The Men At Sylvia’s Door, a book review

The Men At Sylvia’s Door is only the partial title of the book I am going to talk about here; but enough to find it at AbsolutelyAmazingeBooks.com or  on Amazon.  You’ll know you’ve found it when you see the moody shot of tropic palm trees, with an insert profile of President John F. Kennedy. The books uses an account of peculiar connections between the Florida Keys and JFK’s assassination in Dallas to dip into old theories about whether the murderer was a lone crazy—or a dupe for someone else entirely as part of a sinister conspiracy.

At my advanced age I imagine the murder of Kennedy is, for most people, history as ancient as the murder of Lincoln at Ford Theater. Or the day of the knives at the Roman Senate, when Julius Caesar was cut down. History is littered with the murders of powerful men. But for those of us alive when the news bulletins flashed in from Dallas, it still has the immediacy of the television footage the day the Twin Towers fell in New York City.

Most remember where they were the moment they heard the shocking news. Before we could get our minds around the assassination and word a suspect was in custody, we witnessed that suspect’s execution on live television, though surrounded by scores of armed Texas cops. I for one will never forget the shocked expression of the cop wearing a Stetson Rancher, standing beside Oswald, frozen in eternal ineffectiveness. In its way his expression was as compelling as Oswald’s excruciating reaction to the slugs in his gut. Those were startling times. In the aftermath, many of us participated in what became a national pastime: trying to figure out whodunit. Presentation and summary elimination of the ostensible killer in such facile fashion roused paranoia all over the place.

If anyone was ever satisfied by Warren Commission findings and conclusions, I never spoke to that person. Conspiracy theory became a cottage industry. Nagging questions just were unwilling to go away. For some, digging into every aspect of the case became a life-long quest. The authors of this book, half a century after the gun smoke faded, are focusing their attention on anomalies and unexplained episodes that surrounded the assassination.

Every investigation ever conducted about just about anything always turns up pieces that don’t fit, that may be irrelevant, that lay false trails and lead to mistaken conclusions. Back in the day, the Dallas investigation was no different. Except for one thing: the enormous pressure to cross all the T’s, dot all the I’s and put the damn thing to rest. “Rush to Judgment” was famous shorthand for this pressure. Things got overlooked, not completely resolved, or ignored. Gratz and Howell all these years later appear to be picking apart these details to see what they might reveal. It’s an intriguing approach.

“The Men at Silvia’s Door” showed up a couple months before the assassination, according to Sylvia, who lived in Dallas at the time. One of them was a man described as “Leon Oswald.” When Lee Harvey Oswald’s image flashed on the TV screen as the alleged sniper, she said she recognized him instantly. But the investigation seemed to establish Oswald had been in New Orleans when she said he was at her door. His companions, she said, were anti-Castro Cubans. (Sylvia was a Cuban exile whose parents were in Cuban jail.)

So what?

Well in the Big Easy, Oswald supposedly was active with pro-Castro leaflet distributors (though allegedly with an FBI handler in the background). There were suspicions flying that Oswald had been recruited by Moscow Centre during his time in Russia and played back to help the USSR’s new client-country, Cuba. If that were true and he were in fact the shooter, was Kennedy a KGB wet job? The authors of this volume say President Johnson counselled Earl Warren against such a finding, predicting a war (probably a nuclear exchange) would be the outcome, with forty million American casualties.

Is any of this even close to true? Who knows?

If Sylvia’s visitor was Oswald, accompanied by anti-Castro men who resented Kennedy’s betrayal at the Bay of Pigs, were Cuban patriots the ones contemplating Kennedy’s assassination? (With U.S. aircraft carriers standing offshore, Kennedy refused air support for Bay of Pigs invaders, leaving them exposed to Castro’s armor and superior forces. Without Navy jets, their invasion was a sacrifice; had that been Kennedy’s cynical plan, to rid himself of noisy anti-Castro forces?) Sylvia said one of her visitors later said Oswald expressed the view Kennedy should die for betraying the counter-Castro forces.

The authors in this first of their series don’t offer new insight into whether or not such Realpolitik led to the fatal day in Dealy Plaza.  But they offer a new titillating tidbit: one of those men who actually visited Sylvia that day refuted her statement that Oswald was with them; no, he said, Oswald was already there when they got there! Which would indicate Sylvia’s whole testimony to the Warren Commission was at base a lie. To what purpose?  Who knows?  Perhaps the significant feature of Sylvia’s involvement was floating the hearsay that Oswald had it in for Kennedy, which helped establish an ostensible motive for a lone gunman.

This book offers an intriguing walk down memory lane for those who were alive when it all happened, when conspiracy theories were the bread and butter of social gatherings. Here and there among better-known aspects of the case the authors place delightfully exotic bits, like plums in a Christmas pudding.  One such is an airport manager in the Keys, a plausible man with no dog in the fight, who observed Oswald AND his own killer, Ruby, waiting together for a flight to Cuba. WTF???

An intriguing book for what it doesn’t say as much as what it does. JFK buffs should enjoy it.  Conspiracy fans too.  Interest in follow-on volumes in this series should be high.  Will they disclose whether Oswald was in fact a KGB asset?  Was he assigned to leaflet for Castro in New Orleans and then attempt to penetrate anti-Castro forces to establish his presence there as a loose-cannon with a Kennedy grudge?  His alleged attempts to penetrate were amateurish—but he didn’t need to actually get inside information, he just needed to lay a false trail for the coming attack that would lead investigators back to anti-Castro elements rather than to D Square. Stripped of all rhetoric and speculation, there is a kind of elegance to the legend (used in the intelligence sense) of a disgruntled ex-Marine who comes home from Russia and joins anti-Castro forces and kills a President.

It begs belief that such an agent would know the upshot of his deception would be his own murder, to cover the tracks of his handlers. He must have been assured he would slip away, and believed it.  But unless Dallas PD was infiltrated by KGB, who could have made the call to get him away? Are American intelligence agencies capable of such legend-building?

This is Book One of “JFK Assassination Unraveled.” It whets the appetite for more plums in the pudding. Worth reading, and looking forward for more.

 

 

almost forgot this was out there

It’s been months since I remembered this site was here. Then an email popped up saying someone was following it.  They must be very patient 🙂  I’ve been pretty much confined to occasional Facebook posts of late. I enjoy some of the stuff people post there and try to post something from time to time. My “author page” there had a huge 53 followers at last count. Whoop De Doo!  Based on my book sales maybe half of them bought one.  I am evidently not successful as a virus.  I do not spread. A phrase I remember from years ago about attempting to develop discourse with someone being “like playing tennis with a swamp” comes back to mind.  You can give it your best serve…and the ball vanishes with barely a ploop. Ah well.

Newspaper Gypsy

One of the stories from Newspaper Gypsy, available from AbsolutelyAmazingeBooks.com

