From the Brier Patch: Guns in America . . .

Brier Patch


FROM THE BRIER PATCH: Guns in   America . . .


Today on Apropos of Nothing, I am beginning a new feature, and I’m going to call it, “From the Brier Patch,” a play on words, so to speak. The name, I admit, was the idea of my dear wife. I stole it from her—and I shamelessly admit it.

Thanks honey, for a great title.

At long last, after more than eight years in Bellevue, Washington, we have moved. Making us, I suppose, refugees from the land of Microsoft. The changes that we observed in that formerly tiny hamlet have been incredible and profound, and none much for the better. In eight years, the traffic and parking went from merely difficult, to completely unmanageable. And prices through the roof. We lived in a tiny apartment, with a cost of nearly four dollars per foot, per month. We didn’t get much for our money either.

Now we have gone north, although not terribly far. To a little community called Brier. Brier was a former logging town in Washington State’s distant past. It’s about twenty miles from where we were, but in a lot of other ways, it’s like a move to another country. Cool, green, urbane, while at the same time—laid-back country rustic. We like it, and it fits the lifestyle and tastes of us two old folks. It feels a lot like the places we grew up in.

It feels like home.

The traffic, although still challenging, has improved a lot for the better. And the price? Nearly three times the space, and at a cost of under a dollar a square foot. For the first time in a long time, Apropos of Nothing has its own dedicated office space. And let me tell you, that’s a real pleasure too. This is a good place to write. Quiet. Most of what noise there is, comes from the wind in the pines just outside the window. It feels like a place where Johnny O’Brien and the gang can grow and prosper. It feels like a place where Johnny’s creator can as well.

Writing is fun again.

I hope that will come across in the reading of it as well.




From the Brier Patch is going to be a lot of opinion. And an occasional rant as well. Every once in a while I need to get something off my chest, and this is my time and place to do it. But I don’t want to preach. Or at least I don’t want my preaching to be all one way. There is always a place for comments at the end of the blog. I invite my readers to leave some. Nothing beats a good dialogue and conversation in my book.

Let’s get some two-way going. Let’s pretend we’re leaning on a good old-fashioned white picket fence out in the adjoining back-yards. Let’s be neighbors. And let’s be friends.

Let us call this our virtual neighborhood.

Tonight the subject is guns—and where their place is, if any, in a modern America. Do their presence make us more safe?—or less? How you do feel about the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution? How do you feel about the right to keep and bear arms? Do you have kids still in school? How does that make you feel?—in this very dangerous day and age.

I’d like to get a reasoned and civil dialogue going on this subject. I’d like to find out what’s on the minds of my readers. And I’d like to roll-up the results of this most informal poll and report back on it in a few days or a week or so.

So I throw the subject out there for debate. There is no correct or incorrect point of view here. Only what we feel—in our hearts. Please be honest. You can leave your comments at the end of this article, or go to Facebook (where I have a fairly large presence) and comment there. Please, by all means, feel free to send me a friend request. I respond to all of them, and enjoy the company and opinions of all my Facebook friends.

I can be found on Facebook as: Larry Lee Caplin (Lee Capp). You can’t miss my profile picture—it’s a minion.

Thanks so much for reading this initial post on From the Brier Patch.

Talk you all again in a few days or a week.

Until then, take care. And have a wonderful weekend.


     Dumb Joke of the Day:




Tales of Enchanted October: The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe (1809 - 1849)
Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849)

Tales of Enchanter October: The Mysterious

                 Death of Edgar Allan Poe


It was just one hundred and sixty-six years ago yesterday, October 7, 1849, that perhaps one of the greatest minds of his time, and much beloved Gothic writer of the dark and bizarre, passed from this earth. He was just forty years old at the time, and his unsolved death has become, in the century and two-thirds since, one of the greatest mysteries of all time. Especially for the ardent legions of fans of the original man in black—Edgar Allan Poe.

Born Edgar Poe, January 19, 1809, in Boston, Massachusetts, the child of two actor parents, Poe became an artist in his own right, fully equivalent to a rock star of today. Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was also an accomplished poet, editor, and literary critic. Poe’s parents disappeared from his life early on. His father abandoned the family in 1810, and his mother passed away the following year, leaving young Edgar an orphan. He was adopted into the household of John and Frances Allan, of Richmond, Virginia. He would take their surname as his middle and make it famous.

