The Crossword Puzzle (#2)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
http://www.zenanthonywolff.com

The Crossword Puzzle

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

To see all published chapters of “The Crossword Puzzle” click here

 

Part 2 – NOLA GETS TO KNOW HER PATIENT

 

Their first meal together was not without both problems and pleasure.  Mrs. Eglington assured her that she knew how to feed Mr. Ghent.  She’d been doing it since he was a child.  “Milk never hurt a human being.  We probably wouldn’t have survived without it.”

“Just the same,” Nola said, “there will be no more dairy products served to Mr. Ghent.  You can give him soup – just so it is not soup with a creamy base.  And green tea and sherbets.  Later he may have steamed vegetables.  Do you have a steamer?”

“Oh, it’s probably down in the basement with all of the other junk we have no use for.”

“You’ve got a use for it now.  So please locate it and thoroughly clean it.  We’ll have our meals – you can just duplicate his tray for me – at the regular time.”

Nearly an hour later Jules came to the room carrying one large tray.  “Where do you want this?” he asked.

There was a card table in the room that was covered with the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle.  He pushed the pieces into a box, and covered the table with a linen cloth.  He also placed a centerpiece of chrysanthemums on the table.  “I hope they’re as you ordered,” he said to Spencer.

Spencer Ghent looked at the soup Jules served.  “No more milk-toast?”

“Consider it a thing of the past,” Nola said as Jules stood in the doorway, waiting for an opportunity to speak.  Nola and Spencer looked at him expectantly.

“I know that the tray should be taken downstairs,” Jules said, “but I’ve sustained a serious but manageable cervical spine injury and if you don’t mind I’ll leave the tray here outside the door.  It’ll save me from having to carry it down and back to collect the dishes.”

“That’s fine,” Nola said.  “And if you’re ever in any particular distress and could use my help, please don’t hesitate to ask.” Jules bowed his head, closed the door, and turned down the hall.

She helped Spencer to sit at the table. “That,” he said, referring to Jules, “is his way of discouraging you from asking to be sent up anything other than the three meals he’s obliged to carry. They all have their little tricks.  You’ll get used to them.” He looked up at her coquettishly.  “Would you do a sick man a favor and close the drapes and then take those candles on the mantlepiece and put them here on the table.”  He reached across to a book shelf and pushed the play switch of an old CD player.  “I hope you like Errol Garner.  It’s his Concert By The Sea. I haven’t listened to it in months.”

“I love Garner,” she said.  “Play on.”

With the drapes closed and the candles lit, everything became soft and lovely in the room.  Spence smiled. “This is such a pleasure… eating without stuff dripping down my cheeks into my collar and pillow.”

“We aim to please,” Nola said, noticing how pale his blue eyes were in the candlelight.  He once must have been extremely handsome.  “Who is your favorite composer?” she asked.

“I know that one,” he said, grinning.  “I’m supposed to say, ‘You mean… after Mozart?”

They laughed and talked about music and the things they liked and disliked.  For dinner, they decided, they would play the Garner disc again only this time they would listen to the music.  When Spencer finished dessert, Nola helped him back into bed and sat quietly with him while he listened to the end of the CD and fell asleep. Then she went to her own room and called the kitchen to tell Mrs. Eglington that though Mr. Ghent was sleeping, if the procedure could be quietly done, Jules could collect the dishes.

 

Spencer Morton Ghent, 42, had suffered for more than five years with ulcerative colitis, a condition which caused him to experience frequent bouts of diarrhea.  He was the head of a firm of financial consultants and, since his position afforded him his own private bathroom, he stubbornly thought he could manage the disease.  And then, after one particularly nasty episode which caused him to be hospitalized, a proctologist whistled ominously at the condition of his anus and suggested that the removal of his rectum would soon be necessary.  At that point, Ghent accepted an alternate solution offered by his physician, which was to resign his position in his high tension work environment and stay home until rest and decompression could assist the medicines prescribed for him and help him to rid himself of this affliction.

Paige Ghent was not, however, appreciative of having her husband at home with her twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  Ghent was physically weak: over a period of several years his weight had dropped from one hundred eighty pounds to one hundred twenty pounds.  A gradual weigh loss is not much noticed by those who see the person every day, and so it was generally assumed by those who saw him when he weighed close to one hundred fifty pounds, that he worked out by choice in this private weight room, swam in his private pool, and hiked or rode horses through his wooded estate.  Retired, he became much thinner and few people knew that he owed his thinness to a disease of his digestive system – not even Paige who slept in the opposite side of the house.  She remained indifferent to his condition until he called out to her in anguish one evening; and when she came to help discovered the extent of the debilitating episode.  The work she was forced to do embarrassed her and she lived in terror that their servants would spread the news of his infirmity – and her part in it – around town.  For a week she tried valiantly to keep the patient, his underwear, pajamas, and the bed linens clean without anyone else being aware of such laundry, but it became too much for a woman who had had full-time nannies diaper her three children.  The stench and the filth encountered when diapering a husband, impinged seriously upon her sense of self-worth and were he not already so worn-out by the problem, would have adversely affected his, too.

Candidly, she explained her problem as she saw it to her sister.  “I know I’m a spoiled brat of a woman.  But I’m simply typical of my circle of friends.”  Though this group regarded themselves as independent, they limited their existences to sex, beauty parlors, fashion shows, luncheons, charitable committees, and the places to which they brought art and its refinements to those in the community who were in dire need of them.  And none of this was compatible with putting her hands or nose near the former contents of her husband’s bowels.  Not without reason did Paige fear that if news of his disease and her part in it ever became publicly known, she’d become a laughing-stock.  Her class simply did not dabble in such things.  She was comforted by the ethical requirement that bound Nola, a registered nurse, to a certain confidentiality.  Her friends were not unlike the ladies who formed the Zen council.

It wasn’t that these ladies who were in the same economic class as the Zen Council were uneducated. No, like the others, they had unfortunately majored in French Literature, Art History, or Philosophy, subjects which rendered them virtually unemployable, which was a fact of no consequence since they always seemed to marry Wharton School of Business graduates who went into Philadelphia regularly to their offices and made enough money to keep fat portfolios and summer homes.  At cocktail parties and other obligatory functions, French Literature, Art History, and Philosophy were considered meritorious achievements. Otherwise, they maintained a coffee-klatch mentality and contented themselves by doing the things that prosperous wives were supposed to do, including unrestrained sex.

Perhaps it was an exercise in psychological compensation that let The Council decide that Christianity lacked a certain patrician cachet, and one and all they happily turned to the more exclusive Zen, which, after all, provided better opportunities for meeting new friends.

 

Once Spencer was asleep, Nola got her coat and purse and went to the kitchen to tell the cook that she was going to an organic vegetable store she had seen on her way to the house.

“What peculiar vegetables are you planning to buy?” Mrs. Eglington asked with more accusation than curiosity.

Nora, offended by the cook’s attitude, saw Jules’ laptop on the kitchen table.  “If I buy something you’re unfamiliar with, I’m sure Mr. Grover will do a net search to provide you with instruction.  I suspect that Mr. Ghent is lactose intolerant so I’ll be getting special milk for him and also some probiotic pills that I regard as most effective.  Don’t forget to scrub that steamer.”  She pulled on her driving gloves, “Now if Jules will see to getting the other things from the drug store, I’ll leave – with your permission, of course.”

The departure was not tearful.

Nola became a regular customer of the health food grocery store.  On her first visit in September she chatted with the clerk who managed to get more information than she gave.  But on the check-out counter was a stack of flyers announcing the presence in town of the new Zen Buddhist Assembly of Morton.  She read that meditation services were held on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.  The clerk watched her read and then gushed, “If you’re interested in Zen you really ought to go.  They’re wonderful people!”

“Soto or Rinzai?” Nola asked.

The clerk did not know what she was talking about and simply shrugged. They’re the kind that just sit there for fifty minutes and then take a break and sit another fifty minutes.  Somebody told me that they try not to think.”

“That sounds like Soto Zen,” Nola said as she noted the address of the Zendo.

When she returned home she told Spencer about the new facility.  He had not heard about it.  “So,” he said pleasantly, “you’re a Zen person.  I used to go regularly to a temple in Philadelphia.  I miss the quiet contemplation… the peace and that great sandalwood incense they use.”

“When you’re strong enough,” Nola promised, “I’ll take you to one of their Tuesday or Thursday meditation sessions.  She did not mention that she followed Rinzai Zen and did not care to spend hours sitting on a cushion trying to erase thoughts from her mind.

 

In the weeks that followed, Spencer’s health improved remarkably.  He gained weight, ate more and slept less. His depression vanished and he began to avail himself of a stack of books that contained crossword puzzles, formerly his favorite pass-time. Nola was happy to compete with him in solving the puzzles.  Since Spencer did not like electronic equipment, he would also get daily exercise going up and down stairs to his study to consult his many reference books. Soon the two of them got so good at solving the puzzles that they began to create their own.  This challenge created much good will and they began to act as old and trusted friends.  Spencer liked to follow a single theme, one that would be appreciated by members of his economic class… equestrian, nautical, social dances and events, and such.  Eventually, he had to expand the theme to include names and terms people of every class would appreciate.

His moods and his adherence to routine also began to change.  He asked Jules to air-out clothing he wore when he weighed one hundred fifty pounds.  The garments were of course too large for him, but he explained that he didn’t like to go downstairs in pajamas and robe.  This was understandable, but what was beyond Nola’s comprehension was that on some days he would take his medicine, eat his breakfast, and then dismiss her, locking his bedroom door.  When Nola would ask, he’d say he had private phone calls to make.  He would never explain and some days Nola was frantic wondering what she had done to cause him to exclude her from his bedroom.

It became so troublesome that she asked her sister why Spencer behaved in such a way.

Paige laughed and said, “Look at the phone bill when it comes in.  There won’t be any calls made.  At the rate he’s improving, he’ll fit into those clothes and then he’ll say that he had personal business to attend to and he’ll leave the house.  Usually, he won’t say anything. He’ll just leave.  You’ll wonder where the hell he went or what he’s doing, but he’ll nicely say that his private life is no concern of yours.  Then you’ll see new garments… shirts, ties, pants, suits…  and they didn’t just materialize out of thin air.  So all his personal business was visiting men’s shops, and if you take the trouble to look, you’ll find a few movie ticket stubs in his car or pants’ pockets.  Same thing with his moods.  Usually he’ll want to do thepuzzles.  But you’ll find that some days he just locks his bedroom door without any explanation.”

“Paige… That’s exactly what he does.  Not often, but enough to concern me. He’ll say, ‘I took my medicine.  I’ll see you later.’   I go back to my room and worry about him.”

“Do yourself a favor and don’t worry.”  With that advice, Paige ended the discussion and announced that she needed to buy a new pair of heels to go with a dress she had just purchased.

 

The three kids came home for the Christmas holiday early, and Jules took them into town to buy a siamese kitten for Paige and a boxer puppy for Spencer. Nola did not spend enough time with them to form an opinion about any one of them.  But, she did assure herself, they certainly looked and acted like normal teenagers… even better behaved than most.

At Christmas dinner, as dessert was being served, Roland looked at a collection of puzzles.  “These are really great, Dad,” he said.  You ought to have them published.”

“Surely,” Paige said sourly, “not under the Ghent name.”

“Let’s make up a name!” Samantha gushed.

Nola secretly had been thinking about a joint name for them to use.  “Spenola” she had decided on and was just about to blurt it out when Paige shouted, “Chat R. Box!”  Chat for my Christmas cat and box for Daddy’s new puppy!”

Every one squealed in approval and the name “Splenola” stuck in Nola’s throat, nearly choking her.

Although she was responsible for at least half of each created puzzle, Spencer was being given full credit.  It was a small thing, but so, she reasoned, was a mosquito bite. It itched her psyche, but with discipline, she almost overcame it.  “What the hell was I thinking?” she asked herself when she went to bed that night.  She wondered why she was so upset by Spencer taking – no… being given – the whole credit for the puzzles.  The problem disturbed her far more than it should have.  First of all, it was only natural that at a celebratory moment he was not going to stop and correct his son.  Well, then, what was it?

As Nola lay on her bed and pondered the problem, applying the harsh self-defacing requirement of a Zen inquiry into one’s mind, it soon became clear that what disturbed her was that she wanted to link her name with his.  It wasn’t love, she told herself, although she had to admit that she felt years younger when she was with Spencer.  In fact, she felt a little high… like a good marijuana high… when they worked on the puzzles.  Yet she still did not realize that she had eradicated boundaries.  They were neither nurse and patient nor sister and brother-in-law. In either case, he was off-limits to her.  She had allowed herself to cross a forbidden line.

Before the New Year, the family left for a ski trip to Gstaad, Switzerland.  Everyone except Spencer returned in a few days.  Friends had advised him to get a kind of make-over in a spa in Lucerne.  The regimen was strict, but guaranteed to clean old unpleasant memories from his mind.  He’d be a new man.  Communication with the outside world was limited.  There was one public-use computer that functioned for one hour each day and phones and visitors were not permitted. He could get and receive mail though this was not encouraged.  Nola, wanting to keep her dispute with him out of the Ghent house, wrote a brief note to him asking that he include her as co-author of the crossword puzzles.  She received no answer.

In the middle of January he returned and did seem much more pleasant.  In addition, Editor John Daly began to relay the compliments the newspaper received about the puzzles. Everyone loved the name Chat R. Box and perhaps, Nola thought, the euphoria of such a clever name and enterprise drew Spencer even closer to her.  Whatever the reason, the two of them began to discuss family secrets in a critical way.  It was on Ground Hog day, she would later remember, that they were in the study, at ground level, watching Paige return from the carriage house, her hair and clothes disheveled, Spencer said, “It’s getting worse with Paige.  Rougher.  You do realize that she’s sexually insatiable. She’s bopping the Bulgarian now.” He nodded quizzically.  “Gregor looks strong.  I hope he can handle her. The last groundsman we had sent up a white flag after three months.” Then he added impishly, “I was afraid we’d  have to bury him in the front lawn.  Or…” he began to laugh and could not complete the statement.

Nola finished it for him.  “Or have him stuffed and put on display in the game room.”  They laughed so hard that Jules came to the study doorway to hear what it was that had made them laugh.

“No,” Spencer wheezed, “not the game room.. the front lawn  We cold play quoits with his Johnson.” They laughed again and he assured her that they had, ”A meeting of the minds.”

Jules then turned around and went back to the kitchen to tell Mrs. Eglington and Gladys that Spencer and Nola wanted to stuff Gregor and put him on the lawn for Paige to play with his penis.  Gladys told Gregor who naturally told Paige.

The following day, Friday, near noon, as Nola and Spencer sat on his bed surrounded by reference books on the theme of “Horses,” they were laughing and could not think of an “across” word that had an “s” “t” and “u” in the spaces that would meet the same letters required in three “down” slots.  Suddenly Nola shouted the obvious, “Stirrups!” and they laughed more as they felt the excitement of solving a puzzle.  Spencer offered the “across” clue:  “audio and sole.”  They were howling triumphantly at the word and the clue as Paige burst into the room.

“How cozy!” she snarled.  “You,” she indicated Nola, “no doubt found something else about me that amuses you!  Well you can just pack your things and get the hell out of my house.  Go find your own man to have a good laugh and fuck with.  This one’s taken!”

Nola stood up.  “What has gotten into you?  We’ve been laughing about a puzzle word.”

“Don’t bullshit me!  You can just get your spinster lust out of my house!  My husband?  You lay there in bed with my husband!  My own sister! I brought you here to care for my husband not have an affair with him.  And then you mock me? Oh, no. Get out of my house, and get out now!”

