Sirens

He still listens for sirens. He doesn’t hear them, not exactly, but he waits for them, waits for the whole damned thing to come down.

A police siren, a plain blue warble, and you don’t know if they’re coming for you or heading somewhere else.

That town, swear to God, moved and breathed, and the only thing you could smell was its filthy haunches. Sometimes it smelled like the detritus of the dieback wheat, and sometimes it smelled like his father, cotton work pants and Wildroot cream. But mostly he remembers the dark reek of potato vodka slopping on the old man’s undershirt.

The summer Eldridge turned ten, those sirens cut apart his sleep. When your world was a flat plate of broom corn and empty wind, sirens busted everything open. When you’re feverish from the day heat, still slick at ten o’clock at night, you remember. Most times, the silence was so thick you could feel it crawl around your ears. But when those sirens cut through the night like a squall, it scratched scars on your memory.

The sound terrified Eldridge, and made him giddy. Maybe his old man had been knifed in the downtown beer parlor, or maybe he was the knifer. Didn’t matter. When his father slammed the porch screen at 2:30 the next morning, Eldridge was still awake.

“Boy got runned over on Little Route,” his old man said. “Thought it might be you, but I was pitching nickels with Thimble Wyatt and one of them Ostrander fellas, and didn’t have time to check. Now fetch me a beer and get on back to bed.”

And on and on through a hollow span of days and nights, until they moved away from that awful Oklahoma town for good. But the sirens kept chasing him down. One day they’d be for him, and for good reason.

**From The Stone Age — a work-in-progress**

Almost the sexiest man in my car

An updated autobiothingy

A thing that will never happen:

I’m standing at the Pearly Gates and St. Peter says: “I know you’re a good man, George, with your charity work and that to-die-for profile, but I’m going to give you a pass. ‘Batman and Robin’? What were you thinking? And bat nipples? Dude!”

And I say, “Sorry, St. Peter, but I’m not Clooney. But don’t worry about it, I hear it all the time. Easy mistake.”

and the gates swing open.

***

Okay. A daydream. No one’s really going to mistake me for George Clooney. I’m a short bald guy with black-framed bifocals, and waist-deep in middle age.

People Magazine will never proclaim me “Sexiest Man Alive” or even “Sexiest Man on My Road”. Maybe “Sexiest Man in My Car, if Rod Stewart Isn’t Playing on the Radio.” Or “Sexiest Man in a 16-year-old Subaru on My Road, at 7:30 in the Morning. On a Tuesday”.

Clooney drives, what, an ’06 Econoline? Pfft… close enough.

But do I care?

No, not really. Sort of. But no.

I’m a writer. (George has screenwriting credits, but please give me this, okay?) I write novels, mostly, but other stuff, too. Poetry, short stories, flash fiction, and more!*

*maybe not be more*

So what? you say. Everyone’s a writer these days. Even Woody Harrelson! You can’t swing a dead Pokemon without hitting a writer.

Yeah, but, umm….

When I’m writing, I can be anyone I want to be: a swaggering pirate, the King of Nebraska, a shirtless painter with paint spatters artistically spattering his painted chest with paint. Indiana Jones (no, wait, that’s another story). I can be anyone. So why not Sexiest etc.?

Because I’m humble. Truly.

I can’t market myself as a sexy, come-hither writer because eventually I’d have to produce the evidence. Not that appearance has anything to do with success. Look at Stephen King. I love the guy, but come on. Still wearing those T-shirts from your Rock Bottom Remainders days, Steve?

But I digress, because that’s a fancy word I can use when I forget the point I was trying to make. (It’s in the dictionary, I checked.) Image isn’t everything. I have nice blue eyes and I can wear a Wal-Mart hoodie like nobody’s business (see above photo, the one without the bat ears. No, the OTHER one).

So sexy? Why not? And furthermore–

Honey, can you PLEASE scrape the chicken crap off your shoes before you come in?”

Yes, dear.”

Sexy!

