CANNI – the first 40 pages.

1 Nov


By Daniel O’Connor


For a heart drained of love, only blood remains.


Owatonna, Minnesota



It was all Wilk could think of as he captained the roaring Freightliner snow plow through the white-blanketed streets.  People often asked him why he never got sick.  They thought he’d be a prime candidate for pneumonia – up at 3:00 AM, out in constant sub-zero temperatures, clearing the roads while the commuters were still snug in their beds.

Yet, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d even had the sniffles.

He thought it was an old wives’ tale that the cold could give one a cold.  The common cold was caused by viruses.  That much he knew.  He also refused to believe that viruses could flourish in this barren snow globe, where snot turned to icicle before the hanky left the pocket.  It all just looked and felt so virginal.  There weren’t even any smells.

Wilk thought back to when, as a child in winter, he’d held little wood frogs in his hand.  They were frozen solid, like some unearthed Himalayan cavemen.  He and his friends would return to their swampy habitat as spring approached, to watch the amphibians “come back to life”.

That is how cold his world was.

How sterile.

He bundled in layers.  Serious layers.  Thermal underwear, sweatshirt, sweater, hoodie, insulated jacket with high collar, three-hole balaclava over his face, hood on top of that.

Sticking out of all of that was the green and gold of a well-worn Minnesota North Stars cap.  The NHL team had relocated to Dallas decades before, but they had seized his heart when he was young, and that is where they endured, like a first love.

He motored past the frozen skeleton of a structure called River Springs Water Park.  He liked to recall bustling summer days when he’d taken his son and daughter for some fun in the sun.  The park would live again come June.

But it was winter that paid his bills.

The plow fought its way through nearly three feet of fresh, white powder.  The sound of the enormous scraper, and the rumbling of his 450 HP turbocharged engine, provided the bass and drum to some melody only in Wilk’s head.  He was subconsciously composing that song, and lamenting the fact, as always, that his North Stars never got to hoist a Stanley Cup, when he hit it.


“Okey-dokey,” he mumbled.

He could have blasted through, but he stopped the plow.  The snow still came. Sideways.  But, he was the type to do the right thing.  He preached it to his kids, so he had to do it himself.  He’d once hit a Siberian Husky, but he determined that the animal had previously died in the street, and was covered over by the storm.  He knew this because he dug it out and it was frozen as solid as those wood frogs.  Usually, a thump was from some buried trash bags or other junk that had found its way into the path of his rig.  He’d come across an old air conditioner, and even a broken office chair with a naked mannequin taped to the seat.  Pranksters would sometimes bury things in the high snow just to fuck with the plow operators.  He didn’t understand the pleasure of screwing with the working folk, but he couldn’t come to terms with a lot of things people did.  He had once struck a hefty, snow-buried, Igloo cooler, still packed with cans of Surly Furious beer.  He and his fellow plowmen divvied up the crimson-hued ale, but Wilk kept the cooler.  Months later, he got stopped trying to lug it, packed with sandwiches, snacks, and fruit drinks, into River Springs Water Park.

The sight of the bulky, clothing-layered, Wilk descending from the truck cab might bring to mind an image of Neil Armstrong departing the lunar module.  His first boot print in the snow was the only such impression for as far as the eye could see.  He carried, not Armstrong’s Stars and Stripes, but a long-handled, steel snow shovel.

He trudged around to the front of the plow, vapor blasting through his mouth hole like a steam locomotive.  With no idea what was buried in that snow, he employed his shovel with prudence.

No reason to damage the blade.

He cautiously lifted a few inches of snow and tossed it aside.  Flakes attacked his eyes, circling in the wind like frantic gnats.  Another couple of shovel scrapes and he hit it.

It was reasonably hard, yet felt moderately pliable.  This was no air conditioner.

Time for some hand-digging.  He knelt.  His thick gloves brushed the powder aside, increasing in speed until he uncovered something.  He could, initially, only see about a two-inch window of it.

Black.  Maybe leather.  He thought it might be a purse, or even a small suitcase.  Further digging proved otherwise.  It was a boot.  Fancy women’s kind.

Worst of all, it was still on a foot.

Wilk dug like a hungry badger.  Once he saw her leg, he quickly scurried over to uncover her head, in the faint hope that he might revive her.

That was before his digging revealed the frozen blood.  Looked like someone had dropped a case of cherry snow cones.  He furrowed past the first layer of red.  There was her face.  Seemed like she took pride in her manicured eyebrows, but the green eyes below them were wide as the Minnesota Plains, and her mouth was agape, filled with snow, and frozen in her final horror.  Her left cheek was gone.

He removed one of his gloves.  The frosty air bit at his skin.  He felt her crimson-caked neck for a pulse, but only grasped the chafe of ice.  He pressed harder, and his fingers penetrated a wound he hadn’t detected.  It had been camouflaged by the frigid blanket of blood.

He mumbled the phrase he would utter to himself no matter if he had just been handed two nickels in change or, apparently, discovered an eviscerated corpse.




Bill Smith’s plow had come from the other end of St. Paul Road.  The two rigs faced each other, framing the body of the exhumed woman between their scrapers.  Smith was so long and lean that he didn’t appear to be the bulky Sasquatch that was Wilk, even with his own layers keeping him warm.  Smith was Wilk’s most trusted ally.  He was like an older brother.

“Oh ya, she’s a goner,” he said, as he knelt beside the body.  Wilk stood behind him.

“You betcha,” replied his friend.  “The police are on the way.”

“Ya think maybe it was a bear or something?” asked Smith.

“Crossed my mind, don’tcha know.  Didn’t see no tracks of any kind.  Everything was all snowed over and such.”

Bill Smith had retired from a career in public relations, and just loved operating the plow.  He had the oddball trait of being the only Boston Bruins fan that anyone around Owatonna knew.  No one held it against him.  Worse was probably the fact that he had the exact name of a New York Islanders goalie who had been instrumental in denying the North Stars a Stanley Cup.  The boys never let him live that down.

Smith stared down at the woman.  Wilk coughed behind him.

Whatever, or whoever, did this, thought Smith, wanted her neck exposed.

There was no sign of a scarf, which she almost surely would have worn.  It was probably covered over nearby.  He couldn’t help but stare into her eyes.  He pondered what image she may have taken to her grave.  He didn’t want to contaminate the crime scene any further, so he decided to – eventually – stand and back away, but he couldn’t turn away from her green eyes.  Something inside him – inexplicably – half-expected her to awaken.  Pure nonsense, but it did cross his mind.

Bill Smith, as a child, had also played with the wood frogs.  He’d seen things return from the “dead”.

He was contemplating the frogs, most of which were brown, or tan – and how he had occasionally uncovered a green one.  They were green as the gaze from this dead woman’s irises.

That was the final reflection he had before his lifelong buddy, Wilk, killed him.


Lake Elsinore, California


The vibrant green of the dress was what struck her.  That, and the fact that the alternating vertical lines of the painted garment did appear to be true black.  But the green lines were much wider, and the color leaped from the lower half of the photograph.

Still, she had read that Claude Monet avoided true black in his work, preferring to create a similar color through the blending of others.

The crash course in Monet, and the painters of Impressionism in general, was undertaken because she was about to meet the nineteen-year-old daughter of her new beau for the first time.  The girl was almost fanatical about art – and Monet in particular.  Knowing a bit about him could be an ice-breaker for Anita Chuang.

She didn’t want to screw this relationship up the way she did her marriage.  Twenty-five years down the drain.  She was well-off enough; her relocated medical practice was doing fine.  She could afford the finer things in life.

But there was a hole in her heart.

It felt like Edgar might be the one to fill it.  It was important to make a positive impression on his daughter, Verde.  She was the greatest joy in Edgar’s life, and Anita desperately wanted to connect with her.

The month of March in Lake Elsinore rarely prohibits leisurely outdoor activities, so the barbeque was fired up in the lush backyard.  It was a perfect seventy-three degrees.

As the briquettes changed color on the rear patio, Anita put down the book on Claude Monet.  It was the third one she’d read that week.

Her plan was to gently introduce Verde to some delicious vegan burgers, and to also share her love of classical music.  Appreciating its joys was not much different than enjoying art-on-canvas.  There was color in music, too.  The attractive doctor removed her 180-gram vinyl edition of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony N. 41in C Major from its rice paper sleeve, and placed in on her Rega P8 turntable, running a soft brush across its grooves.  This particular version, by Herbert Von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, had always been her favorite.  She loved that it was recorded in 1970, the year of her birth.  This particular piece had a strength about it – almost a finality – that felt reassuring.


Mozart filled the room, the barbeque grew hotter, and the burgers – painstakingly crafted from chickpeas, sweetcorn, and a host of seasonings – chilled in the fridge.  The oven was still warm from her homemade buns – whisked together from flax egg, non-dairy milk, coconut oil, and pink Himalayan salt.  Dr. Chuang carefully arranged the three art books on her table, hurriedly fixed her black hair for the umpteenth time, and scampered to greet her visitors.


“You can’t tell me this is not flesh.  This is insane!” smiled Verde, as she swallowed Anita’s meatless creation.

“Told you,” laughed Edgar.

“Thank you, Verde. I’m glad you enjoy it. No meat at all.  Promise,” replied Anita.

The music played softly from small B&W patio speakers wired to the main system.  They were no match for the majesty of the Magnepan Tympani flat-panels that delivered the classics in the doctor’s living room, but they got the job done.

Anita noticed Verde’s head nodding a bit to the symphony.

“Rocking out to my Mozart, are you?” she chuckled.

“A little – yeah.  It’s not the Foo Fighters, but I can see why you dig it.”

“Well, that’s nice to hear from someone your age.”

“She’s quite open-minded,” added Edgar.

“There aren’t too many teenagers with such a love for Claude Monet,” said Anita, as she poured more Cabernet Sauvignon for herself and Edgar.  Verde’s glass was still full of Coke Zero.

“I’m almost twenty,” answered Verde.

“Still a teenager,” smiled her father.

“Well, Claude is the man,” said Verde. “I saw your books inside, Ms. Chuang – or should I call you Doctor?”

“Please call me Anita.  When you come for an office visit, you can call me Doctor,” she smiled.

“Cool.  Dad says you’re gonna give me my HPV shots.”

“If that’s what he wants – well, if that’s what you want.”

“Sweet.” She took another bite of her burger.  After chewing, she added, “Yeah, keep all those viruses away from me, please.  Freaking bird flu, ebola, all of that stuff.”

“You don’t have to be concerned with any of that,” said Anita.

“They said on the internet that all kinds of people in Africa have died from Ebola and then, like, came back from the dead.  There’s some ABC News footage of it, too.”

“Oh, Verde,” said Edgar.

“Dad, I’ll show you the video on my phone.”

“It’s likely they were all near death, and presumed dead by non-professionals,” said Anita. “I promise you, none of them were dead.  There may have been clinical death in some, but we have that every day, where we can sometimes revive people, if caught in time.”

“Some dude was being buried when he popped his butt up again.”

Anita laughed, “That was someone’s mistake.  I wouldn’t want to be that doctor!”

“Right?” said Verde.

“The internet,” said Edgar, “is as terrible as it is wonderful.”


“It’s packed with bullies,” he said, “You should only know the things they have written to, and about, my daughter, Anita.”

“I’d say that’s more the fault of humanity, and a likely lack of parenting, than of the internet itself,” replied the doctor.

“Nailed it,” said Verde.  “People are rude.”

“In those art books,” said Anita, switching topics to lighten the mood, “I found myself drawn to that painting of the lady in the green and black dress.”

Verde’s eyes darted up.

“Oh, for sure.  The Woman in the Green Dress is what it’s called.  That’s Camille!”


“Monet’s wife.  You haven’t read all of those books, have you?” she laughed, sipping her soda.

“You know, I think I spent most of the time looking at the photos of his paintings.”

“Then, they achieved his goal.  They drew you in.  Text be damned, Anita Chuang is gonna enjoy the art!”

They all laughed.  The Berlin Philharmonic were kicking ass.

“In all honesty, and I do try to be honest, I’m not such a fan of all the water lilies.  Seems a bit much for me…”


“Wait a second,” laughed Anita, “I really loved a lot of his work, but I can’t tell you how many water lily paintings of his I’ve looked at this week, and I never saw even one frog.  Have you?”

Verde sat still for a moment.

“I…I never thought of that.  He has hundreds of lily paintings.  There must be a frog in there.  Could appear to be just a smudge of paint, but surely there is one somewhere.  Unless the presence of a frog might deter from the peacefulness of the work…”

“The absence of frogs,” said Edgar, as he gulped his wine.

“What does it all mean?” giggled Anita, discerning the initial effects of her alcohol. “Who is up for the next round of veggie burgers?”

“It’s not about the meaning,” said Verde.  “Monet said it was not necessary to understand, only to love.  He wanted people to feel something from his work, not to read into it.”

“Wow.  That’s nice,” said Anita.  “I did feel things from a lot of it.  Oh, I put some titles in my phone – hang on.”

She slid the screen door aside and entered the house.  Edgar looked at his daughter.

“Do you like her?” he whispered.

“Yeah.  She’s cool.”

“Did you want another round of burgers?” he asked.

“Oh, no.  Can’t get fat.  Internet bullies, you know.”

The Parc Monceau Paris,” came the shout from inside.  “That’s one of the better ones, to me.”

Anita appeared again as the sliding door squeaked.  “I also liked – let me see,” she looked down at her phone, “The Garden at Argenteuil!”

“Yes, the dahlias,” answered Verde.  “So beautiful.”

“And I already mentioned the green dress.”

“A favorite of mine too,” said Verde, “She seems ready to go out and have a wonderful time – I mean Camille, in the painting.  I often wonder where she was going, and what it was like to live then.  I mean, in this country, that was the world of Abraham Lincoln.  What was life like in Monet’s France?”

“American Civil War,” said her father.  “Not a great time to be alive.  As for France, weren’t they invading Mexico around that time?  Talk about HPV shots – the list of deadly diseases back then was enormous.  Am I right, Anita?”

“Yes, Debbie Downer, medicine has come a long way.”

“Camille died at thirty-two,” said Verde.  “Monet painted her on her death bed.  Compare the lack of color in that painting to the earlier ones.  He felt guilty because as she lay dying, he found interest in the colors that death brought to her face.”

“I saw that painting in one of the books.  How sad.”

“I don’t recall seeing that one,” said Edgar.

“I’ve showed it to you, Dad.  How could you forget that one?”


“End of the record,” said Anita. “The better the turntable, the fewer convenience features.  The mysteries of high-end audio.  I have to lift the tonearm myself and put on another record.  I’ll bring the Monet books out so you can show your father the painting.”

“I can type Camille on Her Death Bed on my phone and get an image up,” said Verde.

“The picture in the book is much larger,” replied Anita.


“True.  Monet deserves better than a phone screen.”

“Also, the sound of that record stylus is making me bonkers,” said Anita.  “I’ll be right back.”

The squeak of the screen door.


With Anita inside the house, Edgar touched his daughter’s hand.

“I can tell she likes you a whole lot,” he said.  “That makes your old dad happy.”

He inhaled the pleasant, arid air, and decided he might just want another burger.  He thought about getting up and tossing one on the barbeque himself, but Anita had such a way with cooking, that he’d surely fall short in some manner – even with a task as simple as pseudo-meat on a hot grill.  The setting sun flickered through the fluttering leaves of the California Ash tree behind him.  Its warm rays danced on the back wall of Anita’s home.  She’d told him it reminded her of glittering diamonds.  He thought more of the flaring bare light bulb that hung above his childhood bed.

“We should bring her to the Getty Museum to see some legit Monet.  She’d like that, Dad.”

He leaned in and whispered, “But we always grab hot dogs there.  She wouldn’t be too keen on that.”

“You’re funny.  They have veggie meals.  I almost got one last time.”


“I wonder what album she’ll put on next?  Maybe Nirvana,” he joked.