Spencer was indignant.  “Where do you get off calling this ‘your’ house.  We have a prenuptial agreement and no part of this estate will ever belong to you.  It’s Ghent property and lady, you’re no Ghent. “

That he spoke no word in her defense against such a licentious charge, stunned Nola.  Dazed, she realized that he was more worried about his property than he was about her reputation; and she was not only innocent, she was the woman who had restored his health. She went into her bedroom and packed her suitcases.  She carried everything she owned without assistance to the garage, and with no idea about where she was going, she began to drive towards town.

Driving down main street she noticed that she needed gas and pulled into a station. She fretted with disconnected thoughts.  Finally, the gas pump clicked off when the tank had filled.  In a state that was purely automatic she withdrew the nozzle, hung it up, put on the gas tank cap, and withdrew her credit card.

She got into her car and for the first time experienced a clarity of mind that made her feel appalled by the rejection she had received.  A car behind her beeped and she roused herself, immediately deciding that she would not drive aimlessly.  Instead she’d check into a motel at the edge of town and try to figure out how she should respond to Paige’s tirade.

 

The Crossword Puzzle (#1)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
http://www.zenanthonywolff.com

The Crossword Puzzle

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

 

Part 1 – PRELUDE TO AN UNNATURAL DEATH & AN INVITATION

 

It is one of the more peculiar acts of human nature that among adult acquaintances a gift is rarely received in the same spirit as the giver had assumed it would be.  No matter how sincere the giver is and how genuinely he desires to help or to please, his generosity is bound to cause him to suffer a loss of esteem.  It should come as no surprise that this sudden loss of status may puzzle the giver, and if so, he may find himself drawing the wrong conclusions about the origins of his social demotion.

What he, or in this case, Nola Harriman, failed to understand is that the giver of a gift automatically places himself in a superior position which can only mean that he places the receiver in an inferior one – a shift which the latter usually finds intolerable.  However subtle the shift, it evokes feelings of resentment in the receiver who is expected to thank the giver and praise the gift, though he may personally wish to do neither.  A much needed utilitarian gift that is given to, say, the governing council of a small religious organization, is practically an accusation of incompetence  The members will make the giver pay dearly for the public imputation.

Few things in life are as difficult to sustain as being grateful.

The circumstances that brought Nola Harriman to the uncomfortable edge of a fold-out metal bed in a Morton, Pennsylvania holding cell, could not possibly have been imagined a day or even a year before the event.  No one had given her a clue that the faults she had found in Spencer Ghent could be lethal in nature. Nola was an important person in her society, not a particularly well-liked one; and people who conceal personal dislikes are often loathe to inform others of their secret contempt for fear that they may be blamed for any misfortune that befalls the object of their scorn.

It was in the last week of August, 2013, that Nola was working as a registered nurse in a hospital in Philadelphia.  All summer she had chaffed under new regulations imposed by a recently hired Director of Nursing.  She had just reached the Flight or Fight stage of the dispute when, fortuitously, her sister Paige Harriman Ghent called, begging her to come to live and work in her home in Morton, Pennsylvania, some eighty miles distant. Paige’s ailing husband, Spencer, was afflicted with ulcerative colitis; and since the nature of the disease involved certain intimacies, rather than hire a stranger to live in the house and see things that Paige thought should be kept private, she sought her sister’s help.

Though their past history might, in an excess of kindness, be considered sibling rivalry (they had spoken only briefly to each other twice in the last fifteen years), both women believed that people could change and, certainly, to Nola, hearing her sister weep and beg her to come and stay at her house and pay her well to do so, was proof that Paige had indeed changed.  Prior to that call she had regarded Paige as the most stubbornly self-centered and irredeemably uncaring person she had ever met.  But now her older sister was pleading piteously in obvious distress.  Nola accepted the offer.

 

A few months earlier, in February, 2013, the Zen Buddhist Assembly of Morton, Pennsylvania was and had been for years an ad hoc, but self-supporting assembly that met weekly in each other’s homes for tea and at least the semblance of meditation.  The members wished that they had their own temple and a qualified teacher with whom they could regularly interact; but renting or purchasing such a facility was, given their loose confederation, impractical.

And then, miraculously, someone donated an old, once-grand house to them, a house that had originally been the residence of the prominent Norris-Giles family.

On a pleasant morning in March, 2013, six of the regular hostesses of the Zen Assembly inspected the building that would be theirs if they wanted it.  Of course they could see that it needed extensive repair, but desire, tending always to diminish disadvantage, let them quickly glance at the problems and focus instead on the advantages – a paved parking lot; stained glass windows; a fenced half-acre of arable land on which they could grow their own flowers and vegetables and turn the building into a real monastic center.  No-less than seven upstairs bedrooms could be rented out as guest or novice facilities.  As housewives they had often been confronted by dirt and disorder which they corrected by calmly ordering their servants to clean, discard, sew, pr paint.  But for devotion’s sake, they decided to do most of the original cleaning of the “temple,” themselves.  They saw the dust and disarray as a challenge and looked forward to conquering them with their own humble and devoted “elbow grease.”

The giver of the gift, having chosen to remain anonymous, allowed his attorney to convey his hope that Morton’s ‘Bodhisattvas” – though he did not quite know what a Bodhisattva was he did seem to mean them – would make his humble gift of the Norris-Giles House a permanent home for Lord Buddha.

Not one of the council cared to question his largesse.  They had been faithful to the religion and deserved such approbation and a house, too.

They also did not inquire about his motives when he included a condition precedent to the transfer of deed which obliged them to provide living accommodations for five years to two Japanese men: an elderly gentleman who had formerly been an abbot of a Zen monastery in Kyoto; and a younger man who had for years functioned as a handyman and a tenzo(cook.)  The thought of having a real Japanese abbot to lead their group and an authentic Japanese cook made the strange condition irresistible.  In their euphoria, costly repairs would be done by contractors they would hire; while trivial repairs would be relegated to the less enthusiastic. With a flick of a down-turned palm they dispensed with a hundred or more trifles that bore to them no connection to the word “habitable.”

The worst decision they made was to decline to seek legal advice.  The donor had an attorney and the women reasoned that retaining an additional one for themselves would appear to be “looking a gift horse in the mouth.” Also, the saving of a legal fee would increase the sum they planned to spend on decorating the new headquarters of the Zen Buddhist Association (ZBA) of Morton. They obtained six copies of the contract and each, at her leisure, perused its contents.  Having applied the same criteria of inspection to the document’s contents as they had applied to the building, they accepted the gift and conditions, providing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania would grant their articles to incorporate as an eleemosynary organization.  This, the Commonwealth did, and by July, armed with a non-profit charter and six duly elected officers, they met again with the donor’s attorney.  Legally empowered and filled with irrational hope, they accepted the deed and signed the two-man support contract.

Everyone knew that the Norris-Giles House had once been proud and beautiful, but time and the de-gentrification of the neighborhood had changed its zoning so that the heirs were able to rent out sections of it to people who would use it as professional offices.  Unfortunately, the most respectable of the professionals were two young related attorneys who shared the same waiting room and insisted that they were trying to steal each other’s clients.  The disagreements soon passed the misdemeanor stage and the family disputants became the only clients the young attorneys had.  They abandoned their leases ( a not unreasonable act since the air-conditioning and running water were not always reliable) and moved out.

The tenants descended in respectability until a transvestite seamstress had been robbed twice and a shoemaker’s equipment had been critically damaged by vandals. There remained only a tap dance instructor and persons who engaged in after hours entertainments. It was regrettable that each tenant jury-rigged its plumbing and electrical needs to suit individual requirements. Some had removed non-load bearing walls that managed to gouge holes in a once-flawless walnut parquet floor.  The last group of tenants included two psychics who competed with each other, arguing fiercely and often in a language no one understood.

Despite all this business trouble, in the gamesmanship of selling, sentiment held the higher hand; and the owners, each having his own Utopian solution about the building’s future, disagreed about every solution proposed.  Not until an assortment of condoms clogged the drain, did the cost of repair trump the power hand and everyone surrendered to the inevitable and offered the entire lot to anyone who would pay for the dilapidated building and the taxes due on it.  A Japanese businessman was the first to hear of the proposition; and he immediately instructed his attorney to procure the property under the conditions he imposed.

This businessman, though not being a Zen Buddhist himself, claimed to have seen the wisdom of having a Zen Buddhist Center in town and, with the condition that his father-in law and nephew – the old abbot and the new cook – be given living quarters for five years in the Norris-Giles House or any equivalent accommodation that was at least fifty miles from his personal residence, purchased the building and presented it as a gift to these sincere followers of the Buddha.

The council ladies did not discover that by this act of generosity the donor had gained his own domestic tranquility.  Even his wife so enjoyed her new fatherless and nephew-less environment that she insisted that the house her husband had purchased would have been cheap at twice the price.  She did not fully understand what her husband knew and the new owners would soon learn: the contrariness and unaccustomed slovenly habits that her father had been demonstrating during the last few years were symptoms of untreated dementia.  She also did not know that her ill-tempered nephew had become a drug user and often stole items from her house to pay for cocaine.  Naturally he would blame the old man for the thefts; and she was all too willing to accept The Spitefulness Of The Aging – an article she had read in a hair salon – as the old man’s deliberate attempt to ruin her married life.  He had never liked her husband.

With great excitement the new owners – who called themselves, “The Council,” became officers and directors of the new corporation.  As such they made immediate and somewhat quixotic plans to convert the dwelling into a monastic center   They immediately founded a new order of American Zen priests, selected Japanese names for themselves from the list of Patriarchs and then, after ordaining themselves, informed others that as soon as the bedrooms were renovated, they would rent the rooms at bargain rates to anyone who was desirous of becoming lay-ordained.  As part of their spiritual training such persons would then be obliged to oversee household maintenance, laundry, and kitchen policing.

An industrious lot, they assumed that they could pay for the repairs by selling hand-made wooden bead necklaces, bracelets, and made-to-order bib-like rakusus, robes, cushions, mats, and sundry items.  Incomprehensibly, although they made prototypes of these items to display, they failed to grasp the not altogether obscure fact that the seller completes only half of the commercial transaction.  New members were the targeted buyers, but for so long as the building was in such deplorable condition, they could not attract new members.  They also could gain no income from rented bedrooms since the leaking roof permitted rain to accumulate on the attic floor from which it would seep through the wooden floorboards and create ugly brown stains in the second floor’s plaster ceilings.  From there, rain or melted snow would drip into the many buckets and pans set out to capture it and halt the water’s course.  The lowest estimate to replace the roof was a prohibitive $20,000.

Meanwhile, in addition to the costly re-wiring and heating and other plumbing necessities, they were obliged to support the two men who came as a condition of the gift, and The Council was unprepared to cope with the unique set of problems this condition entailed.

They set to work making the house’s original solarium and morning room into suitable quarters for him and the handyman.  They painted the suite and put wall-to-wall carpeting throughout the several rooms.  Beds and rudimentary furniture were acquired from Thrift Shops; and dishes, flatware, hot plates, microwave, refrigerator, and dishwasher were brought from their own homes.  Less than a block away were an all-night laundromat which, the ladies assumed, the handyman could use, and half a dozen fast-food restaurants and grocery stores.

The ZBA sangha,(congregation) followed the northern Soto Zen “sitting” school.  Although they lined up, kneeling at his doorway for dokusan (personal advice), the language problem reduced his utterances to subjects for them each to solve.  They tended to hail the old man as a holy man who walked around, chanting incessantly.  They learned the chants but were baffled by the way he occasionally smiled, raised a finger, and pronounced some kind of admonition in Japanese.  They purchased new red and gold master’s robes for him and, since he seemed always desirous to perform kin hin (walking meditation) outside, they pulled out the weeds from the fenced side of the house, planted shrubbery, and laid flagstone pathways for him to use.  Regrettably, he extended the range of his meditation path to include neighboring sidewalks, and the police notified them that the barefoot old man was following children to school.  The ladies had assumed that his strange mumblings were somehow oracular, and a secretary of Japanese descent at the nearby police substation did indeed confirm that the mumblings were of a spiritual nature.  She was a follower of the Rinzai Southern school of Zen and the lines the old man repeated were from the Dun Huang version of the Platform Sutra, a scripture particularly dear to the Southern school. And so they learned that not only was their new master from a rival school of Zen, but the mystery of the raised finger and its accompanying advice was also disconcertingly solved.  The secretary translated what he was saying as, “You can make a mirror polishing a brick sooner than you can make a Buddha sitting on a cushion.”  This presented a serious theological problem.

They could read the koans associated with the Southern School, but they could not understand them; and they knew no other Zen but the kind that required hours of sitting and striving to stay awake while not thinking. No one knew how to respond to this apostasy or to the Abbot’s refusal to remove any of his clothing for laundering.  The handyman, who was supposed to be a college student, owned no books at all and disappeared for days at a time. A visiting physician told them he suspected that the Abbot had Alzheimer’s Disease. This, he allowed, might be troublesome: hospitalization would be expensive, if, of course, they could get past the problem of not being blood relatives of his. He advised them to speak to the attorney who had handled the “gift.”  They called him and were informed that they were obliged to provide for the two religious men.  As officers and signatories to the transfer documents, they were individually and severely liable to fulfill the accompanying contract’s terms.

As to the nephew, they learned quickly to keep their purses under lock and key; but this did not, unfortunately, prevent the young man from making house calls to solicit funds for a variety of non-existent projects.  He invariably had to relieve himself and while doing so raided the medicine chests for salable pharmaceuticals and an occasional piece of jewelry.  The sangha compared notes about missing things and all their homes were quickly closed to him.

It was during an October, 2013, visit to a suburban home, the Ghent residence into which Nola Harriman had recently moved, that he attempted to steal several prescription bottles of tranquilizers and Nola happened to notice a bulge in his jacket pocket that had not been there before he went to the bathroom.  She positioned herself so that she could look down into the pocket and, seeing the tops of prescription bottles, checked the bathroom and then quietly called the police. He was driving away from the residence when the police apprehended him.  Convicted and sentenced to a term of not less than two years, he did remove one of ZBA’s more serious irritants; but his absence did not, however, overcome the other insoluble problems, and the Council planned their exit strategy.  Embarrassing newspaper articles about the incident mentioned the ZBA’s address and executives along with the information that Tuesday and Thursday evening meditation sessions were held at the old Norris-Giles House. The Council voted to “ride out the storm” and extend their termination date. They also resented Nola (who claimed to be a Zen Buddhist) for the way she handled what they thought should be an ecclesiastical matter.

By the spring of 2014, several month’s before Spencer Ghent’s death, the ZBA council, having waited for the legal sturm und drang to subside, accepted defeat and tried to find the easiest way to undo what they had done. Clearly, they needed to dissolve the charter, abandon the building, and sue the donor for having failed to disclose pertinent facts in the negotiation.  However gracefully they could accomplish these goals, they decided that the thirtieth day of July  2014, would be their last official day.

Patricia Monahan, (Shi Bashumitsu) the Council president, had learned the address of the Japanese donor. She met with no resistance when she suggested that on the eve of their last day, they drive to the donor’s home and, like kids leaving a burning bag of dog turds on the step, would ring the door bell and run, leaving the old man standing there alone to be figuratively stomped on.  It was not exactly a Zen thing to do, but they were in debt, nagged constantly by their husbands, and desperate. They certainly did not expect that Nola Harriman, whose respect for the law had exposed so many of their problems, would be the one who would rescue them from such an ignominious end.

 

 

It was in late September, 2013, that Nola first drove the winding rocky road to the hilltop Ghent house, an old Civil War mansion that was smaller than she had expected. During their long conversation Paige had described her home in detail and Nola had converted every brick into a Hampton Court.  She laughed at herself for having seen too many Bridesheadtype television shows.  Her sister wasn’t British royalty.  “It’s still a pretty place,” she said aloud.  But as houses of the period went, this was not a good example. The dominant feature was a turret that stood as an attachment to one front corner of the house.  The towering top floor, which actually rose only one storey higher than the attic, contained, according to Paige, stained-glass windows that had come all the way from Venice.  Each window faced a standard geographical direction and its leaded-in design depicted the season that supposedly went with the direction. Paige had said that they must not get a lot of snow in Venice. Fortunately, given the comprehensive view of the entire area that the turret provided, only the top panel of each window bore the colored lead-seamed glass.

