Monday, March 7, 2011

Friday, February 18, 2011

Back Seat to Justice - chapter one

Preface: What you are about to read is chapter one of my novel "Back Seat to Justice". This book is available for all e-readers (including PCs) for $.99. It is also available in paperback for $10.69. Half of all profits will be donated to Golden Huggs Rescue Inc. ( A non-profit organization dedicated to finding homes for lost, abandoned or stray Golden Retrievers or golden mixes.

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The simple truth is sometimes life just isn’t fair.

A lawyer friend once told him ‘Steve, life is not fair, it’s just legal.’

Legal or not, it wasn’t fair that he was sitting there with an empty glass while the barmaid was at the other end of the bar letting some young stud chat her up. If he wasn’t trying to maintain a low profile he would have found a way to get her attention.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option.

Rule number one when you’re tailing somebody…don’t draw attention to yourself, especially when there’s only six people in the bar, counting yourself and the bartender.

The mark was an overweight, balding guy named Fred Cranston. His wife, Rhonda, was looking for enough evidence to prevent him from squirming out of alimony in the divorce.

Cranston sat on the opposite side of the oval shaped bar. The large-breasted woman on the stool next to him appeared to hang on his every word, as if he were dictating a cure for cancer, world hunger and hangovers.  From what Steve could see, she was probably half of Cranston’s age.  Another great unfairness…how these middle-aged, fat, bald loudmouths managed to convince gorgeous, young women to even look at them, let alone sleep with them.

Cranston, like most marks, had no idea he was being tailed and even less of an idea that his wife was preparing to take him to the cleaners.

That was where Steve Salem, former Boston cop, now a private investigator in Flagler Beach, Florida, came in. He made a comfortable living thanks to people who refused to play by the rules—which didn’t seem fair either, but it was legal.

Not that he had any room to talk; his career with the Boston PD had been terminated prematurely for nearly beating a suspect to death—a flagrant rules infraction, but Steve didn’t see it that way at the time.

When you crash through a door and find a twenty six-year-old asshole torturing and sodomizing a wheelchair bound girl not even eleven years old yet, the rules take a back seat to justice.

What he did wasn’t legal, but in his mind it was fair.

The Mayor of Boston disagreed and because it was an election year, Steve became an example.

So now he was a P.I. tailing unfaithful spouses, insurance scammers and people collecting Worker’s Compensation benefits while they worked another job under the table. It was good, low-risk money, but the constant exposure to life’s down-side was exhausting and sometimes demoralizing.

Finally the barmaid worked her way to him and smiled widely.

“Another, Steve?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said, sliding the empty glass into the trough on her side of the bar, “thanks Dawn.”

As he watched her pour Scotch into his glass he couldn’t help but notice the way her shirt hugged the curves around her generous breasts. Her fiery red hair fell just short of her tanned shoulders and perfect white-as-snow teeth gave her smile the brightness of a lighthouse.

When she finished pouring his drink she set the glass on the bar, withdrew a tenspot from the stack of bills in front of him and walked to the register. Steve studied her form until she began walking back, at which time he forced himself to look her in the eyes.

The job wasn’t completely without its perks.

Dawn returned to the young gun at the other end of the bar and Steve picked up his glass. The scotch, his second, went down smooth and warm. If the mark hung out here much longer he might have to switch to something non-alcoholic. A D.U.I. would mean he’d lose his driver’s license, albeit temporarily, his P.I. license and his permit to carry.

Aside from Cranston, his girlfriend and the guy talking to Dawn, there was one other patron in the bar—a woman in her mid-twenties with the looks of a swim-suit model. Steve casually wondered what such a good-looking woman was doing in a hole like this, alone on a Friday night.

The door opened and three kids walked in laughing as they shook off the rain. They looked like they made the legal drinking age by minutes. The dim lighting in the bar made it tough to get a good look at them, but Steve thought he recognized one of them. They walked around the bar and sat next to the swim-suit model.

Testosterone strikes again, Steve thought.

Steve alternated his looks between his mark and the three kids. The familiar one was seated next to the woman and she screened Steve’s view of his face.

The bartender put a draft beer in front of each kid and they all exchanged discrete conspiratorial looks, confirming Steve’s suspicion they were under-age. One of them strolled to the electronic juke box and fed a bill into it. The relative quiet of the bar was assaulted by an obnoxious rap song, replete with references to whores, dead cops and drugs.

Cranston and his companion were getting cozy, nuzzling each other affectionately, oblivious to the pounding bass of the song. One of the woman’s hands disappeared beneath the bar. The tell-tale motion of her arm, and the growing look of ecstasy on Fred’s face, left little to the imagination.

Back at the other end of the bar, the three kids were getting a little rowdy. Two of them were standing and having an animated discussion about something. The discussion escalated into shoving and one of them bumped into the swim suit model.

As they apologized profusely, the one Steve thought he knew stood and walked quickly to the men’s room.

Steve took a glance at Cranston—who was still enjoying the hand-job from his partner—then walked to the men’s room.

Compared to the bar, the lighting in the restroom was bright enough to perform surgery.  There was nobody at either urinal and one of the two stall doors was open. Steve saw the feet of the kid under the other door, standing.

Steve used the urinal then moved to the sink and washed his hands. When the kid emerged from the stall, Steve was drying his hands and checking himself in the mirror.

The kid walked toward the door but Steve backed away from the sink into his path.

“Aren’t you gonna wash your hands?” he asked the kid.


