bust a vessel.” Myrna looked over at Taffeta. “Are you ok?”

“I’m sorry,” Taffeta said quickly while turning her attention to pulling the car key. “I’m not sure what’s wrong with me. Just in a funk I guess.”

“I guess so. Look if you’d rather…”

“No,” Taffeta said, cutting her short. “I’m good.”

She grabbed her purse with solid grip and hefted it across her lap, then she worked the latch, swung the door open and stepped a foot out onto the pavement all in a fluid motion intent on stopping any additional conversation.

She pulled the strap up over her shoulder and together they walked to the store, stepped on the pad that opened the automatic door and moved into the cool antiseptic air of the drug store.

The next second, as they took their first step forward a clawing pressure flared onto Taffeta’s shoulder, pushing her sideways to the point where she mashed up against Myrna’s shoulder and stopped them dead in their tracks.

“What the,” Myrna said, trying to understand what was going on and moving against the force on her own shoulder that pushed her into Taffeta, nearly making her fall.

As their heads inched closer together, a rough and low voice pushed it’s way between them carried on a wave of air scented in smoke and alcohol.

“Good morning ladies. Welcome to Cowell’s. Let’s go shopping!”

The Glorious Sunset of Taffeta Spaulding – VI

“Ha!” Taffeta said, finally. She held out the gun before her as if she just found gold and stared down at it, smiling. “It’s amazing. You need to try it.” She reached up and slapped the top lid closed securing the safety then turned and stepped back toward the car with a new confidence.

“What?” Myrna asked, letting what she thought she heard sink in. “Did I hear you right?” She pulled at her earmuff. “What did you say?”

Taffeta turned, slipping the ear protectors off her ears by pulling the band down so that they now hung at her neck. “Take those off,” she said. “You have to try this and I won’t take no for an answer!” She turned back to the car, her hands moving across the weapon as if she had used it for years. She slipped the old magazine out and slapped it down onto the beach towel, then scooped up the next magazine, snapped it into the gun and slapped it on the bottom to seal the deal.

By the time she turned away Myrna had caught up. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I thought I heard you say something about me shooting that thing.”

“You have to.”

“I won’t.”

“Yes, but you have to.”

“I won’t do it,” Myrna said, resetting her earmuffs firmly on her head in defiance.

They stood face to face, staring at each other through an amber universe. Taffeta smiled a half smile as her head bobbed up and down quickly, yet subtly. Her eyes were fixed on Myrna’s. Suddenly, she pushed Cora into Myrna’s chest and held it there until Myrna’s hands assured it would not fall to the ground. Her smile grew wider, “You just have to!”

Myrna swallowed hard as she held the warm metal close to her. Her head followed Taffeta as she brushed by, headed back to the spot where the bullet casings littered the ground. Slowly, Myrna turned to follow.

Taffeta stood waving at Myrna to hurry up until she was nearly back to the spot then, crossed her arms in front of her.

“Stand here,” she said, with no more discussion of can’t and won’t.

Myrna stepped where she was told. Taffeta unfolded her arms to physically place Myrna’s hands where they needed to go, “here” and “here”. She put her hands on Myrna’s shoulders and turned her so that she was square against the hill where Taffeta’s now mangled clump of weeds stood awaiting a potential second strike.

“I…,” Myrna tried on more time to protest, but Taffeta made two simple, silent moves. One finger shot up in front of her. Shhh. Then it swept around to point at the hill. Shoot.

Myrna sighed in defeat and raised the gun as Taffeta did earlier, but without the same sense of drive or commitment. She held the gun out in front of her while making a face that implied to anyone watching that she was doing something truly distasteful, like a child forced to take medicine, or a parent toting an infant with an offensive diaper.

She gave one more sideways glance at Taffeta who simply lifted the latch release on the safety, then turned away to the hill and pointed. Shoot.

At once, Myrna squeezed her eyes shut and she pulled on the trigger.