Harvey Hill

Buck was sitting in the Trenton airport waiting for his flight to be called, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of America. It seemed beyond ready belief that less than twenty-four hours before he had been in a hot-sheets hotel just off the Champs-Elysees, learning the pronunciation and practice of soixante-neuf from a slender young blonde who had recently come up from Brittany to make her fortune on her back. She had been first incredulous that an American would ask for such lessons, then sweetly solicitous, and finally ardent as he got the hang of the thing.
When she invited him to meet her at a sidewalk café tomorrow, her face actually fell when he told her he would be in America tomorrow. Just his luck, to find an honest working girl his last day in Paris, unjaded enough to take pure pleasure in her work. And now he was back in the uptight United States in dress greens, waiting for a flight home for the rest of his annual leave before reporting to his new Army post. Hard not to be depressed.
He was listening to the announcers on the PA system, trying to decipher their different accents, when he realized the most foreign-sounding of the bunch had a slow Southern intonation. When he had called home, his grandmother’s voice seemed stuck on a slower RPM. He smiled remembering how impatiently he waited for her to finish a sentence, which sounded like: “How-uh come you-uh speak-in’ so fa-yust?”
The Southern accent on the PA was calling his Atlanta connection to Jacksonville. He headed for the gate, sorted out the clerk’s confusion that he wasn’t flying military standby though he was in uniform, handed her his first-class ticket, and suffered in silence through the Boeing’s take-off climb. He hated flying and was convinced every flight used up some finite pool of luck that would end some day in flaming wreckage. Takeoffs and landings were the worst. He sweated out a seemingly endless aerial promenade in thick clouds above Atlanta before the fateful plunge to earth. In less than an hour he was airborne again and in a mercifully short time Jacksonville was under the wings. It was such a smooth landing and minimal roll-out he felt like shaking the pilot’s hand. He took a taxi home to the Beaches, and when it finally turned up the palm-tree shrouded lane toward the ocean, with a sea wind blowing, his soul expanded like a balloon.
“Nice little beach house,” the cabby said as they unloaded his duffel bag and B-4 bag. “Wish I could afford one.”
The phrase stuck in Buck’s mind as his mother and grandmother came out to greet him: his home seemed to have shrunk while he was gone. His grandmother hugged him fiercely before the taxi was gone and his mother kissed him on the cheek. She looked pretty good and Buck knew the cabbie thought she was his girlfriend, when he gave her an appreciative up-and-down look. His mother had that effect on men, even when she weighed more than she did right now. When she casually hefted his duffel bag in one hand and turned for the door, he saw the cabby’s eyebrows arch.
“Slinging mail bags in the Postal Annex agrees with you,” Buck told her. “You’ve slimmed down and developed some muscle.”
“Pshaw! I always been strong.”
“Your granddaddy is waiting inside,” his grandmother said. “We made the living room into his bedroom since he cain’t climb stairs no more.”
His grandfather was sitting up in bed where Buck’s typewriter and bookshelves used to be in what suddenly looked like a tiny room the size of a cell. Buck had braced himself for what the old man would look like, and felt an incredible flood of relief, forgetting about how the house had shrunk. The old man looked like himself, tanned and grinning, showing off his perfectly even false teeth while his triceps writhed with coiled muscle as he hitched his body around to shake hands. The missing leg only evidenced itself by a depression in the bed sheet across his lap; not even diabetes and amputation had diminished him.
“You got my old room upstairs,” the old man said. “Yore mama put yore typewriter and pipes and books and all up there.”
“What’s that I smell in the kitchen?” Buck said.
“I fried a mess of shrimp earlier,” his grandmother said. “I know you like ‘em cold, and they’re ready now.”
“I made tartar sauce like they did at Strickland’s,” his mother said. “And Mama baked biscuits for you.”
“Biscuits is breakfast food but I did it,” his grandmother said. “And you know how I hate to make biscuits anymore.”
“Git out of that hot ol’ uniform and let’s eat,” his mother said. “Your clothes is upstairs in Daddy’s old room.” She eyed him with the calculating eye of a life-long calorie counter. “They’ll be loose on you now. Maybe tight in the shoulders.”
Buck hefted his B-4 bag. “I’ve got civvies in here too.” As he started for the stairs his eye fell on a framed painting above his grandfather’s head. “That’s new.”
It was a very well-done portrait of a sad carnival clown. Not an imitation of Emmet Kelly, an original; the makeup wasn’t sad, the clown was. The happy clown makeup seemed almost translucent, permitting the full weight of the wearer’s sadness to come through. Even after spending an afternoon in the Louvre a couple of days ago, the portrait was arresting and the emotion it evoked was strong.
The old man was grinning like the Cheshire cat. “Glenda bought it to me in the hospital when they cut off my leg. Said it was how she felt.”
Buck felt like he’d been punched in the heart. “Glenda?”
His grandmother put her hand on Buck’s arm. “She’s been coming out to visit a lot since you been gone. Said she must miss you almost as bad as we do.”
Buck felt dizzy. Too many changes, too fast. The shrinking house, his grandfather’s missing leg, biscuits at midday—and now Glenda.
“Guess you’re more like me than I thought,” the old man said. “Got one o’ them ‘come-back’ peckers they keep coming back for.”
Buck’s grandmother punched the old man on the arm. “Shut your foul mouth, you embarrassed him.” It was true; Buck’s ears were burning like bonfires.
The old man chuckled. “Wait till she gets out here this evenin’.”
“Wait,” Buck said. “What?”
“She said you had a date with her tonight,” his grandmother said, regarding him closely. “Was she making that up?” Buck felt like he was sixteen again, with his grandmother trying to protect him from the wiles of women.
“I didn’t think she could get away,” he said.
Not really a lie but not the truth either. A date? It was true their correspondence had become more and more intimate while he was in Europe. Equally true he’d sent her a telegram from American Express in Paris telling her when he’d be home.
His mother cocked an eye. “Oh, she’ll get away all right—for you.” She laughed. She had never shared her mother’s fear that women would take advantage of Buck. “Expect her at seven, she said. I’d put money on it.”
“No takers,” his grandfather said.
“Oh she’ll be here all right,” his grandmother grumbled.
And she was, driving up the lane in a new gray Mercury that looked big as a battleship in the narrow lane. His grandfather, out on the front stoop in his wheelchair, directed her to park in the neighbor’s yard and they were talking by the time Buck got to the front door. She planted a peck on the old man’s bald head and then here she came in that rapid heel-clicking walk of hers, dressed in a simple lime-green sleeveless shift with a nice V in the material above her perky breasts. She walked right into him and wrapped her arms around his waist and squeezed, tipping her head up to give him her laughing eyes.
“Welcome home, stranger.” Buck couldn’t seem to find his voice. She went up on tiptoes and lowered her voice. “You better hug me back, you big lug. And if you don’t kiss me, your grandfather will!”
He had never hugged or kissed her in his life, but he’d been practicing in Europe. Now it seemed like this was what all the practice had been for. His head swam as her tongue invaded his mouth and found his. Their height difference was such that it took him a subjective eternity to realize the twin points of fire against his lower ribcage were her engorged nipples through the thin fabric of her summer frock.
She released him suddenly and pulled back. He dropped his arms instantly, thinking she’d been shocked by the aching bulge that swelled his pants between them. But she grabbed his hands tightly and stood back looking at him with swollen lips and sleepy eyes.
“Ready for our date?” she said.
He just nodded.
She cleared her throat. “Can we take your car? I’m in no shape to drive!” She rubbed a finger absently over her denuded lips; all her lipstick was gone.
Like I am, was Buck’s thought, but he led her to his Barracuda and handed her in, admiring the tidy way she tucked her tidy body into the passenger seat. When he pulled out down the lane, she waved gaily at the house.
“Your grandmother thinks I’m corrupting you,” she said.
“I certainly hope so,” he said. “After that kiss.”
Her laughter was a happy silvery sound. Buck drove toward Jacksonville Beach, not really knowing where he was going. When he reached Beach Boulevard his choices were to turn down onto the sand or west toward Jacksonville. Old beach-dwellers’ habits kicked in and he turned west; he had surprised too many lovers entwined in cars while beach-walking, seen too many cars taken by the returning tide when lovers were incautious. Besides, sand rusted the undercarriage. She was turned to face him, her hand resting on his thigh, her knees drawn up fetchingly. She had kicked her pumps off.
“We’re not going to make out on the beach?” She sounded disappointed.
“The tide,” he said. “Can’t risk being distracted down there.”
“Oh!” Her hand trailed gently up and down his leg. “Nice slacks. Are they European?”
“The shirt is. The slacks are PX.”
“I don’t think I like bucket seats,” she said. “I can’t get close enough.”
He reached behind the seats. “Before my brother went in the Navy, he said—ah!” He brought out a thickly rolled beach towel and pushed it down between the seats.
“Trust your brother, with his string of beach bunnies.” she swarmed across the towel to snuggle along his flank. “Your grandmother told me all about him.”
Buck drove out San Pablo Road through stands of scrub pine and cypress hammocks and turned into an ancient sand logging road, nursing the car until he felt the sand was firm. He drove slowly out toward the Intracoastal Waterway until they could see yachts passing and there was a place to turn around. When he shut off the engine and turned toward her, she came clear across the car into his lap. For a long time they kissed and held and whispered things to each other that they had only hinted at in their letters. At some remove, Buck couldn’t believe this was happening, the unattainable married beauty in his arms whispering words he had only dreamed.
When he finally palmed her breasts the nipples almost burned his hands through her frock and she groaned as if he’d hurt her. She clamped her hands over his and removed them, and pulled back to her side of the car. For an eternal moment his eyes refused to convey an image to his brain, as if he had been struck blind. In that moment she reached behind, unzipped and shucked her frock into a puddle on the floorboards, and came back into his arms stark naked. No panties, no bra. The inference almost more than the bare fact nearly made him ejaculate in his pants.
“Remember when you told me the Barracuda’s back seat folds down like a station wagon?” she said against his mouth.
He mumbled something that might have been yes.
“Show me,” she whispered.
By the time they had the seat down, the beach blanket under her hips for leverage on the uneven carpet, his shirt off and his pants around his ankles, the sometimes-hated part of his brain that stood apart from everything and kibitzed finally woke up. His philandering grandfather had advised him to always get a room; car sex with your clothes bunched up around you was for amateurs. Yet here he was in that very position with a woman he was hopelessly in love with.