Steve’s looked at their reflections in the mirror, his hunch was confirmed, he knew the kid.

“I said, ‘aren’t you going to wash your hands,’ Brad?”

The kid’s puzzlement increased.

“What? You know me?”

C’mere,” Steve said, guiding the kid back to the stall and opening the door.

On the floor behind the toilet was a woman’s purse.

“Pick it up,” Steve ordered.

Brad paused before he complied, handing it to Steve.

“Now let me have whatever you took from it.”

Brad sighed and dug into his pocket, handing Steve a few credit cards and a wad of cash. Steve read the name on one of the credit cards then looked at Brad.

“Her name is Valerie Casey, if you’re interested.”

Brad swallowed and blinked.

Steve stuffed the contents into the purse and slapped it against Brad’s chest.

“Bring it back,” he said.


“Just drop it on the floor behind her stool. She’ll think it fell when your buddy bumped into her. Then you and your two friends finish your beers and get the hell out of here and I won’t have to tell your Uncle Ralph I saw you.”

“You know my uncle?”

“Yeah, now, do we have an agreement?”


“Atta boy.”

Steve waited a few beats after Brad left before leaving. He took his seat and watched as Brad downed his beer then spoke to his friends. After glancing at Steve the other two finished their beers and they walked out into the rainy Daytona Beach night. A minute later, Valerie Casey left; Steve watched with an admiring eye as she walked to the door. When the door closed behind her he turned to check on Cranston.

“Damn it,” he said.

Cranston and his mistress were gone.

Steve picked up his stack of cash from the bar, leaving half of his drink and a five dollar tip, and walked out.

The rain was coming down harder than it had been when he arrived and it was full-on dark now.

He sprinted to his Jeep, started the engine and did a slow drive around the parking lot looking for Cranston’s blue Lincoln Continental. He was relieved, although not surprised to find it in a back corner of the lot, next to the dumpster—conveniently out of the sight.

Steve drove past and circled the building again. He found a place to park where he could inconspicuously observe the car and, if the rain let up, maybe even get some pictures for Mrs. Cranston.

He reached into the glove box and took out a digital camera, fitted with an f-2.8 zoom lens for low-light situations such as this. Unfortunately the lens did little to penetrate foggy windows.

There was very little activity in the parking lot, so the sight of approaching headlights from his right surprised him. The car looked like a Ford Taurus, probably a rental. It drove by Steve’s Jeep slowly and proceeded around the building, its headlights hitting Fred Cranston’s Lincoln on the way.

Salem watched with mild curiosity when the Taurus stopped just past the Lincoln.

Leaving the motor running, but turning the headlights off, a figure climbed out of the Taurus, cloaked in darkness and took a look around the parking lot. Steve began to get a bad feeling.

Dropping his camera on the passenger’s seat of the Jeep, he reached inside his jacket for his .45.

The figure walked to the Lincoln and drew a gun.

Steve threw open the door of the Jeep and slipped on the wet asphalt. Stumbling toward the front of his car, trying to regain his balance, he heard three shots in quick succession. The gunman was in his car and gone before Steve could get close.

He walked through the rain and looked into the back seat of the Lincoln at the bodies of Fred Cranston and his mistress. Cranston sat with his back to the passenger’s side rear door. His pants were bunched around his knees and his shirt was stained bright red from two bullet holes in his chest. His mistress was on her knees on the driver’s side floor, her head, or what was left of it, still in Cranston’s lap. The odors of sex and blood mingled and wafted out into the rainy night.

Steve re-holstered his .45 and took his cell phone out to call 9-1-1. While he waited for the call to go through he shook his head at Cranston and his mistress.

“Getting caught with your pants down is usually a metaphor, Fred,” he said.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Not that kind of cereal

Good news...

I've started writing a new book!

More good news...

You're all invited to read the entire book for free, as it is written, right here on my blog.

The name of the book will be "Back Seat to Justice" and it will follow Flagler Beach Private Investigator Steve Salem as he tries to solve a bizarre double homicide that has left an innocent young man wrongly accused and jailed.

I will post new chapters here as I write them and I invite all of you to leave comments, criticisms and suggestions in the comments section. Tell me if you like the story - or if not, why? What do you think of the characters. Did you see any spelling mistakes? Whatever you like.

I'll try to post a new chapter each week and will announce the postings on my facebook fan page (

I figure since most of Charles Dickens' work was published as serials in magazines I'd give it a try.

Naturally, I wouldn't mind if you shared the location of the site with others who might like to read it as well...the more the merrier.

Thank you for your support and happy reading...


Sunday, February 13, 2011

No Good Deed

By Tim Baker
© 2011


Perspective is everything.

From Al Godfrey’s perspective it didn’t look like a five star restaurant.

Godfrey couldn’t see the mood lighting or hear the jazz trio providing soft background music and he was not greeted by a man in a tuxedo when he pushed his way through a hole in the chain link fence at the back of the parking lot.

There was no linen tablecloth or real silverware for Al Godfrey; instead he huddled in a corner behind the dumpster trying to protect himself from the cold October wind.

The smell of food—real food—wafted from an exhaust fan over his head, making his mouth water. He struggled to recall the last time he had eaten a meal that hadn’t been thrown away by somebody else.

Although he had little use for calendars these days, he figured it must be going on seven years now. Whether it was seven or seventeen, it mattered little to Al. What mattered most was that after twenty-three years of loyal employment some jerk-off asshole with a trophy-wife and a boat had decided Al Godfrey was expendable.