Poe became the first well-known author of his time to earn his living one hundred percent from his writing. It didn’t pay well, and would cause him a life of financial difficulty and penury. Some things haven’t changed from then to now. Poe also tried a stint as a West Point cadet. It wouldn’t last for long. He was destined for greater things.

Poe and his work influenced literature not only in America, but the world as well. He is considered to be the father of the detective fiction genre, and would make a mark as well in the then emerging literary field of science fiction. Poe and his work have lived on through the years, and it continues to appear in literature, music, films, and television. For the most part, Poe is best remembered for his prose and poetry centering on the subjects of death, putrefaction, re-animation of the dead, and guilt and sorrow over death and dying and murder.

Edgar was a sober-type guy.

Pre Burial


To this very day, the Mystery Writers of America present an annual award known as the Edgar Award for distinguished work in the mystery genre. To say his work became a hallmark is something of a gross understatement. To understand the lasting impact of the artist, one only has to ponder a list of short stories by Poe, and marvel at the number of them spun-off into movies and television.


     The Angel of the Odd (1844)

     The Balloon Hoax (1844)

     Berenice (1835)

     The Black Cat (1845)

     The Cask of Amontillado (1846)

     A Descent into the Maelstrom (1845)

     Eleonora (1850)

     The facts in the Case of M. Valdemar (1845)

     The Fall of the House of Usher (1839)

     The Gold Bug (1843)

     Hop-Frog (1845)

     The Imp of the Perverse (1850)

     The Island of the Fay (1850)

     Ligeia (1838)

     The Man of the Crowd (1845)

     Manuscript Found in a Bottle (1833)

     The Masque of the Red Death (1850)

     Mesmeric Revelation (1849)

     The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841)

     Never Bet the Devil Your Head (1850)

     The Oval Portrait (1850)

     The Pit and the Pendulum (1850)

     The Premature Burial (1850)

     The Purloined Letter (1845)

     Silence – A Fable (1838)

     Some Words with a Mummy (1850)

     The Spectacles (1850)

     The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether (1856)

     The Tell-Tale Heart (1850)

     William Wilson (1842)



His more famous poems include:



     Annabel Lee

     Al Aaraal

     The Bells

     The City in the Sea

     The Conqueror Worm

     A Dream within a Dream



     The Haunted Palace

     To Helen



     The Raven




Edgar Allan Poe’s contributions were not small. And they would turn out to have a really long shelf-life as well. Few from his era are as remembered, and well-remembered as he. Beginning in 1949, one hundred years to the day of his death, an individual known only as “The Poe Toaster” made an annual pilgrimage to pay homage at the grave of the master. The tradition continued for more than sixty years, so it seems likely that it involved more than just one person.

Each January 19th, the Poe Toaster, in the small hours of the morning, would make a toast of cognac at Poe’s original grave-site, and leave behind three roses. It is said that members of The Edgar Allan Poe Society helped to protect this tradition for years. The Toasters last appearance was on January 19, 2009, the day of Poe’s bicentennial.


Annabelle Lee

I guess he finally figured enough was enough.

The death of Edgar Allan Poe was shrouded in mystery, and has remained so until this very day. The facts—at least those that are verifiable and known—are these: (From Wikipedia, the free on-line encyclopedia)


“The death of Edgar Allan Poe on October 7, 1849, has remained mysterious: the circumstances leading up to it are uncertain and the cause of death is disputed. On October 3, Poe was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, Maryland, “in great distress, and … in need of immediate assistance”, according to the man who found him, Joseph W. Walker.[1] He was taken to the Washington College Hospital, where he died at 5 a.m. on Sunday, October 7. Poe was never coherent enough to explain how he came to be in this condition.

