Friday, May 30, 2014

#FridayFlash - The Way You Do It

Dan knew how to remain calm during the chaos of an operation. He had learned it while serving two tours in Iraq. The primary key was having a plan, which involved the procurement of intelligence—and of course the skills to use it. In the end it took clear-headed thinking, plus an ability to sell one's vision. It almost always involved selling a vision to everyone else.

Through his training in the Corps, Dan had learned that in any plan there were multiple decisions to be addressed, and for every decision there was also an actual process. First, one had to define the problem. Then it was time to assemble the information and develop alternatives. You always had your preferred route, of course, but you never engaged until you knew the potential land mines that could derail your objective.

Sitting next to him in the passenger's side of the car, Mike asked a question.

"What's a seven letter word for 'It's out of here!'?"

Dan closed his eyes. He pinched the bridge of his nose. Brilliant, he thought.

He sighed and said, "At a time like this, you want to fill out a cross-word?"

Mike shot him a hard look, but Dan didn't care. A secondary key to staying calm and achieving success, he knew, was having the ability to focus on the task at hand, and to keep those around you focused as well. Dan only bought the paper this morning in order to read the latest developments on a group who executed a botched-up plan down in San Luis Obispo. He had no intention of using the paper for anything else, and certainly not so Mike could test his mental prowess.

Mike looked away for a moment, not saying a thing. Finally, he folded the newspaper and stuffed it in the door panel pocket.

Satisfied, Dan raised the field glasses and watched the next car to arrive. It was the blue Honda with a crinkled rear panel on the driver's side. It pulled into the far parking slot, the same one it did on every workday for the last three weeks.

"There's our girl," Dan said.

He watched as she stepped out of the Honda and closed the door, looking one last time at her reflection in the window before turning toward the building. She walked with her head down, her back bent. Dan looked at his watch and smiled—two more minutes before the front doors opened. It was the same thing every day. She would put in the hours, but don't ask for anything more.

Dan waited another ten minutes. Then he pulled the car into the parking lot, backing it into the slot outside the front doors.

"Here we go," he said. He left the engine running and opened the driver's side door. Mike climbed out as well. "No deviations, just in and out. Two minutes and nothing more."

"Yes sir," Mike said. Dan didn't like Mike's tone, but chose to ignore it.

They walked into the bank, Mike first, who made his way to a walk-up table where he grabbed a template deposit slip. Dan walked over to the teller counter and found the woman he'd watched for the last three weeks.

"Lana," he said, and gave her a warm smile. "I have a problem, and I need your help." He nodded his head back toward Mike at the table. "See my friend over there?"

She looked from Dan to Mike and then back. Confusion filled her eyes. This was a strange conversation.

Dan said, "He and I visited a bank just the other day, over in San Luis. You know, the one that was robbed?"

Her eyes focused on him, and Dan knew she understood now. In truth, Dan and Mike were not the fools who took down that other bank, but the key was that she didn't know it. Perception was reality.

"Yeah, I know, it wasn't very pretty." He kept his smile relaxed. "He tends to be slightly excited, and that's my problem. We don't want anything like that to happen here, right?" He tapped a bulge under his jacket where he kept his gun. Her eyes followed his hand. "I mean, who would pick up your little boy from daycare?"

This was another piece to his preferred route. Find the intelligence, isolate the best alternative, and select the path. Lana shook her head. She didn't want people to die like they had in San Luis.

His smile widened. "Great. Now I'm going to give you this phony check, okay? If you act like you always do—just another day, just another transaction to process—nothing goes wrong."

She did as she was told, and Dan added, "Use a nice big envelope, please, and make sure there're no surprises that might cause me to visit the day care. That would really foul up my plans."

Tears formed in Lana's eyes. She finished the job and slid the envelope over. He nodded.

"Thank you so much. Now don't do anything rash for the next few minutes. My friend and I need to leave quietly." He smiled once more. "And give your boy a nice kiss tonight, okay?"

Dan left the bank. As he reached the car, Mike was walking out behind him. They slid into the car, and Dan pulled out just as nice and easy as a Sunday drive.

"That went well," Mike said.