“I wish.  Or the Pixies.”

Edgar marveled at how his little girl wasn’t even born when most of her favorite bands broke through.  He recalled taking her to see Weezer in Anaheim around the time of her eighteenth birthday.


He reached down for his glass to finish that last smidgen of wine.

That was when Dr. Anita Chuang came crashing through the screen door to kill him.

She ended Verde’s life beside the toppled barbeque and the next round of burgers.



Mohave County, Arizona


“They aren’t fucking zombies,” she said. “They’re alive and breathing just as you are, asshole.”

Not the lovely nothings one might expect to float from the mouth of a bride-to-be in the days before her wedding.

Well, it’s not like she agreed to be married in Vegas, but he was hoping for it.

“I’m sorry, Cash” he replied. “I wasn’t referring to your uncle – but some of those people around him…”

The uncle in question is the one who may have given her the nickname, “Cash”.  She also doesn’t agree that ever happened, but he swears he heard it. He is her boyfriend – sometimes barely – and he was behind the wheel of a 1983 Malibu sedan, with Cash beside him, and her best friend, Teresa, in the back seat. They were all considerably younger than the Chevy, but old enough for a vacation in Vegas, with the possibility of nuptials slightly more likely than three 7s on the slot reels.  Nearing the end of a week-long trek from New York to Nevada, they hurtled through the bleak night on a black strip of highway that, from far enough above, looked like a piece of thread dropped randomly in an enormous, mountainous desert. Almost two hours till a warm sunrise, and there had been no other cars for miles – since some clowns in a dirty red pickup tossed a bag of Taco Bell refuse out their truck window and onto the road.

Cash was still pissed about the callous zombie remark as they entered a little sliver of Arizona, on I-15, between Utah and Nevada. Her boyfriend’s given name was Winthrop – in tribute to a great-grandfather who was a tobacconist of some note. He learned early on that it was much too fancy and regal a name for a kid bumming around Brooklyn, so he took to calling himself Rob. It was his middle name – Robert. Cash’s real name – and the one most people other than Rob called her, was Caroline. Winthrop and Caroline. Could be a king and queen. But in the then and there, and for as long as the world would permit them to grace each other – they were Rob and Cash.

“Calling them zombies? That’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever heard out of your mouth, Rob.  And that’s saying a lot.  They are heavily medicated.”

Teresa remained quiet in the back seat, staring out the side window, taking in the dancing moon shadows of the desert and tweeting on her iPhone.  Cash pulled up on the door lock button beside her, then, pushed it down again.  She repeated the action a second time.  Rob had seen her do this repeatedly during the road trip, had occasionally promised her that the door was indeed locked, but knew better than to offer any reassurances this time.

He knew his foot was already ankle deep in his mouth, and he was formulating a meaningful apology in his mind. He’d tried to be funny with his “zombie” comment, but knew it sounded wrong even as it rode out upon his truck stop burrito breath. Cash’s Uncle Reg had been a New York City cop for 25 years. He was always kind to his niece, and the joker of what remained of her broken family. A steady buildup of plaque in his brain had changed him from a vibrant soul into a shell of his former self. So much so that he had difficulty remembering and identifying even those closest to him, and he found himself, though only sixty years old, in an assisted living facility. Rob had referred to some of the older patients as “zombies” for how they ambled through the corridors the last time he and Cash had visited – just before they left on their cross-country journey. Rob and Cash had been talking recently about how she earned that nickname. He said that Uncle Reg called her that the first time Rob met him, but she swore that no one had ever used that name before Rob.

He tried to lighten the mood with a running gag that he usually enjoyed a lot more than Cash

“Wanna start a band?” he asked with a grin.

“What would we call it?” she answered robotically, with an obvious lack of gusto.

“Rick Wakeman’s Cape.”

“I don’t even get it,” she sighed.

He was pondering an explanation, or an apology, when he saw the lights in his mirror.


The red and blue illuminated the night sky and coated the mountains with color.  The car approached quickly, but sans siren.

“Damn it,” sighed Rob. “I wasn’t going that fast.”

Teresa surfaced from her boredom in the back seat, mumbling about a pimple and closing her hand mirror. She turned her head to peer out the rear window.  The interior of Rob’s Chevrolet had the look of a night club, or maybe – in this particularly old vehicle – a disco, as the lights streamed in from behind.  The sedan got right on their bumper, and just as Rob began to pull over, it quickly crossed into the left lane to pass them.


Rob looked over at the police car as it passed. They all did.

Male officer driving, female cop in the passenger seat – facing backwards.  A third figure was caged in the rear of the marked sedan, behind the steel-framed partition.

Some type of bag over its head.

The hooded rider was thrashing wildly, arms cuffed behind the back.  The covered head smashed against the side window of the police vehicle just as it passed Rob’s car, fracturing the thick glass.

“What the hell?” was all Rob could muster. “Did you guys see that?”

“Creepy,” said Cash.

“Wonder what the one in back is trippin’ on?” asked Teresa, as she leaned forward.

“But did you really see the one in back?” asked Rob. “Did you see the uniform?”


“He was a cop too.”


East Islip, New York


The plumber had arrived promptly, just after the kids headed out for school. He was friendly and professional, and he promised to get Joyce McDougald’s kitchen drain clear.

Stereotype, she thought, holding back a chuckle. This chubby fella is gonna fix what neither my coat hanger snake, plunger, or three containers of ultra heavy duty, foaming, sizzling, industrial strength liquid gel acid rain unclogger could do – and here I am thinking of plumber butt jokes.
His rump divider protruded from the top of his pants as his lower half protruded from the cabinet beneath her sink.

“I’ll have this done in no time,” came his muffled promise.  Joyce could see his arms moving and hear wrench-versus-pipe percussion.  Sweat began to bead on his exposed back, like grease on an undercooked bacon slab. The thought of a droplet sliding down his cheeky crevice was too much, and caused her to turn, coffee in hand, to admire the refrigerator artwork of her twins.

“Take your time,” she replied. “Just happy that you’re here!”

The Long Island sun steamed in her kitchen window as Good Morning America could be heard from the living room plasma.  She was a bit concerned that this workman would do what so many others had, and charge her more than the agreed-upon estimate, after discovering some “complications” during the repair.

While studying her son’s Crayola portraits of various X-Men, she thought she heard the plumber sneeze.

“Bless you.”

No reply.

She gazed down at all of the bottles and cans on the tiles surrounding the repairman’s feet; the stuff that would normally occupy the space under the sink; floor cleaner, furniture polish, a clear, label-less, bottle of smoky, topaz brown, mystery liquid.

I really need to go through all this junk before I put it back in the cabinet, she thought, as coffee aroma filled her nostrils.

Sounded like his wrench dropped.

He was still for a moment; exposed back sweat droplets evolving into tiny puddles.

Then his leg twitched.

“You okay, sir?”

Expecting to hear something like, “Yep, be done in a jiffy,” Joyce jumped when his legs began kicking about like a bullfrog on ice.  The bottles and cans went flying in all directions, smashing and rattling throughout the sunny kitchen.  She feared the worst, as grunts and growls came from beneath the sink.

Oh God, my drain-cleaning acid spilled out of the pipes onto his face!

She reasonably envisioned that particular scenario to be “The Worst”.

It wasn’t.

Good Morning America had gone to commercial.  The early spring birds could be heard singing outside of Joyce’s quaint ranch home.  They danced on the hedge that sat just below her bow window.  A former NFL great blared from the television about how his aging prostate no longer kept him awake at night.

In the kitchen, Joyce McDougald was already dead on the floor.

Her blood snaked across the beveled tiles, gravity filling in the crevices like some grand design.  It mixed with the spilled floor cleaner and smoky topaz liquid, and pooled up at the bottom of the refrigerator, below the X-Men drawings.



Mojave County, Arizona


Fifteen minutes had elapsed since the speeding police car had passed Rob’s old Chevy.  They weren’t getting much reception on the car radio, so Cash and Teresa knew Rob would resort to the dreaded 8-track player.  The decades old car, including the ancient tape deck, and the assortment of music cartridges, were all that the young man received after his drunken father fell asleep with a Camel in his hand and turned everything, himself included, to ash.  Seems the only thing Rob’s dad cared about was that car and its V-8 engine, so it was in great shape, and like vinyl records – and maybe even 8-tracks – it was slowly transforming from a funny oddity in most people’s minds, to being rather cool.

So Cash and Teresa couldn’t get Lady Gaga or Rihanna on the radio, but they did get the first album by Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and the pounding anthem “Stayed Awake All Night”, which was quite appropriate.  Rob sang along with every word, as he could to most any song in his late father’s collection.  Scary thought for the two female riders: after several days in the Malibu, they were learning some of the songs too.  They’d made a bit of a pact to distance themselves from the real world during this journey, avoiding radio news and not checking websites that could ruin their escape.  Still, some news was just too big to avoid entirely.

“I am so tired,” yawned Cash.

“We’ll be in Vegas in like an hour!” replied Rob. “The home of the coolest weddings on the planet!”


“Come on, you’ve even got your maid of honor in the back seat!”

He turned back to Teresa, who flashed a sympathetic, heartfelt, and groggy smile.

“I need to sleep, baby,” said Cash.

“Well, our Vegas hotel will definitely be a lot nicer than the shitholes we’ve stayed in along the way,” he replied, as they approached a curve in the road.

“That’ll be pretty sweet,” said Cash as her eyelids slid down.  The 8-track was between songs, and brief seconds of nothing but soothing tape hiss blanketed the car as Cash rested her head against the window.  Sleep called.

The freeway sign read: VALLEY OF FIRE.

“Holy shit!” yelled Rob, trashing the tranquility.

Cash came back to life.  Teresa leaned forward – her head coming between her friends.

“Wha…”, she whispered as she saw it.  Rob shut down the tape deck.

There, again, was the police car.

It was off the road, twenty yards into the dark desert landscape.  It had crashed into, and nearly uprooted, a Joshua tree.  Smoke escaped from beneath the crushed front end that consumed the yucca palm.  The overhead lights still flickered red and blue.  A tractor-trailer was stopped at the side of the freeway, flashers on.  Rob and the girls could see the truck driver sprinting toward the police car.

“We’ve gotta help,” said Rob, as he slowed and pulled over in front of the semi.  He looked at Teresa, “T, call 911.”

She fumbled with her phone, “Where the hell are we, exactly?”

Rob was out the door, Cash just behind him.  They darted across the brush.  The trucker was on the far side of the car, where both passenger side windows had been smashed.  The air bags had deployed.  As they were almost at the vehicle, they could see the truck driver opening the back door.

The handcuffed rear seat passenger, with a hood over his head, and a cop uniform on his large body, jumped from the smoky vehicle, nearly knocking the burly trucker to the ground.  His yells were muffled by the head-cover.  There was no gun belt around his waist.

“Settle down,” said the semi driver, in a southern drawl.  “I’m takin’ that hood off, but them cuffs is stayin’ on, big fella.”

Just as Rob, then Cash, reached the accident scene, the hood was pulled off.  Rob ignored that, as he ran to the front seats.  The officer behind the wheel was obviously dead – his head down at a difficult angle.  What remained of his face was bathed in syrupy blood.  His neck had been torn apart.  The female cop, who had been in the passenger seat, was nowhere to be found.

Cash hadn’t seen any of that, but she trembled nonetheless, as she saw the big cop’s hood come off.  He was pale and sweaty, snot stringing from nose to lips, eyes bloodshot, with rusty caking around his mouth.

Dried blood.  Parched vomit.

The stench of his breath smothered Cash’s nostrils from five feet away, but it was his eyes that commanded her stare. Sure, they were red, but Cash had seen swollen eye vessels and discolored sclerae before, though never accompanied by such ghostly white pupils. Yet it was the brilliance of the red that kept her transfixed.
More red than blood, she thought. Redder than fire or rubies. Her mind raced in search of a comparable color. Nothing seemed appropriate.


Back in the Malibu, Teresa gripped her phone.  A single car passed her window but continued into the early morning darkness.  The bright lights from the idling tractor-trailer cut through the misty black and into the rear window of the Chevy.

“I…I know we’re on Interstate 15…not sure if it’s Utah, Arizona or Nevada.  Wait – not Utah.  We left Utah.  I think it’s Arizona…”


Cash took another step back from the handcuffed cop as the trucker tried to settle him down,  yet, she still focused on those eyes. Rob emerged from the front seat and tried to scan his surroundings for the missing female officer.  It was all red and blue from the police lights, but beyond that immediate area, only pitch-black desert.

The big, sweaty officer finally formulated a sentence.

“God, what have I done?”

Cash felt wobbly. Her most recent meal wanted out.

“Tell me exactly what happened, partner,” drawled the trucker.


Teresa’s frustration grew in the Chevy.

“I’m doing the best I can.  Maybe I can use my phone’s GPS…”

Behind her, outside, by the trunk of the Malibu, silhouetted by the harsh lights of the empty truck, moved a figure.


“You did all this here?” asked the trucker of the ranting cop.

No answer.  Moist, crimson eyes.  Maybe a slight head shake.

Rob grabbed the arm of the inquisitive driver as Cash looked on.  He whispered in his ruddy ear, “Did you see the dead cop behind the wheel?”


“Looks like his throat is basically gone.”


“Well,” continued Rob, “I’m no detective, but I can’t see how this guy did any of this, while handcuffed, hooded, and locked behind a cage in the back of the car.”

Cash was dizzy from the horror and the whirling police lights.  She tore herself away from those eyes, leaned her backside on the crushed passenger side fender, and gazed out into the cobalt and crimson darkness.
She muttered something for Rob to hear, but he was too engaged with the rig operator to notice.

“Red,” she said. “More red than blood or fire.”

Her head turned one more time toward the big, handcuffed cop. One more look at the eyes.
“Red, like a devil.”


Back in the old Chevy, Teresa had some words for the 911 operator.

“This is insane.  I’m gonna get out and look for a highway marker.  Do you at least have someone headed in this direction?”

She slid over toward the door, bathed in the light from behind.

“Don’t you hang up on me now.”

She opened the door and it hit something. A leg.  He was standing right there.

“Fuck me!” she yelled, almost involuntarily.

“I’ll definitely file that request,” he replied. “But for now, I’m just checking to see if you’re okay.”

He was tall, smiling, Asian, and clutching a motorcycle helmet.  Teresa’s heart returned to its designated position.

“Can you tell this operator exactly where we are?”


Rob continued whispering with the trucker as the shackled cop whimpered and cried.  Cash was feeling a bit stronger since leaning on the wrecked police car.  She once again forced her focus on the oddly comforting darkness of cactus and brush.

Something, in the distance, moved.

Just a shadow from all these damned dancing lights, she thought.

Then, out of the black it came, into the red and blue wash.


He was deep into his discussion with the big rigger.

The figure zig-zagged just a bit as it approached.


Both men turned toward Cash.  She just lazily raised her arm to point behind them.

Apparently not an animal, it was indeed a human form that approached from the dry wild.

“Who’s out there?” yelled the trucker.  The fettered cop slowly raised his head to observe.

“Uncuff me,” was all he mumbled.

“Hello?  Who is that?” hollered the rig driver, even more loudly.

Rob stepped over to get between Cash and the approaching roamer.  There was no response to the trucker’s calls as it trudged closer.

“Fuck this,” declared Cash as she suddenly bolted into the front seat of the police car.  She tried not to notice the soaking warm blood or bits of torn flesh that adorned the uniform of the dead officer behind the wheel.  She held her breath to avoid the powdery chemical stench of the air bags.  Cash just wanted a gun.  She could hear Rob and the truck driver continue to call out to the desert walker.  Her fingers managed to pop open the plasma-soaked button strap, but she couldn’t get the weapon out of the belt holster.

She thought she could now hear the approaching footsteps in the brush.  Her palms were covered with blood as she finally thought to tilt the gun forward before trying to pull it out.

That worked.  She had the pistol.

Cash crawled backwards out of the car and spun to face the advancing visitant.