At the house’s ground level there were four windows on either side of the portico’s columned entrance.  The portico, itself, was the façade of the foyer, one side of which was her husband’s large study, and the other being part of the family’s living quarters.  A second storey contained five and a half bedrooms – the peculiar slicing having been done when modern plumbing was installed. Paige had also said there was a “finished” cellar and an attic.

Smaller buildings stood near the main house:  a carriage house which had living quarters above a six-stall stable;  an all-purpose tack and farrier shed also used tor storage; a modern four-car garage with a curtained-window apartment as its second floor; a pool house and patio; and a marble building that was obviously a mausoleum.

Where, she wondered, did Paige intend that she should sleep? Paige had promised her her own space. She had casually mentioned that the kitchen staff lived in apartments in the attic, the groundsman occupied the carriage house, and the houseboy lived in the new garage apartment.  She had said that she slept in her own bedroom and that her three children – a boy Roland, nineteen; a girl Samantha, seventeen; and a boy, Pierre, sixteen; each had his own bedroom.  Five bedrooms then had already been accounted for.  The house did not look big enough for six – except for that fishy half-bedroom, and although there was an additional space in the turret, it surely was never intended to be anything but decoration or a protected place to view the countryside. Running straight down the inside wall of the turret was a circular stairway that led from the top down to the cellar and had an exit at each level. It must, Nola thought, afford the privacy of a lighthouse and she hoped her sister did not plan to install her in it.  Later, she would learn, that the top semi-room would be occupied by Hines Whitman, Spencer Ghent’s secretary, a location Hines was not happy about. The turret room was cold in the winter and hot in the summer and the circular staircase was iron and difficult to climb and descend.  Hines wanted the room that had been assigned to Nola – the “half” guest room next to Spencer’s Master bedroom, the half-bedroom which had been the main plumbing sacrifice to the modernizing effort.  But Nola found the room pleasant and more than adequate for her needs.  She was to share a bathroom with Samantha.

 

On that September day, as Nola first approached the house she could see that the garage doors were open, but since the sun was behind the building, she could see only four dark squares and the suggestion of cars inside.  On the other side of the main house, quieted now with autumn chill, the pool waited to be covered and the patio to be relieved of its furniture.

Suddenly a flock of goats came up from a small arroyo and stopped in front of her.  Paige had told her that they kept goats to act as lawn mowers and had instructed her that if the animals wandered into her path she should just blow the horn and they would move away.  Nola beeped her horn and the goats disappeared again into one of the many deep rills in the lawn.

Paige stood on the portico and waved to her.  The wind swirled around her, whipping blonde strands of hair across her face, and as Paige pulled them away and smiled broadly, Nola could see her teeth glitter in the morning sun.  Until that moment she had not realized how much she missed her sister. Nola smiled back and waved.  A connection had been made and she felt a thrill.  Considering that this was the first time she had seen her sister’s house, it was odd that she felt as if she had finally come home.

After the standard yelps, air-kisses, hugs, and arm-in-arm conviviality, they entered the house that was surprisingly well furnished.  The Ghent family had invested in beautiful antiques.

Nola was led into the kitchen to meet Mrs. Eglington, the cook; Gladys Jones, the chambermaid and kitchen assistant; Jules Grover, the houseboy; and Gregor Nikolov, the groundsman, who kissed her hand.  Two “cleaning ladies” who lived in town and came to work only three days a week, passed through the kitchen and acknowledged Nola with a wave and nod.

Inexplicably, Paige made the stern announcement that in her absence her sister was in charge of the house and all who lived and worked in it – a remark that made Nola uncomfortable and did not endear her to the staff. Additionally, Nola’s disposition had a sharp edge to it and Paige’s decree had not served to soften it.  Her personality invited criticism: she was casually generous which inspired ingratitude; she was well-built and attractive which inspired jealousy; but what was worse was that she was also an outsider, educated, and forthright – a woman who possessed none of the slickness of con artists who could become anyone’s best friend in a matter of minutes.  She also tended to be somewhat bossy and, especially when surrounded by what she considered “air-headed” women, she tended to flaunt her license as a registered nurse along with the knowledge of many classical books she had read as giving her some lofty hierarchical rank. She was also an avid Zen Buddhist of the Rinzai School.

Still, as the servants looked at one another with expressions of disdain, Nola smiled and tried to think of something to say that would mitigate the announcement’s severity, when suddenly Gregor, a man of about thirty – for whom the word swarthy could have been coined – stepped forward and, using a feather duster as a plumed hat, made a grand obeisance to Paige. “Your vish is our law,” he said humorously.  While his head was deeply bowed, Paige reached out to ruffle his long black wavy hair, and then to run her long acrylic fingernails through it to comb what she had disturbed. He looked up at her. “Is not how is said ve vill behave?”

“Isn’t he the limit?” Paige asked as she winked at him.  Gladys smiled at his little joke, but no one else acknowledged it. Paige turned and playfully sashayed to the foyer, pausing at the foot of a wide staircase.  “Now we go up,” she said portentously, “to meet the star of the show.”  Nola and Jules followed.

They walked down the hallway’s tufted runner, stopping as Paige opened the door to a guest room.  “This is yours, Sis,” she said.  “You’ll like it.  The mattress is brand new and very comfortable.” Despite all its odd angles, the room was large and sunny.

They continued on and stopped outside the next room, the master bedroom.  Paige made a quick toss of her head to Jules.  As he stepped forward, she asked Nola, “Are your keys in the car?”

“Yes,” Nola murmured.  ‘I didn’t know where it should be parked.”

“The Four-car – that’s what we call the new garage – is full now, I’m afraid… what with Roland’s new birthday sports car.”  She brightened and turned to Jules.  “After you put my sister’s luggage in her room, take my car out of the Four-car and put it in the carriage house carport.  Then put her car in the Four-car and be careful you don’t scrape the sides when you squeeze it in.”  As he murmured some remark of obedience and turned back down the corridor, Paige confided, “”Before we had the new garage built we’d often have to stick the cars in a kind of overhang or in the stable.  What a nuisance.  And the horses didn’t like it either.”

Nola wasn’t paying attention to Paige’s words. It was the unmistakable undercurrent of intimacy with Gregor that intrigued her.  Realizing that she was expected to comment, she asked, apropos of nothing, “What do you do with the goats in bad weather?”

Paige was not surprised by Nola’s non sequitur.  Her mind was equally on the subject that underlay her casual speech.  “Under the stairs in the carriage house is a pot-bellied stove – a small one – that keeps the stables from smelling like a morgue.  Horse sweat, shit and piss mixed with dampness.  Ugh! We’d never be able to keep Greg or any other groundsman for long.  The goats are herded into the room where the stove is. We keep food and water there.  They’re happy when it snows.

“And here,” she whispered as they approached the closed door of the master bedroom, “is Spence’s room.”  She lowered her voice even more.  “Look,” she said, “you didn’t know Spence before, and you’re a nurse and understand how emaciated this illness can make a person, so I know you’re not expecting to see an NFL lineman in there.  But you may not be expecting to see a skeleton… and Nola, my dear, prepare yourself to see one.”

She rapped and then immediately opened the door to a smoke-filled room.  She had not exaggerated.  Spencer Ghent turned his head and smiled weakly at Nola.  In a hoarse voice, he said, “Come in.  Come in.  And sit on my bed here so that I can get a good look at you.”

“Well,” Nola said brightly, “I’m disappointed.  I expected to see someone who would challenge my nursing skills.  But you, as we say in nursing jargon, are gonna be a piece of cake.”

He managed to free his hand from the comforters and tentatively held it out. He hesitated.  “Maybe you’d rather not.. not without a surgical glove… you know… eat that piece of cake.”

The remark was odd and lent itself to so many meanings that Nola was startled by it; but in her career patients often made bizarre statements, and she concealed her confusion. “Nonsense,” she said, shaking his hand and giving no indication that it felt like skinless chicken bones.   “As long as I’m at it,” she said in a switch of demeanor, “I’ll take your pulse.  So, quiet!”  His pulse was only slightly elevated.

“Since you two seem to be getting on so well,” Paige smiled, “you don’t need me.”  She returned to the doorway. “Is there anything you want me to get?”

“I don’t see a baby monitor.  If you don’t have one, could you get a pair and put one in my room and one in here?”  She picked up the large bed pan that was on the foot of the bed.  “And could you ask someone to go down to a drug store and get a smaller pan… one that’s easier to mount.  And I don’t see a walker.”  She picked up a prescription bottle that lay beside an overflowing ashtray and read, “Mesalamine.  It’s an effective medicine,” she said.  “There should be more.”

“Oh,” Paige said, returning to the bedside, speaking as though she were talking about a child, “but he refuses to take them. Then he lies to Doctor Boyer.  He’s written a dozen different types of medicines for him, and Spence doesn’t take any of them.”

They don’t help!,” Ghent said emphatically.

“What do you take them with?” Nola asked.

Paige answered.  “A nice cold glass of milk.”

Surprised, Nola responded critically.  “Surely his doctor didn’t recommend that.”

“No, water.  But Spence prefers cold milk.  He’s a very fussy patient, you’ll find. He’s supposed to quit smoking, but he won’t.” She returned to the topic of the walker.  “You don’t mean one of those things old ladies use?”

“Yes. Lightweight aluminum with good rubber tips. And yes, we’ll have to cut back on those cigarettes and then eliminate them altogether.   And does this phone connect to the kitchen?”

“Yes.  But Mrs. Eglington knows what to make for Spencer.”

“Fine.  But I’d like to approve of it first.  I have strict dietary rules.”

“Call her,” Paige said, pointing to an old-fashioned house phone.  “She knows you’re the boss.”  She turned, waved her fingertips, and without explanation left the room.  As she scampered down the stairs, she called.  “I’m running late.  See you at dinner.”

Nola left the room to put her coat and purse into her bedroom.  She glanced out her bedroom window and saw Jules strolling back from the carriage house and Paige marching towards it.  When she returned to Spencer’s room, he was sitting up, looking stronger than he had looked before.  “I think,” he said, “that I have to go to the bathroom.”

Nola helped him to get his feet over the side of the bed and then she bent forward, put her arms around him and pulled him to his feet.  His body was flat against hers and she could tell that he had an erection.  “You naughty boy,” she said, smiling.

“Sorry about that,” he whispered; and with Nola supporting him as if they were doing a macabre dance, she led him all the way into the bathroom.  She tugged on his pajama bottom and when it was low enough, she guided him down onto the seat.  “I’ll ring the bell when I’m done,” he said, indicating a cow bell that was on the sink.

“I’ll be in my room,” she said.  “Have fun.”

When the bell rang she rushed to his bathroom and found him standing, supporting himself by holding onto the shower door.  “Just help me to get back into bed,” he said.  “I sometimes get dizzy walking.”  He still had an erection and saw that she noticed it.  “You’re such a pretty woman, that I wouldn’t insult you by having just a piss hard-on.”

Nola raised her eyebrows.  The job was going to be more difficult than she had assumed.

Le philosophe roi

Qian Xin
Qian Xin

 

Souvent, nous entendons parler des agnostiques et des athées et de toutes sortes de gens qui doutent de la puissance de l’amour du Bouddha. Cet amour, et nous pouvons l’appeler amour divin si nous voulons vraiment n’existe que si nous ouvrons notre cœur à lui.

Il y a une vieille histoire zen que je voudrais vous raconter.

Une fois il y avait un royaume qui a été gouverné par un homme qui pensait qu’il était un grand, philosophe. Il avait étudié tous les grands esprits et il avait abouti à la conclusion que la religion était un non-sens … non-sens inacceptable. Il y avait, a-t ’il déclaré, rien de tel que le paradis ou l’enfer. Ce roi s’en tenait si fort à ce sujet qu’il en a fait sa doctrine : de la loi de la terre. Depuis ce jour, il a décrété qu’il était contre la loi de parler du ciel et de l’enfer. Ce fut un crime passible de mort. Personne ne pouvait plus jamais parler de ces choses dans son royaume.

Un jour, il est arrivé qu’un saint homme a voyagé dans le domaine du roi. Il se tenait sur un coin de rue et a prêché à propos du ciel et de l’enfer. Quelqu’un lui cria: «Ami! Soyez tranquille! Si le garde du palais vous entendre parler comme ça, vous serez traîné devant les tribunaux et puni! “

Mais le saint homme a juste souri et a continué à parler au sujet du ciel et de l’enfer. Et dès que les gardes en ont entendu parler, le saint homme a été traîné devant le roi.

“Comment osez-vous prêcher à propos du ciel et de l’enfer, un sujet que j’ai interdit?” le roi demanda au saint homme.

“Pensez-vous que je discute de la philosophie avec un bouffon comme vous?” le saint homme répondit. Personne n’a jamais osé parler au roi de telle manière. Aussitôt le roi se leva, criant à ses gardes, “Saisissez-le! Et tuez-le !”

Le saint homme leva la main et dit: «Sire! S’il vous plaît! Ecoutez-moi un instant. Vous êtes furieux. Votre esprit brûle de haine. Votre visage est rouge et le sang en trace la course de colère. Votre cœur brûle avec fureur … avec la fureur de tuer. En ce moment vous êtes en enfer!”

Le roi s’arrêta et resta immobile, frappé par ce que le saint homme avait dit. Et oui, c’était vrai … il était furieux … son visage était rouge et son sang en a tracé la course … et son esprit et cœur étaient furieux …brûlant de haine. Et soudain, il a mis ses mains sur son visage et s’asseyait à nouveau sur son trône. Il a réalisé que l’enfer n’était pas un endroit où le corps brûle, mais où l’esprit est brûlé. Et puis, avec les larmes dans ses yeux, il regarda le saint homme et dit: «Penser que vous avez risqué votre vie pour me enseigner cette vérité grande …. Oh, Maître. Pouvez-vous me pardonner? “

Et le saint homme dit: «Et, Sire, il y a aussi un paradis … et maintenant vous-y êtes.”

The Landlord

Yin Cai Shakya
Yin Ts’ao Shakya

If you like “The Landlord”, check for more stories in AlphabetGumbo.com

 

“GOD DAMN IT, ROBBIE DOMINGUE,” she shouted, “deposit the god damn rent check already! It’s the eighteenth for crying out loud!”

He heard her over the din blasting from his headphones. Not her exact words per-se, but the sounds she was making. He removed the cans at once.

“What’s that, babe? Everything okay?”

“NO!”

She stormed from the kitchen into his office, smartphone in-hand, on-line banking app open, account balance at-the-ready. Reaching him she thrust her hand forward, forking-over the latest evidence of their Landlord’s ineptitude for him to examine.

He took it, and after adjusting his glasses, he peered at the cool, luminescent screen.

“Oh wow, there’s almost twenty-five hundred dollars in our checking account!”

“Yeah, because once-again that lazy-ass Robbie Domingue has yet to deposit our rent check!”

He chuckled to himself and shook his head.

“It must be nice y’know, to have so much money that you could just ignore a check for twelve-hundred dollars.”

“Repeatedly.”

“Yeah.”

She was pissed.

He pushed himself and his office chair backward, then reached for her and pulled her onto his lap. She couldn’t not giggle, and her little nose crinkled when she did. He adored it when she giggled like that. Her petite body resting on his lap felt good. She nuzzled his neck with her face, and that felt good to him too.

“Babe, what are we gonna do?” She asked him.

The next track on the playlist roared from his headphones, and she stopped.