Dan nodded. He turned the corner two blocks away and stepped on the brakes just behind their other getaway car. Mike reached to open his door, and Dan pulled out his pistol and shot him in the head.

"As Ben Franklin once said..." Dan took out a rag and started wiping down the pistol, the steering wheel, and everything else. "Three may keep a secret if two are dead."

Finished, he grabbed the envelope, stepped out of the vehicle, and walked toward the getaway car.

That's the way you do it, he thought.

Friday, May 23, 2014

This week - May 23, 2014

Unfortunately, I don't have a story this week. With end-of-the-year school activities for my children, my job, and also my latest "sweat equity" improvement project, I have been preoccupied. As far as my project, I thought you might like to see this. Beyond a neighbor's help to install the roof trusses, which I cut and assembled, and then contracting out the concrete, I have done all of the rest. I still need to install shingles on the roof and build the second door, followed by caulking and painting. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then I think I've done my job this week :-) 


Friday, May 16, 2014

#FridayFlash - What's Real?

The worst part of being alive is being alone. There's no one to talk to, no other voice to drown out the one that keeps pounding my mind with useless details and observations. Like now when it says: I'll bet she used to be a dandy. Who else would wear a mop like that? I reach down, pick up the wig, and try it on. Curious, I look at myself in a nearby mirror. Even through the haze of glass, though, I can see that pink and white stripes definitely clash against the fatigues and boots. They don't sit well against my brown skin, either.

Makes you look like a cheap whore, the voice says.

I toss the starlet wig aside, and the voice laughs.

She was probably a whore. What do you think about that, Jim?

I look around the store, at the racks of clothes that will never be worn, at the glass case of diamond jewelry that will never cast off a sparkle of light at a cocktail party. With the exception of me, the man in the mirror, and the worthless piles of bones scattered across the floor, the place stands empty.

"You're probably right," I mutter.

Of course I'm right. Can't you see it? She used to wear stiletto heals and an audaciously cheap leather skirt? She probably had a tramp stamp, too, there in the small of her back.

See what I mean? Why the woman wore those clothes—assuming it was a woman—was beyond the purview, as the saying went. Certainly beyond mine. And that thing about the tattoo? Pure speculation. How can anyone possibly know something like that just by looking at a broken spinal column? So there you go: worthless details.

There was a time when the prospect of being alone held its own comfort. To read a book from cover to cover, to listen to an hour of music with no kids to disturb me, no wife to demand I talk about God only knows what, well that was my personal definition of heaven. Add a cold beer to the equation, and the rocket ship of bliss took a flyby past the pearly gates and set a course straight for Xanadu. But that was before all the voices ceased to exist, before the sky echoed back with the screams of a thousand perished souls, back before the light of day surrendered to the darkness, the sun blotted out by a cloud of dust that turned everything to bones.

When it happened, I was aboard the USS North Carolina, a Virginia class stationed out of Pearl Harbor. I didn't see it happen. It's hard to see much of anything when you're in a tin can a mile under the surface, deep in the Kamehameha Basin. I heard it, though; everyone aboard did. As soon as the Commander realized what had happened, he played a recorded message from central command. He also played a copy of a report that some poor soul had loaded up in YouTube before the cloud made its way to where ever he had been at the time. We saw it rise up from the horizon, a huge cumulus beast like something out of Hollywood, and we watched as its tentacles of gray death spread out, touching house after house. As soon as the camera's microphone picked up the first screams, the man (clearly panicked and young by high-pitched sound of his voice: "Oh my God... God... oh...") rushed into his house. The sight of his wall, a picture of a surfer riding a killer wave, turned out to be the last image recorded. None of knew exactly what happened to him, how it ended exactly for him, but knowing what the cloud left behind gave us little else to ponder. That was the moment when when everyone aboard realized the situation: life as we knew it had changed. It was like the pink and white wig. One moment, it's you in the mirror; the next moment, what you once recognized as normal now stared back at you as something else.

For a while the guys stayed together, but then one by one the crazies entered their brains, turned them into raving lunatics and I knew I needed to leave. That was six months ago. Or maybe a year. After all this time, I've lost track.

It was two years, Jim.

"Shut up! Shut up, I say!"