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop!

Because she didn’t pull the gun in as hard as Taffeta did in expectation of the kick, each round caused the muzzle to rise forcing her to wrestle it back to where she thought it belong, all based on a feeling in the heat of the moment because with each shot, she squeezed her eyes tighter, clenched her hands tighter and forced a grimace to spread across her face.

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop!

As she wrestled with the recoil, shooting blind, a sound began to emerge from low in her throat.

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop!

With each shot, the growl grew louder, working its way to the surface until around shot twelve, where it burst free from her in a sort of primal scream.

“Oooooooooooh!”

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop!

“OOOOOOOOH!”

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop!

“OOOOOOOOOOH!”

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop!

“YEEEEAAAAH!” she growled.

The gun stopped shooting and jerking. Myrna’s arms dropped to her side. The gun slapped against her thigh. Her breathe came strong and hard and matched the heavy pounding in her chest. She looked up to the sky slowly raising her arms back up, the gun in one hand, a tight fist formed in the other.

“OOOOOH, YEEEEEAAAAAH!” she howled.

Laughing, Taffeta walked over and slapped her friend on the back!”

“YEAH, MAN!” Myrna said, with a wide smile shaking her head vigorously. “That’s the STUFF! WOO!”

Taffeta slipped her earmuffs back down to hang around her neck. “So…,” she said, unable to move the sly smile from her face. “I guess you wouldn’t want to do it again, huh?”

“Are you kidding?” Myrna said. “Let’s get this old girl loaded up!”

“Well, all right!” Taffeta said. “Maybe this time you’ll open your eyes…or aim or something.”

“Hey now, you’re lucky I shot it at all.”

“I’m lucky you didn’t shoot me!”

Myrna smirked. “There’s still time, lady. Plenty of time.”

After the charge of spraying a lonely, innocent hill of dirt with .45 mm slugs, Myrna’s attitude toward the gun changed dramatically. She helped load the empty magazines. She wiped the powder residue and oil from the body and barrel. Taffeta even caught her calling it Cora.

Between them, they drove nearly 500 rounds into that hill before plopping down on a blanket pulled near an old stump for some lunch in a gunpowder induced afterglow.

They found themselves much hungrier than they expected. The adrenaline rush, the pops of dirt and grass that exploded from the hillside as each slug slammed into it left gave them an indescribable charge.

“I just had no idea,” said Myrna, wiping a touch of mustard from the corner of her mouth. “No idea!”

“I expected, based on my research you know,” Taffeta said. “But all the reading and watching videos is nothing like the real thing.

“It takes a bit  out of you,” Myrna said, “My hands are sore. So are my arms.”

Taffeta sighed, leaning back against the trunk of the tree that bathed them in a cool afternoon shade. Her gaze stuck to Cora. “I feel great,” she said.

Myrna’s gaze also fell to the black steel. “Have you figured it out yet?”

“Figured it out?”

“Why you have it,” Myrna said. “Why your brother sent it to you.”

“I…,” Taffeta paused, “I don’t know. I really don’t know.”

“Well, then,” Myrna said. “What now?”

Taffeta looked harder at the gun, her eyes squinting slightly.

“I don’t know. I really don’t know.”

The Glorious Sunset of Taffeta Spaulding – V

For two ladies of a certain level of life experience with preceptively little to do, they couldn’t make arrangements for their first foray into the world of advanced weaponry training for about a week after their initial conversation.

Between doctor visits, a solid bout of rain and the regular schedule of a routine life, the opportunities for them to slip away somewhere to shoot the gun were few and far between. Still, neither of them let the time go to waste. Taffeta read the manual cover to cover three times to make sure she was familiar with the gun and how it worked. She made sure it was properly oiled. She loaded the four magazines with 30 rounds each. She watched the YouTube to learn more about the basics of how to shoot.