The first thing he lost was Ida.

They had been dating for almost a year when Al got his walking papers. Al’s feelings for her and her two kids—Alfred, 11 and Amanda, 9—had grown far beyond anything he had ever expected. He had planned on using his annual Christmas bonus to buy Ida an engagement ring. He never got the chance.

After six months of unemployment, his disposable income had been completely disposed of and prospects for gainful employment were bleak for a man his age with a dated skill set. Ida hung in there longer than any reasonable person could be expected to. Al couldn’t recall which one of them had cried more when she announced the end of the relationship.

It was her last words to him that stuck in his mind like superglue…

Someday you’re bound to get back on your feet, and there’ll be a lucky woman there waiting for you.

From there, life went downhill at breakneck speed.

Before long Al was selling everything he owned just to pay the rent. Living without cable TV, a telephone and often no electricity gave way to begging, borrowing and even stealing. He lasted almost a year before he was evicted. Four months later he was forced to sell his car, leaving him with nothing in the world but a (stolen) shopping cart to carry his worldly possessions, along with whatever aluminum cans he scavenged for cash at the metals recycling yard. His clothes slowly deteriorated into unrecognizable rags and eventually his shoes provided more ventilation than protection.

The only reminder of his real life—that hadn’t been lost or taken away from him—dangled from his wrist. The color had faded from it long ago and he had repaired it more times than he cared to remember. Amanda had lit up like Times Square on New Year’s Eve when she had given it to him. He told her he loved it—and he meant it. Al had immediately secured the handmade, beaded bracelet to his wrist, where it remained to this day.

A gust of wind whipped around the corner of the dumpster, dropping a styrofoam coffee cup on the ground next to him. Al swatted it away.

“Son-of-a-bitch, I’m too damn old for another New Jersey winter on the street. I gotta go where it’s warm.”

The cup rolled a few feet away before the wind pushed it back into Al’s lap.

“God damn it,” he said, crushing it in his hand and throwing it behind the dumpster.

The kitchen door opened, followed by the sound of something heavy being dragged across the asphalt. Al peeked around the corner to see a high school kid wrestling a large plastic trash can toward the dumpster. The scrawny kid flipped back the plastic lid and squatted to lift the barrel. He heaved the contents into the dumpster, closed the lid and turned to go back inside the restaurant. Al was too hungry to let the opportunity go by.

“Hey, kid,” he said, stepping from behind the dumpster.

“What! Jesus Christ, mister,” the kid said, snapping around, “you scared the shit out of me.”

“Sorry, kid, really I am,” Al said, trying to sound sincere. “It’s just that I’m starving. Can ya help me out?”

The kid tucked his greasy brown hair behind his ears and shrugged.

“What do you want? I got no money.”

“Can you bring me something to eat? Just some scraps before you throw ‘em in the garbage—anything, man, I’m starvin’.”

The kid looked over his shoulder into the kitchen and ran a hand across his mouth.


“Come on, kid. I ain’t asking for no lobster, just a handful of fries, a left over sandwich, a bone with some meat left on it—anything.”

The kid paused a few seconds, absently scratching his pimpled face.

“All right, wait here.”

The kid disappeared into the kitchen, returning moments later with a carry-out container.

“Here you go, mister.”

“Thanks, kid, thanks a lot.”

Al took the container back to his spot behind the dumpster and flipped back the lid. The table scraps were the closest thing to a real meal he’d seen in weeks. There were a couple of stuffed shrimp, the remains of a plump pork chop, green beans and a wedge from a club sandwich. Al devoured the leftovers in less than two minutes, flipped the container behind the dumpster and belched loudly.

“That hit the spot,” he said. “Now, if I can just find a warmer place to sleep…”

Al emerged from his dining area and headed toward the ocean. It looked like another night under the boardwalk.

Before retiring for the night, Al decided to make use of the restroom in one of the hotels on Danny Thomas Blvd. Waiting in the shadows for a group of people to enter the lobby, he used them to shield his entrance to the public men’s room. Thankfully, the restroom was empty and somebody had left a magazine in one of the stalls. Sitting on the toilet reading an article about how to take strokes off your golf game, it occurred to him how some of the most common acts in life were never truly appreciated until they were unavailable to you. Squatting behind a tractor-trailer truck at a rest area with no toilet paper could certainly put things into perspective.

Even though there was no realistic chance he would ever play golf, he read the article to pass the time.

The bathroom door opened, interrupting his reading, and Al reflexively lifted his feet to avoid detection. He listened intently. Two men. Footsteps to the urinals at the opposite end of the bathroom. The buzz of zippers. Muffled splashes.

One of the men zipped up and went to the sink to wash his hands.

“So it’s a done deal, right?” one man said.

“All set. I sent the money this morning by UPS,” the other man replied. “I got a brand new condo in Flagler Beach. The package’ll be there in four to seven days. All we gotta do is get outta this hole, head to Florida, find a spot on the beach and a couple of young and willing women and we’re home free. By the time anybody notices the money’s gone, we’ll already be sunburned. They’ll never find us.”

“You say this condo of yours is on a golf course?”

“Fourteenth green is practically in my back yard.”

“I always wanted to learn how to golf.”

Al rolled his eyes at the magazine and stifled a snort.

The second urinal flushed and the restroom door opened again. Al’s legs were beginning to shake from holding them up and he hoped the men were leaving.

“Nice to see you boys,” a different man said. “You come here for the piano bar?”

