• Christmas Along The Green

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    The Green River begins in the crags of the Wind River Mountains as melt water from its glaciers. The river meanders 730 miles downstream, and then dumps an average of 6100 cubic feet per second of brownish-red water into the Colorado, almost doubling its size.

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    During John Wesley Powell’s exploratory voyages in 1869 and 1871, he and his men named the canyons, rapids, and geographic features along the river.  Desolation and Labyrinth Canyons, the Gates of Ladore, Citadel and Tollgate Rocks, and the rapids –– Hell’s Half Mile and Disaster Falls are two of many. He and his fellow explorers had no idea of the oceans of oil and gas that lay below and on both sides.

     

    Ninety-one miles downstream from the headwaters sits Big Piney, the oldest settlement in Sublette County. It was founded in 1879, when rancher Daniel B. Budd and his partner Hugh McKay came through with nine hundred head of cattle.  They were hoping to ship them from the railhead at Point of Rocks, near Rock Springs, but instead got caught in a winter storm just west of where Big Piney was eventually located. Surprisingly the cattle did well –– pawing up dried grass for feed. The two partners decided to homestead in the Valley – – seventy miles long and thirty miles wide. Salt River Mountains to the west, Wind Rivers to the east, high arid plains to the south.  The Budd’s, now in their fifth generation, still have thousands of acres and thousands of cattle. 

     

    The valley, at seven thousand feet, had quick summers, and was not conducive for raising crops, but the early cattlemen recognized its grazing potential. Cattle were turned out to feed, rounded up in the fall, then sold to the army or shipped by rail to eastern markets. The early ranchers discovered that, like the buffalo, their stock could feed year-round on sparse but nutritious prairie grasses that cured on the stem.

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     There were lots of creeks and meadows, but much of the range was sagebrush, sometimes with only enough grass to feed one steer per thirty-five acres –– but there were thousands of acres where cattle could wander, on unclaimed public lands.

     

    In those early years, the total cost to raise and transport a full-grown steer to the railhead could be as low as $4.50, yet the sales price of the critter sometimes exceeded fifty dollars.  Fortunes were made and then lost when the weather or the drought killed almost all the cattle. Teddy Roosevelt was run out of the cattle business in ‘86’ when he lost sixty percent of his herd to the long rough winter. 

     

    That same rugged winter hit the Green River Valley, causing great loss to livestock.  Statewide it was worse; around three million head perished, especially around Laramie and Cheyenne. It was a vicious natural disaster and many homesteaders lost their start. Over the years, ranchers gradually stopped depending on winter grazing to sustain their cattle. They cleared sagebrush in low areas, filed on water rights and developed irrigation systems to grow grass and hay for their Hereford Shorthorns and Spanish Longhorns.

      

    Before that time the cattlemen built their herds and let them drift to wherever there was feed.  One Scottish cattle baron said, “I let the cows graze where they want and drink where they will.”  Two years later, he filed for bankruptcy as his cattle tried to graze on ice and snow –– out of 5300 head only 91 survived. 

     

    Nevertheless the leafy grass, the water, the beauty of the mountains and the open range continued to attract would-be cattlemen to the valley.  Rangeland could be bought for twenty-five cents an acre, even along some of the major watercourses. Over time, the larger ranchers bought out those who gave up and abandoned their holdings.  During the bad years, a popular saying was, “ A man’s poverty could be determined by the number of cattle he possessed.”

     

     The open range on the far side of the river from Big Piney was not the best; and it became more barren as you went east until you hit the south Wind River drainage.  As you left the river, the landscape turned into sandstone outcroppings, alkali, and sagebrush with little grass.  There was the problem of getting the cattle across the river to the west, especially in the spring and fall.  The river was as deep as twenty-five feet with very few fords.  Still, there were plenty willing try their luck and homestead a hundred-and-sixty acres – available to any citizen if he would improve his claim.

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    And luck was needed if they gave ranching a try.  Nearest doctor – a hundred and twenty miles.  The less fortunate died of pneumonia, scarlet fever, compound fractures, infections, snakebites, gunshot accidents, and madness.  Some just lay down and died after losing everything.  They froze, died of exposure, drowned or drank themselves to death.  Many of those who didn’t die ended up with disabling injuries to legs and arms. The ones who made it through were undeterred by the challenge – pragmatic adventurers who had the constitution and health of a Grizzly bear.

     

                                           **********************

     

    And so here is where our story begins, with three tough families –– the Graftons, O’Briens, and Langtrees – who had stuck along the east side of the river –– seven miles from the little settlement of Big Piney.  The Grafton’s were up river, the O’Brien’s in the middle and the Langtree’s downstream.  From the Grafton’s cabin to the Langtree’s was about eleven miles.  Took about two hours to ride from point to point when the weather was fair.

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    The families occasionally saw one another at roundups, branding in the spring, and in town or whenever a joint need called. They did cooperate on a wobbly ill-built bridge (just large enough to handle a narrow gauge wagon) across the Green, south of O’Briens spread.

     

    Hugh O’Brien had been a preacher, but his real background was that as a stonemason back in Pennsylvania.  He had read a pamphlet that spouted, “Cattle Ranching, Gold on the Hoof.”  Came west, bought his spread and cattle, and built his large house back from the riverbank –– of quarried red and alabaster sandstone.  The walls, the floor and fireplace, even his outhouse was made of rock.  He used cottonwood logs for the roof, covered with reeds, then mud, then sod and finally thin stone.  He had a substantial inheritance, and with some luck, had built his herd to thirteen hundred cows.

     

    His wife Betsy was a skillful, happy person who always had a hug and a smile for everyone, although she had grown somewhat larger than Hugh would have liked.  But everyone loved her –– she would sit and listen to anyone’s woes for as long as they needed to talk.  She had a certain magic that left them fortified, consoled and encouraged.  Betsy had been a schoolteacher and taught the Langtree children along with her own.

     

    She and Hugh had three daughters, Hope, Faith and Charity, and an eight-year-old boy named Gabriel.  During the first winter, Hugh’s horse slipped and he fell hard to the sandstone – breaking his arm and disabling him for two months. The forty-five-year-old O’Brien decided he was done with rounding up cattle during rain, snow or wind.

     

    He was fond of telling visitors, “I prefer to stay at home in bad weather where it’s warm and dry and the risk of violent death is much reduced. The springtime of my buoyant youth has passed me by and I see no reason to squander the time I have left.”  All three families had rough outbuildings and barns to shelter their horses, pigs, chickens, and milk cows.  The population of the Green River Valley in 1889 was 296 souls.

     

    The Grafton’s were a raggedy, troublesome bunch –– Gordon, his brother Lafe, and Gordon’s three sons, age 16 to 22.  No one ever said anything about a wife or mother.   All bearded and longhaired –– gaunt and narrow-faced, teeth and fingers missing, gruff and crude –– pretty much smelled like a bunch of randy goats.

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    One of the cattle buyers stopped by their cabin, took a sniff, and asked Gordon if a passel of skunks had died under the floor; he swore that Gordon’s breath came out brown.  Hygiene was an unknown concept to the bunch, but talk was that they all jumped in the river on August 15th, and called that their yearly bath.  But there was an exception.  The youngest, Luke, was just beautiful.  Born to the saddle good looks, hair and beard cut best he could with a skinning knife. 

     

    The Grafton’s were good ranchers –– best cattle on the east side of the Green. They put every dime they made into more cattle and more land and ran the ranch by themselves. Greta Langtree commented that they were just like some of the hill people near her hometown –– too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash.

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    The Grafton’s had spent their first winter in a sandstone cave above the river.  That was the same year the Potter building was completed in New York –– much the same color and material, but 2200 miles east.  What a contrast – a rough family on hardscrabble ground hunkered down in a cave – versus a gilt-edge financier living in his penthouse.

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    The O’Brien’s and the Grafton’s had split a failed rancher’s one-hundred-forty acre spread two years ago –– a mile and a half downriver from Grafton’s.  The man who homesteaded the property, Julius Simplot, was from Massachusetts, and had no business trying to be a rancher.  Simplot was a painter and a poet, but wanted to make the fortune he had heard about, along with living with what he thought would be an idyllic country life –– something like Walden Pond. 

     

    He didn’t know how to take care of his stock, or lay in supplies for winter, or even cut firewood.  And despite some help from the other three families, it all slid downhill.

     “ Jay Langtree said to his wife, “I tell you Simplot couldn’t pound a nail in mud if his life depended on it.”  His stock perished, he was a poor horseman and he couldn’t even decide on a brand before the first roundup.  Only forty-one cows were in the drive to the railhead, and the general store in Big Piney wouldn’t advance him any additional credit. 

     

    Then one day, his wife Jenny was riding east looking for strays –– holding their daughter in front of her (the little girl had a broken arm from a steer kick).  The gelding they were riding stepped into a prairie dog hole –– breaking its leg and throwing the riders hard to the ground – the six-year-old struck a rock. The mother went mad, walked into the Green and slipped under without a sound.

     

    Simplot prepared a tombstone for his wife and little daughter and put it on the hill up from the cabin.

     

    Comes our day,

    Our Glory Blazing Bright

    We burn a path across the sky

    Then vanish into night

    Yet our circles never end

    From Day to Dusk to Dawn

    For In death we pass to life,

    As the circle passes on.

     

    Hugh and Betsy O’Brien did their best to comfort him, but Julius was gripped with overwhelming sadness to the point he couldn’t respond. His face lined and exhausted, he finally said, “Seems like everything has pulled out from under me, the ranch, cattle, and now my family.  I have nothing left, not even hope.”

     

    That night he set the cabin ablaze and disappeared.  No one knew if he was still inside when the roof and walls burned. The O’Briens’ and Langtree’s children would go to the charred remains and look at the tombstone during a summer’s full moon, swearing they could see the Simplot ghosts standing in the moonlight on the ridge above.

     

    The Langtree’s had started with pounded dirt floors, a sod roof, and chinked log walls, but now they had put in hand sawn timber floors, log joists covered with lodge pole pine and pitch for a roof –– and hired three cowboys to help run the spread.

     

    Jay Langtree had three children, one boy and two girls, all from his first marriage –– his wife died of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever after a tick bite –– three months after they came into the valley.  His second wife, Greta, came from the Halcyon Mail Order Firm in New York City, sight unseen.

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    The lady who showed up was a German hausfrau with a lemoned face – ill tempered, resentful and with a sharp tongue.  One of the better-educated cowhands commented, ” In my view she is sullen, hostile and aggressive –– and that is on the good days.” Just the opposite of Jay who never missed a meal and had a welcome grin for everyone.  His new wife eventually realized that he was relentlessly positive and that he lived up to the principle that no person of character should ever complain about things he was unable or unwilling to do anything to remedy.

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    Nothing to do for Greta but follow suit –– and she did –– completely changed her personality within six months and became a happy person for the first time in her life.  She had worked in a cigar factory rolling cigars, an occupation her small hands were suited for –– she could sew, knit, spin yarn and weave with grace and speed.  Despite her appearance and initial fearsome presence, she was very kind, with a soft heart, a good second mother to the children, and she could outwork any man along the river.  Her favorite comment when there was a dispute was, “less talk, sooner mended.” 

     

    It began snowing earlier than usual in the fall of 1899 – snow in all directions, frigid and unsympathetic.  And it kept on ­–– each week brought more and more –– only interrupted by howling winds that scoured the snow into drifts, rocked the cottonwoods and bent the willows flat.  And it was cold, forty below after midnight down by the river.  The drifts didn’t melt and the ice in the river piled up against the bridge, finally destroying it on December 10th, blocking any way to town. 

     

    When the river had frozen over the previous year, Roy Able, a hired hand of the Langtree’s  (with too much thirst and no whiskey) decided to head for town for a drink, but didn’t want to make the trip up to the bridge. He ignored his companions’ advice and started to ride his mare across the ice instead of leading her.  A third of the way across, the ice gave and the horse’s forelocks broke through.  As the mare tried to back away, the surface fractured and both horse and rider plunged in.  The horse foundered and was dragged under, but Able was able to pull himself up on an ice edge.  His friends threw him a lariat.  He got enough of a grip to pull himself almost free from the hole, but then his glove came off.  Roy froze before anyone could get a lasso around him.

     

    On December 19th, the weather had been clear for three days, but bitter (thirty below).  Snow pack was around three feet next to river, up to a horse’s belly.  There was the rough trail along the bank between the three ranches, but normally there was no reason to traverse it in winter.

     

    Mrs. O’Brien told her husband that since both humans and beasts alike were suffering, she was going to celebrate Christmas with an afternoon dinner and invite their two isolated neighbors.  Her preacher husband said, “Do you think any will come in this weather?”  “Well, they ain’t going anywhere near town with the bridge smashed and snow this deep.  I’ll send Sam up to invite the Grafton’s, and Eli down to the Langtree’s.  Probably take em’ a couple hours each way with the snow.” 

     

    By afternoon the two riders had returned, they and their mounts shivering with cold.  Hat’s pulled down with kerchiefs over the top and under their chins. The Langtree’s said they’d show if the weather holds. “Grafton’s will come, except maybe Lafe.” 

     

    “You all know old Lafe; hard cut, with a lot of rough bark still on him.  I’ve heard he was one of William Quantrill’s Raiders in the war.  Do you know the story about him and the wolf? He was cuttin’ firewood last October –– up in the pines –– saw a gray wolf roughly 100 yards away, thought it was a lone bachelor.  With a double- bladed ax, he wasn’t afraid of just one wolf.  As the lupine came closer, Lafe could see it was starving –– tail down, ribs showing,  ears flattened, hackles raised, long incisors shining as it bared its fangs.  It backed down a few yards, so Lafe turned away to stack some limbs –– then he heard it coming.”

     

    “As he whirled around the wolf was about 15 feet away, charging at full speed.  No time for the ax.  Pulled his fingers close together, cocked his elbow, and formed his hand into a spear. As the wolf went for his exposed neck, Lafe leaped towards him and drove his fingers and arm between the open jaws and into the throat.  Then made a fist to choke the beast and slammed it onto a log, leaving his hand wedged in its throat.  Its claws shredded his pants and coat, but by then he had his knife.  Of course, then he went back to cutting wood. Lafe has a reputation as a harsh, gruff, grumpy old man, but I think he has a good side –– first one to lend a hand if there’s trouble.”

     

     

    On Christmas Day the Langtree’s showed up about 2 PM.  The Grafton’s a half hour later.  Three cowboys had dragged a log on an angle like a snowplow so the Langtrees could make their journey in a hand-made sleigh.  Greta Langtree had brought dried Potawatomi plums, squash pies and a ham.  She also brought strudel, fresh corn bread and choke cherry preserves.  The Grafton’s contribution was fifty-two bottles of homemade beer, the first of which exploded when Lafe sat it down unopened too near the fireplace.  The five Graftons had been facing into blowing snow on their way down river and were caked in an inch of frost, which they forgot to shake from their greatcoats in their hurry to charge in and get warm.  Immediately O’Brien welcomed the men and said he had something to warm them up – eighteen year-old Jamisons Irish whiskey.   “I believe this will ward off the elements,” he said.  He poured each man a measure in a mason jar.  “Whiskey don’t taste right unless it comes from a drinkin’ glass, can’t respect a man who uses a tin cup.”

     

    Betsy O’Brien and Greta Langtree laid out the dinner for the twenty-two family members and cowhands on tables assembled from sawhorses and interior doors.  She used bed sheets for tablecloths, and dishrags for napkins, and then brought out her wedding silver.  But she counted the pieces carefully, not wanting some of the settings to wander into an errant pocket.  At that point the two ladies and their daughters laid on the spread.  Sage Hens stuffed with pine nuts, stewed crab apples, and sweet potatoes.

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    Beefsteak to feed an army.  Potatoes and yams from the root cellar and roasted turnips and potatoes. The Grafton’s beer and some of Langtree’s Whistler’s Wine accompanied the mounds of food.

       

    Luke, the youngest Grafton, attacked his meal like he thought he’d never get another, with an appetite that would not have stopped at horseshoes dipped in fresh cow manure.  When sixteen year-old Hope O’Brien sidled up next to him, and sat so their hips were touching, he said that all they normally ate was slumgullion, boiled down gruel, and sunuvabitch stew. “I found porcupine needles and badger fur floating in my bowl last week.  Only change we ever get is canned succotash.  It’ll be different when I have my own spread. You gonna’ meet me like last time when the snow is gone?”  As she nodded he gave her a smile and tried to slide even closer. 

     

    The warmth, the comradeship and the great meal brought a sense of euphoria and contentment –– no one wanted to leave, and more than a few had started to nod off.  The dinner lasted until 6 PM, and already a few had stuck their heads out to see if the weather was holding as night fell. It wasn’t –– there was a full-force blizzard, which roared like a runaway locomotive. 

     

    Hugh had strung a rope between the outhouse and the main cabin after a cowboy had staggered back snow-caked to the point he looked like a ghost.  “Wouldn’t want to lose one of the party and not find him til’ spring,” he laughed. “How is it out there anyway?”  The cowpoke shook his head .  “It ain’t the gentle dew that falls from heaven.”  I can assure you of that.”

     

     The Grafton’s and the Langtrees were starting to shake off the effects of the liquor and the enormous meal.  Their anxiety starting to show – about getting home to take care of their animals and make sure their fires hadn’t gone out.

     

    “We’ve got a few presents to distribute before you go,” said Mrs. Langtree, “Can’t go til’ then.”  Lafe reached into a gunnysack and brought out dolls for all the girls.  There was dead silence.  No one knew what to say.  The dolls had been hand carved with such professional skill that they resembled each of the girls, down to hair color and shade of eyes.  The dresses were made of mink, ermine, white leather, feathers, semi-precious stones, and goose down.  The girls were delighted.   Then the Grafton boys brought out exquisitely carved rocking chairs for Betsy and Greta all in pieces – and put them together without nails in less than a minute.

     

    Greta Langtree had made new canvas pants and shirts for all the Grafton’s, and knitted them wool socks – to replace the ones they had fashioned out of flour sacks.  The men were stupefied to the point of hanging heads and muttered thanks –– tears welling in their eyes.  

     

    Greta and Betsy offered to cut anyone’s hair that wanted and give them a shave –– and about ten wanted, including Luke Grafton.  A few other gifts were distributed, then Gordon brought out two gunnysacks –– both wiggling like a batch of prairie dogs.  He gave one to each family and they dumped the contents on the floor.  There were squeals of delight from all the children.  Here were eight-week-old wolf pups –– ready to play.

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    Then the Reverend O’Brien let the congregation in several songs –– Jingle Bells, I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day, Silent Night, Home On The Range, She’ll Be Comin’ Round The Mountain, and others. Many of the hands and other men had unknown qualities when it came to singing, but made up the difference in volume.

     

    With the darkness outside it looked to be a brutal ride home through the storm –– torrents of snow screamed through the night.  The Graftons went first, but the rush of wind was so ferocious that they couldn’t mount their horses. Luke Grafton was blown clear over.  O’Brien, Langtree, and their hands went out to help and dragged the men back into the house.  “We’ve got to get home and take care of our stock and keep and a hearth fire –– otherwise everything will freeze,” said Gordon.” “If you leave now, you’ll be dead before you go a mile –– all of you,” said Hugh.”

     

    Then Charity, the youngest and most devout O’Brien daughter asked if she could say a prayer so that angels might come and guide everyone safely home. 

     

    Angels above me

    Angels below

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    Derek Ollivier

    7:04 AM (15 hours ago)

    to me
    Great story Dad!  Loved it!!

    Brings back memories of our four wheeler ride to the lake!
    Derek
    On Dec 20, 2017, at 6:59 PM, Joseph Ollivier <josephollivier@gmail.com> wrote:
    Christmas along the Green
    The Green River begins in the crags of the Wind River Mountains as melt water from its glaciers. The river meanders 730 miles downstream, and then dumps an average of 6100 cubic feet per second of brownish-red water into the Colorado, almost doubling its size.
     
     
    <download-1.jpg>
    <download-2.jpg>
     
    During John Wesley Powell’s exploratory voyages in 1869 and 1871, he and his men named the canyons, rapids, and geographic features along the river.  Desolation and Labyrinth Canyons, the Gates of Ladore, Citadel and Tollgate Rocks, and the rapids –– Hell’s Half Mile and Disaster Falls are two of many. He and his fellow explorers had no idea of the oceans of oil and gas that lay below and on both sides.
     
    Ninety-one miles downstream from the headwaters sits Big Piney, the oldest settlement in Sublette County. It was founded in 1879, when rancher Daniel B. Budd and his partner Hugh McKay came through with nine hundred head of cattle.  They were hoping to ship them from the railhead at Point of Rocks, near Rock Springs, but instead got caught in a winter storm just west of where Big Piney was eventually located. Surprisingly the cattle did well –– pawing up dried grass for feed. The two partners decided to homestead in the Valley – – seventy miles long and thirty miles wide. Salt River Mountains to the west, Wind Rivers to the east, high arid plains to the south.  The Budd’s, now in their fifth generation, still have thousands of acres and thousands of cattle. 
     
    The valley, at seven thousand feet, had quick summers, and was not conducive for raising crops, but the early cattlemen recognized its grazing potential. Cattle were turned out to feed, rounded up in the fall, then sold to the army or shipped by rail to eastern markets. The early ranchers discovered that, like the buffalo, their stock could feed year-round on sparse but nutritious prairie grasses that cured on the stem.
     
    <th-8.jpg>
     
     There were lots of creeks and meadows, but much of the range was sagebrush, sometimes with only enough grass to feed one steer per thirty-five acres –– but there were thousands of acres where cattle could wander, on unclaimed public lands.
     
    In those early years, the total cost to raise and transport a full-grown steer to the railhead could be as low as $4.50, yet the sales price of the critter sometimes exceeded fifty dollars.  Fortunes were made and then lost when the weather or the drought killed almost all the cattle. Teddy Roosevelt was run out of the cattle business in ‘86’ when he lost sixty percent of his herd to the long rough winter. 
     
    That same rugged winter hit the Green River Valley, causing great loss to livestock.  Statewide it was worse; around three million head perished, especially around Laramie and Cheyenne. It was a vicious natural disaster and many homesteaders lost their start. Over the years, ranchers gradually stopped depending on winter grazing to sustain their cattle. They cleared sagebrush in low areas, filed on water rights and developed irrigation systems to grow grass and hay for their Hereford Shorthorns and Spanish Longhorns.
      
    Before that time the cattlemen built their herds and let them drift to wherever there was feed.  One Scottish cattle baron said, “I let the cows graze where they want and drink where they will.”  Two years later, he filed for bankruptcy as his cattle tried to graze on ice and snow –– out of 5300 head only 91 survived. 
     
    Nevertheless the leafy grass, the water, the beauty of the mountains and the open range continued to attract would-be cattlemen to the valley.  Rangeland could be bought for twenty-five cents an acre, even along some of the major watercourses. Over time, the larger ranchers bought out those who gave up and abandoned their holdings.  During the bad years, a popular saying was, “ A man’s poverty could be determined by the number of cattle he possessed.”
     
     The open range on the far side of the river from Big Piney was not the best; and it became more barren as you went east until you hit the south Wind River drainage.  As you left the river, the landscape turned into sandstone outcroppings, alkali, and sagebrush with little grass.  There was the problem of getting the cattle across the river to the west, especially in the spring and fall.  The river was as deep as twenty-five feet with very few fords.  Still, there were plenty willing try their luck and homestead a hundred-and-sixty acres – available to any citizen if he would improve his claim.
     
    <powderriver.jpg>
    And luck was needed if they gave ranching a try.  Nearest doctor – a hundred and twenty miles.  The less fortunate died of pneumonia, scarlet fever, compound fractures, infections, snakebites, gunshot accidents, and madness.  Some just lay down and died after losing everything.  They froze, died of exposure, drowned or drank themselves to death.  Many of those who didn’t die ended up with disabling injuries to legs and arms. The ones who made it through were undeterred by the challenge – pragmatic adventurers who had the constitution and health of a Grizzly bear.
     
                                           **********************
     
    And so here is where our story begins, with three tough families –– the Graftons, O’Briens, and Langtrees – who had stuck along the east side of the river –– seven miles from the little settlement of Big Piney.  The Grafton’s were up river, the O’Brien’s in the middle and the Langtree’s downstream.  From the Grafton’s cabin to the Langtree’s was about eleven miles.  Took about two hours to ride from point to point when the weather was fair.
     
    <images-14.jpg> 
     
    The families occasionally saw one another at roundups, branding in the spring, and in town or whenever a joint need called. They did cooperate on a wobbly ill-built bridge (just large enough to handle a narrow gauge wagon) across the Green, south of O’Briens spread.
     
    Hugh O’Brien had been a preacher, but his real background was that as a stonemason back in Pennsylvania.  He had read a pamphlet that spouted, “Cattle Ranching, Gold on the Hoof.”  Came west, bought his spread and cattle, and built his large house back from the riverbank –– of quarried red and alabaster sandstone.  The walls, the floor and fireplace, even his outhouse was made of rock.  He used cottonwood logs for the roof, covered with reeds, then mud, then sod and finally thin stone.  He had a substantial inheritance, and with some luck, had built his herd to thirteen hundred cows.
     
    His wife Betsy was a skillful, happy person who always had a hug and a smile for everyone, although she had grown somewhat larger than Hugh would have liked.  But everyone loved her –– she would sit and listen to anyone’s woes for as long as they needed to talk.  She had a certain magic that left them fortified, consoled and encouraged.  Betsy had been a schoolteacher and taught the Langtree children along with her own.
     
    She and Hugh had three daughters, Hope, Faith and Charity, and an eight-year-old boy named Gabriel.  During the first winter, Hugh’s horse slipped and he fell hard to the sandstone – breaking his arm and disabling him for two months. The forty-five-year-old O’Brien decided he was done with rounding up cattle during rain, snow or wind.
     
    He was fond of telling visitors, “I prefer to stay at home in bad weather where it’s warm and dry and the risk of violent death is much reduced. The springtime of my buoyant youth has passed me by and I see no reason to squander the time I have left.”  All three families had rough outbuildings and barns to shelter their horses, pigs, chickens, and milk cows.  The population of the Green River Valley in 1889 was 296 souls.
     
    The Grafton’s were a raggedy, troublesome bunch –– Gordon, his brother Lafe, and Gordon’s three sons, age 16 to 22.  No one ever said anything about a wife or mother.   All bearded and longhaired –– gaunt and narrow-faced, teeth and fingers missing, gruff and crude –– pretty much smelled like a bunch of randy goats.
     
    <th-3.jpg>
     
    One of the cattle buyers stopped by their cabin, took a sniff, and asked Gordon if a passel of skunks had died under the floor; he swore that Gordon’s breath came out brown.  Hygiene was an unknown concept to the bunch, but talk was that they all jumped in the river on August 15th, and called that their yearly bath.  But there was an exception.  The youngest, Luke, was just beautiful.  Born to the saddle good looks, hair and beard cut best he could with a skinning knife. 
     
    The Grafton’s were good ranchers –– best cattle on the east side of the Green. They put every dime they made into more cattle and more land and ran the ranch by themselves. Greta Langtree commented that they were just like some of the hill people near her hometown –– too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash.
     
     
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    The Grafton’s had spent their first winter in a sandstone cave above the river.  That was the same year the Potter building was completed in New York –– much the same color and material, but 2200 miles east.  What a contrast – a rough family on hardscrabble ground hunkered down in a cave – versus a gilt-edge financier living in his penthouse.
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    The O’Brien’s and the Grafton’s had split a failed rancher’s one-hundred-forty acre spread two years ago –– a mile and a half downriver from Grafton’s.  The man who homesteaded the property, Julius Simplot, was from Massachusetts, and had no business trying to be a rancher.  Simplot was a painter and a poet, but wanted to make the fortune he had heard about, along with living with what he thought would be an idyllic country life –– something like Walden Pond. 
     
    He didn’t know how to take care of his stock, or lay in supplies for winter, or even cut firewood.  And despite some help from the other three families, it all slid downhill.
     
     “ Jay Langtree said to his wife, “I tell you Simplot couldn’t pound a nail in mud if his life depended on it.”  His stock perished, he was a poor horseman and he couldn’t even decide on a brand before the first roundup.  Only forty-one cows were in the drive to the railhead, and the general store in Big Piney wouldn’t advance him any additional credit. 
     
    Then one day, his wife Jenny was riding east looking for strays –– holding their daughter in front of her (the little girl had a broken arm from a steer kick).  The gelding they were riding stepped into a prairie dog hole –– breaking its leg and throwing the riders hard to the ground – the six-year-old struck a rock. The mother went mad, walked into the Green and slipped under without a sound.
     
    Simplot prepared a tombstone for his wife and little daughter and put it on the hill up from the cabin.
     
    Comes our day,
    Our Glory Blazing Bright
    We burn a path across the sky
    Then vanish into night
    Yet our circles never end
    From Day to Dusk to Dawn
    For In death we pass to life,
    As the circle passes on.
     
    Hugh and Betsy O’Brien did their best to comfort him, but Julius was gripped with overwhelming sadness to the point he couldn’t respond. His face lined and exhausted, he finally said, “Seems like everything has pulled out from under me, the ranch, cattle, and now my family.  I have nothing left, not even hope.”
     
    That night he set the cabin ablaze and disappeared.  No one knew if he was still inside when the roof and walls burned. The O’Briens’ and Langtree’s children would go to the charred remains and look at the tombstone during a summer’s full moon, swearing they could see the Simplot ghosts standing in the moonlight on the ridge above.
     
    The Langtree’s had started with pounded dirt floors, a sod roof, and chinked log walls, but now they had put in hand sawn timber floors, log joists covered with lodge pole pine and pitch for a roof –– and hired three cowboys to help run the spread.
     
    Jay Langtree had three children, one boy and two girls, all from his first marriage –– his wife died of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever after a tick bite –– three months after they came into the valley.  His second wife, Greta, came from the Halcyon Mail Order Firm in New York City, sight unseen.
     
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    The lady who showed up was a German hausfrau with a lemoned face – ill tempered, resentful and with a sharp tongue.  One of the better-educated cowhands commented, ” In my view she is sullen, hostile and aggressive –– and that is on the good days.” Just the opposite of Jay who never missed a meal and had a welcome grin for everyone.  His new wife eventually realized that he was relentlessly positive and that he lived up to the principle that no person of character should ever complain about things he was unable or unwilling to do anything to remedy.
     
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    Nothing to do for Greta but follow suit –– and she did –– completely changed her personality within six months and became a happy person for the first time in her life.  She had worked in a cigar factory rolling cigars, an occupation her small hands were suited for –– she could sew, knit, spin yarn and weave with grace and speed.  Despite her appearance and initial fearsome presence, she was very kind, with a soft heart, a good second mother to the children, and she could outwork any man along the river.  Her favorite comment when there was a dispute was, “less talk, sooner mended.” 
     
    It began snowing earlier than usual in the fall of 1899 – snow in all directions, frigid and unsympathetic.  And it kept on ­–– each week brought more and more –– only interrupted by howling winds that scoured the snow into drifts, rocked the cottonwoods and bent the willows flat.  And it was cold, forty below after midnight down by the river.  The drifts didn’t melt and the ice in the river piled up against the bridge, finally destroying it on December 10th, blocking any way to town. 
     
    When the river had frozen over the previous year, Roy Able, a hired hand of the Langtree’s  (with too much thirst and no whiskey) decided to head for town for a drink, but didn’t want to make the trip up to the bridge. He ignored his companions’ advice and started to ride his mare across the ice instead of leading her.  A third of the way across, the ice gave and the horse’s forelocks broke through.  As the mare tried to back away, the surface fractured and both horse and rider plunged in.  The horse foundered and was dragged under, but Able was able to pull himself up on an ice edge.  His friends threw him a lariat.  He got enough of a grip to pull himself almost free from the hole, but then his glove came off.  Roy froze before anyone could get a lasso around him.
     
    On December 19th, the weather had been clear for three days, but bitter (thirty below).  Snow pack was around three feet next to river, up to a horse’s belly.  There was the rough trail along the bank between the three ranches, but normally there was no reason to traverse it in winter.
     
    Mrs. O’Brien told her husband that since both humans and beasts alike were suffering, she was going to celebrate Christmas with an afternoon dinner and invite their two isolated neighbors.  Her preacher husband said, “Do you think any will come in this weather?”  “Well, they ain’t going anywhere near town with the bridge smashed and snow this deep.  I’ll send Sam up to invite the Grafton’s, and Eli down to the Langtree’s.  Probably take em’ a couple hours each way with the snow.” 
     
    By afternoon the two riders had returned, they and their mounts shivering with cold.  Hat’s pulled down with kerchiefs over the top and under their chins. The Langtree’s said they’d show if the weather holds. “Grafton’s will come, except maybe Lafe.” 
     
    “You all know old Lafe; hard cut, with a lot of rough bark still on him.  I’ve heard he was one of William Quantrill’s Raiders in the war.  Do you know the story about him and the wolf? He was cuttin’ firewood last October –– up in the pines –– saw a gray wolf roughly 100 yards away, thought it was a lone bachelor.  With a double- bladed ax, he wasn’t afraid of just one wolf.  As the lupine came closer, Lafe could see it was starving –– tail down, ribs showing,  ears flattened, hackles raised, long incisors shining as it bared its fangs.  It backed down a few yards, so Lafe turned away to stack some limbs –– then he heard it coming.”
     
    “As he whirled around the wolf was about 15 feet away, charging at full speed.  No time for the ax.  Pulled his fingers close together, cocked his elbow, and formed his hand into a spear. As the wolf went for his exposed neck, Lafe leaped towards him and drove his fingers and arm between the open jaws and into the throat.  Then made a fist to choke the beast and slammed it onto a log, leaving his hand wedged in its throat.  Its claws shredded his pants and coat, but by then he had his knife.  Of course, then he went back to cutting wood. Lafe has a reputation as a harsh, gruff, grumpy old man, but I think he has a good side –– first one to lend a hand if there’s trouble.”
     
     
    On Christmas Day the Langtree’s showed up about 2 PM.  The Grafton’s a half hour later.  Three cowboys had dragged a log on an angle like a snowplow so the Langtrees could make their journey in a hand-made sleigh.  Greta Langtree had brought dried Potawatomi plums, squash pies and a ham.  She also brought strudel, fresh corn bread and choke cherry preserves.  The Grafton’s contribution was fifty-two bottles of homemade beer, the first of which exploded when Lafe sat it down unopened too near the fireplace.  The five Graftons had been facing into blowing snow on their way down river and were caked in an inch of frost, which they forgot to shake from their greatcoats in their hurry to charge in and get warm.  Immediately O’Brien welcomed the men and said he had something to warm them up – eighteen year-old Jamisons Irish whiskey.   “I believe this will ward off the elements,” he said.  He poured each man a measure in a mason jar.  “Whiskey don’t taste right unless it comes from a drinkin’ glass, can’t respect a man who uses a tin cup.”
     
    Betsy O’Brien and Greta Langtree laid out the dinner for the twenty-two family members and cowhands on tables assembled from sawhorses and interior doors.  She used bed sheets for tablecloths, and dishrags for napkins, and then brought out her wedding silver.  But she counted the pieces carefully, not wanting some of the settings to wander into an errant pocket.  At that point the two ladies and their daughters laid on the spread.  Sage Hens stuffed with pine nuts, stewed crab apples, and sweet potatoes.
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    Beefsteak to feed an army.  Potatoes and yams from the root cellar and roasted turnips and potatoes. The Grafton’s beer and some of Langtree’s Whistler’s Wine accompanied the mounds of food.
       
    Luke, the youngest Grafton, attacked his meal like he thought he’d never get another, with an appetite that would not have stopped at horseshoes dipped in fresh cow manure.  When sixteen year-old Hope O’Brien sidled up next to him, and sat so their hips were touching, he said that all they normally ate was slumgullion, boiled down gruel, and sunuvabitch stew. “I found porcupine needles and badger fur floating in my bowl last week.  Only change we ever get is canned succotash.  It’ll be different when I have my own spread. You gonna’ meet me like last time when the snow is gone?”  As she nodded he gave her a smile and tried to slide even closer. 
     
    The warmth, the comradeship and the great meal brought a sense of euphoria and contentment –– no one wanted to leave, and more than a few had started to nod off.  The dinner lasted until 6 PM, and already a few had stuck their heads out to see if the weather was holding as night fell. It wasn’t –– there was a full-force blizzard, which roared like a runaway locomotive. 
     
    Hugh had strung a rope between the outhouse and the main cabin after a cowboy had staggered back snow-caked to the point he looked like a ghost.  “Wouldn’t want to lose one of the party and not find him til’ spring,” he laughed. “How is it out there anyway?”  The cowpoke shook his head .  “It ain’t the gentle dew that falls from heaven.”  I can assure you of that.”
     
     The Grafton’s and the Langtrees were starting to shake off the effects of the liquor and the enormous meal.  Their anxiety starting to show – about getting home to take care of their animals and make sure their fires hadn’t gone out.
     
    “We’ve got a few presents to distribute before you go,” said Mrs. Langtree, “Can’t go til’ then.”  Lafe reached into a gunnysack and brought out dolls for all the girls.  There was dead silence.  No one knew what to say.  The dolls had been hand carved with such professional skill that they resembled each of the girls, down to hair color and shade of eyes.  The dresses were made of mink, ermine, white leather, feathers, semi-precious stones, and goose down.  The girls were delighted.   Then the Grafton boys brought out exquisitely carved rocking chairs for Betsy and Greta all in pieces – and put them together without nails in less than a minute.
     
    Greta Langtree had made new canvas pants and shirts for all the Grafton’s, and knitted them wool socks – to replace the ones they had fashioned out of flour sacks.  The men were stupefied to the point of hanging heads and muttered thanks –– tears welling in their eyes.  
     
    Greta and Betsy offered to cut anyone’s hair that wanted and give them a shave –– and about ten wanted, including Luke Grafton.  A few other gifts were distributed, then Gordon brought out two gunnysacks –– both wiggling like a batch of prairie dogs.  He gave one to each family and they dumped the contents on the floor.  There were squeals of delight from all the children.  Here were eight-week-old wolf pups –– ready to play.
     
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    Then the Reverend O’Brien let the congregation in several songs –– Jingle Bells, I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day, Silent Night, Home On The Range, She’ll Be Comin’ Round The Mountain, and others. Many of the hands and other men had unknown qualities when it came to singing, but made up the difference in volume.
     
    With the darkness outside it looked to be a brutal ride home through the storm –– torrents of snow screamed through the night.  The Graftons went first, but the rush of wind was so ferocious that they couldn’t mount their horses. Luke Grafton was blown clear over.  O’Brien, Langtree, and their hands went out to help and dragged the men back into the house.  “We’ve got to get home and take care of our stock and keep and a hearth fire –– otherwise everything will freeze,” said Gordon.” “If you leave now, you’ll be dead before you go a mile –– all of you,” said Hugh.”
     
    Then Charity, the youngest and most devout O’Brien daughter asked if she could say a prayer so that angels might come and guide everyone safely home. 
     
    Angels above me
    Angels below
    Angels around me
    Wherever I go.
     
    Angels cease the wind
    Angels quiet the storm
    Angels guide them home
    Safe and warm.
     
    Finishing her prayer Charity then looked out and pointed at three angels, just barely visible, up in the cottonwoods.  Maybe it was just a trick of light and shadow, but the raging wind and turbulent snow had formed blurry angels.  She called everyone outside to look.  And there they were –– three ethereal forms high in the trees.
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    The wind, in a final burst, dissolved the angels into streaming flakes, and then died away to a faint breeze –– complete silence reigned, and after a moment the moon beamed down from the canyon rim.
     
    The Langtree’s, the Grafton’s and their men hustled out to gather their horses and rigs, yelling, “Merry Christmas and Best To Everyone In The New Year as they got underway – looking up at the limitless stars that dot the vast black dome of the Wyoming sky.
     
    And as the years turned into decades, some worse than others, all those who celebrated that Christmas of 1889 –– in a rough stone house along the Green River –– remembered that moment, when the Snow Angels calmed the storm and saw them home –– and all remembered that time as the best Christmas of their lives.
     
     
    Joseph Ollivier
    December 2017
     
     
    Author’s Note
     
    I have a special place in my heart for the Green River Valley.  In 1947 when I was five years old, my dad opened a hardware store in Big Piney, my uncle owned the South Side Garage, and my Grandfather had the Ollivier Hotel and Grocery.  I learned how to fish from my grandfather, how to shoot from my dad and how to get in trouble from my cousin.  We were playing with matches and burned my dad’s lumberyard to the ground.  We moved the next year, when my dad sold the hardware store to another optimistic entrepreneur.  Everyone wanted credit, but few wanted to pay.
     
    My grandfather did indeed welcome a mail order bride of German heritage after the death of his first wife –– and yes, she had worked in a factory rolling cigars.  Maybe that is what made her so cantankerous.  She generally had a cross word for me and everyone else within her range. 
     
    Many of my teenage summers were spent in Big Piney and in the Salt River Mountains where my granddad had a chinked log cabin along Middle Piney Creek.  I learned how to ride a motorcycle, pump gas, dig footings for a construction company, work in the oil field, haul hay, and even got my Wyoming numbered Social Security Card at fourteen.
     
    I’ve gone back many times, got my fishing license at Burney’s Grocery, and hiked into North Piney Lake to catch native cutthroat trout.

    Once you get out of the small town the range opens up and the distant mountains become closer.  The landscape is much the same as when Daniel Budd and Hugh McKay rode into the valley almost a hundred and fifty years ago. 
  • Conclusion – French Indochina

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    We left Brigadaire General Charles Bovier and Coronel Gerard Duran in Northwest Viet Nam, after making their escape from Bien Dien Phu. Now they are floating on a log in the Da River after their helicopter crashed. Something very large bumps the log and then turns it over.

    “It’s every man for himself,” said Charles, viciously kicking Duran’s broken leg as he started racing for the river’s south bank.  Duran started to paddle after him, but then stopped.  He wasn’t sure why – lack of speed with his missing lung and badly broken leg, fatigue from combat and the plunge into the river, or maybe he sensed that whatever was out there might be more attracted to turbulence – but he was ready to die and he grasped the small gold crucifix that hung around his neck.

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    The thing roared toward him, aiming its long flat snout above the water, arching its jaws to consume him.  Duran thought he recognized it – a grotesque Goblin Shark; a huge vicious predator that could chop him in half.  He turned slightly so he wouldn’t have to look into those massive jaws and black eyes.

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    But the Goblin turned away, streaking toward the Bovier’s splashing.  Charles reached the shallows, standing in water just above his knees.  He turned toward Duran, cupped his hands, and yelled, “You always were a loser, Duran, I’ll tell Gisele you died a coward.” Then suddenly his legs were jerked from beneath him – there was one scream, and he disappeared.

    Coronal Duran drifted on down to just above Hanoi where he was rescued, and eventually transferred back to France as the military left the country. Ann Marie came with him. He told Gisele that Charles had died valiantly, a hero to his men – what else could he say to her .

    The last five years of his army career were spent in Algeria, but he, Ann Marie, and their two-year-old daughter were able to make two trips to the Society Islands. On his discharge Coronal Duran became the appointed mayor and chief customs officer in Bora Bora.

    Joseph Ollivier

    October 2017

    AUTHORS NOTES

    On May 7th, 1954, the garrison at Bien Dien Phu was ordered to fight to the death for the honor of France. But as they were overrun by 26,000 Viet Minh, most decided not give their lives needlessly, and threw down their arms in surrender. An attempt by some to escape to Laos only got more killed. On 8 May, the Viet Minh counted 11,721 prisoners, of whom 4,436 were wounded. All able bodied troops began a 500 mile march to internment.  Because of the defeat at Dien Bien Phu, the government of France fell, and within two years troops had withdrawn from all of Indochina.  The country was split in half.  Before long, the US was providing advisers to the South which assisted in the escalation of the Viet Nam War.

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    The Goblin Shark is a very strange creature.  Its capillaries are close to the surface of its skin, giving it a pinkish hue.  It cruises along with its teeth and jaw pulled inside , then as it attacks, the entire mouth extends from its body.  Not something you would want to meet in the open ocean.

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  • French Indochina

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    FRENCH INDOCHINA

     

    “I’m going to die here in this God-forsaken valley,” said Colonel Gerard Duran, the monsoon rain pelting his face.

                                                        *****

    Just under two feet long, the creature was born off San Cristobal in the Galapagos Islands. Grotesque, vicious, already hungry.  The thing’s mother turned towards him – and attempted to swallow him whole.  But he was too quick, dodging away while others fell prey to her and other predators.  Finally there were just five left – already they could feel the pull of the kelp beds and safety.  Within a day, they were down to three, one bitten almost in half by a monster that came flashing from above.  The other, sliced open by a moray eel while looking for food among the coral.

    The three stayed near the coast, devouring clams, lobsters, fish and anything else they could rip apart with two-inch teeth. When attacked, they confused pursuers by scattering in different directions.  And they grew, and grew. By the second year, they were five feet long — and cannibals — ganging up and rendering their sister to bite sized lumps.  Then the creature went south alone, along the west coast of South America until the ocean turned frigid.  The thing’s hunting skills improved day by day.  It could smell blood – one part per million of seawater — six miles away.  Its sonar could sense the thrashing of wounded prey within a three-mile radius. It would then race, at up to sixteen miles per hour, to track down the victim.  Seven feet long and weighing over 1100 pounds – it continued to grow; especially its serrated fangs — more fantastic and terrifying in appearance each day.

    *****

                                                        

    For 1125 years, Indochina was ruled by Chinese dynasties.  After centuries of slavery the indigenous peoples finally gained independence around the year 938. While little trade with the outside world existed, a Catholic mission in Hanoi was established in 1615 by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). By the 1702, ten percent of the population was Catholic. But regional rulers were concerned with the high rate of baptisms, and finally they banished all missionaries. In 1787 a priest petitioned the French government to send French military volunteers to help a regional leader retake his territory – but in reality it was to get a major foothold in the most productive, coastal country, Viet Nam, which was divided into thirds – Tonkin, Annam, and Cochinchine.

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    From that point on, France was heavily involved, under the guise of protecting the work of the Paris Foreign Mission Society. Admiral de Genouilly came to Vietnam in 1859 under orders from Napoleon the Third.  He had fourteen gunships and 3350 troops.  Hanoi was besieged and occupied.  Next the flotilla sailed south to Saigon and took the city.  Eventually some of the rulers in the three regions asked France to become their protector.  The French controlled and administered not only what is now Viet Nam, but also Laos, Cambodia and parts of Siam (Thailand).  The area was officially recognized as “French Indochina” around 1887. 

    Other than when Japan took control the during the Second World War, France ruled the area continuously, with an iron fist — the schools, the missions, the taxes, the offices and all aspects of government. They built railroads, bridges, highways, communications systems, and the greatest structures in the country.  The rulers, both local and national, were all figureheads, just like those in India under the British Raj.

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    “After World War II, rebel leader Ho Chi Minh returned from his base in China, declaring independence for a Democratic Republic of Vietnam. He began resistance against France, who attempted to hold on, for reasons unclear – other than national pride – since its Indochina reign bled the national treasury every year.  The people hated the French foreigners, and looked on them as conquerors. Viet Minh guerrillas got better and stronger – but the French were superior in discipline, weapons and air power. 

                                                    *****

    The monster was now sixteen years old, having survived attacks from other denizens of the deep; it traveled all the oceans – but stayed mainly 3000 miles on each side of the equator along the continental shelves.  Curious, and always looking for new prey, it dived deep into the Marianna Trench just east of the Philippines.  At 9000 feet, it found two problems – it could not stand the pressure, and there were creatures larger and more terrible than itself.   It liked the shallows – scaring prey into the rocks along the shore, then pouncing when they finally emerged.  Once it smelled carrion two miles away.  The flesh was unlike any it had ever tasted – sweet and soft.  Then, during a typhoon, a boat overturned and the sailors drowned.  He recognized the flavor from before, and studied the creatures before devouring them. 

    After that, he began to follow splashing from coastal shore waters where he hadn’t hunted before.  He was never still, except when it rested on the sea bed, with the current gently moving past, just waiting for a victim.  It never slept; the black lidless eyelids were always open.  Every few months, especially in the Malaysian Archipelago, the creature would find one of the big soft fish.  As time went on, it recognized that whenever a hurricane, typhoon, cyclone or tsunami passed above him, there were likely to be these man things in the water.  Some dead, some still alive.  He preferred the fresh ones – bleeding and still moving.

                                                       *****

    “I think we’ll die here,” said Colonel Duran. The screech of the artillery shells ended in a “whump, whump” as they hit.  The mud beneath their feet rippled, and clotted earth cascaded down the bunker walls. The shadows from the candle flickered in the twilight, revealing two men, one whose hands shook as he pulled a Gauloises from its pack.  The previous stub was still smoking in the hand-carved ashtray, almost guttered by the rain.  He was a mess.  His uniform dirty and torn, hanging on a gaunt frame, scars on his arms, and one on his face about three inches long in front of his left ear, fingernails bitten to the quick, lips tightly pinched—he was forty but looked fifty.  Strangely enough, at six foot two, he was still vital and handsome. He had just come back from leading part of his Brigade in an unsuccessful counter-attack.  The two men were seated on sandbags, their bunker overlooking the Nam Rom River.  They were at the French outpost of Bien Dien Phu in extreme northwest Vietnam – a garrison of 19,000 men.  The Chinese border was 125 miles north, Hanoi 265 miles to the east, Laos just 18 miles west. The valley was 12 twelve miles long and three miles wide.

    It was April 15th, 1954.

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     “Sir, didn’t I see you at the military training facility before the ‘36’ Olympics?” said the second man, Captain Jacque Montel, a newly arrived officer who was equally haggard. “I think I recognized you from there.” 

    Colonel Duran, the man smoking the cigarette, said, “You might have, but very shortly after I was in French Equatorial Africa, in northern Cameroon.  It was my initial posting.”

    “So you did not make it to Germany for the Olympics. 

    “No, of course not, I was four weeks from the coast, down with a yellow fever attack, and I was needed in Maroura to maintain order.  My captain would have never let me go.” 

    “Why do you ask?” said Duran. 

    “Just wondered if you made it to Berlin. I was able to go to some of the summer events.  In fact, I was an alternate on the mile run.  I just couldn’t quite reach an Olympic level.  I met you once, but that was long ago – no reason you would remember me.  I know you did very well in the freestyle, and also in the backstroke, during the tryouts in Paris.  I was sure you would represent France.  As for myself, I had great hopes, but I never had the chance to put a foot on the Berlin track.

    “Would you like to know what happened – why I wasn’t there, and why I said we’ll probably die here?” Gerard said, softening his voice.

    “Of course,” said Jacque.

     

    “I came from a village just south of Saint Etienne in the mountain district.  My father was a schoolteacher and my mother helped on our small farm selling milk and eggs.  I swam in the river Furen, even on the coldest of days.  With my father’s help, I did well in school. My mother’s brother, a captain in the legion, encouraged me to apply to the Ecole Speciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr in Brittany; it was founded by Napoleon in 1802. I began my studies at sixteen, and spent four very difficult years – just barely passing my final exams in order to receive my commission. But I was the best swimmer at the academy. During those years, I had continued to improve my speed, especially the backstroke.  My long arms and legs made a big difference as I grew.  It looked as if I would be able to represent France in the backstroke and probably the freestyle in 1936.”

    “Other than my studies and training, my only other interest was Gisele, who I met in my senior year.  I fell in love, and to my amazement, the feeling was mutual.  I met her father, who was a General de Brigaide.  I could see immediately that he thought I was below Gisele’s station, and he treated me coolly.  Nevertheless we were committed to one another; and while not yet engaged, we were talking about a marriage date as soon as we knew where my first post would be.”

    “During my last year at the academy, I had become acquainted with another cadet, Charles Bovier.  He was from a wealthy military family and assumed he would have his choice of posts.  He was a friend, not a good friend, but the joint interest in swimming brought us together.  He had a girl, Esme’, and the four of us would occasionally go out on weekends.  Charles was charming, funny and sophisticated, pretty much everything I was not.  My swimming continued to improve, and I was second on our Olympic team in the backstroke.  Charles was number six in the breaststroke, and could only expect to be an alternate.” 

    “Yes, I met him in Paris five years ago,” said Jacque.  “I thought him a pompous ass.” 

    “The Olympics began the first part of August.  We graduated on June 12th.  There were several athletes at the academy that had qualified in various sports.   All of those expected to have their postings deferred until after the games.  That was my expectation – the Olympic Committee had already asked for my deferment.”

    “Then the Commandant of the school made me an offer I dared not refuse.  I would be posted to French Equatorial Africa, but I had to leave within two weeks – I was needed immediately.   My tour there would be for one year, then back to Paris for a possible appointment to a Brigade staff.  I would arrive in Cameroon as a 1st Lieutenant, to compensate for missing the Olympics, a promotion that would have normally taken three years.  Little did I know that Charles and Gisele’s father were behind the offer.” 

    “I talked with Gisele about the opportunity, knowing I could not take her with me.  We decided to become engaged and then to marry when I returned.  Charles assured me he would keep any suitors from making her acquaintance.  I could not refuse the appointment without damaging my military career, although I would have loved to compete in the Olympics.” 

    “Little did it matter, the Japanese dominated the aquatics. Our home country did not medal in a single swimming event. The Germans won eighty-nine medals, topping all countries, giving Hitler more fuel to proclaim his Master Race.  But the black man, Jesse Owens, from the US, won four medals in the sprints.  His success took the smug look off Hitler’s face for a few days.” 

     

    “When did you come out?” asked Gerard.

     “Three weeks ago next Tuesday,” said Jacque. “My father was here in 1898 as a major in the Premier Réegiment d’Infanterie.   He died of dengue fever. I really don’t know much about this wretched country, especially this valley we are trying to defend.?”

     “But what happened to your plans for marriage, and how did you end up here in Indochina?” asked Captain Montel

    “Charles took care of Gisele by convincing her that I would have never left if I really loved her.  While I was in the jungles of Cameroon getting bitten, shot at, and almost dying of fever, he convinced her to marry him.  Communications were so bad that I didn’t find out until three months after they married.”

    “She met me two years later at a small cafe – asked for my forgiveness and cried as she told me of the terrible mistake she had made, marrying Charles.  She had twin boys by that time.  Nothing I could do but accept the situation as a consequence of life.  As you know, her husband, now General Charles Bovier, is our new division commander.  He will arrive here in ten days.  He will be our direct superior, so it should be interesting after all these years.” 

    “Where did you serve after Cameroon?”  “I was sent to The New Hebrides, then to Gabon where I lost this.  Charles held up his left hand to show the missing little finger.  “What happened?”   “I put down my hand to push away a branch and felt a sting at the end of my finger.  I looked and there was a black mamba.  I started to suck the venom out, but my sergeant and two troopers threw me down, pulled out a machete, and once they located the puncture marks, chopped off my little finger.  They informed me that within two minutes I would have been dead.” 

    “My commander transferred me to New Caledonia right after that.  Then to French Guiana, where I caught malaria, then back to France in 1940. I was evacuated from France at Dunkirk along with the other 330,000 troops.  Egypt was next, chasing Rommel’s Africa Corps.  At the end of the war, I was in the expeditionary force that routed the Japanese from Indochina; I learned to speak Vietnamese fluently during that two-year period.  Got shot through my left lung, and then had a large piece of shrapnel rip into my face – that’s where this scar came from,” he said, touching his cheek.  “With one lung, my swimming is not quite the same as when I thought I was headed for the Olympics.”

     “I had one fantastic post right after the war, to the Society Islands.  I was on Bora Bora some of the time – there is not a more beautiful place in this world.


    When I finally leave the army in five years, I intend to live on that island there the balance of my life. I met a girl shortly after I came back to Viet Nam in 1951 – Anne Marie is half French and half Vietnamese – a good Catholic girl. All my memories of Gisele disappeared in a heartbeat as soon as I met her.  I just have to get myself, and her, out of this country before Ho Chi Minh is my Commanding Officer.  We lost 2200 men last week, and as you know, our only supplies are coming by air – if we don’t surrender soon, the garrison will be overrun – leaving only the dead.”

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                                                                *****

    The creature grew and grew, until just its odd pinkish appearance and nineteen-foot length would cause everything in the water to scatter and hide.  More and more it depended on the soft brown and white flesh it dragged under.  It feared nothing, except Great Whites and Killer Whales.  The thing found that fresh water carried just enough oxygen for it to survive, and it began going farther and farther up the rivers flowing into the South China Sea.  There was a massive population of the soft creatures and they were abundant in the shallow feeding areas.  Only once was it in danger, when its jaws became entangled in a fisherman’s net.  He freed himself and attacked the boat, tipping it over with his massive snout and then eating three of the victims.  The creature needed a full stomach every three days to satisfy its hunger.

    *****

    Brigadier General Charles Bovier tried to land via a Sikorsky H-19 Helicopter in Dien Bien Phu on April 22, 1954 amid a thundering barrage of artillery fire from the surrounding hills.  The airport had been severely damaged and was closed to fixed-wing aircraft.  His helicopter was hit by flak, and he eventually had to jump with ten other paratroopers. He sustained bruises and cuts on a rough landing. Immediately he held an officer’s meeting underground – as the new Commander in Chief of the thousands of men in the Dien Bien Phu valley.  He was overweight – and nervous, as well he should be.  A quick tour showed that there was no way out for the garrison.  After that, he never left his underground bunker unless absolutely necessary – and he began plotting his own escape.

    The division was under constant bombardment by the Viet Minh, whose heavy artillery, rockets, and anti-aircraft pieces were concealed in caves on both sides above the valley.  The division continued probing attacks each night, sometimes gaining a few yards. But they were losing more than than they gained – it was becoming trench warfare, just like WWI.  The original plan had been to draw the Viet Minh in, and then attack from the air with a massive bombardment.  Little did the senior officers know that surrounding them were 49,000 troops, with fifteen thousand more in reserve.

    General Bovier came up to Colonel Duran and greeted him –  with a spongy handshake, his paunch bulging over his belt.  “I hope that there are no hard feelings between us after all these years – as they say, the best man won Gisele’s heart. I shall expect the very best from you,” he said with a weak smile.

    Reluctantly Duran said,  “You are the commandant and I am ready to carry out whatever orders you give.”  He quickly found that his orders put his brigade in the forefront of the heaviest fire, especially at night.  But other than a few shrapnel scratches, he was unscathed.

    Day by day, towards the end of April, the perimeter shrank dramatically and casualties increased.  The bombardment never ceased, and the helicopters came in at their own risk after dark;  by the first of May, none dared land there.  The only relief was from a few arriving paratroopers.  Supplies were down to dried fruit, instant coffee and cigarettes. Ammunition was running out, and morale was the worst Colonel Duran had ever seen – four thousand of their own troops had deserted or surrendered, most slipping across the border into Laos. 

    The officers, non-commissioned officers, and even the enlisted men wondered if they should lay down their weapons. They were especially vocal about their commander, since they rarely saw him. The word “coward” began circulating.  There was a good chance that the enlisted men would refuse to obey their officers. 

     

                                                      *****

    The thing made its way up the Red River, past Hanoi where it met the Da river, feeding on the increasing number of corpses that were swept downriver.  There were live man-things also, but they were on guard and hard to catch along the banks.  But feeding was easy where the two rivers met. The wounded succumbed, to be dragged below.  It was now fifty miles upriver.

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                                                                                                             ***** 

    Finally, on May 5th, Commander Bovier made a decision.  He called his senior staff and line officers and ordered them to get their gear ready for that night. He had an H23-A that would take thirteen of them out of Dien Bien Phu at 2:00 AM in the morning, but he told no one. There might be a Courts Marshall, but it was better than being bayoneted through the chest. He expected an massive attack at any minute from General Giap’s army which would overrun what was left of the entire division. Colonel Duran protested and said he wished to stay with his men to the last. Charles had two other officers throw Gerard into the helicopter and restrain him.  He left the remaining 7300 able soldiers to be captured; they would later face a 500 mile march through the jungles to the east – only half survived.

    Inline image 5

    The helicopter was under fire coming in, and then for the first two minutes after takeoff. There were some minor hits but the craft continued on its way, headed for the secure base at Hanoi. Then oil began streaming along the left side, and smoke trailed behind them. 

    “We’re probably going down,” yelled the pilot, “The hydraulics have failed.  I may have to land in the Da River if I can’t keep altitude.” 

    Faster and faster they descended. Colonel Duran turned to Charles and said, “If we are going to crash into the river, we need to jump when we are about 100 feet above the water. Otherwise the impact of the craft will kill us.” 

    Charles looked terrified, but Duran said, “I’ll tell you when to jump.”  A minute later they both leaped, feet first, legs crossed, arms locked to their sides.  Gerard landed awkwardly as he hit something in the water and found he had broken his right leg – he could feel the broken bone just beneath his skin.

    Three hours later, they were lying across a small log. It was not yet day, but the light of the stars had dwindled.   They slowly drifted downstream, when something bumped the log.  Charles looked over and thought he saw something roil the water twenty feet away. Just then the log was lifted violently, the two men losing their grip. 

    They both stroked down river as fast as they could, heading for the south bank;, Duran using only his arms.  Spotlights played over the waters from the north side, and they continually ducked to miss the beams – in a few more minutes dawn would break. 

    What the hell was that?” asked Charles.  “Did we hit something?” 

    “It was alive; I could feel some sort of skin,” said Gerard.  “But it can’t be a shark this far from the ocean?.” “Look!”  Both could see something very large coming toward them; it looked almost pink in the near-dawn. It had a long sword-like snout, and somehow, somehow, it looked as if its jaws were emerging from its skull.

    Next month there will a short conclusion.  What was the creature, and what happened to the two men?  All revealed in October.

  • I’LL BE WAITING

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                                         I’ll Be Waiting

     

     

    Matthew Stevens blew on his hands and stomped his feet. It was so cold that his breath was icing up the windshield, even with the faulty heater on. For perhaps the thousandth time in the last three and a half years he thought about why he was here.

     

    He and his brother Daniel had married sisters, Jill and Carolyn Johnson, whom they met at Cal State – San Luis Obispo. Both brothers, software engineers, found jobs with Hewlett Packard in Santa Rosa and ended up living just five blocks apart. Children came, first for Daniel, the youngest, with two, and then a year later their wives delivered baby girls just two months apart. “Fantastic,” said Matt, “Double cousins.” But the two became much closer than cousins. It was as if one could read the other’s mind. At six they were pixie cute – both blue-eyed, with silky blond hair and a habit of wearing each other’s clothes. Melanie and Esther Stevens – people would ask if they were twins.

     

    In August both families headed for their yearly trek to Comanche Lake, southeast of Sacramento, for a three-day weekend of swimming, boating, and fishing. They stayed at the Wildwood State Campground – lots of picnic tables – even permanent toilets and a wash facility – gorgeous pines everywhere. The afternoon of the second day, the older kids and the dads went out on a yellow rubber raft, about 300 yards off shore – to try to catch some steelhead trout, maybe even snag a Kokanee Salmon.

    The six-year-old girls asked their moms if they could go and play Hide and Seek, up at a little inlet, 200 yards away, just out of sight. They said yes, but to go no further. Hand in hand the girls skipped off, ponytails swinging in unison. A half hour later, Esther came back, but without Melanie. “Where is she?” her mother Carolyn asked, jumping up. “I can’t find her, it was her turn to hide but she never came when I called, ‘Olly Olly Oxen, All In Free.’ I think she’s just being silly.” Immediately the two mothers ran to where the girls had been playing, and began shouting. No reply. They split up and spread out through the pines. Jill got on her phone and called Matthew. She could see them paddling for shore as fast as they could.

     

    They all started searching outward from the small bay, shouting Melanie’s name, enlisting some of the other campers. The panic grew and grew. Nothing, just one of the two butterfly barrettes that she had been wearing – lying beneath a large Sugar Pine. Daniel called the police and within a half hour two patrol cars showed up. The officers listened to the story, and began a formal search, even though they were sure that Melanie would quickly be found.

     

    She wasn’t, and despite the use of a helicopter and dogs, and over 350 searchers, there were no clues. Two weeks later, after dragging the lake, the FBI called off the search. The families were beside themselves – Jill kept getting feelings that her daughter was still alive; they just needed to concentrate their efforts. Their church had a special fast and prayers, beseeching God to help them.

     

    Every spare moment over the next month the two families searched for Melanie, ranging further and further away from the lake. They tried clairvoyants, astrologers, telepathics and psychics, and met with other families who had lost children – agreeing with their advice of never giving up hope. Each day a family member logged on to the National Center for Missing Children. But not a trace. Months went by and nothing. The families and their friends began to believe the worst. After a year almost everyone came to the conclusion that she was gone, even though the two families still prayed every night for her return.

     

    Two years passed, each family had another child, and life pretty much returned to normal, except for Matthew. Matthew prayed that his days would quickly turn into weeks, then months and then one day, the anguish from loss of his niece would finally be over.

     

    At the beginning of the third year, they got a call from an FBI agent that had been present on the original investigation. He had some news. A man named Simon Lester had been arrested on a charge of attempting to abduct a young girl at a campground just 170 miles north of the original Comanche Lake site. Lester claimed that the girl approached his camp and he wasn’t doing anything other than talking to her. Lester was short, balding, narrow-eyed and rat-faced, but with the physique of a body builder. As the police searched his apartment, they found a couple of things that might connect him to Melanie’s disappearance. There was a pink and white butterfly barrette and a container of chloroform.

     

    The man was arrested but refused to talk. His lawyer, who was also his brother-in-law, said his client found the barrette five weeks after Melanie went missing, and he used chloroform as a sleep aid. Lester had retained a Comanche Lake Park entrance ticket that corresponded to the later date, giving him a convenient alibi. He maintained his innocence and made bail.

     

    The justice system ground slowly but after three months the DA decided not to charge him in Melanie’s disappearance – just not enough physical evidence. But he did put Lester on trial for the Attempted Kidnapping of the other girl. But there was only one witness.   That trial went for two weeks, but Lester was very ably defended. At the end the jury hung, with nine voting for conviction and three holdouts. After pressure from the girl’s family, and the Stewart’s, the DA decided to try him again. This time Lester was convicted.

     

    At his sentencing, a large number of friends and relatives from the Stewart’s and other families were present, all sure that this was the man who had taken Melanie. When the judge asked if anyone had anything to say, several spoke, then finally Carolyn Stewart stood. “In the fourth Chapter of Ephesians, the Savior teaches the importance of forgiveness.  He knows that our natural tendency is to strike back in vengeance, to seek revenge against those who hurt us, but we are supposed to forgive, no matter what. So, Simon Lester, you have our forgiveness. We cannot allow ourselves to live the rest of our days with our hearts broken, filled with anger, bitterness and hatred.”

     

    But Matthew was furious, grinding his teeth as he watched the Judge pass a sentence of five to fifteen years. Lester turned and grinned at the families, and then, looking directly at Matthew, winked. As the prisoner was guided toward the waiting guards, Matt jumped the railing and put his mouth to Lester’s ear. Lester just shook his head and laughed. The bailiff dragged Matt back. “What did you say to him?” said his wife Jill.   “I told him that I didn’t forgive him, and that he is going to hell.” But in reality, what Matt said was, “I’ll be waiting.”

     

    Simon Lester applied for parole after three years. The time was right for an early release – the state had just set guidelines for shorter sentences. The consensus was that prisoners with good records should be released to offset the incoming rush of those more violent. Lester had continued to maintain his innocence all through the years. Matthew appeared before the parole board with many others and said that he believed Lester had paid for his crime, and that he thought the man should be released. When his extended family and his wife heard this, they were glad that Matt had finally put this horrible ordeal behind him.

     

    But he hadn’t. The years had slowly slipped away while Lester was in prison. Matthew’s sleep was filled with nightmares about Melanie and his own daughter. Many times it was Esther who was taken – she reached out to him screaming – “Daddy, save me!” He would awaken with a jerk, jumping out of bed – it happened more often than not.

     

    He tried to reconcile what had happened, to find forgiveness for Lester in his heart. He went back to church, met with a psychiatrist, talked at length with Jill and prayed each night. But he could not get the image of Melanie being dragged off to be assaulted and killed out of his mind. He thought about her every day. What if it had been Esther’s turn to hide that day? Would she have been taken? He couldn’t believe God would let this happen to an innocent child.

     

    His wife said that over the years his countenance had changed, and the wrinkles in his face had deepened. The sides of his mouth had turned down, and that he seldom laughed or showed real excitement. She knew he was still grief stricken by Melanie’s disappearance, even though they had discussed it again and again. She felt like he was not living as a husband for her and a father for the kids, but for vengeance. And she was right, he fantasized about what he would do if he could ever get his hands on Simon Lester – Choke his life out, skin, drown or burn him to his death. Maybe even bury him alive.

     

    So now here he was on this freezing night outside the Folsom prison, sitting in his cold car waiting for Simon Lester to be released – that is why he wanted him paroled – so he could finally get at him. He knew that Lester’s attorney/brother-in-law, John Jacobson, was going to pick him up, and he intended to follow. He didn’t really know what he would do when he caught up with Lester. His fantasies for Lester’s death hadn’t lessened over the years, and he had started to lose belief in his ability to actually kill someone. He had no weapons, and no plan. He just wanted to do something to avenge Melanie. He had taken a leave of absence from work to be at Lester’s release over his wife’s objections. He was going to do something.

     

    Matthew followed Jacobson’s car to his house in Sacramento and watched both go inside. It appeared that Lester would be there for the night, so he checked into a motel. He staked out the place first thing in the morning and again followed the silver Lexus. He got away with it for most of the day, but then he was spotted.

     

    Jacobson stopped at a stop sign and walked back to his car. “What are you doing, following us?” “I’m not doing anything illegal, I just want to know where Lester is going.” “You keep this up and I’ll file a harassment charge against you,” said Jacobson. “File away, you S.O.B., I’m making sure that he doesn’t have a chance to take another little girl.”

     

    “Look, I know who you are, and I’m sorry for what happened to your niece, but I believe my brother-in-law to be innocent, and in any event he has done time in prison. I think I understand how you feel, but you have to stop this, otherwise you give me no choice.”

     

    The next day Matthew followed again but further behind. Jacobson called the cops and they pulled him over at 11:00. No ticket was given, but they said the next time this happened, he would be arrested for harassment.

     

    That night at the motel, he was feeling depressed and uneasy, finally realizing that if he really did do anything to Simon Lester, he would be putting his hatred before his love of his family and everything else he valued, and would probably end up in jail. Just seeing the man had somehow cooled his anger.

     

    The same night he got a call from Jill saying she had had enough. He was putting this obsession in front of everything in his life. If he didn’t stop this behavior and return to being the man she had married, she was going to take the children and leave him. In the morning, he packed up and headed for home, but the heavy sadness would not leave his heart.

     

    He did everything he could to bring happiness to himself and those around him, but the nightmares still came – about once a week. Two policemen showed up five weeks later and wanted to interview him. It seemed that Simon Lester had disappeared and Matt was the prime suspect. But once the DA found out that all of Matt’s movements could be traced, they dropped the inquiry. “Please God, don’t let this start again. Please don’t let this demon prey upon another child.”

     

    A month later, his cell phone rang. A man named Les was on the other end. “I have some information about Melanie, could you meet me at the Sample Café, say in an hour? I know what you look like, and I’ll wave as soon as I see you.” “Why should I come, I’ve had these calls before, they all turn out to be a money scam or information from a psychic, an astrologer, or a vision from some sort of cult?” “I want nothing from you,” said Les,”I just want to help.” “Alright, but if it’s some sort of nonsense I’ll leave immediately.” “Agreed,” said Les.

     

    Matthew looked around the café as he entered. At the back of the restaurant was Les. In a split second Matt evaluated him. In his late thirties, of medium height, bristle-cut salt and pepper hair, hazel eyes but an unremarkable face. He was dressed in beige pants and a long-sleeve blue shirt with the cuffs rolled up. Matthew could see that he was very fit. The man walked forward to greet him with a handshake, nothing registering on his face but determination. “Thank you for coming, Mr. Stevens, I know that you are sick of worrying about what happened to Melanie.” I believe the information I have will settle your mind, can we sit down?”

     

    “First let me tell you what really happened at the campground. When Melanie went to hide, she saw a small red balloon tied to a bush. It was another seventy-five yards from where she had hid. The balloon was behind a big pine but deeper into the forest. Curious, she went closer and as she reached out to touch it, a man, who we now know as Simon Lester, put an arm around her forty-five pound body, and pushed an ether-soaked sponge to her face. As she went slack he doubled her up and stuffed her in a very large camouflage backpack. Then he rapidly trotted the half-mile back to his car. No one saw him. He took her to a cabin outside Mindin, Nevada and ended her life.

     

    “How do you know all this?” said Matt, “Why should I believe you?” “Here are some pictures that I took at his cabin along with the dress and shoes she was wearing. Also here is a picture of the three graves I unearthed.” “Three?” said Matthew. “He took two other little girls, one from Indiana and one from Arkansas. I have all of the documentation for these children. Melanie’s is in this folder for you. There is a full confession.”

     

    “But how did you get all these details?” “Like you, I have been waiting for Simon Lester to get out of prison, but unlike you, I watched from afar – watched you follow him and get into trouble. Three weeks after you returned to your family, I was waiting when he went into a convenience store for cigarettes. You were gone and his brother-in-law was giving him more and more time on his own. As he came to the back of the store, the clerk was busy and distracted; I injected him with pentothal, and dragged him out back to my van. By the time his brother-in-law came looking, we were miles away.

     

    “I took him to my ranch, and there began to extract information from him. After three days he had told me everything, including every single detail of the abductions, minute by minute.” “How did you get him to talk?” “The police, FBI, the military and other authorities are limited by regulations that prevent them from penetrating the deepest fears a subject might have. I was not bound by any such restrictions in my quest to find out what this monster had done.”

     

    “Needless to say Simon Lester has now passed away and resides in hell. I will send all of the evidence of his crimes to the FBI. I doubt they will spend much time looking for me. When they come – to talk with you and your brother and your families, please omit most of this conversation if you possibly can.”

     

    Matthew nodded his head, not sure what he was feeling. “And this crystal container, these ashes are for you to give to Daniel and Carolyn. It’s Melanie’s remains, I was sure that they would not want to go through the grief of seeing her desiccated body after all this time. This will be the end, not always having to wonder if she is being held captive, somehow still alive. I know you are thinking, was she tortured, did she suffer, a little girl not understanding why someone would want to hurt her? In examining her remains and in extracting details from Lester, I believe she died almost instantly. He did confess that he damaged the girls’ Achilles tendons, to ensure they didn’t escape.”

     

    Matt looked right in Les’s eyes. “But why did you do this? Who are you?”

    “I’m just someone who lost a child, just like your niece. I have the training and the ability to make sure that a particular person doesn’t have the opportunity again.”

     

    “I believe that there are creatures in human form like Lester, who don’t have any souls, or whose souls have been eaten out of them by evil. I believe in the absolute physical reality of evil. They can’t repent, they are incapable of not sinning; these demons are simply too dangerous to stay on this earth.”

     

    “Will you come and talk to Daniel and Carolyn?” “No, and if you will wait a few days before you contact the authorities, I would appreciate it. I’ve already talked with other girls’ parents.”

     

    “Will I see you again?” “No, you will never again see me. I’m glad I was able to help you, your family, and others come to a finalization of this terrible tragedy. Go home, give thanks for the family you have, and let this nightmare pass from you.”

     

    “What are you going to do now, where are you going?”

     

    “I have unfinished business in other places,” he said, looking directly into Matthew’s eyes. Then the man nodded, and walked out the door of the café.

     

    That night Matthew Stevens looked up at the stars for a few moments, wondering if one might be Melanie, then climbed into bed, closed his eyes, and fell into a dreamless sleep.

     

    Joseph Ollivier

    July 2017

    Talesuntold.net

  • RABID RACCOONS FROM THE BLACK LAGOON

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    RABID RACCOONS FROM THE BLACK LAGOON

     

    Gosh Dammit To Hell!  The contents of three overturned garbage cans were strewn from hell to breakfast, all over the driveway.  I couldn’t even get my car past the mess.  A half can of stewed tomatoes, moldy bread and cheese, syrup leaking across the cement. Plus twenty different other items mixed into a foul smelling brew.

    This was the last straw.  My three month war was going to close out with a resounding victory over the band I had dubbed, “The Rabid Raccoons from The Black Lagoon.”

    When my wife began looking for a new home, the realtor said she had an area that was ideal. We would feel we were in a forest with endless greenery – Giant Eucalyptus trees, Ficus spreading their branches, Mock Orange, Night Blooming Jasmine, Boston Ivy, Catalina Wild Cherries, on and on.  And there were various animal forms – hawks, owls, coyotes, peacocks, possums, and raccoons.  She forgot to mention ants, rattlesnakes, gophers, scorpions, centipedes, and spiders the size of a tire iron.  “How sweet,” my wife said, “All this flora and fauna surrounding us –it’s like The Garden Of Eden – I think I just saw a Morning Dove.  It’s a wonderland.”  “Oh yes, I agree,” I said turning away, “Since I married you I’ve learned to love all of God’s creatures.”  She punched me in the upper arm with all her might and said, “You’re such a terrible liar, good you’re not an attorney.”

    “Wonderland, wonderland, my grandmother’s rolling pin.”  It was the depths of beastly hell out there.  Got bitten by a black widow the first week.  Lost a cat (no big loss) to the coyotes the second, and watched a hawk make an attempt to carry off our dog Sam. Worse, I saw a rattlesnake the size of my forearm coiled in a corner of the property where I dared not go. I ordered “Snake Defender”, a nasty substance that smelled like mothballs – only available over the Internet.  Not wanting to get too close I threw it from fifty feet, toward the last spot where I had seen the viper.  Over the fence I could see the small pond everyone in the neighborhood called the “Black Lagoon.”

    And yes, there they were, those cute, furry, black masked, inquisitive, adorable rascals that everyone wanted as a pet.  But these were mutant raccoons with inch long teeth and inch and a half claws.  “Don’t worry about getting slashed,” said my neighbor,  “Worry about the thirty percent of raccoons that carry the rabies virus.”   There is even a special unit at the hospital to take care of people stupid enough to get bitten.

    Still they were so adorable, it was hard for my wife not to be attracted to them.  Our first encounter was the remains of one who had bitten the dust while crossing a road – sad, and oh so terrible, according to my wife.  “Part of the risk of being a night dweller,” I thought, chuckling to myself.

    My first raccoon encounter was a month later when I got up about 1:00 AM to see what the noise was.  There were three raccoons, one the size of a midget sumo wrestler – another mutant.  They were sitting on a table where the kitty kibbles resided.  As they turned and looked at me, I assumed that they would flee immediately.  Nope, didn’t happen.  They just kept dipping the cat food in the water dish, with an expression that said, “Come over and join us.”  “Scat,” I yelled.  No response, just a look of disdain and then back to the trough.  Armed with a broom handle, I advance slowed, brandishing it high in the air.  Eventually, the three got off the table and moseyed back to the dog door, looking once over their backs to see if I still meant business.  I could see the eyes of the big fat one and what he was thinking, “Hey stupid, if you are dumb enough to leave kibbles with an open dog door, what did you expect?”

    “Okay,” I thought, “I’ll just block the dog door with a board.”  Uh huh, board tossed away by those extremely dexterous paws, and it was on to the feast.  No problem, I’ll put a chair up against the opening, that will stop them.  Uh huh, two of them just reached through the dog door and pushed the chair away led by Jabba the Raccoon King.

    That was it; the dog would just have to hold it through the night.  I put a steel plate over the dog door and was very gratified to see just a few scratch marks around the frame where they tried forced entry.  “Now who’s stupid,” I thought.  Of course it did take me an extra fifteen minutes to unbolt the dog door in the morning.

     

    Their next assault was down our chimney, but the narrow flue stopped them.  I heard the racket, so I stoked up a blast furnace-sized fire with the intent to turn the whole tribe into cinders, but lickety-split they scrambled up and away.  I bolted a heavy metal screen over the chimney top just to make sure none of the bandits were tempted again.

    After a varmint war council of what to do next, they opted for the garbage cans, but I had outfoxed them this time.  The cans were of heavy plastic.  The lids turned in a half circle that tightened the more you turned. It would take a pipe wrench to pry them open.  The raccoons had no pipe wrenches but apparently they teamed up and torqued off the lids with mutant strength, tossing whatever they didn’t consume onto the driveway.  When I stated to yell at them, they just gave me a look of pity that said,  “Hey lunkhead, you’re not too smart, are you?”

    Okay, I’ll show the critters,” I thought, “I’ll tightened down the lids, then drill holes into the lids and sides of the cans and put spikes through the holes.”  Took them a week to figure it out, tipping the cans over, rolling them around, and finally pulling the spikes. Then they watched the breeze merrily scatter the non-eatable refuse all over the front yard.  To add insult to injury they carried off the spikes and even the can lids.

    Next effort was a pound and a half of Exlax tossed in the garbage.  They ate it down like candy, and then pooped piles, streaks, fans, and other designs on my front porch and driveway.  Despite scrubbing with bleach, muriatic acid and Ajax, the stains remained, deepening in color each day.

    What to do, what to do?  I ask relatives, friends, and even my spiritual leader.  I was sure the coons were a common irritation in our neighborhood.  Someone suggested putting bricks on the lids of the cans.  What a joke, the nocturnal nightmares just tossed them off.  I moved up to a cinder block with the same result.  Finally, staggering, I carried a ninety-pound bag of cement to our main can, chancing a second hernia – sure this would work.  Nope, those claws ripped open the paper cover of the bag; now I had cement all over the drive to deal with. This time, their look seemed to say, “Hey fool, once a loser, always a loser.”