Leary of being seen walking around with such a thing, and the questions it might raise, she found an old duffle bag in the attic that Abel had for years, but never used. It had a comfortable, adjustable shoulder strap and plenty of room for Cora, the magazines, and extra rounds…just in case. She shook her head at the thought. In case what?? For extra protection, she covered everything with an old beach towel featuring a fading sun and a small group of palm trees sitting on a beach that dipped down into the ocean.

Myrna focused on other things like securing protective eye-wear, securing protective ear-wear and looking over bulletproof vests. She started putting together a bag of her own, but where Taffeta’s served the sole purpose of safely transporting the gun, Myrna’s leaned toward preparation for the apocalypse. She had bandages, gauze, bandage scissors and enough medical tape to field dress anything from a paper cut to an amputation, not that she knew how to do any of that. She added the tie to an old robe and a ruler in case she needed a tourniquet. She had the protective ear-ware and eye-ware. She had two Phillies ball caps, a small canteen, a flashlight, a large utility knife that featured things like pliers, tweezers, a saw and a fork. She didn’t know what to expect, so she packed for anything…everything.

The following Thursday had a good feel to it. Both of their calendars were clear and they figured avoiding the weekend improved their chances of doing their work in relative privacy.

Taffeta drove. After packing Cora’s bag, a small picnic lunch – along with her medication of course – and some bottles water, she took off for Myrna’s. Arriving early as planned, Taffeta ended up loading what now became Myrna’s several survival bags into the trunk and they moved out onto the highway.

Taffeta figured she’d head to the Taylor Mills area down in the Braxton Hills. Abel used to say there was good fishing there, but he never seemed to catch much beyond the good-sized sandwich he picked up at the counter deli in Chastings and a decent nap under a tree in the warm sun. The thought made her smile.

They drove for a good hour and a half, only stopping once for the restroom and to get some fresh coffee. Once they got into the hills, they started looking for one of the logging trails used by the mill workers back in the day when the area was mostly forest and ready for progress to share in its bounty.

Taffeta turned the car into a dirt and stone pull off marked by a tired old sign that simply read, Plank Road. The ladies looked at each other, shrugging in unison, Taffeta stepped on the gas and turned in.

Ten minutes later, after a few healthy bumps and lumps courtesy of the old road, they found a small clearing off to the side where a patch of grass lead up to a small hill next to a rolling stream. Perfect.

“This,” Myrna said, getting out of the car, stretching her back and breathing deep. “Is lovely!”

“Isn’t it?” Taffeta said.

“Just listen to that,” Myrna said. “Nothing but the cool breeze and the tripping water of the gentle stream. Hello nature!” she called into the air. “We’ve brought you some shock and awe, a genuine thunder stick to ripple your placid beauty!”

“Oh, hush,” said Taffeta, getting out of the car and moving to the back. “You’re really not making this very easy…or very fun.”

“I’m sorry, Taffy. Really, I think you’ve chosen a lovely place for us to begin our lives of crime. I mean, how many laws could we be breaking by firing an antique, unlicensed sub-machine gun while trespassing on God knows who’s property?” She paused. “Pretty, though it is.”

Taffeta opened the trunk and stopped. “You’re right you know,” she said.

“You mean about the shooting the unlicensed gun or trespassing?” said Myrna.

“About it being pretty. It’s really a lovely day!”

Myrna, deflated, slunk back to the car to help with the bags.

Taffeta moved around to the front of the car and set the duffle on top. Zipping it open she pulled out the beach towel and set it across the hood. She pulled out the gun and turned to Myrna as she stepped up behind. “Here,” she said. “Hold Cora a moment will you?”

Taffeta’s outstretched hand with the gun nearly hit Myrna in the chest causing her friend to recoil and drop her bag as if she was facing down a poisonous snake. “Yah,” she said, impulsively grabbing the cold metal weapon as if she had no choice. She grimaced, pushing the thing out in front of her to full arm’s length.

“You did not tell me that you named it.”

