Bus Stop

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Silver
Brian Behr Valentine


Photo Credit: Matt/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Photo Credit: Matt/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

I was greeted with smiles, jeers and whistles as I walked through the large room full of desks. All city precincts are alike—attitude and clowning. Nothing is holy. It has to be, or you go insane. And if you’re not one of the gang, then you are shown respect, but given little. I’m not on the force anymore, but I’m still one of the gang, and they definitely respect me, though an outsider wouldn’t know by the clowning.

“Hey Jewell, we’ll push our desks together if you’ll strip!”

“Sorry, I’m going down to the firehouse later and dance for them… they have a pole!”

Laughing grumbles followed this as I went into the Captain’s office.

“What’s up, Bud?” I asked, noting he was getting closer to the Lou Grant look everyday.

“Thanks for coming, Jewell.” He indicated a seat. The ancient air conditioner in his ancient office buzzed fitfully.

“What is it this time, Bud? Need me to sneak into another board meeting, church social, or political rally?” Now that I was off the force, I was extremely useful to them. I knew what to look for, and, as a private detective, police rules did not govern my conduct.

“Nah. I got a case bothering me. I’m about to mark it closed, but… my hand won’t put it in the file cabinet.”

“Hmm. A mind of its own. Just what kind of things does your hand get up to, now that Janet’s left?”

He turned red. “The same as before she left and none of your concern.”

“Okay,” I smiled. “Before you call me a cruel bitch again, what’s the case about?”

“Looks like a mugging that caused a heart attack. Found this fat, middle-aged accountant lying on the sidewalk, tits-up, just past the bus stop where the overpass drops from Old Town Heights across the six-lane. Guy had a really bad heart condition. He rode the bus everyday and his apartment was ground floor, half block from the stop. He was tasered from behind. His wallet was missing. He had abrasions on his hands and forehead so we know he initially fell forward. His glasses were found about five light poles down the overpass from the bus stop… and that’s it.”

“How did they get down there?”

“The glasses? Dunno, maybe some kids kicked them down the street.”

“And…?”

“And that’s it. Looks like he took a short walk, got mugged, had a heart attack, and died at the hospital.”

“Sounds solid. So, what’s the problem?”

“He was a very important suspect in an organized crime case.”

“Why wasn’t he in witness protection somewhere else?”

“He was. We’re the somewhere else. Case is from the West Coast. We now know that he compromised himself in several ways.”

“How?”

“Calls to his wife. His brother. Who knows who else he may have called. I think the safe house was the most exciting thing to ever happen to him.”

“Well, he was an accountant. ”

He agreed with a shrug.

“You think it was a hit?”

“My brain tells me it’s cut and dried, Jewell. My… hunch tells me different.

“Well, Bud, anyone who knows you would take your hunch over the meager offerings of you brain any day.”

He game me a tired look. “You’re never going to forgive me for firing you, are you?”

“Would you?”

“No. Now will you take a look at this goddamn case? Please?”

“I’d do anything for you, Bud.”

“God, how I wish that were true, Jewell.”

“You have four heart bypasses. Best it’s only a tease.”

“I don’t know. Death might be worth it,” he grinned.

“Oh, I guarantee it would be worth it, Bud. I guarantee it.”

He shook his head, handed me the case file, and left red-faced but chuckling. I sat at his desk and read. It did look cut and dried. Except for one thing. The glasses were found five blocks away, out on the overpass. In the picture, the gold-framed glasses lay folded, lenses up next to a rusty, cast iron light pole, looking put aside with care. Neither muggers, nor the dying man would have done this.

“Um, Jewell?

I looked up to see Debussy—Conan O’Brien in a blue uniform.

“Yeah, Gregg?”

“Bud said I was to assist you,” he stated softly.

“Gregg, the paramedic’s report said he was laying next to a light pole near the bus stop. But his glasses were five light poles away from the bus stop. How did they get there?”

The cop that wrote it up had only what the paramedics told him. The veteran bus driver knew the man by his picture, like he knew everyone in the city by their picture, he said. He had no recollection one way or the other of the man getting on or off that day.

I had Debussy drive me to the paramedic squad house. He was too quiet.

“What is it Debussy?”

To his credit, he was forthright about it. “They fired you. Even though everyone says you’re the best detective they ever met.”

I didn’t respond.

“You saved that little girl…”

“I did.”

“And they fired you… Why did you strip?”

“To gain the suspect’s confidence, Gregg. It was the only way. Her life was on the line.”