“Gino…” one of the men said with a trace of nerves. “How you doin’?”

Damn it, Al thought. Take your reunion to the bar.

“Frank sent me to find you guys—says he wants to talk to you about something.”

“What about?” one of the men asked.

“There’s only two things Frank would want to talk to you two about…money and money…so you figure it out,” Gino said. “Now let’s go.”

“Hey, Gino, you don’t need to wave the piece. We’re comin’. Just lemmee wash my hands.”

Al forgot all about the pain in his legs at the mention of a gun. Now he really wanted these guys to leave. The sound of water running was interrupted by an outburst of movement. The next two sounds he heard overlapped each other.

“What the…” Gino said.

Al had never heard a real gunshot, and even though it didn’t sound like the ones in the movies, he knew that’s what it was.

“Mother fucker,” Gino moaned.

Another two shots from a silenced gun, followed by two heavy thuds and the bathroom went silent.

Adrenaline surged through Al’s veins, but he forced himself to remain perfectly still and silent for several seconds longer. When he could no longer hold his legs up he decided to take his chances.

Dropping the magazine and pulling up his pants, Al slowly exited the stall, moving cautiously toward the exit. He glanced at the first body as he stepped over it. The dead guy’s clothes were clean—if you ignored the bullet hole and the blood stain—his shoes had no holes in them and he had a nice, warm jacket on.

Just that quickly, escape took a back seat to wardrobe. Moving as fast as he could, Al stripped naked, stuffing his rags into the trash can. Just as hastily, he took the clothes off the dead man, blood stains and all. He relieved the other two men of their wallets and everything else in their pockets, giving brief consideration to the guns, but deciding he would rather not get caught in possession of a murder weapon. Stuffing his newfound possessions into the pockets of his new leather jacket, he stepped out of the men’s room and walked briskly and purposefully to the street, holding the jacket closed to conceal the bright red stain on his new shirt.

On the street he broke into a full-out run and didn’t stop until he was four blocks away, under the Baltic Avenue sign. He stopped just long enough to catch his breath. In his mind, everybody from wise guys to cops were hot on his trail and the visual kept him moving because it didn’t matter who got their hands on him first…it would not end well. Al pushed on a few blocks north until he came to an all-night greasy spoon. Pushing through the door, he passed a booth full of drunk kids and headed directly to the back and slid into a booth with a clear line of sight to the front door and easy access to the kitchen door and rear exit.

An obese server with green stripes in her eggplant-colored hair set a paper placemat in front of him and dropped some silverware on top of it.

“Coffee?” she asked.

Al tore his eyes from the door and looked at her.

“Yeah, black.”

She walked away and Al returned his attention to the door, wondering if he had gotten away with it.

“Hey, you!” a voice yelled, as the door to the diner slammed open.

Al’s heart nearly exploded and he let out a small yelp.

Another drunk kid pointed at the booth where his friends sat and staggered toward them. A rowdy chorus of greetings was exchanged and Al leaned back in the booth to regain his composure. The girl with the neon hair reappeared and set a cup of coffee in front of him.

“Thanks,” he said to the server.

“You wanna order anything?” she asked.


“Food,” she said flippantly, “do you want any?”

Not sure of how much cash he had, Al needed to stall so he could inventory his score.

“Yeah, gimmee a few minutes,” he said.

She waved an indifferent hand toward the back of his booth as she walked away.

“Menu’s in the rack,” she called over her shoulder.

Al emptied the contents of his pockets and dug for cash. He spotted a fifty in one of the wallets. A fifty would more than cover anything this place was serving. He relaxed a bit and breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

New clothes, some walking around money and a hot meal soon on the way.

Things were looking up.

He perused the menu and decided on a meatloaf dinner with mashed potatoes, carrots and a side order of bacon.

“Did you say bacon?” the server asked.

“Yeah, bacon, do ya mind? A side a’ bacon.”

“Whatever,” she said, shrugging. She took his ticket to the order window and clipped it onto a stainless steel wheel and spun it toward the cook. Al was pretty sure he saw her roll her eyes, too. When she had resumed her place behind the counter Al emptied his pockets onto the table.

“Like she’s got room to talk,” Al muttered to himself. “Wide-load has the balls to judge my eating habits…shit.”

Before his meal arrived he had tallied his take: Three wallets with various IDs, credit cards and such, $586 in cash, three cell phones, a Rolex watch, two poker chips from a boardwalk casino, a silver flask (mostly full—of a very smooth scotch), cigarette lighter, a pack of Marlboros and two envelopes. He had trouble containing himself; this was the score of the century. He returned the items to his pockets and began planning his immediate future. He’d get himself a nice room for the night with a credit card, order room service breakfast in the morning and maybe hit a casino to try and increase his holdings.

When his food arrived he made a conscious effort to eat slowly and breathe between bites, mostly to calm his nerves, but also to savor the meal. He paused long enough to raise his coffee cup toward the server and she waddled over to top it off. Her nametag said Krystall and the tattoo on her neck said Bite Me. Al wondered if her parents had envisioned this reject from society when they chose her name.

Probably not.

As his nerves settled, Al replayed the scene in the men’s room. Obviously the first two guys had ripped off somebody named Frank. Frank must have found out about it—or at least had enough suspicion to send Gino after them. One of the guys took a shot at Gino, who then shot the two of them as he fell.

What a mess.

Al chewed a piece of bacon and continued to mull the whole thing over. One of the guys said something about mailing a package to his condo in Florida and nobody missing the money until they had a sunburn.