    There was a chemical call “Raccoon Begone, that was guaranteed to rid the pests.  I put it out by the cans.  Not only did they “Not Begone”, but carried off the balls of chemicals, probably to eliminate other raccoons not in their tribe.

    I finally decided to poison the buggers, but couldn’t find any arsenic or cyanide poison on the Internet.  My wife also reminded me there was a $500 fine for killing a coon, and that she would turn me into the cops if I tried.  She also said I would “sleep with the fishes” if one raccoon died”.

    At my insistence “She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed” contacted a Raccoon Relocation expert who said for $650 per varmint he would relocate our coons to a safe habitat somewhere in the wilderness.  My neighbor said that claim was total nonsense.  The guy would catch the raccoons and then wait a month or so before turning some of them loose at the same location, then waited for the call again.  Even my wife balked at the $650 per bandit.

    A neighbor also told me that four years ago he had gone down to the lagoon, emptied five gallons of gasoline and waited until it spread over the water.  He then tossed in a match, but managed to set his left leg on fire – and ended up rolling around in the mud to put himself out.  Next day his wife made him an appointment with a psychiatrist, claiming she knew he was bi-polar. Apparently at the first sign of fire the raccoons all went underwater and held their breath until the flames died down.

    Occasionally She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed was gone in the evening to a writers group.  She was writing (along with ten million other women) a children’s book called,  “Betsy and the Magic Butterflies”.  Not being a fan of kids books, there were, however, a couple I would like to write – “Chomper the Cannibal Boy,” or maybe, “The Murder of Chucky Cheeze.”

    I decided that this was the night I would strike – if I could track the gang down.  I could always chuck the bodies on the road and cry out “there is a poor little raccoon that has been run over.”  It was time for world’s to collide, for my tectonic plate to override theirs, clash of the titans, Godzilla versus Megalon, mano a mano, serious gunfire – no more Mr. Nice Guy.

    I bought, at considerable cost, a pair of night vision binoculars.  “She” was at a late night religious meeting and now was my time to pounce. My old double-barreled Mossberg shotgun was the answer.  Went down and bought a box of twelve Gage double-aught buckshot.  Took a practice shot at a two inch branch in my own yard – cut through it nicely.  I got my night scope adjusted, looking through the surrounding trees.  I could see the crew – five masked critters high in the pepper trees on the edge of our lot, getting ready for the night’s skulduggery.  I sighted down on the biggest, but just couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger – didn’t have it in me.  But I fired two shots, one high, one low, to try and scare hell out of them.  About the only damage I did was to sever a Catalina Cherry branch and blow a pretty good hole thru a shrub on my neighbor’s front lawn.

    Twenty minutes later I heard sirens down on the main road.  No big deal, anytime someone came up with a hangnail, they sent two police cars, a hook and ladder truck, and an ambulance, plus a social worker, gender protection councilor, psychiatrist, a captain from animal control, and an examiner from the County Coroner – remember, this is California.  But then the wailing got near; maybe they were all coming for me.  The left-wingers who live in my neighborhood had already turned me in for trying to catch gophers with a bear trap

    I turned off all the outside lights, put the shotgun in the garage and hoped for the best.  The best was a firm knock on the door with a nightstick.  I opened the door and met two grim faced officers of the law – didn’t look like they were here for jelly donuts.  “We’ve had reports from two of your neighbors that someone fired a weapon.”  “What could they possibly be shooting at, it’s a moonless night, can’t hardly see anything?” I said.  (I never lie but the truth is not for everyone.)  “Were you shooting at something?” said the tall cop.  “Why would I want to shoot at anything?” I said, practicing my devious brother-in-law/attorney’s advice of always answering a question with a question.

    “Do you have weapons on your property?”  “Wait a minute,” I said, “I’ve answered your questions, I’ve opened the door to my home, but as a member of the NRA (I’m not, but occasionally I’ve claimed to be one of the brotherhood) this is the point where I ask if you have a warrant.”  “We don’t, but we can get one,” said the smaller cop. “Then that is exactly what you should do; goodnight officers.”   Nothing ever came of our encounter, but I figured another blast could end me up in custody, plus a lifetime banishment to the couch by She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed.

    The coons were still running amok – attacking the garbage cans about every third night.  I could put the cans in the garage, but the odor seemed to creep into our cars and the buggers tried to scratch their way under the door, ruining the finish – and yes, occasionally I forgot to shut the garage door.

    While picking up the debris from the driveway after a full-on midnight raid, it came to me.  That night I put a small pile of kitty kibbles by the garbage cans and then a trail to my unlikable next-door neighbor’s cans – shaking a bunch inside.  Sure enough, no can offense the next night.  I found that if I put about two cups of kibbles next to my tree hugger neighbor’s garbage cans every third night, I was left alone.  Once in a while I left donuts and marshmallows just to be on good terms with my masked friends.   Besides, his wife really loved the little razor-fanged bandits, and I assumed my neighbor was current on his rabies vaccinations.

     

    Joseph Ollivier

    May, 2017

  • Solomon and the corpse – conclusion

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    Solomon Goldstein and the Missing Corpse – Conclusion

     

    “They found finally it, the body from last year, the missing corpse,” said Norene.   “I’m more interested in the killer, maybe a prospective client,” said Jacob, looking up.

     

    “You know where Zerkil Mesa is, northeast of Superior?  There is a tar pit that was discovered around 1890 at the mesa’s base.  Not very wide, but always semi-liquid, because of the heat. No one knows how deep it is, but I know it’s swallowed a bunch of cars.  The pit was fenced a long time ago, and the road blocked; but since it’s on federal land no one pays much attention.  The kids break the fencing down as soon as it is put up.  I’ve been up there a few times in my younger years with my boyfriend, Jackhammer Johnson.”

     

    What did you and the “Jackhammer” do up there?” said Jacob.  “Throw rocks and other things in the tar, drink, sunbathe, and, you know, other things.”  “Spare me,” said Jacob, “So what does this have to do with me?”

     

     

    “That is the interesting part.  Yesterday, some kids who were up there found Still’s old plumbing van, sunk front first in the coal tar, apparently standing on top of other submerged vehicles, the rear end sticking out a couple of feet.  They were able to pull the back door open and there was a body.  They said it looked like a mummy – all dried up from the heat – but nothing but bone left on one arm.  Now maybe they can finally figure out who the poor soul was.  Sheriff called the Feds – they are already talking about a hate crime.”

     

    “Everything is a hate crime these days,” said Jacob.  “Noreen, If you were jailed for all of the people you despise and have threatened in this town, they’d lock you up for 20 lifetimes.”

     

    That same afternoon Jacob got two calls: one from Barney Stills, the plumber, and one from Swenson Hardy.  Barney needed representation since the sheriff wanted to interview him about how the body had ended up in his stolen van.  Swenson said they had a major disciplinary problem that he wanted to talk to Sol about, but not over the phone.  “I’ll fly over tomorrow.”

     

    Barney was afraid the Sheriff was going to arrest him, because he was the last one to see his truck and he didn’t have a good excuse for his whereabouts the night of the body abduction from the morgue. His wife and he got into a drunken argument, and she booted him out to go sleep it off.  He couldn’t remember where he had gone; just woke up the next morning in his shop.

    Sure enough Barney was arrested and charged with capital murder in the first degree before he could meet with Sol.  When Sol appeared with him the next morning, bail was set at one million dollars, regardless of Sol’s plea to Judge Tanner for a lesser amount. Nothing was to be done except for Barney to be incarcerated in the Sweetwater County Detention Center until the trial.

    We drew a bad judge,” Sol said to Barney – his honor George Tanner – he is completely irrational – I have appeals pending on two other decisions he handed down.  Judge Tanner also let Nic Gianette off the hook on a rape charge.  The girl he beat got nothing, certainly not justice.”

     

    Swenson Hardy flew in to talk to Sol.  They met at Sol’s modest home in Superior just north of Rock Springs.

     

    “We’ve got ourselves a dirty judge, Sol.  It’s Judge Tanner. You probably know that he is an alcoholic, just divorced his third wife, and is inconsistent in his judgments and personal life.  His rulings seem to favor certain groups and individuals.  The worse is John Gianette.  There have been several lawsuits filed against Gianette and also criminal complaints against his son Nic.  In one questionable case he directed a “Not Guilty” verdict to the jury for an assault charge against Nicolas.  He also bought a $600,000 home and 20-acre spread just north of Farson on highway 28, about half way up to the Gianette spread.  A new Mercedes to go along with it. Wyoming Judges don’t make that kind of money unless they are on the take.

     

    The money for the judge’s excesses is coming from somewhere; we think its Gianette.  There was that big dispute last year about a three-mile easement on the north side of the Big G. There was no logical reason for Gianette to prevail, but to everyone’s surprise he ended up with a favorable verdict and $550,000.  Our investigator Butch will be looking at bank and telephone records to see what he can come up with.”

     

    In the middle of all this, the FBI turned a long time criminal, Tony Russo, in South Carolina.  As part of the deal to spill his guts, he received immunity for two murders and entrance into a witness protection program.  The information he gave up were the details on murders that had been orchestrated by the Gianette Family.  When asked where the bodies were, Tony said he didn’t know, just that they were not buried anywhere in South Carolina.  Over an investigation lasting six months, the FBI finally realized that the bodies probably had been flown out on Gianette’s Learjet.

     

    At the pretrial hearing for Barney, Sol argued that his client couldn’t account for his time that night because he was passed out drunk, but there was no motive anyway.  Why would he steal the body from the morgue?  How would he even know that it was there?  There was no relationship between the two men.  If he did drive up to the tar pits in the snow, and dumped the van, how did he get back?”  It made no sense. Judge Tanner barely listened to Sol’s arguments, and put the first day of the trial on his calendar for two months hence.  Still held Barney on the one million dollar bail.

     

    The DA came up to Sol after the hearing, and said,  “Does the judge have something against you.  I’d admit the state’s case is weak, but he seems to be hell bent for leather to convict Barney.  Looks like a rough ride for your client. I know Tanner has instructed the sheriff to close any further investigation.  Might as well start working on an appeal.”

     

    Norene came into Jacob’s office early the next day.  She looked sheepish and uneasy.  “Boss, I need to tell you something.”  “Go right ahead, I’m all ears,” thinking that this was another push for a higher salary.  It made him furious, after her commitment last time.  “I know where Barney was during the night the body disappeared in his truck.”

    Where would that be?” asked Jacob.

     

    “He was with me, but it’s not what you think.   We went to school together, and from time to time we have been drinking partners.  After his wife tossed him out that night, he called me to come and get him.  He was passed out in his van on the street, so I loaded him in my truck so he wouldn’t freeze to death, and took him over to my place to sleep it off.  He never knew what happened, and was surprised as anyone the next morning when the van was gone.”

     

    Early the next day, Sol made an appointment to see Judge Tanner.  Norene gave her story while the judge sat with an unbelieving look on his face.  “You know something Mr. Goldstein, this is a total cock and bull story.  You are having your notorious assistant come up with this cockamamie tale to cover your client.  I should put you in jail for a couple of days for being in contempt and make a formal complaint to the bar.  Now get out of here, all you have done is hurt your client’s case.”

     

    “But judge, Norene is telling the truth, she’ll even take a lie detector test.  The phone records show that Barney called her about midnight on the night the corpse was stolen from the morgue.”  “That’s the last straw, bailiff, put Mr. Solomon Goldstein in handcuffs and take him down to the jail, put him in a solitary cell that hasn’t been cleaned for a week or so with an overflowing toilet.  Maybe that will teach him he can’t play fast and loose with me.”

     

    When Sol was released from jail two days later, he was fuming, and while he was somewhat conservative in his attitude towards physical violence, he let Norene know that if she ever had a chance to savage the judge, he wouldn’t mind.  But during his time in jail, the world had turned twice, and the whole landscape changed.

     

    The DNA from the dried corpse was matched to a James Boggs from South Carolina, with a long criminal record.  His family had not seen him for over a year.  Rapidly the Feds found out that he had worked for the Gianette mob as a low level enforcer.  Their efforts to get an arrest warrant for John Gianette were initially blocked by the federal judge in Cheyenne.

     

    In the mean time another of Norene’s endless cousins, Darnell, had become close to a Cyrus Easterman, a freelance reporter working out of San Francisco.  Norene described the two, in her usual tactless manner, as being “Light in the Loafers”.  Cyrus had told Darnell that he was investigating John Gianette – but it had nothing to do with the body buried on his property.  The investigation involved some precious metals, but Cyrus wouldn’t say more until he was ready to confirm details and file his story.  Two days later, he disappeared.  He did not return to west coast, and nothing more was heard from him.  Darnell did tell Norene he and Cyrus had made a midnight trip to watch Gianette’s ranch, but he wouldn’t say any more, other than he found an ideal place to watch the ranch house through night vision binoculars.

     

    Right in the middle of all this, John Gianette called Sol and asked him to come out to the ranch – had some information that would clear Barney Stills – and he felt that they had gotten off on the wrong foot.  Said he admired Sol for sticking to his principals and wanted to show his appreciation.

     

    Of course Sol was not about to get anywhere near Gianette, preparing the excuse that Jeanie was ill. But to his surprise, Jeanie and Norene said they would like to see his spread.

     

    “Okay, no problem, even better,” Gianette said.

     

    When they got there in the early evening, John was waiting for them.  There was a formal dinner laid on, and the conversation was upscale and pleasant.  Gianette proved a very interesting and accommodating host.  After desert, John stood, raised his glass and proposed a toast.  “Here’s to the last day for all of us on the Big G.”  Puzzled, Jeanie, Norene and Sol looked at one another.  “Guess you’d like an explanation.  Well, lets start at the beginning of this fiasco.  The body found almost a year ago was the body of James Boggs, who worked for me in Charlotte, South Carolina.  He screwed up one to many times and shot a policeman.  Our organization is under surveillance day and night so after his demise he was put on our Jet to Wyoming.  The dunderheads that I used to bury the body only dug down only about two feet – if that lunkhead of a sheriff had any brains, he would have looked around to see if there were any other bodies in the area.  Counting the three grave diggers that were eliminated for their mistake, I think there is a nice round number of twelve in that area – the remaining ones are down closer to six feet where no molesting varmints can get to them.  All within a hundred yards of where Wesley Duggins found Boggs.”

     

    “I have elaborate surveillance cameras and laser beams along my entire property, so when the cowboy found the body two months later, I had to act.  We followed Case Warren to the morgue, then removed the body and hauled it away in Still’s plumbing van, which was empty and available – keys even in the ignition.  Figured the theft of the van would direct the blame to Barney Stills, just in case it was ever found.  We thought that we had sunk the van in the tar pit completely out of sight.  Judge Tanner, he’s been on our payroll ever since I arrived six years ago.  Too bad he’s about to go down in flames – and end up in jail.  We no longer need him.  And my son Nic – adopted – always a disappointment.  I know he finally turned on me and is part of the posse coming to get me in return for immunity.”

     

    “Tomorrow will be a bad day for a lot of people.  There will be a raid on this property at 4:00 AM by the FBI.  About that the same time a massive Federal net will cover our operations in South Carolina to put us out of business.  Am I concerned, not only no, but hell no.  I’ll be long gone.  The Lear is fueled up, including extra tanks.  A private plane doesn’t need to file a flight plan, so no one will have a clue until I’ve left US airspace.  Tomorrow I’ll be sitting on a veranda drinking scotch and waiting for an early evening shower to dust the ocean. I’ll give you a hint, the first letter of the place I’m going is S and the last is A.  Here is a picture of my estate. Since you were dumb enough to bring Jeanie and Norene with you, I’m going to take them on this little trip for protection.  I’m not a killer; other people do that for me.  Once we arrive in that country with it’s wide beaches, warm water, friendly people and no extradition treaty, I’ll probably release them.  Don’t worry about them one little bit.”

     

    “I can see that you think that I’m the typical hood – a Don in the mob and it fills you with dread and loathing.  All the stuff that we did back in the Carolina’s was just normal mob business. My grandfather was a fisherman off the Outer Banks, until he started smuggling.  Then he got into collections, gambling, prostitution, enforcement and drugs – with a normal return on investment – about equal to a good mutual fund.”

     

    “Do you know what the competition is like in those criminal enterprises? Very tough.  Plus there’s the chance of getting killed by your rivals – the Jamaicans, the Hondurans, the Mexicans, the Russians, the Nigerians – or your own people – it is astronomical.  I never started my own car in the last ten years.  Of course I’m surrounded by imbecile goomba’s who couldn’t cheat their way through the ninth grade.  Do you know how many homemade servings of Spaghetti and Meatballs I’ve had to down?  And the home made wine – decayed grapes stomped to death by grime covered rubber boots – the results would gag a maggot.  It was like eating and drinking with a bunch of baboons. I got a Business Degree from NYU, then headed for Wall Street, thought maybe I’d eventually get a law degree, but the family insisted I come aboard.  Then the old man died, and I had to take over. This will be the end of the Gianette organization. I’ve been planning my escape for a long time.”

     

     

    “So, are you wondering where the money comes from to buy a spread like this, if normal mob business is so competitive?  See here.  Looks like some polished rocks.  It’s rhodium – more expensive that gold; it’s a member of the platinum group.  And there is a worldwide market for the metal.  Every catalytic converter uses a small amount.  We pick the concentrate up from a private claim we own north of the Great Slave Lake in Canada, claiming it’s a low-grade nickel mine – rhodium is found in the nickel as a major by product.  Once we fly in the concentrated ore, we further refine it in a large barn about a mile from the ranch.  We did have a couple of inspections but they bought the idea it was nickel concentrates.  We only operate at night, and best of all, we pay no taxes.  I’ve already transported over $36,000,000 to the South Seas.  Another five million will go with me at 11:00 PM when I leave.  So I can’t come back to the US, so what?  If I get itchy I can apply for a pardon by making a few presidential political donations, or just travel to some of the eighty-three countries that don’t have extradition treaties.”

     

    “Boss, there is a phone call for you from the Judge.”

     

    “Really, that still gives us enough time to get away.  Yes, we’ll wait for you.”

     

    “That was good old Judge Tanner.  Where we’re going I have no use for him.  We’ll be long gone before he gets here.  It appears that the state, the feds and the FBI will be here in about two hours rather than in the morning, so it’s time to bail.  I can delay them a bit on the road, but it’s best we get going.”

     

    Sol stepped forward and said, “The girls are not going on the plane, period.”

     

    “What are you going to do, Sol, take a shoe off and whack me over the head?” laughed John.

     

    “I’ll do whatever I need to, but you are not taking them.”

     

    “You’re prepared to give your life to try and stop me?” said John.  “Yes I am.”

     

    “Well I’ll be damned, Sol, didn’t think you had it in you; you’re proven to be a man of exceptional determination, I admire that.”  Better to leave Norene for sure.  I’d have to watch her every minute or I’d find a stiletto heel sticking through my eardrum

     

    During the next half hour everything was loaded on the Lear.  “Adios, you losers, the posse will be here before long– think of me often with envy.  Everyone is gone now; go in the house and help yourself to the liquor cabinet.  I deeded the ranch to Barney Stills as a parting gift for his trouble.”

     

    “Damn,” said Jacob, “He is going to get away clean.”

     

    “We’ll see,” said Norene, I told my cousin Darnell to follow us out here.  He’s pretty resourceful.  Let’s watch the takeoff.  They could see the lights flashing and the engines running up.  Then there was a clashing noise, sparks and a big puff of smoke from the left engine. The fan blades stopped rotating.  Just then someone stepped through the door.  It was Norene’s cousin, Darnell.  “I heard some of what was going on, so I tossed a pipe wrench in the left engine before takeoff.  Sucked that chunk of iron right through the fan blades.  We might want to get away from here lickity split.  Gianette and his men are armed and won’t take this little interference lightly.  The lawmen are still about an hour away.”

     

    The four slipped out to Norene’s 4 X 4, slashed the tires of the remaining vehicles and headed at high speed away from the ranch towards Rock Springs.

    Jeanie turned to Jacob and Norene and asked, “What do you thing about the name Losefa for a child?  It means Joseph – from the Bible,  He was the son of Jacob, who was the son of Isaac and Rebecca.”  “What are you talking about?” said Jacob.

    “I thought our first child was going to be born in Samoa, so I started looking at Samoan names on my phone – Losefa is a popular name in the islands.”

     

    “I don’t understand what you are talking about,” said Jacob.

     

    “I think you will, I’m carrying our first child.  He will be born in July, six months from now – but not in Samoa, he’ll be born in the Rock Springs Memorial Hospital.  I kind of like Losefa, but I think we should use the English version – Joseph – the son of Solomon Goldstein, my Jacob.

     

     

    EPILOGUE

     

    The treasury department seized Gianette’s real estate and bank accounts plus all the stockpiled rhodium.  Barney retained Jacob to see if he could keep the ranch away from the Feds.

     

    Nic Gianette turned state’s evidence against his dad.  Judge Tanner did the same.  Both went to jail for a minimum of seven years.

     

    John Gianette was extradited back to South Carolina  – tried to hire Sol as one of his lawyers.  He was convicted and sentenced to death (the state has executed 43 since 1985.)  He figures it will take 20 years for the Supreme Court to finally turn down his last appeal.  Now he spends his time studying for his on line degree at California’s Concord  Law School.

     

     

    Joe Ollivier

    Talesuntold

    March 2017

    Next Tale – Mutant Raccoons from the Black Lagoon

     

  • Solomon Goldstein Corpse Part Two

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    Solomon Goldstein and the Missing Corpse – Part Two

     

    As Part One ended, a partially excavated body had been discovered 0n John Gianette’s deep forest land by a neighboring rancher.  An arm of the body had been stripped by wolverines.  The covered corpse was deposited in the Rock Springs morgue, but by morning had disappeared.

     

    PART TWO

     

    As Jacob bent over his desk, Norene stuck her head through the door.  “Got a minute, Boss?” “Sure, bring me some good news,” said Jacob.  “I need more money,” she said.  Exasperated, he said, “Norene, you just had a raise three months ago, and I told you we would do something about year-end profit sharing.  You and Jeanie do the books, you know that we are not much above breakeven at this point.”

     

    “Frankly I’m worth more, I put in tons of time, so much so that I have little time to study my business law class at night.  I still want to be an attorney.”  Jacob’s day had been nasty from the get go and he wasn’t in the mood to appease Norene.

     

    “Look, in another three months if we have significant cases that pay, we can talk about it again, but for now it just isn’t possible.”  “Well, I didn’t want to tell you this, but I have an offer from another firm.”  Jacob thought, “They must have not checked her background very closely.”  “What firm?” he asked.  “It’s the biggest one here in Rock Springs – Oakley and Carpner.  They will give me 30% more than I’m getting here.  If you’ll match their offer, I’d be glad to stay.”  “Nope,” he said, “If someone thinks you are worth that much, I’d advise you to take the job.”  He could see the surprise and disappointment in her eyes – that he would be willing to let her go.  She leaned forward and said, “I’ll be out by 5:00.  You’ll never find anyone like me.”  Jacob exhaled and thought, “That is for damn sure.”

     

    That night he told Jeanie, his wife, what had happened.  “I’m very surprised,” she said.  “Norene never said a word.  We have our normal kick boxing class together on Friday, I’m sure she’ll bring me up to date.”

     

    Norene was beaming as their class started, apologizing that she hadn’t confided in Jeanie before now.  Her new firm had twelve lawyers, great offices and her title was special assistant to the main partner – Jay Oakley.  They were giving her a clothing and car allowance and were very supportive of her furthering her efforts to go to law school, in fact they were willing to pay for classes.  She was sorry to be leaving Jacob, but this was a great opportunity.

     

    After that, Jeanie didn’t see Norene for a week, but then on the next Friday, Norene came in about ten minutes late, looking like she had been dragged through prickly pear cactus by the Mongols’ motorcycle gang. “What on earth is wrong?” asked Jeanie.  “I’ve screwed up,” said Norene.  “I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life.”  “What happened?”

     

    “When I got to my desk the first morning I found that there was no office for me, just an open cubical.  The whole environment is designed to eliminate individuality; everyone used the same coffee pot – Maxwell House Regular – cheapest brand there is – tastes like the south end of a north bound skunk.  I had some files to go over, but no other instructions.  Around eleven Mr. Oakley came out and asked me to come into his office; he wanted to introduce me to his uncle.  There was no one in his office, but Oakley said,  “Meet my uncle, uncle Jack Daniels.”  “I was surprised, and thought it was a joke.”  “I always have a little pick-me-up around this time and I want you to join me.”  I didn’t want to give the wrong impression so I sat on the couch next to him for a half hour while he drank a full pint and complained about his wife.”

     

    “The lead paralegal told me that normally they were so busy that everyone just brought their own lunch, but on Fridays the firm bought Pizza.  What a bunch of cheapskates. I would be expected to pretty much work in my cubical unless I was needed by a partner or an associate.  Anxiety was starting to churn in my stomach like a bucket of bolts.  Four days later came the clincher.  Brad, a young, good-looking associate, told me he had an urgent project – please come into his office.  I hurried in only to be met with his thrusting chest and a gorilla grip on my rear.  I doubled punched him in the nose, and shaking, went back to my desk.  From then on, everyone pretty much ignored me; my duties were really that of a secretary, not a paralegal, with no work outside the office, and no input on the cases.  I knew then it was my looks that had gotten me into this situation, not my legal ability.  I decided I wanted out.”

     

    “Do you think Jacob would take me back?”  “I think he might, but you would need to give him a firm commitment.  He’s pretty angry,” said Jeanie.  “Can you talk to him first?” pleaded Norene.  “No, I think the way for you to handle this is to be at his office when he shows up in the morning and explain exactly what happened, and what your thinking was to make such a mistake – I’d apologize the moment you see him.”

     

    At 8:15 the next morning Norene was back in her old office, contrite and humble, with a cup of Seattle’s Best Grind on her desk – glad that she had such friends as Jeanie and Jacob.  Her idiot brother was the one who helped convince her to take the job with a bigger firm for more money.  She knew better now – no matter what happened she would never again let Jacob and Jeanie down.

     

    Rumors about the missing corpse refused to die.  Anytime a body was discovered in southwest Wyoming, there was a mass of people that were sure it was the one from Rock Springs.  Twenty miles south of the town, a small plane reported a body with a black tarp or cloth blowing around it.  Turned out to be a log with human-like branches and black decaying leaves. Then there was the one north west of Gianette’s Big G.  Two teenagers were four wheeling over some rough country when they came across a carcass half hidden on a steep slope.  It smelled so badly that they didn’t get close.  They notified everyone they could think of and before long a helicopter and a full posse of deputies arrived below the rocks.  Turned out to be a dead calf, half eaten and desiccated by the wind and weather.

    The more Jacob thought about the missing body, the more it didn’t make any sense.  Who on earth would bury someone out in the middle of Nowhere, Wyoming.  Then that same body stolen from the morgue.  One evening Jennie said she had a theory.  “I think that the body was buried by someone who was sure it would never be found – not someone local, but someone who knew that area.  It certainly wasn’t Wes Duggins or Case Warren, and the body was buried on Gianette’s land.   I know that the feds have looked into him, but with no success.  And the only reason I can see for the body to be stolen from the morgue, was to prevent its identification, probably by the same entity that buried it. I’m sure John Gianette is somehow behind all that happened that night.”

     

    The next morning Norene called Jacob from her office.  “One of your favorites is on the phone.”  “Who is it this time?” said Jacob with a scowl.  “It’s the head of the Disciplinary Committee.”  “Sol, how ya doin’?” said Swenson Hardy.  “We’ve got us a live one.  I’m emailing the file to you right now.  Since he’s in your hometown, you might want to interview him before he comes before the full panel.  Whatever you recommend, we will go along.”

     

    Two days later, Norene let him know Harold Wilson was here for his appointment.  “I grew up with him, said Norene.  “I always thought he must have been dropped on his head as a baby.” Jacob grinned, “Most people believe that all lawyers were dropped on their heads at some time or another.”   “He’s crying,” she said. “I’ll show him in.”  “No, you talk to him and see if you can settle him down,” said Jacob.  “I don’t do well with men in tears.”  “Not in my job description boss, I’d rather have my fingers slammed in a car door.  This is why you get paid the big bucks from the bar association.”

    Wilson, sad-eyed, in need of a barber and a dry cleaner, shuffled into his office and slumped into a chair.  The first words out of his mouth were, ”You’ve got to help me, Sol.”  “Why don’t you tell me what happened?” Solomon said.

     

     

    Wilson’s eyes welled with tears and he bit his lip to keep from sobbing. “Apparently I’ve made a horrible mistake. You know that I have a family practice, mainly divorce work.  I started handling the Jensen divorce about two months ago.  Mr. Jensen, whom I represented, has a wife that is quite a looker, and sexy as all get out – she kept coming on to me, but of course, I ignored her.  I’ve got a picture here – any man, including you, would have been tempted. But I’m a happily married man.  I did meet her a couple of times outside the office, but just to comfort her. That was probably a big mistake. The next thing I knew I had a request to meet with the Disciplinary Committee in Cheyenne.  Even before the hearing, Butch Major, the investigator, informed me that they were looking at pulling my license.  Swenson Hardy suggested that I meet with you first.  The hearing is this coming Wednesday.

    “Okay, Wilson, enough BS, I’m a man of wide tolerances, but you’ve given me a very economical version of the truth. Tell me what really happened?  Don’t try to lie, I’ve got the whole file here, including the pictures,” said Sol.

     

    Wilson tried to choke back a gasp, and then gushed out the real story.   “I started sleeping with her about a month after the divorce started.  Crazy I know, but I couldn’t help myself.  Mr. Jensen got wind and hired a private investigator to watch us and unfortunately he took pictures.”  “Yes, I have copies.” Sol said.

     

    “Jensen showed up at my office ten days ago, pulled out a long-barreled forty-five and twisted it into my left nostril all the way up to my sinuses. You can still see the red marks.  He dropped the pictures in front of me and made me sign a full confession, including a statement that I freely divulged information without duress.  I’m hoping that his violent action towards me will mitigate my temporary lapse of judgment.  He also threatened to come back and put a bullet up through my other nostril if I didn’t resign from the bar and leave town.  What can you do to help me?  I’m awfully sorry.”

     

    Sol thought to himself, “I don’t doubt it, fools, scoundrels and other blackguards generally are sorry when they have to take the consequences of their actions.”  “I’d accept a censure, but I’ve got to have my law license to make a living.  My wife is already divorcing me. I’ll end up with nothing without my legal practice,” said Wilson.

     

    Looking Wilson straight in the eyes, Sol said, “You forgot the part where you gave your client, Mr. Jensen, phony legal advice that would have resulted in a huge financial windfall for the soon to be ex-wife.  Don’t lie to me about this?”  Wilson looked up, large dark circles under his eyes,  “I’m cooked, but can’t you show some mercy?”

     

    “Here is what I’m going to recommend to the committee.  That you voluntarily surrender your law license, with the opportunity to take the bar again in five years and be reinstated.”  “I can’t live with that, I don’t have any other abilities,” said Wilson.  “You’ll have to find something else; or I suggest you move out of state, and practice somewhere else.  The reason for your resignation from the bar will be sealed, unless you leak the information.”

     

    Wilson slumped down further and said,  “I’ll be in Cheyenne next Wednesday, maybe the full board will show a little more leniency.”  “Maybe,” said Sol, knowing the full board might kick Wilson out for good.  “One more thing, Norene has told me a bit about the Jensen bunch; if I were you I would think about moving out of town.  As you know Rock Springs is a rough place, with lots of nasty people.  I doubt that Farley Jensen would come up and shoot you in the nose, but I don’t doubt that one day you might come up missing and never be found.”  Harley Wilson shuffled out of the office, moving like a man condemned to the gallows.

    The front page of the Rock Springs News showed John Ginette standing by his Learjet 60XR, surrounded by a large group of men in police uniforms or dark suits.  “THE BUST WAS A BUST” said the headline.  Apparently a tip was received that Gianette’s jet was transporting a load of heroin.  The local judge, his honorable George Tanner refused to grant a search warrant saying that he didn’t support fishing expeditions with out evidence.  Eventually a warrant was obtained from the federal judge in Cheyenne, but only for the plane.  If any sign of heroin was found, Gianette would be arrested immediately.  Not a trace, even going over the plane with cotton swabs, there was nothing.  Gianette laughed the whole thing off, but then filed suit against the federal government for an unlawful search.  Gianette told a friendly reporter that he could probably could be accused of a variety of misdeeds from his youth, but smuggling heroin wasn’t one of them.

     

    The next morning, Norene rushed into Jacob’s office and said, “They finally found it.”  “Found what?” Jacob replied, only faintly interested.  “You know, of course you know.” “You might as well tell me, Norene, I doubt that a herd of mustangs could stop you.”

    Next Month – Conclusion

    Joseph Ollivier

    Talesuntold.net

    February 2017

  • Solomon Goldstein and the Missing Corpse

      0 comments

    Solomon Goldstein, Attorney at Law, was introduced in a short story last year.  He is a reluctant lawyer, finally having to change his name from Jacob Anderson toGoldstein – marketing himself as a mean Jewish Lawyer – the only way to attract any business.  Solomon (Sol) Goldstein was the name he used in his legal activities.  Otherwise he used his real name – Jacob.  He is assisted by his somewhat edgy assistant, Norene Yaraslova and supported by his very intelligent wife, Jeanie.  His one-man firm is located in Rock Springs Wyoming, and thriving, much to the disgust of the other attorneys in town.

     

    THE CASE OF THE MISSING CORPSE

     

    The three were digging like badgers under a bright moon.  “Damn, the ground is still frozen and we are only down about two feet, it’s going to take hours to get much deeper.”   “All right, toss in the body, fill in the dirt and snow, and release the limbs we’ve pulled back so they hide the grave.  We all agree that we dug down over four feet, right?  Hurry up and we’ll hike back to the snowmobile and get the hell out of here.  I don’t want to ever see this place again.”  The snow came down even harder as they left.  Within fifty feet they had disappeared – just silent flakes whirling in the wind.

     

    “How can you drink that swill,” said Howard.  “I love Swiss Miss Cocoa blended into hot milk with a shot of half and half.  Smooth as silk.   A little cream from Jensen’s Dairy whipped up by Jeanie to top it off – better than that artificial imitation crap in spray cans.  And a lot better than your overpriced mocha latte espresso cappuccino with valium sprinkles from Starbucks,” said Jacob.

     

    Howard’s insurance office was across the hall from Jacob’s.  In fact since Jacob owned the building, he was Howard’s landlord.  Over the last six months the two had become friends, with Howard showing up in Jacob’s office around 8:10 to start his day.

     

    “Well,” said Howard.  “You may be right about this particular coffee this morning.  It could use just a small additive.”  And with that he took out a pint of Jamison’s Irish whiskey and poured in generous dollop.   “Where’s Norene, this morning?  I didn’t see her lurking in the hallway.”  “She and Jeanie have an early morning kick boxing class twice a week – I just hope they don’t decide to gang up on me one day.”   I gained about ten pounds this summer and Jeanie’s been bugging me to start jogging, but I told her that particular exercise is high on my list of fatal diseases.”

     

    “But look at yourself Howard, you really shouldn’t start drinking this early in the morning,” said Jacob, “You are as rumbled as a bag of rags – your clothes are all wrinkled and puckered, especially your shirtfront.  That’s a tale-tale sign of you doing your own laundering.”  Howard had started to resemble a triangle. He had a small, almost bald head with his remaining gray hair on one side pulled up in a comb-over.  Half the hair was almost black from a self-administered dye job.  From his head he widened out until his waist settled around his hips like a life preserver.  He looked as if he could melt into his seat at any minute.

     

    “If you had my problems you’d start drinking the minute you were awake.  I hate my business.  I sell a product that no one really wants – that is based on the fear of a crash, death, or their house burning down. My ex-wife is going back to court for more alimony. I’m sixty-five pounds overweight, so much that my grand daughter calls me “Fatso Gramps,” and I have no friends except for you, and you’re questionable.  – on top of it all I live in Rock Springs – the Hell Hole of the state.  I think I know how a terminally ill person must feel when he wakes up with only a few days to go.”

     

    “Let me tell you a really funny story,” said Jacob, maybe it will improve your mood.”  “You know Hank’s Garage; you may or may not know the owner is Henry Spivic.  “Yes I know who Hank is; kind of an unsavory character, but I understand he is a very good mechanic.”

     

    “That’s right, I have my cars repaired there.  Two weeks ago Hank got blind drunk, combined his beverage of choice with a little cocaine, and became completely disoriented.  He ended up doing some breaking and entering, but was so far out of it, he also broke into his own shop without recognizing where he was.  Caught in the process of dragging out his own front-end alignment machine to put in his pickup; that’s when the cops showed up. They apprehended him, and did a search of the premises.  Unfortunately he had three ounces of cocaine in the back of his box-end tool drawer.  The cops arrested Hank, and tossed him in the pokey.  He was already on parole for receiving stolen auto parts.”

     

    “In the past I’ve defended his antics in return for working on my vehicles.  So I went straight to the DA and explained the case.  My argument was that he couldn’t be prosecuted for breaking into his own business and cops didn’t have a search warrant for the drugs – the other two businesses he hit were just minor trespassing – didn’t steal anything.  Arthur White, our illustrious DA, said he understood that Henry had invited the officers in. Said there was some merit in my argument, but he’d let a judge decide at the preliminary hearing.

     

    “That is when I dropped my bomb.  I asked him, “Where do you get your car repaired, Arthur?”  “I go to Hank’s over on Elk street.”  “Well if you push this, we’re both out of pocket for someone to fix our cars.  Henry Spivic and Hank are the same person.”  Arthur thought for about one second and said, “You’ve convinced me, Sol, a successful prosecution is one thing, but finding a good auto mechanic is entirely something else.  Plead him out and I’ll get the judge to just extend his probation.”

     

    Howard laughed at the story and Jacob joined in.  Then Jacob’s demeanor became more serious.  “Do you know any thing about John Gianette?”  “Enough to make sure I stay comfortably out of his way.”  “I’ve heard he can be a little rough around the edges,” said Jacob. “Why do you ask?” said Howard.  “His ranch manager asked me if I would consider representing Gianette’s son.  It’s one of those ‘he said, she said’ sexual assaults.  I generally don’t want anything to do with those kind of cases, but Norene convinced me to at least talk with him – she always says we need the money.”  Howard spoke up, “He owns the old Triple S – big spread – somewhere around 9200 acres – about forty miles north of here up by Sixteen Hills – west of Farson – changed the name to the Big G.   Came into this area about six years ago with a bunch of money.”  The ranch borders the O BAR O on one side and the US Forest on the other.

     

    “I’ve heard all kinds of rumors about how he acquired the Triple S.  All I really know for sure is that the children of old Harley Mickleson sold the place for cash – they all vamoosed as soon as it closed.  Says he’s Spanish.  Supposed to be from the Carolina’s; tells people his ancestors came from Castile, Spain, but I still think he’s a wop.  I’ve learned to never trust anyone whose name ends in a vowel,” said Howard.  “What about Norene?” said Jacob, “Her last name is Yaraslova.”  “Exactly,” said Howard, “She’s a prime example.”

     

    “Gianette has returned the ranch to pretty much like it was in the 1800’s.  Still uses horses and cowboys on the range – only a few roads – lots of barbed wire.  Even does a cattle drive in the fall.  Brands instead of using ear tags like everyone else.  Strange brand that is supposed to ward off the evil eye.  Gianette says its just an elaborate backwards G.

    “He tore down the old ranch house and built a huge new one – but with classic ranch styling – hand carved logs and split shingles.  Even has a bunkhouse.  I flew over his spread one day and saw a half-mile grass airstrip and a huge hanger.  I think you could easily land a small jet.”

     

    Just then Howard saw Norene coming up the walk.  “Wow, look at that, Blue wool suit, short skirt, white silk blouse, nylons, ferregamo five-inch heels.  What is going on?”   “I have no idea,” said Jacob, “It’s like a costume party every day. Although she no longer dresses like Elvira, the Mistress of the Dark.” As Norene strode through the door they both involuntarily gasped.  While her attire was very sophisticated, she had apparently forgotten to wear a brassier.  Her thinly covered breasts offset her elegant ensemble.

     

    “Well, what are you two looking at?” said Norene.  The two were too stunned to answer, but then she laughed and said,  “Just wanted to make sure I haven’t lost my touch.  I’ll finish dressing in my office.”  The two blinked at one another, then laughed aloud.  “Howard, you can’t say that Norene didn’t give you an electric charge to start the day.”  “You are right, lets hope another nymph will come my way, if not, Norene’s appearance will hang in my memory long enough to give me courage.”

     

    “Now let me tell you a quick story about her before I leave,” said Howard.  “Do you know Javier Baptiste, the French guy who is about sixty?”  “No don’t believe I do, does he need a lawyer?”  “No, no, he’s bartender down at the Wolf Den Bar.   He and I were swapping stories one evening when Norene showed up – low cut tight dress, spiked heels, those thirty-eight’s on prominent display – she was stopping traffic both ways.  Javier took a long look her way and said, “Il y a Une Foule Dans le Balcon”   “What?”  He looked at me with a big smile and translated. “That is French for “There is a crowd in the balcony.”  “I couldn’t have agreed more.”

     

    Norene stuck her head in.  “Jacob, you remember that John Gianette is coming in this morning?” said Norene, no longer braless.  “And here is the great news, I told him he would have to bring a retainer check for $50,000.”  “Really,” said Jacob, raising his voice in excitement.  “Of course not, I just wanted to get you pumped up.  We need a big case.”

     

    “Also this Fedex letter just came from the Bar Association in Cheyenne.  “You open it,” said Jacob, involuntarily cringing.  Norene opened the FedEx package and read the letter.  When she turned around there was a sour expression on her face.  “Not good news?” he said.  “Not, it’s bad news. The President of the Wyoming Bar Association requires your presence next Friday at 9:00 AM in Cheyenne.  There is no explanation other than this is a very important matter and they need you there.”  “Great, there have probably been complaints about my adopted legal name, Solomon Goldstein. They are going to disbar me.”  “No,” Norene said, “It might be that someone has done a deep dive into my own past and attached you to some of the Yaraslova family activities.  I’ll see what some of my contacts in Cheyenne think.”

     

    “Look, here’s Gianette driving up in his Mercedes, with his idiot son, Nicolas; as you might imagine he goes by Nic.  Just be careful, Jacob, he is not a guy you want to have as an enemy.”

     

    John and Nic were led into the conference room.  John was a big man, not in height, but he had the shoulders of a bull, a barrel chest, and the arms of a jackhammer operator, the gray hair on his balding head cut very short.  A Rolex on his wrist, Hugo Boss dark suit and blue Brooks Brothers shirt and tie.  He crushed John’s fingers in a meaty grip – but his smile was open and friendly.  Sol thought he looked like a GQ boy.  Norene’s thought was that he was more like a model for Mobster’s Quarterly.

     

    His son did not look anything like him.  Tall, thin, ash-blond hair, bloodshot washed-out blue eyes, thin lips, light-complexioned with the pasty face an alcoholic – he looked almost like an albino.  His mouth had a permanent sneer that gave him menace and he walked in with a swagger to let you know he knew he was entitled.  His only real color was his nicotine stained fingers.  John spoke first in his baritone voice.  “Hello, Miss Yaroslava, been a while since I’ve seen you.  I hear you are doing well. Sol, I can see you question that Nic and I are father and son.  We are, his mother is Scandinavian.”

     

    “Let’s get right to business. You’ve no doubt heard about the little dust-up that Nic got into with this Candy Pepper girl at Killpepper’s Night Club.  She’s just a normal stripper who saw a rich kid as a way to make some easy money.  Nic here tells me she got into the back seat of his pickup and they had consensual sex.  That’s all there is to it.  I have other attorneys but I thought it would be better to have a local man take the case.  Is that okay with you Nic?” Nic nodded his head, and then repeated the same story almost word for word in a coached high-pitched monotone.

     

    Sol said, “I had Norene pull the police report – I’d say that you would be in good shape except for the physical injuries sustained by the girl.”  “Means nothing,” said Nic.  “She told me she liked it rough and as we got into it she keep yelling for more.”

     

    Solomon held up the report. “It says she sustained facial and body bruises, a broken nose, and a dislocated shoulder.  Any explanation for those serious injuries?”  “Like I said, she kept egging me on,” said Nic.  “What about last year when there was a similar case over in Lander?”  “That case was settled and the records were supposed to be sealed,” said John.  I’ll bet Miss Yaraslova found someway to get a hold of the reports,” his face growing red.

     

    “Why don’t you just settle with this girl, and have her drop the charges?” Sol asked.  “We’ve tried but she won’t budge.  She’s mad as hell,” said John. “I wish I could help you,” Sol said.  “But I have a rule I have followed ever since law school – If I believe a potential client is guilty, I won’t represent him.  Nic here may be as white as the driven snow, and I could be wrong, but that is my decision.”  John jumped to his feet.  “I thought a good lawyer defended anyone who could pay him – everyone is entitled to be represented in court.”  “Yes, that’s true and I can give you several names here in town who will take Nic’s case.”  “That’s enough,” said John, but he took Sol by the arm above the elbow and gave it a forcible squeeze.  “You may think back on this meeting some day.”  Strangely enough it was said with no malice.

     

    Once they had left, Jacob asked Norene,  “How do you know these people?”  “About three years ago Nic came on to me in the Steep Drop bar.  After my second ‘No’ he started to get a rough when I told him I wasn’t going to a “Hot Pillow” motel with him.  I punted him in the gut and when he fell I put a spiked heel on his Adams Apple.  I told him the next time he came on to me, I’d make sure he would go through the rest of his life as a mute.  For good measure I put a little more pressure on his throat – understand he couldn’t speak for a week.  Got an apology and a gift certificate for $500 to Nostrum’s in SLC from his father a couple of days later.  I wouldn’t trust the Gianette’s as far as I can spit.  You are on his short list now boss, that squeeze on your arm was a Judas kiss; keep a good lookout.”

    Friday rolled around all too soon, and Jacob headed for Cheyenne with Norene as moral support.  He had just walked into at the Bar Association’s offices in the Wyoming supreme court building when the secretary opened the door and gave him a seat in the conference room.  In fifteen minutes, Swenson Hardy, the president of he bar came in with a man Sol didn’t know.  “Good morning Solomon,” said Hardy with a grim smile.  “Let’s get right to it.  Do you have any idea why we have called you in this morning?”  “Probably to disbar me,” he thought to himself.  “No, I don’t.”

     

    “Well as you can imagine it’s something serious.  This here’s Ben Millard.  He and myself constitute the disciplinary panel for the all attorney’s in the state – we report to the Supreme Court.  Solomon cringed, waiting for the hammer to drop.  We’d normally have three here but our colleague Joe Budd died last week; you probably heard about it – fool had too much to drink and rolled his car into the Green River, just south of Labarge.  Damned fool.  We need a replacement and you are it.  The newest member of the disciplinary committee of the Wyoming State Bar.  Any questions?”  Jacob thought to himself, quickly reviewing his dealings with other attorneys during the year. “ I’ve got as much confidence in the legal system disciplining its own as I do in fairy tales.”

     

    “Why me, I’m new, and just getting started in practice?” said Sol.  “Let me tell you how we pick our committee members.  We look at the roughest towns in the state and then pick a man from there that we think is a good fit.  You are a good match since you are from Rock Springs and from what we can tell, most of the attorney’s in town already hate your guts, so there is nothing to lose.  Plus you are a Jew and we’ve never had a Hebrew on the committee.  Fact is, I don’t think we’ve ever had a Jewish lawyer in the state.

     

    “It’s not a bad deal – pays $3,000 a month and an expense allowance.  Unless it’s an emergency we normally meet here once a quarter.”  “Do I have a choice in the matter?” asked Sol.  “Not in the least unless you are anxious to become one of our investigatees. No one turns these appointments down.  You can get off in three years.”

     

    “So welcome to the club. I’d dug up a copy of the Rules of Professional Conduct.  We’ll let you know when we have the first complaint.  In any event, let’s meet here in one month.  We usually come in the night before – head for dinner, drinks and cigars at the Bunkhouse Bar and Grill, then work a half-day and call it good.  We have an investigator named Butch Major who does all the heavy lifting – the committee members are not expected to get their hands dirty.  Butch is a former lawyer and comes up with evidence before we act.  He resigned from the bar and turned in his license – was using his trust account to gamble on line.  He made all his clients whole, one of the reasons why we hired him.  He’s smart, irritating and hates lawyers – just the right mix. He’ll show you some of the ropes.”

     

    As they left the room, Swenson Hardy said, “Sol, I’ve got a twin engine Cessna if you want me to fly over and pick you up before our next meeting.  We’ll buzz some pronghorn antelope – its fun to run them until they flip over.  Fastest animal next to a cheetah, a buck can do 55 mph on the level.”

     

     

    ******************************************

     

    Westley Duggins was furious.   It was late Saturday afternoon and he was headed for a line dance in Rock Springs that evening.  But his boss, Mr. Case Warren, was insisting that he ride up to the Outlaw Cave, some seven miles from road end.   He figured that the four single malt whiskeys his boss had downed were the cause of this stupid decision.  “I’d send you on the snowmobile, but it’s broke, so go get your horse ready. The last part is too steep and rocky anyhow – probably have to lead your mount.  You should be able to get up there in about an hour and a half riding at an even pace.  I’ve got a strong hunch those two lost heifers and their calves are in that cave – pretty sure I’m right.”  “Can’t I go in the morning?” said Wes.  “No, I want you to go right now.  There’s a bunch of wolves that lurk right along our border with Gianette’s Big G, and I just have a funny feeling about it.  Get going right now, the sooner you go, the sooner you’ll be back, although if they are in that cave and there is a sign of wolves around you may have to stay the night.  Call me on your cell phone when you get there.  “With obvious irritation in his voice, Wes said, “Well you’re the boss.”  “I was the last time I signed your paycheck, now get goin’.” growled Warren.

     

    A mile into the ride Wes was still cussing, the wet snow driving into his face.  “For hell’s sake, can’t it blow the other way for a change?” He’d long since accepted that nature neither favors one person or another but drives rain and snow with indifference on all, but he was still furious.  “This is total BS,” he said to himself, as he pulled his hat down tighter.  “I hope I find the cows and calves frozen.  If I thought I could get away with it I’d hold up somewhere for an hour and tell the old S.O.B. I checked and couldn’t find a thing.”  But he road on muttering to himself.  As he urged his horse down one gully and another, he finally got within 200 yards of the cave, where the pine and undergrowth were thickest.

     

    “Just as I thought,” he said to himself, “Not a damn thing.”  But then he heard growls over to his right.  “Probably some enterprising varmints eating the remains of the cattle.”   But then he heard growls over to his right.  “Probably some enterprising varmints eating the remains of the cattle,” he hoped.

     

    “We’ll guess I’d better look to see how many are down, but I’m surprised that a wolverine could take down a heifer.  Maybe they’re just cleaning up after the wolves.” He looked up to see a slash and a brand mark on an Aspen tree that showed he had crossed onto Gianette land.  He tied his horse and plowed through the snow with his flashlight held in front.  No cattle, but the wolverines had been digging into the ground.  When he pulled back the pine boughs he could see some sort of black cloth.

     

    As he got closer, he could see the cloth was really rubber or plastic with a cow bone sticking out.  He directed his flashlight down and pulled back the rubber and found he was looking at the bones of a corpse, the flesh peeled off from hand to elbow. “What the hell?” Jumping back and looking around, he called Mr. Warren immediately.  “What in blazes is a body doing there?”  “Don’t know boss, pretty spooky.  I think the wolverines dug up it up and had themselves a bit of a snack.  What do you want me to do? I got a funny feeling, something’s not right, I want to get out of here as soon as possible.”

     

    “I’ll give you a choice.  You can either stay there with the body and we’ll get someone out in the morning, or you can throw the corpse behind your saddle and bring it in.  Just wrap your poncho around what is left,” said Mr. Warren. “How about I just come back now and leave the body here,” said Wes.  “Nope that won’t work, wolves or some other animals will be back and there won’t be nothin’ left.”

     

    Wes cussed silently again.  “Okay, I’ll bring the damned thing in. Can someone meet me at Three Mile and take the cursed thing off my hands?”  “Yeah, we can do that.  Give me about an hour,” said Case.

     

    Three hours later the body was tossed none to gently onto the barn floor. Case Warren then called the sheriff’s office in Rock Springs.  No one was in on a Saturday night, so the call was routed to 911, but the supervisor advised him to just keep the body where it was.  Finally Case got a hold of the county coroner who told him to bring the body to the morgue.  He’d have someone there.

     

    Mr. Warren loaded the body in his Ford F250, cursing the whole fiasco, and set out in four wheel drive at 70 mph to Rock Springs, getting there just before 2:00 AM, snow blowing in hard from the south.  The grizzled older man who met him was ornery and irritated, and the two of them roughly jammed the bag containing the corpse into the old locker without a look.  Both quickly went their way with little conversation.

    The next morning the coroner wandered in, full of curiosity to see what he had, but the drawer was empty.  He tried all the other containers but there was nothing.  “What the hell?  Is this some sort of joke?”  He called his sometime assistant who verified that he and Case Warren had put a black bag containing a body in Drawer C.  He hadn’t looked at the corpse, but he could feel it was somewhat rigid and the body bag was ripped.

     

    “This makes no sense,” the coroner said.  I’ll get a hold of Case Warren and let’s get some answers.”  Warren called back and put Wesley Dugginson the phone.  “I don’t know a thing other than I could see a hand, wrist and arm with most of the flesh torn off – probably by the  wolverines.  Took me an hour to get the dang thing loose from the frozen earth.  I kept looking around the whole time. My horse was rearing and screaming like there was still something out there.  I can tell you I was damn glad to get away  – felt like there was a watcher in the trees.

     

    I covered the thing with the bag as best as I could, then put my poncho over the rest and roped it behind me.  The body was heavy – say 200 pounds – and stiff. Thought I might break some of the bones on the ride in.  Never looked at the face.”  “Me neither,” said Warren.”

     

    “Well this is a fine screw up,” said Lester Black, the coroner.  “Better call the sheriff and see what he thinks.”  He did just that, and Percel Hall, the sheriff, interviewed everyone involved.  He told each to be absolutely silent about this incident.   There were some marks on the morgue’s back lock which had been picked, but it wasn’t broken.  Then he got his deputy, and had Wes take them to the site – still a tough ride.  There was nothing to be seen since there was now another two feet of snow.  After digging around for an hour, they decided that there was not much to do until spring. Once again, the sheriff, who was up for election the following year, cautioned everyone to keep their mouths shut.  Of course that didn’t work.  Wes got drunk and told a friend of his, who spread the juicy story like grape jelly.

     

    Immediately there were rumors and accusations and demands.  The sheriff caught the brunt of the inquiries.  Smartly, he told the truth of what had happened.  His department was following all leads and would appreciate any help from the general population.  And he did tell the newspaper that the slab where the body had been kept was sprayed with bleach to remove any signs of DNA – they were dealing with intelligent criminals.  Norene told Jacob that this was the high plains ofWyoming, maybe the corpse had blown in from Kansas.  The sheriff asked the state for help and a seven-man search and rescue team went back to the grave site, but found nothing other than the depression in the ground.  Someone started talking about a serial cannibal, and a hue and cry was taken up to search house by house.  Nothing, nada, nobody seemed to know a thing.  The Feds and FBI were called in, but they also turned up nothing.  After three months, the sheriff announced that the investigation was continuing, and they were looking at new leads.  In reality, he figured it was space aliens, ghouls, or werewolves, and the case would never be solved.  He put all the information he had into a cold case file and closed his mind.  Besides, there was no one missing in town or the surrounding area.  The only other crime that night was the theft of Barney Stills plumbing van – never recovered it either.  Maybe the space aliens drove off with the body inside.

     

    Next Month -– Part Two

     

  • FUN WITH DICK AND JANE

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    FUN WITH DICK AND JANE

     

     

    Deciding to throw away some of the junk I had accumulated over a lifetime, I was sitting on a piece of plywood in the attic, holding a small flashlight in my mouth.   I was sorting through boxes of junk when I came across a wooden crate labeled “Richard’s School Memories.”

     

    “This should be good,” I thought.  My mom saved everything that might have enhanced my stature from the first grade on.  Six years old, yup, that’s right – 1948 ­– Pleasant Grove, Utah.  Little town of about thirty-two hundred.  Everybody’s dad worked at Geneva Steel. or farmed, or did both.  The most serious challenge I could make to my friends was, “My dad can beat up your dad”, followed by, “My mom is prettier than your mom.”

     

    As I pawed through my old school projects, gold-starred report cards, and construction-paper art, a green and red book caught my eye.  Even before I reached, I knew what it was, my copy of “Fun with Dick and Jane”.  A favorite and a curse.

    The reading primer is not so popular now, but it is still much better than the People magazine articles about dissipated Hollywood lowlifes. My sister was Susan Jane ­– of course she went by Jane; my name was Richard – so there you have it – Dick and Jane.  We both suffered from the slings and arrows of our classmates.  “See Dick Run,” they yelled as they chased me across the schoolyard during recess. They weren’t interested in pummeling me; just liked to chase so they could chant and occasionally give me a shove.  Even my teacher, Mrs. Ash, thought it funny.

     

    Since about age five I had been pestering my dad to get a dog – my dog, not the family’s dog.  In 1949, he finally relented, giving me the standard lecture that it was my responsibility to care for, feed, and pick up after the dog, to not to let it in the house, and to make sure it didn’t kill our chickens or chase the sheep.  I told him I would agree to stay up all night every night to take care of my hound if need be.  “There is one more condition, “ said my Father.  “The dog has to be free. We don’t buy animals around here unless they can produce more than they cost.”  “Okay, Okay,” I said, “I’ve got six dollars saved; could you give me some help if it’s not enough?”  My dad just gave me the “look” – usually accompanied with the comment, “You think money grows on trees?”  That look also meant he thought I was about to make another gigantic mistake that probably would result in physical injury, disappointment to all involved, and frequent banishment to my bedroom after school.

     

    My hunt for a dog was relentless.  I wanted a dog that would be a protector, bite my classmates, and shake the rattlesnakes that inhabited the hill above us – raise the alarm against any intruders, obedient to my every command.  Maybe a Wolfhound, Great Dane, or Bulldog with three-inch fangs.

     

    One day our milkman mentioned that he had seen some new puppies on his route, over at the Henderson’s.  I made a beeline   immediately.  “Yes,” Mrs. Henderson said, they had a new litter.  I’d be welcome to look.  They were all black and white and resembled Spot from Dick and Jane, which I saw as a distinct disadvantage.  “Come back around six, John will be home then and you can talk to him.”  I didn’t want to talk with him, he was a well known grumpy farmer  (Is there any other kind?) with a bad attitude towards children – the Henderson’s had none of their own.

     

    Nevertheless, I was there right at six.  “What do you want?” growled Mr. Henderson.  “Thought I could maybe get a puppy from you,” I said. “ You got any money, young feller?”  “I’ve got six dollars.” “That’s hardly enough to buy one of my purebreds, but let’s go look.”  There was the litter, all jumping up and down, except one, shivering in the corner.   “Because your folks are good people, I’ll let you have the pick of the litter for only six dollars – show me the money first, so I know you have it.”  “How much is the one in the corner?” I asked.  “You don’t want that one, he’s always showing the white’s of his eyes, whimpering, and scared of his own shadow.”

     

    Now if this was a “feel good” Dick and Jane story, Spot would be rescued by Dick, and raised to become like Lassie – protective, sensitive, loyal, intelligent and fun.  Not a merely a pet, but a family member, who would raise the alarm at the very slightest sign of a problem.

     

    But this wasn’t Dick and Jane, and in purchasing the runt of the litter for a dollar I began an unsteady financial voyage through life, where I continued to believe that buying something at a whopping discount was the best decision.  It wasn’t, still isn’t.

     

    My dad insisted that he name the dog, since I was underage (what was that about?).  Yup, with his warped sense of humor, you can guess what he picked.

    I would smuggle Spot into my bedroom after my parents turned out the lights.  I found he wasn’t the easiest to housebreak, so we put him outside on the porch after the third night  – he commenced to howl, but my dad had a cautionary word with him and he quieted right down.

     

    My father came up to me one Saturday afternoon about a month later and said, “I believe you’ve got yourself a “Chicken Dog.”  I immediately defended Spot, declaring he would never chase or attack our chickens.  “Well, let’s see,” my dad said.  We went up to the chicken run outside the coup where fifteen or so chickens were scratching and pecking at the ground, hoping some sort of insect would fall into their grasp.  Dad pushed Spot through the mesh gate and told me to watch carefully.  Spot looked at the chickens, the chickens looked at Spot, and then to my shame, the chickens took after Spot, led by a bantam rooster, running him around the boundaries of the fence.  “See what I mean, the dog’s a “Chicken Dog,” even afraid of our hens.”

     

    Spot and I had a serious talk that afternoon, even to the point that I offered to kill the mean-tempered rooster and claim he had done it.  Didn’t happen, Spot was more interested in marking fence posts, rocks, the occasional tall weed and our back door.  He was also an aficionado of fresh horse manure – good for a full-bodied roll before I could stop him.  He also liked to sample a steaming dropping or two, giving new meaning to the term “Dog Breath”.

     

    I was able to train him to sit up, but only if food was at the ready.  He was a full-blown foodaholic and anything that fell from the table was fair game – fruit pits, paper napkins, banana peels– you name it, he would wolf it down.

     

    But he was my faithful dog, always excited to see me when I came home from school, jumping up on me with muddy paws, ready at a minute’s notice to go on any adventure.  Also ready to scram if there was any threat.  Early on I tried, “Sic em, Spot” in hopes he would bite my sister or one of her friends.  He wouldn’t bite anyone, that is, if you don’t count me.  He chewed into my finger that was holding a bacon sandwich, nipped me on the ankle once when I was in full flight from the Duval twins, (I’d like to hope it was to increase my speed) and would plant his teeth in my ear while I was asleep.  He also bit his own tail occasionally in a case of mistaken identity.

     

    I made a valiant attempt to train him to pull me in my red Radio Flyer wagon.  Maybe make it around the block.  He decided to not pull, just come and sit in the wagon with me.  Eventually, I ended up pulling him while he barked commands to increase speed.

     

    Then Jane got an orange tabby cat, and said that since my dog was Spot, she knew no reason not to call her cat, “Puff.”  “You already named that stinky teddy bear, Tim,” I said.  All we need now is a baby named Sally and we’d fill out the whole book,” I said in disgust.

     

    Sure enough, two months later we were all gathered around the dinner table – Spot lurking underneath.  My mom said she had an announcement.  She was going to have a baby.  I put my head down on the table.  “Please, please, promise me you won’t name the baby Sally.”  “ I ‘m sure it’s going to be a boy so what name would you like?” said Mom.  “How about Butch or Rock or Duke?”  “I’ve been thinking about Sal, would that be okay?”  “No! No! No!” I shouted, “Anything but that.”  The next seven months passed slowly.  “What was my mom thinking; bringing a brother into a family whose children were continually ridiculed and chased after – with a “Chicken Dog”, a disgusting cat, and a germ ridden filthy Teddy Bear?  Maybe something would happen and she would give the new arrival away.

     

    The big day came and I went to the hospital with my dad.  The first hint of trouble was the pink carnations he brought.  Then we went into mom’s room.  The baby was swaddled in a pink blanket. This could not be happening to me.  “So, what are going to name my new sister?” I grimly asked. “We thought we would name her Anne.” “Hallelujah, finally off the hook.”  “Sally Anne Watson.  Do you like that name?” my mom grinned.  I went outside and ejected the scrambled eggs and toast I’d had for breakfast.

     

    I was so irritated that I decided maybe I should do my own drawings for the Dick and Jane books.  I started with a cover, which I believed to be a masterpiece, then did several other sketches in Mr. Woolstenhulme’s art class.  I also renamed my nemeses – Dick the Dipstick, Jane the Junk Woman, and Sally the Slobberer.   Spot was, of course, the rabies carrier – Puff, the mangy cat, who had turned out to be a hellcat biting anything that moved.   My mother had kept these masterpieces through the years.  They seemed rather childish now, but I could still remember the humiliation I had felt growing up as Dick, with sisters Jane, and Sally, and with Spot, Puff and Tim as the supporting cast.

     

     

     

     

    Finally when I was twelve I moved on to Jr. High and met new kids who didn’t know of my past embarrassments.  I started calling myself by my middle name, David. My sisters did the same; Susan and Anne.  Spot got bitten by a rattlesnake – saving me as I was about to step on it. I tossed Puff into the canal several times but the feline could swim like an otter.  Finally even Sally had had enough of the beast biting our shoes. We transported Puff at night in a gunny sack to a home on the other side of town – we didn’t like them anyway.  Tim met a fiery end when I soaked him in kerosene and toasted him along with some marshmallows.

     

    Still, all these experiences weren’t the fault of the Dick and Jane books, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading the adventures of those simpler times – no TV, no violent video games, no cell phones, eating out only on Mother’s Day – no ungodly tattoo’s creeping out of someone’s shirt collar, no vicious sarcasm laced with burning profanity, and a lot less lying.  Seemed that back then there were consequences for Dick and Jane, and they didn’t try to lie their way out of trouble.  They were happy with simple activities, treated each other as friends, and seemed to enjoy their lives.  They helped me see what was good and expected behavior, and I learned to read very rapidly.  In those long ago days when my mom said go and play after my chores were done, she meant “go outside and play” (notice Dick and Jane never played indoors).  About the worst thing that could happen when I went out to meet my friends was having them greet me with a chant of “Run Dick Run”.

    Joseph Ollivier

    Talesuntold.net

  • THE TANNER

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    Naga The Tanner 

     

     

    Naga crawled along the tunnel on all fours, a flashlight in front, a bag tied to his ankle dragging behind. The tunnel floor was polished to an obsidian glaze by the passing of many hands and knees. A small trickle of cloudy water ran down the center.  Dressed in black, he looked like some sort of grotesque creeping beetle, his face dark, eyes shining with greed.

     

    “There must be no God,” he whispered to himself.  “Otherwise he would strike me down – smash my bones into dust and toss the remains into the wind.  I shake my fist in his face for not granting me a male heir.” He then came to a small stone door, the same color of the rock walls. Opening the entrance just a crack, he made sure no one was there. He rose into the larger space, sat down heavily on a rock, lit a cigarette, and put his head in his hands.

     

    Naga Negulescu was a minor gypsy king, but knew little about his tumultuous ancestry.   Didn’t know his family originally came from Egypt, with dark eyes and hair, then wandered into northwestern India – but never establishing a homeland.  Their reputation through the ages was one of traveling entertainers, fortune-tellers, horse traders, and cunning tinkers, but always with the curse that they were criminals – a socially degraded order.  Others believed they were much worse – kidnappers, child abusers, and murderers.  They were evicted from India around 1100 AD, migrated to the west, and began their never-ending wandering. 

     

     

     

    There they were taken as slaves, murdered, deported, marked by the cutting off of an ear, flogged and sterilized. In the 1500’s many countries passed extermination laws. Great Britain one of the most harsh. The edict was:  “Whoever kills a gypsy shall not be guilty of murder.” In 1685 all Portuguese gypsies were deported to Brazil.  During WWII somewhere around 455,000 men, woman and children were killed by the Germans – often on sight by the SS Einsatzgruppen (death squads).  Stalin sent tens of thousands to Siberia to die, or had them shot.  And still they survived, moving from one place to another as unwanted wanderers, the stepchildren of the earth.

     

    Naga’s own recent heritage went back 160 years when his great grandfather (a tanner) was driven from St. Petersburg, eventually driving his Vardo (living wagon) 1700 miles south to southern Romania.  Unlike others of his clan, he stopped and settled his family in a box canyon surrounded by a four thousand foot un-named mountain – a home but not a homeland – though the Negulescu’s claimed Romanian heritage and citizenship within a few years.  The settlement was just above Magureni, a little town in the center of the southern Carpathian mountains.

     

    The Carpathian’s are a range of mountains forming an arc roughly 932 miles across Central and Eastern Europe. They provide the habitat for the largest European populations of bison, chamois, brown bears, wolves, wild boars and big cats – and if you believe some of the tales – werewolves and vampires from the Transylvania region.  The Carpathian’s also have abundant thermal and mineral springs – many people claim these waters have health-giving properties.  The area where Naga’s grandfather stopped had many such springs.  

    The Germans sent waves of Einsatzgrupplen searching through the remote countryside, but no one in Magureni said anything about their gypsy neighbors, even though Romania was an Axis partner.  The Negulescu’s hid in the mountain caves and tunnels when danger was near.

    Two miles north of town was the community that Naga’s grandfather had established.  This little hamlet, Negulescu, contained both blood relatives and extended family, all whom kept to themselves. The family members raised livestock, grew fruits and vegetables, hunted in the forest, shopped in town, and paid their taxes.

     

    Most importantly the family purchased animal skins, tanned them, and sold the finest leather in the world.  Four times a year, they displayed their very best in a one-hundred-twenty-year-old stone barn.  Buyers and brokers from all over the world came to bid on bundles of leather, buttery soft, almost warm to the touch – some brought prices higher per ounce than gold – all transactions were in dollars or precious metals.

    There was one small building different from the others, open only to the most prominent bidders.  The leather there was like silk, thin, but without blemish, and malleable to any shape. Some was of an off-white that almost glowed – but the pieces of this extraordinary leather were always small – some with just a tinge of color.  The Negulescu clan would never reveal the process used to make their fine leather and were completely silent about the most expensive, called the Silken.

     

    Part of the reason the Negulescu leather was so prime was that they only took spotless skins.  If there was any blemish, then the hide was rejected.  Most of their suppliers came from Eastern Europe, a tight knit group of livestock people who guaranteed that all of their skins were from animals who had been skinned while they were still warm, and the blood not congealed. 

     

    As Naga supported his head in his hands at the tunnel entrance, he thought about the tanning process that had been used in his family for generations. Tanning was a complicated and messy process – the end result was to have magnificent texture, color, and grain.  The first step was to brine the hides in salt water to avoid putrefaction, then remove the flesh and fat by soaking in an aqueous solution of lye and water that resulted in rawhide.   The rawhide was soaked in water for up to two days, and then treated with milk of lime cyanide.  Unhairing was then done with sodium sulfide using a dull knife (known as scudding) and a sharp fleshing knife for any tissue still attached.  The hide was then pickled in huge barrels with a solution of salt and sulfuric acid to further soften the leather.  Naga always carried his sharp fleshing knife.

    But the long kept secret to the finished quality of all the Negulescu leather was a gold-colored mineral stream that ran through the back of their property.  Just before the leather went through its final curing phase, it was soaked in a large pool for 36 hours, giving it a glow like no other – full grained, bridled, not one imperfection.  However there was a smaller pool, with different minerals, at the end of the hidden tunnel where Naga had been dragging his bag.

     

    It was there that Naga brought forth very small amounts of leather beyond anyone else’s capability.  It was subject of conversation year after year, and there were always rumors about the origin of the the Silken.  Naga, of course, knew the answer, but would never reveal any knowledge.  He was the only one who tanned the Silken skins.  Those skins were procured by his agent, who was from the area just south of Brusteri, a little town in the Transylvania mountains. In finishing the Silken, Nag did all of the processing himself by at the end of his hidden tunnel, never revealing exactly how he handled the skins or where they came from, even to his family members.  Nag was a lover of money, and when any opportunity was presented, he locked on like a miser.

     

    Naga was also called Nag, or Naga the Dark.  It wasn’t just the beautiful walnut color of his skin, still unspotted and unwrinkled. But he had a dour malevolent countenance –– the kind of man that little children instinctively shied away from.  A hooked nose with a raven’s hard eyes – his hair still full, black and coarse, long sharp fingernails – his lips thin and dark, and turned down at the corners – there was something about him that made a person’s skin crawl – something unholy or vile.

    In the past generations there had always been a son who took over the business upon reaching the age of 50.  But finally this order was about to come

    to a halt.  This was the reason why Naga held his head in his hands.  He had married his first wife at 16, but she was barren.  He banished her and took another at 22 – her two offspring were stillborn and she went the way of the first.  His third wife was 25 when he was fifty and bore him a beautiful daughter.  But then no more and he sent her away.  He did not want to pass the torch down to one of his extended family, many of whom were eager to take on the patriarchal role as head of the Negulescu clan.

    As his daughter Tatiana approached fifty, Nag finally had to admit to himself that he would have no other choice but to ordain her to lead the clan, 

    although there was no such thing as a gypsy woman leader.  She was married, had two children, both boys, which bore upon his decision.  Against his will she went to college, with a degree in business from Ocicius University in Constata, but loved living in the mountains near her family – she was in charge of marketing the Negulescu products outside the quarterly auctions, but had nothing to do with the tanning operations  “If the leadership had to skip a generation so be it” thought Nag.  Tatiana had grown up in the business and knew most aspects – but not about the Silken.

    He made her swear an oath that what she was about to learn would never be revealed to anyone except her own first-born son.  She swore, but didn’t think much about it; she wanted to shrug off the old ways and modernize the business and lifestyle.  She was sick of seeing children of fourteen forced into arranged marriages with their cousins, the evil eye curses, and the blood feuds.

    She was taken into an entryway that was at the back of the main soaking room, closed off by a small iron door – only Nag had the key – which she

    had never seen before.  Inside were ancient implements of a tannery, but they hid a stone door that led to a tunnel.  She had to crawl on her 

    hands and knees.  Finally they got to a malodorous small spring that bubbled up at the back of a small cave.  It was present only for a few yards, formed a pool, and then dived back into the earth.   “Acids and minerals in this spring soften the Silken hides and bring all of the qualities of the finest leather to the surface. My beautiful walnut skin is still clear at seventy-five because I come here once a week and bathe.”  “But where do the Silken skins come from?” asked Tatiana.

    “The Silken is made from human skin.”  “What!  You can’t be serious,” said Tatiana in terror.  “Yes I am, there is no law against tanning human skin.”  “Father, 

    where do you procure these skins?”  “Our family has long had an arrangement with some of the undertakers in this region, and they have contracts 

    with others in Europe and Russia.  The undertakers sell the skins to our agent.  Some money goes to the families of the deceased.  They are glad to 

    have it.  Like I said, there is no law against tanning the skins, but we are the only ones who do it,” he said proudly.

    “But why deal in human skins?”  “Because there is no leather that has the particular look and feel.”  “What about the very finest, almost

     white, some pieces with a pink glow that bring more than gold, where are those from?”  Nag looked over at her, his black eyes tightening, fake tears beading at the edges.  “Those are from very young children who have died.  There are not many in a year, we are lucky to have ten skins. They are bought from families whose children have not reached their first year.  These are the poorest of the poor and we do them a great service by buying the bodies of

    their dead children.  We pay very high amounts to procure their skins.”  “What do you do with the bodies?” Tatiana asked.  “We give them a proper 

    burial in a cemetery closest to where they were acquired.  I only do this to help the poor.”  Naga thought to himself, “And I do it to keep my fortune 

    growing and growing.”  “They come from small villages.  It is very difficult to get the skins we need.  There is always more demand than we can supply. Can you continue this most profitable part of our business?”  She nodded, but thought to herself, “Never.”

    Tatiana was not a fool and from then on she watched her father very closely.  A month later he acted very nervous one afternoon.  He said it was his

    stomach but she was suspicious.  She crept out after him – it was 11:00 PM and he was easy to follow since he was sure no one would be out on

    the Negulescu land at this hour.  In forty-five minutes he was at a place where the trail indented the mountain wall.  She could see the glow of his

    cigarette when he sat down.  In a half hour someone came from the opposite direction, carrying a duffel in his right hand.  There was a greeting and   

    then Tatiana could hear the rasp of talk between the two men – then the rustle of money.  Naga took the bag and started back, not realizing that he came
    within twenty-five feet of his daughter.

     

    She trailed him, watching as he put the bag into a locked iron shed, looking around as he did so.  Then he went to bed.  But Tatiana had a key.  She waited an hour, then opened the door, turned her flashlight on, and looked in the bag.  She couldn’t figure it out; the skins had already had the hair removed, and were very supple. Then as she laid them out, trying to understand what animal they had come from, she realized that these were human skins, ones her father would make into the Silken.   Most skins were small enough to be those of babies.

    Tatiana did not trust her father, but had no way to know if his explanation of where the human skins came from was true or not.  She would stop this

    practice in human pelts just as soon as she had control.  A week later she asked her father, “Can we not stop this practice, do we need the money that 

     badly?”  “Yes, we could, but remember I also look at it as a service to the poor.  We make no profit on the skin’s of the babies, making sure that all monies go to the parents.”  He looked Tatiana right in her eyes to see if she had bought his lie.

    Within two weeks Tatiana agreed to continue the family line as the Neglusecu matriarch and started to learn the Silken process.  She began to be introduced to the men that her father had dealt with over his 75 years.  Most seemed to be honest businessmen who understood the leather trade, but showed their dislike in dealing with a woman.  The last was a small man, dark like her father, with close-set eyes, a sharp nose and a mistrustful face.  “This is Draco, one of my oldest friends – he is the agent who supplies most of the hides that are made into the Silken.”  The man nodded and raised his head.  Tatiana thought there was a strange  gleam in his eyes as he met her gaze – almost a look of madness.  He explained again what her father had told her – almost as if it was rehearsed.  Then Nag and Draco went off together.

    Later that evening, after the two had much to drink, they were talking, heads bent together, fingers involuntarily curling.  “How are you doing obtaining bodies right after burial?” asked Nag.  “Not so good, families tend to come back to the graves many times during the first few weeks, and as you know, after three days the skin starts to deteriorate.  We have watchers everywhere, but two diggers were caught and killed by local people.  I think we should stop stealing corpses for awhile.”

    Hmm,” said Nag. “What about the fine infant skins you brought me last time? You mentioned some of the skins may have come from children who didn’t

    die from illness?” said Nag.  “Yes, it’s true.  I did not propose it, but two very poor families who had an unwanted new child were more than glad to turn 

    over the body immediately after the child had been smothered.  I never ask for them to do this, but I did not refuse.  It’s more and more difficult to get 

    the remains of babies, this will give us another source, do you agree?” said Draco.  “Yes,” Nag nodded, “It’s someone else’s choice to do this thing, It is nothing to do with us.  Make sure the skin is removed before the body is cold if at all possible,” he cautioned, “And let it be known that we are buyers of such skins.”  One other opportunity,” said Draco. “There was one man from a remote area who wanted to know if I would be interested in an unborn child taken from its mother’s womb.  I said I would have to think about it – I wanted to see what you thought.”“I shall have to think about that myself,” said Nag.  I wouldn’t undertake it unless the finished Silken would sell for over one hundred thousand dollars.” But he involuntarily rubbed his hands, grinned with delight, and hugged himself with anticipation.  

    Outside the old building, listening at a space where a chink of mud had fallen out, Tatiana sank to the ground.  This could not be her father; surely he would never contemplate what she had just heard – he was mean, even cruel, and not to be trusted, but surely he would never consider taking part in the murder of children.  She lay still for 15 minutes, stunned by the conversation.  Then she stumbled back to her own bed sick within her heart.

    The next morning, she decided to confront her father.   “Answer me one question.  Would you and Draco pay for parents to take the lives of babies to

    get their skin?” She told him she had heard him talking to Draco in the old shed and was sure what she had heard.  “You are mistaken,” said her father,  “We were only talking about children who died of natural causes right after birth.  We would never go beyond that.  Draco’s muttering were misunderstood, you can talk to him yourself today.”  Then he thought to himself, “Having Tatiana take over the business will never work.  I must do what I must do.”  At the same moment, Tatiana had the same thought, “I must do what I must do.”

    Two days later, Naga told Tatiana that he was ready to show her additional processes done in the Silken chamber.  She readily agreed and when they got

    to the stone door, Naga said, “Go before me, I will slow you down.”  But Tatiana replied, “No father, you go first, take your time.  And so they crawled 

    through the tunnel, dimly lit by their flashlights.  As Naga entered the Silken Chamber he reached down for his large fleshing knife, but a blow from the  

    darkness struck him first.

    Two days later a nephew had a question for Naga.  Tatiana explained that he had gone to Russia for a month -– to see if he could find any

    relatives of the old Negulescu family – to trace his ancestry.  The cousin knitted his eyebrows in a quizzical expression, but then just shrugged his shoulders.  After awhile the family members quit asking about Nag, assuming he was still in Russia.

    A month later the quarterly showing of the Nagulescu leather commenced.  There was only one Silken skin, quite large, that was of the finest walnut hue – it brought $32,000 – the last of the Silken ever to be sold.

    Joseph Ollivier

    Talesuntold.net

    Josephollivier@gmail.com

     

    Author’s Note:  The Romanian government estimates their gypsy population to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 623,000, and the worldwide population at around ten million.  No one really knows for sure, since census analysis has shown that gypsies don’t give their real names for fear of discrimination – or if they have settled in with the predominant population, they have adopted that ethnicity for protection.  I was in Russia in 1983 – there were no gypsies anywhere.  In 2000 when I went back, they were everywhere, begging, selling, groups trying to get your attention for pickpocketing.   

    The demand for human leather is worldwide and generally is not regulated or restricted.