“But you lost your job for stripping.”

“There are things more important than a job, or a uniform, Gregg.”

He didn’t respond.

“Gregg, if the job is more important than justice, you will never make a great detective. You will automatically stop seeing clues that would lead you down a bad career path. You become permanently mediocre. If you’re good, though, you end up betting your job against solving every difficult case. You might not have a long career, but there are other things waiting.”

“Like being a private detective,” he queried.

“Or a stripper. Think you’d look good in one of those Chippendales G-strings?”

He had a Harrison Ford self-deprecating grin. “Not really.”

Neither paramedic could recall exactly where on the overpass they found the man. They also claimed they had not seen the glasses. I was getting pissed.

The quiet one leaned to his partner and whispered in his ear.

“Oh!” The talker looked me up and down with a slow smile building.

Debussy moved his hand to his gun. His look said: “She’s one of ours! One of ours! And if you don’t want an angry six-foot-four cop pistol-whipping you into a tearful puddle, you’ll be respectful.” The paramedic’s smarmy smile leached away.

“We…” He kept looking from me to where Debussy’s fingers petted the grips of his pistol. “We found him laying by the light pole on the overpass, just down from the bus stop.”

“Which light pole?”

“Don’t know. I was kinda busy.”

The quiet one shrugged.

“You found him on his back, though?”

“Yeah.”

“Which one of you hit him with the defibrillator paddles?”

“I did,” said the quiet one.

“And what were you doing?”

“What? Getting him…” he glanced at Debussy and calmed his voice. “…ready.”

“Go through it.”

“What?’

“Are you deaf?” asked Debussy, dangerously.

“Okay, okay. After I cut his tie off, I pulled his jacket open and then…” He hesitated.

“What?” I demanded.

“Damn! I took his glasses…”

“Stop.” I pointed to the floor. “Show me.”

With a glance at Gregg, he knelt down, tugging at his partner to come down and play the dying accountant. “I opened his jacket. I saw his glasses in his shirt pocket. I grabbed them and…” He hesitated, then twisted around and lay them down. “…laid them next to the light pole.”

“Like this?” I asked, showing him the picture.

“Yes! That’s it.”

“Thank you,” I said.

Driving back I said, “So, Gregg, you never come to see me down at the strip club like some of the others.”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Most of the guys won’t. They think you’re beautiful, but… the police basically forced you to become a stripper.”

“That’s not true. I became a stripper on my own.”

“I’m still not coming to see you.”

“Why?”

“I like you just like this. I want…”

“What, Gregg?”

“I want to become a detective and, you know, bring justice to the world. I hate injustice. Hate it!”

“Then look for the odd things in the cases you are on. Little things that most people overlook. Like these glasses.”

“But what does that tell us?”

“In Bud’s file it says he was found south of the bus stop next to the light pole. This proves the man was found five light poles south of the bus stop.”

“What does that tell us?” Bud asked, when we got to the station.

“It tells us he didn’t get off the bus at the bus stop,” said Gregg.

“Very good.”

“But… you haven’t proven anything.” said Bud. “He gets off at the bus stop and takes a little constitutional out across the overpass. Someone mugs him. His tie gets grabbed in the struggle. A second operator shoots him in the back with the Taser. He goes down, face forward; they grab his wallet and run. The paramedics try too revive him but it’s too late,” finished Bud.

I indicated Debussy should explain where he was wrong.

“Well… it was way too far for a man in his health to walk in that heat on purpose—it was ninety-eight. And it’s downhill so he would have had a real hard time getting back uphill.”

“He would not have done it,” I stated. “Never.”

“So… he must have gotten off the bus where we found his glasses,” Gregg finished.

“Right.” I beamed.

“But what does… why would the bus let him off there?”

Debussy was out of ideas now.

“To kill him out of sight, Bud,” I said.

“What?”

“He was tasered in the back, right?”

“Right.”

“Have the Medical Examiner check the body to see if the Taser shot was angled downward.”

“Down?”

“From the top step of the bus,” piped up Gregg excitedly.

“Very good. I’ll be back in the morning for the answer.”

“He was tasered from above.” said Debussy. “The toothpicks the ME stuck in the Taser wounds were at an angle.”

“The bus would have been full of people,” said Bud.

“They could’ve used another bus,” Gregg countered.

“How the hell would they have gotten away with that?”

“The driver controls the sign,” I said. “After getting him on the bus the driver could have changed the sign so that no one at other stops saw it as their bus. He tells the passengers that did get on that he is having trouble with the bus and everyone who isn’t getting off at the overpass stop, needs to get off at the next stop.