It was clear now.  This was the missing female cop.  Cash initially had the gun raised but began to lower it.  Then she saw the face of the diminutive woman.  Pale, wide-eyed, and with that caked vomit/blood composite around her mouth.  Same as the big cop.  Blood all over the front of her uniform too.

Cash brought the gun back up.  She flashed back to when her Uncle Reg had taken her to the NYPD range to shoot, and then on to the Statue of Liberty.  She couldn’t, however, dismiss the nagging fact that blood covered her hands.  Felt like it was gluing the weapon to her palms. All Cash wanted was to scrub herself from the elbows down.  But that would have to wait.

The approaching officer said nothing.  Her arms were to her side.  A gun dangled from her right hand.

“What’s this all about?” yelled Rob.

The cop didn’t even look his way.  Her white pupils seemed trained on the interior of the police car.

“D-Don’t come any closer!” yelled Cash, not even sure if she could ever pull the trigger.  She could feel the cold steel adhering to her skin. Felt like drying mucus. She needed to scour her hands.

But the catatonic cop kept coming.

“I told you to stop!” demanded Cash.

“Please uncuff me,” repeated the big male officer, to no avail.

Just then, the bloody female cop stopped.  Cash’s hands trembled.

“You want me to take that gun from you, baby?” whispered Rob.


The uniformed woman stared into the vehicle – at the murdered policeman behind the wheel.  From the opposite direction came Teresa, her new biker friend – who was recording the scene with his phone – and a couple of other travelers who had just stopped to help.  Teresa saw her best friend aiming a gun at one ghoulish-looking cop, while another stood handcuffed beside an old trucker.

The female officer’s eyes never moved from the sight of her slaughtered partner.  She slowly raised her handgun.  Cash almost pulled the trigger, especially when she got a good look at the eyes – red like a devil – but something stopped her.  The impassive cop put the gun to her own right temple and blew off the top of her head.

Screams and gasps.

Cash dropped the weapon she’d been holding and fell to her knees.  Rob engulfed her.  Instinctively, she scraped her hands against the sandy ground below her, trying to get rid of the blood, but it only stuck the dirt to her, like breading.

The burly officer, arms still shackled behind him, redness fading from his eyes, had some words for Cash that cut right through the night air.

“Fuck it.  Keep that gun.  Take hers too.  You’ll need them.”



Evans City, Pennsylvania


Father and daughter.  They relished sunny days because they could make shadow hand puppets.  Their silhouettes were strong and deep against the concrete.  His shadow was much larger, of course.  It was crouched, and he was just forward of his daughter.  Her shadow showed her pigtails quite clearly, as well as the spokes of her wheelchair.  There was a big blue chalk-drawn heart containing the words “Daddy loves Bug” on their cement screen.

“A bird is an easy one, Daddy!” she laughed.

Her hands formed the wings as she easily outdid her father’s attempt.

They looked, not at each other, but directly down as each of their creations appeared.

“You’re too good for me, sweetheart.”

“I get a lot of practice.”

“I really need to work on my shadow puppets,” he laughed.

“Here’s my goat,” she said.  “Yes, his name is Billy.”

“I love that one,” he replied, as she used both hands to form a great looking creature including horns and dangling chin hair.

“You can make Billy, too. Just keep at it,” she told him.

The shadow of her head titled just a bit as her arms formed something of a long neck.

“Make your hands into a big tree,” she told her father.

He opened his five fingers widely.  The best he could come up with.  Her hands formed a head.

“A brontosaurus!”

They both chuckled as her handiwork moved over to her father’s “tree” and began to munch.

“Does it tickle, Daddy?  I’m eating you!”

The wheelchair shadow moved slightly, and the wind kicked up a bit.

“Go on, make the goat now,” she said with a slight cough.

The silhouette of her pigtailed head remained still as her father tried his hands in different combinations – almost getting the goat puppet, but not quite.

“Nearly had it, Bug,” he said.

She didn’t reply as he tried varying combinations of fingers to make the horns.  The sun was hot on his neck, but the shadows were brilliantly strong against the concrete.  The blue heart was bright in the backdrop of the emerging goat.

He didn’t notice as the black shadow of Bug’s head twitched just a bit.

“It’s a bit of a sad animal,” he said. “Looks more like Christian Bale at an AC/DC concert.”

As he tweaked the goatee a bit by shifting his pinky to different angles, Bug’s pigtailed shadow slowly stood from that of her wheelchair.  He didn’t see it as it turned to face him.  Her silhouette was in dark profile and a black depiction of liquid streamed from her mouth to the ground.  He heard the gurgle and turned to face his baby.

His hands were still in goat mode when she was on him.

They became a single umbra between the earth and the sun.

Blood splattered onto the chalk heart.


Las Vegas, Nevada


“Having fun in Vegas?” asked the scaly-skinned waitress – more out of habit than concern.

The four of them sat at the table, their minds somewhere between lethargy and slumber.  Rob managed to reply, as he hoped this was just some continuation of the lucid dream that was surely nearing conclusion.

“Just got in,” he said, as he collected the menus and handed them over.

Rob, Cash and Teresa were about to have their version of breakfast with the Asian motorcyclist.  He had told them his name was Sum Yung Cum, but couldn’t keep a straight face and soon admitted to being Paul Bhong, though he’d often use the surname, Smith.  He had claimed Chinese, Japanese and OnMeKnees ancestry before fessing up as a Korean-American.  They hadn’t even believed his drug-bubbling surname until he produced his license for the cops at the precinct.

They were at the station for over eight hours – maybe two hours of individual interviews and six of waiting around in separate offices.  Still, they got off easy for seeing two dead cops and a third – babbling and possibly freshly insane.

There were several suits at the precinct house.  Took them hours to arrive, and they sure weren’t local cops or detectives.  They did most of the interviewing, without ever saying exactly who they were.  Government was the catch phrase.  Cash was sure that most of the questions would revolve around a certain missing police gun, which had found its way, on the advice of the handcuffed officer, to a spot below the front seat of Rob’s Chevy.  When the questioners almost completely avoided that subject, Cash knew that some hardcore shit was brewing in the desert.  When cops don’t care about a missing service weapon, there must be some humongous fish to fry.

It was late afternoon now, but Paul Bhong had led them to this little place on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas that had won a Best Pancakes in America title – and damned if they weren’t going to try them.  Despite the cooking accolades, the joint was nearly empty.  Other than brief police station chair and bench catnaps, the three cross-country travelers hadn’t been to sleep for two days.

“Hope y’all have lots o’ luck here,” said the waitress as she left their table.

“Can’t get any worse,” mumbled Teresa.  The others offered tired laughs.  She caught Paul smiling at her, and it felt nice.  He gave her a gentle tap on the hand.  That felt nicer.

“You look as exhausted as I feel, Carrie,” said Teresa.

“I’m shot,” she replied, rubbing hand sanitizer all the way up to her elbows.

Carrie?” asked Paul.  “I thought you were Cash?”

“Only to him,” she smiled, tossing a thumb at Rob.

“And her favorite uncle,” answered Rob, as Cash shook her head.

“Never happened,” she said.

“So I should call you Carrie?” asked the biker.

“Carrie, Ca, Caroline…all good.”

“Hmmm,” pondered Paul, “How ‘bout… Khaki?”


“Yeah,” replied Paul. “That lovely skin tone you have.  Almost like khaki.”

Her skin did have compelling color but was obviously dry from over-cleansing. She was flattered by Paul’s compliment, but unsure of how to respond.

Rob wasn’t.  “Caroline would be a good name to call her.”

He shot his best Keep Your Distance look at Paul.  Teresa slid her hand away from their new pal.

“Caroline it is,” he said.  “Sorry, I like to have fun with names n’ shit.  Didn’t mean to sound creepy.”

Trying to dump the awkward, Cash pointed that thumb at Rob again.

“Paul, I bet you’d never guess what name that ‘Rob’ here signed on all that police paperwork today.”

“I’m not ashamed of it,” said Rob, not missing a beat.  “My name is Winthrop.  Winthrop Robert Van Morrison-CrosbyStillsNash, and I am damned proud of it.”


“Okay Paul, I lied about the last name.  But my name is Winthrop.”

“That’s one sweet name, bro.  Why don’t you use it?  Sounds important.”

“I like Rob,” he replied.

“If you go by Winthrop, you’re allowed to wear a monocle and junk.”

The waitress returned with four water glasses.

“Thank you” said Rob.  “So, did we catch you between lunch and dinner?” he asked her, just trying to make small talk.

“What’s that?”

“I mean, it’s kind of empty.  My friend here told me this was a popular restaurant.”

Rob and the server both looked over at Paul.

“It is popular,” she answered. “But lots less people have been coming since the flyover.”

The waitress turned a bit to the side and her right hand made a quick and sloppy sign of the cross.

“Ah” replied Rob, while peering at Cash.

“Guess folks are just scared,” added the woman, as just a hint of apprehension came over her worn face.  Paul could sense the change in her.  He spoke up.

“Me change mind!” he bellowed, with machine gun speed, and a completely new accent. “No want pancake no more.  You got Korean noodle, mung bean, and ddukbokkie?”


“What ‘bout dog?  You roast Boston Terrier for customer?”

“Sir, I…I…”

He smiled at the confused woman.  “Just kidding, ma’am.  Having a bit of fun with you,” he said in his normal voice.

“Oh,” she grinned.  “You had me there.  Very funny!”

She was smiling broadly as she headed back to the front counter.  Mission accomplished.

Paul looked at his new friends.  “I do like fucking with people and Asian stereotypes, but, also, she looked like she needed a laugh.”

They all appeared a bit cheerier after his ridiculous impression.  Teresa slid her hand back closer to his – almost touching.  He made her happy.  She also loved the fact that he was of ample height.  Teresa was endowed with the slim, sturdy frame of a fashion model, but finding a boyfriend over whom she didn’t tower was always a consideration.

“You keep that Chevy looking and running so sweet,” said Paul to Rob.

“Thanks, man.  I try.”

“Can’t believe you took it cross country, though.  Five thousand mile round trip.  Lots of sand n’ shit.  Ballsy way to treat that ride.”

“Well, it’s supposed to be a sweet vacation, and I’m hoping…” began Rob, before Cash cut him off.

“I can’t fly,” she said. “I’ve tried, but I had to leave the plane before it ever took off.”

“Ahh,” replied Paul, as he watched Cash run her unused cutlery through her table napkin. “Well, we all have our things, I suppose.  I hate the sound of Styrofoam.  You know, like when the top of a cooler rubs against the base.  Makes me wanna beer dick my own goddamn ears.  But, for this guy to put that awesome car through this kind of trip…damn, he must love you, sista.”

Changing the subject, Cash asked, “Why didn’t you give the cops the video you shot back there?”

“Hell, no,” replied Paul.  “They’d keep my phone.  I keep trying to shoot something that will go viral.  Bring subscribers to my YouTube channel.  No luck yet.”

“You won’t post that horror, will you?”

“No.  Not fair to the victims.  Paul Smith-Bhong loses out again.”


In the United States of America, a flyover was usually thought of as a coordinated, respectful event where an aircraft, or group of aircrafts, would pay homage to an occasion or anniversary with a majestic pass under the sun, ideally against a clear blue sky.  Some countries would refer to these ceremonies as flypasts.

The flyover to which the waitress referred was coordinated indeed.  Took a decade of planning.  Involved hundreds of small aircraft.  Covered each and every one of the forty-eight contiguous states. Occurred on the fifteenth of March – a day infamous for another historical conspiracy – and was less than a fortnight gone.

However, it was anything but respectful.

Most of the planes, and all of the pilots, were no more.  A handful were shot down, but most completed their integrated mission by intentionally crashing into the most inviting and catastrophic targets in their vicinity.


It was unanimous.  The pancakes were indeed the best they’d ever had.  But now they sat like lead weights in the stomachs of three exhausted travelers.  The group had parted ways with Paul, promising to hook up again during the trip.  The hog-riding jokester had proven to them, via his driver’s license, that he was indeed a Vegas local, but he had told them he was both a software developer and a dishwasher for Hot Phat Dung Noodle Bar.  They tended to believe the former.

The Malibu headed south down Las Vegas Boulevard.  Wedding chapels – great and small – lined both sides of the street.

“That’s the one!” shouted Rob. “Everyone from Frank Sinatra to Bruce Willis got married there.  Michael Jordan.  Britney Spears, too.”

“What about Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob?” asked Teresa, as Cash gazed in the other direction.

“Don’t know. That might be another chapel.  There are loads of ‘em!”

“Rob,” said Cash, without looking, “are any of these people still married?”

“Technically, yes.”

“But to other people.”


They drove on.  Radio stations were plentiful in the city, so they listened to Adele as they motored along.  Rob lifted his 8-track copy of Some Girls by the Rolling Stones and waved it around slowly.

“No.” replied the girls in unison.

“This tape,” said Rob, “has versions of some songs that never appeared on either vinyl or CD!”

“What about downloads?” asked Cash.

“I don’t even say that word,” he answered.

“Can you stream it?”

“Shut it.”

“I don’t even know how those tape things still play,” offered Teresa.

“Don’t get him started,” sighed Cash.

Too late.

“There are two things I really know how to do; fix cars and 8-tracks.  They’ll both last a lifetime if you treat them right.  With tapes, it’s all about repairing or replacing foil tabs and fuzzy pads.  I can show you someday, if you like.  Cash has seen me do it.”

The girls exchanged glances.  Teresa gave her friend a he’s cute pout.  Cash smiled in agreement.

“Would love to see it when we get back home,” smiled Teresa.

Then it was before them.  The Las Vegas Strip.  It was daylight, yet somehow things still got a whole lot shinier as they passed the landmarks one-by-one: the Stratosphere, Encore, Wynn, Venetian, Mirage and more – almost too many to grasp.  Fewer tourists than they’d expected, though.

“Which one are we staying at?” asked Cash.  “I can’t take the suspense!”

“I told you – it’s a surprise,” answered Rob.

“Caesar’s! The Hangover!” chuckled Cash.

“Aaaand the Ides of March,” added Teresa, gazing out the passenger side window as they approached the Bellagio and its legendary fountains.

They motored on.

City Center, Paris, MGM Grand, New York, New York, Luxor and others.

A huge jet lumbered over them as it descended on McCarran airport.  It felt reassuring to the trio, after several days of no aircraft, save for the occasional military fighter.

“Well, I guess it’s Mandalay Bay,” offered Cash, pointing at the last of the big beautiful casino resorts at the south end of the strip.  “Cool!”

Mandalay came and went.  Rob drove on.  The Killers were on the radio now.


About ten wordless minutes after that, Rob pulled into a motel parking lot. Three young men in hoodies huddled together in a handicapped parking space, blowing smoke rings toward the sky.

IN-ROOM HBO bragged the weathered sign.

“I’m borderline certain that said ‘In-room hobo’,” sighed Cash.


In the modest motel lobby, Rob checked in while the girls did their best to recline on a tattered sofa.

“I bet this couch was the bomb – in the days before this guy took it out of the Caesars Palace dumpster,” said Cash.

This is our ‘surprise hotel’? Oh-em-gee,” yawned Teresa.

“Yeah.  Rob said he thought since the address was on Las Vegas Boulevard, it had to be part of the strip.  He said we can’t afford those nice ones because they quadruple their prices for the weekend.”

“How ‘bout we stay weeknights in a nice hotel, then spend the weekend in a cardboard box behind the Palazzo?”  They both laughed as Rob dealt with the clerk behind the desk.

“One room, two hotties. Well played, my friend, okaaaay,” coughed the middle-aged turtle, with an unlit cigar hanging beneath his thatchy mustache.

“It’s not like that,” answered Rob.

“Sure you don’t want the room with one king bed?” he replied, sounding like a garbage disposal on the fritz.

“I’m sure, bro.”

“Mackey.  Call me Mackey. We had a cancellation.  I can slide you twenty percent off. Okaaaay?”

