One of Those Nights

by William Arthur “Bill” Holmes. © Copyright 1990

It was late. Claude couldn't sleep. He decided to walk to the corner liquor store for munchies and beer.

As he entered the store, he noticed a girl at the phone-booth by the door. She smiled a curious smile and Claude smiled back uncertainly, then proceeded into the store. Grabbing the things he needed, he brought them up to the man behind the counter. Out of the corner of his eye, Claude noticed the phone-booth girl hang up the phone with a crash and walk away. Claude dug into his pants pocket for his cash, paid the cashier and walked out of the store.

Once outside, Claude spotted the girl walking briskly ahead. His long legs brought him to within a few yards of the girl fairly quickly. At close range, he noticed she was staggering slightly from side to side. When he came up alongside her he asked if she was okay. She said yes, but thanks for asking.

“You're drunk, aren't you?” he persisted. She smiled sheepishly as if being found out and admitted she was “slightly” drunk.

“Do you need a ride home, or something?” Claude offered.

“A ride? You don't even have a car,” the girl slurred. Then, quite unexpectedly, she put her arm under his and leaned her head against his shoulder. She was drunk, all right, he thought, and he smiled.

He escorted her the block and a half to his apartment, and together they made their way up the stairs to his door. Once inside, she wrapped her arms around him, kissed him on the lips, then collapsed, unconscious.

He checked her pulse to make sure she was still alive, and breathed a sigh of relief when he confirmed that she was. Claude, always the gentleman, then placed her delicately onto his bed to sleep it off.

“Not much of a date,” he said to no one in particular. He turned on the television, lit a cigarette and made himself comfortable on the couch.

In the middle of the night, the girl awakened to the smell of smoke. She saw, through blurry eyes and a throbbing head, smoke coming off the carpet in the middle of the floor. She instantly sobered up. Claude was asleep on the couch with a lit cigarette just out of his unconscious grasp.

The girl jumped out of bed and began stamping the fire out with her foot. All that stamping woke up Claude, and he raised his head to see what was going on. His sudden movement frightened the girl and her reflexively kicked him in the throat. Without trying to or even realizing it, she had just killed him.

The girl decided to get out of his apartment before he, if he, woke up. Trying to think clearly through her mental fog, she found Claude's lighter, lit some newspaper and threw it onto the floor. She then rummaged through Claude's things and found his wallet and car keys. Removing the cash and major credit cards, she dropped the wallet into the fire and bolted out the door. The fire quickly spread and the entire apartment was soon engulfed. By the time dead Claude's smoke alarm went off, the girl was searching the parking lot for his car. The leather strap attached to Claude's key ring had the “Camaro” logo on it. There was only one Camaro in the lot, and the keys opened the door. Five seconds later, she was on her way out into the street.

One of Claude's neighbors heard the fire alarm and came out of his apartment. He smelled the smoke and followed it to Claude's door. Bursting into the smoke-infested room, he found Claude half on the couch, half on the floor. Leaving him there for the moment, he ran out to the hallway, grabbed the fire extinguisher and ran back into the apartment and doused the flames.

Then he noticed some of Claude's personal belongings — a personal computer, a large-screen TV, a VCR, and in the far corner of the one-room apartment stood a fairly expensive-looking piano.

The neighbor looked over his shoulder to see if anyone else was around. He was surprised and disappointed to find two young men smiling at him nervously just outside the doorway. The young men stopped smiling and ran straight for the television and VCR. They yanked the plugs out of the wall and disappearing out the door. The remaining neighbor hesitated a moment, then decided to follow their lead. He quickly unplugged the computer and carted it off to his apartment.

With the computer safely stashed in his closet, the neighbor couldn't help but watch through a crack in the door to see who else might loot Claude's apartment.

A small dog wandered up to Claude's door. It timidly sniffed at Claude's doorstep a moment or two while its owner called out its name. The dog heard the calls and raised its head in response. But, like most dogs, it chose to ignore its owner and continue sniffing. The dog then wandered over to Claude's dead body, sniffed a couple more times, then lifted its leg and peed on him.

Murder, or Just an Honest Mistake?

by William Arthur “Bill” Holmes. © Copyright 1990

[The following story is rated PG. You figure it out.]

Madison Ripley Smith was sitting at his desk with his feet propped up when she walked in. Long legs, hourglass shape, luxurious jet-black hair, and matching jet-black eyes.

“What's with the black eyes,” Smith asked.

“Oh! Is my mascara running again?” And she dabbed at the black splotches.

Then the phone rang. After the third ring, Smith shouted, “Where's that damned receptionist?!”

“There was no receptionist when I walked in,” the long-legged woman said.

“That would explain why you just walked in unannounced, then.”

“Yes, that would explain it.”

Meanwhile, the phone was still ringing.

“Aren't you going to answer it?” the black-eyed woman asked.

“No,” Smith said bitterly. “That's why I hired a receptionist. I guess now I'll have to fire her. Too bad, too. I was starting to like, uh, what's-her-name. Wanna be my new receptionist?”

“No,” she said. “I want to be your new client.”


“Yes, client. You know, I give you money, tell you what I need, and you go out and do it?” she spoke slowly and deliberately. “A client.”

“I know what a client is, lady. What's your husband's name?”

“What does that matter?”

“Let's just say I like to know who I'm getting mixed up with.”

“My name is Amalia Maria Rodriguez Sanchez Delgado, wife of Juan Carlos Julia Delgado,” she answered proudly. “And I have a problem.”

“I guess so,” Smith replied. “With a name like that, it must take forever to sign your name.”

She ignored the comment. “I have a case that needs to be solved.”

“A case?”

“Yes, a case. You know …”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Smith snapped.

“Well?” she asked. “Do you want the case, or not?”

“Sure, I want the case.”

Of course I want the case, he thought. I need the money. Besides, I wouldn't mind seeing this woman's face on a regular basis. Women and money have been pretty scarce lately.

“What are you thinking?” Mrs. Delgado asked, not liking the looks flashing across Smith's face.

“What kind of case is it?” he growled, playing the part of the tough-as-nails private dick.

“My husband's been murdered.”

“Murdered?!” Smith was worried now. He tried to stay away from murder cases. “Why don't you go to the police?”

“I did,” she said. “They think it was suicide, but I don't believe them. It was murder.”

“What makes you say that?”

“He was shot through the heart with a bow and arrow.”

“That is suspicious,” he agreed.

“And I won't be satisfied,” she continued, “until you find the woman who killed my husband.”

“Woman? How do you know it was a woman?”

Amalia Maria Rodriguez Sanchez Delgado looked Madison Ripley Smith in the eye and nodded sagely. “A woman knows these things. So, will you take the case?”

“Yeah, I'll take it,” he tried to sound reluctant. “My rate is $200 a day, plus expenses.”

Mrs. Delgado tossed a stack of bills onto his desk. Smith counted it.

“Thirteen dollars?” he asked.

“Oh, sorry,” she said, “wrong stack.”

She plopped down another stack of bills. Again, Smith counted it. This stack was nothing but 50's and 100's.

“Nine hundred,” he said, again trying to sound casual, even though he could not recall the last time he held that much money in his hand. “This'll do … for now.”

With a triumphant pout — if that's possible — Mrs. Delgado nodded and sashayed her way out the door. Smith's eyes escorted her out.

Later that day, as Smith was looking for clues at the bottom of his desk drawer, he got a call. He was forced to answer it himself since his receptionist still hadn't shown up. It was a wrong number. The caller mumbled “Rosebud” into the phone before Smith slammed it down in disgust. He wished his receptionist would come back. He didn't have time to be talking to every whacko who called.

His thoughts then wandered to Mrs. Delgado. What kind of a man had Mr. Delgado been? And why did Mrs. Delgado kill him?

“Why did you say that?” he asked himself aloud. There was no one else in the room, and he could think more clearly aloud.

“She's the grieving widow, remember?” he answered himself.

“Is she?”

“Of course she is. After all, she's the one who hired you to find his murderer.”

“Is she?”

“Oh, shut up.”

It was then that he realized he was Cracking up. Not only was he talking to himself, he was having complete conversations.

Several hours later, the phone rang again. It was Mrs. Delgado. She wanted to know how the murder investigation was coming along.

“I'm laying the ground work now,” Smith said as he rolled a semi-hard gob of rubber cement along the top of his desk until it formed into neat little ball. “Don't expect too much for another few days,” he warned. “These things take time.”

When Mrs. Delgado hung up, Smith picked up the sticky rubber-cement ball and threw it against the wall. It stuck.

“Who am I fooling?” he asked himself. “I don't have the slightest idea how to handle a case like this.”

The only reason he had taken it was because Mrs. Delgado was so damned beautiful. He was such a sap. He would have sucked his thumb and walked like a monkey if she told him to. He knew that. She knew that. And he hated himself for it.

“God, you're stupid!” he scolded himself. “Never fall in love with a client! You only get what you deserve!”

Forcing his face into an expression of hard-bitten nonchalance — a look he'd picked up from Robert Mitchum movies and practiced for hours in front of the mirror — Smith grabbed his jacket and left the office.

Walking down the street, he kept the hard-bitten nonchalant look on his face. Robert Mitchum would have been proud. His father would have been proud, too; assuming he had a father. Well, of course, he had a father. Everybody had a father. It was just that Smith had yet to find any proof that he did. He knew he wouldn't rest until he found that proof. But that was another case. Right now, he had this Delgado thing to figure out.

He strolled down the street, Mrs. Delgado ever-present on his mind. An image of her on a brass bed with her wrists tied to the headboard was the most compelling image. But that would have to wait. Right now he had to find her husband's murderer.

As he walked down the street, he realized it might be better to use the sidewalk. On the sidewalk, he tripped over a small dog, sending it yelping off into the distance. It brought a smile to his face. That dog looked a lot like the one he used to trip over as a kid.

But he steeled himself against such sentimental thoughts and concentrated on Mrs. Delgado. A couple of blocks down the street he realized he would probably reach her house more quickly if he drove. So, he turned around and headed back to his car.

Turning the key, the engine roared to life before settling to a smooth purr. After all these years, it still ran like a dream. “Good old American know-how,” he said as he patted the steering wheel.

He pulled out into the street in the wrong direction. Without checking for traffic, he made a U-turn. The unsuspecting driver of the car behind him swerved and crashed into a telephone pole. The phone lines snapped and the pole collapsed into the street, barely missing Smith's car. Smith was oblivious.

When he arrived at the gated Delgado Estate, Smith was surprised to find Mrs. Delgado at the front gate waiting for him. Wearing only a nightgown, she stood clutching the iron bars from inside the property. She reminded him of a scene from one of his favorite movies, “Biker Chicks Behind Bars,” except that Mrs. Delgado didn't have as many tattoos.

“Hello Señor Smith,” she replied provocatively. Everything she did was provocative.

“Hello, Mrs. Delgado,” Smith replied. “What are you doing out here in your underwear?”

“It's a nightgown. And I'm waiting for you, Señor Smith.”

“Well, how did you know I'd be showing up?”

She smiled just a hint of a smile. “A woman knows these things, Señor Smith.” And she did that knowing nod again. “May I call you Madison, or perhaps, Ripley?”

“Call me anything you want, Mrs. Delgado.”

“Please, call me 'honey,'” she purred.

“… uh, yeah, okay … honey … my friends call me M.R.”

“Ooh, initials! I like that in a man. It makes you sound very important, eh, M.R.?”

“Sure, I guess so, Mrs… . uh, honey. Are you sure you want me to call you 'honey'?”

“Yes, please. My husband used to call me that.”

“I'm sure he did,” he said, thinking to himself, I wonder if I get to do anything else your husband did.

[To be continued (just as soon as I can figure out where to go next with this story)]

A Day at the Fair

by William Arthur “Bill” Holmes. © Copyright 1990

I pulled into Angel's Camp around noon. I was supposed to be meeting my brother Don and his wife Diane there … somewhere. We hadn't actually decided on a meeting place. That would have been too easy.

I drove south on the main street through town (probably Main Street, though I'm not quite sure). Parked along either side of the street were at least a hundred motorcycles, mostly Harleys, hovered over by their mostly leather-clad owners and passengers. I was supposed to find Don and Diane's motorcycle out of all these?

Don made it easy for me. He stepped out in front of my car as I made my way down the street. I was looking left and he came at me from the right. I could tell it was Don by the sound of his screams as I ran him over.