“And the real bus would be coming along behind, so no one would have a complaint.”

“Very good, Gregg. You’ve got my replacement coming up here, Bud.”

Bud looked the beanpole up and down regretfully. He had a love/hate relationship with detectives.

“You can see how it goes,” I said. “The bus passes the bus stop and he yells, getting pissed off. The driver stops five light poles out onto the overpass. The driver tells him that he either gets off there, or goes all the way around again. This makes him even angrier. He steps onto the sidewalk and gets a Taser in the back. The huge bus blocks the view of anyone close. The driver steps off, grabs his wallet, flips him over, and flees the scene. The whole thing takes less than thirty seconds because he has practiced.”

“His wallet was in his back pocket. Why turn him over?”

I looked at Gregg and he grinned.

“To tighten his tie.”

“Exactly.”

“Sorry, that doesn’t wash. We’ve looked into the driver. Nothing odd or bad. All the drivers have been accounted for, on and off duty. You’ve got nothing.”

“If I were you Bud, and I am so glad I’m not…”

“Thanks, Jewell.”

“I’d— no. You do it, Gregg.”

He looked panicked.

“Calm down. What’s the dilemma? Take your time. How do you solve that dilemma?”

“Uhm… all the drivers have been accounted for… so…” He looked down, then up quickly, “But not all the people who can drive the bus!”

I smiled. “Excellent.”

“What?” asked Bud. “Who else?”

“The head bus mechanic. He knows how to operate it as well as any driver, and could cover by saying he was test-driving it.”

I clapped and his face turned as red as his hair. Bud personally escorted Gregg down to arrest the head mechanic. He’d been given twenty-five thousand to pull the caper off and had almost gotten away with it.

After we met in Bud’s office, I offered Debussy lunch and he accepted.

“You like these kinds of cases, don’t you?” Gregg asked at lunch.

“Like dogs love tennis balls.”

“I understand why you stripped now. It was for justice.”

“Right. I would have died for that little girl. I almost did die for her, and I would do it all again, gunshot wounds, coma and all. What was a little nude dancing against her life?” I started tearing up. “I see her occasionally. She’s becoming a niece of sorts.”

He handed me his kerchief and I sniffed into it while he smiled at me.

“What?”

“It’s passion that drives you.”

“Sure… Oh, I see. You’ve been taught to keep passion out of it. Sometimes passionate righteousness is all you’ve got to go on, Gregg.”

“Thanks for the lessons, Jewell. I’m gonna make you proud.”

pencilEmail: behrvalentine[at]excite.com

Stuck in the Middle

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Silver
Brian Behr Valentine


Occasionally in a movie someone lurches awake, sitting up wide-eyed with shock. I have claimed this in my own personal anecdotes but it never really happened, not really, until last night. Remembering an old box of books I’d just purchased yesterday, or more importantly, a realization about one particular book had awakened me. One used book and what I had found inside of it.

I’m a bibliophile… a book lover, and a yard sale addict. I’ll run a grandma off the road and drive through a flowerbed for a hand-written sign tacked to a light pole. I cruise the better neighborhoods Saturday mornings with a thermos of coffee and a box of donut holes, red-eyed and looking for a fresh intellectual kill.

I make more stripping for two nights than I can in a week using my diploma. Something in me rebels against that so I use a portion of the money to buy books. I have a basement, a garage and two storage units full. I hit several good sales yesterday morning. I had purchased a lot of books but none by the box when I made my last stop.

Old dusty boxes are the best. Boxes laid out on the dew-covered grass in distain for their weight and filth, $1/ea hastily scrawled on a flap. “Oh, those were Dad’s books, from the attic, sorry about the dust! I should clean them.” They say this hoping I’ll offer a way out. A five usually seems like a good exchange for a water-damaged box full of dusty old books, mouse crap and dead wasps.

Right. I often wonder how quickly they would grab the Lincoln if they knew it had been tucked in my thong just a few hours earlier. That bill was still warm from my buns and greasy from some fat investment banker’s sweaty fingers. I marked the place on my iPhone GPS and drove home to sort through my find in the garage.

The real filth turned out to be written between the pages of one particular book, Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf. I’m only thirty-two but I was a serious youth. I studied this sort of thing as I prepared myself for a career in law enforcement. It is an odd thing to hold Mein Kampf in your hands in the era of Barack Obama’s presidency.