“I’m marrying one of them.  The other one is her best friend.”

“Sweeeeeet,” replied the clerk, transforming the explanation into one of his fantasies. “Which one is the bride-to-be?” he asked, more loudly than his previous mumblings.

“We’re both brides-to-be,” replied Cash as she sauntered up to the desk, “…eventually.”

The clerk studied her carefully enough for Rob to want it to stop.  He smiled broadly, revealing the teeth he had retained to date.

“I was telling your groom about a Honeymoon Suite we have…”

“I wanted to ask you something,” interrupted Cash. “Is the name of this place actually ‘In-room HBO’?  Because that’s the only sign we could see out front.”

“Cash…” said Rob.

“No, there’s a small temp sign.  We’re having the main one redone,” answered the clerk. “We’re in the middle of renovations, but you’ll like your room.  All three of you…Cash.”

The name suddenly sounded dirty.

“More importantly,” he continued, “unlike them big casino hotels, we ain’t had even one incident yet, okaaaay?”

They understood, especially after the conversations they’d had with Paul Bhong upon leaving the police station, but it was not something they wanted to think about until some official facts came out from an ominously silent presidential administration.  Quite likely, the current situation did not lend itself to immediate transparency.

The clerk handed over the keys while studying the registration form Rob that had filled out.

“1983 Chevy?  Really?” asked the clerk as he eyeballed the card.


“I gave you all a room on the penthouse level. Best views of beautiful and romantic Las Vegas.”

They all knew the place consisted of two floors.

The tired trio gathered their luggage and headed for the door.  The desk man caught Teresa’s eye.

“Hey slim,” came the words from his gravel pit of a throat, “if those two ever need their alone time, you can always bump by and chill with me.  I got some Four Loko bouncing ‘round the mini-fridge, okaaaay…?”

The door closed.


The sound of a running shower echoed in the distance as Cash and Teresa lounged in separate beds.

“Can’t believe we are finally clean and in bed,” said Teresa.

“Feels nice,” answered Cash. “I don’t think I can even raise my arms.”

“Not surprised. I’d be shot too if I disinfected the place inch by inch. You could perform an

appendectomy in here now,” smiled Teresa. She craned her neck to be sure Rob was still in the bathroom.

“Well,” replied Cash, “it seems this place has two room types; smoking and chain-smoking.”

“So, have you been thinking much about a wedding?” whispered Teresa.

“Been thinking maybe I should go for it, but I don’t know.”

“He loves you so much.”

“That’s not it.  Weddings…I mean his mom left him.  Left his whole family.  His father turned to drink and then there was the fire.  He hasn’t seen or heard from his own mother in years.  My parents split up.  When do I hear from them?  Sometimes marriage is like the kiss of death.”

“That’s all true, and what do I know?” responded Teresa. “But that guy in there would never leave you.  Never.”

Cash smiled, “Cars, old music, and me.”

“You’re ahead of the cars and the 8-tracks,” said Teresa. “I’d trade places with you.  Have you kept score of the losers I’ve dated?”

“Well, Rob keeps mentioning that guy John G from California.  Swears you’d hit it off.”

“Not a fan of blind dates.”

“If we do get married here, he’s coming in as best man, so it might not be too awkward in that situation.”

“But you’ve never even met this John G guy, Carrie, and Rob never answers my question about how tall this mystery man is”

“They were best friends till they were twelve, but John moved to Cali before I ever met Rob.”

“Tall Paul is pretty cute,” offered Teresa.

“If you like the you-can’t-believe-anything-I-say type, then maybe, T.”

“He’s just a joker.  Seems pretty smart, too.  Sounds like he knows a lot about everything,” whispered Teresa, as she stared at the peeling motel ceiling.  The shower water stopped.  Sounded like the little shampoo bottle, or something, fell to the floor.  Teresa continued, “Some of the stuff Paul said about whatever the hell is going on lately is pretty scary.  I don’t know if it’s true, but if it is, you might want to think about getting married before this world goes completely ass up.”

No response.

“Carrie, you hear me?”

A bit of heavy breathing.  Teresa lifted her head to peer over at her best friend.  Rob rattled around in the bathroom.


The strong breaths turned into something of a mild snore.  Teresa laughed to herself and tried to snuggle into her thin, hard pillow.


The three of them were torn from their dreams by the same tumultuous boom.  The room was much darker than it had been when they’d drifted off.  Teresa checked her phone.  3:15 AM.  Sounded like a wrecking ball was battering the motel.  As heads cleared, they realized it was the room next door.


CANNI has been nominated for 7 literary awards, including Best Horror Novel 2020.

It has been the #1 featured horror novel at both NetGalley and Publisher’s Weekly/BookLife.

The NetGalley Booksellers recommendation rate for CANNI is 100%.

Thank you for reading this excerpt. I hope you enjoyed it!

The Kind People of Denary

2 Oct

                                The Kind People of Denary


                                           Daniel O’Connor 


“What is all of this shit and where does it come from?”

He sat on his couch, mumbling to himself.  The “shit” to which he referred was basically everything in his view: books, records, the lamp, his phone, the couch, and his nearly-empty whiskey bottle.

These thoughts would pester him whenever he washed down his marijuana edibles with a 92 proof chaser.  He’d tell himself that the earth was rock, water, plant life, oxygen, some other crap, but yet all of this random stuff was made from it.  Plastics, fabric, whatever.  Did we need any of it?

Then, most of the man-made objects would orbit his head – if his THC/booze concoction was potent enough.  It had previously possessed enough potency to get his ass bounced from the NYPD, and to transform his wife, Kathleen, into his ex-wife, Kathleen.  She, free from his shackles, remained back in Staten Island with their house, while he, (former) Officer Bladen Dieci, relocated to a shithole apartment in a shithole town in Northern Arizona.

He’d been filling out job applications with a plastic pen that he deemed to be a worthless creation of man when his phone rang.  The chewed-cap Bic float-circled his head as he scanned the caller ID.  He raised his right hand and watched the pen, along with a tattered paperback copy of “Ten Little Indians”, pass cleanly through his forearm, like Casper the Friendly Ghost.  He was sure it was all hallucinatory.  Pretty sure, at least.

Bladen envisioned the radio waves, the base station and the cell tower, as he stared at the phone in his left hand.  The caller was Uncle Arlo.  Sheriff Arlo.


“Bladen!  It’s your old uncle!  Hey boy!”

“Hi, Uncle Arlo.”

“You doin’ better since you came out west?  Nothin’ like the desert.

Should be a good restart for a kid like you.”

“I’m thirty-one.”

“Still a kid.  I’m pushin’ seventy now, Blade.”

The paper job application floated up to join the pen, the book, and all of the others in orbit.  If Bladen owned a laptop there’d be little need for the pen or the paper but his current finances didn’t permit such an extravagance.

“So kid, you wanna be a deputy?”

The orbiting ceased.

“A deputy?  For you?”

“Yup.  Down here in Denary.”

“Um, Uncle Arlo, you do know that I was shit-canned from NYPD, right?  Harold and Kumar would have a better chance of passing a drug test for your department…”

“Who?  Are they like a Cheech and Chong?  I get it!  Anyway, we can work on all that.  I basically am the department.  We have me and my three deputies.  We don’t even really need that many, yet we do need one more.  Long story.  Come on down to Denary and we’ll talk.  Decent pay, benefits, and you can stay with me till you get on your feet.”


Bladen’s next call was cross-country.  He reached voicemail.

“Hey, it’s Kath.  Leave a message. Fake IRS and fake Dell Computer can fuck off.”


The next morning Bladen Dieci rolled south, deeper into Arizona, in a Ford that had rolled off the assembly line while he was in high school detention. It was blue, apart from one black door.  Denary was a little more than an hour’s drive, as the vulture flies.

He was just finishing an Egg McMuffin when he saw the road sign.

                                              Welcome to Denary

                                      Where our kind are the kind kind

All Bladen knew about the place was that there had been some strange and brutal murders there ten years prior, and not long after, his father – Uncle Arlo’s twin – ventured there to visit his brother and was promptly diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor He was never again whole enough even to return to New York to die.  Bladen never went to see his dad as the end neared.  He’d meant to, but it all happened so quickly.  At least that’s how he rationalized it.

He saw his father’s body at the Staten Island funeral home, after it had arrived there like some fucking Amazon Prime delivery.


Bladen walked into the Denary Diner, greeted by the sound of Dwight Yoakam and the sight of his uncle sitting in a booth, eyes down under his Stratton straw hat, tying and untying some kind of rope knot.  Uncle Arlo sure looked every bit the cowboy.  That he came from the Big Apple thirty-some years before and that his actual first name was Nick mattered little.  This is who he’d become: the wrangler with the rope and the big sheriff’s hat.

“Blade!  Hell, you got skinny.”

Arlo stood, dropping his piece of rope to the table.  His smile was broad, uncomfortably so.  Bladen noticed that the years were catching up with his uncle; he was still tall and broad, but now a tad hunched over and maybe a bit wobbly.  The men embraced.

“Good to see you, Uncle Arlo.  I can’t thank you enough… ”

“See that?  A Buntline Hitch,” said Arlo, pointing to the length of rope, “Was hooking my key ring to it.  Killin’ time.  Easy knot.”

As Bladen sat in the booth, across the table from Arlo, the waitress approached.  Her smile might have been broader than the sheriff’s.  Her middle-aged choppers screamed tobacco and gum disease but she presented them proudly.

“Hello, handsome!  I’m Maggie, I’m a Taurus, I love lake fishin’, and we make the best omelets in Arizona!  Your uncle told me all about you, big city policeman.  Good for you.  Can I get you some coffee?”

“Uh, yes.  Black, please.  No food, thank you.  I just had a couple of McMuffins on the drive,” he smiled.

“Mc whats?”

Bladen laughed, politely, “I’m sure your eggs are better, but I was starving.”

“But really, Mc whats?” she pressed, eyes and mouth wide.

“McMuffins.  Egg McMuffins?”

“That’s a new one, I guess,” she chuckled before heading to the coffee station.

Bladen looked over at Arlo.  Same giant smile.

“You do know what Egg McMuffins are, right Uncle Arlo.”

“Yes.  Hey, you ever tie a Knute Hitch?”

With the coffee cups near empty and the small-talk dwindling, Uncle Arlo got down to business.

“I know you have questions, Bladen, and I know that one of them is about why we are meeting here rather than at my house – I’ll get to all that.”  Arlo was still smiling, as were the older couple who had just come through the door, nodded and headed to a booth toward the back.

“That did cross my mind.”

“I know.  Well, first off, we need to have at least four law officers in the town.  Not that we have any crime, but it’s just how it is with shifts and all.  I’m gonna be stepping down soon.  I’m not in the best of health and I need to find someone I can trust.  Not that you’re gonna be sheriff.  Not right off, anyways.  That wouldn’t be right for the deputies who’ve been in the department for years.  Not that they’d even complain.  One of them’ll get promoted, you’ll become a deputy, but your rank won’t matter for the job I have for you.”  Arlo grasped his nephew’s hand and stared into his eyes, smiling all the while.  “It’s a very important job.”

“Sounds weird.”

“Finish your coffee, Bladen.  I’ll have to tell you the rest in private.  Get in your car, follow me to my house, and we’ll talk out front of it.”


Bladen shoved the key in his ignition, popped a THC lozenge and followed his uncle’s sheriff’s SUV through backstreets and brush until they came upon a neat Mediterranean-style single story home.  It featured a small gated courtyard with a detached casita.  Thick dark clouds gathered as Uncle Arlo exited his vehicle and loaded himself into the passenger seat of his nephew’s old Ford.  The first thing Bladen noticed was that for the first time since he’d arrived in Denary, there was no smile.  Arlo’s withered scowl looked like something on Rushmore as he turned toward his nephew.

“What do you know about the mass murder that took place here back then?”

“Well, it was strange as fuck, as far as I know.”

“That it was.”

“Wasn’t it the old mayor?” asked Bladen.

“Was the mayor, the sheriff, the school principal, and a local preacher.  They just all got together and went through the town shootin’ up anyone they seen: kids, the elderly, didn’t matter.  Then, best the FBI could figure, was that the mayor, when they was done, killed his accomplices and then himself, as they had probably all agreed on beforehand.”


“And that school principal was a woman.  You don’t usually see females involved in this kinda thing.  Anyways, the nagging piece was that a couple of very young children – witnesses who hid and escaped death – wouldn’t stop sayin’ that they saw more than just the four murderers.  They said there was maybe six or eight of ‘em, and more than just one female killer.  Problem was, they couldn’t identify them.  They were terrified and never got a clear look at faces.  But they never changed their story.  Not once.”

“But, even if there were more accomplices, nothing further has happened in like ten years, and everyone in this town is pig-in-shit happy all the time… ”

“Almost everyone,” replied Arlo, his face steady as Easter Island Moai.

The rain began to pepper Bladen’s Ford.

“Not long after the murders,” continued Arlo, “a young girl came.  She arrived with her mother, off of a freight train, they said.  Now Bladen, this is where things take a strange turn.  In the course of this story, I’m going to tell you something that I have never uttered to anyone.  If you don’t want to hear it please tell me now.  You are family, and I couldn’t imagine telling this to anyone who isn’t.  But, if you don’t want to know, I’ll be forced to trust someone else.”

“Can I vape while you tell me?”

“Vape?  Christ kid, either smoke or don’t smoke, but what’s with that electric shit?”

“Just tell me your story, Uncle Arlo.”

Sheriff Arlo studied the rain as it pelted the windshield.


                     TEN YEARS EARLIER


On Arlo’s second day as sheriff of Denary, they stepped through the front entrance of the tiny police station, each toting one small, weathered piece of luggage.  They presented huge smiles; the only such grins in a town burdened with fresh grief.  The girl appeared to be about fourteen; the mother looked more like a grandmother.  They donned sprightly attire, mother in blue, child in pink.  The youngster possessed the most dazzling blonde locks, and eyes like select drops of tropical ocean.  Unlike the girl, the mother’s features were unremarkable, even drab.  But again, the dress was a nice shade of blue.  They managed to get themselves seated across a desk from Sheriff Arlo as he, though swamped, made time for his two visitors.  The station secretary, a sweet dark-skinned go-getter in her late twenties, who everyone affectionately called Miss Nini, bustled around the office, from desk to desk.

“We were saddened to learn of the horror that has befallen your town, sheriff,” offered the mother.  “I am Ludovica, and this is my daughter, Giada.  We have traveled a long way to see you.”

“Oh.  Where from?”

“East.  By train.”

“Train?  The nearest train station is almost… ”

“Freight train, sir.  It didn’t actually stop.”

Both ladies continued to smile.

“Okay,” sighed Arlo, feeling pressed for time, “what can I do for you?”

“With respect, sir, it is what we can do for you,” replied Ludovica.  She glanced over at her sunny-faced daughter, at which time the girl spoke; high-pitched, Disney princess-style.

“Mister Sheriff, I can take away all of your sadness and bad thoughts!  If there are naughty people in your town who are pretending to be nice, I can make them nice for real!”

Arlo began to stand, ready to show them the door, when, for whatever reason, he decided to ask, “How would you go about doing all that, young lady?”

Giada’s smile grew even wider.  “All I do is hold your head in my hands!”

Ludovica nodded, but Arlo had lost patience.  “Miss Nini here will show you ladies out,” he bellowed, loud enough for the secretary to hear.  As she approached, the sheriff added, “If you folks need a ride somewhere, I’ll have a deputy take you.  Good day now.”

Their smiles remained as Miss Nini led them to the outer office.  Arlo sat back down, slipped on his reading glasses and directed his attention to the paperwork on his desk.  He was going to find out if any other townspeople took part in the mass murder.  No matter that the FBI had taken over the case.  Toward the bottom of the pile were the grisly crime scene photos.  One of them – a shot of two dead children – filled his frame of vision when Miss Nini hurriedly came through the door.  Arlo looked up to see her shaking, tears pouring from her captivatingly cocoa eyes.