(Batman photo copyright by Warner Brothers Studios. Steve photo copyright by wife Angela)

The old cross, lost against the wall

There was a weather-stained carving of an old-fashioned cross above the kitchen sink. It looked as hard as iron, but the wood was soft, held together by strands of brown rope. It came from their home in Georgia. She said it was a sure-enough heirloom, passed down from the old plantation days. When the family moved, it was wrapped in tissue paper and set in a small pecan-wood box, then packed in hard cardboard. It wasn’t very big, the size of a boy’s hand, and it was colorless against the yellow kitchen wall. Some nights, he would see his mother staring at the cross, her hands wrist-deep in soap bubbles. She was listening or praying, idly scrubbing an iron skillet, or fumbling with cutlery. He envied her faith and wondered what she saw, what she heard. He knew she would pass the cross on to him when the time came, and he hoped that when it did, he would understand what she was waiting on.

Academia

The funeral was simple but elegant. There were few in attendance, other than his father’s former colleagues whom David barely remembered. He recalled dim dinners with them, and the unappetizing fare such as oysters and fowls that were not chicken. There was wine and cognac, and peach-based desserts. Sometimes there was a sweltering ham, sliced thick, and rich, lumpy potato salad, and that felt more honest. The men would talk about academia, and the women would discuss complex novels and romantic poetry. It was a rarefied environment, full of big ponderings and show-offy intellect, and David understood none of it. He reckoned they were trying to impress one another when they debated the arcane, pausing only to parse each other’s words until they had no meaning. Dull and dull. The nights usually ended with Donald at the piano, playing something “bawdy by Bach”, played barrel-house style. That was the best part of those nights, and David loved his father most when he riffed on the keys and then gave David a broad, unselfconscious grin.

He recognized only one of the pallbearers, Stanley Olay, a fat man not much younger than his father. He used to pull nickels out of David’s ear, and bring the latest copies of The New Yorker, where they were displayed on the coffee table and gathered dust until his next visit. Occasionally, he would pull out a packet of photographs, usually of his children, or his favorite restaurant architecture, and he and Donald would sit on the porch and discuss college politics, who was up for tenure, who was retiring. David remembered those visits only because because Stanley Olay was friendly and unimpressive. He didn’t try to be the smartest person in the room.

**Excerpt from The Stone Age, a work-in-progress**

Sea Legs: Chapter 4

sea legs_04

A big thanks to Anderson Ryle and K’lee for adding some spice and mystery to the story. A quick review/synopsis can be found at https://obzervashunal.com/2016/06/29/a-sea-legs-synopsis-whats-it-all-about/. Contributions are still welcome… just add a few sentences or paragraphs in our respective comments, along with your name and site address. (Photo by K’lee)

***

I lit up my cigarette and stepped out of the phone booth. Heavy clouds blanketed the moon, and I welcomed the darkness. I swung my camera up, ready to shoot. As rotten as the whole thing felt, I wasn’t going to miss a chance to get the pictures. Maybe this whole job was wrong and the pictures were worthless, or maybe it was exactly as I’d been told and it would just be getting paid to catch another cheating husband, but maybe these pictures were worth a damn sight more than that.

Lorre and the woman were in a bedroom on the second floor. They weren’t making it easy for me, but luckily there was a pergola that I was able to climb onto. When I had made it to the top, I paused to catch my breath. From the pergola, it was a small scramble onto the roof. I positioned myself just below the window and tapped out my cigarette on the shingles, letting the butt roll into the gutter. There was a single lamp on the bedside nightstand; it was bright enough to cast a golden light over the two lovers. Lovers, whatever the hell that meant. I checked my pocket for the colt revolver, and then went to work.

I took a few establishing shots of the bedroom: bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice, and a record on the turntable. Then Lorre had his clothes off, and I had a great shot of the woman’s face. Money. I snapped off three photos. The girl was tan, and had long, curly blonde hair. She was pretty in the way that your high school prom queen was pretty, but she didn’t have the freckles that had been spinning around inside my brain all night.