I pulled into the parking lot and parked my car. Don, limping, and Diane, also limping though I'm not sure why, met me there.

“You just ran over my foot, Bill,” he said in disbelief.

“I know,” I said. “I'm sorry. Have you eaten yet?”

“No. Have you?” he replied.

“There's a restaurant just up the street,” Diane offered.

I wanted to order French toast, but was afraid it wouldn't fill me up.

“Always go with your first instinct,” Don advised.

“You're right, of course,” I said. And I ordered the French toast. Don and Diane both ordered eggs over-medium with a side of wheat toast. We all drank coffee. Black.

After breakfast, it was time to go to the fairgrounds, Don and Diane on their motorcycle, me in my truck. At least, that's what I assumed until Diane said she wanted to drive my pickup.

“Why?” I asked.

“After two hours on the back of a motorcycle, I need to sit on a car seat for a while,” she explained.

“You don't love me anymore,” Don said bitterly.

I talked Diane into letting me drive and she rode with me.

There was a line of cars at the fairgrounds gate. The entrance was on a hill, and my car is a stick shift. I have an irrational fear of stopping on hills with a car that has a stick shift. I mentioned this to Diane, but she didn't seem to care. I told her about the time I ran a red light in Ossining, New York because it was at the top of a steep hill and my truck had a stick shift.

She looked at me sideways, yawned, and said, “That's against the law, isn't it?”

I didn't answer. I was suddenly deep in concentration. As we approached the fairgrounds entrance, the hill got steeper and steeper. My left foot was getting sore from constantly pushing down and letting go of the clutch pedal. I was really getting nervous. Tiny droplets of sweat dotted my upper lip.

“You want me to drive?” Diane asked helpfully.

“No,” I said. “This is something I have to do myself.”

Don then pulled up beside us on his motorcycle.

“Pay my parking,” he shouted, and sped on up ahead and out of sight. He reappeared a few minutes later after I parked my truck.

“How's your butt?” he asked.

“Fine, thanks,” I said.

“I was talking to Diane,” he sneered.

“Just fine,” Diane answered.

“I want to see the frogs,” I shouted, once we were through the gates and in the fair.

“Look in the mirror,” Don snapped.

“You're still mad because I ran over your foot, aren't you?” I asked.

And that's when Don pulled out his knife and began whipping it back and forth in front of my face. He stood with his feet wide apart, his body leaning slightly forward as he bobbed and weaved and stabbed at the air. The long, sharp blade glinted menacingly in the sun.

“Nice knife, huh?” Don laughed excitedly.

“Uh, yeah. Real nice,” I said as I backed away. Then, as quickly as he had produced the knife, he put it away and never mentioned it again.

“He's been under some stress lately,” Diane explained.

“Ah,” I said.

The frogs were located near the rodeo. The frog jockeys were stamping their feet and slapping the ground, whatever it took to get their frogs to jump. It was pretty boring. So, we watched the rodeo.

“What makes the horses buck?” Diane asked.

“Well, they take a corn cob …” Don began to explain.

“A bucking strap,” I interjected.

“What's a bucking strap?” Diane asked.

“A marital aid,” Don said. I laughed. Don didn't. I thought he was kidding. Apparently, he wasn't.

We left the rodeo before the barrel racing started. We weren't interested. Pig racing! Now, that's another matter. Unfortunately, we missed it. Diane was pretty broken up over it, too. I had no idea she felt so strongly about pigs. Her whining and complaining finally got so bad, I had to get a beer. I was going to get a beer, anyway. But this gave me a valid excuse.

When I returned with my beer, Don and Diane were gone. I searched the fairgrounds for at least five minutes before finally giving up and returning to my car. I found a note on my window. Spray-painted across the glass it said, “WE LEFT.”

“Ah,” I said to no one in particular as I finished my beer.

Lipstick & WD-40

by William Arthur “Bill” Holmes. © Copyright 1990

Sandi strolled out of the motel room wearing her tight spandex pants, high-heeled shoes and a simple peasant blouse. She had just turned another trick and she wanted to vomit. This was not a reaction to just the one trick, but from the life she had been leading these past several months. Being part of her Aunt Meg's “stable” in exchange for a few bucks and a place to stay just wasn't cutting it.

As Sandi approached the street, combing her brown, unwashed hair, a banged-up late-model sedan screeched to a halt in front of her. A powerfully built man in a maroon jogging suit leaned over and shouted through the passenger window for Sandi to get in the car. It was Jethro, Aunt Meg's enforcer/assistant pimp.

“Meg wants you back at the house,” Jethro said.

“I'll walk,” Sandi replied.

“Just shut up and get in!” he ordered.

It was useless to resist Jethro. If she ran, he would just catch her. And if he caught her he would beat the hell out of her.

She got into the car. As they drove, neither of them spoke. They were not friends and did not pretend to be. When they arrived at her Aunt Meg's two-story Victorian home, Jethro climbed out of the car quickly and trotted into the house. Jethro jogged every chance he got, Sandi thought to herself. And she hated him and everything about him. The fact that he had raped her several times didn't help their relationship.

As Sandi dragged herself to the door, she noticed a beautiful new Lincoln Continental parked in the driveway. She glanced inside to see if the keys were in it, but they weren't.

Sandi was greeted at the door by her smiling, almost toothless Aunt Meg.

“Sandi, an old friend from Albuquerque has stopped by on his way to Vegas. Be nice to him, huh? He's got bucks and we want him coming back, got it?”

“Got it,” Sandi said, knowing Meg didn't have any old friends in Albuquerque, or anywhere else. But she didn't argue the point. Instead, she simply moved toward the stairs. Her old friend, who introduced himself as “Johnson” was in the kitchen, nervously fidgeting with his cowboy hat. Sandi looked him over slowly while he smiled weakly at her. She thought to herself that he looked like all the rest. Stupid. Stupid and nervous.

Finally, Sandi sighed, gestured toward the stairs and, in an exasperated tone, said to Johnson, “Well?”

Johnson looked for approval from Meg, who tried to smile reassuringly, but only ended up looking like the greedy, gap-toothed, burned-out old whore that she was. Meg shooed Johnson onward with her hand, and Johnson trailed Sandi up the stairs.

When Sandi reached the top of the stairwell she began unbuttoning her blouse. Johnson, a few steps behind, was working up a sweat trying to undo his tie.

By the time Sandi entered the bedroom, her blouse was completely unbuttoned. A breeze obligingly blew in through the window to gently caress her skin and reveal her firm young breasts. She ambled up to the bed, sat on its edge and kicked off her shoes, just as she had done a thousand times before.

Johnson was still having trouble with his tie. He had his shirt and shoes off now but his tie was in an irreparable knot. Finally, he just gave up and left it hanging from his neck. Again, he looked stupid, Sandi thought, with his flabby, pale, sweaty skin and that silly tied knotted up around his neck.

As he entered the bedroom he started to remove his pants, but couldn't. The zipper was stuck. He was sweating like a racehorse as he worked on getting the zipper loose, smiling nervously at Sandi. Sandi simply watched, amused, offering no help. She lay back on the bed, leaned on one elbow and smiled.

“Whenever you're ready,” she said, feigning impatience.

“Just a minute,” he said. “I've never had this much trouble before.”

“Have you ever done this sort of thing before?” she teased. He didn't answer, trying unsuccessfully to look cool as he struggled with his zipper. Sandi almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

“Do you need some help?” she finally offered.

He nodded yes, and she got up from the bed, kneeled down in front of him and took a hold of the zipper with her right hand while holding onto his pants pocket with her left hand for balance. She yanked hard on the zipper. Nothing. She yanked again, and ripped out the pants pocket, spilling coins and keys to the floor. She tried to apologize between gasps of hysterical laughter.

Then she came up with an idea. “I'll get some WD40!” she said, suddenly enjoying herself. “Wait here.”

“No! No, you don't have to do that!” Johnson protested. But she ignored him and scurried out of the room, laughing. A moment later she returned with the promised can of lubricant. He protested again but she silenced him with a squirt on the zipper. She missed, leaving an embarrassing stain.

“Oops, sorry,” she laughed again. She tried again, taking careful aim this time, and squirted again. Bullseye!

He continued to perspire uncontrollably, damping at his neck and forehead with a nonstop handkerchief. At least he was now able to unzip his pants, which he did quickly.

“Let's make this quick,” he urged.

“Fine by me,” Sandi shrugged.

After a moment he was standing naked in front of her. She rolled her eyes at the sight of him as she peeled the rest of her clothing off. They looked at each other's bodies for a moment before Sandi sighed heavily and crawled up onto the bed. Johnson did not follow immediately. All he could do was stare.

She was so young. So young. Not much older than his daughter, in fact. And his loins stirred at this perverse thought, and he got an erection. Then he made the mistake of thinking of his wife, and his erection wilted.

His wife always had that effect on him.

He tried to clear his mind of them both. Visions of slim young boys then came to mind. But that didn't help. I'm no faggot, dammit!, he told himself. He tried thinking of his daughter again, but hated himself for his own thoughts. His mind was reeling. It was all too much for him.

Sandi could see it on his face. She knew how to get around such impotence, but offered no help. She did not want to touch his pudgy, sweaty body if she didn't have to. Finally, Johnson gave up and said, “Let's just forget it.”

“No problem,” Sandi said.

“Don't tell Meg about this, alright?” he asked. “I'll never live it down.” And he reached for his clothes.

“For a free ride to Vegas, I'll keep quiet. Otherwise, it'll be all over town that you're queer.”

“I am not …” He stopped himself mid-sentence and looked at her strangely. Had she read his mind? Did she know that he was thinking about slim young boys in order to get an erection earlier? No. That was impossible.

He looked at her again, but turned away when her eyes met his. She was not to be trusted, that was sure. But he agreed to her terms. He could always dump her in the desert on the way to Vegas, he told himself. He should have known he would never have the nerve to do that, but he fooled himself into believing that he just might.

Sandi quickly got dressed and pulled her suitcase from out of the closet. She grabbed a couple pairs of pants, underwear and a few blouses from the dresser. Just the bare essentials.

“Okay,” she barked out orders as she slipped into a pair of sandals. “You go down the stairs and out through the front door. I'll climb out the window and be in your car by the time you get there. It's unlocked, right?” She knew it wasn't.

“No, it's locked,” he confirmed.

“Give me the keys,” she said quickly, snapping her fingers.

“I will not give you the keys,” he protested loudly.

“Not so loud,” Sandi whispered, looking around nervously. “Just give me the keys, and I'll be in the back seat waiting for you by the time you get there.” She gave him the most innocent look she could muster. It worked, and he handed over the keys. She was out the window with her suitcase in a matter of seconds. She let the suitcase fall to the ground ahead of her, then followed right behind. She landed well, like a cat, and scurried off in the direction of Johnson's car.

Johnson hurried downstairs in hopes of getting to his car before Sandi. He tipped his hat to Meg on his way out, while she sat at the kitchen table smoking a cigarette and reading the National Enquirer. Jethro was in the front room, watching television.

“Come again,” Meg said, then broke into hysterical laughter at her favorite pun. She spotted the rip and stain on Johnson's trousers, but pretended not to notice. He had probably asked Sandi to do it, she thought. And she returned her attention to her tabloid.

The sound of a Lincoln Continental starting up could be heard coming from the front of the house. Johnson dashed out the front door, shouting “She's stealing my car! Meg, she's stealing …” Johnson and Jethro ran outside, with Meg waddling out behind them.

Sure enough, Sandi was stealing his car.

The Leaky Weekly

by William Arthur “Bill” Holmes. © Copyright 1990-2010

The Leaky Weekly's motto used to be: “It's Not Just A Newspaper, It's A Piece Of Us.” This was quickly perverted by the locals into: “It's not just a newspaper, it's a piece of ass.” So the motto was changed to: “It's Not Just A Newspaper, It's A Family Newsletter.” And that's what they put on the outside of the Leaky Weekly building. Of course, it was not long before someone scratched out the word “just” and tore off the words “it's a Family Newsletter,” so that it ended up saying: “It's not a newspaper.” As it turned out, this was the most appropriate motto after all.

On the morning of July 8th, Betsy Talbot was the first to arrive for work at Leaky Faucet, California's local newspaper, The Leaky Weekly. On her way to the restroom to fill the coffee pot with fresh water, she found the newspaper's advice columnist Larry Askis on the floor in front of the restroom door, clutching the knob with his outstretched hand.