“It works,” she cried.


“I let the little girl take my head into her hands.  I… I feel beautiful.  Sheriff, I feel so free.”

A smile took hold of Nini’s face.  It was not unlike those of Ludovica and Giada.



              PRESENT DAY


Rain was seeping into the Ford.  It invaded via the cracked window that provided an escape for Bladen’s blueberry-scented vapor. Uncle Arlo continued his decade-old story:

“That smile that day on Miss Nini’s face was the first one in our town.  Now everyone has one, and has had one since the day that little girl grabbed their heads.”

“You mean the whole town did that shit, Uncle Arlo?”

“All but one of us.”

Arlo stared through the vape cloud, sans any trace of a smile.

“You didn’t do it?  How is it that you’re the only one?”

“It was all voluntary; from the mayor on down, but everyone did it.  Call it peer pressure or the desire to belong, or maybe they all just wanted to feel as good as it was advertised to be, but they did it.  Stood in line to be touched by Giada, with Ludovica grinnin’ beside her.  They all shook, they all cried, and they all became so motherfucking nice.”

“They have no idea that you didn’t get… baptized, or whatever,” stated Bladen.  “That’s why you keep that goofy grin on in public.”

“That’s right.  Try smiling for ten minutes straight.  Then think about doing it for ten years.”

“How did you get away with not participating?”

“This is hard, Blade.  Your father helped me.  Of course, I couldn’t have known, but I think… Bladen, I think that’s what killed him.”

The vaping ceased.  The window rode back up.  The rain intensified.

“What do you mean?  How did it kill my dad?”

“The short answer?  He was my twin.  He liked the idea of being happy and carefree for life.  He knew I didn’t want to do it.  As sheriff, I needed a clear mind, a neutral thought process.  I needed an analytical brain.”

“Get the fuck… ”

“Yeah, he volunteered to dress as me and go kneel before Giada.  No one knew any better.  Well, no one except Giada, I suspect.”

“But how did… ?”

“He got headaches almost immediately.  His vision started to go, along with his equilibrium.  Got the brain tumor.  Died looking up at me.”

“The touch of the girl gave him the brain tumor?”

“I’m sure of it.  She sensed our deception and made him pay for it.”

“But the girl and her mother came to help the people… ”

“Seemed that way at first.  I’m still the only one who thinks otherwise.”

“Where are they now, Uncle Arlo?”

“The grateful mayor had set them up in a little trailer near the tracks.  It was clean and modern.  Hell, I’d live there.  One night, a few years back, Ludovica, the mother, well, she was just gone.  The girl said she went back east and that they’d reunite one day.”

“She just left the girl here alone?”

“Blade, let’s say that little Giada is, um… beyond her years.”

“By now she’s what, like twenty-four?  Does she still live in that trailer?”

“How about we go in the house now.”


Bladen held his piece of luggage over his head to shelter himself from the downpour.  Arlo walked in front of him, oblivious to the weather.  They passed the casita, the courtyard, and approached the front door.  Arlo turned the knob and opened it.

“You didn’t lock your door?” asked Bladen.

“No crime in Denary, boy.”


With Bladen seated comfortably in a living room chair, Arlo walked over carrying two full shot glasses, and handed one to his nephew.

“Here’s to my new deputy.  We gotta go make it official at the mayor’s office, but that’ll just be a formality.”

Bladen slid his head back and downed the whiskey.  “Will I have to put that bullshit smile on all day?”

The sheriff put his hand out for the empty glass.  “No, because they’ll understand that you were never touched by Giada.  Kid, you will be the first person to move into Denary since that, er, girl, and her mother, got here.”

“What?  In all those years?”

“Yeah.  No one has moved in.  Or out for that matter; ‘cept for Ludovica, I guess.”

“How is that possible?”

“Beats me.  Above my pay grade.  No kids been born here either.”

“Can you pour me another shot?  This tale is fucking with my vibe.  The rain seems to have slowed.  I’m gonna go to the car and grab my other bags.”

“Need a hand?”

“I’m good.”

Bladen stood and strode toward the door.  He walked into the courtyard, toward the gate that led to the street.  Something made him stop in his tracks by the casita.  He glanced back at the front door of Arlo’s house, then stepped to his right, not toward the gate but toward the door to the casita.  He turned the knob.



The Office of the Mayor was smaller than Bladen had anticipated, but the furniture was pretty sweet.  Mayor McComb was adored by the townspeople.  He didn’t exactly have a hard act to follow, since the previous occupant of his office checked out of life as a mass murderer.  Arlo referred to him as Mayor McComb-over, but only when complaining aloud to himself.  He made a mental note to share the joke with his nephew.

“Soon as we get you sworn in, we’ll get you fitted for your uniform,” smiled the rotund leader; four strands of hair across the top of his head, looking like the Finger Lakes.  “This here is Deputy Gonzalez.  We call him Alamo.  He’s gonna be the new sheriff once Arlo signs off.”

The deputy reached out and shook Bladen’s hand.

“So they call you Alamo?” stuttered Bladen, “Guessing you’re from Texas?”

“Arizona, born and bred,” answered the deputy, with a grin as wide as the Lone Star State, “I used to work for the car rental company.  Alamo.”


“Hey, is that a touch of booze on your breath?” quizzed Alamo, still smiling, of course.

“I…I… ”

“Yup.  I gave him a shot for nerves,” interrupted Sheriff Arlo, fake grin eating his face.

McComb and Alamo burst out in laughter.  In walked Miss Nini, bible in hand, already guffawing.

“I told you about our lovely Miss Nini,” said Arlo to Bladen, forcing his own awkward laughter.

“Yes. So nice to meet you, Miss Nini.”

“Oh, but she is Deputy Mayor Nini now, for the past three years,” responded Arlo.

“Ready to get that hand on the bible?” she asked, eyes still lovely, teeth still prominent.


Two hours later, Deputy Bladen Dieci had a pair of temporary, and slightly baggy uniforms, a bag full of equipment, and a Smith & Wesson pistol.  The first thing he did after signing for his supplies was to place a call to Staten Island.  To Kathleen.

“Hey, this is Kath.  Leave a message. Fake IRS and fake Dell Computer can fuck off.”



That evening, he sat in his uncle’s living room again, plopped on the sofa, half-scrolling through his phone while Arlo mastered some complicated knot-tying from his recliner.

“Why no TV, Uncle Arlo?”

“I was never one for the television.  I’d rather read a book or tie some knots.  I got games, if you wanna play.”


Arlo stood.  He strolled over to a closet and opened the door.  There they were, stacked high.  Monopoly.  Risk.  Clue.  Maybe twenty board games in all.  Still in plastic.

“Holy hell,” said Bladen, “I never pictured you… ”

“Did you say ‘Pictionary’?  I got that, I think.”

“I did not.  Why all the games?”

“That’s what they do around here.  Every goddamned house is filled with these.  I don’t play unless I have to – you know, if I’m a guest.  I bought these to blend in, but I never have anyone over so I ain’t never opened ‘em.  I’ll play, if you wanna.”


“Pop a six and you move twice!” exclaimed Bladen.  “You don’t know that rule?”


Bladen danced his little blue game piece around the Trouble board.  Arlo then placed his palm on the clear plastic dome, pressed down, and set to motion the single die imprisoned within.  As it landed on the number 1, he spoke.

“I have her, Bladen.”

“What’s that?”

“Giada.  I have her.  Or, I have it.”

“Hmmmm.  Okay.  Uncle Arlo, I am going to ingest some marijuana cookies before you go any further.”

Bladen walked to his bag, removed a cookie, and bit.  Arlo moved his red game piece one space.

As crumbs tumbled from his lips, Bladen spoke, “I never made detective in NYPD, but it wouldn’t take Sherlock Holmes to conclude that she is in that locked casita.”

It.  Not she.  Not for a long time.”

“Maybe that’s a tad harsh, Uncle Arlo?”

The sheriff laughed.  “Your move.”

Bladen pressed the plastic bubble.  Another 1.

“Fuck me,” he mumbled.  “Uncle Arlo, you do realize that you are committing a felony by holding someone against her will.”

“I’ve learned – the hard way – that evil can’t be eradicated.  It can only be relocated,” answered Arlo.  “If I ate your THC cookie, maybe I’d get a little high; but if I ate a THC cookie from every person in this town tonight, well… you tell me.”

“You’d be screwed.  Also, are you saying that everyone in town has edibles?”

“No, jackass.  I am saying that this here, at the time, young girl, took the bad out of a whole town, and that might include some major league bad from a couple of folks who might have been murderers.  It seems, after what has transpired since, that all of that evil didn’t just vanish.  It went into her.  Changed her to a… a… thing.”

“I’m having another cookie, Uncle Arlo.  Want one?”

“Not for me.  Listen, I’ll be right back.  Don’t cheat.”

Arlo stood, grabbed some keys, and stepped into the kitchen.  Bladen heard the fridge door open, followed by the sound of containers being moved about.  The refrigerator door closed and Arlo walked back in, past his nephew, and to the front door.  He was wearing big headphones and carried a decent-sized piece of rectangular Tupperware.  The door to the courtyard slammed behind him.  Bladen sat staring at the Trouble board.  The game pieces began to rise from their slots and float.


They stopped and returned to the board.  He grabbed his phone and tapped, expecting to get Kathleen’s voicemail once again.  A man answered.

“Listen,” said the deep voice, “enough of this shit.  Do you even know what time it is, you fucking loser?  She wants nothing to do with you.  Go away.”

“W-What?” stammered Bladen.  “Who is this?”

“This is Kathleen’s husband.  Her real husband, in the here and now.”


Bladen started to call the number back, but decided against it.  Husband?  This needed to be processed.  His hands went cold, his throat tight.  He gazed at the game on the table and reached for his vape pen.  By the time of his first puff, Arlo was back.

“Did I give you permission to fill my house with that vape shit?” he said through the initial cloud.  He spoke more loudly than normal, as his headphones were still on.

“Sorry.  I wasn’t thinking straight.  I’ll go outside.”

“Never mind, kid.  Just do it.  Who cares?”

“Uncle Arlo, were you just in the casita?”

“Yeah.  I fed it.  It eats once a day.  Raw meat.”

“Why the headphones?”

“It tries to trick me.  I don’t listen no more.  Also, it has a toilet in there, but I think it eats its own shit.”

“Here’s the deal, Sheriff Uncle Arlo, you are gonna take me into that casita, because I sometimes have trouble with reality.  Maybe you do too.  So I need to know right fucking now if you are crazy, if I am crazy, if we are both crazy, or if neither of us is crazy.  That last possibility is the scariest of all.”

“I am going to show you, Bladen.  I’ll give you the headphones and I’ll shove some other shit in my own ears.”

He presented his nephew with the huge ear cups and the attached Sony Walkman cassette player.

“Cassettes?  I don’t know if you’re old school or cutting edge, other than the fact that I actually do know.  Let me see what’s in that player… ”

“It’s the only tape I got.  I bought the machine at a flea market and the tape was already inside.”

“Hmmm,” uttered Bladen as he popped open the player and removed the cartridge, “Let’s see, ‘Once’, ‘Even Flow’, ‘Alive’… hell, the print is worn to shit, but that’s Pearl Jam!  You like them?”

“I dunno.  I hear it every day, so I guess maybe a little.  I ain’t never flipped it to the other side, though.”

“Okay, let’s do that.  Tomorrow, you’ll hear all new songs.”

“Don’t bother.”

“Hey, it’s done.  It’ll be ‘Oceans’ for you tomorrow!”

“Well, you’re wearing it first.”

“I’ll be kind – rewind.  Now take me to see the girl.”

“Listen, uh, did you move your piece ahead while I was out?”

“Excuse me?”

“Bladen, your Trouble game piece.  Did you cheat?”

“Of course not.”

Arlo looked down, studying the board.  For a full minute.

“All right,” he finally said, “I will take you out there, but promise me that you’ll understand.  I’ve had it locked in that casita for years; since I noticed the changes beginning.  I’m the only bastard in Denary that isn’t brainwashed, so it was all up to me.  I drugged it while it slept in its trailer, then brought it here.  Took me weeks to get that brig set up.  The town thinks that Giada up and left to go find her mother.  They wouldn’t understand why I have her here, even if they saw for themselves.  They are that batshit, Bladen.  I don’t know if I have the power, or the will, to kill it.  That’s my curse.  I keep it alive.  It eats once a day.”

“You said that part already – about the eating.”

“Oh, and it don’t wash or nothing, but there is a shower in there too, near the toilet.  It eats its own… ”

“Shit.  I know.  You said that already as well.”


As Arlo slid the key into the door of the casita, he hummed to himself; not a tune, but a steady drone, designed to assist the cotton balls in his ears with blocking out extraneous noise.  Bladen stood behind him in the darkness of the courtyard, the sounds of Pearl Jam glutting his skull.  Behind the heavy front door was a second one.  Gated.  Steel.  Arlo unlocked that as well.  He turned to his nephew.

“The vape?”

“What?” asked Bladen, lifting a cup from his ear.

“That vape thing.  Ditch it.”

“Sorry.”  He blew out the last cloud and set the vaporizer pen on the ground.

Stepping into the dimly-lit casita, Bladen coughed, then gagged.  The first thing he saw was the enormous cage.  A jail cell. There was also a sign:


Hanging from above, covering the top half of the cell, were several altar cloths, embroidered crosses facing inward toward the bars.  The walls were covered in crucifixes, which were affixed to the soundproof tiles.  Bladen could see shadowy movement within, but the deepest part of the cell was dark as night, due in part to the boarded and barred windows, and the altar cloths were no help.  Pearl Jam filled his head as fear filled his heart.  Arlo motioned Bladen to look in.  He knelt below the hanging cloths, peering.

Too dark.

Arlo went to the corner of the room and retrieved a heavy flashlight.  He handed it to his nephew.  ‘90s grunge blasted in Bladen’s ears.  He turned on the light and trained it on the back of the large cell.  Almost before the light hit, a figure retreated into the shower area, which couldn’t be seen from in front of the bars.

Bladen’s left ear was on the far side of his uncle, and out of his view.  The new deputy, using one finger, slid the earphone off, hoping to hear anything.

“Can you help me, sir?” came the voice, pixie-like and soft.  “He keeps me here and does things to me.  Terrible things.”

Arlo, cotton-eared and humming, slowly stepped to the other side of his nephew, and Bladen re-positioned the headphone cup.  Pearl Jam again.  The sheriff stomped his foot in frustration, realizing that Bladen would not be able to see into the shower area.  He interrupted his humming to utter a single word.



Arlo and Bladen were back in the main house.  The new deputy took off his headphones.

“You could have given me some of those cotton balls to stuff in my nostrils, Uncle Arlo. What the fuck was that, Godzilla’s colonoscopy?”

“It eats its own shit.”

“Yeah, yeah – I got that.  You just could’ve… never mind.”

“That goddamned shower,” sighed Arlo.  “Used it as a hiding spot.  My faulty design.  I can’t think of everything.  It don’t hide from me.  Guess it don’t want you getting’ a look at it.  Slick bastard knew you were with me.  Explain that one.  Tomorrow you can draw it out with food.”

“Uncle Arlo,” began Bladen, placing his hands on the taller man’s shoulders, “Uncle Nick – remember when you were Uncle Nick?”

“Yeah,” he responded with a trace of an actual smile.

“Uncle Nick, is there a terrified and sickly young blonde woman imprisoned in your casita?”

Arlo stood silently.  His smile died.  He removed Bladen’s hands from his shoulders.

“No,” was all he said.

The sheriff turned and walked toward his bedroom.  With his back to his nephew, he said, “I’m tired.  If I ain’t awake by ten tomorrow, come and get me.  Don’t bother tryin’ to get in that casita without me; it’s locked tight and I have the only key.  You’re a kind-hearted kid, Bladen, but the thing in that cage killed your father.  Remember that.”