“My Lord that’s loud! What’s that ‘song’ you’re listening to?” She used her fingers to put air-quotes around the word “song” when she said it.

“That’s ‘Cashing In.’”

(Ha-ha-ha-ha, ho-ho-ho. How do you do, I don’t think that we’ve met. My name is Ian, and I’m from Minor Threat!)

She giggled again, and declared “It sounds terrible.”

He growled, then pulled-up her shirt and gave her a vigorous raspberry, right in the middle of her tummy. Her giggling turned to laughter and her nose crinkled again.

They lived in a three bedroom, two bathroom house which they referred to as The Love Nest. They rented it from one Mr. Robbie Domingue, an affable but terribly absent-minded and lazy Landlord who had never, in their entire history at that address, deposited any of their rent checks in a timely manner.

“But seriously, though! It’s like he doesn’t even want our money!”

“Who on Earth doesn’t want money?”

“Yeah. Even Ian from Minor Threat likes money!”

(I’m takin’ a walk on the yellow-brick road. I only walk where the bricks are made of gold. My mind and body are the only things that I’ve sold. I need a little money, ‘cuz I’m gettin’ old…)

She was laughing again.

It wasn’t just the fact that their Landlord was forever making a liar of their checking account, though. It was so much more than that and sadly, a lot of it had to do with The Love Nest itself, and the fact that Robbie Domingue materialized to fix the various problems they’d had with that house with roughly the same frequency as he’d materialize at the bank the first of every month to deposit their rent checks.

She’d settled into the tub one evening to enjoy a steaming-hot bubble bath after work. The tub was filling up, and he was in the kitchen, pouring a glass of wine for her, when the silence was broken by an abrupt shout- “Oh my God I broke the hot water!”

He set the wine bottle on the counter and rushed into the bathroom. There she was, up to her neck in bubbles, while the hot water ran with reckless abandon. She was holding the knob in her hand.  “It just popped right off!”

“No problem babe, hold on just a sec!”

He dashed to the hall closet and rifled through the shoeboxes full of pictures, the shopping bags full of Christmas ornaments, and all the other sundry stuff looking for anything that resembled a useful tool.

He returned with vice grips, and torqued their toothy mouth parts down hard onto the little screw part protruding from the wall. Once secured, he gave it a few good turns, shutting off the water.

Later that evening, she’d texted Robbie Domingue about it. Not long after he answered her, apologizing. He mentioned that the previous tenants had problems with the hot water knob too, and that he’d “swing-by to fix it ASAP.”

Several months passed, and the vice grips remained the primary apparatus for turning the hot water on and off in the shower. Robbie had texted another apology a few weeks after it happened:

Hey! really sorry I haven’t been by to fix the faucet been traveling for work I’ll come by this week and fix it ASAP!!!!

But that had been it. Robbie never got around to actually coming over and fixing it. And they had never heard from Robbie about it again after that.

The twenty-fifth rolled around, and according to her on-line banking statement, the rent check had finally been deposited. The drier gave a loud buzz, alerting her to the fact that dry, toasty-warm bedsheets that smelled fantastic awaited her behind its flip-down door. She put down her cellphone, and went to unload the drier.

Moments later she walked into their room to put the fresh sheets on the bed. Entering the room she flipped the switch on the wall by the dresser. The ceiling fan began to turn, but the lights mounted to it did not spring to life. She reached for the chain suspended below and gave it a tug. The ceiling fan, the entire thing lights and all, came crashing down onto the bed, followed by a cascade of plaster dust, and little bits of pink insulation from the attic.

“Fuuuuuck!” she shouted.

He was on his way home from fly fishing when he got her text:

You won’t believe this. The ceiling fan in our bedroom fell out of the god damn ceiling a minute ago.

While stopped at a red light, he texted-back:

Oh for fuck’s sake.

And she text-replied-back with:

Yeah. Texting Domingue.

Later that evening, while he was cooking dinner, he heard her phone ding-ding twice from the table. It was a text from Robbie Domingue. He picked up her phone and walked down the hall to the bathroom with it. He gave a soft knock at the bathroom door.

“Yeah?”

“Hey baby, it’s me.”

“Yeah? Me who?”

“Me. Your husband. Do you recognize my voice?”

Giggling- “What?”

“Are you peeing?”

She giggled again, and then added “Not that it’s any of your business, but yes.”

“Well, Robbie Domingue texted you back, finally.”

“Yeah, what did he say? Will he be here to fix the ceiling fan in the bedroom ‘A-S-A-P’?”

“Winner winner, chicken dinner,” he deadpanned.

She cackled. He smiled and went back to cooking dinner.

Several weeks and a smattering of text messages from Robbie Domingue begging them to forgive him for his tardiness in getting-around to fixing their ceiling fan later, an electrician friend of theirs came by the house and fixed it for them, asking for nothing more in return than an invitation to stay for dinner. They happily obliged.

Not long after, on a Friday, he was returning home from an absolutely shit day at the ponds. His Boss had given him the day off. He’d wanted to go catch fish, but hadn’t felt like driving out to Lake Martin, or to the bar pits in Henderson. He’d opted instead to visit the small, two-acre drainage ponds he was fond of, in a nearby neighborhood. Hardly anybody fished there, and most of the time he could catch blue gill all the livelong day and not be bothered. It hadn’t been one of those days though. Nothing was biting.

His sour mood lifted when he returned home and saw her ‘vette in the driveway. He knew she’d gone to veiller with her mother and aunt earlier that afternoon and figured she’d still be there.

He parked, unbuckled his seatbelt, made sure to turn the volume on the stereo down from a 42 to a 6 lest she get punched in the ears by his music the next time they got in there to drive somewhere together, killed the engine and exited the Jeep.

He came in through the back door, to the kitchen. And there she was.

On entering he announced, “There’s my baby!” with a happy exuberance in his voice.

She didn’t respond. She just stood there, looking up at the ceiling.

“What’s going on, babe?” he asked.

Her eyes remained fixed on the ceiling and she raised her index finger, pointing in the direction she was looking just as a large water droplet fell, landing on his head with a soft, wet thump.

“What the Hell?”

He looked up. The ceiling was soggy from the edge of the fluorescent light fixture up there, all the way to the back door.

“Something’s leaking up there!”

“Uh-huh.”

“Fuck, could it be the roof?”

“No, I don’t think it’s the roof. It hasn’t rained in a couple of weeks.”

The Love Nest’s attic was accessible by way of a panel in the ceiling of the spare bedroom. He gave the cord affixed to it a tug. It opened, and out came the fold-up wooden steps. And what piss-poor shape they were in, too. The bottom segment barely held on to the frame of the segment above it, and several of the steps on both segments were broken. It looked like nobody had ascended them to the attic in years, which made perfect sense to them because Lord knew, it’d probably take another several years for Robbie Domingue to show up and take care of which ever tenant’s request it was -probably the first, probably fifteen fucking years ago- to come and fix them.

“You’re way too heavy to get up those steps safely, babe. I’ll have to go.”

“You’re probably right. But I don’t want you on those steps, either. Look at them!”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, No problem. Here’s what we do. I’m going to lift you up, and you’re going to grab that top step up there. It looks solid. Then, I’ll boost you up by your feet, and you can pull yourself the rest of the way in. Sound good?”

“Mmmhm.”

He took his petite wife by the waist and hoisted her up overhead. She took hold of the top step and it did indeed feel solid. Next he stooped, took her by the feet, and boosted her the rest of the way in while she pulled herself up.

“Alright babe, make your way in the direction of the kitchen and see if you can find the source of the leak.”

Moments later she hollered-back to him, “Found it! It’s a little clear plastic tube. It’s all wet, and I can hear it hissing.”

“I bet that’s the line that runs water to the fridge!”

“Huh?”

“The water and the ice maker in the fridge;” he hollered more loudly, then adding, “I bet that’s where it gets the water from.”

“Oh yeah, definitely! It looks like it’s coming from where the pantry is, I think.”

The water heater occupied a small alcove just off the pantry. He wasn’t a plumber, but it still made sense in a plumbing sort of way that the line which fed water to the fridge would terminate in that alcove somewhere. It also made sense in a Robbie Domingue sort of way that it would pick today to start leaking.

“Alright, stay up there and keep your eye on it. I’m gonna go see if I can find where it ends. Stand-by.”

“It’s absolutely soaking-wet up here!”

A second or two later he was in the pantry, opening the makeshift door which hid the alcove in which the water heater stood. Four clear plastic tubes like the one she’d described snaked up the wall.

“Babe?”

“Yeah?”

“There’s a couple-few down here. I’m gonna pull on each one. Shout if you see it move.”

“Okay!”

He took hold of the first and gave it a yank.

“Anything?”

“Nope.”

He tried the second. Nothing.

Then he gave the third a yank, and she shouted, “It moved!”

“Okay! Stay there and keep watching. I’m gonna see if I can find a shut-off knob or something down here.”

He began to trace the tube, down the wall, part-way across the floor where it coiled several times over, and then into the wall the alcove shared with the kitchen, by way of a large, raggedy hole. He remembered seeing similar coils of tubing under the sink.

“Hang tight, baby!”

He dashed into the kitchen, opened the cabinet below the sink, and peered in. Sure enough, way in the back, were two more of those tubes. One in particular had a little metal valve on it.

“I think I’ve got it. Holler if the hissing stops!”

He flipped the valve into what he figured would be the “off” position.

“It stopped!” she shouted.

After helping her down from the attic, he sent a text message to Robbie Domingue:

There was a leak in the attic ceiling in kitchen soaked. Shut-off fridge water to stop leak. Ceiling will need to be repaired.

Several minutes later Robbie returned the volley, with:

Really sorry!!!!! In Shreveport for work till next fri

And:

will handle that for ya’ ASAP when I get back!!!!!!

And the dingy-looking brown stain on the kitchen ceiling, and the bubbled, peeling sheetrock the stain clung to, had henceforth remained un-handled, even until the day they found the dead body.

He didn’t want her climbing into, or around in, that attic ever again. If the condition of the rafters up there was anything like the shape those steps were in, he surmised, it was better that he should fall through the ceiling than her.

They had been cleaning-up the other spare bedroom, the one they called The Calamity Room. It was where they’d put old clothes, all the things they didn’t use like that old bicycle, and boxes of Christmas ornaments, stuff like that.

For want of storage space anywhere else in the house, he set about moving the bike, the bins full of old clothes, the boxes of computer parts and old CD’s, and so forth, into the attic. He climbed the decrepit steps as gingerly as he could, and was relieved when he reached the attic safely.

From below, she hoisted the boxes and bins up to him. The bicycle was trickier, but they managed.

Once finished, he stopped to have a look around. Aside from their things, there wasn’t much else up there, save for a large cardboard box or two in corner, along with an old rocking horse and a large steamer trunk. The dust and the cobwebs on them were thick, like they’d been left there the day after the house was built and were forgotten about.

“Babe,” she called up to him, “are you about done? I don’t like you being up there so long.”

“Yeah baby, I just want to check out this stuff I found over here in the corner.”

“What, that old hobby horse?”

“Yeah.”

“That fucking thing’s evil-looking.”

And it was. What he could see of it’s painted-on expression through the dust, anyway. And the scaffolding of cobwebs that arose from the beams up to it’s nose enhanced the effect. He gave it’s nose a tap and it rocked, and stirred up some dust which looked like smoke in the beam of his flashlight.

Next he turned his attention to the old steamer trunk. A large thing, it reminded him of the kind of trunk you’d see floating around in the icy water near the Titanic while it sank. There was no lock, its lid was sealed only by a film of dust, and a buckle affixed to a leather strap.

“There’s a big-ass trunk up here! I’m going to have a look inside, maybe there’s something valuable in there.”

“Okay.”

“Antiques Roadshow here we come!”

He heard her giggling. “I’m not holding my breath!”

He unfastened the buckle and removed the leather strip from it. He raised the lid, and a gentle creek emerged from the hinges. What greeted him next was the musty scent of dry rot with notes, oddly enough, of old beef jerky. It wasn’t so much a stench but rather, what remained left-behind after whatever had caused a stench had run its course.

He shined his flashlight into the trunk.

His heart stopped mid-beat and his lungs stopped mid-breath at the sight of what greeted him from inside the steamer trunk.

There before him lie what was left of the body of what appeared to be a smallish woman -definitely a smallish old woman- curled up in the fetal position, with a multicolored mumu clinging to her desiccated frame. Her head was turned sharply to the left, several degrees farther than a human head is supposed to turn. The vista of her skull, replete with empty eye sockets and patches of preserved tissue still clinging to it, looking up at him and grinning wildly, gave his mind the impetus it needed to command his brain to flood the rest of his system with adrenaline, freeing him from the suspended animation the fright had gripped him with.

With no regard for safety he bolted across the attic, negotiating each beam with wild, clumsy, ambling strides in the direction of the light which shone through the open trapdoor.

She dove out of the way of his feet and watched from the floor as the rest of his body followed, assholes-and-elbows, in a cloud of dust and cobwebs. A split second later he, too, was on the floor, and he launched his body toward the corner opposite them in a frantic lunge. Once there he stood, and pressing the palms of his hands against the walls as hard as he could, in an effort to center himself, he tried to get his breathing under control.

“Fuck. fuck. fuck. fuck,” he whispered, on every quick exhalation.

She dashed to him.

“Baby, baby what is it? What happened?” she asked, with the tone of a calm-but-urgent concern for her husband in her voice.

“Fuck. fuck. fuck. fuck.”

“Baby? Baby? What is it?” she asked again, with a voice still concerned, but more soothing this time, while she rubbed his chest firmly with the palm of her hand.

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck! Fuck!”

“What is it my baby?”

“Body. Fuck. Dead body in the trunk. Dead body in the fucking trunk!”

She thought of the trunk of her car first, but that wasn’t rational. Obviously he was being irrational. So she rubbed his chest harder, and squeezed his upper-arm with her other hand.

“Baby, what body? What trunk?”

He gasped and then his knees buckled. His ass hit the floor hard. He looked up at her, and after a deep breath, offered, “That trunk in the attic. There’s a dead body in it, so help me God a dead body in the fucking trunk.”

He joked around with her all the time. It was one of the things she loved about him. But his demeanor was not indicative of any light-hearted bullshitting and playful skullduggery. He was telling the truth. And where the truth had rendered him scared shitless when first he glanced at it, it had now rendered him completely horrified after validating its existence up there in the attic, by speaking it out-loud.

Her eyes, which always reminded him of Princess Jasmine’s from that Disney movie, immediately became red at the edges, and welled-up with tears. Seeing this, he felt the sutures she’d fastened the fissures in his heart back together with begin to burn, and he snapped-out the horror-induced fugue. He was on his feet with a jolt, in time to catch her as she collapsed in a fit of tears against his body.

He held her for a long time. Then she held him.

Robbie Domingue set his tallboy of Budweiser down on the deck next to the folding chair he was sitting in, and dug after the vibrating cellphone in his pocket. There hadn’t been so much as a nibble on any of his lines all evening. The boat bobbed up and down gently in the water. He removed the cell from his pocket, inspected the screen, and answered forthwith- “Hey there! How’s it going at the house?”

“Robbie *crackle* fucked, Robbie *crackle* completely *crackle* fucked!”

“What’s that? I’m sorry, I’m having trouble hearing you, I’m out here on the boat and the signal is terrible.”

“This is important *crackle* important God damn it *crackle crackle* big problem!”

“A problem? Hello?”

“Hello? *crackle* Big fucking *crackle* ass here right fucking now!”

“Aw gee I’m sorry. I’m out here at my camp for the next two weeks.”

“*crackle* the fuck you are!”

“I’m really sorry about this. But listen, you or your wife just text me. Whatever it is, text me a reminder in the next week or so, and when I get back I’ll be out there to fix it ASAP!”

“You *crackle* be fucking kidding *crackle*!”