Al dug through his pockets and pulled out the two envelopes; airplane tickets for a flight leaving Newark International the next day at 4:42 p.m. and arriving in Jacksonville, Florida at 9:37 p.m. The tickets were in the names of Paul Bender and William Santini. There was also a rental car agreement in Bender’s name.

Al flipped through the wallets until he found Bender’s. The image on the driver’s license revealed it was Bender’s clothes Al was wearing. He studied the dead man’s driver’s license: height—5’9”, weight—185 pounds. Al was 5’10” and was probably down to 165 these days. Bender had brown hair and eyes; both a match with Al’s—even though Al’s hair had begun graying a few years ago. Al’s untrimmed beard and moustache was the biggest difference between them; other than that, he was fairly certain he could pass for the former Mr. Paul Bender.

He relaxed…really relaxed…against the back of the booth and savored his last piece of bacon.

“I’ll bet Florida is really nice this time of year,” he said.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Unfinished Business

Unfininshed Business
by Tim Baker


The last thought to go through Bill Kilroy’s mind before he died was of the man who had saved his life.

To say that there was silence in the hospital room would be a half-truth. There was no noise that would disturb a person trying to read a book but there were a wealth of sounds that Kilroy was tired of hearing. He was tired of hearing the various beeps and hums and drips made by the assortment of machines connected to his frail body. Despite the advanced technologies making them barely audible, he heard them as if they were freight trains, much the same as the snowflakes that night in 1944.

To him the sounds of the machines did nothing but remind him that his life was in the hands of others.


The 83-year-old Kilroy looked at the faces surrounding his bed, tears in his eyes his only method of communication. Gathered in the small room were Sylvia, his wife of 59 years, their four children and nine grandchildren.

Sylvia held Bill’s left hand and stroked it lovingly while his oldest son, Carl held the right. Carl was approaching sixty now and served as a constant reminder to Kilroy of the last time his life was in somebody else’s hands.

Over the years Kilroy had gotten used to explaining the reason his oldest son’s name was Carl instead of William Jr., which was the name of son number two. Regardless of how many times he answered the question, the story never got any easier to tell.

There were six of them; Kilroy, Corporal Carl Benson and four PFCs, Al Kidd, Howard Archibald, Bruce Jordan and Wayne Palmer. They served with the 101st Airborne during the Second World War. They called themselves Kilroy’s Killers and they took advantage of every opportunity to leave the legendary graffiti “Kilroy Was Here” as a calling card, with one slight modification, they changed it to say “Kilroy’s Killers Were Here”. One time Archibald even used his bayonet to carve it into the chest of a dead German soldier. With the exception of Benson, whose wife was expecting their first child, all of the men were single. In the year they had been together they developed a camaraderie that rivaled that of the closest brothers. Having been together the longest, Kilroy and Benson were especially close.

On Christmas Eve, 1944 the Killers were on patrol in a forest near the Belgian border. Creeping silently through the thick trees, they spaced themselves far enough apart to minimize the chances of a slaughter should they be fired upon, yet close enough together to maintain visual contact with each other.

They moved slowly and deliberately, each man as taut as a bowstring ready to react to a hostile situation. The forest was deadly still. So much so that even the sound of snowflakes landing gingerly in the thick canopy of pine needles above was like a cacophony to their heightened sense of alert.

After two hours they stopped to check the map coordinates. Reaching into the cargo pocket of his pants, Kilroy produced the map and his compass. While the others formed a perimeter, Kilroy and Benson consulted the map and discussed their strategy in barely audible whispers. Nobody else made a sound.

As Kilroy pointed to a spot on the map and looked to Benson for confirmation, the stillness was broken by a small metallic click. Instinctively, Kilroy stuffed the map into his pocket while he and Benson spun around and brought their tommy guns to the ready.

All six men scanned the forest in front of them and all six men saw the same thing; trees covered with a blanket of fresh snow. The flakes that fell steadily restricted vision to less than one hundred yards. Kilroy squinted into the whiteness but saw nothing.

Using hand signals, he motioned for Kidd and Palmer to check the left flank and Archibald and Jordan to check the right flank. The men followed orders and began creeping off in search of the source of the sound.

For five agonizing minutes nothing happened. Despite the snow and the freezing temperatures, Kilroy felt sweat dampening his armpits.

Without warning the still air was shattered by the sound of machine gun fire. Kilroy heard Al Kidd scream that he was hit and Wayne Palmer returning fire from the left. Kilroy and Benson ran toward the skirmish. They came upon Kidd lying next to a tree wrapping a field dressing around his right leg. With a silent nod to let them know he was ok, Kidd resumed wrapping his leg while Kilroy and Benson continued past.

When they saw Palmer lying in the snow firing to the east, they took positions behind the biggest trees they could find and obtained a fix on the source of the gunfire.

“Kraut patrol sarge,” Palmer yelled. “They were as surprised as we were.”

For several minutes there was nothing but pure chaos until finally the German guns fell silent. Kilroy jammed a fresh clip into his tommy and looked over the forward site but all he saw was smoke drifting lazily off the tip. No movement and no sound, except for the falling snow. It was as if nothing had happened. After a few minutes he signaled to Benson and Palmer to advance on the Germans.

The two men crept silently towards the enemy. From their right, Archibald and Jordan came out of the trees and together, the four men closed in on the German patrol. Kilroy brought up the rear keeping a watchful eye out for any additional Germans who might sneak up on them from behind.