One more vape, one more edible, and Bladen was ready for bed.


The morning sun shoved past the overmatched window shade.  Bladen Dieci hadn’t slept much.  The image of a girl held hostage tortured him as the coyotes prowled the night.  A girl in an Arizona cage; a girl in a New York relationship.  He ambled to the bathroom, then the kitchen.  As the coffee brewed he saw the Trouble game still atop the living room table, he saw the Blood Knot draped on Arlo’s chair, and he saw the clock on the wall – a wooden cat with moving eyes and tail.  He surely had done something, but before he knew it, it felt like he had stared at that cat for two hours.

10 AM.

He turned the corner toward his uncle’s bedroom.  Sticking halfway out of the crack below the door was a thick envelope.  It contained something, but Bladen first spotted the handwritten scrawl on the face of it.

I tied my last knot, kid.  Don’t come in my room.  Just read the contents within.  God be with you.

He blasted through the door.  Sheriff Arlo was adorned in full uniform. He swayed slowly below his final knot.  The rope had been tied to an attic beam, which had been exposed by the removal of a ceiling fan, which sat neatly in the corner of the bedroom, a few feet from a toppled folding chair.  Bladen ran to Arlo, but it was obviously too late.  He knew not to disturb the scene, because an investigation would soon come.  The keys to the casita hung from the late sheriff’s belt.

Bladen sat in the living room, eyes on the Trouble board, holding a cassette he’d found in the envelope, along with a suicide note.  His mind raced, trying to find an order for what his next actions.

Call it in?  Read the note?  Listen to the cassette? Enter the casita?

He decided the order would be: 1) Read note. 2) Enter casita. 3) Play cassette. 4) Call it in.  He then added: 2) Ingest marijuana.  The others were pushed to 3, 4 and 5.

It was more than a note.  Arlo had left to Bladen his mortgage-free house, his life savings, his truck, and a detailed account of the inhabitant of his casita.  He explained why he performed a drop-hanging on himself: for forensic reasons that would clear Bladen of any suspicion.  He also noted that there would not be much of an investigation because all of the law enforcement officers in Denary were oblivious to anything but kindness.  He concluded that they would not consider the detached casita a part of any potential crime scene, so he needn’t worry. He also wrote that he hoped Bladen had more resolve than he, and might consider slaughtering the “thing” that had given his father a brain tumor.  The note concluded with a reminder to play the tape and an apology regarding the future chore of reattaching the ceiling fan.

Bladen devoured a pair of laced cookies, took the key ring that dangled from the belt of the man who dangled from the ceiling, dropped a raw steak into a bowl, removed the Pearl Jam tape from the Walkman, replaced it with the suicide cassette, and walked out the front door.  The headphones dangled at his side.

The hot sun warmed his neck as he unlocked the casita door.  Blood oozed from the cold steak.  He opened the second door, the steel one.  He thought he heard a man’s voice within, a deep one.  Gravelly.  It ceased immediately.  He blamed it on the cookies.

“Hello?” said Bladen, hesitantly.  “I don’t know if you really like raw steak, but I… ”

“I’m used to it,” came the cheerful response.  Sounded like a 12 year-old girl.

“I can… I can get you something else,” he stammered.

“It’s okay.”

“I want to help you,” replied Bladen.

“Where is that man?  The sheriff.”

“He was my uncle,” answered Bladen, ducking to see beneath the altar cloths.  He saw the flashlight in the corner.


“How do I give you the steak?”

“There are two very little, locked openings, side by side.  You need to turn off the electricity, open them both… ”

“Oh yeah, I read that,” said the deputy.  He placed everything on the floor, retrieved the flashlight, took Arlo’s instructions from his pocket, and shone the light on them, reading.

FEEDING: Turn off electric on wall switch, open ONLY ONE of the pair of side-by-side food slot doors.  The monster can’t fit both hands through just one slot opening.  It needs BOTH hands on you to fuck with your brain…

Bladen went to the wall.  There were two labeled switches, one larger than the other.


First he hit the light.  A single dim bulb on the ceiling turned on.  Didn’t do much.  Then he pulled the larger switch.  A low buzz that he hadn’t even noticed, stopped.

“Good,” said the childlike voice.  “Now just come and open both slot doors.  Or you could just open this whole cage and get me the heck out of here.”

Bladen walked to the slots.  The prisoner was again hiding in the shower stall.

“I’m just opening one slot for now,” he said, as he unlocked it.  He kept an eye on the shower as he placed the bloody bowl of steak on the small shelf.  “If you come out of there so I can see you, I might open both slots, or probably even the whole cell.”

“I’m shy.”

“What?  I’m talking about getting you out of here!”

“Okay, maybe not shy, but I… I’m so ugly now.  I’ve been here for so long.  Mistreated, malnourished. It all hurts so much, Bladen.”

He had his hand on the second slot door.

“I never told you my name,” he said, taking his hand away.

“Silly, the sheriff told me about you when he fed me yesterday.  Why did you say he was your uncle?  Did something happen to him?  He is not a good man, but still, I wouldn’t wish harm on him.”

“He was a good man!  I… I think so, anyway.”

“Has he passed away?”

“He has.  He’s gone.”

“Oh, no.  I am probably too silly for even offering this,” said the juvenile voice, “but, though I am a good girl, I do have special powers.”

“You do?”

“Yes.  Have you seen the kind people of Denary?  I made them that way!  I help people.”

“My uncle said you’re evil.”

“No way.  He was evil, Bladen.  I don’t know why my touch never helped him.  He was the only one.”

“He said you killed my father.”


“My dad.  Uncle Arlo said you gave him the brain tumor.”

“I’m not sure what any of that means.  I don’t believe I ever met your father.”

“Your hands touched my father.”


“When he stood in for my uncle.  My uncle never received your touch.”

“None of that is true, Bladen.  My hands only help.  Do you have access to your uncle’s body?  If you can bring his remains to me, I might – no promises – be able to bring him back.  But only if we hurry.”

“Bring him back?”

“Yes.  Hurry!”

THC raced through his bloodstream as Bladen raced out of the casita.  In the cage, hurried footsteps bolted toward the raw meat.

Minutes later, Bladen Dieci was dragging Arlo’s body through the courtyard, and into the darkened casita.

“Hurry!” said the girly voice.  “Either let me out or bring his head by the food slots.”

Bladen, winded and sweaty, peered into the cell.  Giada was still hiding in the shower stall.  He lugged Arlo’s body near the food slots.

“I will come to help your uncle, but only if you don’t look at me.  Okay?” asked the prisoner.

“Whatever,” huffed Bladen, “Just do it.  Bring him back.”

“You’ll need to open the other slot, too.”

Bladen heard the footsteps within the cage, and pondered if he should open the second slot door.  Arlo’s head was just in front of it.

That was when the hand came through the slot.

It grabbed Bladen by his throat.  When he was six years-old, Bladen had seen something billed as The World’s Largest Pipe Wrench.  His dad took him to see it.  Now it felt like that wrench was crushing his windpipe.

This was not the appendage of a girl.  It was calloused and thick.  It stank.  Bladen grew dizzy as he heard the command again.  It was delivered in a deep growl.

“Open it.”

The key ring was in his hand.  Bladen decided he’d rather die than unleash whatever was in that cage.  At that instant, something else slid through the open food slot.  Losing vision and sense, Bladen couldn’t tell what the snake-like entity was, but it looped through the key ring, like one of Arlo’s ropes, ripped it from his grasp, pulled it toward the second slot, operated the key, unlocked the other opening, and enabled the second hand to slide through the cage.  The hands then went, not to Arlo’s head, but to Bladen’s.  Though his throat was now free, the grip on his skull was overpowering, and he couldn’t move.  He felt the tears coming.  His body shook violently.  As, just seconds before, he felt the cold sting of death approaching, he now enjoyed a rush of the greatest happiness and peace he would ever experience.  Light years beyond any drug.

The hands released him.

When he finally stood, wearing the largest smile ever to grace his face, night had fallen.  The daylight hours had passed, as if he’d been anesthetized.  He stepped over his uncle’s body and pulled down the altar cloths.  The light was dim, the shadows full, but he could see Giada behind those bars.

To almost anyone, the sight could be described as ‘grotesque’, but not to Bladen.  He wiped his most recent tears as he studied the figure before him.  It was large and naked.  Shaped more like something from a cave drawing than a human.  Its body was a combination of patches of matted hair and oozing blisters, but muscled.  Atop its voluminous head were small, scattered remnants of the blonde hair that had adorned Giada upon her smiling arrival in Denary.  Foam dripped from its mouth, like a rabid dog.

In a voice like an ancient Roman earthquake, came the command:

“Open the cage.”

Bladen complied, and the creature rose.  Its dark yellow eyes stared into his as it emerged.  It pointed at a corner of the room.

“Wait,” was all it said.  Bladen walked over and sat on the floor.  The Walkman was already there.  The creature stalked out into the night, to prowl amongst the coyotes.

Still grinning, Bladen put the headphones on and pressed play.

The first voice belonged to Arlo.  “Talk into this, you fucker.  If you ever want to eat again, you will explain what you are.  Otherwise, you can rot in there and starve.”

The tape rolled on, with the deep gravelly voice taking command.

“I am Sorbera.  We are Sorbera.  We are the beginning of time.  We are the end of time.”


The creature, lit only by the moon, came upon the first house in its path.  The home of Miss Nini.  She stood alone in the kitchen as it came through the front door and into the living room.  It strode past a table with Chutes and Ladders, Scrabble, and Sorry stacked upon it.

In Arlo’s casita, the cassette continued to roll.  “Your people, many of them, were no longer pure,” said the creature.  “They were taken by Haagabus.  Haagabus is what you call a demon.  A powerful mutator of souls.  Your world, for all generations, has fallen to Haagabus.  I, we, the Sorbera, consume Haagabus.  We absorb them, and all evil.”


When Miss Nini saw the beast before her, right beside her double oven, her smile grew wider.  It took her head in its hands, and opened its jaws.  Stinking foam dripped onto Nini’s face as the Sorbera’s mouth covered hers.


“We live for what you’d call a thousand years,” said the Sorbera on the tape.  “We absorb the evil, but then, as we must do, we return to retrieve the rest.  We consume the entire soul.”

Bladen absorbed these words through the headphones, never altering his smile.


Miss Nini’s remains rested on her tiled floor.  She was unrecognizable; a mass of dry, shriveled skin and pulverized bone.


The Sorbera had visited eleven more homes before it entered Alamo’s.  The former car rental agent had just packed up his game of Chinese Checkers when his front door caved in.

“Giada?” he asked, as if seeing a human figure.  His bliss remained as it grabbed his head.  The creature’s dripping mouth cranked wide on Alamo’s.  As they touched, the snake-like appendage that Bladen had seen, slithered its way out of the demon’s wretched mouth, down the deputy’s throat, and through to his stomach.

After consuming the souls of Alamo and his sleeping wife, the Sorbera visited every home in Denary, like Santa Claus on Christmas.  The final house belonged to the mayor.  The monster claimed the souls of McComb’s wife and elderly mother as they played Jenga, then took to the staircase.  Mayor McComb awoke as it came through his bedroom door.  His smile was on before he could reach for his eyeglasses.  It took him before he could stand.  The awful fetor of the sticky tongue filled his nostrils as it burrowed into his intestines.  From the rear of the Sorbera emerged another appendage; not unlike the tongue, but more of a tail.  A slim, serpentine rapier, thorny spikes covering it like porcupine quills.

The splintery tail tore through McComb’s silk pajamas and shredded its way into his rectum, and up through his intestines, until it met the tongue deep inside his abdomen.  As it had done, in this exact manner, to virtually every citizen of Denary, the Sorbera consumed the mayor’s soul.  It sucked all liquids from his body, crushed every bone, and filled itself, satiating a decade of hunger.


In the casita, the cassette had long stopped.  Bladen Dieci remained on the floor, grinning, four feet from his uncle’s body.  The light of the moon, which had shone in through the open door, became eclipsed by a figure.  The Sorbera stood at the entrance


When Giada and Ludovica had arrived in Denary, they came as stowaways on a freight train lugged by a steam locomotive.  Technology and environmental awareness have nearly done away with the image of the smoking, chugging train, yet here was Giada, admittedly looking quite different, sitting again in an open-doored box car.  The Sorbera, now strong and full, was going home to its mother.  Beside it, sat a new companion.

“Where are we going?” asked Bladen, beaming.


The 180 car train rattled slowly through the night, with the classic image of locomotive steam replaced by floating clouds of blueberry vapor.

“East?” he asked.  “Ever been to Staten Island?”

See why Daniel O’Connor’s writing has been praised by creative minds behind DEXTER, TRUE BLOOD, CONSTANTINE, THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE, V.C. ANDREWS, ONLY SON, and more.


Daniel’s new thriller, CANNI is the Publisher’s Weekly/BookLife #1 choice horror novel for fall 2019.


It has earned the “Most Requested Horror” title at NetGalley, and has a bookseller’s rating of 100%.
CANNI has been nominated for six literary awards, including Best Horror Novel 2020.
Current cumulative rating over all review sites: 4.4 out of 5 stars.


From the author of SONS OF THE POPE, in paperback or for Kindle:

Everyone Wants to Kill You

10 Jul

Imagine if everyone in America wanted the same thing.

Your plumber, the mail carrier, the folks next door, the girl at the coffee shop, firefighters, cops, those who worship in churches, synagogues, and mosques.  Your best friend.

The same exact thing.

Your parents, your children, your lover.

Every one of them wants only one thing.

They want to kill you.

And you, them.

But not usually at the same time, or for longer than twenty minutes, at which point they will return to their human state, temporarily.  At least until things get worse.  Much worse.  No one can tell where or when they might flip, so there is no safety.

Not anywhere or anytime.

A mother and child cannot occupy a room together without risk of murder.  Think of any routine situation in our daily lives.  That scenario is now an intensely deadly threat.  The more people present, the greater the risk.

The President of the United States, and his teams; medical geniuses, secret operatives, Navy SEALs – they are all working feverishly to eradicate the hell that has befallen us.

Oh, all of them also want to kill you, and each other, now and then.

For a young couple in love, having driven across the country for a Las Vegas wedding, their changing perceptions of bliss, honesty, greed, intolerance, and the ever-present threat of violent death, has taken them to the only place that some locals have whispered about as being “safe”; the 200 miles of drainage tunnels beneath Sin City.  One thing is certain; they won’t be alone down there.

We are all human beings.  We are not the living dead, the evil dead, or the walking dead.  We breathe, we feel, we love.  We are not, in any way, zombies.

Lately though, on occasion, we are hungry, we are angry, and we focus only on immediate feeding.  Human flesh and blood is all we crave.  We have become cannibals, in a sense, but with regard to manner and implementation, achingly worse.

You, me, and everyone we know.

We are Canni.

See why Daniel O’Connor’s writing has been praised by creative minds behind DEXTER, TRUE BLOOD, CONSTANTINE, THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE, V.C. ANDREWS, ONLY SON, and more.

CANNI is a Publisher’s Weekly/BookLife choice horror novel for fall 2019.
It has earned the “Most Requested Horror” title at NetGalley.

It has been nominated for seven literary awards, including Best Horror Novel 2020.
Current cumulative rating over all review sites: 4.4 out of 5 stars.

The NetGalley Booksellers recommendation rate  for CANNI is 100%.

From the author of SONS OF THE POPE, in paperback or for Kindle:


What terrifies you?

24 Apr

Dan Canni Possessed croppedDo the dead scare you?

Does the unknown?

Does anything truly TERRIFY you?


Let me start by stating that I am a true skeptic. About everything.

That doesn’t mean I rule anything out, though. You say you can communicate with the deceased? Cool. Prove it.

No one has. Certainly not the practitioners of clumsy televised parlor tricks.

All that being said, I will strap into a polygraph, bellow on a bench of bibles, have Dr. Phil stare into my soul, and tell you that, when I was six years-old, the faces of my deceased mother and father graced the blue Brooklyn sky above me.