“Alright got that? Just text me a reminder! Thanks!” *boop*

*sound of dead air*

The impact against the tile floor exploded his cellphone into a million shiny pieces. It made her jump.

“Baby!”

He stretched-out his arms, extended the index fingers on both of his hands upward, and then lowered his head, and took-in an inhalation through his nose so gargantuan as to inflate his belly so much that it made him look fat. He held the air inside him, and stood motionless. Then, with a huge heave he exhaled and slowly lowered his arms, placing his hands on her shoulders gently.

“I’m really, really sorry about that, my baby.”

“What did he say?”

“Well, you’ll be relieved to know that while we’re tidying-up around the house and discovering bodies in the attic, our erstwhile Landlord is relaxing, and taking-in a beautiful evening on his boat.”

“What?”

“Yeah.”

“Where?”

“I have no idea, his signal kept cutting-out. He could be all the way out in Gulf Shores for all I know. He could be anywhere!”

“Did he say anything else? And please don’t tell me what I think he told you.”

“I caught ‘reminder in the next week’ and ‘when I get back I’ll be out there to fix it ASAP’.”

“Oh my God this is such fucking bullshit!”

Level-headed, rational individuals sometimes make not-level-headed, irrational decisions when pushed beyond their collective wit’s end and by-and-large, they oughtn’t be faulted for it. They discussed calling the Police as they sat at the table, poring-over the day’s events and what to do about them. Neither of them were thinking clearly but then, who would be? They hadn’t had much luck with the cops when trouble arose in times past, and the whole story- the house, the problems with the house, their absentee landlord, all culminating in the grizzly discovery of a desiccated corpse upstairs seemed too ridiculous to believe.

“It’s insane!” she exclaimed.

“Yeah, and there’s no way they’ll buy it. Getting the cops involved will probably just make it all worse.”

“Mmmhm.”

“Probably best to not report it. Just let sleeping dogs lie, y’know?”

“Yeah. But what do we do about-”

“About the body?”

“Yeah?”

“Well it goes without saying she can’t stay here!”

“I can’t believe we’ve been sleeping under the same roof as a corpse. Oh my God, I’m gonna throw up…”

He loaded the steamer trunk into the back of his Jeep. It was 1:30 AM, and the humidity still hung heavy in the air.

He opened the door for her and helped her up into her seat, then he piled-in. He turned the key, the engine roared to life, and after grabbing the volume knob on the stereo and turning it the rest of the way to zero -neither were in any mood at all for music- he flipped-on the headlights, and they took off.

She gripped his hand tight and stared straight ahead, as he drove.

Finally, she spoke-up. “Do we have anything that even vaguely resembles a plan?”

“Well, I’ve never gotten rid of a dead body before.”

“I should hope not…”

He laughed uncomfortably, then offered “That said, I was thinking we could just dump her over the swamp bridge. Hopefully what’s left of her will sink, and it’ll be like she’s been down there under the water for years if anybody finds her, and that’ll be that. So, I move that we dump her over the bridge into the Basin. What do you think about that?”

“Sounds faster than digging a hole somewhere and it gets her the fuck out of our house. I second that motion.”

“Motion seconded. All in favor, say ‘aye.’”

They said “aye” in unison.

“All opposed?”

Silence.

Several minutes later they were heading East on I-10 toward the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge. There they’d have twenty-six miles-worth of water to decide where to dispose of the corpse.

It didn’t take long for them to reach the bridge, and that was a relief. Once on it, they began to discuss where, exactly, to drop off their passenger.

“I’m thinking the Whiskey Bay Pilot Channel would be a good place,” she said.

“Sounds like a good bet, to me.”

She looked to him and they nodded slowly together, sealing their agreement.

He checked the rear-view, nobody was behind them. He brought the car to a halt cautiously, on the shoulder. He killed the headlights. A few moments passed before several eighteen-wheelers passed-by, opposite them. Things settled down not long after that, and soon there were no headlights approaching from either direction, signaling in-bound company.

Before leaving The Love Nest, after bringing the trunk down from the attic, he’d wiped it clean of dust and fingerprints. He had also grabbed a fresh pair of those yellow, rubber dishwashing gloves from the cabinet underneath the kitchen sink. He withdrew them from his back pocket and put them on.

“Stay here, baby. I’ll be back in a jiffy.”

“Please let me help you.”

“I don’t want you to have to see her. Plus, I only brought one pair of gloves and I don’t want your fingerprints on anything.”

He got down, and after he closed the door, she hopped over into the driver’s seat and took the wheel. “It’ll be way faster for us to get the Hell out of here,” she thought to herself as she buckled-up.

He removed the steamer trunk from the back of the Jeep. It was heavy, but easy enough for him to manage. He set it down on top of the concrete guardrail, and flipped the lid open. He didn’t care to see her himself, either, not again. No way.

He tipped the trunk over, and felt the weight of the contents take leave of it. Hearing a series of soft splashes below, he let go of the trunk, and another, slightly louder splash assured him that they had once again successfully handled a problem that Robbie Domingue should have taken care of, “ASAP.”

He didn’t have to look at the Jeep to discern what she’d been thinking moments earlier. He had just to turn, open the passenger’s side door, and jump in. And just as soon as his ass was in the seat, her foot was on the pedal.

[…]

They awoke the following morning to an incessant pounding coming from the living room. He was still clutching her to him, just as he had been earlier that night when they were finally able to retire after the previous day’s ordeal. She was still clinging-fast to his arms. Neither had moved.

*bang* *bang* *bang*

They rose and made themselves relatively presentable- she in her robe and he, in his pajama pants. They went to the front door. He opened it.

They were greeted by a young couple, each twenty-something, and behind them was a large moving truck.

“Oh what’s this happy horse shit?” she inquired of their morning visitors, with more than just a dash of irritation peppering her voice.

“Hi,” the husband said, “we’re really sorry to bother you-”

His wife interjected, with “Yes! Really, really sorry, but-”

The husband continued, “I’m Robbie Domingue’s nephew, Ted. Two months ago he said we could rent this house.”

“Yes,” Ted’s wife affirmed, “Ted is Robbie Domingue’s nephew. Robbie said we could rent the house.”

“Yeah, uh, we saw your Jeep out there, and your Corvette in the driveway, and wait,” Ted peered inside, “is that your living room couch in there?”

“Has Robbie talked to y’all about this?”

“Uncle Robbie told us month before last that your lease was about to end, and that he’d tell you he’d decided to rent the house to us, ‘ASAP,’ so you’d have plenty of time to move-out and stuff. Gave us today as our move-in date, and everything.”

Staring slack-jawed at the couple, in silence, was the only response they could muster. Neither of them could believe it, but at the same time, it totally made sense. All of it.

Ted and his wife just stood there, looking at the two of them.

Answering Ted, after several more moments of gobsmacked silence, he said “No problem, just give my wife and me until noon to be out of your way.”

Ted and his wife were nodding in perplexed agreement as the front door closed on them.

He put his arms around the small of her back and held her close. She felt good pressed against him, and he gave a huge sigh. She placed the palm of her hand on his chest, and began to laugh. And after a moment, he was laughing right along with her.

Death among the peaceful

Yin Cai Shakya
Yin Ts’ao Shakya

If you like “Death among the peaceful”, check for more stories in AlphabetGumbo.com

 

HE’D LIVED BACK EAST IN PITTSBURGH FOR FIVE YEARS before moving South to Louisiana. He stood on the patio by the back door, watching the pup as he vacillated from prancing to ambling about the yard gaily. As he watched he thought about how, in the entire time he’d lived in Pittsburgh, he’d never seen a Sunday afternoon so beautiful. He’d lived in Louisiana for one month and aside from a passing thunderstorm that welled-up to welcome him home the day after he’d arrived, there had been no slow, incessant drizzle, no soul-crushing, gray skies; just day after day of glorious sunshine. He marveled at it. A smile broke as he watched the pup chasing after a butterfly at the precise moment that the thought “And I’ll never have to shovel snow ever again” occurred to him.

“Okay! I’m just about ready to go!” her voice arose from inside, in the kitchen.

His smile widened when he heard her. He always either smiled, or smiled wider, when the silence was broken by her voice.

“Alright, babe. Let me get our little gargoyle back inside…”

He called for the pup, who’d taken to answering to his name damn-near right away when they’d gotten him, and he came quickly, assholes-and-elbows as all fat-and-happy pups do when their master calls for them, offering treats. A minute later, as she was putting the grocery list they’d been writing-up into her purse, the pup was fast asleep in his little dog bed by the sofa, snoring and giving soft barks.

She giggled at the audible wuffs and snarls and said “I love that. That never gets old.”

“He’s probably dreaming about chasing those butterflies.”

They were off and he was driving. Errands helped him learn how to find his way around, and though “shopping for groceries” probably seems like the most mundane of all the things you could be doing together on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, he was enjoying himself. She was singing along to Eva Cassidy and her hand rested on his thigh. He took her hand, and sighed. It didn’t matter much to him what they were doing, his elation that they were doing it together, finally, was all.

“Oh babe! Quick, turn Right, here-” she said as they approached the side-street that would take them the other way across town and eventually spit them out on the Interstate.

“Here? But isn’t the store the other way?”

“Yes, but we need honey and we’ll get that from the farm first.”

“Honey from the farm? Sounds like a hot ticket to me” he said, making a hard right and hammering the accelerator. Had it not been for the seatbelt she was wearing, she’d have ended up in his lap. She giggled loudly.

“Yeah, it’ll be fun, you’ll enjoy the drive out there and back.”

The sky that stretched-out above the interstate was expansive and the horizon looked to be a thousand miles away. The long stretch of flat, straight road pleaded with him to let it all unwind, go Wide-Fucking-Open, and make all those cylinders work for a living. The windows were down and the fresh air that buffeted them, and the sound of the road, and the music, had the effect of a dose of morphine administered straight to the soul, everything melted into a feeling of deep wellbeing.

Four exits whizzed-by before he rolled the windows up half-way, so he could ask where, exactly, they were going.

“You’ll be taking the next exit, and making a Left,” she told him.

“Next exit, then Left. Got it!”

Two and a quarter miles and a Left at the exit later, they were cruising down a back country road that cut through the sugarcane fields and crawfish ponds. Occasionally colorful little shotgun houses or larger Acadian-style homes would appear. Some were built-up, the result, she said, of the insurance companies demanding that they be raised after flooding had damaged them. Spanish moss and resurrection fern draped the ancient oak trees that lined the road and that stood immovable in the yards of the people who lived there. Some of them were gargantuan.

“Alright babe, what’s this place look like, what am I looking for?”

“I always get mixed-up down here, have we passed the little cattle farm yet? It’s about a mile or two down the road from there.”

“I don’t think so, all I’ve seen is cane fields and houses, and crawfish ponds.”

“Those crawfish ponds will be re-purposed into rice paddies soon as crawfish season is over.”

“Really?”

“Mmmmhm.”

“Crawfish season? That’s a thing?”

“Yep, sure is.”

“When’s it end?”

“In another month or two.”

“Well shit. We need to go eat crawfish again before that happens. Probably three or four more times at-least.”

She laughed.

“Oh! I see cows!”

She leaned forward to have a look.

“That’s the one, we’re almost there, but–”

As they approached he slowed the car. There were indeed cattle in the pasture that faced the road. From farther away, when he’d first taken notice of them, they looked as if they were lying in the field, lazing in the warm afternoon sun. But as the picture slowly came into focus the closer they got, an altogether different reality emerged.

The cows weren’t lying down relaxing. They were dead. Fifteen head of cattle in that small pasture lie there, swollen and bloated in the sun.

“That’s… That’s… “ she stammered.

He brought the car to a halt in the middle of the road. He hadn’t seen another motorist since they’d made that Left.

He answered her, with- “That’s not normal, that’s what that is.”

A small farmhouse stood at the end of a long driveway which was flanked on both sides by pasture. Pasture littered with dead cattle that looked like large red and white boulders. The front door stood open, and a Sheriff’s car was parked nearby next to a large pickup truck.

“No. Not normal at all…”

He checked the rear-view. Still not a car in-sight. They could rubberneck all the livelong day it they wanted to, it seemed, and that seemed not normal to him, too. No, not normal at all, and neither of them wanted to rubberneck.

She spoke up- “At least the cops are here.”

“They’ll figure it out, whatever it is.”

He eased-off the brake and once again they were moving down the road toward their destination. The feeling in the car however, was different. The air inside felt thick. The feeling in his stomach had changed, too. Where there was once jubilance and the warmth of calm wellbeing, there was now heaviness. Thinking she might be feeling the same, he reached for her hand and took it.

He wanted to tell her that everything was probably okay, that the cops would adjudicate and follow-through with a resolution where needed, and that there was absolutely no reason to let that macabre spectacle set the tone for the rest of the day. But something in his head told him that it would be stupid to say those things. Not because they would come out sounding trite or placating, but because in all actuality everything was probably not okay, the cop was wholly unprepared for whatever it was that greeted him when he’d arrived and could not in any way, shape, or form adjudicate and resolve anything, and that things, by-and-large, would be getting a whole Hell of a lot worse, today. He opted to adjust the volume knob on the car stereo instead, bringing Otis Redding up from a 4 to an 18. He took notice of her settling into her seat. Her hand felt soft as he took it. They didn’t speak, just breathed together.

Not long after, she spoke-up- “Alright, it’s going to be coming-up on the Right. Look for the yellow mailbox. It’s coming up, it has a sign underneath it with a cute bumblebee on it.”

He took notice of it just ahead, flipped the blinker, and checked the rear-view. There was still nobody behind them.

The mailbox was a bright canary yellow, and there was indeed a sign under it.

“FRESH, LOCAL HONEY!” proclaimed the speech bubble that emerged from the smiling, chubby bumblebee with the cartoony eyes.

He steered the car into the driveway, and at her direction, drove past the farmhouse.

The house was very old, little paint remained clinging to the exterior, most of which having given-up and fallen off in ragged chunks years earlier. There was a tractor which sat in a state of extreme disrepair nearby. He kept driving.

Directly ahead of them was a large shipping container, a small wooden shack, and to the right there was a barn and several wooden boxes set side-by-side which presumably held hives.

“That shack is where they keep the honey. You can go in, fill-up as many jars as you’d like, and leave four dollars for each jar. It’s on the ‘Honor System’” she said.

He stopped the car by the shack, while she rummaged in her purse for her wallet. He looked around as she dug. It all looked relatively normal except for one thing- the faint cloud that seemed to undulate over everything.

He adjusted his glasses, thinking he wasn’t seeing things properly, and asked- “Uh, baby? Are those bees?”

She looked up from her purse, fixing her eyes on the small wooden shack.

“Yes. Yes they are, look at them all!”

He directed her attention toward the hives that sat on the ground by the barn. The cloud was thicker there.

“It looks like they’re swarming” he told her.

“Yeah, it sure does. You okay?”

“Oh yeah, I’m fine. I’m just a little confused, aren’t they supposed to be in their hive, or something?”

“It’s probably no problem babe, just wait right here and I’ll go get the honey. It’ll only take a minute.”

She reached for the latch on her door and he stopped her. “Wait!”

“What?”

He pointed at the shack. There were bees all over the two small windows, and on the door as well.

“I don’t like this. This doesn’t seem right.”

“It’s okay, babe. I’ve been here lots of times. There’s always bees around.”

“Look closer though. I mean, they’re crawling all over that shack. Hundreds of them. It’s like the God damn patients are running the asylum!”

She looked closer. But what captivated her attention was not the bees he’d tried to call her attention to, but an arm. On the ground, by the far corner of the shack, a human arm.

“Oh my God” she exclaimed before clasping her hands tight over her mouth and nose.