There were seven bodies lying in the snow, which was now turning dark red with the flowing blood.

The site of the dead men, or boys actually, made Kilroy pause and withdraw into his thoughts. Seven boys who were alive five minutes earlier now lay dead in the snow. Seven boys who were probably sharing thoughts about what they would do after the war, or perhaps what they would do that night when they returned to their unit. If it had been just a little different there may have been six American corpses instead of seven German ones. He thought about Sylvia and how close he had come to never seeing her again.

His reverie was broken by Benson screaming.

“Sarge, watch out!”

Kilroy looked up in time to see one of the German soldiers raising his rifle to fire at him. There was no time to react; in a milli-second his mind resigned itself to the fact that his life was over. Again he thought of Sylvia and in his mind he apologized to her for getting killed before they had a chance to marry. He wondered if he would be buried at home in Connecticut or if they would bury him here in Germany. He didn’t want to be buried in Germany, far from all those he loved.

The sudden blur in front of him shocked him out of his thoughts and he watched in silence as Carl Benson dove at the German just as the barrel of the enemy machine gun belched flames. There were several shots before the gun came up empty. Benson landed in the snow next to the German with a thud. Kilroy brought his tommy up and fired at the German until his clip was empty.

When the gun refused to fire anymore, Kilroy threw it to the ground and rushed to the side of his friend. Somewhere in the back of his mind he heard a commotion as the rest of the squad emptied their guns into the other German bodies.

He turned Carl over and looked into his eyes. They stared upward as if watching the falling snowflakes but Kilroy knew they saw nothing. There were five bullet holes in a line from Benson’s right ear across his throat and down to his chest.

He was dead.

Kneeling in the snow, he cradled his friend’s head and tried to will life back into him. For the second time in five minutes he was shown how easily the chasm between life and death could be crossed. He looked into the eyes of the man who had made the ultimate sacrifice and wondered what his last thought was.

Then he cried.

When his first son was born three years later, there was no deliberation about what to name him. Carl Benson Kilroy was a living memorial to the best friend Bill had ever known.

Lying in the hospital bed looking into his son’s eyes, Bill Kilroy thought about the man who had saved his life and he cried for the man who had died before meeting his only child. As tears rolled down his cheeks, Bill Kilroy died.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Last Resort

February 25, 1986
Providence, RI

The frigid wind could cut through steel.

Inside the small trailer that served as his office, Gerry Houle used a pair of pliers to turn the broken knob on the electric space heater in an attempt to coax more heat from it. The spring shaped elements hummed and glowed bright red but did precious little to warm the space. Cold air continued to creep in through the drafty window and around the poorly sealed door.

After rubbing his hands briskly in front of the heater he turned to face the desk.

The red light on his answering machine winked at him. When he pressed the play messages button the machine went through a series of clicks and whirs while the tape rewound. When it reached the beginning it slowly reversed direction and began playing the message. Gerry recognized the voice of Fred Love immediately.

“Hidey-ho Gerry, this is your favorite Architect, Fred Love. I hope you’re staying warm out there. Give me a call when you can, we’ve got to discuss that issue again.”

There was a barely audible click followed by several seconds of silence until the machine began to whir and click again as it reset the tape for more messages.

Pushing aside a pile of papers and a Styrofoam coffee cup, he picked up the phone and pressed the first speed-dial button.

While he listened to the ringing at the other end he inspected the inside of the coffee cup. Midway through the second ring the call was answered by a youthful, polite, female voice. The pleasant tone of her voice told Gerry she was not struggling to stay warm.

“Good morning, Thomlinson, Jones and Bergstrom, how may I help you?”

Gerry sat up straight and tossed the empty cup toward the trash can where it bounced off the rim and landed on the floor.

“Hi, this is Gerry Houle; can I speak to Fred Love, please?”

“Good morning, Gerry, one moment, please,” the polite voice replied, followed by a click and a horrible muzak rendition of The Beatles’ “A Hard Days Night”.

Gerry tried to ignore the blasphemous muzak by watching the activity outside his window.

The sound of a truck horn signaled coffee-break time as a white catering truck rolled through the gate onto the construction site. The words “Martin’s Catering” were painted on the stainless steel sides of the rear compartment of the truck. A steady stream of water dripped from the undercarriage and steam rose out of the top.

Gerry watched as a dozen men descended on the truck like cowhands responding to the dinner bell. The multiple layers of clothing they wore in defense against the savage wind made it impossible to recognize any of them with the exception of Rich Garcia, the assistant project manager, who was discussing something with the steel fabricator. Garcia had more fashion sense than common sense so his only protection from the biting cold was a maroon Members Only jacket.

After opening the flip-up doors on the back of the catering truck Martin stood by the rear corner with one hand in the pocket of his tattered gray sweatshirt and the other, covered with a fingerless black glove, poised on his change dispenser. The stub of an unlit cigar was clenched between his teeth.

Just as “A Hard Days Night” came to an end, Gerry heard a click and the muzak was replaced by the cheerful voice of Fred Love.

“Fred Love speaking.”

Without seeing the man, Gerry knew there was a broad smile on his face and a bow tie around his neck.

“Hi, Fred, Gerry Houle here.”

“Howdy-do, Gerry, thanks for getting back to me this quickly.”

“No problem, Fred, what can I do for you?” Gerry asked, even though he already knew the answer.

“Gerry, I’m not at my desk, let me put you on hold for one minute.”

Gerry heard another click followed by the muzak version of “Mack the Knife”.

The temperature inside the trailer was inching its way toward 60 degrees, which was balmy compared to the 35 degree outside temperature. The trailer also protected Gerry from the 25 mile-per-hour winds, which produced a wind-chill temp of 23.

Twenty-five years in the New England construction industry meant that Gerry had worked in cold weather more than he cared to think about. Having worked his way up to superintendent at least afforded him the quasi-luxury of a heated (a term to be used loosely) trailer to work in.

Gerry continued to watch through his window as the workers outside, mostly masons, huddled behind a twenty-foot high concrete block wall seeking protection against the wind as they drank coffee and ate donuts or muffins. Garcia and the steel fabricator stood in the shelter of the wall discussing something over a set of folded blueprints.

Memories of days spent walking the iron ten stories up in similar weather made Gerry shiver involuntarily. Thank Christ he didn’t have to do that anymore.

“Poor bastards,” Gerry muttered to himself as a huge wind gust rocked the trailer.

A click in his ear piece and Fred was back on the line.

“Okee-dokee, Gerry, sorry about that.”

“No problem, Fred.”

“Gerry, I’ll cut right to the chase-er-ino,” Fred said. “Our engineer is getting very upset about those unbraced block walls. We’ve made several calls to your office, written two letters to your boss; the second one was hand delivered yesterday, and nothing’s being done.”

Gerry cringed when Fred referred to Glenn Worden as “his boss”, even though it was technically true, Gerry had never worked for a person that he despised as much. In Gerry’s opinion, Worden would sell his mother into slavery if there was enough profit in it.

“I understand Fred, but there isn’t much I can do about it.”

“I know that, Gerry, I just wanted to warn you that our next step is to issue a stop work order on him.”

The men outside continued their efforts to avoid the cold wind and enjoy a hot cup of coffee before it became a cold cup of coffee.

Gerry watched as the wind caused the top of the wall to sway several inches. Fred and the Engineer were rightfully concerned. With no roof framing to secure the top of the wall wind like this could easily topple it.

Fred’s voice interrupted his thoughts.

“Are you there, Gerry?”

What Gerry witnessed next was so surreal that it failed to register with him right away. It didn’t happen in slow motion the way it does in the movies, it happened in a matter of about three seconds.

As the wind continued its relentless assault on the wall, the men huddled behind it. Twenty feet above them, the force of the gusts moved the wall. Gerry expected it to move six inches or so and then return to its former position but it didn’t.

It continued to move, a foot, two feet, five feet.

On the ground, the construction workers continued eating and drinking, unaware of what was happening above them.

Gerry watched in mute horror as four tons of concrete block wall hurdled toward the ground and the unsuspecting men.

“Gerry? Did I lose you?” Fred asked.

“Holy shit,” Gerry muttered as he dropped the phone.

As the phone landed on the floor, the 20-foot high, 60-foot long concrete block wall landed on the ground with a massive thud, like the muffled bass drum of the gods. Gerry felt the concussion in his feet. Pieces of concrete block flew off in every direction. Despite the frozen ground, dust rose in a giant plume.

Gerry was transfixed in his spot.

A second earlier there had been men sitting there, eating donuts, talking about the Super Bowl, commiserating about the cold or discussing what they would do when they inevitably won the lottery. Now there was a pile of broken and silent concrete blocks with pieces of twisted steel reinforcing pointing uselessly in all directions.

There was no movement.

Other than the tinny sound of Fred’s voice coming through the phone, the only sound Gerry heard was the wind roaring outside the trailer.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pump It Up

By Tim Baker


The silence inside the house was broken by the doorbell.

She studied a group of bugs hovering around the porch light, watching them absently as they bounced off the glass globe only to fly right back toward it. Sweat formed at the base of her spine, either from nerves or the humid Florida night.

Blurred movement through the opaque glass of the door caught her eye. The door swung open and Lorraine found herself face to face with an enigma.

“You must be Lorraine,” the person said. “I’m Passion, come on in.”

Passion smiled widely, showing teeth that were whiter than a snow-covered polar bear, and stepped aside for Lorraine to enter.

The first thing Lorraine noticed about the house was the smell. There were two distinct odors struggling for dominance. One was vanilla, probably a plug-in air freshener. Just beneath the vanilla was the same odor that had lingered in Lorraine’s bathroom for a few days after the workers had finished repairing a leaky shower door. The combination was slightly nauseating.

Passion led Lorraine to the living room and motioned for her to sit on the sofa. The sound of a television came from another room, mixed with the cackling laughter of whoever watched it.

“Now, you just relax,” Passion said in a husky voice. “Ernie’ll be right out.”

Lorraine hoped Passion hadn’t noticed her stare. She prayed that the confusion she felt wasn’t visible on her face. Passion’s appearance was a testament to yin and yang. Thick, bleached blonde hair, penciled-on eyebrows, full—almost too full—pouty lips and D-sized breasts were the yin…while the hard, muscular biceps, strong, meaty hands and the bulge in the crotch area were the yang. Passion was a walking contradiction.

The riddle of Passion’s gender quickly faded as Lorraine suddenly noticed she was cold. A continuous stream of tremors raced throughout her body and she wished Suzanne had come with her as planned; especially since this whole thing was Suzanne’s idea to begin with.

It started as simple office chit-chat. Lorraine mentioned to Suzanne that she needed advice on what to get her husband for his fortieth birthday. Suzanne blurted her suggestion almost as if she had been waiting to be asked.

“Ray is always saying you have no ass, so get one and give him something to hold on to,” Suzanne had said.

Lorraine had laughed about it at first, but since she was having trouble coming up with anything else, she finally gave in and asked Suzanne for more information.

And now, here she was.

A weak smile crossed her face when she remembered the day Suzanne had unbuttoned her shirt and pulled up her bra in the ladies’ room at work, demanding that Lorraine feel her breasts.

Trust me,” Suzanne said, “In one pumping party, Ernie took me from the Great Plains to the Rocky Mountains. Go ahead, give ‘em a squeeze. Matt loves ‘em.”

It was certainly true, Ernie had greatly enhanced Suzanne’s shape last month and her fiancĂ© was ecstatic about it.

“Was it painful?” Lorraine had asked.

“Once you get past the first ten needles, it’s a piece of cake.”

“What does that kind of thing cost?”

“He charged me four hundred, but he might charge you eight. Still cheaper than a plastic surgeon.”

Suzanne would have been here if she hadn’t gotten sick. Lorraine wondered how her friend was doing—she had to be taken to the emergency room last night and Lorraine thought about cancelling the appointment, but she couldn’t find the paper with Ernie’s phone number.

The anticipation was ramping up and even though she was cold, she felt sweat rolling under her armpits. Eight hundred dollars and an unknown number of needles—Ray better appreciate this, she thought.

Pumping party hardly seemed like an appropriate term.

“Lorraine, are you ready?” a voice startled her.

Ernie stood at the end of the sofa wearing a black polo shirt—collar standing up stiffly—and tan cargo shorts. His piercing blue eyes battled with his jet-black hair for facial supremacy. A thin moustache and sunken cheeks gave him a look that was part sinister, part wimp.

Lorraine stood and extended her hand.

“Hi, umm, Ernie,” she said nervously.

Ernie ignored the hand, turned and walked away. “Why don’t you follow me?”

Despite the inner voice telling her this was her last chance to get away; she followed Ernie through a dining room, down a short hallway and into a small bedroom. Except for the cream colored carpet, ceiling fan and brown window blinds, there was nothing else present that belonged in a bedroom. There was a bed that looked more like a gurney in the middle of the room. A large swivel lamp loomed over it. Beside the bed was a stainless steel platform on wheels, like the kind a dentist uses to hold his instruments. It was covered with syringes.

Against the wall was a set of metal shelves full of small boxes. On the floor next to the bed were three white five-gallon buckets.

Lorraine could still hear the television from the other room—closer now—but now the laughter was deeper, probably Passion’s.

“Ok, sweetie,” Ernie said, “take off everything from the waist down and hop up on the bed for me—face down.”

Lorraine was suddenly struck by the realization that she would have to take her pants off in front of this total stranger. Embarrassment joined the nervousness and she felt a wave of nausea.

“Come on, now,” Ernie said with a mixture of impatience and sympathy. “I see more butts and boobs than you can imagine. Don’t be shy.”

She turned her back, slid her flip-flops off, unbuckled her belt and stepped out of her jeans. As she folded them neatly and placed them on the floor, the inner voice pleaded with her to escape while she could. She took a deep breath and slid her panties off, thanking God she hadn’t worn anything too…personal. She dropped them on top of her jeans to avoid bending over…naked. She climbed onto the bed as gracefully as she could and positioned herself face down, as instructed.

For several minutes Ernie said nothing, but he looked at her buttocks from every conceivable angle—pinched and prodded, then took out a felt tip pen and began drawing on her behind. This was worse than her first trip to the OB-GYN. She wanted to die. She closed her eyes as if it would take her away.

Finally, Ernie spoke.

“Ok, this will pinch, but you’ll get used to it.”

He wasn’t kidding. The first one felt like a hornet had stung her butt cheek, and was followed by the sensation of a worm crawling under her skin.

Tears welled up in her eyes and she began to wish she had bought Ray a new fishing pole for his birthday.

Fifteen minutes into the procedure, as Ernie had promised, she grew used to the feeling, although the humiliation lingered on. After thirty minutes, she had almost pushed the entire experience out of her mind by telling herself it would all be over soon.

Around the sixty-minute mark a new, odd feeling came over her. Writing it off as more nerves, she said nothing and pushed through. Ernie hummed a song Lorraine recognized from the eighties as he worked.

As Ernie began humming a different tune, possibly Michael Jackson – she wasn’t sure - her head began to feel like it was filled with liquid that was constantly expanding and contracting. The sensation brought back the nausea, but this time she couldn’t control it. She willed herself not to be sick, but lost the battle. Before she could say anything to Ernie, she vomited violently. The thick, yellowish mixture of partially digested lasagna and bile hit the wall in front of her and splashed back into her face.

As the room spun out of control, Lorraine tried to find a focal point. She zeroed in on one of the white buckets, but the pooled vomit on the lid only added to the problem.

The situation went from bizarre to surreal. Ernie yelled for Passion, his voice sounding like it came from the bottom of a metal barrel. Through a mental fog, Lorraine heard doors slamming and voices talking in panicked tones, but she was unable to decipher what they said.

The vomiting ceased, but the relief was short-lived. Her breathing became labored. It felt as though an invisible car was parked on her back. With no strength to move, she was pinned to the bed.

Lorraine felt Ray’s presence. He was stroking her hair and telling her everything would be okay.

Finally, her brain told her to stop fighting. The pain went away. She closed her eyes, knowing she would never open them again.