Did I tell anyone at the time?  I must have, but I can’t remember.  I do remember that I sat alone, gazing up for what seemed like at least most of the length of whatever AM radio hit was filling my first-grade senses as I fed breadcrumbs to a colony of ants.  Mom and Dad didn’t communicate with me. They just studied me as I studied the ants. I feel it is important to state one thing:

I wasn’t afraid.

When I was seventeen I began reading THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. There is a section in that novel that features a swarm of houseflies. Beelzebub, you know. Lord of the Flies. Satan.

My aunt’s basement apartment had a vestibule – a small, maybe 5X5 room that sat between the door from the street and the door to the actual living quarters. I opened that first door as I arrived home from high school and was met by hundreds of houseflies. The so-many-flies-I-can’t-see-the-other-door kind. There were no insects in the apartment and we’d never had an issue with them. They just all showed up that afternoon. None outside the building, none in the apartment, hundreds in the 5X5 vestibule. No trash in there, no rotting carcass. Just the flies, same as in the book that sat in my schoolbag. I liked the ants better.

That incident was surely odd. I have no explanation for it.

But I wasn’t afraid.

That night I went to visit my two older sisters. I was going to spend the night at their place, listen to music, watch old movies, have some New York pizza.

When all of that was done we were just lounging around. It was about 2AM. We had the radio volume low as we talked about this and that. It dawned on me that I hadn’t told them about the crazy housefly incident. As I recounted the itchy episode and linked it to the book that I had brought with me to their apartment, the radio dial began to move – all on its own. We watched as it slowly slid from the station we had on to one at the far end of the dial.

Okay, I was a little afraid then.

I never finished reading THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. I did eventually see the movie. I liked the half-finished book better.

The thing about the flies and the radio: They happened. They happened to me. I have witnesses. But I can’t explain any of it.

None of the above had any life-changing effect on me, they are just (hopefully) interesting stories. The next and final experience however, probably saved my life.

I was driving home from work at about 3AM. Suburban neighborhood, no one on the streets, no traffic to speak of. Just the dead of night.

I came to an intersection about a mile from home. Stopped for a red light. No other vehicles to be seen. Quiet. Still. Just low chatter from the sports-talk radio station in my car.

Then I saw it. Her, I think. You know how so many movies portray ghosts as almost translucent beings, but often wrapped in flowing white garments? Vestments even. Damned if I didn’t see that, right on that Long Island street corner. I don’t know if she was standing or floating, but the white attire flapped ornately in a breeze that wasn’t there.

As I tried to make sense of all of this, the traffic light turned green. I should have motored on, but I remained, transfixed. Just then, out of nowhere, a loud truck came blasting across in front of me. It ran the red light. It would have surely broadsided me had I moved on my green light, as I was supposed to.

I took a deep breath and looked over for the flowing white vision on the corner.

You’ve probably guessed it. She was gone.

“No fucking way”, I thought. I drove around so I could see more of the sidewalk.

Nothing. There is no physical way she could have walked far enough in any direction to avoid my eyes in the seconds it took me to turn that corner, but she was gone. Vanished.

So, that happened. It happened to me. I can’t explain it. I can only report what I saw.

But I wasn’t afraid.

Oh, the radio in my car remained on the sports-talk station.

I got to thinking about what would truly scare me. Not just a little bit. What would TERRIFY me? Now, I had a full career as a police officer in New York. I wasn’t Dirty Harry – just a regular cop.  Even so, there were uncomfortable moments: disarming people with guns, entering buildings that were ablaze or filled with carbon monoxide, raiding full – and fully-armed – crack houses, trying to aid and comfort people who knew, as I did, that they were about to die.  Those are all unnerving situations and my heart raced some during all of them, but were they TERRIFYING?

I came to the (probably obvious) conclusion that the most terrifying situation I could come up with would be to have a loved one befallen by great catastrophe.

Imagine those you adore most.  Nothing could match the terror of true harm coming to any of them.

Unless the most barbaric, heartless atrocity to ever be unleashed defiled ALL of your loved ones simultaneously.

It made them want nothing more than to kill you.

And sometimes, you, them.

My brand new novel is called CANNI. My feeling is that the three strongest experiences we can have, and the three over which we have little to no control, are love, laughter, and terror.

My goal was to pay homage to each.

I hope I did them justice.

CANNI went airborne on the 4th of July, 2019. Out NOW for Kindle and in paperback!

See why Daniel O’Connor’s writing has been praised by creative minds behind DEXTER, TRUE BLOOD, CONSTANTINE, THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE, V.C. ANDREWS, ONLY SON, and more.

CANNI is a Publisher’s Weekly/IBPA choice horror novel for fall 2019.
It has earned the “Most Requested Horror” title at NetGalley.
It has been nominated for six literary awards, including Best Horror Novel 2020.
Current cumulative rating over all review sites: 4.4 out of 5 stars.

A Day in the Life; The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” turns 50.

22 May

I’d known of the Beatles for a few years.  My lovely older cousin Pat used to teach me how to dance to their music.  That began when I was four years old, and I had just lost my mom.  When I was five, Pat wanted to take me to see the band when they played at New York’s Shea Stadium.  She worked hard at it, but she was only a teenager herself and my grandma said “Patsy, the boy would be trampled!”

Of course Mama was correct, and I never got to see the Fab Four in concert.

Then, I turned six.  Things were changing; the world, the Beatles.  The boys started to look different.  My brothers, Ed and Kevin, both about a decade my senior, looked different too.  They looked more like the Beatles.

I finally owned my first full length lp.  I’d had a bunch of 45rpm singles given to me by Pat and my brothers, but owning an album was big time for me.  It was the North American release entitled, BEATLES ’65.  It was already over a year old, but it was new to me.  The three songs that opened that album weren’t in the happy-go-lucky “She Loves You” mold.

“No Reply”, “I’m a Loser”, and “Baby’s in Black”.

The titles tell the story.  That third track always reminded of how everyone had dressed at my mom’s funeral.

Then, Dad died.  It was right as I began first grade.

The Beatles stopped touring.  No one would ever see them in concert again.  They wanted to concentrate on making the best music possible, rather than just keep singing “She Loves You” to screaming fans.

As first grade came to an end, I was feeling accomplished – the way most of us do when we think we are getting “big”.  I lived with my grandma; my four older siblings resided together with our aunt.

One day, toward the end of that first school year, my big brothers came to visit.  They had a new album with them.  Ed was beginning to look a whole lot like Paul McCartney, especially the way Macca looked on that colorful new record sleeve.  We were going to experience, for the first time, SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND.

Something seemed different as my brothers got set to play the record.  EVERYONE came into the room to listen; cousins, Aunt Peggy and Uncle Henry.  Hell, even Mama, almost 80, sat back in her chair as the needle dropped.  I, at age six, had no idea why everyone was suddenly interested in the Beatles.  I mean, Uncle Henry?  I recall he took quite the teasing as we listened to “When I’m Sixty-Four”.  He was probably just over fifty – and younger than I am now – but he laughingly took all of the “64” jabs with grace.

He took some shots about “Henry the Horse” as well.

As PEPPER played, I just wanted to get my hands on that record jacket.  It looked like it had so much; all kinds of people, lyrics, colors, and maybe even…clues.

I don’t have too many memories from when I was six years old, or younger, but oddly, most of the ones I do have revolve around the Beatles.

Rather than recount that initial playing of SGT. PEPPER via the bits and pieces of my foggy memory, I will include an excerpt from my novel, SONS OF THE POPE.  I used my actual experience to create a scene where a young special needs boy named Joey got to enjoy, with his family, the recent masterpiece by the band he loved so.  Joey had received the album as a Christmas gift, six months after its release.

“Hey, Joey,” said Kathy. “I got you something.”

She knelt beside him and took the brightly colored album

jacket out of the thin bag. The first thing Joey noticed were

the colors and the images of all the people. He recognized

W.C. Fields because Peter would always watch his movies,

but he didn’t immediately connect with anyone else—except

for the four lads in the kaleidoscopic military garb. They held

brass and wind instruments instead of guitars, and though

Joey could not read what was spelled out by the red flowers

at their feet, he knew.


Kathy helped him remove the shrink-wrap. She had

already taken off the Woolworth’s price sticker.

“Ooooh,” yelled Mary. “He’s gonna love that! We buy him

the little records, but those big ones are expensive. You

shouldn’t have done that, Kathy.”

“I know he loves the ‘Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane’

single; this album is like that.”

Joey’s grin was wide as he stared at the record cover. He

opened the gatefold and got a closer look at his favorite band

in their vivid garb.

“Let me lower the television set. Put the record on for

him,” said Mary.

As Kathy placed the record on Joey’s portable turntable,

Mary turned down the Christmas music. The yule log still

burned, though—a constant loop that reset every twenty


“He loves that music, and it’s okay ‘cause he’s always with

me and can’t do any harm to himself, but I think this music

can lead kids to bad things. You know, the drugs and all,” said


“Maybe, but it doesn’t have to. I don’t think drugs are

needed to expand the mind,” replied Kathy. “I think a needle

in the groove beats a needle in the arm any day.”

The family sat there as the recording began. They

eventually met Billy Shears and Lucy. Mama left her chair to

make some coffee, but the rest remained. They were taken

away to a color-splashed circus. Kathy flipped the record over

and they arrived in India, only to be quickly transported to a

1940s dance hall. It was at this time that Sal began thinking

of the old music that he loved so much. Mama returned in

time to hear a chicken cluck morph into a guitar pluck. The

military band that had unleashed this animal were now trying to

get it back in its cage. There came an incredible crescendo

that sounded as if all the music they’d ever heard was being

played at once. Then it stopped—but not before a thunderous

piano chord that seemed to echo into eternity. Mary wanted

to speak but wasn’t sure when to start, fearing another

explosion of sound. Peter beat her to the punch.


“These are the same fellas that sang ‘I Want to Hold Your

Hand’?” Mary asked.

“Hmmmm,” replied Joey before another could answer.

“What did ya think, Ma?” asked Mary.

“Nice boys. But I like the Italian music. I wish them luck.”

Of my real family, from the factual version of my first exposure to SGT. PEPPER, I am the only living member who was in that room on that evening in June, 1967. I dedicate this memory, with love, to all of them.

Life goes on within you and without you.

SONS OF THE POPE is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other fine retailers. Also on Kindle, Nook, and Audiobook.

Thanks for all the laughs, Mr. Letterman.

4 May

On May 20, 2015, David Letterman’s final show will air on CBS.  Events such as this are not altogether uncommon, but this is the first time I’ve been compelled to write about one of these things.

The reason: To me, it is anything but “one of these things”.

In fact, two nights ago, I had a dream that Mr. Letterman was walking across the street from me, and I wanted to go up to him, shake his hand, and say “thank you”.  I was unable to reach him, so I scribbled a note in red ink (not sure why the ink was crimson, but hey, it was a dream) and handed it to a Late Show staffer who happened to be close by. They promised to get the letter to him.

I was not able to meet David Letterman in that dream, but I have met him twice, and was even interviewed by him.  I shook his hand, made him laugh, received a compliment from him, and he even handed me a sponge.

All of that is very high on my lifetime thrill meter.  Super-amazingly high.

I was a huge admirer of Johnny Carson.  I enjoy Jay Leno.  I love Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, and Conan O’Brien.  But, for me, David Letterman is king, and always will be.

This was the only show, be it on NBC, or CBS, that I would watch EVERY night.  For years it was community viewing with my buddies, then, I watched with my wife, then with the wife and kids.  Now, the kids are adults.  We all still watch.  Always the same. Always Letterman.

I won’t rehash all of the crazy skits, but, things like the Velcro Suit and the Alka-Seltzer Suit were just not the norm on television.  Having a run-of-the-mill, middle-aged, Brooklynite named Calvert DeForest appear regularly as a hapless, and generally un-scripted, character named Larry “Bud” Melman was pure genius. That was taken to the next level when Calvert played “Bud”, who in turn played “Kenny the Gardener”.  You couldn’t get stuff like this anywhere else.  Stuffy types didn’t get the joke.  They watched other shows.  Those of us who loved Letterman felt like we were part of some “in crowd”.  The more ridiculous it was, the better we liked it.

I have been to so many Letterman tapings that I’ve lost count.  I’ve been to the big anniversary shows too.  My wife, my buddies, and I were in the front row for a big anniversary show at Radio City that included Bob Dylan, Bill Murray, and a host of others.  We stood in line for hours to grab those seats.

There used to be a stand-by list for tickets, where show staffers would call you on the phone if seats opened up.  To get tickets, you had to answer a David Letterman trivia question.  I never got one wrong.

I used to work security for Saturday Night Live just when Dave was beginning his NBC show. I was about twenty years old.  One time, he was exiting the building at 30 Rock, through a revolving door, just as I was entering.  I nodded at him, and smiled, through the glass.  He did the same.  I count that as “meeting him” and always will.  I went full-circle in that spinning door just so I could watch where he was going outside the building.  A tiny car pulled up.  A VERY tiny car.  And old.  Someone got out, pushed the front seat up, and Dave squeezed into the back, with a couple of others.  There were at least five people jammed into that little vehicle.  I guess I had expected a limousine.  Letterman got into a car that looked like it would normally carry me and my buddies.

That made me smile.

A couple of years later I REALLY met David Letterman.

I was on line outside the show, as usual, with my fiancée, and our friends.  A staffer came up to me and asked if I had a good story about a recent snowstorm that had blasted New York City.  I had absolutely nothing of interest to report, so of course I immediately said “Yes.”

Our whole group was ushered inside and seated in a prime, reserved location.  We were the first audience members in the studio, so the room was even colder than its usual, famously freezing temperature.  Paul Shaffer and his incredible band were not yet even on stage to warm up the crowd.  The sound system was playing “Another World” by Joe Jackson, and I truly felt like I was in another world.  I knew that I was going to be interviewed by David Letterman.

I had no idea what his line of questioning would be, but I had seen the show enough to know that it would, at its core, have little to do with whatever I had experienced in that blizzard.

Our segment was entitled “The Winds of February”.  I learned this as it began.  He interviewed a man sitting in front of us.  I knew there would be three audience interviews, but I didn’t know if I’d be next, or third.  While Dave questioned the first guy, I saw on the monitor that they had a scrawl on the screen that read “Part One: The Storm Gathers”.  I paid no attention to what the guy was actually saying, as I readied for my part.  When Dave came to me next, he asked where I was from.  When I answered “Brooklyn” I got a big cheer. I knew the New York crowd was with me.

Then, before we continued, and as a bit of a shock to Dave, I decided to introduce him to my girlfriend (and now wife), Joanne, who was seated beside me, as I stood with Letterman.  The crowd chuckled at the change of pace, and Dave seemed to get a kick out of it (how much of a kick will be revealed later).  He shook hands with Joanne, said “Very nice to meet you”, and was quite pleasant about it all.

Then, he asked me about my snowstorm experience.  I remembered that “Part One: The Storm Gathers” scrawl that they had placed in front of the first guy on the monitor, so I just began by saying “Well, my story picks up just about where his leaves off…”

That was all it took.  The crowd got it and howled.  Dave stopped a bit just to laugh at my joke.

I had made David Letterman laugh.

I forget most of the rest of the interview, but sure enough they put something up below my face that read “Part Two: The Storm Descends” (or something like that).

After Dave interviewed the third guy, and as the show left for commercial, he returned to me, shook my hand again, said something to me about how he appreciated how I helped the bit, and got the joke.  Then he handed me a coveted “Late Night with David Letterman” sponge.

The letters have faded, but I still have it.

Here’s the best part:  About a month or two later, the show did a bit called the Late Night Emmy Awards.  There was a category for “Best Audience Member”.  In typical, brilliant, Letterman fashion, guess who won?

“And the winner is – Dan O’Connor’s girlfriend.”