Betsy normally would have assumed he was drunk again and given her usual speech on the evils of alcohol and the need for professional decorum in the workplace. But today was different. There was a knife plunged to its hilt in Larry's back. Blood was everywhere.

Betsy screamed in horror and dropped the coffee pot. She left the shattered glass on the floor and called the local sheriff's deputy.

Leaky Faucet is a small town somewhere in California's Central Valley. It was given its name by town founders with either a great sense of humor or a definite mean streak, not that there's much difference. Leaky Faucet is, according to the huge billboard along the highway, the “lima bean capital of the world.” Until recently, lima beans and its ridiculous name were Leaky Faucet's only claims to fame.

The Leaky Weekly, that “Bastion of Periodic Excellence,” as its dimwitted motto (yes, another motto) stated, was actually a biweekly publication. It had begun as a weekly, but there soon proved to be too little news to warrant such regularity.

The Leaky Weekly's editor and publisher, Charles Foster Crane, upon inheriting his current position in his mother's will several years ago, officially changed his name from Jan Lesley Crane to Charles Foster Crane to more closely resemble that of his hero, the fictional Citizen Kane. He never liked his first and middle names, anyway; they were girl's names.

Now forty-three years old, Crane was beginning to worry that his dreams of journalistic glory and fame were slipping from his grasp. When he first took over The Weekly's operations, Crane figured he would slowly buy up all or most of the papers in the county until he had his own little publishing empire. This empire would continue to grow through the efforts of his as-yet-unborn progeny until he was the patriarch of one of the country's leading publishing families.

That dream never came to pass. He had no wife or children, which pretty much ruled out the leading publishing family thing. And his “empire” still consisted of this one lousy biweekly newspaper. Somehow (through no fault of his own, of course), things had not worked out as planned.

Crane was also beginning to feel his own mortality. The men in his family had a propensity for dying young. His father, two uncles and a grandfather had all been murdered by the age of fifty. Hardly natural causes, but not a good family track record for longevity. Two of those “murders,” those of his grandfather and an uncle, were self-inflicted. They were officially ruled suicides, but in both cases family members were of the general opinion that it was more than “just suicide.” Both men had a history of multiple personalities. Everyone assumed each man was “murdered” by one of their own personalities, for they were both overheard arguing with themselves just before shots rang out.

When Crane woke up this morning, he had a feeling something bad was going to happen. He had this feeling almost every morning. He usually hoped something bad would happen, actually, since it would give him something to put in his newspaper.

As he sat on the edge of the bed rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, images from last night's dreams assailed him. He had dreamed of murder again last night; though, upon waking, he could not remember exactly who was murdered.

Almost every night for the past week he had been having this vivid, recurring dream of murder. Yet, every time he awoke he could not picture the face of the murder victim. It was the strangest thing. Everything else in the dream but the victim's face was easily recollected. Also, he did not know if in the dream he was merely a witness or the actual murderer. It felt like a combination of both somehow, if that was possible.

A few days ago, desperate for some peace of mind, Crane mentioned these troubling dreams to Betsy Talbot. She was touched by Crane's efforts to reach out to her. It was the first time he had ever done so.

She cleared her throat, adjusted herself in her seat, and came up with a rather lengthy response. “Well,” she began, “if you're the one being murdered in the dream, it probably means that your life, or maybe just your career, will soon be over.”

“'Just' my career?” said Crane.

Betsy continued unabated. “If someone else is murdered, it probably means you just wish that person were dead. Of course, it could also mean you're concerned for that person's safety. It depends on the details of the dream.”

Crane was now rolling his eyes and shaking his head.

“Finally,” she concluded, “if you are the murderer, it probably means you're subconsciously trying to end some aspect of either your life or someone else's. Again, it depends who the murder victim is.”

“In other words,” Crane summed it up, “you don't know what to make of it, either.”

Betsy glared evilly at him. “Why did you ask for my opinion if you were just going to shoot me down?”

“It makes me feel better,” he said flippantly, and disappeared into his office.

Whatever the interpretation, Crane's dreams were very real to him. And this morning, like almost every other morning this week, he woke up in a cold sweat. First thing after crawling out of bed and visiting the bathroom, he staggered barefoot to the kitchen table and turned off the tape recorder. He unplugged its connection to the police scanner and turned up the scanner's volume. This was an every-morning ritual. Although there was hardly ever anything of interest broadcast across the police airwaves, night or day, he was deathly afraid of not having the scanner on for that one instance when there was something noteworthy.

The automatic coffeemaker had a fresh pot waiting for him and he poured himself a cup. He was in the middle of pouring when he heard over the police scanner what he almost knew he would hear: There had been a murder last night!

Upon hearing the news, Crane dropped the coffee pot. It shattered on the hard tile floor and splashed onto his bare feet. He jumped at the touch of the searing liquid, landed hard against the edge of the kitchen counter, then ran to the bathtub to run cold water over his scalded feet.

Sitting on the edge of the tub, his feet throbbed under the cooling water. Beads of sweat dotted his forehead and he almost passed out. He had to hold onto the shower door for balance.

As the pain in his feet and his dizziness subsided, he noticed a new pain. This one came from his right side, caused by his landing hard against the kitchen counter top. He remained seated on the edge of the tub and allowed himself the luxury of a few minutes of self-pity.

Then it occurred to him what a great story this murder would be for his newspaper. It was just the kind of bad news he had always hoped for. It was just the thing his miserable little publication needed. Advertising revenues had been down lately and he was on the verge of making stories up, just to sell more papers.

Making up stories would not be necessary now; at least, not until the murder story lost its appeal. He actually had a real story! Within a few minutes, he had forgotten all about his pain and was soon brimming with excitement. He phoned Running Bear Johnson, his printing press operator, and ordered him to the office at once to warm up the presses in preparation for a special edition. “A very special edition,” Crane added.

“What could be so special in Leaky Faucet?” Running Bear wanted to know.

“Just get down there!” Crane bellowed. He could hardly wait to get there, himself.

Sheriff's Deputy Carl Hummer showed up at the offices of The Leaky Weekly in his patrol car shortly after receiving the call from his dispatcher. His newly hired Junior Deputy, Drucilla Lee, pulled up a few seconds later in her own personal “vehicle.” (She never referred to it as a “car.” To her, it was always her “vehicle.”)

Dirk Ritchie, photographer/reporter for The Weekly, was in front of The Weekly's office and about to go inside when Deputies Hummer and Lee came careening into the parking lot. The deputy's vehicle missed the photographer by just a few feet as it screeched to a halt.

“Don't go in there!” Drucilla barked at Dirk as she jumped out of her car.

“Why not?” Dirk asked.

Drucilla ignored the question. “What are you doing here?”

“I work here,” said Dirk.

“It's just as well that you're here, Dirk,” Deputy Hummer interrupted his gung-ho deputy with a soothing tone. “We need someone to photograph the body.”

“Body!?” Dirk said.

“There's been a murder,” Drucilla said gravely, watching Dirk's face for a reaction. Trained to scrutinize a suspect's initial reaction to shocking news such as she had just given, she was eager to detect something incriminating in Dirk's face. But Dirk only raised his eyebrows, grabbed hold of his ever-present camera, and beat the two deputies through the door into the office.

Once inside, as Hummer and Lee hovered over Larry Askis's body, Dirk took photos of the crime scene and pretty much everything else in sight. When Charles Foster Crane stormed into the office, Dirk took pictures of that, too. Drucilla wondered if Dirk went anywhere without his camera. Probably even showered with it, she supposed. But that brought to mind the image of a naked Dirk, and she dropped the thought.

“I heard the news over the police scanner!” Crane shouted excitedly. “Where's Running Bear?”

“Probably still asleep,” Dirk replied.

“No,” Crane said. “I called him the minute I heard about Larry. We need to get out a special edition! This is the biggest story of the year! Where's the body?”

“Over here,” Deputy Hummer replied from the hallway.

Crane followed Hummer's voice. Upon seeing Larry's body for the first time, Crane stopped cold and leaned against the doorway. He dabbed at the perspiration on his brow with a handkerchief. He had never seen a dead body before. He was thrown off by the sight of it. After his initial hesitation, however, the morbid curiosity of the true reporter came through and Crane moved toward the body. He crouched down and touched Larry's lapel.

“Don't touch him!” Deputy Hummer shouted. “We haven't dusted for fingerprints yet.”

Crane pulled his hand away.

Dirk Ritchie took pictures throughout “the dusting of fingerprints.” Once finished dusting, Drucilla instructed Dirk to make extra copies of the pictures for her scrapbook. Dirk raised an eyebrow at her for a moment, then shrugged and rewound his used-up roll of film and inserted a new cartridge.

When Running Bear Johnson meandered casually into the office, Crane immediately shouted at him. “What the hell took you so long?”

“Traffic, C.F.,” Running Bear dead-panned.

“Traffic?” Crane spat. “In Leaky Faucet?”

“School bus, C.F. It's illegal to pass a school bus when the red lights are flashing.”

From her position next to the body, Deputy Lee turned and smiled at Running Bear's understanding of and obvious respect for the law. Running Bear smiled back at her.

His smile faded, however, upon seeing the body. “Damn!” he said. “Who's that?”

“Larry Askis,” Deputy Hummer said matter-of-factly.

Running Bear was speechless as he stared at Larry's prone body. Crane shook him out of his reverie by shouting at him again. “Why aren't you warming up the presses? We've got a special edition to get out!”

Running Bear gave Crane a mock salute and disappeared into the press room. As usual, Crane found himself bristling at Running Bear's insolence. He would have fired him a long time ago, but in a town the size of Leaky Faucet it was difficult to find someone able to run a printing press. He turned his attention to Betsy Talbot.

“Betsy, call the rest of the staff. Get them down here now! What the hell am I paying them for anyway? This is a newspaper, damn it!”

He finally had a real story to report and he did not want to blow it. Too bad Larry Askis had to die to provide such a story. But that's the way it goes sometimes in the newspaper business.

A few minutes later, Boris Dutikov, a recent Russian immigrant and The Leaky Weekly's sports reporter, wandered into the office. Betsy shouted out, “The rest of the staff has arrived, Mr. Crane!”

Deputy Hummer watched grimly as Deputy Lee and Dirk carried Larry Askis's dead body out the door. He winced as they almost dropped him on their way through the office. After a few moments of appropriate grimness, however, Hummer approached Betsy Talbot.

“Do you mind if I ask you a few questions, Betsy?”

“Yes, but go ahead, anyway,” Betsy snapped.

Betsy could not stand the sight of Carl Hummer. Ever since he had arrested her for indecent exposure over a year ago, she had not spoken two words to him. It was not “indecent exposure” at all, she had explained at the time. She was merely crouching behind a bush one night in the park because the public restrooms were locked and there was not another one for at least a mile. She simply could not wait.

Hummer had stared at her bare bottom then with obvious glee as she pulled her panties back up and adjusted her skirt. He offered to “pretend this whole thing never happened,” in return for a “quickie.” But when she declined his offer, he stated, “The law is clear in this situation.” And he arrested her.

Too flustered at the time, she did not realize that at that moment she held Hummer's career in her hands. She could have charged him with attempted extortion. By the time she realized it several months later after reading about just such a case, however, she decided to just let the whole thing drop. She was raised to believe Hummer's was acceptable, almost expected, behavior from men.

Now oblivious to Betsy's smoldering wrath, Hummer proceeded with his murder investigation. He asked the routine questions: What time did you arrive at the office that morning; were you the first to arrive; what were your actions from the moment you left your house to the moment you found Mr. Askis's body; what were your feelings toward the deceased; have you ever had sex with him?

Betsy gave a complete accounting of her actions, beginning with a sarcastic report on how much time she had spent in the bathroom that morning. Hummer scribbled furiously on a note pad as she spoke.

When it came to the question of her sleeping with Larry, she replied acidly, “Before or after he was dead?”

“Before,” Hummer replied, taking the question in stride. To his way of thinking, hers was not a totally weird question. Several years ago as a rookie deputy in Los Angeles County, he could have had sex with a recently deceased actress. She had died of a drug overdose, so there was no blood or anything, and she lay completely naked on her bed. Left alone in the room with her for several minutes, he seriously considered it. It was only at the last minute that he decided against it.

“All I will say,” Betsy sighed, “is that Larry and I knew each other better than anyone was aware.”

“What does that mean?” Hummer asked.

Betsy rolled her eyes at the deputy's stupidity. “What do you think it means?”

“You tell me,” Hummer said evenly.