I waited for the scene to change, and sure enough it did. The woman pulled a pair of handcuffs out of her purse, and before long she was cuffed to the bedpost. During the first job I took doing this kind of work, my dick was hard from the first picture to the last. After a couple hundred, the old boy won’t so much as raise his head. I snapped off some more photographs as Lorre moved in behind her. I was burning through film like I was back in Okinawa feeding ammo into machine guns. I opened my Brownie, ripped out one film canister, and slammed in a second. My fingers worked like mad to keep up with the scene unfolding in front of me. At last there was a lull in the action, and Lorre unlocked the cuffs. I snapped a few more pictures as the woman poured two glasses of champagne.

After a few minutes, Lorre opened the drawer of the nightstand and pulled out a blindfold. The woman smiled as he wrapped it around her eyes and tied it tight. Then he pulled back the picture hanging over the bed to reveal an iron safe. I readied my camera and unloaded as he twisted the dial to enter the combination. He swung the safe door open and reached inside. I quickly replaced the film once again with a fresh canister. He pulled out a white bag of powder, closed the safe, and returned the picture to its place. He dipped his finger in the powder as he moved himself behind the woman. He rubbed the powder on her gums, and I had a perfect view.

It didn’t take long for them to snort half of the bag of coke straight off the nightstand, her blindfold removed and forgotten in the corner. I took pictures of the whole thing. After a while, Lorre started to come onto her again. They twisted the sheets for a moment, and then it was his turn to be handcuffed to the bed. She locked him in the cuffs, and slid on top. Her grind was slow, Lorre let out a moan, and even the old boy perked up for a minute as she worked. Eventually her paced quickened, and his moans grew louder.

Then, quite suddenly, the scene changed again. I couldn’t see what happened at first, but the moaning stopped, the woman lifted herself off of the bed, and then she placed two fingers gently on his throat. My camera was firing and it took me a minute to realize that Lorre’s body had gone completely limp. Overdose? Heart attack? I didn’t know, but it didn’t look good. I kept firing. The woman slipped her dress back on, and picked up the two glasses of champagne. She finished hers in a single swallow, but she took his half empty glass and strode confidently to the window. I saw her heading towards me and ducked to the side just in time. Her left hand threw the window open, and she pitched the last of Lorre’s champagne out onto the roof, just past my face. She hadn’t seen me.

After she closed the window, I steeled my nerves enough to look inside again. She was just leaving the bedroom, purse in hand. I quickly opened the window and stepped inside the house. The music was still running in the turntable, covering my noise. I snapped a few pictures of the scene, and then checked Lorre’s pulse. Nothing. The man with the silver spoon up his ass had died on me. I bolted back out the window, and scrambled down the pergola as fast as I could, twisting my ankle slightly on the landing. I cursed as I tried to run across to my Buick, slowing to a limp as I reached it.

I already had the pictures, and Lorre wasn’t getting any deader, so I didn’t see a rush in calling the cops. I wanted to find out who this woman was, who had hired her, and what her end game was. She pulled out of the driveway in Lorre’s car, I followed it to a parking garage where she ditched it, then followed the cab she took downtown. She switched cabs, amateur; switching cabs only works if the tail doesn’t see you get out. This cab took her to the west side of the city, and dropped her off at a street corner. I watched which way she was walking, drove past her and parked down an alley. Then I walked towards her; I could see her face, but she wasn’t looking at me.

Want a cigarette?” I asked.

No,” she said curtly, and kept walking, her face turned away from mine.

I want to talk to you,” I said, falling into stride. “I want to talk to you about our mutual acquaintance, Paul Lorre.”

She stopped dead in her tracks.

Cigarette?” I asked again. (Anderson Ryle – https://AndersonRyle.wordpress.com)

***

He should have been back five minutes ago- no, ten minutes ago. He told me he could handle this, could get to the motel incognito, get the evidence, and be back here ten minutes ago. Something could have gone wrong. The girl- she may have- no, Noah promised me she’s a pro, an ‘A-lister’ is what he called her.

Mr. Carlisle with his fancy camera and appalling manners, promised me he’s a pro too and he’s already- . I could get to the boat- consider the situation a lost cause and have Noah take us… where? Where can I go on this god-forsaken planet and truly put all this behind me?

It’s your fault, Paul. It’s your fault for not- . You’re just like Marco and Teddy, but without Marco’s old-world inheritance or Teddy’s financial smarts. Charming, that’s what you were when we met two years ago by the pool of the Midas’ Touch in San Tropez. You didn’t have two Buffalo nickels to rub together and still promised me the world through those dazzling teeth and sparking green eyes.

Damn if I didn’t fall for it, take you in, and take care of you and your mountain of gambling debts. You must have seen a woman like me coming from a mile away. You knew exactly what to say, when to sugarcoat, and when to turn up the sincerity. Pitch perfect player; that was you all day and all night.

Now you think you’ve scored again. You believe you’ve got me mindlessly taking care of the home front while you squiff about in a motel with your- . Damn it, Carlisle, where the hell are you? Looks like I’d better call Noah after all. If I can’t leave town yet, I might as well make sure all my money is well spent. (K’lee – https://obzervashunal.com)

***

She was cold, I’ll give her that. There was none of the desperate seduction you usually get when a dame is caught with her hands in a very large cookie jar. Her smile was as phony as my gold watch.

How do you know Paul Lorre?” I asked. “Professionally or was it just social?”

She looked bored, like someone waiting for a taxi or a slow bartender. “Paul and I go way back,” she said. “Not that it’s any of your business.”

Let me tell you something. I’m a photographer, honey. And I have a cop friend who loves my pictures. He says I snap the damnedest shots… they’re so interesting, he says. Black and white, mostly, but sometimes a lot of white. As in powder. And guess what, Snow White? I think you and your way-back friend Paul had a short-term friendship. Very sort-term. Kind of a pay-as-you-go plan.”

She shrugged and still seemed uninterested. “You think you’re the first tin-star with a camera? You think I don’t know who you are? Sure, you took some shots. I hope you got my good side, by the way. You ever hear of baby powder? Paul was into that. He liked it when I rubbed him down.”

Up his nose? That’s new. My cop friend will get a chuckle out of that.”

Whatever you think, Carlisle. Me, I treat my friends good, they treat me good. Mutual friendship. I don’t suppose you know what that is, do you, Mr. Photographer? I already called the cops and told them that poor Paul died in my arms. Died from a broken heart, even. He told me his wife was leaving him, but she warned him first, that she was going to drain every nickle out of him. Poor boy needed a lawyer, so he came to me. Sure, things got a little crazy, but he was shattered.”

So you’re his lawyer now?”

She nodded. “Lawyer, friend, advisor. Paul Lorre was a wealthy man. Did you know his wife cheated on him on his own boat? Sea Legs, he called it. Not just a boat, but a yacht. It was his toy. A very expensive toy, and she used it against him and ruined his toy. He wanted my advice, and I gave it to him.”

The pictures clearly show that,” I said.

You’re an idiot,” she snapped. “We’re talking attorney-client privilege. Those famous pictures of yours don’t count for nothing but illegal interference between a lawyer and her client. They’d be tossed out of court faster than your P.I. license. You get the picture, Carlisle?”

I wasn’t sure I did. It sounded like a scam. A lawyer?

I’ll make you a deal,” she said, and brushed herself against my shoulder. “You meet me at the pier tomorrow night. Pier 17. Look for Sea Legs. It’s the shiniest boat there. Maybe we can work out a deal. Make everyone happy.”

Except for my client,” I said. “Mrs. Lorre.”

Eight o’clock tomorrow night. Think your conscience can untie the knots by then? If you’re not there, you’ll never see me again. And that wouldn’t be in your best interest, Carlisle. Trust me on that one.” (Steve)