“Much of the extant information about the last few days of Poe’s life comes from his attending physician, Dr. John Joseph Moran, though his credibility is questionable.[2] Poe was buried after a small funeral at the back of Westminster Hall and Burying Ground, but his remains were moved to a new grave with a larger monument in 1875. The newer monument also marks the burial place of Poe’s wife, Virginia, and his mother-in-law, Maria. Theories as to what caused Poe’s death include suicide, murder, cholera, rabies, syphilis, influenza, and that Poe was a victim of cooping. Evidence of the influence of alcohol is strongly disputed.[3]

“After Poe’s death, Rufus Wilmot Griswold wrote his obituary under the pseudonym “Ludwig”. Griswold, who became the literary executor of Poe’s estate, was actually a rival of Poe and later published his first full biography, depicting him as a depraved, drunk, drug-addled madman. Much of the evidence for this image of Poe is believed to have been forged by Griswold, and though friends of Poe denounced it,[4] this interpretation had lasting impact.

“Poe’s original headstone of white Italian marble, paid for by Poe’s cousin Neilson Poe, was destroyed before it reached the grave when a train derailed and plowed through the monument yard where it was being kept.[32] Instead, it was marked with a sand-stone block that read “No. 80”.[48] In 1873, Southern poet Paul Hamilton Hayne visited Poe’s grave and published a newspaper article describing its poor condition and suggesting a more appropriate monument. Sara Sigourney Rice, a teacher in Baltimore’s public schools, took advantage of renewed interest in Poe’s grave site and personally solicited for funds. She even had some of her elocution students give public performances to raise money. Many in Baltimore and throughout the United States contributed; the final $650 came from Philadelphia publisher and philanthropist George William Childs. The new monument was designed by architect George A. Frederick and built by Colonel Hugh Sisson, and included a medallion of Poe by artist Adalbert Volck. All three men were from Baltimore. The total cost of the monument, with the medallion, amounted to slightly more than $1,500.[49] ($31,600 in 2014 dollars)

“Poe was reburied on October 1, 1875, at a new location close to the front of the church. A celebration was held at the dedication of the new tomb on November 17.[50] His original burial spot was marked with a large stone donated by Orin C. Painter, though it was originally placed in the wrong spot.[51] Attendees included Neilson Poe, who gave a speech and called his cousin “one of the best hearted men that ever lived”, as well as Nathan C. Brooks, John Snodgrass, and John Hill Hewitt.[52] Though several leading poets were invited to the ceremony, Walt Whitman was the only one to attend.[53] Alfred Tennyson contributed a poem which was read at the ceremony:

“Fate that once denied him, And envy that once decried him, And malice that belied him, Now cenotaph his fame.[54]

“Probably unknown to the reburial crew, the headstones on all the graves, previously facing to the east, had been turned to face the West Gate in 1864.[50] The crew digging up Poe’s remains had difficulty finding the right body: they first exhumed a 19-year-old Maryland militiaman, Philip Mosher, Jr.[50] When they correctly located Poe, they opened his coffin and one witness noted: “The skull was in excellent condition—the shape of the forehead, one of Poe’s striking features, was easily discerned.”[54]A few years later, the remains of Poe’s wife, Virginia, were moved to this spot as well. In 1875, the cemetery in which she lay was destroyed, and she had no kin to claim her remains. William Gill, an early Poe biographer, gathered her bones and stored them in a box he hid under his bed.[55] Virginia’s remains were finally buried with her husband’s on January 19, 1885, the 76th anniversary of her husband’s birth and nearly 10 years after his present monument was erected. George W. Spence, the man who served as sexton during Poe’s original burial as well as his exhumation and reburial, attended the rites that brought his body to rest with Virginia and Virginia’s mother, Maria Clemm.”



The original headstone on the left, and the second headstone on the right.
The original headstone on the left, and the second headstone on the right.


Edgar Allan Poe. A literary giant in life, and an enduring mystery in death. One hundred and sixty-six years later, the questions continue.


Thanks so much for reading today. I’ll be back in a few days with another installment of THE RECKONING. Until then, goodnight . . . and good nightmares.

In the spirit of enchanted October, I am posting a cute cartoon from way back in 1956, called BROOMSTICK BUNNY. A departure from the dumb joke of the day for a change. Enjoy!


Death at the Supermarket: Sticks and Stones



                        CHAPTER THREE    


Sticks and stones may only break your bones, but here’s two

words that can kill you

There’s an old saying about sticks and stones and words. Most of us heard it a lot when we were growing up. Out on the playground. Words can’t kill—right? Well, not so fast. In the Alice in Wonderland world of the big-box supermarket vocabulary—they sure can, and they do.