“It means, you idiot,” she shouted, “that yes, Larry and I were having an affair up until a week ago. Jealous?”

The entire office went silent as everyone turned and stared.

“Ah-ha!” Hummer broke the silence after a few moments. “And it was after he snubbed you for another woman that you killed him, right!?”

“Wrong, Sherlock,” said Betsy. “I didn't kill him. And he didn't snub me for another woman.”

Hummer shrugged. He did not actually expect his guess to be correct. As usual, he was just throwing darts, hoping something would stick. He wrote down everything Betsy had said and prepared to question the next person.

As Hummer stood in front of her desk, looking for his next victim, Betsy dropped a bombshell. Quietly, she said, “Larry didn't drop me for another woman.”

“Yeah, you already said that,” said Hummer.

“He dropped me for another man.”

Visibly shocked, Hummer did not want to hear about it. He was pretty sure it had nothing to do with the case, so he frantically went in search of his next interviewee; who turned out to be Boris Dutikov, the sports reporter.

“Mr. Dutikov,” Hummer exhaled the words, nervously glancing back at Betsy for fear she might reveal some more disgusting secrets about Larry Askis's personal life. “Boris, I couldn't help but notice you were the last one to arrive this morning. Would you mind explaining this to me?”

“Well,” Boris replied in his broken English. “I show up exactly 9:15. When I get here I see everyone else already here.” He raised his hands and smiled as if this explained everything.

Hummer nodded, trying to decipher whether or not Boris was being sarcastic. He decided the man was probably too stupid for sarcasm, and he scribbled Dutikov's answer on his note pad.

“I'll get back to you later,” said Hummer.

“I'll be here,” Dutikov said cheerfully.

Hummer next questioned Charles Foster Crane. When Crane first arrived that morning he mentioned hearing about Larry Askis over the police scanner. Hummer was fairly certain Larry Askis was never mentioned by name over the radio. He mentioned this discrepancy to Crane.

“Did I say that?” Crane replied nervously. He hadn't noticed. Now that Hummer brought it up, however, Crane realized that, somehow, he did know it was Larry Askis who had been murdered. How could that be? Was Larry the one in his dreams? At this last thought, Crane went pale.

“What is it?” Hummer caught the look of guilt on Crane's face.

Crane fidgeted for a moment. His thoughts had betrayed him! Of course, he knew he was not the murderer. At least, he didn't think he was the murderer. But he also knew by the look on Hummer's face that he was suddenly a suspect. He had to think fast.

“Oh, I must've just assumed it was Larry,” said Crane, making it up as he went along. “I mean, after all … uh … I mean … except for the Indian and the Russian, Larry was the only one missing when I walked in, and I had just spoken with Running Bear on the phone.”

“Uh huh. Sounds reasonable,” Hummer replied, nodding thoughtfully. “A bit of friendly advice, Mr. Crane. Never assume anything. Assuming makes an ass out of you and me.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Crane blustered.

“Don't you get it?” Hummer explained with a playful jab to Crane's shoulder. “It makes an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me.' A-s-s-u-m-e. Pretty clever, huh?”

“Yeah, clever,” Crane grimaced. He was in no mood for word games. “If you don't mind, Sheriff, I have a newspaper to get out.”

“Deputy,” said Hummer.


“I'm only a deputy,” Hummer explained.

“Should've known.”

“What do you mean by that?” Hummer growled.

“I just meant that, as the editor of the town newspaper, I should have known you were a deputy, not a sheriff. That's all,” Crane lied. He was beginning to impress himself with his ability to think fast and come up with plausible lies.

Hummer nodded and made a mental note to speak with Crane again later. For now, however, Running Bear Johnson was next in line for questioning. Hummer hunted him down in the press room.

Deputy Hummer and Running Bear were very familiar with each other. It was Running Bear's long-standing contention that the land now occupied by the town of Leaky Faucet was, by rights, the property of the “Wapwah Indian Nation.” And, as the last known surviving Wapwah, the land, therefore, belonged to Running Bear personally. He regularly printed petitions and “proclamations” and posted them all over town, including the inside walls of the mayor's and Deputy Hummer's offices. Deputy Hummer had lost track of the number of citations he had given Running Bear over the years for “unauthorized promulgation.”

Over the noise of the printing press, Hummer shouted, “Running Bear, is there anything you'd like to tell me?”

“I can think of quite a few things,” Running Bear shouted back and smiled.

“This is serious,” Hummer huffed. “Don't you take anything seriously? A man has been murdered! And can you turn this thing off for a minute?”

Running Bear shut off the press. “What do you want to know?” he asked soberly.

“That's more like it,” said Hummer. “Was Larry Askis aware of the fact that you are an Indian?”

Running Bear rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Now who's not being serious? I'm not an 'Indian.' I'm a Native American. Wapwah, to be precise.”

“Whatever,” Hummer replied, short on patience.

“Not 'whatever.' Wapwah!”

“Right. Was Larry aware of this?”

“Can't see how he wouldn't be,” Running Bear replied. “My name kind of gives it away, doesn't it?”

“Did you know Larry Askis was a member of the Ku Klux Klan?”


Actually, Larry Askis was never a member of the KKK and Hummer knew it. He was simply using an old ploy he had learned at the Academy: Give your suspect something to dislike about the victim in hopes that the suspect will, in an emotional outburst, reveal his true feelings and, thus, implicate himself — or at least give you a valid excuse to throw him in jail. Hummer had never actually seen this tactic work, but he always liked the idea and used it whenever the opportunity presented itself.

“Wait a minute. Wasn't Larry half Jewish?” Running Bear asked.

Hummer squinted his eyes, as he always did when unable to follow someone's line of thinking. “What's your point?” he asked.

“Well, seeing as how the KKK hate just about everyone who isn't white and Protestant Christian, it seems highly unlikely that Larry, being half Jewish, would be a member of such an organization.”

At a loss for both words and any idea of what to do next, Deputy Hummer turned beat red, puffed out his chest, and stomped out of The Leaky Weekly offices. He had never conducted a murder investigation before, and he did not like the way this one was going. He would fill out his report in the comfort of his office and then decide what to do next.

Charles Foster Crane spent that entire morning writing articles for The Weekly's “special edition.” When the last of the articles was written and Running Bear had run off the first hundred copies, Crane excitedly distributed them around town himself. It reminded him of his days as a young paperboy.

Back then, he did what he could to help his mother pay the bills. He and his mother were hard-pressed in those days after his father ran off with another woman, only to be shot in the head by an unknown assailant a month later.

Crane remembered now that his mother had never shown any emotion whatsoever at the news of her husband's murder. Sure, she complained that with her husband dead it removed any possibility of his making child-support payments — not that he would have, anyway. Aside from that, though, she seemed to take the whole thing remarkably well.

For a fleeting moment, Crane toyed with the thought that perhaps his mother was the murderer. With a shiver down his spine, however, he buried that thought deep into the recesses of his mind. How could he think such a thing? His mother was a saint.

Besides, that was a long time ago, and Crane now had a new murder to worry about. He marshaled his thoughts and directed his enthusiasm toward this new murder.

“NEWSPAPER COLUMNIST MURDERED! Hummer Baffled” read The Leaky Weekly's banner headline that day. He liked that one. It made Hummer look bad.

The next article's headline read “Is Anyone Safe Anymore?” Below that, came “Who Was Larry Askis, Anyway?”

Crane was quite proud of himself. He was sure his mother would have been proud, too.

As Deputy Hummer went over his notes after interrogating the Leaky Weekly staff, Charles Foster Crane stuck out as the most likely suspect. How did Crane know Larry Askis had been murdered? Hummer could have sworn he never mentioned it over the police radio. To prove it, he replayed the tapes of everything the dispatcher had said and heard that day over both the police radio and the telephone.

The dispatcher was a 67-year-old retired Department of Motor Vehicles clerk named Marge Smith. Usually, when Hummer replayed the dispatch tapes he had to wade through an endless dialogue of Marge gossiping with her friends before he heard anything relating to the Sheriff's Department.

Luckily, Betsy Talbot had telephoned the Sheriff's Office first thing in the morning, so he only had to fast-forward a little before hearing Betsy Talbot's frantic voice.

“Hello, police?” she said. “I'd like to report a murder.”

“A murder?” came Marge Smith's testy reply. “In Leaky Faucet? Are you sure?”

“Yes, I'm sure!” Betsy screamed.

“Don't raise your voice at me, young lady,” Marge scolded. “Who is this, anyway?”

“This is Betsy Talbot at The Leaky Weekly. Are you going to send someone down here or not?”

“Not so fast, Betsy. What makes you think it was murder?”

“Well, there's a knife in his back. So, I think that rules out suicide!”

On the tape of the police radio conversations, Hummer listened to the conversation he had had with Marge earlier that morning. “Calling all cars, calling all cars . . said Marge (even though she knew there was only Hummer's and Deputy Lee's cars. She just loved saying “calling all cars.”) “… got a call from The Leaky Weekly. Very rude woman there says there's been a murder. Probably one of their publicity stunts. Maybe you should check it out, anyway. Over?” This was followed first by Deputy Hummer's then Deputy Lee's acknowledging responses.

Hummer was right. There had been no mention of Larry Askis by name over either the police scanner or the telephone. That meant that either Crane was the murderer or he knew who the murderer was.

Before jumping to conclusions, however, Hummer decided he should make a thorough investigation. He went to the library for back issues of The Leaky Weekly and Larry Askis's column with hopes of finding anything that might give clues as to why someone might want to murder Askis. He hoped he would not have to read very far back.

As he read, he was astounded by the crap Askis put in his column. He had never taken the time to read the column before. As he read now, it was almost a wonder Askis had not been killed a long time ago.

“I'm not one to gossip,” Askis began one article, “but was that Mary Gilbert I saw with Bobby Johnson at the movie theater the other night? I'll bet Mary's traveling salesman husband would like to know!”

Hummer remembered now how he and his former junior deputy, the late Dwayne Biccup, had to restrain Bobby Johnson from snapping Askis's puny little neck when the two crossed paths in the grocery store the next day. Askis had to admit in the next issue that he had, in fact, never seen Mary Gilbert and Bobby Johnson even remotely close to each other, let alone at the movies together.

Another article read: “I don't know about you, dear reader, but I wouldn't let my son join the local church choir, given the clergy's notoriety for pedophilia!” The parson himself had to be restrained after that particular issue hit the newsstands. Once again, Askis was forced to print a retraction.

There were several other similarly incendiary articles from the poison pen of Larry Askis. Hummer had to wonder if any of them was enough to inspire murder, though. It was not until Running Bear Johnson called a couple of days later with a key bit of information that Hummer had anything resembling a case against anyone in the Askis murder.

It was late afternoon and Charles Foster Crane was in his office basking in the glory of his newspaper's new-found popularity. Those first hundred copies sold out in a matter of hours that first day. The news spread fast, and over the next couple of days people from all over the county traveled to Leaky Faucet to buy copies of Charles Foster Crane's newspaper. Crane could even be found out in front of The Weekly's building offering autographed copies for an extra 25¢. All those showing up there for their copy, however, specifically requested an un-autographed copy.

It was around 4 o'clock when Running Bear finished running off the third special edition. He stopped by Crane's office to advise him of this fact.

“Don't think you're done yet, R.B.,” Crane accented Running Bear's initials, the same as Running Bear irritatingly called Crane “C.F.” “This story could set all kinds of records! If we're lucky, you'll be running those presses all night, all week!”

“Somehow I doubt it,” Running Bear droned and wandered off toward the coffee machine.

A few minutes later, Deputies Hummer and Lee barged in. They ignored Betsy Talbot — who was at her desk pretending not to notice them, anyway — and headed straight for Crane's office. Without knocking, they entered the small glass-walled enclosure.

“Charles Foster Crane?” Deputy Hummer boomed in his most officious voice.

Crane looked up from his typewriter. “Deputy. Deputy,” he nodded at them cordially. “What can I do for you?”

“You're under arrest,” said Hummer without preamble.

“You said I could say that!” Drucilla protested.

“You can read him his rights,” Hummer snapped back at her. “Would you stand up please, Mr. Crane?”

Crane arose. “This is ridiculous!” he protested. “I'm under arrest? On what charge?”

“Murder, Mr. Crane,” Deputy Hummer said grimly. “You're under arrest for the murder of Larry Askis. Turning to Drucilla, Hummer said, “Cuff him.”