He saw it too, and gently urged the car forward, bringing it to rest adjacent to the body. It was an elderly man, wearing a pair of overalls and a white t-shirt. A green mesh trucker’s hat lie in the dirt next to his head. His other arm was bent, and his hand clutched his chest.

He urged the car forward again more quickly this time, and turned sharply, to get a better look. The elderly man was dead from what looked like thousands of bee stings. Every square inch of his exposed flesh was pocked, and his eyes were swollen shut. The legs of his overalls changed color from dark blue to brown and appeared to be alive. So did the back wall of the shack. Each was crawling with bees.

He heard her gasp through her hands.

He slammed the shifter into reverse, and nailed the accelerator while cutting the wheel hard. He was about to shift into drive and launch them back down the driveway after an abrupt stop, when she screamed.

There were three more bodies. A woman and a dog lying in the backyard, and a man on the back porch by the door. They’d been ravaged. Blood and red welts covered their skin.

The next scream came from him. It escaped his throat without him realizing it, when a teenage boy ran from the direction of the barn to the driveway and collapsed, enveloped in a violent black cloud. The boy’s arms were flailing and he whipped his head back and forth so fast and hard it looked like his neck could break. The cloud intensified in fury, and the boy’s screams, which rang out while his body heaved up and down, were audible over Otis Redding. The screams were audible over everything.

Inside the car grew an incipient dark, as if thunderheads were blotting-out the sun. Bees. They’d begun to coat the driver’s side windows, and the rear windshield. The eyes of his love, which peered out above her still-clasped hands, showed a primal terror that he was certain must be totally new to her human experience. He caught his reflection in the rear-view mirror and beheld in his own reflection that same inexorable terror.

He let off the brake and brought his foot down on the accelerator. The car shot backwards. He nailed the brake again, sending both his, and her head forward, into the wheel and the dashboard. The impact brought them both to their senses immediately.

“FUCKING GO!” she shouted.

He shifted into drive and punched it. The engine roared as the car rocketed forward. It was blind, frantic acceleration and the still-darkening windows. That was it. No thought. No breathing. He swerved to avoid hitting the young man who was now lying perfectly still in the driveway, and nearly sent them careening across the front lawn into the ditch by the road. With his attention divided between the growing dark on the windows and keeping them on the driveway, he managed to right the car and finish traversing the driveway, and made a hard Left by the canary yellow mailbox with the cute bumblebee sign which hung beneath it.

Back on the road, with his foot and the pedal beneath it jammed firmly into the floorboard, he watched as the vibrating mass of bees coating the windows began to break-up. He hadn’t drawn a breath since the driveway, neither of them had, but neither of them had noticed. The adrenaline kept them from passing-out until the bees were gone, at which time the breaths came back in loud, deep heaves.

“We have to call 9-1-1!” she shouted.

“What about the cop at the cattle farm? Maybe he’s still there!”

The speedometer read 120 miles per-hour, and the farm wasn’t much farther. If the cop was still there he’d stop, and they would explain everything.

He saw the pastures just ahead, and let-off the accelerator almost completely. He moved his foot to the brake, and slowed to negotiate the turn.

The Sheriff’s cruiser was still in the driveway. And the front door of the house remained open.

It still felt not normal, to him.

He stopped the car two-thirds of the way up the driveway and shifted into park. After killing the ignition they both exited the car and began a slow walk toward the house, shouting as they went.

Nobody emerged, not a soul.

Someone was sitting in the cruiser, he stopped her and directed her attention to it. They approached the car silently, their minds collectively urging them to turn back more loudly with every step. They pressed-on, cautiously. It was a Deputy they found when they reached the car. His hands were clasped around the wheel, and his cheek rested against it. His eyes and mouth were wide-open, frozen in a loud utterance of pain and horror. Around the Deputy’s mouth and neck were stings. So many stings. He wanted to throw up but he couldn’t- his belly had tied itself into some kind of knot that would allow no spasm at all, it just squeezed and squeezed.

And then there was a soft thump. Something hit the driver’s side window of the cruiser from the inside. It startled them both.

Then another, and two more-

Thump.

Thump, thump!

Bees.

They’d flown out from somewhere deep-down inside the Deputy’s esophagus, or worse- “Maybe his stomach” he thought to himself without actually thinking it.

Thump!

They both jumped, and then watched in horror as a waterfall of bees poured-forth from the Deputy’s gaping mouth, before taking flight and thumping against the window.

More bees emerged from underneath the cruiser.

He took her hand and bolted with her back to the car. He felt two sharp stings on his cheek and another on his neck. She swatted at her wrist hard where a tiny assailant landed, and she felt two more sting her ankles. She turned her head and beheld the cloud forming around the cruiser. It was organizing rapidly, and soon she feared, it would be on them both.

They reached the car and the swarm pursued them. The doors were unlocked -thankfully- and they wasted no time in sealing themselves inside. The engine roared loyally to life when he turned the key, the very moment when a living, malevolent quilt began to spread its self over the hood and windshield. He traversed the driveway in reverse, while she frantically inspected the both of them, as well as the interior, for bees. None had found an ingress. Reaching the road he cut the wheel, shifted into drive, and once again hammered the accelerator. The swarm which had blanked the car began to dissipate, and he kept accelerating until it was running Wide-Fucking-Open, as he was fond of saying. The bees had lifted completely, and were left as an ominous thunderhead undulating low to the ground, visible in the rear-view mirror.

Once safely on the Interstate, she called 9-1-1 from her cellular telephone…

[…]

In the days that followed they were interviewed by the local and state police, as well as by several shadowy Government people who asked a lot of questions but never said too much. They were advised not to speak about what they’d seen that day and save for talking about it with each other, they didn’t mention any of it to family members or close friends.

Several days later, as they sat at the table eating their dinner, he turned-on the television. Wheel of Fortune would be on soon. He didn’t care much about what they watched, because -again- he was happy, elated by the simple fact that they were watching it together -and that was doubly-so in the wake of certain events they’d witnessed recently, events which the shadowy Government people and the police had advised them not to talk to anybody about. The evening news was wrapping-up, and the Anchorwoman, a chubby-but-still-kind-of-pretty Latina gave a brief report of so-called Africanized honeybees swarming in nearby counties. They both dropped their forks at the exact same time. She was still chewing. He’d been in the middle of swallowing a mouthful of chicken and the sudden reminder of the bees crawling up from deep within the Deputy’s throat made him gag hard.

As he took his love’s hand, “Government scientists,” the Latina Anchorwoman said, “are working to contain the swarms.”

© 2016 Kenneth Atkins

 

http://alphabetgumbo.com/2016/03/03/the-beekeepers-2/

The Squatters (#10)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
http://www.zenanthonywolff.com

The Squatters

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

To see all available chapters of “The Squatters” click here

 

Part 10: The final split-up

 

Rick had seen that the kind of all-purpose nylon zip ties that Dawson used were the light weight ties that could be purchased in any hardware store. He knew the well publicized technique of putting the knot in the center of his bound hands, getting his body in a slightly bent position, and then raising his hands above his head as if he were bringing his shoulder blades together and while bending his arms at the elbow and holding them outward like wings, bring his hands and elbows down in a hammer blow against his hip bones while pulling his hands apart so that all the force had been transmitted to the knot, breaking it.  But all this depended on his ability to bring his hands from behind and in a stooping position to step through his ams until his hands were in front of him.  Helena was so agile, he thought, she could free herself from any of these amateur restraints.  But not so with her husband. True, Rick had lost a considerable amount of weight maybe… just maybe he could do it. Before Begay was tossed inside for a second time, Rick struggled in the closet. He stooped and squatted but his hands refused to step under his feet and come up to the front. A shim.  He needed a shim or a stiff piece of metal like a woman’s beret that he could adapt.  It was dark in the closet and he could find nothing that could serve the purpose of a shim.

Well then, he’d look around for something to cut the nylon band with.  There was nothing.  He was hoping that he had left an old guitar in the closet.  He could use one of the strings as a cutting tool, but no… he had moved the guitar.  There were no sharp things and not anything he could sharpen.  He had lost weigh… maybe if he got the knot in the middle he could perform the same breaking technique using his behind as an anvil instead of his hip bones.  But the closet was so narrow… not at all like a bedroom closet.  With his knees he cleared a place on the floor, made sure the knot was in the middle of his hands, and stood up and tried to balance himself on one foot.

His head scraped the coat hangars and rainware that nobody ever wore. He bent in a kind of semi-squat with his behind out as far as he could get it while standing on one foot with his ankles bound. He raised his hands behind him and brought them down against his behind.  His hands bounced off the rear and he lost his balance and fell forward on his knees.  His head struck Helena’s “gardening” coat… a raincoat she used when she had to dig in the dirt.  She liked the long coat because she could kneel on it when planting bulbs or.pruning suckers from the base of trees and shrubs. could she have left pruning shears in her coat?  . Before he could explore the coat with his mouth, Begay was tossed inside again, this time to wait for Morgan to finish in the bathroom.

“Enough is enough, Markovitz,” Begay said disparagingly.  “You lead a dangerous life.” He calmly stepped through his hands, bringing them to the front of his body.  “What’s the matter?  Too many pounds on you?  I’ll sponsor you to join the Health Club at the hotel.”

“Unlike you,” Rick replied in his effete voice, “I have been bound in two places.  The degree of difficulty is exponentially greater.”  He noticed that when Began stepped through his hands, he had turned Helen’s coat and the outline of the pruning shears showed.  “Since you’re so nimble, would you be kind enough to hand me those shears… right behind your head… in my wife’s pocket?  I’ve been wanting to get to them, but it’s been one interruption after another.”

Begay pulled the shears from Helena’s pocket. Rick turned his body and held out his hands.  “It will be so much easier for you to free me and then for me to free you.”

“Yes.  I figured that out by myself,” Begay said, snipping through Rick’s wrist tie.  Then, without asking, he cut his ankle restraint.  Rick immediately took the shears and cut Begay’s tie.

They could hear footsteps coming towards the closed.  Rick whispered, “Hold the tie in place so that it looks as if it’s still restraining you.  I’ll keep my hands behind me.”

As Andy led Morgan by the collar back into the living room, outside, near the front door, a casino security guard took out his S&W semi-automatic and holding it behind himslf, rapped lightly on the window.

“See who that is,” Dawson ordered.  “I’ll keep my gun on the driver.”  He motioned to Morgan. “Get over here beside Mrs. Begay.”  Morgan sat on the couch.

“Who is it,” Andy yelled.

The guard did not know what Rick’s last name was.  “I’ve got a special delivery for Mr. Markovitz.”

Dawson said, “Ask him who sent it.”

“Who’s the sender?” Andy asked.

Again, the guard could think of no other meaningful name.  “Dodge Rosewall.”

Dawson hissed, “I knew that son of a bitch was in on it! First I’ll put the women in the closet and then you can let him in,” Dawson pulled Anita and Helena to their feet and marched them to the closet. “Get in there!” he said.  Rick heard him and, expecting the closet door to open, went from a kneeling position into a squat. His bulk shoved Begay to the side. The moment Dawson opened the door, Rick tackled him, and Dawson stumbled and skidded backwards, falling face-up on the floor.  Rick held his legs and Helena leapt up and jumped on his chest, knocking the wind out of him.  As he gasped for air, she jumped onto his right arm and Rick grabbed the gun from his hand.  Anita kicked his head so forcefully that it was possible to hear something snap in his neck.

Clive began to whine.  “Ain’t somebody gonna answer the door?  I’m gonna lose my eye!”  His sleeves were filled with blood from using them to wipe his face.  He headed to the front door.  “Make them take me to the hospital first!” he shouted at Andy. Clive’s gun was still stuck in his belt in the small of his back.

Andy stood in the foyer not knowing what to do.  “Open the door!” Orren yelled, and Andy automatically turned the lock and let the guard in.  Rick jumped up, grabbed Helena and pulled her into the closet behind him, pushing her onto the floor on top of Begay. As soon as the front door opened, the guard pushed Andy away and, seeing Rick with a gun that appeared to be pointed at Anita, he fired at Rick, grazing his right shoulder. The slug buried itself itself into the coset wall.

Rick had no way of knowing who the guard was or what he was doing there. He could not imagine that any friend or guard of his would try to shoot him. As he grabbed his wounded arm, he shouted,”Here!” and tossed the gun to Morgan.  “Protect Anita!” He stepped in front of Helena. “Stay down!”

“Hold your fire!” Morgan shouted as he caught the gun.

“He’s my body guard!” Begay stood up, dumping Helena on the floor, and yelled at Rick as if to reprimand him.

Clive had staggered back into the living room and the guard looked at him as if to say that he wasn’t worth wasting a bullet on.  He grabbed the back of Clive’s head and forced him down onto the rug.  He removed the gun from his waist.

Rick looked at Begay. “Kindly tell your guard to be a bit more respectful of my rug!”   He went to pick up Clive. “Get your stupid ass into the garage!”

The guard had turned toward Andy and pointed his weapon at him.  “Get down on the floor and put your hands behind your head! he shouted.  Andy dropped to his knees and then flopped forward, burying his face in the deep soft pile of Rick’s $60,000 Persian rug.

“Get those shears!” Begay shouted, trying to help his wife. But Helena had already gotten them and was cutting through Anita’s restraint. Dawson was unconscious.  Clive stumbled into the garage, and sat on the floor, hosing himself down with the same hose that Rick had used the day before.

 

Paulina Sue had had enough.  She marched into the living room and checked Olivia’s jaw.  “It doesn’t seem to be broken, but it sure didn’t help those teeth.  We’ll getcha’ more cloves and cotton.”  She reached into Dawson’s pocket and got the $10,000 he had taken from Rick.   She held up the money. “I’m gonna take half of this,” she said plaintively.  “Let me give half to the kid.  Maybe he can find a cheap doctor to fix his face.” Rick nodded. She divided the money in half and tossed half to Orren.  “Do what you can with this, kid.”

Orren mumbled, “Thanks, Aunt Paulina Sue.”

Paulina Sue stood like a warrior goddess in the center of the room and gave incontestable orders.  “Now,” she said to Babs, “put the kids and the vets in the van. We’ll drop the vets off at a shelter.  We’re heading east. Put pillows in the passenger’s seat for Olivia and put the seat all the way back.” She turned to Helena. “You got any pain pills you can give her?”

Helena, had just finished putting on the dress she had been attempted to model when the trouble began.  “Yes, I do.  I’ll get them.  She’ll sleep.” She went into the medicine chest and emptied the unused half of a pain prescription into a handkerchief and brought it to Paulina Sue who thanked her.  After we go, you can call the cops and they’ll pick up the three musketeers and take ’em back to jail.”

Considering that their fingers had been in contact with all the food that was in the kitchen, Helena said, “Here, take the food with you from the kitchen.  You’ll need to feed the kids tonight.”

Paulina Sue carried a cardboard box of food into the living room.  She helped Olivia get into the van and returned to the living room. She looked at the stunned group of people who stood and stared at her. Nobody objected.  As Babs, the vets, and the children filed out of the house and got into the van, she turned to Anita.  “Hagoonee’,” she said.

Anita answered.  “A’aa, hagoonee’.”

“What did all that mean?” Helena asked.

“Nothing,” Begay answered.  She said, ‘Goodbye’ and Anita answered, ‘Goodbye to you, too.'”  He sighed. “I need a drink.”

Helena returned to the kitchen and called, “A gimlet?”

“Make that two,” Rick answered.

“If you wouldn’t mind, sir….”  Morgan had started to tremble in a kind of post traumatic response.

“Bring a whole pitcher in.” Rick called.  He looked at his rug.  “Oh, hell, let’s all go in the goddamned kitchen.”

The security guards fanned out to guard the perimeter as the van, driven by Paulina Sue, backed out of the garage.

Orren had sat quietly at the side of the garage.  He made no move to go to the van. Rick dumped Dawson’s unconscious body next to him and Begay led Andy, now cuffed, into the garage.  Rick had called the Sheriff’s Department and a car was on its way..

