Death at the Supermarket: Surviving Your Trip to the Grocery Store – Foreword

Cover Design by Laura Shinn. http://www.laurashinn.yolasite.com
Cover Design by Laura Shinn. http://www.laurashinn.yolasite.com

DEATH AT THE SUPERMARKET

 Surviving your weekly trip to the grocery store

(It’s not a murder mystery, although quite a killer)

By

Larry ‘The Fish Guy’ Caplin

 

Copyright ©2015, by the author

 License Notes

The names of individuals and businesses have all been changed, to protect both the innocent and the guilty. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, without written permission from the author, except for brief quotations.

                                                                                                                                                                                        Foreword

 

Hello. The author’s name is “Larry the Fish Guy,” a minor character from two of Lee Capp’s murder mysteries. The first is called TIME ENOUGH TO DIE: The Watchmaker – Book One, and the second is ELLIOTT BAY: The Watchmaker – Book Two. The books are fictional, although the character—Larry, is real enough. And yes, he really is a fish-guy. As in a guy who has been in the meat and seafood business for quite a long time now. As protagonist Johnny O’Brien says in book one—“Larry’s a sarcastic SOB . . . but he knows things.” He does indeed. And some of those things could well save your life, or the life of someone you love.

And that’s what this book is all about.

Larry has been around awhile, and in more professions than just seafood too. Now sixty-six years old, Larry can claim over eight years working in a major chain grocery store. Right down there in the trenches—right at the retail level. The retail lever is where, to use an automotive metaphor, the “rubber meets the road,” so to speak. It’s where the product is delivered to the customer. It’s the last stop before it appears on someone’s dinner table. And, it is exactly where the very last point is, on the food safety highway (again to use the automotive metaphor) to maintain safety and quality. It’s the very last place, and the very last chance, to stop someone from getting real sick from bad food—or much, much worse.

Larry’s seen the worst that can happen—up close and personal—over and over again, in both the health care field and mortuary service. In health care, it was the sick and the dying. At the funeral home, it was those that didn’t make it. As Larry as said (about a million times) “I’ve sat with the dying, and lowered the dead into the ground enough times, to not care to do it ever again.”

The risks are real—and they are substantial.

Consider:

Annual number of food related illnesses in the US—76 million.

Annual number of food related hospitalizations in the US—325,000

Annual number of food related deaths in the US—5,000

Number of annual deaths due to Salmonella, Listeria, and Toxoplasma—1,800

Number of annual deaths due to unknown agents—3,200

The foods with the highest risk of food poisoning (in order) are: Meat/Beef, Poultry/Chicken/Turkey, Dairy Products, Eggs, Salami/Hams, Seafood, Cooked Rice and Pasta, and assorted deli items such as Salads, Coleslaw, Pasta Salad, Rice Salad, Fruit Salads, and so forth. (Stats from STATISTIC BRAIN)

Ten thousand deaths, and that many food poisoning related episodes may not seem like a lot in a nation of well over three-hundred million—but it is if you happen to be one of them—or worse yet, someone you love. As the late great military guru Jeff Cooper once noted, “Statistics mean nothing to a person caught in exceptional circumstances.”

The food poisoning doesn’t have to result in death either to have a profound impact on a person’s life. Sometimes the effects will spoil your whole afternoon. Sometimes a lot longer than that. My own brother was a victim of restaurant food poisoning when he was in his thirties. He finally passed (of natural causes) just short of his seventy-second birthday. Through all those long years in between, he simply couldn’t enjoy the highly spiced fare of his youth. He always complained that the food poisoning was the reason. After that long-ago bout (probably salmonella) he said, his stomach was just “ruined” for anything but mild food.

Sure, the truth of the matter is that you can contract food poisoning in places other than the grocery store. Restaurants are a really good place to get sick. And a whole lot more than just a few pathogens are home-grown right in those great-big petri dishes we call our refrigerators. But the supermarket will probably always be numero uno when it comes to really, really great places to get really, really ill. There are a lot of reasons for this, which we will explore. Top of the list—profits over people.

But I get ahead of myself.

I’d like to invite you to come along with Larry the Fish Guy on a voyage of discovery—to the local grocery store. To see the innards. To see how it really works. To see the good, the bad, the exceedingly bad, and the just plain low-down and dirty ugly. To find out what’s safe to eat, and what can put you away for a day—or forever.      And most importantly, how to tell the difference.

We’ll learn about retail display cases. Which ones preserve the food. And which ones rot it. We’ll learn what is almost a completely different language—called “supermarket speak.” We’ll find out about two words that can kill you. And how one of those words can be used to lie right to your face, and do so (incredibly) completely legally.

Best of all, by the time this little book is over, you will know how to shop for the foods you love—safely. Larry will tell you the ten commandments of food safety shopping. No, they won’t be carved in stone tablets, but hopefully etched into our minds forever.

And he will impart this information in an entertaining way.

Larry’s a really funny guy—in an offbeat kind of a way. He tells good funny stories. And he’s got about a million. You’re going to hear a few of them. You’ll hear about “Killing grandma and the rat-boy” (it’s a personal favorite) and “The homeless sampler,” just to name two. Nothing wrong with having a good laugh. But when it comes to food safety, Larry’s about as serious as a five-alarm dynamite-factory fire. As Johnny O’Brien frequently says—he’s a sarcastic SOB. But he knows things. And indeed—some of those things really can save your life.

Let’s take a walk down the supermarket aisle—and find out just what they are.

Could be the field-trip of a lifetime, with the emphasis on the word “life.”

Follow me. I see the meat wall up ahead . . .

 

Larry Caplin

Summer, 2015

Seattle, Washington

Dumb joke of the day:

What do you get from pampered cows?

Answer: Spoiled Milk.

A Guest Blog by Avery K. Tingle

10363964_10152840488495446_553138350908468918_n

GREAT ADVICE FOR WRITERS FROM AUTHOR AND PROFESSIONAL WRITING COACH AVERY K. TINGLE

 

Indies, there’s no getting around this; if you want to be successful in your endeavors, you will have to learn to leverage social media. The good news about this is that this is nowhere near as scary as it sounds. I know social media can seem like some daunting, troll-infested monster that exists only to chew you up and eliminate you (and to be fair, a lot of it is), but the truth is, once you sift through all the spam and crap, you will find it to be your most invaluable marketing tool. Especially since you can do a great deal of it for free. Here are some quick tips to get your started.

1). Find Your Favorite Platform. Twitter is where I’m at my best, followed closely by Facebook. I maintain presences on LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google Plus, and I promote the end of domestic violence and child abuse on Tumblr. Try each of the different social medial platforms to learn which one you’re most comfortable with. Be yourself. Be authentic. Be genuine. You’ll run into scum, sure, but chances are you’ll meet some like-minded people and that’s what you’re looking for.

2). Promote the Holy Hades Out Of Everyone Else. This is the most important step you can take. Promote others and do so relentlessly. With tweetdeck, I have columns dedicated to the people I engage with the most and another labeled “#amwriting” so I can engage with the hashtag I’m most active in. I’ll take a second to check out the tweet or headline, I’ll read the article, and then I’ll retweet it. I’ll do this for as many people as I can. Doing this has allowed my twitter following to engage at a clip of nearly one hundred new followers per month, and opened up a lot of new relationships. Promote others before you begin to promote yourself, I cannot stress this enough. The people who blow their own horns all day quickly become ignored and irrelevant, because no one wants to hear that all day. But if you’re promoting someone else, contributing to the success of others with no thought to your own, and if you’re patient, I promise, you will begin to see results.

3). Use Sites Like Triberr. Triberr has been an absolute boom to my marketing. This is a site where you upload your blog, join various “tribes” that match your interests, and others in said tribe share your posts across their networks, and you do the same. Triberr is a site in which you get out what you put in. I blog on Mondays, so I tend to jump on roughly every other day to check for new updates. Not only has this given me a reach of three million people who see my posts, but it’s also allowed me to meet a ton of new people and improve both my writing and marketing skills. To summarize, good marketing isn’t so much about getting your stuff in front of as many eyeballs as possible, as it is about ensuring everyone else has the same chance. The more you do for others, the more they will do for you. It doesn’t happen quickly, or overnight, but if you stick with the process, it does eventually happen. Thanks for reading. Good luck.

UPDATE: Anna Simpson put together this excellent post on marketing for beginners over on her blog, Elements of Writing. If you’re not reading her blog, you should be.

Avery K. Tingle is a brand-new writing coach and author of multiple short stories across varying genres. Epic fantasy “Era of the Scourge Book 1: The Ring of Asarra” was named a recommended read by Amazon and is available as an ebook or audiobook. Ask how to get a free copy of the audiobook! Scifi/Romance  “The Anniversary” is available in print as an ebook from Amazon, Barnes& Noble, Kobo, Apple, Oyster, and Page Foundry. Ask how to get a signed copy! You can also read urban drama “The Price of Justice” for free. 

Sign up for thenewsletter, never miss another post, and get more free stuff and discounts than his business manager is comfortable handing out. – See more at: http://averyktingle.blogspot.com/2015/08/indie-authors-promoting-your-stuff.html#sthash.SRUUhiwf.dpufGR

Thanks Mr. Tingle, for another insightful blog on the ever-changing world of writing, publishing, and promoting. I have to admit that I myself do not do half the good things that Mr. Tingle suggests, but I intend to start.

Thanks for reading APROPOS OF NOTHING today. I’ll be returning next week with new, fresh and original material, as AON begins the serialization of DEATH AT THE SUPERMARKET, and continues on with THE RECKONING.

Until then, have a wonderful day!

Dumb Joke of the Day:

What’s the difference between a dirty bus stop and a lobster with breast implants?

Answer:  One a crusty bus station, and the other is a busty crustacean.

 

The Reckoning: Chapter Eleven . . . Getting Acquainted

Reckoning

Getting Acquainted

                     CHAPTER ELEVEN

 

I pulled into the Nineties Bar on Woodward Avenue. It had a newish and very gaudy neon-lighted sign over the front door. There was an older one painted on the side of the building. Apparently the paint hadn’t been all that high a quality, and, it had faded with time. The word that the paint was attempting to cover up was—“Gay.” Yup, the old drinking establishment had been around a whole lot longer than the newer meaning of the word. The Gay Nineties Bar was now shortened to only two words, so as to not be mistaken for one of the many area saloons that catered to a very different crowd.

Times change, I guess.

The bar was a pretty good one. Soft lighting and soft music. Plenty of room in the back. Brick and I were in one of the booths. He was enjoying a Coors. Me, I was sticking with my Diet Coke. I had to admit in the past several months I had become quite an addict to the drink. Seemed I have a pretty dependent personality. Still though, a measureable improvement over the hard stuff.

At least I hadn’t wanted to put a bullet through my brain lately.

Brick was on number two. I was nursing mine a little more slowly. Sitting across from the man at close range, I noticed for the first time his absolutely penetrating and piercing blue eyes. When the man spoke, he had the somewhat disconcerting habit of looking directly into your eyes, and nowhere else—not even a glance. Yet for some reason I was absolutely convinced that he was probably well aware of everything that was going on around, and behind him.

Brick was an intense conversationalist. He could really nail you with those peepers. I suspected that in his time, he probably hadn’t been too shabby as an interrogator. I also suspected that was just exactly what he was trying to do with me right at the moment.

“I have to admit, Johnny, that I did a little research on you before accepting this job. I started out on Google. I didn’t think there would be that much to find, but then I hadn’t ever heard of Jack McGuire. Seems he has a pretty good-sized fan club.”

“Please don’t tell me you read one of the books,” I laughed.

“Tried to. But to tell you the truth, I couldn’t get that interested. No cop on Earth would do half the things McGuire does.”

“Well, Brick—to tell you the truth, all my cases haven’t exactly been fictitious. I’ve solved one or two with some pretty unconventional methods.”

“Like what?” Brick deadpanned.

“Like with psychics.”

“Psychics like Matt McCabe?”

I was startled. I thought Brick and I were starting off with a brand-new clean sheet of paper. It was turning out to not be the case.

“How do you know about Matt McCabe?” I demanded.

“I know more than just about McCabe,” he deadpanned again, taking a slow swallow of beer. “I know about the watch too.”

Now my surprise was total and turning into a full-blown panic. “That son-of-a-bitch!” I nearly shouted. Several heads at the bar across the room turned to look at me.

“Who’s a son-of-a-bitch?” Brick calmly asked.

“Howard Carter—that’s who. He never could keep his damned mouth shut.”

“Howard Carter hell, Johnny. Do you think you’re living in a vacuum, carrying around a thing like that? You seriously think that’s going to stay a secret for long?”

“How then?”

“Johnny, Johnny, Johnny,” Brick intoned condescendingly. “You’re playing in the big-leagues now. You need to up your game—or you’re going to get your pink little ass killed real quick.”

“Someone’s been trying to kill my pink little ass for most of my life. So far I’m still doing fine.”

“So far you haven’t met Saal Moradi.”

“He’s that good?”

“He’s better than me—and please don’t bother to tell me that you don’t know that I could kill you right here where you sit in this booth, take that damned watch out of your left-side jacket pocket, and walk free and clear out the front door in the next thirty seconds.”

“Or, I could just hand it over to you and save you the trouble,” I said, screwing my face into what I hoped was my best-ever, number one, first-place snarl. “That is, if you’re really as bad-assed as you seem to think you are.”

Brick just faintly smiled. “Keep it. I don’t want the damned thing. And I’m telling you this right now, buddy—you don’t know what the hell you’re playing with. You’ve got a stick of dynamite in your pocket, pal—and the fuse is already lit.”

“Who the hell are you anyhow?” I asked.

“Just a small-town cop—that’s all.”

“My pink little ass, you are. I’ve never known a small-town cop in my life that wasn’t armed to the teeth, just to make a routine traffic-stop.”

“I tried the gun thing, Johnny. It didn’t work out so well for me. Sometimes with guns the wrong people get dead.”

“And that’s why you don’t want the watch, isn’t it? You’re afraid you’d go back in time to fix whatever the hell happened to you way back when—and that’s just too much for your sweet little goody two-shoe heart to bear—right? Besides, that would ruin what is undoubtedly a terrific sob-story.”

Brick had been starting to take a sip of beer, but the mug never made it to his mouth. He slammed it down loudly and hard on the table-top, slopping beer out onto his hand. This time more faces turned toward us, and the bartender stopped what he was doing to eye us warily. I could see the muscles in Brick’s face bulge and strain as he fought to regain control. In short, I could tell I had hit a nerve, and I could also tell, with absolute one-hundred percent certainty, that he could have killed me right at that moment if he had wanted to. I had just seen him in action, and as close as I was to him, it would have been no contest. Wasn’t the first time I looked death in the eye, so I did what I usually do under the same circumstances—I laughed in his face.

It could have gone either way for a few seconds, but I guess I was slated to live long, prosper, and fight another day, as Brick’s features relaxed, and a slow smile came to his face.

“You’re a ballsy little bastard—aren’t you Johnny?”

“Thanks. I like to think so. Now you start talking, Mr. Brick. Just who the hell are you—and why are you here?”

“Eleven years ago I was a small-town cop, Johnny. Deadwood, South Dakota. I worked for a man by the name of Harold Wiggins. Chief Wiggins was my friend, my boss, confidant, advisor, and father-confessor—all rolled into one. He was the best man I ever knew, and he’s the reason I’m alive and sitting here talking to you right now. He was also friends with your Mr. Carter. They went back a long way—like they were in the Police Academy together since the beginning of time. That’s how I got this gig. Harold recommended me.”

“Still doesn’t explain how you know about the watch,” I observed.

“That I can’t tell you, Johnny. But it didn’t come from Carter. Carter’s just another little fish in a great big pond. A pond big enough to contain a Great-White Shark or three. You’ve got to learn to think a lot bigger, Johnny. You’re not in po-dunk, Washington anymore.”

“That’s pretty cryptic, Brick.”

“Well, that’s as damned good as it gets—for a while anyway. What’s important for you to know, Johnny, is that if I know about the watch—Moradi knows about it too. And trust me when I tell you, that’s real bad news. You think he’s gonna give you a chance to reach into your little pocket, go back a second or two and blow him away—well if you do, that would make you just about as crazy as a double order of steroid-laced bat-shit.”

“What I’m pretty sure you’re trying to tell me, Brick, in you uniquely poetic way, is that he’s going to be hunting me—right?”

“Wrong, Johnny. What I’m trying to say is that he’s going to be hunting us. We be partners now—remember?”

“How long we got?”

“Twenty-four to seventy-two hours—tops. Detroit and Dearborn are really small towns, Johnny. At least at the heart of it they are. In the Arab-American communities, everybody knows everybody.”

“You still didn’t answer my question, Brick. Why you?”

Brick paused a few seconds, then began. “When you faced down the eight-ball killer, Johnny, you took a bullet for your efforts. They had to dig it out of your spine. And yes, I know about your bad legs too. But you gave it back to him Johnny. You killed his sorry ass. Well, I’ve got a bullet in me too, Johnny. One they could never take out. Right up next to my main heart-valve. Removing it was a fifty-fifty shot at life or death, Johnny. I told the docs to leave it the hell where it was. A damned good reminder. A real nice semi-jacketed hollow-pointed bullet. Fired out of a real sweet short-barreled stainless steel .357 magnum revolver.

“Moradi?”

“Yeah, Johnny. Moradi. I’ve been looking for him for a long time now. I want to give him back his bullet. Figuratively speaking of course. I’ll be real happy to see his ass swinging from a rope—after I walk him up the gallows steps, that is.”

“Nobody executes by hanging anymore, Brick. You must still think you’re in the Wild West.”

“Some places still do, Johnny. Some places still do.”

I thought he was probably speaking metaphorically, but I made a note of the comment for further research.

“What your edge, Brick?”

“Thought you’d get around to asking that pretty soon, Johnny.”

“And?”

“You’re here because you have the watch, Johnny—that’s your edge. And that’s the only reason you’re here. I’m here for one reason too—because I am the only man on Earth to have seen Moradi’s face—and lived. I can pick him out of a crowd.”

“When do we start?”

“Tomorrow morning. Bright and early. You, me, and Shahida Faris.”

“She up for this?”

“She’ll have to be. She has an edge too. One you and I can’t begin to match.”

“And that is?”

“She speaks six different languages—fluently. Arabic is one of those,” Brick responded, as he rose from the booth and tossed some money on the table.

“Where to?”

“Drop me off at my motel, Johnny. Pick me up at nine in the morning. We’ll go get Faris at her house. Then we starting combing streets and asking questions. Apt to get pretty damned hot—right after that.”

“Moradi’s the trainer. What about the two doers?”

“Don’t sweat them too much, Johnny. They’re just a couple of candy-asses compared to Moradi. Once he’s out of the picture, we’ll put them down easy enough. And by the way, Johnny—you got some bad information. Moradi’s not the trainer. That’s a woman—generally known as ‘the Ice Queen’. She’s a stone bitch, but not that big a deal. Moradi’s the guard. The sentinel. He’s the one we need to get to first.”

“Why don’t we bait him and let him come to us?”

“Don’t know how you city-boys hunt bears, Johnny—but out in the country, where I come from, we don’t generally do it by smearing ourselves with bacon grease, honey, and blue-berries and sitting naked out in the woods.”

“Point well taken. Where you staying, Brick?”

“Well, it’s not the Hilton—that’s for damned sure. It’s the Motel 6. Right on your way.”

We left the Nineties Bar together, still partners and friends—but not all that gaily either.

 

I pulled the Town Car into the Hilton parking lot at about eight o’clock. The valet kid was long gone, replaced by a middle-aged man. He took the ten-spot I pressed into his hand and mumbled a thank-you. Once inside, I stopped off at the front desk and was gratified to find that at long last my Michigan State Concealed Weapons Permit had been delivered by the police. The desk-guy handed me my two weapons from the safe—both discreetly wrapped in brown paper—I stuffed one in each pocket of my overcoat. Thanking him, I turned and started up the stairs to my second-floor room. I guess I could have taken the elevator, but it was only a short climb, and I rather liked the ornate stairway.

Barely reaching the top, I was about to turn down the hallway to my right when I heard the voice of the check-in guy calling my name. He had come out from behind the desk and was standing nearly at the bottom of the stairs. I retraced my steps back down.

“Sorry to bother you, Mr. O’Brien, but I’ve just taken a call for you at the front desk. The caller said it was extremely urgent and told me to go and get you and not transfer it to your room. He’s on the line now.

I had to admit that I was a little disappointed in hearing that the caller was a man. I had spoken to Maggie only once since I arrived, and intended to call her again as soon as I got to my room. I had hoped it might be her—but as it was, the call was only likely to delay me a minute or two. More than likely it was either Brick, having forgotten to tell me something, or Howard with some news from the home front.

I made my way to the desk where the clerk handed me the phone. “O’Brien here,” I said, and waited for a reply. Nothing. Absolutely nothing, and nobody was on the other end of the line. At least no one that would identify themselves. Listening carefully, however, I was pretty sure I could make out breathing. I spoke into the receiver a couple of more times, and getting no response, handed it back to the clerk.

“Guess they had the wrong number,” I explained. “If the same person calls back, please just transfer the call to my room, regardless of what he says, okay?”

The clerk nodded his head affirmatively as I turned once more toward the stairs. That’s when my world was ripped apart—as a giant blast tore through the entire second floor of the hotel, and I was thrown a good fifteen to twenty feet through the air. I landed hard against a wall as all of the wind went out of me.

The sound of screaming came slowly to my ears. I must have been out for a few seconds, as I finally became fully aware of my surroundings.

It was like a nightmare. I had been in two explosions before—both propane. That stuff was bad enough. But this—this I had never encountered before. The destruction was nearly complete. I could actually see moonlight and clouds through what had once been a solid wall of the building. This had to be the work of plastic explosives. This was destructive efficiency—on steroids. A lady was slowly getting to her feet just a short distance from me. She had been thrown down the stairs. Her body was blackened and burned, and smoldered as she staggered forward in a daze. I tried to rise to help her, but my legs were temporally useless—gone out from under me, same as so many other times in the past. Another man sat on the floor maybe thirty feet away—holding a bleeding stump of his arm and crying. I realized there was nothing I could do for them. Certainly ambulances would soon be on their way.

Somehow I needed to get away from the spot I was in and get to my car. This was no accident, and I was certain that there was going to be more to come—and very soon. I needed to get out of here and get to Brick and Shahida. They could be next. Our plan was obviously going to need to be reworked. Our twenty-four hours or so no longer existed. Brick had been one-hundred percent correct in his assessment of the situation. As it turned out, even he had badly under-estimated Moradi.

Brick was right. I very much needed a different mind-set.

Finally I got my legs under me again, and I headed for the front door, shaking my head as I went and trying to get some hearing back into my blast damaged ears. Smoke was beginning to billow down what was left of the staircase and fill the lobby. I could hear sirens rapidly approaching—firemen, no doubt, that would be able to quickly quell the smoke and flames.

At last I cleared the doors and was slightly revived by the cold night air. I could see the Town Car parked a short distance away. The second set of keys were still safely in my pocket, so I avoided the valet shack completely and headed straight for the car.

I was approximately a hundred feet or so away from it when the second blast again took me completely off my feet and slammed me down hard onto the concrete. Vaguely, I remember rising up on one elbow and trying to understand what had just happened. That’s when I noticed the Town Car—now a virtual ball of flame and almost totally destroyed. The gas in the tank was contributing to the inferno. Another bomb had gone off underneath of the car. A car that I would have been sitting inside of if my bad legs had only worked a little faster. For once, my bum-spine had saved my life—instead of making it more miserable, as usual.

I lowered myself onto my back. The last thing I remembered seeing was the moon in the sky—on a surprising clear night, after a day of clouds and snow. And then I went unconscious.

I would stay that way for the next several hours.

*   *   *

This installment ends the Part One of THE RECKONING. Johnny O’Brien, et al, are going to be taking a little time off while a new non-fiction book begins on these pages. It is going to be called DEATH AT THE SUPERMARKET, and no, it’s not a murder-mystery, although quite a killer. Written by Larry the Fish Guy, this informative and entertaining little book will detail the troubles, travails, and downright dangerous things just waiting to take you and your loved ones out at the supermarket. Important, and interesting stuff. We invite you to read along. DEATH AT THE SUPERMARKER, and THE RECKONING, will be alternating for a while.

Let’s try this out, and just see how it goes.

As always, thanks for reading .  .  . and have a GREAT day!

Dumb Joke of the Day:

Dumb Joke

The Reckoning: Chapter Ten . . . Nevada Street

Reckoning

Nevada Street

                   CHAPTER TEN

 

After a late lunch and more hot coffee, we hit Nevada Street just as the feeble sun dipped beneath the horizon, and the snow flurries stopped. On this gray day, it would only be a short few more minutes until full-dark. It was not a good time. It was the time of day when the rough guys come out to play. It was the time of day when bad stuff happens. I could see a couple of rough guys just down the street and on the other side.  Skulking next to an abandoned car up on cinder blocks. A couple of “gangstas.” Complete with hoodies. Bulges in the pockets too.

I didn’t think they were sacks of candy.

I figured we probably had five good minutes before the shit would start.

Trouble was—Brick wanted ten.

We stood on the sidewalk in front of the old house, leaning on an ancient and rickety picket fence. I could see that Brick was lost in thought and memory. He didn’t seem to notice or care that we might just be a couple of sitting ducks. Jedediah ‘Brick’ Wahl didn’t carry weapons of any sort. Not even a pocket-knife, as it turned out, and wise-guy Johnny O’Brien had left Old Betsy back at the hotel, thinking there would be no use for it this day. I wanted to do things right. I wanted to be legal. Being legal might just turn out to get me killed, I thought.

I felt just a little naked and vulnerable. My hand almost reflexively closed around the watch. I transferred it to my outside jacket pocket—ready for instant use. It was probably the best weapon I owned, although at this point, I had not begun to routinely think of it that way. Little did I know I had a better weapon yet, just waiting to be put into action.

“My father was born here,” Brick began. “The man who created me. Well, not actually in the house. In a hospital over on Seven Mile and Meyers. It was called Grace Hospital. Long since gone now. Torn down years ago to make way for a Home Depot.”

“Progress, I guess.”

“This was a beautiful house then Johnny, back in ’49. And a lovely street as well. Tree lined. It was like a tunnel driving through them in the summer. Dutch elm disease killed them all. There was one in the front yard that arched over the house. The leaves rustling in the summer breezes was the most soothing sound I ever remember hearing in my life. The windows stayed open all night in that pre-air conditioning times. The music of that tree would lull you to sleep sometimes.”

“This was what we used to call a ‘neighborhood’, my friend. Everybody knew each other. All kinds of businesses and stores and shops within just a block or two. All gone now, of course. Empty, burned-out, or bulldozed away. Everyone that’s left—well, they all stay inside. Afraid of the night.”

He had been right. The “neighborhood” had turned into what closer resembled the surface of the moon. Looked to me that he daytime here was little less scary than the dark. It was hard to see the near ruin of the building in front of me as having ever been a livable residence, much less a nice house. I couldn’t quite squint my eyes that much.

Death and destruction had long ago come to Nevada Street. As in The Never-ending Story, the nothing was everywhere.

“The Detroit riots were in ’67, but it was even pretty decent back when I was a kid in the seventies,” Brick continued. “But then something happened. Something went bad. Something moved into the city. For the want of a better word, I guess I’d have to call it ‘Evil’. Sure, you can blame the economy, blame the Democrats, the Republicans, General Motors, the post-industrial revolution period, or whatever else you like. But you just can’t get around the fact that the goodness here took a hike, and Evil moved in. Most of these empty houses are used now for doing drug deals, and for the dumping of bodies after the deals go bad.”

“The houses here used to be close together. Most of them are gone now. Long ago burned down for the insurance money. I’m surprised, Johnny, that dad’s old house survived. He worked for a while right next door at an appliance store, garage and gas station. It was called Ned’s. It burned down a long time ago too.”

I looked around. Where Ned’s used to be was an empty and weed-infested parking lot. On the other side of the house was a vacant space. A brief outline of what was once a basement was the only evidence that a structure had ever existed there.

Brick went on. “Right across the street, was the Detroit Bank and Trust.” Now it was a tenement liquor store, complete with flea-bag apartment on the second floor. “Around the corner I used to run to Perry’s Butcher Shop to pick up stuff for mom to make for dinner. Next to that was The Rainbow Bar. Gutted now. A gang-banger hangout. A guy with no legs used to sit right over there on the corner of Nevada and John R. and sell pencils. He did a good business too. Everyone liked him. Johnson’s Milk was a few blocks up on John R. It came in glass bottles, Johnny. Glass bottles. The house was heated with a coal furnace. The coal was delivered by the quarter-ton, from a company called Blue Diamond. Dad shoveled the coal into the furnace all day long in the winter. At night he would bank it up so it would last longer.”

Brick was in memory lane. I could see that I was going to have a tough time getting him out of it. I could also see that the two goons down the street had decided to make their move. Brick and I must have looked like easy pickings for them–a quick payday.

They had pulled their guns. A couple of rather pricey and nice looking high-capacity semi-automatics. The two gangstas held them down low, next to their sides, with their fingers on the triggers, as they hot-footed it toward us. From the way they went about it, it looked to me that this was probably not their first attempted robbery.

“Time to go Brick,” I said. “We’re about to have company.”

Brick continued to stare at the house for a few seconds more. “Are they definitely coming at us?” he asked.

“Definitely,” I said, again wondering how the man was seemingly able to see out the back of his head.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Brick replied, as he slowly turned to face the two rapidly approaching men.

“Why is that?” I asked.

Brick sighed. “Because I really don’t like to hurt people.”

The two goons reached us. I guess so as not to be stereotypical, one was an African-America. The other was a white-guy. Neither looked like they had recently graduated Princeton. The guy on Brick’s right, the black-guy, was the first to throw down, turning his pistol ninety degrees, to a much more cool-looking “gangsta” horizontal plane, and pointed the muzzle about twelve inches from Brick’s forehead. I’ll call him “Bandana Head.” The other genius, the white-guy, kept his gun at his side, but idiotically advanced to within three feet of us. Him I named “Hat on Backwards.” Bandana started to speak, but for some odd reason, the words never left his mouth.

My hand tightened around the watch as I began to reach for Brick. It was time for us to say bye-bye. This what not exactly what I had intended, and was certainly not the best way to illuminate Mr. Wahl vis-à-vis the watch, but circumstances being what they were, I figured I had to do what I had to do. Mr. Brick was going to be in for a fun-house ride in a moment or two—sans the funhouse.

My hand never reached him.

I swear by all that is holy, I never saw the man move. Just as suddenly as he had appeared before us, Bandana Head was crumpled on the ground, and clutching wildly at his throat, trying his best to breathe and get some air into his lungs. Magically, Brick was holding Bandana’s pistol in his left hand, and just as magically, used it as a very effective pair of brass knuckles to smash directly into the face of Hat on Backwards. As Hat cascaded to the concrete, unconscious long before his face plowed into it, Brick deftly snatched his pistol from his hand as well. He now had a firearm in each hand—not bad for a guy that had just stated he would never touch one again.

He didn’t keep them for long.

Brick jacked back the slide on each pistol, ejecting the round from the gun’s chamber and then popped both of the magazines. Then, holding each pistol by the butt, he smashed first one and then the other hard down onto the cement sidewalk, severely deforming the end of both barrels. They weren’t round anymore, and damned sure no bullets were going to be shot out of either one of them anytime soon. Not at least without blowing the gun to smithereens in the process.

Having completed that maneuver, Brick casually tossed what was left of each of their heat onto the chests of each man, and said to me, “You ready to go, Johnny?”

“Jesus H. Christ,” I stammered. Under normal circumstances, I don’t really like to invoke the name of Deity, and certainly in in vain, but this seemed like a pretty good time to make an exception to that rule. I looked at old Bandana still choking on the ground, and asked if Brick thought he was going to be alright. I could see that Hat had pissed his way too loose and sagging pants. They didn’t look all that stylish anymore.

“He’ll be fine, Johnny. For about the next ten days though, he’s going to be eating only ice cream, and probably through a straw.”

“How did you do that?” I stammered again. “What did you do?”

Brick smiled. “An old trick my mother’s father taught me when I was a kid. It’s always held me in good stead.”

“What do you call it?” I asked.

“Move fast and hit hard,” he replied.

“Bet you didn’t have too much trouble with bullies when you were a youngster.”

“Never more than once, I have to admit,” he said, again with a grin. “Come on, Johnny. Let’s get out of here before the reinforcements arrive. I’ll treat you to a beer on the way back.”

“After that little display, my friend—I might just take it. And by the way, Brick—I’ve thought it over. You’re my partner.”

“Cool.”

In another few moments, we were back in the Town Car, turning off Nevada Street and onto Woodward Avenue, heading back downtown toward the Hilton. I had been right. It had turned into quite a day after all. And it wasn’t over yet, either.

Not by a long shot.

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much for reading. In a few more days, we’ll finish Part One of THE RECKONING. See you then. Have a great day everyone!

 

 

 

Dumb Pun of the Day:

I’ve been reading a really good book on Anti-gravity. For some strange reason, I just can’t seem to put it down.