Yes, Joanne, who did nothing but shake Dave’s hand and smile, won the “award”.  They had an elderly woman come on stage to “accept”.

“Dan O’Connor’s girlfriend is away in France and unable to accept in person,” said the announcer.

Absolute genius.

As I write this, there are but a handful of nights that will include the opportunity to watch a new episode of a talk show featuring David Letterman.

I will watch every one.

Thank you to Mr. Letterman, and to everyone who has ever worked for him.

This will never happen again.


29 Apr

For part one of “TRUE GANGSTER STORIES“, scroll down to the post from March, 2015.

“Hey, I’m Sonny.  My father is in the Gambino Crime Family.”

This was the opening line of a neighborhood Brooklyn jackass when he tried to impress a girl.  He used it on a 15 year-old who, years later, became my wife.  Maybe it worked on the dimwits, but it repulsed at least as many.  He may as well have worn a sign that read “Wannabe Gangster”, but he’d probably have had to borrow it from his clown father.

This particular father was a real tough guy, and Mafia enforcer.

At least, in his mind, and amongst a crowd of impressionable teenagers.

Young punk Sonny would start trouble with everyone.  Then, when he had to fight to back up his instigations, he would show up with his bigger, older cousin to do battle for him.  If that failed, he’d be back with his father.

No one we knew ever saw that father fight a man his own size or age.

Real “mobster”.

In my prior gangster blog post, I referenced an old Brooklyn health club a couple of times.  Sonny’s father had a memorable moment in that gym one day.  While pumping iron, he mentioned to another member that he had been in that weight room on the night of the famous New York City blackout (July, 1977).  He said “It was pitch black when the lights went out.  I couldn’t see a thing.  Couldn’t even find the stairway.”

The other guy said, “How black can it get in here? I’m pretty sure I could find the stairway.”

“No, you couldn’t.”

“Yeah, I could find the stairway.”

Boom.  Weights flying everywhere.  Fucking this.  Fucking that.  Walls being punched as everyone looked on.  Sonny’s dad did his best Lou Ferrigno-becoming-the-Hulk impression, as he raged all over the gym.

Important note: He did not approach the other weight-lifting adult male or challenge him to a fight.  If the other man was a young boy, the intimidation would have been full-on.

Word is that Sonny is doing life in prison, and his cousin died in jail.  Not sure what became of the dad, but I’m guessing it wasn’t pretty.

He loved to describe himself as “Limo driver for the Gambinos”, which could only mean one thing; he was not a limo driver for the Gambinos.

You know the guy in the neighborhood who calls himself a “car service driver”? Now HE might be driving for the mob.  I knew one of those.  Let’s call him “Mac”.  Mac was an Italian/Jewish-American, and as a non-full-blooded Italian, he could not become a full-fledged member of the Cosa Nostra, even if he so desired.  But that didn’t preclude him from lower-level jobs, as long as he could keep his mouth shut and know his place.

Mac began by picking up customers – initially mostly well-off, older Jewish women from Long Island – and transporting them (and their checkbooks) to some of the backdoor, illegal gambling houses in Bay Ridge or Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.  When driving those ladies, he was Jewish.  In the casinos, he was an Italian.

After several weeks of chauffeuring, the powers that be had grown fond of Mac.  He did his job and kept his mouth shut.

“Can you deal?”

Mac was offered a spot working the Blackjack tables.  The secret casino had seven “21” tables and 4 for Poker.  The bosses noticed that Mac had an eye for catching mistakes and before long he was a pit boss.  The former driver was raking in the cash because he was on duty seven days per week, eleven hours per day.

One night, “The Shiek” walked in.

This was the highest of rollers.  He owned an unknown number of gas stations and whatever he needed was provided by Mac and his staff.  Mac was now in charge of extending credit, and The Shiek had the rare privilege of being offered unlimited credit.

It was a bad night for the gas tycoon.

He couldn’t win a hand.  The Shiek wound up staying at the casino for three days.  They fed him anything he wished.  He was permitted to nap and bathe.

By the final night, the mob boss who ran the gambling house also was the proud owner of two gas stations.

When that big boss, and family don (a famous gangster whom Mac, decades later, still refuses to identify), decided to visit one of his casinos, everything stopped.

He would enter, as in a movie scene, with a beautiful woman on each arm, and a pair of enormous gorillas behind him.  Mac would hurriedly, but politely, ask all seven gamblers seated at a given table to please stand and wait for an opening at another.  Mac would then escort the boss to his now-private table, where he, and his entourage, could play as they wished.

Mac is one of many regular Joes who never hurt a fly, and certainly never killed anyone, yet provided for his family by working for the New York Underworld.  He is a lot like the character Salvatore Salerno in my New York gangster novel, SONS OF THE POPE.  The way Mac respects and protects the identity of his former boss is similar to the way some characters in SONS will not even mention the name of their don in public.  They merely touch the tips of their noses when referring to him.

A lot of this stuff is amusing, but it’s important to understand that the mob is no comedy show, and if you choose to involve yourself, you may have to pay the ultimate price. (Continued below SONS OF THE POPE link).

I had a childhood friend I’ll call “Lenny”.  He was probably the best all-around athlete with whom I’ve ever played sports.  Could catch and run with anyone.  When we played football, be it tackle or touch, when he received a kickoff or punt (or, in Brooklyn street football, a “throw-off”) there was probably a 50% chance that he was returning it all the way for a touchdown.

We used to sucker guys from the neighborhood who didn’t know us too well.  We’d be tossing the football around in the street, throwing it weakly, dropping it here and there.  Soon enough, they’d want to play us 2-on-2.  We’d put a little money down.  I’d be the quarterback, Lenny the receiver.  We pulled it off so many times.  We only lost once.  It was a great gig.

Apart from his athletic prowess, Lenny was a scholar.  A computer wizard in the 1970s.

Then, within a brief span, he lost both of his parents.  He turned to drugs.  Next, he owed money.  Money borrowed from the streets.  Before long, he was gone.  Just gone.  I’ve heard different rumors about his demise, but to me, my friend Lenny just vanished.  Forever.

Another friend-of-a-friend had a similar issue with owing money.  He went around asking everyone he knew for cash to pay back his street lenders.  He asked everyone except his own family – he was too ashamed.  None of his pals could afford the amount he owed.  He was found, in pieces, in the trunk of a car on Bond St.  No head.  It was probably somewhere in the Gowanus Canal, with all the others.  After that, his entire family moved to California.

Rules had to be followed.  Yes, the mob sold drugs, but there were certain areas that were “off limits”. Maybe they were too near a church or school, or too close to the home of an important boss.  Fred sold drugs for the Mafia.  His problem was that he kept selling them in the “off-limits” areas.  He’d been warned, but would “slip up”.  A meeting was called.  Fred left his house in a fancy suit.  He wanted to make a good impression.  At the meeting, he was relaxed by the other attendees.  He got another warning, all very friendly.  The meeting officially over, he changed into his sweat suit to make a meal for the boys.  With the important business concluded, his clothes changed, and there no longer being the threat of him wearing a wire.  They killed him as the pasta boiled.

There was a baker in Brooklyn who also happened to be a “numbers runner” for the local crime family. This was basically an illegal lottery.  The runner would collect the money from a bettor, and, ideally, turn it in, with the chosen numbers, to his boss.  If the bettor’s number came up, he won, otherwise he lost.  Oftentimes these numbers runners would hang onto the bets and never turn them in.  The odds were with them.  Usually, the numbers wouldn’t come out.  It was a longshot bet.  The runner would just pocket the bet with his bosses none the wiser.

The problem was, sometimes the bettors did win.  This particular time, a man had bet $50, playing the numbers in his wedding anniversary.  He hit for $25,000.  Adjusted for inflation, his score was worth almost $200,000 in today’s currency.  The baker – the runner who never turned the ticket in to the crime family – was on the hook to pay the winner.

Nobody ever saw him again.  His wife stood in front of their home screaming when he never came home from work.  Did he flee the country?  Was his head floating in the Gowanus?  No one knew, but the next day the closed bakery went up in flames.  The authorities never determined who torched the bakery, but soon after, a local kid was given a new nickname.

The Flame.

Right near that bakery lived the fella who was dating the daughter of the local boss-of-bosses.  She became pregnant.  It was assumed and arranged that they would be married immediately.  One the eve of the big day, not only did the groom call off the wedding, he broke up with his expectant fiancée.  I’m not sure what this man thought would come of this, but shortly after, he had his face sliced open from ear to mouth, then, on the other side, from mouth to ear.  Many assumed he was permitted to live because he was still the father of the unborn child.  The two up-and-coming gangsters contracted for this particular job had earned their own new nicknames.

The Surgeons.

Then there was The Butcher.  Scary name, but not what you’d expect.  The Butcher was a family man, and neighborhood good-guy.  He was a great husband and father who had served our country quite honorably in the armed forces.  He worked in the meat department at the A & P supermarket.  Then, just like that, he was laid off.  All he knew was honest work, so he applied for a job at something called Meat Kingdom.  It was a thriving local business, their management knew he was a top-notch butcher, so he got the job.  It was only then that he learned that Meat Kingdom was owned by a super-famous gangster (and one who would soon be rubbed out in one of the most famous hits of all-time).  The big gangster’s son ran the shop’s day-to-day business.  The Butcher happened to be father to one of my best friends.  That friend had a very realistic, and quite creepy-looking, rubber rat.  One day, the Butcher – always one for a good laugh – brought the fake rat to work.  He placed the creature in one of the meat lockers and waited to see how the prank would play out with his co-workers.

You could probably finish this story for me.  The junior gangster, son of the big boss, and manager of the store, came upon the toy rodent.  The young mobster screamed like a cheerleader, wet his pants, and almost backed into a working bandsaw as he rushed to escape.

The backfired prank actually had the butcher concerned for his safety, and the future of his family.  Having the don’s son make a fool of himself in front of all of his employees is not something that the Butcher intended.

Here’s what happened after.

Nothing.  No broken legs, no sliced face, no “meeting”.  No apology required.

The employees, after some time, figured that the Butcher escaped punishment because of a combination of things; he was not part of “the life” – just an ordinary citizen, he turned out to be the best meat-cutter they had, and maybe most of all, how could pants-wetting junior explain to his father the reason for any punishment?

Interesting fact about that Butcher: though he was a regular guy, and law-abiding citizen, his own father had been a collector and enforcer for a well-connected Brooklyn loan shark.  He remembered that his dad always carried a tire iron on his person, and never entered or exited his own apartment through the front door.  He would use the fire escape of an adjoining building, then, walk across the rooftops, leading to the fire escape of his own apartment.

St. Agnes Seminary was located on Avenue R in Brooklyn.  Grades K-8, girls only.  My cousins attended in the early 70s.  Two of their young friends happened to be the granddaughters of the biggest crime boss in New York.  A bit of a war broke out and there had been kidnapping threats against the two little girls.

The police were never involved.  Instead, the girls showed up at school each day with a parade of black cars.  Their “private security guards” were permitted to be posted all over the school grounds, and always outside the classrooms of the threatened children.  Word was that this permission was granted due to a sizeable donation.

My cousins found it to be fun and exciting because the gangsters brought them along for a pizzeria lunch almost every day, and paid for the whole thing.

Kids born into a mob family are different than those who aspire to be gangsters.  Those children of gangsters know nothing different.  By the time than can make decisions for themselves, they’ve effectively been brainwashed.  The outsiders trying to get in have made their own decision.  I’ve known both kinds.  A kid used to live next door to me.  I’ll call him Petey. He was a decent kid, but not a friend of mine.  Maybe he tried to act tougher than he was.  He hung with a bunch of wannabe gangsters a bit older than he and I.  They pretended to be “connected” but were basically big-talking morons.  Petey had a younger sister who was a very sweet girl.  I felt bad for her, always surrounded by those fools.

One time Petey came around in a car with three of these goons.  I was standing on a street corner with one other friend.  They called me over to their vehicle.

“Listen, did you take anything from Mrs. Freiberg’s yard?” one of them asked me.  Mrs. Freiberg was my landlord, and I lived in the basement.

I told them I had no idea what they were talking about.

“You sure?” asked one obese faux mobster.

“Yeah. I didn’t take anything from the yard.”

“Hmmm,” he said, with Petey looking down.  Petey wouldn’t make eye contact with me.

“What was taken?” I asked.  Not sure why I cared.

“We planted some marijuana in her yard and it’s all gone.  We’ll look into it further before anything gets done,” said Chubby.

I wanted to say, “Gets done?  Who the fuck are you to threaten me?” But it was just me standing with one guy who wasn’t much of a fighter, and there were four of them – three who were quite a bit older. Almost men vs. boys.  I said nothing and they drove off.  I made a mental note to tell my older brothers – who did not live with me – but would’ve been there anytime I needed them.  I wonder how tough those guys would’ve talked if a couple of big guys their own age had been with me?  My brothers, Ed and Kevin.

Nothing ever came of that stolen marijuana situation.  I assume Mrs. Freiberg just dug the shit up and threw it away.  As for my neighbor Petey, a year or two later he was shot in the back of his head in Manhattan.  Dead.  I still feel bad for his little sister, wherever she may be.

Sometimes our mobsters seem to have better international relationships than our government.  This became evident to a friend of mine who attended the funeral of a prominent Canadian gangster, north of the border.  He wandered around the funeral home, reading the cards on the huge floral arrangements.

“Deepest sympathy, Detroit.”

“Condolences on your loss, New York.”

“Loved and remembered, Chicago.”

There was a ten year-old boy whose step-father would always bring him to a bar in Astoria, Queens.  The kid was allowed to sit right at the bar, amongst the grown men, drinking his Shirley Temples, while the step-dad did his business in the back room.

Sometimes two men would come to the boy’s house.  The same two well-dressed men – every time.  The stepfather’s name was Fritz – everyone called him that.

For whatever reason, these two men called him Frank.

It turns out that Fritz (or Frank) did a lot of “favors” for these men.  Much of the time it involved transporting weapons from New Mexico to New York City.

One day, the favor they requested would have had Fritz testifying in court as a witness to a major accident that had occurred.  The thing was, Fritz had never witnessed the accident in question, and was quite adverse to court proceedings of any kind.

For the first time, he refused their request.

The outcome: Fritz immediately packed up his entire family and left New York for the southwest.  No one who knew them has seen them since.

Well, I may have.

I will conclude this blog with the words of some mystery man whom I would be in contact with almost every evening, for a time, in The Borough of Churches.

During my first year at Brooklyn College, I was on an emotional roller-coaster.  Things weren’t so great for me.  I was quite depressed, but tried to keep a happy face.  It wasn’t working.  I had a Sociology class and I figured I could make something out of it.  As an assignment, based on my suggestion, I transformed into another person.  There was a neighborhood kid who was always picked on.  He wasn’t the best-looking guy, and had some hygiene issues.  He sold the New York Post on the street.  I stopped shaving, showered a lot less, stayed away from my friends, and got a job selling the Post.

I would sell the evening edition, after school, out near the Verrazano Bridge, right off the parkway exit.

The newspaper sold for 25 cents.  Each evening a long, black sedan would come off the highway and stop in front of me.  The windows were nearly black.  The rear window would roll down just a crack.  I could never see who was in that car, but the transaction was always the same.  There I was, looking borderline homeless, holding the papers, many times in the rain, with plastic over them and nothing over me.

He would slide a five dollar bill out the window crack and I would stuff the newspaper through it in return.  He never accepted any change. He paid twenty times the price of the New York Post. Every night.

Then he would say only one word, and roll his window up.  It is the same word I will sincerely pass along to all who have taken the time to read this blog.


These true stories would not be possible without the help of Paul Smith, Ken Angelos, Deborah Joyce MacDougald, Nora Ball, M.a. Tarpinian, Michael Musumeci, Marc Sheer, Thomas Pirics, Jason Altman, Richard Anderson, Ernest Loperena, Maureen O’Connor, & Joanne O’Connor.