It’s the most often, and the most over-used word in modern advertising. “Fresh.” There was a time, and not so terribly long ago, when that wasn’t true. Throughout the mid-twentieth century, the advertising buzz-word that reigned supreme was; “New.” I’m old enough to remember it. Back when I was a kid, we used to hear it about a million times a day on the television commercials. Everything was “new,” from Gerber Brand baby-foods to Zucchini Squash, and about a ton and a half of laundry detergents in between. It’s still used today, although not nearly as much. It’s been supplanted by “fresh” everything.

Take a turn around the old grocery store and you’ll quickly see what I mean. Chances are you’ll encounter the word not only on the packaging of grocery items, but in big bold letters placed high up on the walls and hanging from placards. Some examples: Fresh Produce. Fresh Meat. Fresh Seafood. Fresh Dairy. Fresh Deli. Fresh Eggs—and so on. Used to be an old joke about the so-called “fresh” eggs. The chicken lays the eggs. The farmer gathers them up and stores them in the barn for a few days. Then he sells them to the wholesaler. They sit around there for another week or so before they get sent on to the distributer. The same thing happens there before they head out to the supermarket warehouse. Heaven only knows how long they are there. At least by this point they are maybe getting some refrigeration. Now on to the grocery store itself. Again (if we’re lucky) they get put in a cooler where once again, they sit and wait to make their way out to the sales floor. Eventually they do—where they are placed directly under the “fresh” eggs sign.

You get the idea. Small wonder that eggs are one of the most potentially deadly products in the store.

It’s the same with the other items too. You know, the meat, seafood, deli and all those other “fresh” items. And yes they are. Fresh, that is . . . by one definition of the word. They’ve never been frozen. Yup, that’s it. The grocery business definition of the word “fresh,” is, “never frozen.” In the famous words of Indigo Montoya; “That word . . . I do not believe it means what you think it means.” To the customer and the consumer, fresh means—well, fresh. As in, just arrived. In peak condition. Not old. Really, really good and wholesome. To the supermarket, it means—never frozen.

What I am telling you here is that a supermarket employee can put a piece of meat, or seafood, or anything else into a display class, and tell the customer that it is “fresh,” even if it has been sitting in the back of the store for ten days and is curling up around the edges and turning black.

And that employee can do it completely legally.

And that rotten piece of meat or seafood or whatever has the potential to possibly make you sick, or much, much worse—make you dead. It happens all the time. I have seen such “fresh” products sold over and over and over. I even had one (food safety trained) manager of Giant Stuff Mart’s seafood department tell me personally, when I confronted him over spoiled “fresh” food . . . “It’s my job to sell that product.” He was proud to have put one over on the customer. Perhaps the customer that purchased that “fresh” product and spent the night in the bathroom vomiting their insides out, didn’t think it was such a great joke.

Perhaps even less so at a loved-one’s funeral.

Why did that unethical manager want to sell bad food? Answer—to limit the companies “Shrink.” Which brings us to the second word that can kill you. Dead. Forever. And it’s all in the name of profits.

Profits over people.

Every. Single. Time.

Just what is “Shrink?” Well, it is virtually everything that the store buys and brings in to sell, that for one reason or another never gets sold. It becomes a “loss” for the company. There could be a lot of reasons for the loss. Maybe the item is stolen. Millions of dollars in shrink in the United States each year can be attributed to theft. It’s no small matter. In the case of Giant Stuff Mart and its parent company, the total shrink from theft at the end of the year is comparable to the annual budgets of many small third-world countries.

Most often however, there are other reasons for the loss. The item might have been damaged in the store because of bad handling. It might have been damaged by a customer. Perhaps it was purchased and returned by the purchaser, and is not in good enough shape to be resold. As you can see—many, many reasons for shrink. On the food side of GSM, the number one reason for shrink is damage due to spoilage, or out-datedness. As in, the product hasn’t sold by the end of the expiration date, on those items (generally pre-packaged) that have expiration dates.