It was a ratty version, much read, which was unusual. People bought it to have not to read, consciously claiming they could not understand, unconsciously knowing they did. It went directly into the book-exchange container. The ratty leather bookmark with a hand printed safe combination went in the trash and both were forgotten, until five this morning when I lurched up in bed. I was on my knees on the garage digging through the trash when Missy, who had awakened at my hasty departure, walked in.

“Wow, Jewel, are you like… puking or waiting for me to get the strap-on?”

Missy is a stripper friend. I’m not officially a dyke and neither is she, supposedly. But she did not want to go home to her asshole boyfriend last night after we climbed down off the poles. She slipped into my car saying she just wanted to sleep on my couch. I suspect there was an ulterior motive, though she swears it was just a one-thing-leading-to-another moment. She had two bottles of very fine Chardonnay on ice in her little lunch-bag cooler. One thing did lead to another… tricky bitch.

I stood and turned, holding the bookmark by the edges under the dim garage light.

“What’s that?”

“A bookmark… of sorts,” I replied in a shaky voice.

She took the tattered bookmark from me. “It’s going to shit. Somebody wrote an IP address on it with a blue Sharpie. What’s the big deal?”

“I think those are identification numbers tattooed from the arm of a concentration camp detainee during World War Two.”

“That sucks. They did that?”

“Yeah.”

She looked at the bookmark again. “Somebody’s numbers copied off their arm…”

“I don’t think that’s a copy!”

Missy screamed, hands going to her face, she jog-stepped back from where it fluttered to the floor. “Oh my God!”

I stepped over the strip and pushed her through the door. She threw up in the sink then vigorously tried to wash the feeling of holding the marker from her hands before running upstairs to cry in bed. There are things even a stripper can’t bear thinking of.

I had no choice. I can’t… not think. I went to the couch rubbing my fingers together. I too could still feel the ratty edges myself, a dry, powdery strip of decaying leather marked with faded purple numbers. Someone’s skin though. I had found someone’s personal horror story between the pages of a used book, a book representing millions of personal horror stories.

I went back out to the garage at daylight. The streaky tan bookmark with ragged edges lay flat and frayed on the cold concrete in the stark angular light. I retrieved the copy of Mein Kampf from the exchange bin first. The book was marred by the bookmark the way the world had been marred by the author.

The strip of human leather had been too thick and the pages were compressed to form an indention. The binding was loose, the boards warped. The pages directly in contact with the tattooed flesh were red stained from the iron in the blood remnants that had leached into the paper over the years. How ironic. How horribly poetic. How poetically horrible. I wanted to replace the marker and burn them together.

“Wow,” I remarked to the author. “Still working after all these years. Trying to get me to fall for one of your own stunts. A nice toasty book burning. Bask in the warmth of vindictive judgment.” I looked the rest of the book over. There was no personal mark. But it had been one of ‘Dad’s books.’ It was Sunday morning and I had a lot of research to do and a visit to make on Monday. I’m a private detective when I’m not stripping, and sometimes when I am, since most of my clients are fellow sex workers. It would not do to hand this over to the police just yet. I needed to get to the truth for them first. I wanted to see the lady’s reaction when I held the book out. Would she be baffled or chagrined?

Her name was Susan. “Dad’s book.” I said bluntly, when she opened the door.

After a quick surprised glance she stared at me and not the book. She knew what I had found.

“Have you read it?” I asked.

“Tried. I kept getting stuck in the middle.”

“I meant this particular copy.” Still she stared. “Look lady, a crime has been committed and I don’t just mean what’s written on the pages.” I flipped it open to the bookmark and her eyes finally left mine. “This is human skin!” I said bluntly. “This is…”

With a quick look around the neighborhood she motioned me in. “Okay. I’m sorry…” She reached for the book and I tucked it under my arm. “Look, that’s family business. I’ll pay whatever you want, miss…”

“Jewel Harvard, and I want the story behind this… this atrocity pressed between the pages of an old book like it was a keepsake flower. This is more than a photograph, a postcard, or a note from grandma to the future. This isn’t a leaf from a field trip or a receipt for grandpa’s mail-order bride! This is part of a human being! Someone bled for this!”

“I know… My father…” She shook her head.

“Tell me the story… and I warn you, I will go to the police if you lie.”

“But… but its ancient history! Why bring it up now? Why not let it be?” Her eyes were glazed with tears but she trembled with rage as well. She was a tall, big-boned gal who looked like she had been athletic once despite the weight.