Drucilla resolutely strode toward Crane and put the handcuffs on him. Beaming shamelessly, Drucilla recited: “You have the right to remain silent. Should you give up that right, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law . .

After Deputy Lee concluded her recitation of the Miranda rights, Crane howled. “I'll have you fired for this, Hummer! You, too, Drucilla! You'll both be lucky to find jobs cleaning toilets at McDonald's!”

“We don't have a McDonald's here,” Drucilla quipped. Crane only glared at her.

Hummer cleared his throat and spoke to Drucilla. “Uh, Deputy? You're supposed to cuff him with his hands behind his back.”

“Oh!” Drucilla said, and she began to unlock the cuffs. Hummer stopped her.

“Next time, deputy. Next time. Just bring him along as is.”

As the deputies took Crane away, Running Bear, who had witnessed the whole thing from across the office, shook his head and smiled. He always knew this was how C.F. Crane would leave The Leaky Weekly some day. Of course, his little phone call to Deputy Hummer the day prior helped bring it all to pass.

Running Bear felt a certain sense of satisfaction. Of course, Crane's downfall had not gone entirely as Running Bear had hoped. He always sort of hoped Crane would be taken away in a strait-jacket, not handcuffs. But then, who's to quibble about minor details?

“Now what?” Running Bear turned and asked Betsy Talbot.

Betsy seemed to be in a mild state of shock. Her jaw was slack as she watched Crane being put into the back seat of the deputy's car. It took her a moment to respond to Running Bear.

She finally just shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well, I guess we go home. And she gathered up her purse and walked out the door, leaving Running Bear to close the office.

Running Bear went back to the press room and put the freshly run newspapers onto a pallet jack. He carted them out to the loading dock and separated them into several stacks for the delivery boys.

Running Bear then entered Crane's office, sat down at his desk, and started writing the next edition of The Leaky Weekly. He banged out the banner headline:

“NEWSPAPER EDITOR ARRESTED. Wapwah Heir Named Interim Editor.”

Crane's trial came and went in what seemed like a blur. And now, as Crane sat in his bed in the hospital for the criminally insane, his whole life seemed like a bad dream.

He never expected Running Bear to tell the cops about that one article Larry Askis had written that Crane had removed just moments before the paper went to press. Askis, Crane and Running Bear were the only people who ever saw that article. Of course, Crane and Askis were the only ones who knew for a fact that it was true.

And who would have thought Crane would turn out to be homosexual and have an affair with Larry Askis, only to end up killing Askis, not just in his dreams, but in real life? The fact that he killed him while sleep-walking made it even more bizarre.

According to the psychiatrists and the “dream regressionist” at his trial, however, that is exactly what Crane had done. “The heinousness and immorality of Mr. Crane's homosexuality,” the psychiatrist explained during the trial, “proved just too much for Mr. Crane's conscious mind to accept. He kept it all bottled up inside, hidden away, even from himself, until his subconscious self finally did what his conscious self was not man enough to do. He arranged for one last rendezvous with Larry Askis at the offices of the Leaky Weekly. And, while sleep-walking, mind you, he stabbed Mr. Askis in the back repeatedly until Mr. Askis was dead.”

Crane broke down at that point during the trial and admitted that everything the psychiatrist had said was true. “And I'm glad I did it!” he had shouted defiantly, in spite of his lawyer's attempts to muzzle him. “I'm free now!” Crane babbled on. “I've never been more free in my life!”

Then Crane had spotted the court stenographer and said to her, “That's a lovely dress. Can I borrow it?” The bailiff had to restrain him from attacking the poor woman and tearing her dress off.

Crane's lawyer, of course, used the “not guilty by reason of insanity” plea. The judge (and everyone else) happily went along with that.

So, in a sense, Crane “won” his case. He was found “not guilty.” The only problem was that he would now have to spend the rest of his life in a hospital full of drooling idiots. Of course, it would not be a whole lot different than working with The Leaky Weekly's staff.

This article/post is copyrighted. Please do not reprint, reproduce or distribute it (or its images) in whole or in part (other than to “share” a brief excerpt with a link to the original) in any form without our consent. Thanks!

The Slow Leak

copyright © 2000 by Steve Holmes

It was a gorgeous Sunday near the end of September and I needed some exercise. Exercise, just for the sake of exercise was probably best done by running on the treadmill at the athletic club. But on a day like that, just exercise wasn’t enough. I would take a bike ride on the American River Bike trail.

Checking on my bike, hung up in the garage, I noticed that the tires were a little low on air. This wasn’t a worry. Tires naturally lost some air over time. I just pumped them up, filled my water bottle, grabbed my fanny pack, put on my helmet, and I was off.

To get to Discovery Park, where the trail began, it was just over a mile. Luckily, there was a little extension of the trail through my neighborhood and just a quarter mile down the street. I picked up the trail near Jefferson School and found that they had just resurfaced it. It was really nice and smooth.

The good thing about the bike trail was that it being along the river, it was cooler than the rest of town. The riparian aspect of the area by the river and the transpiration of the trees and vegetation just made the air cooler. This was good because I wanted to get some exercise and the exercise would make me hot, able to appreciate the air temperature not being so high.

With feet in the pedal straps (I had never gotten around to getting those new expensive pedals that hooked up to cleats and made straps unnecessary.) I started cranking my legs and spun my feet in circles around the crank. The middle gear on my rear sprocket in combination with the large chainwheel on my crank made a gear ratio that I liked for flat ground like the trail. When there were little up or down hills, I just spun my legs faster or pushed harder instead of changing gears.

An especially appealing aspect of riding on the bike trail, over riding out in the boonies somewhere on regular roads, was that there were other cyclists and there would likely be women cyclists, too. Women cyclists just looked better than most women. Of course the odds were that they were fitter and had better figures than most women, but it was more than that. It wasn’t even that they frequently put their hair in pony tails that I have always had a fondness for. It was the idea, imagined by me or not, that they were smarter because they appreciated exercise and bicycles. Smart women were almost always attractive.

Unfortunately, about the only way to see women on the trail was to see them going in the opposite direction. If they were going in the same direction as I, then the only way I could meet them was if I was going much faster than they or they were going much faster than I. In either case, it would create a great mental conflict whether I would abandon my exercise to slow down or increase my exercise so much to keep up. So, I figured that I would go fast and far, covering more distance on the trail and being more likely to see them.

Going out to the fish hatchery was far enough. I had exerted myself and wasn’t so tired that I would have to worry about having enough energy to make it back home. There weren’t really any places very close to the trail where I could get some food replenishment. The closest one that I knew and had used occasionally was the mini-market at the corner of Watt Avenue and Fair Oaks Boulevard. It was about a half-mile from the bike trail.

Though I hadn’t felt a need to do anything about it, I had noticed that my rear tire had slowly gotten softer and softer, from slowly losing air. The possibility of a flat tire didn’t worry me because I followed my own advice, carrying a pump, a tire patch kit, and also carrying a spare inner tube so I could just put it in and not worry about patching the tube until I got home. I pulled the pump out, loosened the Presta valve nut, tapped the end of it to break the air seal, and shoved some more air into the tube with the pump before tightening the valve nut back up.

I was off again. The funny thing about riding on the bike trail was that it wound so much that you would likely have both head winds and tail winds on an extended ride on it. Whenever I thought I was going fast, it was likely that I was in a stretch where the wind was to my rear and not because of some great burst of energy on my part.

Yes, I had passed a couple of nice-looking women who were heading in the opposite direction. Now I was heading that way, too, but it was so long ago that I had seen them that there was no chance that I would catch up with them. With a big sip of water, I was ready for the home stretch.

The ride to the bike bridge over the river was good. I definitely had used up a fair portion of my muscles’ energy reserves and took advantage of the drinking fountain at the park there. I could have taken a drink from my water bottle, while riding, but the park was a good place for watching others go by on the trail.

Just on a hunch, I checked the hardness of my rear tire again. Yes, it had already gotten a little soft. Since I was resting there anyway, I pumped some more air into it. I even put some extra air in it so the ride home would take even less energy. A nice-looking brunette with a ponytail sticking out under her helmet went by, headed toward the fish hatchery. She smiled and I smiled back, but it was probably the first and last time I would see her in this lifetime.

With the little down hill from the drinking fountain and with the extra hard tire, I started out very fast. Maybe there was a tailwind, too. Around the bend to the right, the uphill grade didn’t seem like much. The trail took a turn to the left and after a short distance I was crossing a road into the parkway.

It wasn’t a good idea to shoot my wad, burning up energy reserves that far from home. It was about a dozen miles back to Discovery Park and then there was the mile plus to home. I was riding at a comfortable but fast pace when I saw a brunette pony tail wagging behind the helmet of a cyclist ahead. The closer I got, the nicer she got. The question was whether she looked as nice from the front.

She was riding fairly much slower than I, so I caught up with her pretty fast. As I passed, I glanced over to look at her. Yes, she looked as nice from the front. She gave me a smile. Caught off guard, I was past her before I could react and smile back.

As I came to the Watt Avenue bridge, I thought whether I needed to take the jaunt to the small store for some more carbohydrates in the form of an Icee or something. I decided that I would probably do okay without it, so I kept on the trail. Just ahead was one of my favorite parts, where there was a nice grove of oak trees that made the trail seem more woodsy.

A little further was a rest stop on the left side that had another drinking fountain. I liked to stop there and make it my turnaround point when I didn’t have much time to go further. I hit a bump in the road and noticed that my wheel rim bottomed out on it. Wow, the air was leaking out of the tube faster. I would have to stop some time pretty soon to put air in it, so it might as well be at the drinking fountain.

Leaning my bike against one of the two concrete benches, I pulled my pump off my bike and began pumping up the tire. Since the tire needed a lot of pressure in it to roll with little road resistance, it took a fair amount of arm energy to fill it up. My right arm was still a little tired from the last time. It didn’t take long and I was soon mounting back up.

Just then, I noticed that the woman with the ponytail was passing by. She smiled again. This time I smiled back. With a full tire, I needed to pedal fast and get as much distance as possible before the air pressure would be low again.

Sure I had that spare tube. I could use it, but to do so, I would have to take my wheel off, take the tire off the wheel, pull the tube out of the tire, and reverse the process with the spare tube. I just didn’t want to do all that. Up to that point, putting in a little air was easier than the process of changing tubes.

As I passed the woman, I wasn’t sure whether to look over at her and smile or not. I kind of felt funny that it “just happened” to be getting back on my bike as she was riding by. Of course, as I passed I could tell her what had happened, but that would be rather strange explaining it to a total stranger. As I passed, I glanced over and smiled. In seconds, I was past her and moving fast toward home.

Oh, no. With Sac State College just up ahead, I was feeling the tire was low on air again. So not to bottom out, I stood up on the pedals and leaned forward as I pedaled. Maybe if I put more weight on the front wheel and there was less weight on the rear wheel, the air left wouldn’t leave so fast and I could go further before needing to refill the tire with air.

That method got me to the Guy West Bridge that went over the river to the college, but if I continued much further, I would be endangering my tube of getting more holes from bottoming out. I pulled over at a bench, leaned my bike up against it, and pumped in more air.

Just as I was mounting up again, the woman was coming around the bend. There was no way she could miss seeing me. I could imagine how I looked. I probably looked like someone who was interested in her, but too shy to slow down and try talking to her. In her mind, I believed, I was trying to impress her with my speed by passing her and then waiting to see her again. Oh well, I didn’t have time to ponder it. Second by second, I knew the air was already leaking from my tube, whether I was riding the bike or not. I sped off down the trail again.

Past the little 9-hole golf course, I had to take the longer route because the shorter route was blocked due to work being done on the levees. Normally that was just a nice change of course and of no consequence, but this time it meant an extra minute on the trail and one fewer minute’s worth of distance that I would cover toward home before needing to pump more air in the tube.

Just ahead was the turnoff to Cal Expo. There was some sort of informational sign there. I stopped, propped my bike against the sign, and repeated the pumping challenge. This time, just as I was about to put my pump back on my bike, the woman was coming around another bend. Since she probably had come to recognize me by sight by now, I felt that we had something to share. I waved to her, but made sure to do it with the hand that held my pump. Doing that would hopefully reassure her that I had been stopping because of bike problems and it wasn’t because I was stalking her or something. When I passed her this time, I hadn’t gotten up speed yet and felt the need to say, “Hi.”
She said, “Hi” back.