Employees in GSM, and especially department managers, are under extreme pressure to limit, reduce, and eliminate shrink by whatever means possible. And I’m here to tell you, their jobs are dependent on it. A fish or piece of expensive meat falls on the floor. It should become shrink and be thrown away. Most times, it will simply be picked up and put back into the display case; ready, willing and able to be sold—and possibly make someone really, really sick. Why? Because the floor is the one place in the department that catches everything. All of the drips, runs, splatters and nasty things that employees track into the department on their shoes all day long. And all those things fester days and sometimes even weeks on those unclean and unwashed floors. That’s where bacteria grows—and not the good kind.

The kind that can put you away—forever.

Sure, cooking kills germs. So in many cases the bacteria from the floor on the food item will be killed and the product rendered harmless. What about the rare and medium-rare cooked steaks? What about the already cooked items that are sometimes not reheated at all? They get dropped on the floor too. Think it doesn’t happen? Think again. I have personally witnessed it over and over again. I have actually seen employees drop food items onto the floor and pick it up again, finish wrapping it for the customer and hand it over to them. If the customer didn’t happen to notice, or chose to not speak up—well, too bad for them.

A really great place for the department manager to get rid of shrink and make himself, or herself look better, is to put it into what is called “prepack.” Prepack are those little cling wrap covered Styrofoam trays and/or tubs that contain product that the store employees package themselves.

From the time the employee takes a piece of meat or seafood from wherever it was, and puts it into a tray and labels it, it has to be sold within three days. The price tag will have the date that it was packaged, and the date it must be sold by—generally three days. Problem is, customers generally assume good intentions and imagine that the product inside the package was new or “fresh” when it went into the package.

Oh, if that were only true.

In most instances, the product that was put into those attractive little trays was getting old and was about to become “department shrink.” This is different from “store shrink,” and I’m going to tell you how. Imagine if you will, that seafood department manager Sally has a ten pound box of Halibut that has sat in the cooler for eight days and is unsold. Halibut is selling at the moment for twenty dollars a pound. Now if Sally simply throws the old fish out, the department and her has sustained a two hundred dollar loss. All at one time. Too much of that and Sally’s looking for a new job.

What is Sally to do? She’d like to throw it out, because she knows that the Halibut is about to become unsafe to eat—if it isn’t already. On the other hand, she really, really needs the job. To keep a roof over her head and feed her family.

The family or the customer. Want to guess who wins?

Here’s what she does—to turn that two hundred dollar department shrink and the potential loss of her job into harmless store shrink. She put all ten pounds of that slowly rotting Halibut into prepack and places it out in from of the full-service case for sale.

Now remember; once it’s in the package, she has only three days to sell it. It’s already eight days old. The customer assumes it’s new, or “fresh.” Day one, the fish is nine days old. Maybe the customers buy it, maybe they don’t. The next day, day number two according to the package, but actually day ten, that fish is getting pretty darned dangerous. An upset stomach at best. Maybe something much worse. Tomorrow, day three, is the last day it can be legally sold. So what does Sally do? She marks down the price to attract buyers to the product that is now eleven days old. Sometimes the marked down price can be as much as forty or fifty percent off the original price—a powerful incentive to buy.

If it sells—fine and wonderful for Sally. If it doesn’t sell, it doesn’t matter to her. She has done everything she can to move the product. She has taken what the store calls “price-action,” lowering the price of the product to sell it before it has to be thrown out. If she has done all she can do to sell it, and it remains unsold, she can scan it out of the store’s computerized inventory system, and the shrink is no longer hers—it’s now the store’s shrink, and Sally is off the hook. The customer that purchased what they thought was only three day old fish but was actually eleven—well, maybe not so much. Chances are they got a really nasty, bad tasting dinner.

And maybe they got something much, much worse.

Fresh, and Shrink. Two words that can kill you.

What can you do to protect yourself and your family? Well, start off by asking just exactly what the condition of the product is. Don’t simply say, “Is it fresh?” Remember, it can be starting to stink to high-heaven, but if it’s never been frozen, the employee can truthfully, and legally, say it is. Better, ask if it has ever been frozen. Ask when it was thawed. Ask how it was thawed. If it’s fresh, as in never frozen, you are going to have to depend on your eyes, and nose to tell you if it is good to eat or not.

A lot more on that later.