In five minutes, Orren, Rick, Begay, and Morgan were the only males in the house; Anita and Helena, the only females. Begay’s and Rick’s guards patrolled the area.

Orren looked at Rick.  “Please don’t call Child Welfare on me.”

“Wait a minute.  Wait a minute,” Rick said.  “What’s this business about Rosewall?”

“Uncle Don gave him $4,000 to get his money back from you.  He says Rosewall didn’t do nothin’ for Four grand.”

“I gave him ten times that, and he didn’t do anything for me either,” Helena said.

Morgan interrupted the discussion to explain Orren’s roll in the rescue. “I didn’t want to believe him at first, but my gut told me he was an honest kid.”

Rick laughed.  “Son, you are so much better off without those vermin.” He told the others how Orren had got his scars and how he and Helena had been victimized.

“Jesus,” Begay said. “You know,” he joked, “now that I look at him, he looks a little Navajo to me. I’ll tell you what.  There’s a surgeon who comes to the Rez and works pro bono. Let’s have him fix the boy’s face.  I’ll square it with him.  Orren can stay with my folks until he’s finished with the surgery.  Then he can make a decision about where he wants to live and go to school.” He looked at Rick. “Then we’re square about Anita’s portrait?”

“Ask my wife,” Rick answered.

“Sure, if you’ll also let him get himself some new clothes,” Helena said. “Actually, I did the portrait as a gift.”

“When the surgery’s finished we can enroll him in a boarding school off the Rez,” Anita said.  “A boy needs an education.”

“If you put him in a boarding school,” Rick said, “I’ll cover the cost.”

Begay shook his head, considering the squatters.  “Who the hell would believe a story like this? Squatters! Deliberate dog bites! It’s unbelievable!”

Anita sighed.  “If my mother thinks we’re making this up to keep her from getting her portrait painted, my life will not be worth living.”

Helena smiled.  “You just send your mother to my studio.  Have her call me to discuss the time.  I’ll see to it she’s painted as regally as she likes.  Should I put the feathered band on her?”

“No!” Begay snarled.  “And don’t put that band on anybody else! That band is sacred!  Only my wife can wear it.”

“Darling,” Anita said, “there is no band.  Helena made it up.”

Begay began to laugh and the others joined in.

-30-

The Squatters (#9)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
http://www.zenanthonywolff.com

The Squatters

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

To see all available chapters of “The Squatters” click here

 

Part 9: Coming out of the closet

 

At first, Rick had regarded Helena’s facial repairs as worse than hideous. Her face was swollen and bruised, and though the doctor kept saying, “Beautiful… just beautiful!” about his work, the results did not seem to warrant such a description.  But gradually the swelling subsided and the purple bruises faded to a kind of chartreuse and then vanished altogether. She still had pink scar lines, but just as the doctor predicted, these lines were retreating from view – especially when she wore the right make-up.

Mostly, the sinus repair allowed Helena to be completely free of headaches. Her disposition was… well… Rickthought, sunny.  Yes.  And sun time was work time.  The variance had been granted, and thanks to Anita Begay’s portrait, many people wanted “to sit” for the mysterious “M.”

But Helena wanted more time to heal, not only from the surgery, but from the months of pain and humiliation. She also wanted to spend time with her husband.  They cooked, shopped, and cleaned together.  Rick was content: she was deliriously happy. Rick, however, had spent twenty thousand dollars getting “their” house converted to a professionally zoned artist’s studio.  He knew that he owed Dave Begay an explanation for his financial activities at the hotel and discussing the subject on his own turf was definitely better than being asked for an explanation at another “less convenient” venue. “Helena,” he said sternly, “I’m really disappointed by your failure to follow through with your painting. I’ve gone through an immense amount of trouble to accommodate you and you have taken a rather selfish attitude towards my efforts.”  He frowned, pushed her away, and left the room.  She immediately called Anita Begay and invited her to come the next day to see the new studio.

“Would you mind if my husband brought me?”Anita asked.  “He wants to see the new studio.” What Dave Begay wanted to see was the man behind the Markovitz disguise.  And also, with money laundering an issue, he wanted to be sure that the environment was safe for his wife and the other women in his family.  Anita wanted a portrait of him, too.  He was still thinking about that.

Helena, knowing that Rick wanted to speak privately with Begay, welcomed him to attend. “We’d love to show him our new space.  Let’s make it in the morning for brunch.  We can sit and talk about some of the portraits he said he wanted me to do of your family.  I understand your mother would like me to do her portrait.  Rick would like to speak to him about other things; and if Mr. Begay has to get back to his office, I’ll drive you home, myself.”

And so it was settled. Helena called a hair stylist and, offering to pay whatever it cost, made an afternoon appointment.   She planned to buy new clothes after her hair was styled.

The black van slowly rolled down Lafayette Street as the driver strained to determine the opposition he’d face when he confronted Rick at house #124, “his” old house. Orren Dawson was in the passenger’s seat. “What’ll ya do ifRick’s home, Uncle Don?” he asked.

“Why you askin’?  You plannin’ on helpin’ or hurtin’?” Don Dawson had reached the stage in familial relationships in which it was clear that no one was trustworthy.  “I see you givin’ me the stink-eye like you thought I set them dogs on ya.  I’m gettin’ tired of that look.  I had nothin’ to do with it.  That was your Aunt Olivia’s doin’.  Her and Babs and Paulina Sue. Blame them if you wanna blame somebody.”

“I’m not blaming anybody… not for the dogs and not for the money that was s’posed to fix my face and ear.  It’s gone now.” He paused to change the tone of his voice, edging it with suspicion. “Some people are richer, and I guess that’s life.” Orren now hated everyone he lived with, but revenge was a luxury he lacked the means to afford.  A “retaliation beggar,” he accepted anything he could get. An innuendo… a cynical tone. “A few steal. A few go broke… and so it goes.”

“You heard anythin’?  You pick up somethin’ I oughta’ know?”

Orren seized the opportunity.  “I don’t want to get in hot water by talking outta turn.”

Don Dawson ruffled Orren’s hair. “I’ll protect ya. You can trust me.  Wha’cha hear?”

Orren sighed. “Not much. Babs and Aunt Olivia were talkin’ about Hawaii.  Paulina Sue said Brazil’s the place to go. That’s all I heard.  Oh… somethin’ about needin’ passports.”

“Bitches,” Dawson hissed.  “I guess they got it all planned.  Didn’t invite me.  Didn’t invite you. I always figured they’d dump us.  That’s the kind of cheaters they are.  So… it begins to look like Dodge Rosewall was right.  My own family helped themselves to the money we was gonna give the doctor to fix your face.  Jesus… that just chaps my ass.”  Orren looked away.  He knew the money that had caused the recent trouble had everything to do with Louella Thompson being at the house and that money had never been intended for his facial repairs.

As Don approached #124 he grew angrier.  “I’ll tell you somethin’.  If I find that Rick at home, I’m gonna kill ‘im. Right after he coughs up the money him and your Aunt Olivia and their pals stole from me. Don’t you worry. I’ll make ’em tell me where they hid my money… our money.”  He passed #124.  “Garage door’s open.  And lookie there.  The son of a bitch is hosin’ down my old garage. And his goddamned dog is crappin’ on my old lawn.”  He checked both sides of the street.  “And I don’t see any guard or a car that belongs to a guard.”

“When are we gonna get him?”

“Tonight looks like a good night.  Let’s get a few six-packs and take ’em home and make a plan. And not a word to the women.”

Rick was doing some last minute cleaning.  Dave and Anita Begay were coming to see the studio in the morning and would be stopping at his house.  He had already made sure he had fresh limes and Dutch gin, Schweppes, and Kona coffee.  He had cold cuts and condiments and planned that they’d sit informally in the patio area of his newly renovated hothouse and eat brunch amid  flowers and blooming shrubs without the intrusive presence of servants.  Begay might have some private questions to ask. Helena and Anita would probably go back into the house and drink tea and bullshit about fashions.

Rick turned off the hose and went into his private bathroom to brush his teeth and floss.  He stared at himself in the mirror, wondering if Begay would recognize him without that Markovitz wig and mustache disguise.  He’d tell Begay the truth… well, his version of the truth, anyway.

Helena did not return from shopping until eight o’clock.  Rick pretended to be the frustrated wife. In a falsetto voice he complained, “I slaved over that TV dinner.  Got a paper-cut from opening the box.  Do you care?  No.  You don’t call.  You just do whatever you want with no regard for me. Then you expect me to rollover in bed and act all passionate!”

Helena laughed, blew him a kiss, and began to open boxes.  “Tell me which dress I should wear tomorrow.  And you never mentioned my hair!  Do you like it?”

Rick sat up and looked closely at her.  “You’ve put makeup on.”

“A cosmetician was in the beauty parlor and I let him talk me into buying all new makeup.  He sampled everything on me right there in the shop.  False eyelashes, too.  You like?”

“Frankly, Madam, you’ve never looked lovelier.  Model the dresses for me.  And I see you got shoes too.  Good.  Put your best foot forward.”

He had left the garage door open so that the floor would thoroughly dry and also so that the open garage would help air out the house.  There was still a faint residual stink from the fart and skunk juice. The smell was most noticeable in the living room where his new silk Persian rug lay. The sun shone into the room all morning and the light danced across the colored patterns in hypnotic beauty.  He wanted Begay to see his rug if only in passing.  He also left open the hall door that led out to the garage so that the air could circulate.

Dawson, Andy, and Clive stepped carefully, and Rick did not hear their footsteps in the hallway. Bruno heard the two men enter, but he was in the fenced-in back yard and could do no more than bark.

The three men separated in order to enter the living room from its two exit points.  Suddenly, as Helena lowered a dress over her head, Clive grabbed her from behind with her arms up and head covered, and Dawson pointed a revolver at Rick.  “Just don’t move or her neck gets broken,” Dawson said.  Helena screamed and Clive struck her the back of her head with the butt of his gun.  She sank to her knees dazed and tangled in her dress.

Andy immediately pulled Helena’s hands down from the tangle and forced them behind her, securing them with a zip tie.  He pulled her dress up and tossed it on the floor. Looking at her body, he said, “Nice underwear.”

Dawson smiled.  “Rickie boy! Get on the floor, you son of a bitch.  Markovitz!  You got my insurance money.”  He pulled a zip tie from his pocket.  “Cover me,” he said to Andy as handed him the gun.  Rick lay on the carpet and Dawson cuffed him. Then he pulled out a longer tie and bound Rick’s ankles together.  Andy returned the gun to Dawson and Clive flipped Helena onto her back.  She whined and began to sob, begging them not to kill her or her husband.

“Check the garage for some duct tape,” Dawson said, “and shut her up.”

When both Rick and Helena were silenced with duct tape, Clive said, “Let’s put ’em in the closet and while you and Andy stand guard, I’ll go get the others. We’re gonna tear this joint apart nail by nail.  He’s gotta be keepin’ our dough some place around here.  Guys like Rick don’t believe in Banks.”

Dawson agreed.  “Go get the others.  I wanna see the big reunion ‘tween him and his girlfriend. Tell ’em we’re spendin’ the night here… maybe two nights… maybe three.  I ain’t goin’ back to that dump in Apache County.”

Clive and Andy dragged the two prisoners into a closet and shut the door.  Then, as Andy stayed outside the closet door, Dawson began to walk through the one storey house and Clive drove the van out of the garage.

Clive sat in the driver’s seat and Babs, holding her infant baby, sat in the passenger’s seat. Behind them, on the floor, were the two disabled veterans who had returned to live with them. They each had a suitcase and a wheelchair. Also in the rear sat the two other wives, four children, and a few boxes of clothes and “necessities.”  Orren stood helplessly by the van’s open rear doors.  “There’s no room for you,” Olivia said. She saw the disappointment on Orren’s face.  “I’m not healed, boy. You can see that.  I’m squeezed in here as it is. Clive will come back for ya’.  Make sure all your clothes are in a box and go through the house… ‘specially the trash to make sure there’s nothin’ there with our names on it.”  She winced, trying to reach out to shut the door.

“I got it,” Orren said as he pushed the door closed.  He stood alone in the street as the van pulled away.

From the time that he and Don had seen Rick in the garage, Orren had never been alone. He knew that he couldn’t call Rick on his cellphone since that would leave a record.  He’d have to use a pay phone and there was none within walking distance of the house.  Besides, Don had borrowed his cell and had not returned it. He made a mental note to ask for its return when they came back for him. He hated being alone and the phone gave him a sense of being connected to someone, somewhere.

Rick. He owed Rick his help.  He told himself that there still would be time to help him. Dawson would want to be repaid, and that would mean that Rick would have to be escorted to the bank while Helena was held as hostage. Maybe then, when Dawson got the money back, he’d be given his share of it and he could pay to get his once handsome face restored… and he could help Rick at the same time.

He waited, walking back and forth.  He knew how long it would take to drive to Lafayette Street and back; and as the time far exceeded an even generous allowance for travel time, different images began to form in his mind.  He saw himself still scarred but, as in a video game, he had an assault rifle in his hand, and he was firing at everyone except the vets, Rick, and Helena.  Rick would understand why he needed the money.

He returned to the house and looked at his mostly unwashed clothes that were still in a cardboard box.  Yes, Dawson said he’d kill Rick.  But he wouldn’t kill him right away.  The banks wouldn’t open until the morning.  Meanwhile somebody would come back for him and he’d be there to look out for Rick.  But suppose Rick fought back?  Well, he decided, looking in the empty refrigerator for something to eat, he didn’t have a choice but to let it play out.  Once he was picked up and taken to Lafayette Street, he’d know what the situation was and he’d act accordingly.

Inside the closet, Helena’s first instinct had been to stoop and step through her hands, bringing them in front of her; but she doubted that Rick could do this and she didn’t want to show off in front of him.  No, she’d wait until he suggested it or if it seemed to be a last resort.  Instead she rubbed her face against the top of a boot and freed the tape from her mouth.  The thick “cover-up” makeup had not allowed the tape to adhere to her skin.  She leaned over to Rick and with her teeth, pulled at the edges of the tape until his mouth, too, was uncovered.  “It’s all my fault,” she whispered, crying.  “I wanted those house guards to go.  They kept staring at me.”

“How’s your head?” he asked.

“I guess there’s a bump on it, but I’m ok.”

“I can hear one of them walking around.  I think it’s Dawson.  Clive will be back with the others.  And don’t worry about the guards.  I was getting tired of those old guys intruding into every room… more Peeping Toms than protectors.”

“I’m so sorry,” Helena repeated.

“Forget it.  The drive-by service is still in effect.  One of the security men may see that something’s wrong.” He took a deep breath.  “Meanwhile, we’re on our own. But all is not lost.  I know a way to get free of these ties.”

Helena did not want to offer a better suggestion than the one he claimed to have.  Rick did not like to be out-thought.  “Wonderful,” she whispered, waiting to hear or see it.

Since Dawson had not seen any private cars parked outside either house, he assumed that Rick’s mobile home was parked in some hiding place.  It wasn’t a Hum-V, but with the title transferred to him, he could sell the mobile home.  Or, when the other guys were convinced that it was the women who had the money, they could leave all three of them behind and, with the money, go someplace new.  Alaska.  He had always wanted to see Alaska.  Andy had a license to drive an eighteen wheeler and with that license he could get a job drivin’ on one of those ice roads while he and Clive took the driving course and got their licenses.  Adventure.  That’s what was lacking in his life.  Adventure. Yes, he’d keep the Winnebago. They’d always have a place to sleep while they were on the road.