I held my ground. “The story!”

She glared. “I never dreamed Momma kept that after he died. She would never talk to me about it. You can try if you want. At the nursing home tomorrow morning. Just, for God’s sake, don’t go to the police!”

*

“He… he never wanted anyone to know,” the old lady mumbled from her partially-raised bed. “Auschwitz… He couldn’t stand the tattoo. One night… drunk… cut it off with a filet knife. Whole kitchen was bloody mess!”

“My God!” said Susan. “That scar… he said… he said it was from an auto accident!”

“No,” the crone croaked in a heavy German accent across toothless gums. “He… the blood… all over kitchen,” she said indicating the strip exposed in the open book. She turned away and squeezed dry eyes against tears that did not come.

“I’ll wait in the parking lot,” I said, sticking the book back in the white plastic grocery bag and turning it twice to wrap it.

“Satisfied?” Susan demanded, confronting me between our cars. I kept a good two-handed grip on the book. In the sunlight you could read Mein Kampf through the thin plastic. “I’ll give you five hundred dollars! I’ve got it here.” She began to dig in her purse.

“It’s a lie.” She froze. “The two of you cooked this up just for me. That number was issued to a woman named Eva. It’s not your father’s skin.”

She looked ready to jump on me.

“He’s dead. Just tell me what happened,” I demanded.

“And you’ll give me the book?”

“I will go to the police if I think you’re lying, though.”

“Okay.” She looked around. “Here?”

“Give me the short version and let’s end this.”

Her eyes remained dangerous and flat. “He was a clerk and a guard at Auschwitz. He was just a stupid boy though, tall for his age. He lied and joined the Nazi army. He was young and foolish… he believed… he believed.” She glanced with disgust. “A woman came to the house. Came here to America! She said he had been the one to… mark her. Said he had… also taken her… as his personal assistant.”

“Sex slave, you mean.”

“He was a hot-headed young fool!” Susan barked.

“Get on with it.”

“He immigrated to the U.S. and went on to live a respectable life.”

“He believed he was leading a respectable life as a Nazi too!”

She was red with anger now. “Ancient history! Then this woman comes along, two decades later!”

“He must have made a hell of an impression!” I remarked acidly.

Susan raised her hand to slap me and I gave her the eye. I probably could not have, but I maintained an attitude that said I would kick her ass in a heartbeat. Stripper nerves.

“The bitch was going to turn him in. Ruin all of our lives. She brought all this proof, pictures, records… they struggled. He hit her with a softball bat and cut that strip away so that the body could not be identified.”

“But he couldn’t stand it! The difference between who he was, a loving husband and father, peer in the community, and who he had been…during the war. He kept the strip and used it as a bookmark in that damned book. A reminder… he hadn’t read it since he brought it from Germany. But after she came… he read again and again trying to understand! How could he be both of those people? Mother found the book after he died and hid it in the attic. I thought she trashed it.”

Susan snatched the book and stalked away without looking back. It was a lie. If her father had been using a version he immigrated with, it would have been written in German. I went to the cops with the real copy and its ugly bookmark I had stowed in my trunk. It had been Susan who read and reread the English version, trying to understand how sweet wonderful daddy could also be a Nazi rapist.

She broke down under questioning and admitted to killing the woman who had come to their home when her parents were out. She had been seventeen and just home from softball practice. A big, hot-headed girl with a bat handy. Born long after the end of the war, Susan had been stuck in the middle of that book along with Eva for almost forty years now. Stuck with millions of bodies, hundreds of burned cities, a couple of A-bombs and a generation of other personal tragedies.
pencil

Brian is a winemaker who lives in the country with his lovely wife of twenty-four years and their thirteen dogs. E-mail: behrvalentine[at]excite.com

Reflections from a Former Life

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Bronze
Behr Valentine


“I disagree, your corpulence!” said the elaborately-dressed count. He bowed mockingly to the king while smugly winking to the hall full of courtiers over his shoulder.

The king had done quite well learning his new country’s language, but there were still unfamiliar words. Knuckles to mouth, he leaned toward his advisor. “Corpulence?” he asked quietly, as the advisor bent.

“Lard ass, sire.” The advisor smirked.

The king sighed heavily. The realm had been in the hands of inept and befuddled rulers for a century. The monarchy was now a neutered and collared anachronism to be laughed at even by its servants. He had been reared in secret in another country and brought to the crown when a series of nasty “accidents,” purported to be sorcery, had decimated the royal family. He was the family dynasty’s secret weapon. Their prince-in-hiding, who had been spirited away to grow up unaware he was a prince, safe because it was impossible for enemies to find him and poison his food or mind. No one had worried how hard it might be on him to be yanked from his happy life, told he was not who he thought he was, and placed on a foreign throne.