And prepack? Sadly, I have to recommend that you do not buy it at all. There is just really no way to know for sure if what you are putting before your family on the dinner table is four hours old, four days old, or fourteen days old. And yes, I have actually witnessed product fully two weeks old being marketed and sold as “fresh.”

There really ought to be a law.

But sadly . . . there isn’t.


Thanks so much for reading today. Back in a couple of days with another installment of THE RECKONING. Johnny O’Brien is still in hot water, and it’s time for the “kid” to get him out.

See you then . . .


Dumb Joke of the day:



The Reckoning: The Ice Queen





Ice cubes


                 CHAPTER THIRTEEN


It was without a reasonable doubt the strangest night of my life. Not unconscious, yet not awake either—I existed in a sort of vacuum or void. Near total darkness, with all of darkness’s attendant fears—demons, devils and shades. I didn’t know what they wanted from me—and they weren’t talking either. The darkness was interrupted from time to time with brilliant flashes of pure white light, along with beautiful settings in woods and glen. From the light came voices, with occasional faces to go along with them, flashing before my eyes. Faces of friends and family long gone. Some entreated me to enter and stay. Others warned to go back.

Thing was—I had no idea how to get back.

Another man might have thought that he was near death. I knew better. Another man might have wondered if he were seriously injured and suspended between Heaven and Hell. I knew I was not injured at all. This was something else. I was in no danger of crossing over to the other side—I was only a visitor in this land of the dead.

I could feel my body, alive and well, laying on a gurney in a hospital hallway. I could feel hands, those of living, breathing beings upon me in the night. Turning me, examining me, placing an oxygen tube over my ears and into my nose. I would briefly awaken, but unable to rise, quickly drift back to sleep to continue my tour of the netherworld. Finally, at last, toward morning I believe, I could feel two strong orderlies helping me off the gurney and into a wheelchair. Flashes of hallway entered under the slits of my eyelids as I was wheeled out of the hospital and into a waiting vehicle.

Then drug induced total blackness.

I didn’t know how many more hours passed before I regained my senses again. This time I was fully awake and aware, the stupor of the night passed. Trouble was, I still couldn’t move—both of my hands shackled behind my back. I was sitting upright in my underwear, in a solid-backed wooden desk chair. One of the old-fashioned heavy oak monsters. My ankles were also bound. There was no blindfold. Shaking my head to clear the last remaining cobwebs from my brain, I looked around at my surroundings. A rather large warehouse or factory of some type—long unused. The dust of the ages lay on the floor. Wreckage of an industry long-since dead and passed. A little light permeated the dirty and grungy windows. The hum of a motor of some kind nearby. My outer clothes lay in a heap a few feet away. Two bearded young men stood grinning before me.

I didn’t think they were hospital staff anymore.

The first spoke. Carter was right. There was no hint of an accent. These were American boys, through and through. Mom, Chevy, and apple pie. The works, plus murder, mayhem, and stone cold-blooded infanticide on a grand scale.

“So this is the great American detective John O’Brien. The man sent to kill us. Doesn’t look that that’s working out so well for you Mr. O’Brien.”

“The day’s not over yet,” I replied.

“The day will be over for you pretty soon, O’Brien. Matter of fact, all of your days will soon be over. Today though, this day—well, that’s apt to be a long one for you. Long, bloody, and painful.”

“So what else is new? Comes with the job. Mom always wanted me to be a dentist. Nice safe job, she always said. She may have had a good point.”

“We have heard about your smart mouth. Want to bet we can close it?

“Oh, what the hell,” I responded. “What the hell do I care? All you can do is kill me. Must not be that big a deal. Like falling off a log. Must be really easy—most all of my friends have done it.”

“Not so easy for you John O’Brien. You die like a dog. But we won’t do it. We won’t hurt a hair on your head. That’s for someone else. Not us.”

Now they had my interest up.

“What’s the problem Sparky?” I taunted. “Ain’t man enough to get your hands a little dirty? Or do you prefer to do your killing long distance? Like a couple of blocks away—setting off car bombs?”

A female voice behind me spoke. “These bozos don’t set off bombs. They’re way too dumb to be trusted with the high-tech stuff. That’s my job.”