“Huh,” Taffeta said quickly before turning back to her duffle to remove the magazines and place them gently on the towel. “Oh…that. Yeah. I’m not sure I did that.”

“Are you telling me your brother named it and sealed up a card in the case with it?”

“No, I guess I named it, but I didn’t ‘name’ it. It just seemed to…have a name.”

Myrna swallowed. “Crazier and crazier,” she said. “Tell me honestly. You’re not planning on killing me all the way out here in the middle of nowhere right.”

Taffeta stopped her prep work and turned to her friend. “That…is ridiculous.” She reached over and took the gun from Myrna and proceeded to check it out. “We are here for one thing and one thing only. To learn how to shoot this thing.”

“Or die trying,” Myrna said in a whisper.

“I heard that.”

“Please, Lord, bless my friend Taffy here, for she is going through…something and as you are my witness, I am here to help and support.”

“Nice,” Taffeta said shaking her head at her friend. Shifting the gun in her hand she grabbed one of the magazines and stepped into the grass.

“So, please…,” Myrna said even softer. “Anything you can do to prevent us from blowing our faces off would be greatly appreciated.”

“I hear you!”

“Amen!”

Myrna moved to catch up with Taffeta who seemed to find a spot she felt good about.

“This is all going to be fine. Trust me.”

“Keep an eye on us down here Lord.”

“Hush,” Taffeta said. “Now, this part goes in here like this.” She snapped the magazine into the gun and popped it on the bottom like she saw them do on the videos to make sure it clicked in. “There. Easy as pie.”

“So, it’s loaded?”

“It’s loaded.”

“Greeeeeaaat,” Myrna said. “Let the fun begin.”

“As long as this cover is down the safety is on and you can’t shoot it,” Taffeta said, pulling on the trigger. “See?”

“Yeah, great,” said Myrna, “Can you take it easy there? Just in case it remembers it’s an antique and forgets what the safety is supposed to do?”

“I’ve done my research lady,” Taffeta said. “Cora here is really in exceptional condition.”

“We should have sold it.”

“Where would we sell it?” Taffeta asked. “How could we sell it without raising all sorts of questions and creating all sorts of problems?”

“You’re right, you’re right,” Myrna said. “This current plan of yours is so much more…low risk.”

Taffeta ignored her and began to move into a shooter’s stance, at least the way she imagined it.

“OK,” she said. “I’m going to aim for that cluster of weeds.”

“Greeeeeaaat,” Myrna said.

Taffeta reached up slowly to release the safety.

“WAIT!” Myrna said, turning quickly to head back to the car.

Taffeta’s heart jumped and her arms limply held the gun at her side.

Myrna came back dragging one of her bags behind her. “I must be losing my mind too!” she yelled. She stopped, pried open her bag and started pulling things out. “Here,” she said. “Put these on. No questions or I’m making my phone call.”

A moment later, they each stood in the clearing staring at each other. The large yellow tinted goggles and black earmuffs made them look made them look like bees ear things wearing baseball caps.

“We look ridiculous,” Taffeta said.

“Whaaat?” Myrna said pulling at her headgear.

“We look ridiculous!”

“Better to look ridiculous than to spend time in an emergency room.”

“What?” Taffeta said.

“Better to look…,” Myrna started, then waved it off. “Nothing.”

Taffeta turned back in to her stance than back toward Myrna. “Why the Phillies?”

“Whaaat?” Myrna said pulling again at her headgear.

“Why the Phillies?” Taffeta said even louder. “The hats!”

“They were on the clearance table at Chance. It was that or one that said ‘Eat My Dust,'” Myrna said. “I thought that was just terrible. Eat my dust. Who says that?”

Taffeta looked at Myrna through a field of amber, shrugged and moved back into her shooting stance. She reached over and opened the latch to release the safety. She set her grip on the weapon and slid her finger up over the trigger.