Off I was again. I thought back at my earlier stops and it seemed that I was needing to stop more and more frequently. Whatever had caused the leak in the first place might be causing it to get larger. Larger holes lost air faster. I probably had about six miles left to Discovery Park and it was a little over a mile between needs for stopping. My arms were getting more and more tired with each stop. What was supposed to be some leg exercise had become one-arm exercise. At the next stop, I would be wise to pull out my spare tube and replace the damaged one with it. Thinking about what was ahead on the route, in a mile, I would be pretty much nowhere in particular.

Was it best to race faster to get farther or to just relax because it wouldn’t matter after the next stop. That stop would be my last one, presuming I really did have a spare tube. I usually had one. I even carried more than one since I had three different bikes and each one used a different type of tube. I was pretty sure that I kept my routine of patching damaged tubes upon reaching home, but sometimes things came up. I couldn’t remember the last flat on that particular bike, so I couldn’t remember whether I got around to patching the tube afterward. I still had my patch kit, but patching tubes at home with the aid of a bucket of water to find the holes was definitely the preferable way of doing it.

Oh well, the air made its way out and I needed to stop. At least I made it past the dip in the trail that passed beneath the railroad tracks. Being alongside a pond-like piece of the water drainage channel, I knew that there was a black metal fence next to the trail by a water inlet just up ahead. I coasted the last part of it because putting pressure on the pedals tended to make the wheel rim bottom out.

At the rail, I hooked my handlebar over the rail to keep it up. With a flick of the lever, I loosened the rear wheel. I had to bang the wheel to get it to mover forward, out of the dropouts. Pulling the deraileur wheels back, I made room for the gear cluster to pass by it. Another bang was needed to finish that and I pulled the wheel away from the chain.

Inside my fanny pack, I had a smaller pouch that held my tire-changing equipment. I pulled out the set of three black plastic “tire irons”. There was still some air in the tube, so I released the valve and squeezed the tire to force more air out so taking the tire off the rim would be easier.

With one tire iron, I pried part of the tire off the rim. I hooked the opposite of the tire iron around a spoke so that part of the tire would stay where it was. Then with another iron, I began scooping under the tire to lift more an more of the tire bead to the outside of the rim. With one side of the tire off the rim, I was able to pull the tube out.

In went the spare tube. Yes, I found that I had the right type. I still wasn’t sure that any holes in it had been patched, though. I could have pumped the tube up before putting it on the rim and seeing if it leaked, but I was tired and didn’t want to bother.

Lo and behold. The woman with the ponytail was coming up the grade toward me. She was looking at me and had a smile. I looked back at her and smiled, too.

“Looks like you’re in a little trouble,” she said and stopped. Wow, I couldn’t believe it. She pulled out her water bottle and took a drink. “Need any water?” she asked.

“No, thanks. I have some. I just have to fix my tire,” I told her.

She took off her helmet. I didn’t want to stare, but I did look at her for an extra few moments.

“It looks like you know what you’re doing,” she said. “That’s good. I got a patch kit from the bike store, but I haven’t used it yet. I’m not too sure I could help you, if you needed it.”
“Thanks. That’s okay. I don’t need a patch kit. I have a spare tube to put in. I’ll just patch the bad tube when I get home.”
“Wow, that’s planning ahead. I never thought of that. I guess it makes it easier.”
“Yeah. I recommend it to others. It’s usually faster than trying to patch the tube while in the middle of nowhere.”
“Middle of nowhere? Yeah, I guess so. I guess that’s why I like it. It’s good to get away. It’s not that far from home, but it’s like being in another world.” She paused and then said, “Don’t let me stop you.”
“No. No, I’m glad to meet you. It’s kind of hard to meet people on the trail.”
She laughed. “Yeah, when you guys race by so fast, you probably see a lot of people, but you can’t talk to them.”
He thought about telling her otherwise, but thought it wouldn’t be too friendly to do so. “Do you ride her often?” he asked as used the tire irons to force the tire bead back to the inside of the rim.

“I don’t know. It depends what you call often. I get the impression that some people ride here every day. That’s why they go so fast.”
I put the wheel back on the bike, clamping it down tight in the dropouts. “Yeah, I know what you mean. There are some really fast guys out here. I’d be lucky to be able to keep up with them for a mile.”
“So, you’re not one of those? I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but I didn’t think you were. Most of them don’t take the time to smile or say ‘Hi’ to me. I liked it that you did take the time.”
I wasn’t sure what to say but figured it was nice to simply take it as a compliment and say, “Thanks.” I began pumping the tire up. As the tire got more and more full, it was harder and harder to pump. My arm was pretty tired by itself and with my whole body having been exerted as much as it was on the ride, I grimaced as I forced the last few pumps of air.

“Well, I guess you’re ready to go again,” she put the water bottle back on the bike frame and started to put her helmet back on her head.

“Yeah, not to far to go.” I didn’t want to abandon this dreamlike situation so soon. After a pause and with mys brain not functioning so clearly with low blood-sugar, I managed to come up with something. “I’m going to Discovery Park. How far are you going?”
“Discovery Park? Yeah, I’m going there, too. You’ll probably be there in half the time that it will take me now that you won’t have to stop and pump up your tires any more.”
“Well, actually, I’m rather beat. If I didn’t have to stop, I probably could keep riding fast. But since I stopped, my body slowed down. Now I think my body is more interested in just figuring it’s all over. Unfortunately, we have a few miles to go.”
“Does that mean that you might even consider riding as slow as I am?”
“I don’t know. I’m so tired that I might have trouble keeping up with you.”
“Well, in that case, I’ll slow down for you. That will be a first.”
“Wow. Sounds good to me.” I paused to gather my thoughts. “By the way, my name’s Ken.”
“Hi, Ken. My name’s Heather. Pleased to meet you.” She put out her hand.

I shook her hand. “Pleased to meet you, too.”
Checking to see that there wasn’t some fast cyclist about to pass by and run us over, we got back on the trail. Side by side, we rode to Discovery Park, chatting about this and that.

“I have to go this way,” she pointed to the right. “Maybe we’ll meet again, Ken.”
“I go that way, too. You aren’t rid of me yet.”
We turned right, through the parking lot, turned right on the park’s main road and passed the ranger station. There was a hill up to the Garden Highway. She shifted to a lower gear. I shifted down, too, instead of muscling it up as I would have done if she wasn’t there. She didn’t seem like the type who would have been impressed if I had done so anyway.

“I’m going straight,” she said as they waited for the traffic light.

“So am I.” I wondered if she might be thinking he was making it up, just to ride with her and hated that feeling. “I live about a mile down the bike trail,” I told her.

“I drove my car and parked it just ahead. I parked here so I wouldn’t have to pay the park fee. Maybe I should have driven in there and paid.”
“I don’t pay, either. I just ride from home,” I told her to show that I didn’t think she was cheap for doing what she did.

The light turned green. We crossed the street and headed down the hill.

“I’m just around the corner on the right,” she told me. “You wouldn’t be good at putting bikes on bike racks, would you? I figure you’d probably be better at it than I am since you can fix bikes so well. Do you mind?”
“No. I’d be glad to.”
We turned right, me squeezing my brake handles so to stay slower and ride behind her. I thought of the first time I saw her from the rear and liked what he saw. We stopped by a red Subaru station wagon with a bike rack on the rear of it.

Red Subaru wagon? I couldn’t believe it. For years I’ve noticed that there seemed to be a disproportionately large number of nice looking brunettes with ponytails driving red Subaru wagons. Usually they had kids. I wondered if she had kids. In that regard, I wondered if she was even single. I had forgotten to ask about that. We had just talked of their interests and had enjoyed that discussion.

We dismounted our bikes. I lay my bike down on the grassy mound next to the sidewalk. She put her bike’s kick-stand down. I grabbed her bike, put the kick stand back up, and put the bike on the rack. I then secured it with straps. “That’s it,” I told her.

“Thank you, Ken. It was a pleasure to meet you,” she put her hand out again.

I reached to shake it and told her, “I feel kind of funny asking since I don’t even know if you’re single, but do you think we might go for another bike ride or something sometime?”
“Yes, I am single and yes, I would love to. I can give you my number.”
“Great,” I said.

She got some paper and jotted her phone number down on it. She handed it to me, said “bye”, and got into her car. Starting the car’s motor, she smiled at me, waved, and drove off.

“Great!” I said to myself. I can’t believe that I met her because I had a leak in my tire.

All of My Novels

The Admired Car

by Steve Holmes, © Copyright 2001

“Beep, beep, blink, blink!” How the car, George wished she could honk her horn and flash her lights.

A car with a name? Yes, she knew her name was George because she heard one of her creators say it, “By George, she’s a beauty.”

It was a Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1925. Cars had been around for more than a quarter century. They came in any color you wanted, as long as you wanted black. Yet, despite that quirk, there was a greater variety of companies then than there are now.

Behind a large glass window in a store in the middle of Main Street, was the showroom for one of those cars, Studebaker. On the floor of that showroom, with her headlights aimed to the street, George was the first example of the new coupe.

She had the best features for a car priced at $______ with a true hard top and four-wheel brakes. That wasn’t surprising for a Studebaker. Studebakers had a long history, going back to the days of building wagons in the 1850s. It also had a reputation for being innovative, being one of the first to have ___________.

People walking down the sidewalk would look in to see her. She tried to bounce some sun rays off her chrome grill or bumper and loved it when it made people point at her and smile. Some people would even enter the showroom for a closer look, kick her tires, rub her mohair upholstery, and maybe even sit behind her steering wheel. Still, $____ was a lot for a car when a house could be bought for $___.

George appreciated having the salesman wipe her down and buff her chrome each day. She knew that, somewhere, there was the right person who would burst through the front doors, throw the required $___ at the salesman, and be in such a hurry to drive her that he’d want to drive right through the plate glass window.

The sun set on Sunday and rose on Monday. A family came in at noon, walked right past her to the long sedan, and fell in love. They were soon backing it out the rear door with seven smiles looking out seven windows. The sun set on that day, as well as Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

It was Saturday morning and another weekend. Was it already time to open the doors? The gray clouds outside, hiding the sun’s rays made it seem early still. George felt depressed because it wasn’t the kind of day for people to stroll by. The moisture in the air even made the mohair fabric on her seats tighten, squeezing the cotton stuffing beneath. Still, she kept her wire wheel spokes crossed, hoping for a miracle.

The salesman started her up and ran her engine for a few minutes to keep the battery charged, as usual. The motor’s heat helped warm up the rest of her, needed because the showroom had no heater. As the motor oil slowly settled back down to the crankcase, the room’s cold air gradually siphoned off the warmth, degree by degree.

“Bang!” There was a loud noise out on the street.

Peering out the sides of her headlights, George saw a coupe come to an abrupt stop. “Bang!” it backfired again.

Out of the two front doors hopped two young men. With smiles on their clean-haven faces, they raced to be the first one to the showroom door. One of them opened the door, pointed right at her, and said, “There she is, the new Studebaker car, just like I told you.”

“Is it as good as they say it is?” the second fellow asked.

“Come on, Jim. Fred, the mechanic says they’re so reliable that he’s never had anyone bring one in to be fixed.”

“All right, Randy. But is it fast? You know I want a fast car.”

“Well, it’s no Stutz, but it doesn’t cost that much, either.”

George was excited, wishing that her carburetor could suck up some gas and create a roar.

With a skeptical eye, Jim walked around George, rubbing his chin as he walked. He turned the chrome right-side hood lever, lifted that side of the hood, and gave the engine a look. It was a ___-cylinder ____.

“Crank her up,” the salesman told him.

“Okay,” Jim said. Moving to the front of the car, he grabbed the crank at the bottom of the radiator grill.

“You need to …”, the salesman started to say.

Jim gave the crank a big yank, causing George to leap forward at him and the glass window beyond.

“I really didn’t want him to drive me through the glass,” George thought.

“… put the transmission in neutral,” the salesman finished saying.

George was worried. She had almost killed the one who might have bought her. Of course, she didn’t mean to and it wasn’t her fault. She felt as glum as if her chrome were caked with black grease.

“Forgot your brains?” Randy yelled at Jim, smiling.

Jim laughed, making George feel relieved. But if Jim were that inexperienced with cars, would he make a good owner? Would he know enough to keep the engine oil and other fluid levels up? Could he fix a flat tire? Did he have any knowledge about tuning an engine? Sure it would be nice to go home with an owner soon, but maybe it was better to wait for a more mature owner.