She walked around to face me. From the build-up, I was more than a little surprised. The Ice Queen didn’t look very much like I expected.

She was a bit older than I would have thought. I had imagined thirty-something. She was maybe pushing fifty—hard. Once beautiful, age had dimmed it a bit. But still, I could tell she had once been a looker. Now there were Crow’s-feet at the corners of her eyes, and a few wrinkles at the lips. Her hair was reddish-blond, close cropped, yet still fashionable. She reminded me a bit of the late actress Lynn Redgrave—but without Lynn’s smiling eyes. These were the flat, dead eyes of the Orcs—one of the undead. No Arab dress for this lady. She wore simple jeans, form-fitting. A red shirt and black leather jacket completed the ensemble. From her right hand dangled her only fashion accessory—a cattle-prod. A rather large one from the look of it. One with a lot of amperage.

Like the men, she was American through and through. She was even up on her movie references.

“I hate to sound like Olivier in Marathon Man,” she began. “But still, I feel the need to ask you. Is it safe?”

Unlike Dustin Hoffman in the film, at least I knew to what she was referring. “How the hell do I know?” I said. You’re the one with about half my clothes. You tell me.”

“It wasn’t in your clothes.”

Now this was news to me. When the blast from the car-bomb had plowed me down into the parking lot asphalt, it had been in the inside pocket of my sport-coat. I supposed it might have got rattled out, but still—it was in there pretty damned deep. Seemed unlikely.

I decided to play for time. God only knew where Brick might be. That was if he were alive at all. Still, it was a chance. I didn’t seem to have a hell of a lot going for me otherwise.

“If you don’t mind my saying so, Icy—you don’t much seem like a Jihadist zealot. Don’t dress like one either.”

“I’m no Muslim. And not a Muslim-lover either. But they pay damned well. And as for America—I like nothing more than seeing its face rubbed it the dirt. America never did a damned thing for me.”

“Where you from?”

“Chicago. Born and bred . . . is it safe, Mr. O’Brien?”

So we were back to that again. “I dunno,” I answered.

“Mr. O’brien, I am going to be honest with you. No matter what happens here today, you don’t walk away. You’re a dead man, sitting in his underwear in a chair. You only choice is in how you die. A nice clean knife through your throat, or a corpse unrecognizable as a human being.”

“Torturing me to death will take you some time. After all, I can’t tell you what I don’t know. Seems a better deal to me than making a large pool of blood on the floor in the next five minutes.”

“Trust me, Mr. O’Brien. You will not enjoy the extra time.”

“Still though,” I said, “that’s my choice.”

“A bad one. Perhaps you will have second thoughts when I show you what awaits you.” Turning to the two men, she said simply, “Gentlemen.” They grinned again and started toward a large metal door nearby. A door that went into a metal box. A box about the size of a small house. An overhead track ran into it. I hadn’t recognized the hum that I had been hearing for what it was. Now I knew. The large metal box was a working walk-in freezer.

I was soon to learn how the Ice Queen had gotten her nickname.

“You are in the old Packard manufacturing plant, Mr. O’Brien. It opened in the early nineteen hundreds, and closed in 1958. Completely abandoned in the nineties, it fell into ruins—fit only for drug deals and rodents—both the four, and two-legged kind.”

“This particular building was the transmission plant. It’s held up a little better than the rest of the complex. A few years ago an enterprising individual tried opening a meat-packing plant on these premises. Didn’t last any longer than any of the previous businesses though. Just the same, the walk-in freezer still works just fine. All it needed was the addition of a portable generator. I was happy enough to provide one of those.”

“I like ice, Mr. O’Brien. The cold doesn’t affect me at all. The same can’t be said though of mere mortals. Like the unfortunate one you are about to meet. He’s been chilling in there for quite a long time now, while we waited for you to wake up. I really have no idea if he is alive or dead at this moment. Either way, I’m sure you will get the point. Like the Borg say, Mr. O’Brien—resistance is futile.”

The two men swung open the door. There was not a light inside. One of them flipped a switch to get the overhead conveyer moving. It was meant to move sides of beef from the cutting floor into the freezer and vice-versa. A partly frozen carcass was easier by far to cut and slice than one at room temperature. It was never been meant to work for humans though.