“So, it’s loaded then?” Myrna said peering over Taffeta’s shoulder and loud to make sure Taffeta heard her through her earmuffs. The break in Taffeta’s concentration caused her to jump nearly pulling the trigger and shooting nowhere near the direction she intended.

She pointed the gun barrel down. “Are you serious?!”

“What?” Myrna said again pulling at her headgear.

“You’re going to get us killed!”

“I just wanted to make sure!”

“Yes,” Taffeta said. “It’s loaded. The safety is off. It’s ready to go.”

“Touchy, touchy,” Myrna said. “By all means Bonnie Parker. Shoot your gun!”

Taffeta smirked hard and then turned back into her stance, taking an extra deep breath to calm herself and set her resolve. She leveled the gun at the target clump of weeds and inched he finger to the trigger.

“C’mon, Cora. Baby needs a new pair of shoes,” she whispered or said in her head, which seemed like an off thing to say, and squeezed.

The fact that the gun didn’t explode in her face was as much of a surprise to her as the actual kick of the recoil which forced her to bear down on her grip.

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.

The gun fired over and over again in steady succession.

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.

Her eyes squinted through the yellow tinted lens as the targeted clump of weeds danced at the attack of lead slugs that bit into it one after the other.

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.

It all unfolded before her as she was a part of it and yet outside of it as an observer.

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.

Cora grew warm in her hands as each bullet burst through the muzzle. Each shell ejected out through the top and rained down to the ground at her feet.

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.

She grit her teeth and squeezed on the trigger even harder.

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.

Then…silence.

She stood firm in her stance with her hands gripping the metal tight and and the trigger pulled. The subtle smell of warm oil and smoke floated up to brush her nose. Her breath was strong and steady. Her heart beat strong and steady in her chest. She stood firm, staring at the once clump of weeds.

“Taffy?” Myrna said, softly. She reached out slowly and placed her hand on Taffeta’s shoulder. Her friend flinched ever so slightly under her touch. “Taffy? You all right?”

The Glorious Sunset of Taffeta Spaulding – IV

“Myrna.”

Nothing.

“Myrna, honey,” Taffeta said, softly dabbing her friend’s forehead with a moistened towel.

Nothing.

“Myrrrrnaaa,” Taffeta said in a low soft voice, quietly singing out the name and hoping her friend would come to.

From the time the clattering sound crawled through the line and reached her ear, it took about fifteen minutes for Taffeta to hang up the phone and get over to Myrna’s house. As the noise registered in her head, the burn of genuine fear and concern filled her chest, for even if Myrna dropped to the ground simply and directly, any fall at their age could be dangerous. It could mean heart attacks, and broken bones, and long convalescences, and pain, and… She shook the thoughts away.

Once she pulled into Myrna’s driveway, she immediately went around to the back of the house. Even though she could get a glimpse of her friend lying there in the middle of her kitchen floor, she knocked quickly, to be polite. When Myrna didn’t move, Taffeta tipped up the edge of a small potted geranium, slid out the extra house key made her way in.

Dropping her purse and the key as she entered, she ran over to the body as fast as she could without tripping, falling or having a heart attack of her own. She wouldn’t mind, but Myrna would mind a great deal if someone came in and found two ladies of a certain age lying next to each other, or however they ended up dead, on her kitchen floor. Most undignified. Scandalous even.

The handset of the phone lay on the floor next to Myrna’s head screeching the high-pitched buzzing tone you get when you leave the line open too long after the person on the other side hangs up.

Taffeta reached over and pushed the button marked by the small red phone icon filling the room with silence. Then she moved closer to Myrna, her movements torn between eagerness and trepidation. She inched her ear close to her friend’s face in the hopes of hearing a breath. Myrna obliged by exhaling a soft, thin, raspy whistle of a breath. Taffeta sighed, swallowed hard and allowed herself to draw a deep calming breath for herself. Myrna was alive.

And just as Taffeta was about to look for a potential head injury, Myrna countered the exhale with a robust and snarling deep snore that seemed to rattle the floor. Myrna was asleep.

Taffeta got herself up, got over to the kitchen sink, moisten a good corner of the towel that sat on the counter and returned to her friend’s side all before the next snore cycle completed itself.

“Myrna?” she said again, nudging her shoulder a bit. “If you sleep on this floor anymore your back will punish you for weeks.”

Nothing. Setting the towel down on the table, Taffeta reached over and lightly tapped at her friend’s cheek.

“Myr…”

“FIRE!”

Taffeta jerked back uncontrollably at the speed at which Myrna’s eyes opened, wide with confusion. A lucky move, for at the same time, Myrna’s arms and legs shot straight out from their resting places and grew rigid, knocking Taffeta back further still. If she were close enough to take the full, direct blow Myrna might have knocked her across the kitchen and into the cabinets. She was not a large woman per se, but Myrna was sturdy and still had a lot of strength left for someone whose primary form of exercise seemed to be walking, worry and hefting the occasional bowl of chips to the couch when she watched her stories on TV.

Myrna’s eyes quickly darted back and forth as she tried to steady herself, tried to calm down, tried to recall where she was and tried to recall what the heck she might have been dreaming all at the same time.

“Oh my word,” she said. Catching sight of Taffeta rolling backwards, Myrna struggled around to her knees and reached out to catch her friend. Getting a hand on her jacket, she only succeeded in pulling at Taffeta in such a way that she spun away on the smooth linoleum causing her to now fall forward.

“Stop!” Taffeta yelled out at as kitchen whirled around her. “Stop! Stop moving!”

They both stilled themselves until the motion stopped and the two of them lay breathing heavily in a pile on the kitchen floor.

“Jesus, Taffy,” Myrna said now facing down. “You scared me to death!”

“Ha!,” Taffeta said in a puff while staring at the ceiling. “I thought you were dead already!”

“I guess I fainted.”

“I guess.”

They stayed prone on the floor taking the time to get their breathing and the heartbeats under control, taking personal inventories on whether either of them might have actually hurt themselves.

“Whew,” Myrna said. “We must look a sight!”

“We do,” Taffeta said in a small laugh. “Who knew you could move so fast? You almost knocked me into the next room.”

“I’m so sorry Taffy. I should have been more careful.”

“How could you? You didn’t even know where you were.”

“Well, I’m sorry.”

“Oh, it’s fine. I’m fine. How are you?”

Myrna brought her hands up to the floor and raised her head. “I’m fine. I guess once I fainted, I must have just drifted into sleep.”

The two helped each other up and plopped down into chairs at the kitchen table.

“I didn’t sleep very well last night,” Myrna said. “The business of the gun and all seems to have settled into my head. It must be even worse for you. I don’t even have that horrible thing in my house.”

“Actually,” Taffeta said, rearranging the salt and pepper shakers on the table back up against the small napkin holder. “I slept great, like a log really. And you know, it’s not a horrible thing.”

“The gun?” Myrna asked. “The gun, your ‘sub-machine gun’ is not a horrible thing?”

“It’s a thing Myrna. It can be used in horrible ways, but all in all, the thing itself is just what it is. Like a car, or a kitchen knife or a hair dryer, it’s a thing that only does what we do with them.”

“A hair dryer?” Myrna asked. “How do you lump a hair dryer and a sub-machine gun in the same class?”

“People have done horrible things with hair dryers. What about that incident in Cardington where that woman killed her husband by throwing the hair dryer into the tub with him?”

“Oh my Lord, why would you think of that?”

“I’m just making the point,” Taffeta said.

“And I don’t think it was a hair dryer.”

“It wasn’t?”

“No,” Myrna said. “I think I remember it being a toaster.”

“A toaster?”

“Yup.”

“Hm,” Taffeta said. “How did he not see that coming?”

“What?”

“Who keeps a toaster in their bathroom?” Taffeta asked. “I think if I saw a toaster in the bathroom, I’d have to ask some questions.”

“Young people,” Myrna said shaking her head. “Who knows what they are into these days?”

“I guess,” Taffeta said. “Look, about the gun.” She decided the pepper looked better on the other side. “Now that you’re sitting, I meant it. I want to learn how to shoot it.”

“Ugh,” Myrna said, rolling her head back. “Why on earth do you want to do that? It can’t be safe. I mean, it looked like an antique!”

“I think it is.”

“Well, there you go! Another reason not to shoot the thing! Guns, especially old guns are not something people should mess around with.”

“Guns,” Taffeta said, “Especially guns of ‘a certain level of experience,’ can still have a lot of good use in them.”

Myrna trained her eyes on her friend. “What ‘good use’ can you possibly see for an antique sub-machine gun?”

Taffeta met her gaze for a moment, but turned back to her work with the condiments. “I don’t know. Nothing I guess. I just think, I mean…it’s a feeling.”

“A feeling.”

“Yeah, I mean, why do you think I got it?”

“It might be that your brother, God rest his soul, might have been… a little insane. No offense,” Myrna said. “I’m thinking that if you want to go around shooting that relic, and please don’t take this personally, because you know I love you and my only wish for you is health and happiness, but frankly, that seems a little insane to me. Sorry, but there, I said it.”

“I love you too,” Taffeta said reaching for Myrna’s hands across the table. “You know I do. I appreciate your honesty, really, I do, but I’m not insane. It’s just a feeling I have. I look at it and I know that it’s OK. And while I think it’s been through some stuff, I don’t think it was ever used to kill anyone.”

“How can you possibly know that?” Myrna said squeezing Taffeta’s hands hard enough to urge her message through them. “Because we are here, and because this is between us, I can tell you that the things you’re saying right now sound a little more crazy with every pass.”

“It’s a feeling, that’s all I can say.”

“A feeling.”

“Right,” Taffeta said. “I’m going to teach myself how to shoot that gun. I feel like I have to.”

“You have to?” Myrna asked.

“Yes, I feel like a have to.”

They sat in silence as the small table in Myrna’s kitchen with their arms stretched out toward each other and their hands clasped tight.

“Well then,” Myrna said, after a deep and dramatic breath while squeezing her friend’s hands with each word as if to underline her intent. “I cannot in all good conscience allow to do such a fool thing on your own. If you are going to go through this ridiculous exercise, you must must promise me that you will include me every step of the way. If you don’t, I will call the police, no…, the FBI and tell them that my friend has gone off her nut and is planning on shooting up the civic hall bingo center.”

Taffeta smiled. “You hate bingo.”

“I do,” Myrna said. “And frankly, I wouldn’t mind if you ran every one of the…how many bullets did you say you have?

“Two thousand.”

“And frankly, I wouldn’t mind if you ran every one of those 2,o0o bullets through the place – provided nobody gets hurt of course, but the FBI doesn’t need to know that. They just need to know about the crazy lady with the antique sub-machine gun who is out looking for trouble.”

Taffeta squeezed her friend’s hands and smiled. “That is just about the nicest thing I’ve ever heard you say.”

“I can just imagine,” Myrna said. “You’re out there, God knows where, shooting your gun and something happens to to you. You’ll need me nearby just to call the ambulance.”

“Thank you.”

“I mean, God forbid you shoot yourself,” Myrna said. “Or worse, somebody else!”

“I agree,” Taffeta said. “It will be better to have you along.”

“You could end up igniting some international incident. People will think you’ve gone and joined a gang!”

“Who would think that?”

“I don’t know,” Myrna said. “I didn’t think any of all this so far could have happened  and now instead of calling the FBI or trying to talk you out of this foolishness right now, I’m talking myself into going crazy with you!”

“You’re a good friend.”

“I’m an idiot.”