“I’ll take it,” Jim stated.

“You’ll take it?” Randy asked.

“You’ll take it?” the salesman asked.

“You’ll take me?” George wondered.

“Yes,” Jim replied. He pulled out a silver money clip, filled with greenbacks.

The salesman led the two fellows to the office and the deal was consummated. It was George’s turn to exit through the large rear showroom doors, slowly driven by Jim with Randy as passenger. She came back around to Main Street and stopped. The road was clear of traffic, so Jim let out the clutch. It was a little too fast and caused George to jump forward.

Randy laughed. Jim laughed, too, and turned right, onto Main Street. He slowly stepped on the gas to make George accelerate. Past the wheelbarrows in front of the hardware store on the left and past the Rx sign at the pharmacy on the right, George’s engine purred.

“Give her some gas and get in second gear,” Randy said.

Jim pressed the accelerator closer to the floorboard with his right foot. George’s speedometer needle raised to fifteen miles per hour. Jim pressed the clutch pedal with his left foot, let up on the gas pedal, and reached to the gearshift knob. The stick-shift was pushed into neutral gear position and then pushed further toward second-gear position.

“Clatter,” the transmission went.

Oh, that grounding of gears hurt!

“You gotta push the clutch down farther,” Randy told him.

Jim pushed the clutch farther and shoved the stick-shift knob to get into second gear. He let up on the clutch and pushed back on the gas pedal.

Down the street they continued. Past the granite Merchants Bank and past the red and white pole of the barber’s shop, they left the business district. The branches of elm trees, sprouting with new light green leaves, draped over the street.

“Hey, Mrs. Willoughby,” Randy shouted at a short, gray-haired woman, wearing a royal blue dress and matching hat.

She smiled and gave a little wave.

Jim put George in third gear, doing a better job with the clutch, and they continued on down Main Street. Past the little brick houses, Jim accelerated to fifty miles per hour. The wind whipped through George’s wire spoke wheels, exciting George. Fifty was rather fast, though. She was new and her engine wasn’t worn in yet. Her piston rings had some extra friction as they slid on the cylinder walls. Still, Jim was happy, honking George’s horn at farmers, cows, or whatever else might react.

As George’s fuel level had dropped with the consumption of about a gallon’s worth of gas, Jim slowed to pull in front of the Studebaker dealership to drop off Randy.

“Time to head home to show my parents,” Jim said.

Home? That sounded so nice. She wondered if her room might be as spacious as the showroom.

Jim pulled up to the curb of a little brick house. He hopped out, slammed the door shut, and bounded into the house.

Was that it? Was she to be left on the street? She wouldn’t even have a small garage to spend nights in? Other cars parked on the street seemed to indicate that she would be doing just that, like the rest.

Jim soon came out of the house, leading a gray-haired old couple who was likely his parents. “Here she is, Dad, a Studebaker. Do you want to sit inside on the mohair seats, Mom? They’re real soft.”

“I hope you take better care of it than your friend, Randy, does,” Mom told him.

“Don’t be thinking you’re a race car driver, like him, too,” Dad warned.

Uh-oh. Those words worried George.

Jim seemed proud of his Studebaker. He drove it to the factory each weekday, to the pharmacy for an ice cream on Saturday, and to church on Sunday, honking the horn and waving to show it off to people. George enjoyed seeing the other cars look her way, in admiration, too.

One day, Jim met up with some other young men who also had cars and weren’t impressed with his Studebaker. “How fast is it?” one of the fellows asked.

“Fast enough,” Jim answered.

“Oh, yeah? Let’s see how fast it is? Let’s race!”

Jim stood silently, put his hand to his chin, rubbing it, and seemed to be pondering the question.

George looked at the other car, a sedan. His name was Lincoln. His engine probably had three times as much power as hers. His large, fat tires could absorb most any bump in the road.

“When and where?” Jim replied.

With the drop of a handkerchief, the two cars’ engines roared. Well, Lincoln’s roared. George tried to roar, but hiccuped as Jim mashed the gas pedal to the floor, almost drowning her cylinders with gas. She recovered and began the chase. While Lincoln laughed at the bumps, each one made George whimper. Lincoln won, looking all clean and shiny. George coughed and wheezed from breathing the dust that covered her.

Her feelings didn’t hurt from the loss, but Jim didn’t look pleased. If only he knew how much she hurt.

“Next time, let’s race the river road,” Jim challenged Lincoln’s owner with a smile.

Not winning didn’t seem to bother him. He just raced and raced, hooting and hollering all the time, every time.

George started to squeak. The squeaks turned to rattles. And the rattles turned to clunks. She felt old and was embarrassed about it.

When more jostling made her parts shift, her hood didn’t close so well any more. After one race when the hood flew open, Jim yanked it off and threw it on a scrap pile behind his house. Though that didn’t hurt physically, the fact that he cared less about her looks might be a sign that he was caring less about her, in general.

During the next race, a bump dislodged the branch. It hit the oil line going to the oil gauge. George could feel her oil pressure drop and the engine temperature rise. The lack of lubrication made her rods clatter. It must not have been loud enough for Jim to hear because he didn’t stop to fix the problem.

She wasn’t sure what hurt more, the engine wear or that Jim didn’t stop it. Sure he gave her more oil and plugged the leak, but he didn’t fix it, and he kept racing her in that condition. Losing races wasn’t new, but George was embarrassed when she was so far behind that the dust from the other car had settled by the time she finished.

One day, Jim took George for a drive that seemed different. He was in no rush, driving much slower than usual. Then when he turned off on a road, it was one that only went into a field.

George’s engine was turned off. When he got out, he didn’t even bother to take out the keys. He just walked off. She didn’t now what to make of it.

He didn’t return that night. He didn’t return the next day. The pain of racing was over and that was good, but she was seemingly left for dead. It was sad if that truly was the end of her short life.

Other cars, both older and newer, saw George in the pasture and laughed at her or ridiculed her. Even her tires went flat, making her feel like a cripple. She just wanted to hide. Dying fast, in an accident, would have been less painful.

Days passed, then years. As she sat in the field, more and more of her fellow cars disappeared from the roads. Now and then she saw them flattened and being hauled off on trucks to be recycled. Maybe they were better to have their engines crushed, their lights smashed, and they couldn’t think about or see their predicament.

The years went by and a bird, eating a rose hip, dropped some of the seeds on George. The seeds sprouted and started to grow. The vine started growing up over her, sprouting branches in all directions. Creeping over her fenders, climbing atop her hood and roof, the vines turned her into a mound of flowers. She felt like she was to become a big flowerpot.

Many years later, when almost none of her fellow old cars were left, a young guy found her in the field. The guy was very excited at his find, judging by his wide-open eyes and dropped jaw. He rushed off and soon brought his parents out to see his find.

George was very excited, wishing she could bounce some sun rays off her chrome, but it had been overtaken by rust.

“What do you want with a pile of rust, Steve?” his mother asked.

“We don’t want a worthless rusting pile of metal around our house,” his father told him. As they left, Steve looked back at her, but George didn’t have much hope.

It took a while, but Steve returned with a trailer. George was hauled home and put in a shed, but Steve stared at her with a puzzled look as if he wasn’t sure what to do with her. George was quite pleased to be out of the elements, under the care of a human again.

Friends of Steve came by, saw George’s deplorable condition, and laughed at both Steve and George. Such laughter at her wasn’t new for George, but it still hurt her feelings. It reminded George of how she was laughed at so many years earlier, out in the field. Then she noticed that Steve seemed to have his feelings hurt, too.

Why? Sure she had feelings. She grew quite fond of Jim. But she was just a machine. People liked machines because they were useful. Machines were expected to give their lives for their owners. But Jim never seemed to really care about her.

George sat in the shed for a year. It was only rarely that she saw Steve. He would look at her, always saying, “Nobody’s going to haul you off to be recycled.” That was reassuring, but being outside in the sun with the birds able to visit her was a better life. Maybe he didn’t care for her too much after all.

One day, Steve was wearing bib overalls like the ones that Fred, the mechanic, wore. At first, George thought Steve was going to fix her. Instead, day after day he left for work in clean overalls and returned with them filled with grease, likely from other cars.

“Another engine to rebuild finished today. A major ignition problem to solve tomorrow. It sure is nice to get so much experience,” Steve said. He then walked out.

She sure could use a rebuild of her engine and her ignition system was totally rotten. Why did he work on other cars instead of her? She would rather not know what she was missing than to be reminded of it.

Then one day, George was put on a trailer. She recalled her fellow cars on trailers, squished and on their way to be recycled. She figured her time was up. Steve must have been too busy to fix her. She might come back to life as a toaster or something, but making bread turn brown didn’t compare to traveling on one’s own four wheels.

The trailer was pulled to a body shop and George was unloaded. Steve put penetrating oil on George’s bolts. He then stood in front of her, hand to his chin, seemingly pondering something.

“I really should give you a name,” he said.

A name? She had a name. Her creator gave it to her. She had it for over half a century. You don’t change your name after that long. Who did he think he was?

The garage door was shut without him renaming her. As time passed George thought about herself being renamed. For the first few days, she was steadfast against the idea. Just as the penetrating oil seeped further into the cracks in a few days, she admitted that her situation was sort of like that of being adopted. Adopted children had their names changed to match their parents’ name.

By the end of the week, George also admitted that “George” wasn’t very feminine. But then again, she was more of a Tom-boy. She was a former racer and had the scars to prove how tough she was. After two weeks in the dark, contemplating having her name changed, she had softened her stance, much the way the penetrating oil had loosened her nuts and bolts.

The garage door was opened again. It was bright out and definitely the start of a new dawn.

“Daisy. That’s what I’m going to call you,” Steve announced.

Daisy?. That sure sounded feminine. But since she didn’t have choice about accepting her first name, she guessed she would accept that new one, too. Daisies did come in many pretty colors. She hoped he would paint her a color to match her name. I never cared to for being painted black.

Steve started working on her and kept working all day, pulling parts off her and setting them to the side. Sometimes it hurt when stubborn bolts wouldn’t budge and occasionally one of them would snap off, giving Daisy a sharp pain, but she knew it was for her benefit, so she endured it.

At the end of the day, her engine was pulled out. That made her feel light-headed. It was put in the back of a truck to be taken away.

The next day, a funny-looking machine was brought into the shop. Along with it were big bags that must have been heavy from the way Steve had a hard time moving them. Steve started the machine, creating a loud noise. Vibrations went through the shed floor and on through the rubber of her flat tires. That made Daisy feel like Steve was giving her a massage.

The bags were opened and sand was poured from them into the machine. Steve pulled a fender to the machine, aimed a long stick at it, and pulled the trigger. Sand came shooting out, blasting the fender. Though the fender wasn’t connected to her any more, it still seemed to itch. And as itches go, it made her want to be scratched even more.

Little by little, the old rust was rubbed off, exposing shiny steel. When the fender was all cleaned, it was put to the side and the other parts were sandblasted, one at a time, until it was night. The machine was taken away. Daisy felt a bit naked, but also clean and invigorated.

The following day started with more bright sun, matching Daisy’s high spirits. Steve brought a different machine into the shed. This one came with five-gallon buckets. Again, parts were brought over to it, one at a time. Steve sprayed the parts with brown primer paint and the parts were then set back to dry. Though the paint was cold, it was refreshing like having a facial cream put on.

One day later, Steve sprayed the parts with bright red paint. On the next day, the parts were put back together. Daisy was so pleased to be whole again. Red was a rather bold color, but then again, she was a rather bold and experienced woman. Still, she couldn’t go anywhere. She had no engine. She tried to be an optimist, thinking the crankcase was half full instead of half empty.

Just being a car and not having a real brain, she didn’t want to criticize Steve who had done so much for her, but Steve didn’t put her seats and interior back in, either. They were taken away. Daisy began to wonder if she was just going to be turned into something like a giant flowerpot that looked pretty, but just sat there.

Day after day, Daisy sat in the dark garage until a week went by. When she heard a truck drive up outside, it made her excited. The garage door opened and the truck backed in.

Wow! In the back of the truck were some new seats. Well, they weren’t really new seats. They were her old seats with new springs, new stuffing, and new mohair fabric. She was so pleased to have the seats put back inside her. She didn’t have an engine, yet, but it had to be somewhere, being fixed. With that knowledge, she figured that she could wait contentedly in the garage for as long as it took.

And it did take awhile. But one day, a truck pulled up outside the garage and when the door opened. A shiny engine was in the back of it. Like a person opening her mouth for a dentist, she opened her hood wide for the engine. A pulley lowered it onto her frame and it was bolted there. It was then attached to the drive train that went to the rear axle. The wheels were taken away and brought back with shiny new tires to be bolted onto her brake drums.

The day was almost over, leaving just enough time for her to be started up. What? The garage was closed and she was left in the dark. That was okay. She had plenty of patience after half of a century rusting under the mound of rose vines.

Slowly the garage door opened the next morning. She could see the shoes of several people. On the left were black women’s flats. Next to those were men’s black wing-tip shoes. Further to the right were some black and white athletic shoes. Back a step were three more pairs of athletic shoes.

The door seemed to rise ever so slowly. With it all the way up, George could see it was Steve, his parents, and some other young people who were likely Steve’s friends. They all had smiles on their faces. Steve had a small paint can and brush in his hand.

What was that for?”

“I have one more finishing touch to add,” Steve told the others.

He walked to Daisy’s rear, popped open the can of paint, and dipped the brush into it. When he pulled the brush out, Daisy could see that it was white paint.

But she was red. How puzzling.

Steve leaned down and reached toward the bottom of Daisy’s trunk lid. Letter by letter, he painted, “M-y g-i-r-l, D-a-i-s-y”.

Yes, she was his girl and he was her man. She finally had the owner that she deserved.

Steve climbed into Daisy, patted her seat as if patting a dog on the head, and made sure the transmission was in neutral position. He went back to the front of the car, took hold of the crank, and gave it a large yank. Nothing happened. The faces of those watching looked worried. Steve yanked the crank again.

“Pow!” the gas was ignited by the spark plugs. In a few seconds, the engine was humming.

Steve went back into the car. With a press on the clutch pedal and a shove on the stick shift lever, Daisy’s transmission was put in gear. Steve’s left foot was slowly raised to engage the clutch and his right foot slowly lowered on the gas pedal. The drive-line began to spin, turning the rear axle, and causing the wheels to roll forward to the outside. Everyone smiled.

“Let’s go! Let’s go! I’m ready to go!” Daisy thought.

Steve drove the car onto the driveway and put it in neutral.

Was that it? That couldn’t be all. She was ready to go, bursting with energy. That was their special day and they really should have been celebrating it together.

Steve opened the door and the parents climbed in. The mother felt the soft mohair on the seat and smiled. Steve put the car in gear again and drove onto the street. The friends clapped as Daisy headed down the street.

She was so happy that her windshield began to fog up. Steve and his parents had to open the windows so they could see the road ahead. They were off on their maiden voyage.

Driving around town, people on the streets looked at them. Steve tapped the horn, “Honk!” The people smiled and waved. That took Daisy’s memory back to her childhood.

As they continued around town, Daisy noticed lots of whispering around her. Listening closely, she discovered that it was the other cars whispering about her.

“Look at her!”

“She’s old, but she’s pretty.”

“I’ve never seen one like her before.”

It was hard to believe, but it was true. More than fifty years after she was put out in a field to die, Daisy was the talk of the town. She knew that she and Steve would have a long life together.

All of My Novels

Lunch at Jack-in-the-Box

by William Arthur “Bill” Holmes. © Copyright 1993

Driving around town the other day, I somehow ended up in Hollywood. I don't get to Hollywood much anymore and don't usually find myself missing it. But it was a beautiful day. And seeing all the quaint shops — each striving for uniqueness — and the many people on the street — each striving for a unique sameness — I wondered why I ever left. On this day, Hollywood truly seemed like the place to be.

Getting hungry, I started looking for a hip, cool place to have lunch. I passed by several places with tables on the sidewalk and young, hip, sunglass-wearing people sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes. But I couldn't have lunch at one of these places. I was alone. And, in Hollywood, alone people just don't sit at sidewalk cafe tables for lunch.

As I stopped at a traffic light I saw a Jack-In-The-Box restaurant on my left — not exactly a cool, hip place to have lunch. But I was tired of driving around, and my stomach was telling me to stop here for lunch.

“What about the recent food poisoning scare?” I wondered.

“Well, yeah, there's that,” my stomach answered. “But, wasn't it their hamburger meat that was contaminated?”

“Yeah, so?” I countered.

“Well, you never buy their burgers,” my stomach reasoned. “You always go for their chicken sandwiches.”

“You're right, of course,” I acquiesced. And in a reckless, daring move, I stopped for lunch.

The first thing I see as I pull into the parking lot is this bum — or should I say a “mentally-challenged, emotionally-disabled, financially-disadvantaged, homeless person”? “Bum” is easier. Anyway, he's standing there in the middle of the parking lot, completely filthy, hair sticking out in all directions, pants half-way down his legs, obviously incoherent, staring off into space. Probably a Scientologist.

As I enter the restaurant there's this young rock 'n roll poser-type — complete with long blonde hair, black tank-top shirt, multi-colored spandex pants and white sneakers — having lunch with his nubile bimbo girlfriend in white spandex pants, black leather boots and some sort of fishnet over a pink t-shirt. They're like cardboard cutouts.

I approach the cashier and order the “Chicken Supreme” sandwich, “Seasoned Curly Fries” and a Coke. I sit down at the corner table furthest from the door and start in on the curly fries.

In walks this girl. I wouldn't have noticed her except that she's shouting “Hey!” at someone as she staggers through the door. She looks to be about twenty, with medium-length dirty-blonde hair, narrow-set angry eyes, small pinched mouth. She's obviously on drugs.

At first, I think she's just another whacked-out homeless person, and I hope she'll leave as soon as she realizes that food costs money. But she doesn't go way. In fact, she's brought friends. Two young “dudes” — she calls them both “dude” — stagger into the restaurant a moment or two behind her. They look fairly strung-out on drugs themselves. And, unfortunately, it looks as if they intend to order lunch and eat here.

At the cashier counter, the girl is being extremely bizarre, talking loudly at one moment only to mumble something beyond my hearing the next. I keep an eye on her because she's so deranged, and I'm afraid she might come near me.

I seem to attract these weirdos. I don't know why. Maybe it's because I look at them. I make eye contact. And weirdos are used to having others look away. So when they catch me looking at them, no matter how fleeting that eye contact may be, they get a glimmer of hope that I might actually talk to them, or listen to them, or give them money, or make some sort of acknowledgment of their existence. Of course, I generally don't. But this is probably what they're thinking.

Anyway, I'm at my table in the corner of the restaurant and there are about twenty other tables available. But which table does this girl (and her tag-along “dudes”) choose? That's right — the one right next to me.

My first thought is to immediately move to another table. But I'm hesitant because I get the impression the girl is paying attention to me (with what's left of her mind) and she might be insulted if I get up and leave. I don't want to insult her because I'm afraid she'll go into some sort of mad, drug-induced tirade aimed at me, and I would then be forced to eat my lunch in my car.

I think she might move to another table, saving me the trouble. I don't know what makes me think this will happen. Maybe it's because she reminds me of a wheel on a bent axle: liable to fly off in any direction at any moment, and I'm hoping she will fly off in the direction furthest away from me.

She starts barking at one of her dudes, “Get me an ashtray! I need an ashtray!”

I don't know if she's going to start smoking or if she just wants an ashtray to lick the bottom of.

I finally get up and move to the opposite corner of the restaurant. I feel her eyes upon me a couple of times while I eat, but I never look in her direction again. I've made too much eye contact already for one day.

I can't wait to get back home.

Driving around town the other day, I somehow ended up in Hollywood. I don't get to Hollywood much anymore and don't usually find myself missing it. But it was a beautiful day. And seeing all the quaint shops — each striving for uniqueness — and the many people on the street — each striving for a unique sameness — I wondered why I ever left. On this day, Hollywood truly seemed like the place to be.

Getting hungry, I started looking for a hip, cool place to have lunch. I passed by several places with tables on the sidewalk and young, hip, sunglass-wearing people sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes. But I couldn't have lunch at one of these places. I was alone. And, in Hollywood, alone people just don't sit at sidewalk cafe tables for lunch.

As I stopped at a traffic light I saw a Jack-In-The-Box restaurant on my left — not exactly a cool, hip place to have lunch. But I was tired of driving around, and my stomach was telling me to stop here for lunch.

“What about the recent food poisoning scare?” I wondered.

“Well, yeah, there's that,” my stomach answered. “But, wasn't it their hamburger meat that was contaminated?”
“Yeah, so?” I countered.

“Well, you never buy their burgers,” my stomach reasoned. “You always go for their chicken sandwiches.”
“You're right, of course,” I acquiesced. And in a reckless, daring move, I stopped for lunch.

The first thing I see as I pull into the parking lot is this bum — or should I say a “mentally-challenged, emotionally-disabled, financially-disadvantaged, homeless person”? “Bum” is easier. Anyway, he's standing there in the middle of the parking lot, completely filthy, hair sticking out in all directions, pants half-way down his legs, obviously incoherent, staring off into space. Probably a Scientologist.

As I enter the restaurant there's this young rock 'n roll poser-type — complete with long blonde hair, black tank-top shirt, multi-colored spandex pants and white sneakers — having lunch with his nubile bimbo girlfriend in white spandex pants, black leather boots and some sort of fishnet over a pink t-shirt. They're like cardboard cutouts.

I approach the cashier and order the “Chicken Supreme” sandwich, “Seasoned Curly Fries” and a Coke. I sit down at the corner table furthest from the door and start in on the curly fries.

In walks this girl. I wouldn't have noticed her except that she's shouting “Hey!” at someone as she staggers through the door. She looks to be about twenty, with medium-length dirty-blonde hair, narrow-set angry eyes, small pinched mouth. She's obviously on drugs.

At first, I think she's just another whacked-out homeless person, and I hope she'll leave as soon as she realizes that food costs money. But she doesn't go way. In fact, she's brought friends. Two young “dudes” — she calls them both “dude” — stagger into the restaurant a moment or two behind her. They look fairly strung-out on drugs themselves. And, unfortunately, it looks as if they intend to order lunch and eat here.

At the cashier counter, the girl is being extremely bizarre, talking loudly at one moment only to mumble something beyond my hearing the next. I keep an eye on her because she's so deranged, and I'm afraid she might come near me.

I seem to attract these weirdos. I don't know why. Maybe it's because I look at them. I make eye contact. And weirdos are used to having others look away. So when they catch me looking at them, no matter how fleeting that eye contact may be, they get a glimmer of hope that I might actually talk to them, or listen to them, or give them money, or make some sort of acknowledgment of their existence. Of course, I generally don't. But this is probably what they're thinking.

Anyway, I'm at my table in the corner of the restaurant and there are about twenty other tables available. But which table does this girl (and her tag-along “dudes”) choose? That's right — the one right next to me.

My first thought is to immediately move to another table. But I'm hesitant because I get the impression the girl is paying attention to me (with what's left of her mind) and she might be insulted if I get up and leave. I don't want to insult her because I'm afraid she'll go into some sort of mad, drug-induced tirade aimed at me, and I would then be forced to eat my lunch in my car.

I think she might move to another table, saving me the trouble. I don't know what makes me think this will happen. Maybe it's because she reminds me of a wheel on a bent axle: liable to fly off in any direction at any moment, and I'm hoping she will fly off in the direction furthest away from me.

She starts barking at one of her dudes, “Get me an ashtray! I need an ashtray!”
I don't know if she's going to start smoking or if she just wants an ashtray to lick the bottom of.

I finally get up and move to the opposite corner of the restaurant. I feel her eyes upon me a couple of times while I eat, but I never look in her direction again. I've made too much eye contact already for one day.

I can't wait to get back home.

Good Friday

It WAS a good Friday. There was nothing religious about it. If you know me at all, that wouldn't surprise you.

I was just reading my previous post and wanted to have something more positive this time. We're all still adjusting to each other and getting better at it every day. That last post was three weeks ago and feels like months ago. She almost never makes me mad now. Don't get me wrong, she still irritates me sometimes, as I probably do to her. But that's rare now. We generally get along very well.

Tara, Elizabeth, the pugs and I just got back from the park where we had pizza for an early dinner followed by at least an hour at the playground with slides and swings. It was great fun, but Tara and I had to tag-team being the one to play with Elizabeth while the other held the dogs.

This morning, all three of us humans went to “Music With Mommy.” Usually, that's just Tara and Elizabeth, but since I was off today, I went, too. It's a lot of fun. Elizabeth loves it.

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