But then the Ice Queen had made some modifications.

At first I thought it must be a corpse hanging so grotesquely from the meat-hook. The rusted hook was meant to take the weight of half a cow. Even at that, it was slightly bent under the weight of the poor unfortunate soul that was hanging at the end of it. He had been either been lifted up and unto the hook or it had been rammed cruelly into his back while he lay on the floor. It protruded from out the front of his chest, but far enough into the shoulder area to not cause death.

No, that would have been far too quick and merciful for the mistress of the ice.

He was a young man, maybe thirty or so. My worst fears—that this was my partner Brick, were quickly put to rest when I saw the full beard covering the lower half of his face. He was probably a poor homeless guy, lured with the promise of a meal or booze. I thought the beard might be red at first, but as he approached closer on the conveyor, I was able to see that it was simply drenched in blood. The source of all that blood was readily apparent when I saw his eyes. All that was left were two empty sockets. Both of his eyes had been gouged out. His mouth was taped over.

His body was deep blue at this point. Fingers and toes were turning black as they began to freeze solid. The rivers of blood running down his naked body were partly frozen. They had almost ceased to drip—but not completely. It looked like my two friends had been busy—slicing long strips of flesh from his body. Several long jagged slices opened and closed in rhythm with his breaths.

The poor bastard was still very much alive.

The conveyor stopped in front of my chair.

“So what do you think of my little exhibition, Mr. O’Brien?”

“Very impressive, Icy. For a psychopathic monster, that is.”

She nodded and smiled slightly. “High praise.”

“Why don’t you put that poor bastard out of his misery, Icy? Then we’ll talk business,” I said.

“Maybe,” she replied. “Maybe that’s just exactly what I’ll do, Mr. O’Brien. A shame to let him go to his grave all cold like that though. Maybe he needs to be warmed up a little first.”

She smiled again as she nodded her head again toward the two men. One of them picked an object up off the floor and walked toward the impaled man. As he approached, he struck a match to it and the propane torch sprang to life. Opening up the value to its full force, it produced a jagged blue flame that sprang out about twelve inches.

He thrust it into the groin of the helpless hanging man, concentrating it on his genitals. And he left it there. The poor miserable hanging slob began to jerk and convulse as his reproductive organs turned black and began to crackle and pop. A long high-pitched and choking wail escaped his lips despite the duct tape. His legs sawmilled even though they were bound together at the ankles. A clear liquid ran from his nose as the partial incineration continued. The liquid slowly turned crimson. The stench of burning pubic hair joined that of the roasting flesh.

It was not a pleasant odor.

I had never seen such a horrible death in all my years as a cop. It seemed to go on forever, but in truth was probably a minute or a minute and a half as the poor slob slowly went into hemorrhagic shock, his system simply overwhelmed by the amount, severity and savagery of the lacerations and burns he had received. Finally his jerking and flopping stopped and he hung still—smoldering.

“You are one sick bitch,” I said simply. “Guess it’s my turn next.”

“Guess so, big-boy,” she said with a savage smile. “And no time like the present.”

With that she pressed the on button on the cattle-prod, and jammed it into my chest. My world exploded into pain and white light as the electrical current ran through my body. She held it to me for several seconds, and then switched it off. I fought for consciousness and tried not to pee myself.

“Untie him boys,” Icy said. “And cut that down. We’re going to need the hook again.”

I tried to fight back. Honestly I did. The thing was though, I just didn’t have any strength after that blast to my chest. And my legs were useless. No point anyhow, I figured. I only wondered how badly that rusty giant hook was going to hurt as it was rammed into my back. A man on each side of me, they dragged me toward my impending doom.

Only vaguely was I aware from out of the corner of my eye, of the door on the other side of the room opening. I was heartened. Perhaps the Calvary had arrived at last. Perhaps help was here. Perhaps I was saved. And then he walked in. A little old chubby man. All by himself. Alone. Dressed in an old-fashioned three-piece suit, and fedora hat.

I was about to meet the oddest human being I had ever known in my life.

Or ever would.


Thanks so much for reading. Back in a few days with another installment of DEATH AT THE SUPERMARKET. Until then .  .  . have a great day.

Dumb joke of the day: