During this short period of post-surgical recovery, I am reposting two classic entertainment articles from a year ago. At the end is a link to the original 1931 FRANKENSTEIN movie on YouTube. They are now charging, but at the low price, it’s still a bargain. Today though, it’s absolutely free. Enjoy!
Have a great Halloween. We’ll see you again in November.
Tales of Enchanted October – Mary Shelley and her Monster
Mary Shelley (nee Wollstonecraft Godwin: August 30, 1779 – February 1, 1851
She was the daughter of political philosopher William Godwin, and her mother was the philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. And if this lineage were not enough in the way of bone fides, she was married to the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Mary Shelley was no dummy.
In 1816 Mary and Percy Shelley spent a summer with Lord Byron, John William Polidori, and Clair Clairmont near Geneva, Switzerland. It was a cold, rainy and wet summer, and often the company was confined to the house. It was here, in that house, by the shores of Lake Geneva, that Frankenstein was born.
Lord Byron proposed a wager. East of the company would write it’s own ghost story, and they would see which one was the scariest. Each went to work, but Mary was having a lot of trouble thinking of something to write about. Finally, she hit upon her idea. “What,” she wondered, “if a corpse could be re-animated?”
The rest was history, and needless to say, Mary won the wager.
Her story was indeed the scariest, and has been scaring folks for almost two hundred years now. It started as a short story. With Percy’s encouragement, it expanded to a novel. It was a hit, spawning countless incarnations and versions.
It has never gotten old. Frankenstein is of course a gothic novel, but it was groundbreaking as well for its day and age. It is considered to be one of the very first science fiction stories.
It plays on one of our most basic phobias. Not only things that go bump in the night, but our very real, and largely well-founded fear of science gone mad and out of control. It worries us with the possibility of medical mistakes (For instance I have often been accused of having received a criminal’s brain) and with the hubris and god-complex of many practitioners of the medical arts today.
Cloning and biological engineering come to mind.
Our fears were given a face–and it was not a pretty one. Perhaps no other actor so personified the face of Dr. Frankenstein’s creation than that of the late great Boris Karloff. He owned the monster. No one would ever do it better. Boris can perhaps be credited with scaring the stuff out of more children than any other person who ever lived. I know he scared the crap out of me.
Mary Shelley and Boris Karloff were made for each other, and it was a shame that they would never meet in life. Mary Shelly passed at only age fifty-three, the victim of a brain tumor.
Perhaps they sit together now on a distant moor, cooking up even scarier yet ghost stories between them. It would be appropriate. After all, Mary Shelley, a diminutive woman, was the true designer, creator, and architect of the most famous monster that ever lived.
And yes, he does live, in our collective psyche. In our hearts, our minds, our imagination, and most of all–in our darkest nightscapes.
Not too bad for a result of a wager made between four very bored literary type individuals, on a cold, dark, rainy summer night–a couple of centuries ago.
Thanks Mary, for a job well done . . . and for all the goosebumps.
Next time . . . the scariest story ever written. The Monkey’s Paw.
Until then . . . Happy Nightmares.
Thanks for reading today. Be back in a day or two with another installment of DEATH AT THE SUPERMARKET. Until then, Happy Halloween . . . and happy nightmares!
During this short period of post-surgical recovery, I am reposting a classic entertainment blog from 2014. Tonight (Hell Night) it’s Lon Chaney Junior and his magnificent wolfman. Tomorrow (Halloween) look for Frankenstein. At the end of the blogs is a link to the original movies on YouTube. Yup, they’re now charging, but at a penny under three bucks, not bad for a darned good seasonal scare . . . enjoy!
Lon Chaney Junior and The Wolfman
His real name was Creighton Tull Chaney, and he was the Tim Curry and Andy Serkis of his time. Sure, there were others, not the least of which were the great Bela Lugosi and the masterful Boris Karloff. But to my way of thinking, Lon Chaney Junior was the best–in no small part because he got to play the coolest monster.
Sure, Logosi’s Dracula could suck you dry of blood, and Karloff’s Frankenstein would turn your red-cells to icicles, but they weren’t a patch on The Wolfman, who would as soon rip you to shreds as look at you. He was Jack the Ripper in a bad fur and rubber coat, and his brilliant portrayal of old Wolfie, haunted my childhood dreams. Every Friday late-night Lon Chaney horror movie lives on in my memory.
Chaney, the son of another famous silent-film actor of the same name, would play Larry Talbot, the unfortunate victim of a werewolf bite, in several films. Moonlight was not a fun thing for Larry. According to an old gypsy lady in the film, “Even a man who is pure of heart, and says his prayers at night, may turn to a wolf when the wolf-bane blooms, and the moon is full and bright.”
She was not a cheery person. And neither was Talbot when the moon came out. A gentle man by nature, Talbot turned into a true monster in every sense of the word when the full-moon light hit him. And it was a masterful transformation indeed.
It always took place in front of a mirror, and in an age before special-effects, it was very well-done indeed. It sent chills down my spine, and I had seen it about a thousand times. I invite anyone who hasn’t seen this on film to view one of the many Chaney clips available on YouTube. It is worth the visit. These films were made in the days before color–in beautiful black and white. Color is great for most things, but the old monster flicks . . . well, no way. Light and especially shadow, was everything in those old films.
Chaney played many wonderful roles in his life, but he could never outlive Larry Talbot. His later roles reflected his monster past. He played more than a few lunatics and psychopaths in his time.
Born in 1906, he left this Earth in 1973, just sixty-seven years old and the victim of a heart-attack. Having lived a hard life, he was pretty much used-up. At the height of his career Cheney had a reputation for defending both young actors just starting out in the business, and very old ones, in the sunset of their years. He would often threaten to walk off the set if the studio did not treat these folks with respect. He was an activist before it popular to be one.
Chaney was known as a sweet and gentle man. Except when he was “in his cups.” But then he was part Irish, so he really couldn’t help it.
Lon and his drinking buddy Broderick Crawford were known as “the monsters” around Universal Studios because of their drunken behavior that frequently resulted in bloodshed at the local watering holes.
When Chaney died, his body was donated for medical research. His corpse, in true classic horror film fashion, was dissected by medical students, and the medical school was impressed enough with what they found, to keep his liver and lungs in jars as specimens of what extreme alcohol and tobacco abuse can do to human organs. A fitting final tribute for the old Thespian.
Because of the donation of his body to science, there is no grave to mark his final resting place. No shrine to visit on a cold moonlit October night.
This had led more than a few, to speculate, in their idle moments, that perhaps the old master is out there still, somewhere . . . waiting . . . just the other side of that tree.
Thanks for the memories Lon. May you reside in Peace wherever you are. And may God rest your very lovely monstrously big heart.
The year was 1986, and there was a new movie playing in theaters across the United States. It was called Blue Velvet, and starred, among others, the incomparably evil and psychotic actor Dennis Hopper, the well-known and more or less ultimate bad-guy, in perhaps his best ever scenery chewing motion-picture.
It was written and directed by David Lynch, the master of film noir. His abilities were never more manifest than in this unforgettable psychological horror story. And the film was never scarier than it was in the first three minutes of the opening credits.
Those old enough will probably remember it well.
Introduction was into the bucolic village of Lumberton, North Carolina—and what a sweet little place it was. Idealized would probably be the better word, and as is usually the case with idealized things, the town had a very dark underbelly. I’ll never forget the opening, with pop-singer Bobby Vinton performing his classic 1963 hit of the same name over the unfolding scene. We see white picket fences, fluffy white clouds, red roses, children playing in the street, a well monitored and guarded school crossing, friendly waving firemen, and a nice looking older gentleman out in the front yard, simply watering his lawn.
He’ll soon have a stroke and fall over dead—right before our eyes.
As the camera zooms in near to the body, and then to the lush green grass he was just watering, we see in close-up micro view what was hidden to our “macro” eyes only a few moments before. And that is the dark underside of our seemingly peaceful world, where, just out of sight, an eternal struggle goes on, a never-ending battle in a dog-eat-dog war of all that life really is. The truth, the reality, the unvarnished concreteness, and the in-your-faceness of it. There is a tumult in that grass, full of ants and grasshoppers and other little critters, as creatures battle, one grappling and fighting with the other, and ultimately, and finally—one eating the other. One would have never guessed all that was going on—from the outside, looking in.
And exactly so is it at the supermarket.
We employees of GSM used to joke about it all the time. How an unsuspecting visitor to our store, or practically any other store, would never begin to guess the death struggle going on just out of their view. After all, the business sports a lovely storefront. Well decorated. Friendly looking. Fresh flowers, almost always just inside the door. The aroma of freshly baked bread wafts out from the nearby bakery. Bacon samples cooking merrily over at the meat case. Nice looking, friendly employees. Peaceful looking. Clean. Organized.
You might even say . . . idealized.
But back there behind those black rubber swinging doors marked “employees only,” in the stockroom, the diary cooler, the meat preparation room, those innocent and peaceful looking full-service cases at the deli, bakery, nutrition center, and seafood department—a war is being waged.
There, a life and death struggle goes on daily—one to almost equal that of the ants and beetles in the wet and lush grass at the beginning of that classic film. And here’s the kicker. Nearly one-hundred percent of that angst and conflict is created, caused, and perpetuated by the store management itself. And I can’t even say that it’s bad management. It’s good management—at least from the point of view of the parent corporation, SGSM. It’s intentional, it’s by design, it’s done on purpose—and it’s potentially a killer.
And I’m going to explain to you exactly why it happens, and why it is extremely dangerous to your health and well-being.
First of all, and probably a surprise to no one—it’s all about money.
Time was, in the far distant mists of the past, it was an altogether different story. Back then, grocery stores prided themselves in getting, and retaining, good loyal employees. Sometimes these employees stayed around for a long time. Maybe years. Maybe even for a lifetime. Yup—way back then, it was actually possible to make a decent, full-time living from just working in a grocery store. Some folks worked in them until they retired. Raised children from those wages. Maybe even bought a house.
In short, there was a time in American, when a simple grocery store employee could actually live, to a large degree, the American Dream. Those old enough to remember the Beatles Invasion will certainly recall those halcyon days of yore.
So what happened?
To a certain extent—labor unions. And to a much, much greater one—government regulation.
In a simpler time, the supermarket hired who it wanted, and for whatever (usually low) wage they could get away with paying. If the worker turned out to be worth anything, there would be raises as they went along—based on merit.
The unions changed all that.
Merit was out. Seniority was in. The unions brought in tiered wages. They worked like this: The employer (the grocery store) hires an employee for x number of dollars per hour. It’s set in stone—and all according to the contract. No wiggle-room for hiring the very young just out of school, the elderly, or the handicapped. In the eyes of the contract, they’re all just the same, and they all start at the same wage. And they all get the same annual wage increases—if they’re any good or not.
Very democratic—not very practical.
A new hire starts out at the lowest “tier.” He has to work so many hours (which equate to many months, or even years) to get to the next level (or tier). The employee may go through several tiers to get to the highest wage. And even if the employee isn’t worth a bucket of dog stuff, he (or she) is still going to get the increase.
Management has little or no control over the process. Except to ensure, by weaving it into managerial philosophy, the mind-set that says; “We need to get rid of the older (and better paid) employees, and constantly bring in new (and lower paid) employees.
The savings are significant.
It’s the “employee entrance as a revolving door” managerial style. Just keep hiring new cheap labor, and ensure, by a process of unrealistic work expectations and attrition, that the older, and more “fed-up” employees are constantly quitting and moving on.
And if you think that getting rid of older, well-seasoned and experienced employees in favor of young and inexperienced kids just off the street is going to do anything to help ensure food safety standards—then you just haven’t been listening.
And you have a lot more faith in human nature than is warranted.
In almost any large grocery store (and some are better than others) employees are given tasks, assignments, and expectations that simply cannot be met. At GSM where I worked, it was incredible. One employee sold product from both the full-service seafood case, and the meat case. Sometimes, customers would be standing four or five or more deep, waiting patiently (or not so patiently) for service. The standards call for said employee to stop, remove food service gloves, go to the wash basin, wash their hands for at least twenty seconds, rinse those hands for maybe ten seconds more, dry their hands with disposable paper towels, struggle into new gloves (which never want to slip over damp hands) and then resume serving customers.
This was supposed to occur each, and every single time the employee switched from selling raw product to cooked, chicken to beef, shellfish to other seafood, and so on. It would have amounted to hundreds of washings and glove changes per day, and would simply have been impossible for one person to accomplish—especially while a long line of customers waited. And I can utterly assure you, they would not be waiting patiently.
After five o’clock in the afternoon, and sometimes as early as two, there was not only just one employee at the meat and seafood counter, but in the entire meat and seafood department. That employee was expected to keep all products filled, at all times—both meat and seafood. Not just in the fresh full-service cases, but self-serve and freezers as well. Sometimes these self-serve freezers would be located half-way across the store. That one single employee had to wait on perhaps a hundred or more customers at the same time. This same employee would be expected to remove and put away all the product from the full-service cases by the end of the shift, take apart both cases, perform all the cleaning and sanitation procedures, completely deep clean the entire department, down to even polishing the glass, and keep up all the state mandated records.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot. That employee also needed to mark down the near to expiring product (remember that shrink?) and do it to three different levels, three different times. To miss even one step in this entire process would be to risk being fired. Was it possible? No. What do you think was the first thing to be let go? If you think the answer to that question is anything other than food safety—you probably still believe in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.
Out with the old people—in with the new. In a never-ending procession. Food safety be damned—profits first.
Each. And. Every. Single. Time.
Modern government regulations have nearly the same effect as unions. Not all grocery stores are unionized by any means. But they all obey the same State and Federal regulations. And with largely the same effect as the unions. Federal minimum wage. Federal health and safety regulations. State worker’s compensation laws. Local city and county ordinances. The Department of Labor administers and enforces more than one hundred and eighty laws just by itself. It’s insane.
And that was even before Obamacare.
A lot of these regulations fall onto businesses that employ more than a handful of workers. That takes in nearly every large supermarket. But a surprising number only affect employees that are considered full-time (usually thirty or more hours per week). It’s therefore a simple dodge. Just hire a lot more part-time employees. When you do that you get a whole lot more very young and experienced workers; sadly, many of these folks couldn’t care less about food safety.
Supermarket jobs have become “starter jobs,” stepping stones to bigger and better things. At Giant Stuff Mart, where I worked, it was an unfunny joke. We considered them to be one of the nation’s foremost teenage employment agencies.
Such tactics of cutting hours and seriously overworking a small number of employees certainly has its advantages for the corporation—namely, BIG money. For the worker, it spills over as resentment—BIG resentment. Sometimes that resentment is taken out in places where it shouldn’t be.
On the customer.
And on the food that is on your dinner table.
At GSM a few years back, we had a meat-cutter (a new name for the good old-fashioned butcher) named Richard. He was getting on a bit in years, and had been with the company for far too long. GSM wanted him to “move on” in the worst possible way, and they did everything in their power to make that happen. I can honestly state that I have never personally encountered a worse case of employee harassment.
Richard finally went his way all right, but only after he had almost completely severed the thumb of his right hand because of management harassment. They were all over him almost constantly to “speed up.” When Richard was cutting meat with a knife, maybe it wasn’t such a dangerous thing. When he was using the band-saw, it was a completely different matter.
He went out on a medical leave for about a month and a half while his thumb healed. Never did get a chance to come back though. He was fired while on leave. The company decided that Richard himself was to blame for the accident. In his rush to get his work done, they said, he simply hadn’t been careful enough. They of course had no idea of why he might have been in such a hurry.
It wasn’t true of course. It wasn’t his fault at all.
But in the end it didn’t matter.
Richard was only a little tiny ant in that lush wet grass. GSM was one honkin’ big grasshopper. Grasshopper meets ant. Grasshopper wins . . . every single time.
By the time he had his accident and was finally let go, Richard, as you might imagine, had built up quite a load of resentment toward GSM. Sadly, he chose to take it out on the customer.
He had a more or less chronic sinus condition. His poor old nose always dripped. Like a faucet. Like constantly. At first he tried to keep a wad of tissue in his pocket and wipe—like all the time.
Didn’t really work.
He tried those little face masks that slip on over the ears. They didn’t work all that well either.
Finally, he just let it drip. Right on to the meat that he was cutting. The meat that was about to go into the full-service case, and the pre-pack. And the ground beef. You get the idea. He just didn’t care anymore. He had given up. He was burned out. He was, at the end, just a little dead ant in the grass. He wasn’t alone.
There were mounds of dead ants in there with him.
I talked to him myself a couple of times. He simply told me (with very little rancor in his voice) that he didn’t really give a (fill in the blank) anymore.
The thing that really bothered me most, was that all the time that the management of GSM was back there with him in the meat-cutting room riding his butt, they never said a word about his nose.
Nope—not even once.
What can you do to protect yourself? Well, start out by trying to shop at the smaller local stores. The ones that aren’t owned by giant corporations. The ones that look like at least some of the employees have been around for a while. The places where you can walk by a worker and not smell fear—or anxiety. The places where the people look like they don’t mind being there. Where they look like they might actually be having a little fun. There are places like that, but among the mega-corporation owned grocery chains, they’re about as rare as honest politicians in D. C.
In other words, just about non-existent.
And watch out for people like Richard, the drippy-nosed meatcutter. Sometimes they’re not that easy to spot. In a lot of stores, the meat preparation room is not visible to the public. Let me be totally honest here. Anything can happen in there—and does.
I remember a nearly five hundred pound meat-wrapper employed by GSM some years back. Because of his rather unique build, and the resulting pressure on his bladder, he couldn’t always hold it for a long time, and when the nearby restroom was occupied—yup, you guessed it. He used the drains in the floor of the meat room.
At a lot of other stores, the meat-cutters and other employees work out in the open—visible to all.
Trust me completely on this one when I tell you . . .
Shop at those.
Thanks for reading. Back in a few days with a new chapter in DEATH AT THE SUPERMARKET: Chapter Five, The Homeless Sampler.
In the meantime, may you all have a wonderful end of October and Halloween . . .
Dumb Joke of the Day:
And a very special treat in keeping with the Celtic Feast of the Dead (Halloween)
The old man paused for a few seconds just inside the door, and then, pulling a dainty white gentleman’s handkerchief from his front suit jacket pocket and mopping his brow, slowly advanced toward us. He had a ways to come across the rather large building—perhaps a hundred feet or so. It gave me a good opportunity to size the guy up.
If this was what the angels were sending to me as a rescue party—I was in some pretty tough luck.
The guy was a dandy. His dress harkened back to an earlier time. I vaguely wondered if it might have been something he had purchased in a costume shop, or was perhaps an original. He certainly looked old enough. As he advanced with his small mincing, and somewhat painful looking steps though, I made him to be perhaps still in his sixties, although pushing the big seven-o, mighty awful hard. Again he doffed his fedora to mop at his brow and top of head. The haberdashery was sweet—off white, with a wide dark band. The man’s suit and vest were a conservative grey, but his wide old-fashioned neck tie more than made up for it. It was a bright Kelly-green, and looked like it had been fashioned from some pretty pricey silk. Had a nice silver and pearl stick-pin in it too. My eyes frantically searched for an outline of a pocket watch, or a chain handing from somewhere.
Trouble was—I could plainly see there wasn’t one.
Physically, the old-timer didn’t impress very much. He looked overweight by a good forty pounds. His sallow skin color and wispy silver hair did little to inspire confidence. The eyes were bright though, almost sparkly—and looked about thirty years younger than the rest of his sad countenance.
Finally he reached us. He seemed to pay no attention to the bloody and smoldering corpse still hanging only a few feet away. I kind of wondered how he could not be noticing it. The entire area still smelled like a slaughter-house. Metallic blood and roasted human flesh—pretty damned hard aromas to miss.
The two bozos that had been dragging me to my death turned me loose at almost the same instant, and my body crashed hard to the floor. This I realized immediately, was a vast improvement over my condition of only a few seconds before. Maybe now, if I could get my legs to cooperate, I could do something about mounting a counterattack. Trouble was, Icy realized it too, as she once again jammed the cattle-prod into my left kidney area and gave me another blast. I can honestly say I had never experience a pain like that before in my life. Even the sensation of being shot did not begin to match it. Again, white light exploded before my eyes, as I writhed and thrashed on the floor. It had been way too close to the old spinal cord injury for comfort. This time my legs were completely gone—useless stumps of numb flesh protruding out from my torso.
My bladder let go and I wet myself. The bowels were threatening to do the same, as I wildly tried to control them. I was too deeply hurt and stunned to even scream out. I simply lay in my own urine and fought to regain some control of my breathing.
There was no fight left in me. Whatever happened now was completely in the lap of the Gods. I struggled to keep my eyelids open, resolved at least to witness how it all turned out. I wondered just how they were going to kill the old man—fast and painlessly, or meat-hook agonizingly slow.
The old man was the first to speak.
“Oh dear,” he said softly, as he looked at me on the floor. “That’s going to leave a mark for sure.” Then he turned his attention to bozo number one. “I’m sorry,” he calmly stated. “I’m afraid I’ve lost my way this morning. Can either of you two gentleman direct me to the Tuller Hotel?” He spoke with a soft and gentle voice. Cultured. No hint of an accent in it. He kind of reminded me of that wonderful old actor of so many late night black and white movies—Cecil Kellaway.
Classy guy. I was kind of sorry he had wandered into the middle of something he could never begin to understand. Too bad he only had a few more seconds or perhaps at best minutes to live. I really wished I could have helped him. I really wished I could have helped me too—come to think of it.
Bozo number one just sort of stared at him for a few seconds, kind of taken aback by the sudden appearance of what was probably the last possible thing on earth that he would have expected to see.
“Just who the hell are you!” he shouted at the old guy.
Ignoring the outburst, the old-timer simply smiled and stuck out his right hand for a friendly shake, and said, “Oh, I’m terribly sorry. I don’t know what I’ve done with my manners this morning. “My name is Selby. Norman Selby. I’m a visitor to this fair city and I fear I’ve lost my way. I have an important appointment at the Tuller Hotel, and I afraid I’m going to be late. I wonder if you would be so kind as to point me in the right direction.”
The two bozos looked at each other in consternation and amazement—momentarily speechless. Finally they began to softly laugh. Even Icy, standing slightly behind them, broke into an odd smile.
It was practically a Hallmark moment.
After a few seconds, Icy was the one to break the mood. “Kill him,” she said simply, as her two goons drew their weapons. Bozo on the right pulled a rather nice looking nine-mil pistol, while the other flicked open a switchblade. I was happy to see it.
At least it was going to be over quickly for grandpa.
At the very same time, and from my rather unique perspective on the floor, I saw something else too. I saw the expression on grandpa’s face change—ever so slightly. The three baddies missed it completely, as goon number one changed his knife to his left hand and reached out to the old-timer to take his offered handshake.
Mr. Selby had smiled. A very slight smile, that included an equally small, but entirely discernable—flash of rather, surprisingly white and straight teeth.
Looking back, I don’t really understand why the bozo took his hand. I guess he probably figured the old guy was harmless, and simply meant to pull him forward into the knife. I guess that’s what he probably thought—but it sure as hell wasn’t what happened.
The knife flashed all right, but the thing was—it flashed in the old man’s hand. I didn’t have an idea in the world on how he might have gotten hold of it. Maybe I had blacked-out for a few seconds, but if I had, I sure didn’t know it.
Selby simply tossed the knife away. It skittered across the concrete floor and ended up in a pile of junk several yards away, rendered completely harmless. It would have taken at least several minutes to have even found the thing. The goon tried to swing on Selby, but missed by a country mile. Norman didn’t. He came around with a jab to the goon’s face that I think must have knocked him into the next week. I could hear an audible snap as the thug’s face snapped back under the power of the blow. He sank to the floor—stunned.
Goon number two leveled his pistol at Selby’s chest and pulled the trigger. The resulting blast and echo filled the vast and mostly empty old factory. Thing was though—his bullet didn’t hit anything. Selby was gone from where he had been, and was now standing just to the side of the thug. I had never even seen him move. Once again his fist came up, and once again another bad guy was cascading down to the floor, nearly unconscious on his feet.
My mind flashed to that venerable old fictional karate master, Mr. Myagi. Thing was—there was no karate involved here. And no fiction either. This was just good old fashioned power punching. I was beginning to wonder if the old prizefighter Mohammed Ali in his prime would have lasted very long with Mr. Norman Selby.
The Ice Queen took one quick look at her two henchmen down on the floor, and bolted. As in turned, and made a mad dash for the exit. She was damned fast too. One of the thugs was trying to get to his feet, so Selby didn’t go after her. Instead, he calmly waited for the bozo to get himself upright, and then delivered the meanest, nastiest, roundhouse upper-cut I had ever seen in my life. It actually lifted the poor schmuck’s feet a good six inches off the floor before he slammed back down into it—out cold, and no more fight in him.
Bozo number one regained his feet too, but taking a look at his partner on the floor, decided not to make a stand, and hotfooted it out the door that Icy had just exited. I noticed that he wobbled considerably as he did so—but he made it out.
The silence was deafening as Selby walked over to me and offered his hand. Slowly, I was able to get my feet untangled and the legs working enough again to be able to make it to my feet. I stood, swaying for a few moments. Selby kept hold of me, steadying me on my feet while I got my wind back into me, and regained my bearings.
I looked a long time into his face. I didn’t recognize what I was seeing. No, the face wasn’t familiar, but the act I had just seen was.
“Brick?” I asked tentatively. “Is that you?”
Selby smiled widely and said, “Now if you’re going to insult me Mr. O’Brien—I’m afraid we’re not going to be able to be friends.”
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Selby, Mr. O’Brien. Norman Selby. Just like I said.”
“How did you do that?”
“What I just saw!” I nearly shouted. “How the hell did you just handle those two men like they were bales of hay?”
He shrugged his shoulders and simply answered, “Moved fast and hit hard—that’s all. Nothing to it really.”
I staggered back a couple of feet again and almost lost my balance. Once more Selby reached out to steady me. “You going to be all right, Mr. O’Brien?”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine. Been worse than this. My friends call me Johnny.”
“Okay Johnny. My friends just call me Kid.”
“Kid it is then.” I looked him over again from closer range. Only now did I notice the rather large nose that sat on his face, and the several odd angles that went along with it. It was plain that it had been broken a time or three before, and it was obvious too that this was not the Kid’s first rodeo.
“You must have one hell of a back-story,” I offered.
“I do. Perhaps I’ll tell it to you one day, Johnny.”
“How did you know I was here?”
“A mutual acquaintance. That and the locating device in your phone.”
“The GPS. Clever.”
The kid walked over to check out the hanging corpse while I limped to my pile of clothes and quickly removed my sodden undershorts, replacing them with just the outer slacks. Not quite as warm, but a whole lot dryer. Smelled better too. I was just finishing up with my shirt and tie, when the outside door opened again, and in walked Brick Wahl.
“Where the hell have you been?” I loudly demanded.
In answer, Brick underhand tossed me an object. Even flying through the air, I could see that it was the pocket watch. I caught it easily.
“You need to do a better job of hanging on to your toys, Johnny. Can’t just let a little thing like this be passed around all over the city.”
“Where was it?”
“At the nurse’s station. They took it off you last night at the hospital for safekeeping. I guess the two dodo-birds that smuggled you out of there never thought to even ask for it there. Brilliant.”
“Good thing they were stupid, Brick. I was really out of it. What happened anyway?”
“Long story short, Johnny—you pretty much had the air sucked out of you in the explosion. Your oxygen depleted brain had a hard time getting back up to speed, so to speak. It’s a common enough condition in bombing survivors. You’ll be fine.”
“Wouldn’t have been if Mr. Selby hadn’t gotten here in time. He saved my life. You would have been just a little late, Brick—stopping off like you did for the watch.”
“I went after what was important,” Brick said with mild irritation. “I knew the Kid could get you out of here by himself.”
“You sent him?”
“Yeah, we’re sorta . . . old friends.”
“How many are dead at the Hotel, Brick?”
“Too damned many—that’s how many. And I’ve got more bad news.”
“They hit the motel I was staying at too. Missed me because I walked across the street for a nightcap. But they also bombed a house in Bloomfield Hills. Shahida’s dead, Johnny.”
“Jesus,” was all I could say.
“I should have known, Brick. I met him. I saw Moradi. The middle-aged valet guy. I gave him the keys to my car. I even tipped him. God almighty, Brick. I should have known.”
“Don’t be too hard on yourself, Johnny. He’s a slick son-of-a-bitch. You saw his face good and clear?”
“Well, he wouldn’t have let you see it if he had thought you were going to survive the encounter. Fact of the matter is—you’ve survived two encounters now. Moradi’s going to be coming after you real damned hard, partner.”
“Story of my life, Brick. What the hell else is new?”
The Kid joined us.
“How you doing, Pops?”
“Okay, Brick. No problem here. But two out of the three got away, I’m afraid.”
“That’s okay, Kid. We don’t have to look for them—they are going to be coming after us—and they’re going to be coming in force. We need to lay low for a while. We need to regroup.”
“I know a good place,” the Kid said.
“Yeah, I’ll just bet you do,” I said. “What’s the deal with this guy anyhow, Brick?”
“Long story, Johnny. No time for it now. How is it that you didn’t get killed back at the hotel?”
“Dumb luck. Someone called at the front desk. I took the call, but there was no one there. Right after that the place blew up.”
“So without that call, you’re in your room and dead right now?”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“Dumb luck my ass, Johnny.”
The Kid chimed in. “I was afraid of that, Brick.”
“Yeah—me too, Kid.”
“What’s the hell’s going on here, Brick?”
“Something’s all wrong here, Johnny. We’re being played for fools. I’m starting to doubt big-time, that a children’s school was ever the real target. I think that was the bait.”
“Bigger fish, Johnny.”
“That’s pretty cryptic, Brick.”
“Well, It’s the best I got right now. But I sure as hell know these guys are way ahead of us at the moment, and I’m pretty sure that’s because someone is feeding them information. That’s why we need to split for a while.”
“Someplace where they can’t get to us. They’ve got a hell of a network around here.”
“Ideas?” I said.
“My place,” the Kid said. Brick nodded his head yes.
“Where’s your place, Kid?”
“Right here. Right downtown.”
I looked doubtful.
Brick spoke up. “Downtown Detroit, all right, Johnny. Detroit—1940.”
“Sounds good to me,” I said. “I take it Mr. Selby knows all about the watch then, doesn’t he?”
“Damned straight he does,” Brick replied.
“What about our unconscious friend here on the floor?” I enquired.
“Kill him, Johnny—just like you would a mad-dog.”
“Why me, Brick? You above getting a little blood on your hands?”
He looked a little pained. “You’re the gun guy, Johnny. Besides, it should be personal for you—he was just about to string you up like a set of Christmas tree lights.”
He had a point. I looked at the hanging corpse—butchered like a pig. I thought of beautiful Shahida. I thought about all the dead and maimed at the two hotels. Then I walked over to my discarded overcoat and extracted my little Smith. I checked the cylinder to make sure it was still loaded. It was.
Standing over the prone form of a terrorist, madman, and a monster, it should have been easy to pump two .38 Special hollow-points into his head. Trouble was—I had been a cop. A protector of life. A defender of truth, justice and the American way. A believer in the system. This went against everything I thought I had ever stood for.
It should have been hard—but in the end, it really wasn’t.
He had awoken. Rising to his elbows, he glared at me as I cocked the little pistol and aimed it at his head. He grinned. And then it turned into a snarl. Brick was right. He was a mad-dog. The hatred in his eyes burned out of his head.
“I told you the day wasn’t over yet,” I said. Then I pulled the trigger. Twice. The man’s brains and blood splattered over a much larger area than I would have imagined. The shots rang out through the stark and empty hallways of Hell. And a little bit of Johnny O’Brien died in that moment too. A little piece I knew I’d never get back again. Not for as long as I lived.
Damned hard to not get fleas, when you’ve been rolling around with the dogs.
We left the building then, the three of us—Brick, the Kid, and I. Heading for a Detroit of the past. A Detroit of dreams. A city set by a river. And a city in the glory of its youth. Running, we were. Running for our lives. With the Devil at our backs.
And we didn’t use the door either . . .
Thanks so much for reading. We’ll be back in a few days with another installment of DEATH AT THE SUPERMARKET: Richard; the Drippy-Nosed Meatcutter.
I’ve gotten to a point in recent years, where I can finally speak with some degree of authority on the subject of growing old. As my dear old da said so many times in his own life . . . “Old age—it ain’t for sissies.” He was right. So, to a certain extent papa prepared me for the experience. What I really wasn’t expecting however, was the reality that the future, and with it, the rapidly approaching end of life, is not the scariest thing.
The things that bring me the largest number of sleepless night and multi-colored nightmares, is not the uncertain (or should I say certain) future. What causes the most psychological harm is the past.
Not once in my years past sixty, have I awoken in a cold sweat over a dream involving my own death, or funeral. Truly, nothing could be much further from my mind. What has kept me awake however, on many a night, is the reliving of all the deaths and funerals of loved-ones long since gone.
Not just once, but over, and over, and over again.
There is a certain nostalgia in the heart of man—a homesickness, for what has come and gone, and can never come again. Not in this life, anyhow. There is an essential longing in the heart for those people, places, and things that made up a man’s life, and most especially his childhood.
Think of the totality of a man’s life if you will, as a house made of bricks. Each of those bricks is a memory of some sort. Some will be little bricks, and some—much, much bigger. Some of those bricks, perhaps a great number of them, are going to be bricks of expectation. That is to say, that when we were young, we had an expectation that certain things were going to be a certain way. We also probably never imagined that any of them was going to change very much. Certainly not the sea-change of the past fifty years.
Just some examples . . .
Way back in the mists of time, everybody just knew, on a very fundamental and instinctual level, that marriage was between a man and a woman. We knew there were “gay” people, but they certainly hadn’t yet gone mainstream. If someone had actually tried to explain to a classroom full of kids, how “trans-gendered” worked, they probably would have been looked at like they just stepped off a space-ship.
Now please don’t get me wrong here and send me hate mail. I am not necessarily saying that this or that particular thing was better in the “good” old-days. An awful lot of fine folks were denied rights and made outcasts and even outlaws because of some pretty draconian and unfair laws and social mores. There were laws back then too, as obscenely insane as it seems today, that outlawed interracial marriage.
Schools and public places were segregated.
I’m not defending that. Not in the slightest. All of that was just flat-out wrong. I’m just saying that it was a cultural expectation—way back when.
Most everyone back then was a Christian. Not everyone went to Church on Sundays, but those that did, overwhelmingly went to Christian Churches. Old-fashioned chapels with crosses on the roof. I don’t believe I could have probably found three people in my high school who would have been able to define what a Muslim was. It was a nearly one-hundred percent Christian nation. Not much like that anymore. Church attendance has been declining for decades, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to slow much anytime soon.
Atheists and Anti-theists are all the rage now days.
Sports were pretty pure back then. There were aberrations, of course. The turn of the century Black Sox scandal and later on Pete Rose comes immediately to mind. But by and large it was pure. Routine craziness, both on and off the field, had not yet become a staple of American sports. Most pros were in it for the love of the sport, and for the fame. The limelight. No one did it much for the money. Multi-millionaire rock-star sports hero gods hadn’t quite been invented yet. The fact that they would one day exist wasn’t even on anyone’s radar.
Up until the late nineteen-sixties, bleacher seats at Tiger Stadium down on Michigan and Trumball still went for two bucks, and hot-dogs were fifty cents.
But enough on that. That’s a subject for another day.
Western dramas ruled the airwaves. All week long and twice that amount on the weekends. Bonanza, Sugarfoot, The Rebel, Shenandoah, The Virginian, Have Gun Will Travel, and all the mythic titles from the storied early days of television. And they all had one thing in common.
All the good guys had guns.
Yep—the heroes we grew up with all carried guns. And they used them too—over and over, and over again. To kill bad-guys. To defend the weak and defenseless. To fight for right. To prevail over tough odds. It was engrained in us. It was who we were. Dads bought rifles and shotguns for their sons for Christmas. Taught them how to use them too. Took their kids hunting, and target shooting. The Boy Scouts, and the Girl Scouts too, had shooting ranges and rifle practice. They even gave out merit-badges for marksmanship. Guns were the tools of righteous men.
Yeah, the baddies had them too.
But the bad guys never won.
Evil never prevailed.
That’s what changed—between then and now.
Now the bad guys win—all the time.
Society changed. The culture changed. Fathers either stepped back in importance in American families, or went away all together. Values somehow got flipped—with evil being called good—and good called evil.
Everything fell apart, somewhere between a Southeast Asian rice paddy and the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. Somewhere in there, our society, and our culture . . . just fell apart.
And it’s still falling.
And it’s really unlikely to stop.
Today there are no expectations, right or wrong.
No expectations at all—except perhaps the expectation of more death, more misery, more sadness, and of course—a lot more hopelessness.
I don’t know what went wrong. Decades of shrinks and pundits haven’t quite come up with any sensible answers either. But one thing I do know, is that the old men, the old times, and the old ways are getting the blame—rightly or wrongly.
And guns—those old time tools of old time good guys—have become the symbol of the illness and the malaise.
And you know what?
I don’t think they are to blame.
I don’t think they are the problem.
And I don’t think getting rid of them—anymore than getting rid of all the good old people—is the answer.
Our disease is deeper than that. The wounds of the past fifty plus years have been to our souls.
And souls take a long time to heal—if ever.
I think it’s about over.
It’s no Country for old men anymore.
It’s a rough time for old men.
And it’s a rough time for good men.
Largely—the world of expectations has disappeared.
And it breaks my heart to say it. But it’s gone forever. It’s not coming back.
It’s pretty much over—the way I see it.
I asked a question of my readers a few days ago. I asked what you thought about guns. I honestly didn’t get near as many responses as I had hoped I would. I think to a certain extent, folks are just getting tired of hearing about and thinking about guns, and shootings, and wars, and rumors of wars, and all the other heart-breaking news that bombards us almost every day.
I think we’ve pretty much tuned out—and checked out.
But I will tell you this.
Overwhelmingly, the responses I received were in favor of the second amendment and the private ownership of guns, and the right to keep and bear arms.
Overwhelmingly, citizens of this late great country still see firearms in the hands of private citizens as a positive thing. They still see the private citizen, the true militia of this nation—as good guys.
And overwhelmingly, my readers still see the problems we face today, largely as Executive Vice President of The National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre see them, when he said, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun—is a good guy with a gun.”
It may be sad—but the statement is true.
And all the good intentions and wishful thinking in the world won’t make it untrue.
In that, in that one small way, nothing has much changed in America, or indeed the world—since the days of Paladin and Matt Dillion.
Is America safer today with around four hundred million privately owned firearms in the hands of private citizens? I’m not entirely sure. But I do subscribe to the notion that America wasn’t exactly designed to be safe.
America was designed to be free.
There is no safety but in freedom.
And there is no freedom without freemen.
So I take my stand in the great American gun debate.
I vote for freedom. I vote for freemen.
I stand with the good guys . . .
And their tools.
Thanks so much for reading my rant.
Be back in a few with a new installment of THE RECKONING.
. . . See you then.
The Rants, Views, Books and Classic Entertainment of Lee Capp