I pull my gun from the side pocket of my camo pants. I took it from the ammo store sometime back. I mean what were they going to need it for now? I squeeze my eyes shut and scream, trying to will myself to do it this time, to go ahead and pull the trigger. But I can't, so I lower the pistol. Maybe some day.

I step out of the store and feel the crush of something under the heel of my boot. As always, the street is empty. Oh, how I wish I had someone real to talk with.

What about you?

Are you real?

Friday, May 9, 2014

#FridayFlash - Back The Badge

“You know,” Jameson said, “in the morning I’m going to look back on this night, and think of it as nothing more than a minor setback.”

Jack closed his eyes for a beat. Outside, a storm assaulted the city, throwing in an occasional burst of lightning and a roll of thunder as additional harassment. Rainwater beaded up on the windshield, and then, coalescing under the force of gravity, ran down the glass in rivulets before wiper blades swished it all away with a steady Thuck… Thuck… Thuck. He opened his eyes again and saw the world through the glass as it really was—a place where lines blurred, straightened out, and blurred again.

He took a deep, slow breath. “A minor setback.”

Beside him, Jameson nodded.

“That’s right. In the grand scheme of things, a whole career is not determined by one event.”

“It can certainly be derailed by one, though.”

Jameson continued as if he hadn’t heard Jack’s remark. “It’s kind of like a work of art. You don’t just look at one brush stroke. You take them all in to form a complete image.”

“And that’ll be your defense?”

Jameson met Jack’s eyes. “There’ll be no defense, my friend. Remember, you’re guilty, too.”

Jack heard the threat and shook his head. “Unh-unh. You can’t put this on me. I didn’t kill that girl.”

“But you were there just the same.”

Yes, he was there. They had been on patrol when Jameson spotted a street punk who regularly sold drugs and went by the name of Jell-O. It was on account of how slippery he was, Jameson told Jack. The kid could wiggle and jiggle and get away if you weren't careful. When Jello-O saw the two of them, he took off at a sprint. They pursued.

They lost the kid when he jumped through the back door of a five-story apartment building. On the second floor, Jameson raised his gun. He said, “What do we have here?” and stepped through a cracked-open doorway. Inside they found a fourteen-year-old girl, clearly home alone and dressed only in panties and a t-shirt that sported a picture of mouse wearing a sombrero and a couple of bandoliers. It held a revolver in each hand. A burning cigarette dangled from its mouth. The girl’s hair was still wet from a recent shower. Jameson licked his lips. “Mm-mmm,” he said, and looked at Jack with a stupid grin as he took the girl by the arm. The images of what happened next still burned in Jack’s mind. Her agonizing cries still registered in his ears. When it was over, Jack stared down at the bruised neck and blank eyes—eyes that had just pleaded with him to make it all stop.

“You stood by and did nothing,” Jameson said now. “You haven’t reported it, either.” He cocked his head to the side and grinned. It was the same grin. Jack hated it. “And that, young officer Broward, is what we call accessory.”

Without another word, Jack opened the passenger door. The roar of rain pounding the sidewalk greeted him as he stepped out of the car.

“Remember,” Jameson called out. “Back the badge. And the badge’ll back you.”

Jack shut the door. He ran up the sidewalk to his house, but he wasn’t fast enough. Light blue turned to navy as the rain soaked through his uniform. He fumbled with his keys and, finally finding the right one, reached up to push the key into the door lock.

A loud bang cut through the storm. Jack whirled around and looked back at the patrol car as two more shots pierced the night. The passenger door opened again, and a small figured stepped out. Even as it walked toward his house, Jack saw the stained panties. He saw the mouse with the sombrero and bandoliers. He pulled his own gun and fired. The girl continued toward him. Panic seized him. How was it even possible? He could still see her dead body on the couch. He watched as her skin turned yellow and then blue.

The revolver jumped and jumped again as Jack fired the rest of his rounds. The gun clicked three more times before the girl stopped in front of him. Jack leaned against the front door and slid down to the cement.

“I… I...” Jack shook his head. He started to cry. “I’m sorry.”

Dark, unsympathetic orbs looked down at him. The girl raised the gun—it was Jameson’s service revolver—and stuck it in Jack’s mouth.