He had looked into the sorcery allegations out of fear for his own life and found only bored courtiers exaggerating odd coincidences into monstrous conspiracies. Raised among common working-class people who had neither the inclination, desire, nor time to invent such idiocy, he saw it for what it was: a random string of accidents caused by unwise or out-right stupid behavior. These courtiers were fools, yet they laughed at him! His every fault or mistake, once revealed, spread like ripples in a pond that grew to be waves with the re-tellings. They expected the king to be a fool and, the worst part of it was, he looked the part. If he had been a tall, dashing swordsman, things might have been different. He was a hosier, though, not a swordsman. A simple shopkeeper, but a damned clever merchant, who had carved out a large part of his competitor’s market share with shrewd trading. He missed his shop and its small duties and joys terribly, missed the feeling of winning.

The king noticed, as he perused his miserable situation, two young pages sneaking into the alcove where his personal snack tray was kept. Just yesterday, the larcenous little scamps had denied him the only pleasure left from his former life: afternoon tea and scones. “Stop them,” he said, turning and pointing.

The boys ran, giggling.

When the king turned back, he saw the courtiers were dismayed. How did I know they were sneaking back there? he wondered. Ah, he had seen their blurred reflection in the burnished breast plate of one of his royal guards. To others the distorted images meant nothing, but to a shopkeeper every reflective surface was an ally against thievery. He glanced around again. For the first time since his coronation, he saw something other than laughter in their eyes. He realized their bored minds were primed to make more of it than it was. The throne room was nothing but polished sliver and gold on every available surface and person. He cast about for an idea and saw the young cookie thieves now sitting on a bench, playing a hand game.

“I wonder, your grace,” asked the king. “Do you play the game Cloth, Shears, Stone, in this, my kingdom?”

“We call it Paper, Scissors, Rock, your immensity,” replied the count.

“We are at an impasse on the subject before us. Why not settle it with a game?”

“A child’s game, your enormity?”

“Simple, quick, easy! Why not?”

“I suppose it’s as good as any way, my large liege.”

“Very well.” The king placed his hand behind his back. In the multiple reflections from behind the count, the king saw scissors and quickly made a fist.

“Stone… excuse me, rock crushes scissors! I win.” The king grinned.

“It was but a small matter, your rotundity,” sneered the count.

“Yes, but I won! Next!”

Six petitioners presented their claims and all fell to him in quick succession. He used the shrewdness of any good shopkeeper to read them, knew a scissors or rock man by his look, confirmed it in the multiple reflections, and trounced him. With each win, the worry lines deepened in the faces before him.

“Stop those thieving pages,” he yelled, not looking around. When the boys ran again, the courtiers’ worry moved toward fright. It smacked of sorcery! The hawker in him realized it was time to strike. “Don’t fret,” he smiled. “My royal cousins all lost to me as well!”

“But your majesty,” stammered the count, truly alarmed. “You did not know them! They died before you were made aware of your peerage!”

Like any crafty salesman, the king had practiced the art of looking caught in a lie and trying to hide it. “Oh, ah, right, right! Ha ha! I’m joking, of course!” Looking about, he saw the idea take root. This king had risen to his throne because those in line above him had died… of sorcery!

He spotted a reflection of movement from around the corner in the hallway to the kitchen. “Ah, my tea!”

The courtiers looked back at the empty doorway. A second later, the maid stepped in and nearly dropped the tray when she saw so many horrified faces looking at her.

“Next!” the king announced to the line of petitioners.

“My Lord Majesty,” the man went to his knee. “I bow to your wisdom, dread sovereign, and withdraw my petition!”

“As do I,” said several others.

“Good!” remarked the King silkily. Pointing to the scones, he snapped his fingers, and his advisor nearly ran for them. “Much better for your health, I should think,” he remarked to the kneeling petitioner as he examined his fingernails.

Every courtier in the room gulped and stepped back from the fearsome wizard-king.

He sipped his tea delicately. This might turn out to be fun after all, he reflected.

pencil

Behr is a former Electrical Engineer who is now the wine master at a Midwest winery. He is currently working on a novel on the meth-amphetamine problems in the local farm community. E-mail: behrvalentine[at]excite.com.