Even as her bare heels dug into his rump, urging him deeper into her, lifting her hips to his while she writhed and sobbed under him—his brain recorded that the damn gas tank was half empty, and with every thrust there was a hollow boink from below the carpet. What kind of moron would design a car for fucking and put the gas tank in such a stupid place? Not that she seemed to notice. But he was alarmed when his brain short-circuited his prick and he began to soften slightly. He thrust deep, trying to increase the friction, but lack of friction was not the problem. Then he realized her sobs had become actual tears and she was clinging to him like a limpet, crying wrenchingly as if her heart were broken.
“What’s wrong?” He stopped thrusting and held her. “What is it, Glenda? What’s wrong?”
“I love you, Goddammit,” she sobbed into his shoulder. First time she’d ever said it. Before he could open his mouth she cried out like a hurt child. “I love you and I can’t come! I love you in me and I can’t come, Goddammit, what’s wrong with me!”
“Darling,” he said. First time for that too. He caressed her and held her. “Darling, stop fretting. It’s okay, love, it’s okay.” He could feel himself softening quickly now. “We just got started. It’s okay.”
“I’ve wanted you so bad and now I’ve messed it all up,” she wailed.
“Hush now,” he said. “Hush. Everything’s okay. Everything’s okay.”
The interior of the big rear window was totally steamed over from their heat. He realized he was slick with sweat, but he could still feel her scalding tears against his neck. The only thing he could think to do was keep gentling her like a spooked horse.
“You said you love me,” he said. “Do you realize you said it?”
She shifted under him. “Of course I love you, you idiot. But why didn’t you say it back?
“Oh, shit, Glenda, I’ve been in love with you since the first day I saw you back when I was a copyboy.”
She sniffled. “Really? But you never…”
“I was too afraid.”
“Oh Buck, really?”
He cupped her chin and raised her tear-wet face, a pale blur. He realized dusk had fallen somehow when he wasn’t looking. “Really,” he said. “Glenda, I love you.”
“What are we gonna do, Buck? I mean…”
Bright lights suddenly flared against the steamed-over window. Buck heard a truck engine. “Oh god!” She sounded terrified. “It’s Marcus! He followed me!” She began to emit a low wailing sound. Buck could hear voices now, Cracker voices, above the truck engine.
–Somebody rippin’ him off a piece down heah. –Sumbich blockin’ us getting’ to the houn’s. –Gonna lose that ‘possum, sure. –S’all right, let’s go take a look, maybe get a taste our own selves. –Hell, yeah!
His fright and rage were instantaneous. He never remembered later how he got out of the car, pants around his ankles, his grandfather’s Army .45 from under the front seat in his hand and braced on the rear tail-light housing. Neither of the woods-runners had even opened a door yet.
“Shut off your lights!” he rapped out. “Do it now.” He was peripherally conscious of Glenda’s pale form behind the steamed window, scuttling forward for her dress.
“Hey, nowww,” came the drawled response. “Ain’t no need…”
“Shut ‘em off or I shoot ‘em out. The next rounds are through the windshield.”
“We got shotguns in here, you asshole!” But the headlights went out.
“You’ll never get to use ‘em.” Buck had never been so coldly killing furious in his life. “Back out of here. Now.”
He heard them mutter. He didn’t care. They were already dead—all that remained was for them to go through the formality of dying.
“Aw right,” a voice came finally, a kind of aggrieved whine. The backup lights went on. “But this here is a public damn road an’ you’re blockin’ it.”
“You leave and I’ll leave and you can have the damn road,” Buck said.
The truck ground backwards slowly out of sight, one final remark—they had to get in one, he supposed, to save face—drifting through the humid dark: “Must be some piece of ass, you ready to kill for it.”
He waited a long time, pulling up and belting his pants, ears strained to the sound of the truck stopping in case they stopped and bailed into the brush with shotguns. They might get their Cracker dander up, and in the dark with shotguns, two on one, they’d have the big edge. But he heard the truck go onto San Pablo Road, tires on pavement, and then go through the gears and away. Time to get the hell out of here before they changed their mind and came back.
He safed the Colt and jammed the pistol in his belt, not bothering with his shirt, and backed the Barracuda around. He couldn’t bear to look directly at Glenda, but could see her sitting in her unzipped dress, one bare knee tucked against her breasts, hair in disarray, staring out the windshield. In the dashboard lights her eyes looked enormous and fixed. He made the pavement, still on high alert, trying to look everywhere at once, and then floored it. No pickup was going to catch the Barracuda.
He drove for a long time, taking back roads to work closer to Jacksonville before he headed east on Atlantic Boulevard, the other main route to the Beaches. All in a brooding silence from the other side of the car. He knew they couldn’t show up at home like that, so he cut off onto another road remembered from high school, and drove toward the St. John’s River. He had to stop somewhere to pee, so he parked on top of Harvey Hill where he could see traffic coming for miles from either direction.
“I didn’t know Florida even had any hills this tall,” she said, her first words since the possum hunters showed up.
“For miles around, this is the only one,” he said. “Harvey Hill. Be right back.”
While he relieved his bladder he thought now was not the time to tell her that meet me on Harvey Hill had been the challenge thrown down among warring Beach teens. Meaning let’s duke it out away from interfering grown-ups. Since he never had a car, he never participated.
When he got back in the car she gave a kind of laugh. “Men have all the advantages that way.”
“You can leave the door open and go behind it, if you need to go. I won’t look.”
She laughed again with a little more feeling. “Too late. You’ve already seen everything I got.”
He took her hand and kissed it. “I love you.”
“I was scared to death back there, Buck.”
“Just possum hunters. Probably half-drunk on ‘shine. They were scared too.”
“No wonder!” She squeezed his hand. “You moved so damn fast! And your voice when you spoke to them. I almost got chills. You always pack a gun?”
“If you ever need one, it’s usually too late to go home and get it.” He kissed her hand again. “That wasn’t the kind of chills I meant for you to have.”
She was gazing out the windshield again. “I hate being a failure as a woman.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“You know what I’m talking about.”
“Glenda, we were interrupted. That’s all.”
“But before that, I couldn’t—you know.”
“We’re neither one teenagers anymore making out in a car. That damn gas tank bonking every time I…”
“Oh god!” She took her hand back and buried her face in both hands. “I wanted your homecoming to be the sweetest thing, and I ruined it completely.”
He pulled her hands away from her face and forced her to look at him. “Listen to me: you know what the most important thing is that happened tonight? For me?”
“What?”
“You said you love me.”
“Oh, Buck. I do love you. I even tried not to, for a long time. But I do. And now it’s just ruined.”
He was exasperated. “Nothing is ruined.” He kissed her. She was inert for a long heartbeat and then began to kiss him back. Somehow they managed to get closer across the bucket seats even with the towel gone. They kissed and touched and squeezed together until she pulled back gently.
“What?” he said in alarm.
Her lips curved up. “I just have to say this.” He heard a return of life and humor in her tone. “I absolutely know you’re glad to see me.” She reached over and squeezed his resurgent erection, still smiling. “So can you put the pistol in your belt away? I know it’s not the classic Mae West line, but the metal hurts my boobs.”
They were both laughing when he came back into her arms from tucking the Colt back under the seat. He kissed her nipples through her dress to apologize, and they hardened instantly. She caught her breath. When his fingers worked under her rucked-up hem he found her soaking wet.
“I told you it was going to be okay,” he said, easing her back against the door and bending lower.
When his lips touched her above his slick fingers, she laced her hands in his hair and pulled him snugly into her feathery-soft pubic thatch. When her hips began the slow, intense roll toward orgasm, he lost himself utterly in her and couldn’t tell whether it was his own pulse booming, or hers, from the soft clamping of her thighs around his ears.
She came with a galvanic shudder, pressing her Mons against his upper lip so hard he knew it would leave a bruise. He closed his eyes and suckled contentedly, that remote part of his brain that refused to shut down giving silent thanks to a sweet blonde from Brittany for his recent education. For a long blissful instant, her whole body seemed to melt around him as her breathing slowed.
Then she stiffened like a board. “Oh, my God!”
He opened his eyes to a blinding white blast of light—again—and jerked upright.
Right into the beam of a big flashlight, behind which an official-sounding voice was saying: “Are you all right, Ma’am…Oh, I’m terribly sorry, Sir!”
The flashlight beam was snatched away. Between the headlights behind them and the newly rising moon, there was enough light to identify a Florida State Trooper standing by the door.
“Just great!” Buck said. He could feel her moisture on his lips and the incipient mustache he’d begun to raise the minute he was on annual leave.
The trooper actually tipped his Stetson. “My apologies, Sir. I thought the lady might be stranded alone out here…”
What was there to say to that? “Thanks,” Buck said. “But we’re fine.”
“So I see,” the trooper said drily. He evidently had seen plenty before he diverted the flashlight. “May I suggest getting a room?”
“Same thing my grandfather always told me,” Buck said.
“Wise man,” the trooper said. “Y’all take care now.” And he was gone.
“Are you okay?” Buck asked her.
“I sure was—for about a second.” She shook her head. “I don’t know what to say, Buck. We’ve wasted up just about all the time I have. I’m at an Arts Council meeting, just so you know.”
“We haven’t wasted a minute, far as I’m concerned,” he said.
“But what about you? A man gets so frustrated when he’s—uh—when he can’t…”
He took her back in his arms. “Will you relax?”
“I’m such a failure as a woman!”
“And knock that off.” Buck felt a laugh building inside. It escaped. “This isn’t you,” he said. “This is me. My fate, making fun of me. Offering with one hand, taking away with the other. Like when I got drafted just when things were going good on the Sunday Magazine.” He kissed her, gently and completely. “You honest to God love me, Glenda?”
“God help me, honest to god, I do,” she said.
“Then the rest will work out—however it works out,” he said.
“God, I don’t want to leave you! But…”
“It’s okay.” He released her and keyed the ignition. “I know an all-night gas station that keeps clean restrooms where we can get cleaned up.”
She was rearranging her dress. “That’s good,” she said briskly. “I kept my panties and bra in my handbag so they’d be clean when I went home. I had this crazy idea…”
Buck was laughing again, delighted that she had arrived stripped for action. So to speak. “Nothing crazy about that idea,” he said. “You got to admit, this has been some first date.”
She jabbed him lightly in the shoulder. “Are you okay? Truly?”
“Finer that frog’s hair.”
She finally broke out laughing too. “I love you, you nut!”
He took in a huge breath and let it out. “And I love you.”
“Somehow, someway, we’re gonna try this again before you leave,” she said. “But I will never, ever forget Harvey Hill.”

 Newspaper Gypsy

browser clearing

Every time I get an email about a post from here, and try to go read it, I get a Chrome message saying my browser is full, clear browser. I clear Chrome browser following the destructions, and also clear browsers from my Windows control panel AND IT DOESN’T WORK. Suggestions kindly appreciated

Grumbles about books read lately–with footnote at the top

Well, after all my bloviating about the books described below I was settled into a good book by a guy who seems to really get the wilderness of mirrors represented by the CIA and other intelligence services. Not only that, he’s a remarkable writer. The book was “Legends” and posited an operative who had become lost in his legends (spook speak for cover story) to the extent he was being examined for multiple personalities. This was a delicious read on many levels. James Bond this guy certainly was not; but his quirky quasi romance was very intriguing. The trauma that split his personalities was psychologically apt and creepy. One of his incarnations was a Civil War buff who really seemed to think he had been there; this gave an opportunity for some clever twists that tied very neatly back to the trauma that divided him in the first place. One of his iterations came within an ace of nailing bin Laden before 9-11. Believably so. The thrust of the novel was a mega road trip all over the world, doubling back in time and space but never losing you.

The legend building committees at Langley were a real trip;anyone who has attended story conferences where a movie is put together by committee would recognize the cast of characters and wonder does the CIA follow Hollywood or vice versa. Delightful stuff. Here and there were little tidbits of history or pseudo history–did the term hooker really evolve from General Joe Hooker’s Civil War camp followers? Makes sense when you realize a person named Crapper invented the flush toilet, n’est pas? Did the Queen really score a 400-yard bullseye with a Whitworth rifle and knight the guy on the spot? Don’t know but cool bit of business. Ambiguity, irony, history, a plausible plot (sort of) a great read. BUT. But, Judy, if you read this, this expert on the CIA and evidently on weapons systems of all kinds, had a female react to the “cold metal handle” of a gun worn by the split personality. In the tropics! At least when you did it in your book,Judy, it was rainy damp Seattle. Still inaccurate but more logical than expecting a gun to stay cold in the tropics when tucked in a SOB holster. (And forget the metal handle crap–that’s just stupid.

So even the smoothest and evidently most aware can make these silly mistakes that make you question some of the other suspensions of disbelief to which you are invited.(He added a whole line of country about dummy rounds in pistols that you could spot by noticing the dummy cartridge was lighter weight than an live round, attributing the practice to Sicilians. My achin’back! If you want to fool a gunsel into thinking he’s got a fully charged piece, then pull the bullet, dump the powder, reseat the bullet. You have real bullet, real primer, real case–no powder. Unless you shake each one close enough to your ear to determine there is no shift of powder inside, you would be fooled. I don’t know anyone who has the built in ability to detect the absence of 6 or 7 grains of Bullseye or other propellant by weighing a cartridge with a 145-grain bullet properly seated. If there are such paragons of course, talcum powder could be added to measure. Or you could simply scoot the case full of WD 40 to soak the powder inert.

One more grumble–the author described a guy using an M-1 with iron sights shooting within a minute of angle but the inches described indicate the range must have been more than 600 yards. One minute=One inch at 100 yards, two at two hundred, etc. You can certainly walk an M 1 or an M 14 onto the target at those ranges but not without sighting the rifle in first! I blew up my hearing when the drill instructor figured out I knew how to sight in rifles and made me stay on the line all day helping city boys–you get on the paper at 25, and when you can put them in about a single hole there then and only then you move to 100 and out. Argh. Is the tradecraft and other good stuff as carelessly researched as the shooting? Too bad; it’s a damn good read

p>Bought a fat paperback from a big company at Walmart…great photo on the cover of a motorcycle buzzing down the Champs; cover hype et

c.

Story line: ex US Marshal who specializes now in grabbing abducted kids and getting them home. Interesting. Kid swiped in Paris, French police clueless, ask for help, he goes to work and pretty soon has nosed out two German suspects blond blue eyed and slobs–with snarky remarks about how he thought Germans were neat freaks)…but they have escaped the room they turned into a pig sty though conveniently leaving behind a train schedule with Berlin circled. But how to find two blond blue eyed Germans in Berlin asks the French police inspector who seems slightly less bright than the famous Lestrad.

How indeed, when the police supposedly are all over helping the hero? Uhhh fingerprints on the dozens of beer cans and pizza boxes and crap in the room just abandoned? After all, France perfected AFIS and sold to American law enforcement years ago. And with all the EEU databases around, odds are good these perps are in the system, n’est pas?

Not a chance. Good luck the French say and watch him go off to find two blue eyed blond perps in Berlin al fresco.

Of course when he gets to Berlin his old time chum there tells him he is wanted by the German police for second degree murder after a chase went bad and someone he was chasing ran in front of a trolly. Of course when the French police were checking him out, no EEU warrants for him from Germany. When he flew into Orly (CdG these days) his passport raised no red flags though surely Interpol would have had him listed if no one else.

I gave up there. Just couldn’t hack any more. Do these large publishers no longer have real editors? No fact checkers? When I began writing at age 14 I elected Science Fiction because I knew I didn’t know enough about the world to write details like that, but in SF all I had to do was be internally consistent to the world I created. No less a legend that John W Campbell Jr pronounced my work sound six years later and bought my first novel for serialization, and challenged me to flesh out some of my concepts and write even more, so that 90,000 words became 120,000. When I worked with Doubleday back then there were not only editors but proof readers and fact checkers who reviewed every spelling of every made up alien name for consistency.

I’m told it doesn’t work that way anymore. I am lucky in my present publisher in that he and I broke into the newspaper business together right around the time I published my first SF novel, and we were trained in the old good ways of journalism. When I created SKOOK this past year, he kept an active eye on the development of the manuscript. The work has proved pretty popular in its early going,so we did okay.

I am a lifelong reader and willing to forgive plenty when it comes to writers’ stumbles, because I know how hard it is to get it right. I have hobby horses of course: you CANNOT cock a Glock! (If you write about firearms you should at least know how they work.) Ian Fleming was bad about this, having his James Bond use a .30-30 (!) as a sniper rifle. And god knows how many people talk about “safeties” on revolvers.

When Judy Jance and I hung out from time to time years ago (between her first novel and her second) I advised her that pistol “handles” (grips) did not remain steely cold all day in a shoulder holster to shock a blushing woman on contact in a clinch–they achieve body temperature (and they usually ain’t metal anyway–they used to be wood, mostly plastics these days.) She reacted very strongly in a good way–said it made her stomach hurt to get such a detail wrong. She became famous and I went to work for a state police agency where I learned even more about how things really work inside police circles.

Ironically many of those guys knew less about firearms than me; but I wasn’t completely surprised. An old friend and mentor who was a gunsmith once showed me a chrome plated revolver brought to him by a “town clown” (small town cop) who thought it was broken when he went to qualify and the cylinder wouldn’t revolve. He had sent it off to a fancy shop to have it chromed and the chrome was so thick it bound the cylinder. He would have had an awful shock if he had to get in a gunfight before then.

One last grumble: I have been reading an excellent spy novel by an ex spook who seems to know how to write. But in a throwaway sentence he had a senior case officer toss a pistol to the hero in a safe house just in case–and identified it as a PPK/S “a ladies gun”. The PPK was of course Bond’s gun of choice, a smaller version of the PP; meant for plainclothes cops. The PP was the uniform version. Either would be a mouse gun by American standards. But here’s the thing: a PPK/S is an American import developed after a stupid gun law banned import of PPKs; the PPK/S stands for sights. Adding larger sights than the original permitted it to come in. So why would a CIA overseas officer use the American import when he could easily use the original?

Granted this is a much smaller thing than having somebody “cock” a Glock. But it’s hard to suspend disbelief when too many of these things stack up. Fortunately that’s the only one I noticed in an otherwise workmanlike tale of spydom in the post Soviet era.

Avoid at all costs “Good as Gone,” the blue eyed boys in Berlin book.

Check out and enjoy “Red Sparrow” if for nothing more than the ostensible instructions listed for sparrows by their humorless sex teachers; these have the ring of verisimilitude.

Just stopping by

For some reason my computer gags when I try to go to blogland and says I need to clean my cache…but that doesn’t work. Sometimes I think my machine is possessed and other I think I have been hacked and my machine linked to some brute-force and nefarious enterprise for which I will never receive a cent. I get e mails from blogland with intriguing headlines (that seems to be an art form in and of itself) and when I can get to the blog I am seldom disappointed. So many individual minds ruminating upon so many different things, and often in graceful, compelling language.

Usually by the time I make an attempt to enter the bloglands I am exhausted from my writing day and trying to wind down…it’s worse with heat and humidity; the older I get the less well I do heat and humidity. I have abundant coats for cold weather but only two weak fans for this awfulness. I have to change shirts two or three times a day, they become sodden even when inactive. I think if I could afford it I would be a reverse snow bird and go for eternal winter by changing hemispheres.

Once when I was in physical therapy for one of my softball injuries I encountered a ski instructor trapped by spring in this hemisphere by his own injuries, waiting impatiently to heal and head south. He said he hadn’t see a spring and snow melt in about 13 years.On a soggy dark night of the soul when I have a sodden bandana wrapped around my head to keep sweat out of my eyes, with my shirt sticking to my back, I envy him.

OfficeRomance

BEING A DRAFT OF A STORY FOR AN UPCOMING COLLECTION….copyright William R. Burkett, Jr.

It was late July, last softball game of the season; our co-ed team lost as we usually did those early years. Lenore wanted to talk, so I hung around after the game in the dusky ball park chatting with her and Bubba, the bushy-haired Montanan on loan to the computer division; she had scooped him up for her latest conquest. Mosquitoes hummed and the air cooled, and every time I tried for a graceful exit, she wanted me to stay. I couldn’t figure it out. I had passed up my chance a few days after her divorce.

She had immediately dropped significant weight. She bought new, slinky clothing. She got her hair shortened and restyled into a cute, tousled bob that framed her delicate features very sexily. She applied a light, artistic touch with carefully selected makeup, experimented with come-hither perfumes, and went on the prowl. As a cynical division head had recently observed “you can sure tell when they’re in heat.” Bubba was the most recent fly in her parlor.

After I finally left the softball field I mused on my missed opportunity during the long commute home. I had been eating late lunch at a restaurant across from Liquor Board headquarters when I was swept up by co-workers engaged in their traditional Friday-night drinking party. I was still relatively new to the agency and it was my first invitation; some of the regulars had played softball with me all summer and I now was accepted as a regular Joe. Lenore was there, all lighted up and looking for trouble, the way women on the rebound sometimes get.

She almost found trouble when she plumped her cute little butt down in a chair at a table full of Marines on a detour from the bathroom, flirting like mad. When she rejoined us, the alpha Marine was right behind her, looking to cut her out of the herd. One of the more inebriated of my new friends made an intemperate remark about Marines. He immediately bowed up, ready to stomp our intoxicated outfielder with the big mouth. Our guy didn’t seem to grasp his peril; I cautioned him jarheads were like attack dogs; be careful. So of course the Marine transferred his fury to me and threatened to whip me. I used a line of Hoss Cartwright’s I had used successfully almost twenty years ago to back down a Hell’s Angel: go ahead, do your damnedest, give it your best shot. When you’re done, tell me, and I’ll kill you.

It worked twenty years ago because I was in my Military Police uniform and the cold-eyed blond in civilian clothes at the bar—the Hell’s Angel; they drafted everybody those days—was also an MP who had just cleaned out a bar full of drunken engineers single-handed after his partner chickened out and ran away; the partner had been reassigned and Korsaw assumed I was his new partner when I showed up as an individual replacement. He was road-testing me so see if I had the right stuff, and got a huge kick out of the Hoss Cartwright line; we were immediate buddies and I couldn’t buy another drink that night.

This was different; the Marine was in full rut. I don’t know why the Hoss Cartwright line worked again when the Marine had to back down in front of a woman he was sniffing after. But it did. For some reason that impressed Lenore. When the group decided to decamp to a bar with dancing, she insisted I go along. When the rest decided to call it a night, Lenore wasn’t ready, so I said I’d stay and drive her home. We danced; she kept telling me between dances how weird it was to be dancing with the division head she always thought was standoffish. By the time we were in the car, she invited me home to spend the night. Told her I couldn’t do that and dropped her off. She was cordial at work the next day, but I remembered my grandmother’s axiom that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and worried a little about what might happen next.

What happened was she invited me to meet her after work at a roadhouse outside town for a drink. I asked about Bubba. She said saucily he’s not invited. So I went. Mt. St. Helens still had its top, but was getting ready to blow; a steady plume of ash and steam spewed thousands of feet high into the bright July sky. Cars and trucks and RVs littered the shoulders of Interstate Five crossing Nisqually Delta, where people stopped to gawk and take photos; the Delta offered a good view of the mountain to the south.
In the parking lot of the restaurant after we spent some time inside, I was the only person not looking at the mountain—I was looking at Lenore. “Most kissable lips at the Liquor Board,” I said. And tested the premise and found it valid. It was a surprising repercussion from the conversation last night at the mosquito-infested ball field. She said she was headed for a party and wished she could take me with her as her latest catch, but knew she couldn’t.

The following Sunday I had to go to the office. I was down one staffer and liquor advertising submitted for Board approval or rejection was stacking up. The weather was hot and humid; headquarters air conditioning was a welcome relief.

I got there at noontime. Within two hours, Lenore showed up at my office door, wearing a cute lime-green terrycloth sun suit. She said she almost missed my car in the parking lot until she saw it buried in deep shade; and wanted to know if I was trying to duck her. When I assured I it had never crossed my mind, she wanted more kisses. We wound up in what they called, when I was young, a hot petting party. Her nipples made hot knobs in the terry cloth. Suntan oil on her arms made a long smear on the wall beneath my collection of decorative mirrors supplied me by liquor companies for approval. The smear was there as long as I was.
She wanted me to fuck her in the Board room, beneath all the impassive portraits of board members stretching back to Repeal. She said every time I took the meeting minutes, I could look at the old couch behind the chairman’s seat and remember. I demurred; I had no interest in indulging her fantasy.

“I’m not made of steel,” she said. “You can’t work me up and leave me hanging like this.”

She invited me to her place if I was worried about being interrupted. But that gave rise to an image of Bubba the Montanan with his pistol handy under his front seat, who thought he had her undivided attention that summer. I told her I had no desire for a Sunday shootout.

“Bubba doesn’t own me!” she said hotly. “Nobody owns me!”

She left angry that I wouldn’t come home with her. I worked until six and stopped at an old drive-in near Puget Sound that featured huge lime milkshakes. I had one in honor of her sun suit and as a salute to lost chances; it had turned into a lime-green kind of Sunday. The saltmarsh smell of the Sound was powerful in the July heat.

At work the following week, she was professionally cordial. Except she stopped by my office one day to whisper that she had been asking other women if they thought I was attractive as she thought I was. My secretary overheard her and winked at me after she was gone. Good god!

Toward the end of the week she slipped onto the elevator as I was going downstairs and planted a quick, daring kiss. “No one else can get me when I feel this way about you,” she breathed in my ear. When the doors opened, she was clear across the elevator, all wide-eyed innocence.

I wrote on my desk calendar a phrase I remembered from a long-ago poem: “to mark the place of a bygone summer day” but have no memory why. Then I went on vacation for the first two weeks of August. I returned in time for co-ed softball league “playoffs.” All teams, no matter how poor their season record, got to play at least one playoff game; ours was an unmitigated disaster proving our poor season was no fluke.

Lenore had acquired a new Ford LTD. When I asked her about it, the way you do when somebody gets a new car, she flared up: “You’re just after me like all the rest!” and stalked off. Three days later she was in my office, having trouble with the employee credit union and asking me to help her compose a letter. I wrote it on my office typewriter and she left happy. Days drifted by.

Ten days later she told me she had volunteered to water the flowers at a friend’s house while she was on vacation; and invited me to stop by. After watering the plants we wound up sitting in the cool breeze between the garage and the house talking—about sex, as was beginning to seem inevitable with Lenore. She said she had cut a wide swathe through available men without satisfaction. Some, she said, were put off by “how much I love the taste of semen.” I found that doubtful. But it was her story and she was sticking to it.

Memory fails as to why she led me into the garage, but suddenly we were kissing and groping in a fever. I cupped her elbows and lifted her onto the workbench. She fumbled with her halter top and spilled her bare breasts into my face. I was kissing the engorged nipples when I felt her hands unzip me and tug me free, achingly erect and ready. When I looked up, her eyes were wide and staring, almost angry.

“I love you—but you can’t have me, because you’re married…”

What was there to say to that? I removed myself from her stroking hands, reinserted myself and zipped up. I wasn’t going to play that kind of game. It was time to go. I needed to stop at a department store to buy a wedding gift for my new staffer. (Later, her friend found Lenore’s gold chain in the garage and accurately assessed what had been going on. Lenore told her hell no, if I had my boyfriend there we would have used your bed. Still later, when her friend knew the whole story, she very kindly told me it was Lenore’s loss, not mine.)

A couple days after the garage episode, I had given up trying to find my best sunglasses. Lenore had found them in the garage but didn’t tell me until she called me from home. When I picked them up, she was prickly again, especially when I mentioned that a woman named Claudine called me an enigma.

“She said you were an enigma? I wish I had been the one to say that. I love you and hate you for making me love you…”

“Good night, Lenore,” I said.

Couple days later, another call from her home; stop by when you get out of the office. She had heard a song about a “free and easy feeling,” and wanted to tell me: “You have that.” I bet her fifteen dollars that she would never go to bed with me.

“Got your $15?” she said.

“Are you serious?”

“Serious or delirious…”

But I didn’t believe her; I turned her down. Plus I didn’t have fifteen dollars on me. She was irritable at work for several days, culminating with coming all the way up to my office to tell me “I’ve swallowed some things about you…” by which she was referring to sniping from female co-workers about hanging around me all the time. So the dangerous rumor mill was churning.

Three days later a gift package arrived, a small, well-crafted pewter Pegasus—“the horse of muses…” She showed up within ten minutes; she had uncanny intelligence about the flow of correspondence through the mail room. I thanked her for the thoughtful gift; selected because I had told her my writing muse abandoned me when I became a bureaucrat.

“Give me some space, okay?” she said.

I didn’t say I had been busily trying to do that very thing; just said okay. An hour later she was on the phone from downstairs:

“Can I see you a minute?”

“But you said about space…”

“But that was an hour ago when I wanted space. You don’t ever have to worry—an hour away and I’ll be right back…”

Five days later she arrived in my office—she had the run of the building—to announce “It is over! You’ve been nicer to me than anybody ever has, but I haven’t thought about you for four days. I don’t even remember what we talked about last.I’m going to sell my body and get some use out of it.”

I refrained from asking what was over. Who knew what was buzzing around in that head of hers? She wrapped the Pegasus on my desk in carbon paper, to symbolize crepe, and departed. I kind of admired the drama of that. But within two days she was on the phone making a big deal about why I wouldn’t go to the agency picnic when she expected me to be there. I mentioned the crepe symbolism of the Pegasus. She said she’d come take it off if I’d go to the picnic. Better leave it, I said. Within an hour my secretary was in my office with a smirk on her face:

“I’m supposed to find out unobtrusively whether you’re going to the picnic…”

But I didn’t go. It seemed the better part of valor. Amazingly enough, work went on uninterrupted; phone calls were answered, public records requests handled, minutes recorded; a policy and procedures manual edited; staff meetings attended.In early September I was on the phone with a reporter when she showed up, unannounced as always.

“Get off the phone! I’m here!”

Who the hell is that, the reporter asked; your wife? Sometimes it feels like it is, I said.

“I love that look you get,” she announced when I hung up. “Like a little boy about to get in trouble. You helped me with all the others—Bubba, Mike, never tried to push…” She struck a pose, hands on hips, “Soooo…She’s back!”

I was scheduled to be out of the office for a few days on assignment; she knew almost before I knew. She showed up to complain: “It’ll be so dull here without you…I’m not a woman of my word. I want to do all those things I said I didn’t want to do. Every three weeks I get like this—even Bubba’s looking good to me again!”

Me: “Since I am out of the running you may as well go ahead.”

Not well-received, but I was on my way out the door and didn’t have time for repartee. When I returned she was there to meet me; she had an intelligence net spy agencies could envy. She continued day in and day out, on and off the phone, in and out of my office, flitting like a butterfly.

She popped in one day to say “Don’t do that—look at me like that—you make me smile.” And vanished with a Mona Lisa look.Then she stayed after work to engage in an hour-long conversation about her troubles with her men, the sum of which was “Being with you makes me feel so good…”

All through this time—and before—she had prepared a special pot of coffee in the break room for me to fill my Thermos for my long commute home; I always appreciated it, and ignored catty remarks about my office wife. I didn’t know I had sleep apnea in those days, and I drank a quart on the way to work, a quart at work, and a quart on the way home to stay awake. This September she took to coming all the way up to my floor to tell me coffee was ready. When I asked about this change, she said it was just an excuse to look at me.

I took her to lunch—risky behavior in our claustrophobic environment, where any such activity was viewed with salacious interest by all hands—and she said she felt nervous just being with me.

“It’s my fault,” she said. “My loss.”

It appeared to me she was spinning out a non-existent drama in her mind, but far be it from me to say so. Couple days later she was on the phone telling me life was uncomplicated now.

“Nobody loves me…” Voice break, “and I’m not looking forward to the next time. Hope it doesn’t happen…”

I was to the point of mostly listening, with an occasional non-committal mumble. Then she announced “I always pretty much know where you are and what you are doing—even if you don’t see me, I see you…” For some reason that gave me a little chill. The next day it was: “It’s bo-o-o-ring when you’re not in the building. Let’s go have a drink…”

It was well past quitting time so I thought what the hell.

“Well, here we are again,” she said at the bar. “You need to be more aggressive.”

“You need to make up your mind,” I said.

“Okay. Just be my friend—my money in the bank…good thing you didn’t come over last night…you would have been used and abused…you’re a victim of my past.” She tossed off her drink and walked out without a backward glance.

We were into October now. She called to ask if I was okay with her walking out.

“I feel like kind of a fool,” I said.

“You’re not. You’re my strength. You look good in hats…”

The next day we both were in the same staff meeting; she came by later to accuse me of deliberately “not looking” at her. “Where’s my Pegasus?” It was still on my desk. “Thought you’d done something to him.” So the next day she brought me a bottle of vitamins—said she was worried all the stress I was under might undermine my health. “You take them—I’m going to come up and count them every day.” Then she showed up to witness me taking vitamins; the office wife appellation was beginning to fit and I was uncomfortable with it.

Of course there had to be drama with my vitamins—she appropriated my dictionary and said she was looking up jealousy, definition of, “because you touched Rose in that meeting—I felt a twinge. “I had no memory of having touched Rose; doubted if Rose did. “It was just a twinge,” she said.

“Look,” I said, “I stepped out of the picture.”

“You are a sweetheart—it takes courage to step out of the picture.”

Less courage than to buy into the dramatics; but I didn’t say it.

“I don’t let many people past my defenses like I let you,” she added. No more than a dozen, I thought; didn’t say that either. I had learned a few things by then about crazy-making women. She went right on to tell me she had a commitment now to a man.

“Is he a hunk?” I said.

“Nooo. You want to see a hunk? Look in the mirror.”

Right; within days she was on the phone accusing me of changing a big mailing just to make her job difficult and get even with her for toying with me. Her voice was cold and bitter. I felt another one of those chills. My bureaucrat’s life was vulnerable enough in the give and take of bureaucratic politics without this.

Of course the very next day she was on the phone: “Am I in doghouse?”

“Uh uh,” I said “Am I?”

“Of course not. I was just jealous. Your wife is beautiful, her hair is beautiful…”(The agency had a retirement party; first time she had seen my wife. My wife and I were sitting with Claudine, a truly gorgeous woman and a true character. My wife liked her and encouraged me to dance with her since she didn’t have an escort.

“Oh—was Claudine there?” Meow. I repeated my wife’s praise of Lenore’s good looks: “Well, we have a mutual admiration society going…but not quite!”

She had called to tell me what a smooth and handsome dancer Stan G. was…”but that’s all I know about him…If he wants to take a run at me I’ll let him.” Later she told me he did, and she did; but he was nearly impotent, which was highly frustrating.

November came along. “Haven’t seen you for days!” she complained. “Come visit with me. I called you last week, didn’t know until Friday you were gone—you told everybody but me! But then, who am I?”

Who indeed? It really was like having an office wife keeping track of my comings and goings more jealously than my actual wife ever did. And every time she crashed and burned with another man, she came crying on my shoulder. She seemed genuinely hurt by one whose sarcasm about her bed-hopping had wounded her deeply; the tears were literal. She told me later I could have had her right then and there, I was so comforting and she was so vulnerable. The idea made me shudder and I told her so; it would be like shooting game birds on the ground.

In a couple of days a dozen red roses were delivered to the front desk of the Liquor Board. Everybody was abuzz; who was getting flowers? Even the new chairman came out to take a look.

They were for me. To say they burnished my image would be a classic understatement. Unsigned, the card made it clear I had a serious female admirer; I think the new chairman was actually jealous. My secretary gave me a sardonic, knowing look. I kept my council and waited. Lenore showed up pretty soon to see if I liked them. I told her I liked them very much and breathed an inner sigh of relief; if those roses had come out of my checkered past instead of from her there would have been hell to pay.

The year turned. Spring came along. When I missed the first softball game of the following season, she demanded as by right to know why. So I told her. Why that particular story should have triggered her lust is beyond me, but we wound up in my car necking like teenagers—until I put my fingers in her. I’d like to think I knew a few more things than teenagers by then; the way she clung to my neck and orgasmed repeatedly tended to support my hubris. She was upset because she didn’t have a babysitter that night; so she couldn’t take me home. It’s all right, I said. Don’t worry about it. Then I just had to go and add, notice I did that left-handed. What is that supposed to mean she demanded. Well the last guy you bragged to me about was left-handed and I thought you’d enjoy me being ambidextrous.

Some things you should just keep to yourself, I guess.

Still, before the summer had run she asked for my help in teaching her son how to train his new dog. He was a good kid and dogs are my weakness; I enjoyed the training and the pup was a quick learner. When the boy went off to play with friends and the pup was sleeping, she took my hand and led me to her bedroom.

“There,” she said, “is the famous bed.”

“The one I never occupied,” I said.

“You could have, you know.”

“It’s pretty to think so,” I said. But she wasn’t much of a reader and I’m sure she didn’t get the literary allusion.

Dry Sunday

BEING A STORY THAT DIDN’T QUITE MAKE ‘NEWSPAPER GYPSY’

Dry Sunday Copyright William R.Burkett Jr

The Chronicle was a morning newspaper, so Eddy Miller worked nightside, which suited him just fine. He covered city hall and county government because it was easier for him than selling washing machines for Sears, Roebuck in Charleston, or learning address schemes at the Post Office in Savannah. He made more money on commission at Sears and had more job security at the Post Office, but this was easier. No pressure to meet sales quotas; no bureaucratic hassles from ex-military assholes who had seniority in the federal service.
As for actual newspaper work, he really didn’t have a good reporter’s eye or a gift of language, but he could string sentences together in the standard news format and never argued with copy editors who wanted to change his stuff. He had more or less stumbled into the newspaper business when his old Mercury blew a head gasket in Augusta on his way to Atlanta after he quit the Post Office. He’d had money enough to drive to California, which is where he was going, but not if he had to have a complete engine rebuild first.
So he answered an ad in the Chronicle for a sports reporter, figuring how hard could it be, given his knowledge and love of all sports. He bs’ed the personnel manager, quoting Sally League baseball statistics and citing famous college football games he had seen, selling himself like a Kenmore refrigerator, and sliding right past the usual job requirement for a portfolio of news clippings. Then he leveled with the sports editor about his snow job in personnel, recited his knowledge of all team sports, and stuck long enough to write publishable stories.
Eddy was nothing if not a talker, and he actually had been a Rotarian and a Lion in his previous lives, so he got on well with small-town business people and city employees. In six months, he knew his way around pretty well and was popular in the newsroom, and the city editor was a drinking buddy. Before too long his buddy talked him into giving straight news a try and here he was getting to know all the ins and outs of small city moving and shaking.
He got his Mercury fixed, and kept thinking that when he got a new stake built up he would load up his car and head west again. But he had developed a pretty enviable string of female admirers by then, randy Southern belles with a weakness for a line of patter and a knowing hand, and here he was, still.
But God, he hated dry Sundays.
There was slang then to the effect that any place interesting or exciting was “where it’s at.” The limit of Eddy’s sensitivity was to know that a dry Sunday in Georgia wasn’t where it was, and never was going to be. Sunday was dry because the governor of Georgia that year was a Baptist deacon who had entered journalistic history as a restaurateur who chased Negroes who tried to sit in his restaurant with a hickory ax handle. Once elected to statewide office, the deacon went after Sunday drinkers with Prohibitionist fervor, wielding an executive order like he had wielded his trademark anti-integration tool.
On dry Sundays, Eddy was reduced to doing his dirty laundry at the Laundromat on Walton Way. At two-thirty a.m. this Monday after another interminable dry Sunday, he had the place to himself except for a woman who looked like a sub-moron with a filthy kid clinging to her worn print dress. The kid looked like a refugee in one of those TV commercials about the Third World. The Laundromat was better than his apartment, even with a half-full bottle of Jack Daniel’s in the cupboard and a six-pack of beer he kept in the refrigerator in case anybody ever stopped by. Once in a while somebody did. But whiskey was hateful stuff when he was drinking alone and beer made him sick to his stomach drinking it in an empty apartment.
Eddy had never been drunk or sick after drinking in bars. He loved to drink in bars, even beer, and by now he knew all the spots and the night people even a small city this size supported. He was quite a social drinker on a normal night. Nobody bothered him on the desk about taking a drink or three as he made his rounds; night council meetings and civic club dinners and political rallies always had booze on hand. Drinking was an accepted and even expected part of his work, just like it had been on the sports beat.
He was quite a social drinker all right. It was almost a job qualification. And he had time after the final deadline to hit a few spots on his own hook, maybe buy a round at the Magnolia Club where the other news guys hung out unless he had scored a new woman. Then he’d go dance a dance or two and get laid at her place or some convenient motel. Either way, he could then float on home to bed in a pleasant alcoholic haze. He could sleep, then, really sleep if he’d scored; and when he woke up it would be safely noontime and he would be fine, fresh and ready for the day. But early Monday after a dry Sunday was just awful.
His wash was just soaping up good when a beat-up Chevrolet pickup rolled in. One headlight was out. The black couple in it brought in five baskets of dirty laundry and the Sunday paper. The man was ratty and smelled of dirty automobile engines. The woman was sleazy and sexless, and her grimy slip showed six inches beneath her dress hem all around. Nobody spoke or looked at each other. It was pretty grim, but still better than the apartment alone with the undrinkable booze and the unsleepable bed.
When he was alone at the apartment and cold sober, he could hear his mother in his head, telling him to go to bed. It was his strongest memory of her, always telling him go to bed, go to bed, tomorrow comes mighty early. Just close your eyes and you’ll be asleep. But he never was, even as a youth. He had been wide-awake for hours listening to everybody else sleep. Sometimes he imagined that the Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Thing, or some other horror from the movies was creeping through the night, zeroing in on his house, and would get him if he dared to close his eyes. He always did close his eyes eventually and the creatures never came and got him, but the next night would be the same until his memory of that particular movie faded. Terrified or not, his main childhood memory was nights awake listening to the family sleep.
Now he didn’t even have anybody sleeping to listen to, and he hated going to bed worse than ever. Which was why he found the night newspaper work so easy. You couldn’t sell washing machines or deliver mail at night, but you could go to political fish fries out on the levee or cover county council hearings and listen to angry citizens raise hell about the roads. Then you could drink until the bars closed. If he was in a certain frame of mind, and he often was, he could go across the river to South Carolina and hit a couple of the unlicensed bottle clubs that never closed till dawn. But a lot of those clubs closed on Sundays too, not wanting to tempt fate and the beverage control cops. So dry Sundays he was stuck. When he tried to go to bed cold sober, the apartment was so quiet his ears rang. His ears invented sounds: somebody touching the toilet handle, that little clink just before the explosion of the flush; or the slither of a toothbrush being taken out of its holder beside the mirror. He would lie there not really asleep and not really awake and, just for a moment, think he was not alone. Then he would open his eyes and the silence would unload on him, ears ringing as if he’d fired a gun in a closed space.
He had left his wife behind in Charleston. Just got up one day and packed his things while she was at the hairdresser’s and loaded up his two-year-old Buick Roadmaster. He signed his Cadillac that he’d bought with appliance commissions over to her and left the paperwork on the nightstand by the bed. Then he drove the Buick down to a car dealer he played poker with and traded it for the old Mercury and cash back, and shifted his stuff into the Merc. When he went back to tell his wife that he was leaving, she said I hope you’re happy with that slut and shut the door in his face.
He drove down to Savannah that night though his Post Office reporting date wasn’t for two weeks; and moved in with Gail. She called those two weeks their honeymoon, swimming at Tybee Beach, dancing in the beach clubs and making out on the sand and in the back of the old Mercury. Maybe he should have changed apartments after Gail left him. Maybe that’s what he should have done. She had been up for the grand road trip across America as he described it, but not for being stuck in Augusta. She left him as soon as she realized that he was settling in. Almost before he realized it himself.
It was as if she left ghosts of the little domestic sounds she used to make when she was around the place, just to haunt him. That seemed a silly thing for a grown man to think, but he still thought it. Especially in the wee hours of a dry Sunday when he was cold sober and the other side of the bed was empty and cold. He never brought his girl friends home. Maybe that would have cleared the air and chased away the imagined sounds, but he just didn’t do it.
When Gail ditched him, all the other reporters and most of his new bar friends agreed that he should have just thrown all her belongings in the trash. But he hadn’t done that. He had lived with their silent reproach until she wrote where she wanted them sent in Savannah. Then he packed everything up in six cheap tin trunks and sent the trunks to her on the Greyhound. All except her iced-tea pitcher and glasses in the cupboard. He never looked in cupboards when he was by himself, so he missed them. When the reading lamp by the bed went bad and he was looking for a place to stuff it so he wouldn’t keep trying to turn it on, he found the tea pitcher and glasses. She was back with her husband by then, all her wild oats evidently sown. It would have been pretty awkward for her to explain a package of dishes mailed from Augusta. But he still felt bad about overlooking them. They probably weren’t among her favorite things or she would have written to ask about them long before now. But he felt bad just the same.
His wash had finished its cycle now. He transferred it to a dryer. None of the others in the Laundromat looked at him or said anything. But he could feel them watching him. Looking at what he was washing. He could feel their eyes on the back of his neck. When the dryer started, he walked to the plate glass window across the front. There were old cigarette decals on it. There was another ancient decal, partly scraped away, but you could still read “White Only.”
The only time Gail ever came here with him, she thought the sign meant no colored fabrics could be washed. Gail was so Southern it never would have occurred to her that you had to post a decal to keep Negroes out of a Laundromat in the white part of town. By the time they were there, the right of Negroes to wash their clothes in a Laundromat of their choosing had already been established, even in Georgia, so she hadn’t made the connection until he explained it. She heaved a sigh and said “all gone with the wind.” He didn’t know what she meant, but that was Gail for you.
Outside Eddy could see, but not hear or feel, the wind blowing. Trash, leaves, pages of a discarded newspaper, probably the Chronicle. He stepped outside to feel and hear the wind. A dog that had been trotting along the side of the building stopped short, dropped its ears and slunk off across the street, watching him over its tail. Dogs never were much good at pretending when they were someplace they weren’t supposed to be. The filling station across the street looked modern as a science-fiction story, but one of its signs squeaked in the wind like a rusty gate.
Eddy wondered where all the night people went after the bars closed Saturday at midnight. Midnight! That crazed deacon had to be voted out. They all agreed on that anyway; the cocktail waitresses in their black mesh stockings, the pool hustlers, the also-ran band members in their tarnished show clothes and the female barflies who began to look pretty good before the lights came up at closing time. But he doubted if a single one of them was even registered to vote. Neither was he. He was going to have to do something about that before some politician checked the rolls on him.
The night people would start to show up again Monday night as the bars reopened. By Wednesday they all would be accounted for. But where were they tonight? What were they doing instead of straggling out of bars that closed at two-thirty on a normal night, headed out for breakfast at the Busy Bee or the Huddle House? He had never seen a single night person on Sunday since this one-day Prohibition set in. And he had looked too; driving all the way out Broad Street to East Boundary, then back up Walton Way past the Partridge Inn and the rich peoples’ homes, then across Monte Sano past the sad dark abandoned-looking Tip Top Cafe. Eddy never had the nerve to ask where they went. He couldn’t believe they all went across the river to crowd into the one or two clubs that stayed open on Sunday because they had the fix in with the right authorities.
Eddy really would have liked to go back to those clubs himself, but it was no longer safe for him. He’d wound up sleeping with the current girl friend of the half-crazy Greek owner of those two clubs who, when he was depressed, would shoot holes in the ceiling with a big nickel-plated .44 revolver to let people know the show was over for that night. Eddy had only escaped a bad beating or worse because he was a Chronicle reporter and the Chronicle was a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the river. If the newspaper turned up the heat on the South Carolina beverage authorities, the Greek’s Sunday protection would evaporate and he’d lose a bundle. One of the Greek’s redneck bouncers, an ex-Gamecock linebacker, had been delegated to explain this to Eddy and take away his member key. He was no longer welcome. The hell of it was she hadn’t been that good in the sack.
But he couldn’t believe the Greek got all the night people on Sunday. He did not like to pry, which was a lousy attitude for a reporter. Perhaps more, he didn’t want to seem pathetic, asking about a place he was not welcome or seeming to angle for an invitation to some private get-together at somebody’s home. He believed that the night people accepted him. They even used the nickname his newspaper cronies had bestowed on him, Lightnin’ Man, for his way with the lonely ladies of the night. He was good for a tab at more than just the Magnolia Club, where all the newsies ran one. He got free drinks a good bit, because he was the nightside news guy who covered politics—a good contact.
The night people followed sports reports like bulletins from a war zone, and always thought he knew the inside scoop because he started as a sports reporter. He got invited to all the low-ante poker games, and even a couple where the stakes were a little rich, because they knew he also played poker with the county commissioners and the mayor. The small-time bookies always gave him the line to bet on the college and pro cards, and were so accurate that he made a nice little supplement to his salary and poker winnings that way. The gamblers were intensely interested in all sports, even local high school sports, and seemed to know an awful lot about which team was healthy and likely to win. He supposed there might be a story in there somewhere about gamblers having some much inside knowledge; there had to be a fix in somewhere. A real reporter’s nose would have been twitching, but Eddy didn’t pry. His main curiosity was where they all went after early bar closing on Saturday and where they stayed until Monday night.
He put his folded dry clothing in the clean white laundry sack that he always washed with the clothing. It had been olive drab when it was issued to him in Basic Training. He thought it was the only enduring thing the Army had ever given him. There was a 24-hour Huddle House down the street. Eddy locked his laundry in the Mercury and walked down there and ordered a breakfast steak with grits and coffee. He was the only customer. After the waitress asked him what he wanted, she never spoke again, not even to say good night. She had pale, uncommunicative eyes, which looked as if they were accustomed to total silence and preferred it. So he didn’t play the jukebox, or try to talk to her. He wondered if she missed the night people who would be here tomorrow morning about this time after the bars closed. She didn’t look as if she missed anybody.
He ate fast and mechanically, and paid his check in silence except for the ding of the cash register. The food was warm and heavy and irrelevant in his stomach as he went back out into the windy night and got into his car. He hadn’t even been hungry; he was just putting off going home sober as long as he could. He drove up Walton Way. It was three forty-five by the bank clock on the corner. Another dry Sunday survived. He was so glad that it was finally and irrevocably Monday that he almost felt like waiting up to watch the sun rise, just to be sure.

The blog world

I am thoroughly enjoying my early time in the blog world. I have yet to hit my stride here, but I am inspired by the posts I have received.

It is a reaffirmation of life to received such thoughtful, interesting, sometimes outrageous, sometimes sweet, almost always very articulate words from souls scattered here and there around our gorgeous home planet. (One assumes we’re not yet plugged into other planets!)

Sometimes the conventional news of the day can make a person sorry to be part of the sorry human race.  I tend to forget that it’s news because it’s unusual; if it bleeds it leads.  The old mantra of the news profession.  Finding the blog meditations from many different minds in my in-box has a calming, happy effect.   The world endures; humanity endures, we are all about our business with hope and fear and sometimes loathing, and we send our words into the void  like notes in a bottle. And somewhere, our words are read and comprehended, and someone else’s life is better for a moment.  What a precious human adaptation of the modern digital technology!

My thanks to all of those who spread their thoughts into the ether; I am honored to be part of a human race where folks like you exist.

One more try…

Okay I’m going to try to enter another book cover.  This is DUCK HUNTER DIARIES VOL 1.  the second volume is scheduled for release this summer.  With all the foofaraw surrounding Duck Dynasty, and all the bazillions they’re making, you’d think a duck hunting book would be the cat’s whiskers. I shared some excerpts on Duckboats.net and the guys had nice things to say. This is memoir, from teenage hunting in Florida to finally achieving duck nirvana in the Pacific Northwest.  A lot of stuff happened in between…hurricanes, floods, death and taxes.  I went from Florida to Georgia to Nassau to Pennsylvania and back again to Florida as a newspaperman. Wound up in Los Angeles working as a flack for a labor union, witnessing payoffs to city councilmen, character assassinations in union politics, and the night watch at Parker Center firing one of our clerks for smoking dope on the job that the evidence sergeant supplied…we got her job back. That’s what unions do. I found out how hard to hunt ducks in California it is if you’re not rich or famous like Bing Crosby or Robert Stack.  When they tried to transfer me permanently to D.C.–which would have made two of my least favorite cities in a row–I quit and moved to the Northwest. The sixties and seventies are the backdrop for the first volume.

And herrrre’s the cover, with my L L Bean hunting hat, Eddie Bauer decoy poncho,handmade cork decoys and a Pacific Northwest beard–long before the beards of the South were cool and famous…and rich.

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