The van pulled into the garage and Dawson quickly lowered the garage door.  He assigned the bedrooms they’d have.  “Me and Olivia get the master bedroom – but put her in the closet for now. She can lay on that foam slab.” He turned to Andy.  “You and Paulina Sue get the next largest; and Babs and Clive get their pick of the remaining two bedrooms. All the bedrooms had walk-in closets.  They can set up the crib in theirs. The closets in the small bedrooms even got windows. The vets go in the last bedroom.  The kids will be comfortable in the big closet, sleeping on the floor.”  Paulina Sue and Babs helped to make up a bed for Olivia on the closet floor.

Rick and Helena listened for any word or phrase that would indicate what their plans were.  All they could gather was that before they were killed, Rick would have to divest himself of a considerable amount of money.  Helena asked, “It’s all in CDs and government bonds… right?”

“Yes. After I paid the contractors in cash – which is what they preferred – I kept 10K for our expenses and put the rest into bonds and CDs.  Maybe they’ll be satisfied with the Ten thousand.”

The closet door opened.  “Got the tape off I see,” Dawson said.  “Just as well.  We need information. Where’s the Winnebago?

“In a mobil home park,” Rick said.  “Please tell me that you intend to take it and go away… someplace far.”

“Where’s the dough?”

“What dough?” Rick answered

“The dough you got as Markovitz.”

Rick did not look at him.  “What I didn’t spend repairing my house after you all but destroyed it, I fixed Helena’s house into a studio.  You can see the little sign in front of her place. I’m not lying to you.  The rest I gambled away.  It’s gone. We kept a little for expenses.”

Babs stood behind Dawson.  “I heard she was turning the place into an artist studio.”

Dawson ignored her.  “Expenses?  How much and where are ya keepin’ it?”

“Ten thousand.  Bottom drawer, right side of my desk in the den.”

“Locked?”

“No.”

Babs announced, “I’ll get it.”

“No you won’t!” Dawson answered.  “I will!  I think you got enough.  You stay here and practice your hula dance.  From here on in, I handle all the money.”

Babs shrugged.  She did not know why Dawson had taken such an attitude. But whatever the reason was, it was making life more and more unbearable. Hula?  Where did not come from?  She went into the kitchen.  “The place is loaded with food.  Good stuff.  I’m starved.  Get everybody out here.” She motioned to Paulina Sue and the two of them went to help Olivia get seated at the table.

Orren sat on the couch and watched television.  He found a nearly empty box of corn flakes in the trash.  He pulled the waxed-paper insert from the cardboard box and mixed the flakes with some water.  There were no utensils in the drawers.  He tilted his head back and raised the bag, letting the mix slide down into his mouth.  When he looked again for something to eat, he found a large bag of trail-mix that had been pushed to the back of a cabinet’s top shelf.  He gasped with joy as if he had discovered a pirate’s hidden gold.  It pleased him to know that they had missed finding the treasure. He filled an empty bottle with tap water and returned to the couch.  He ran through the TV channels until he found a war movie.  His only ambition at the moment was to finish the bag of trail mix before they came to get him.

He fell asleep watching a late movie.  Then he had that awful nightmare.  He was pounding on the door, begging to be let in, and all his family’s faces were at the windows, looking at him and laughing and nobody would open the door.  He awakened with his heart beating fast.  For a moment he didn’t know where he was.  But the television was still on.  Another movie had just started.  He watched it until the final credits rolled and then he fell asleep again.

The morning light shone through the little windows in the garage doors, forming a row of reddish gold sculpted lamps. Don Dawson, fully awake, had shaken Clive and Andy awake in their beds.  They yawned, showing white congealed saliva in the corners of their mouths.  Mucus had crystallized in the corners of their eyes, making them squint, bleary eyed.

“What’s the problem?” Andy asked.

“Not exactly a problem,” Don said cryptically.  “I just had the best night’s sleep I had in a long time.  Big bed all to myself.”

“Terrific.  So why did you wake us?” Clive asked.

“Because I want to know somethin’.  And I want the truth.  Did you two have anything to do with raiding the ATMs.”

The two men looked offended.  “Where did you get that idea?” Clive asked.

“A little birdie told me that the women are plannin’ to leave the country.  Maybe they have to wait for their passports to come through.  Or maybe tomorrow they’ll be headin’ for Hawaii.  All I know is that they’re dumpin’ us, and it takes big bucks to do what they’re plannin’.  Fuck ’em.  I wanna take Rick’s Winnebago and head up to Alaska. Who’s with me?”

“That was a nice mobile home,”Andy said, “but if we take it we’ll need chains and snow tires and heavy-duty sleepin’ bags and fur lined gloves and boots.  Jesus, Don, it’s winter up there.”

“And we don’t have passports, either,” Clive noted.

“We can take our time gettin’ up there.  I asked a guy where I bought the six-packs.  He said if you stay on the Al-Can highway, you don’t need a passport.  And if he’s wrong, we can put the Winnebago on a ferry and ride on up to Juneau or Anchorage…. or we can stay in Seattle until we get the passports.”

Clive objected. “We’re out on bail. We ain’t gonna get passports.”

Don Dawson smiled tolerantly.  “I can use Rick’s and the two vets have plenty of identification on them. So, are you both in? Andy can drive one of those ice road tractor-trailers while we take the driver’s course. He’s got a license and can make big bucks right away.”

Andy complained.  “It’s in my name, not the vet’s.  I’ll have to be retested.”

“Why?  You can be Andy again as soon as we enter Alaska.”

“Don, for Christ’s sake, the minute you don’t show up for court, a warrant will be issued.  We can’t go back to being who we are.”

“We’ll make Rick withdraw more money. We’ve got Helena.  We got options.”

“The money won’t go as far up there.  Living’s expensive in Alaska,” Andy noted.

“Then,” countered Don, “we’re gonna have to put some hurt on Helena. Let’s see how he feels about paying for her comfort.”  Dawson led the two men back to the closet.  “First let’s let them use the John so they don’t stink up the place.  Then let’s eat.  All this thinkin’ makes me hungry.”

By 10 a.m. Orren had decided that nobody was coming back for him.  They didn’t know about the trail mix.  As far as they knew he hadn’t eaten since he had a baloney sandwich at 5 p.m. the afternoon before. They had left him there to starve.  He began to cry and then to sob in frustration. Not until he was emotionally drained did he realize that he had to go to the bathroom.  He’d put some cold water on his face, he told himself, and that would make him feel better.

The medicine cabinet’s mirror stared back at him. He gulped down a sob and turned on the cold water. He bent over the sink and repeatedly splashed his face. It felt good.  He stood up, took a deep breath, and reached for a towel.  But there was no towel there.  They had taken them all… and the tooth paste and the tooth brushes, too. He whined in despair for a moment and then, zombi-like, he wiped his face with toilet paper and walked out of the house, heading, like a programmed toy, to the expressway. He’d hitch a ride.  He didn’t care where.

As he stood on the side of the highway, he stuck out his thumb to signal passing cars.  It was cold and when nobody stopped, he’d put his hands in his empty pockets. Empty.  He had no money and he knew he needed money. Even if his Uncle Don got all the money, he’d never give him any of it.  Orren knew that now.   He didn’t want to see his family again, but maybe he could find a way to help Rick and Rick would reward him.  He continued walking backwards, sticking his thumb out.  Many cars passed. One of them was a limousine that was transporting Mr. and Mrs. David Begay to the exact location Orren was heading; but he did not know anything about their visit.

Finally, a pickup truck stopped.  Orren ran to it as the window on the passenger’s side went down. “Where you headin’?” the driver asked.

“Frenchman’s Park, just this side of Holbrook.”

“Get in.  It’s on my way.”

Clive noticed the limousine park in front of Helena’s house.  “Look at this!” he called to Dawson.

From the living room’s bay window, Don Dawson watched the chauffeur open the door for the Begays.  He shut the door and they walked up to the front door of the new studio.

“Who the hell are they?” Clive asked.

Dawson went to the closet.  “You got company next door.  Who is it?”

Determined not to help them and also to protect their guests, neither Rick nor Helena answered him. Dawson grabbed Helena’s hair and slammed her head against the door jamb.  Rick yelled, “Stop! It’s Dave and Anita Begay.”

“You should have told us you was expectin’ company,” Dawson said, and again slammed Helena’s head against the jamb. He turned to Andy.  “You got a clean shirt on.  Go out and tell them that Helena’s in here, waitin’ for them. Rick, too.  Invite them nice to come over.”  Helena was crying.  He looked at Rick.  “If she makes a noise, your friends are gonna suffer.”

Andy sounded as though he were a staff member.  “Mr. and Mrs. Begay,” he called.  Madam is waiting here for you.  She says to please come on over.”

As soon as Anita and Dave entered the open front door, Clive grabbed Anita and Andy put Dave in a head lock.  Dawson pointed his revolver at them as he tossed a handful of zip ties to Clive who flung Anita to the floor, knelt on her back, and zip tied her wrists together.

As soon as the choke-hold took effect, Begay slumped to the floor and Andy put restraints on his wrists and ankles.  “Where do you want him?” he asked Dawson.

“Put him in the closet.” Andy dragged Begay across the floor and opened the closet door.  There was not room in the closet doorway and Andy dumped Begay on top of Helena.  He tried to shut the door, but with three people stuck so close to the opening, the door would not shut.

“What about her?” Clive asked, indicating Anita. He rolled her over onto her back. “Let’s have some fun with her.”

Begay had regained consciousness.  Furious, he shouted, “Keep your filthy hands off my wife!”

Andy cupped his hand over Begay’s face and shoved him down on top of Helena.  She had been dazed from the hits to the door jam, but suddenly she shouted frenetically, “Stop it! Just stop it!  You’re all a bunch of animals!  Animals!  Pigs!”

Olivia heard the commotion and, though her legs had not been injured, she came slowly into the living room.  “What’s going on?”  She wore dark sunglasses and could not see clearly.

Suddenly, with no indication that he would respond to her in such a way, Dawson punched the side of her face with his fist and she crumpled to the floor. The punch had two purposes: to scare the Begays into submission, and to let Olivia know that she was not going to get away with robbing him of the ATM money.  Olivia gasped in pain and could not speak.  Blood gushed from her mouth.  Instinctively she crawled away from him to the safety of the other side of a stuffed chair.  “Good Christ,” Rick whispered to Helena, “I can’t see from here.  Is she bleeding on my rug?’

“Where’s my wife?” Begay asked.

“I can’t see either woman,” Helena said.  “He really walloped Oliva.  I think she got herself out of his way.”

Dawson stood in the middle of the room.  “It’s like this.  I’m prospectin’ for gold.  Who gives it, lives.  Who doesn’t, dies. It’s that simple.  Two men and two women.”  He went to the closet.  “Keep Dave in here with his pal Rick.  Tape his mouth shut. And take the two women back to the master bedroom. Got a king-sized bed in there.”  He pointed at Olivia and turned to Andy.  “See to it that she stays quiet. Zip her up.  When Babs and Paulina Sue come in, tie them up too.  And tell the kids to stay in the bedroom with the vets.  Let them watch TV.”

The first time Orren saw the limousine out on the highway, it had been in the inside lane and another passing car had prevented Orren from seeing its license place.  But there was the limousine again, parked at the curb; and now Orren could see the vanity plates “DneBzd” which he knew stood for Diné Bizaad – “Navajo” in its own language. Morgan, the chauffeur, had his head back with his cap pulled down over his forehead to cover his eyes in the morning sun.  The window was down.  “Hey,” Orren asked, “your boss in there with Helena and Rick?”

Morgan pushed his cap back. “What’s it to ya?”

“They could be in big trouble. So what is it? Are they in the Studio?”

Morgan hesitated. Finally he said, “No… they went next door.” He sat up.

“That’s Rick’s house.  They’re in trouble.”

“Trouble? It’s a social call about a portrait.  You’re nuts!”

“The gang of squatters that was here before, came back… it was a kind of home invasion. They’re armed and they intend to kill Rick.”

“What the hell are you talking about?  Squatters..”

Orren stooped and shuffled his way to the passenger’s side.  The door was unlocked and Morgan did not try to prevent him from entering.  Orren knelt down on the floor under the dashboard.  “You armed?” he asked.

“No, of course not.”

“Well, if you got any muscle you can call, you better call ’em quick.  How long they been in Rick’s house?”

The chauffeur looked at his watch.  “An hour.”

“I saw her picture on a magazine.  Wanna bet Dawson’s got her back in a bedroom right now?”

“Dawson?”

“Yeah, Dawson… the leader of the pack.”

“Personally, I think you’re full of shit.  I don’t know what your game is, but I’m not buying it.”

“Prove it to yourself,” Orren countered.  “If everything’s ok, wha’cha got to lose?”

Morgan got out his cellphone and called Dave’s number.  It went to voice-mail.  While the recorded instructions were being given, he frowned and looked at Orren.  “Should I leave a message?” he whispered.  “Mr. Begay would never shut his phone off.”

Orren said, “No message.  Call his wife.”

The chauffer called Anita’s phone and again the call went to voice-mail. He disconnected the call. “What the hell is going on?”

“I’m telling you.  Your boss and his wife walked in on a home invasion.  Three guys are there and some women and kids and a couple of disabled vets.  They ain’t stupid.  They know they hit the jackpot when they got your boss.  They’ll have their way with his wife and he’ll do whatever they tell him to do… and you can bet that’ll be to force him to go back to the casino and get them a bundle of cash.” Orren suddenly saw things clearly.  “Ok…  Here’s what to do.  Call your boss again and leave a message that you just got a bout of stomach flu and are heading for a gas station to use the toilet.  Then drive around the corner and call for help.  They’re desperate so don’t call the cops. Call you own security guys.”

Morgan started the motor and pulled away from the curb. He again called Begay’s phone.  “Sir,  I’ve got a bit of stomach flu and I’ve got to get to a toilet fast.  I didn’t want to interrupt you so I’ll just head for the nearest gas station.  I’ll be back as soon as I can.”  He had reached the corner.  He turned, parked, and called Begay’s personal guard.  As briefly as possible he explained the situation.

The guard was already running to his car. “Take that kid with you back to Rick’s house,” he said. “It’s dangerous, I know, but you might interrupt them and get us some time.  We’re on our way.”

Babs, breast feeding her baby, and Paulina Sue holding Olivia’s young son in her arms, came into the living room.  “What’s all the racket about?” Paulina Sue asked and then stopped short, seeing  the open closet where Andy was bending over David Begay preparing to tape his mouth shut. Andy stopped and looked to Dawson for instructions.  Paulina Sue also saw Dawson pulling a stumbling Anita by the hair and Clive who was pushing Helena across the living room towards the hall that led to the bedrooms. Then she heard Olivia who was propped up on the other side of a stuffed chair. She went to the chair. “Olivia!” Paulina Sue gasped. “What is this?  What are you guys doing?”

The men did not want to hit either woman since both were holding babies.  Clive answered.  “Don knows all about your scheme… how you and your pals… whoever the hell they are… cleaned out the ATMs.  You ain’t going to Brazil, honey.  And you ain’t going to Hawaii.  You’re gonna tell us what you did with the money you stole.  Or the three of you are gonna end up dead.”

“Are you out of your mind?” Babs snarled.  “What bullshit is this?  How stupid can you be, comin’ up with a story like that?”

Paulina Sue was large woman. Half Navajo and half Scandinavian, she was used to defending herself.  For so long as Clive was not holding his gun, she had nothing to fear from him. She gently put the child down and as she began to stand up, she instead body-slammed him, driving her head into his abdomen.  Then she reached up onto a table and let her hand circle a bronze copy of an ancient Chinese horse. She raised her arm and hammered the horse into Clive’s face.  One of the horse’s forelegs lacerated his forehead and the other struck his eye. He screamed in agony as blood from his wound dripped down into both of his eyes.  His hands went to his face and Helena fell to the floor. Dawson released Anita and turned to strike Paulina Sue, but Babs stepped in front of him and he had to check his swing.  He flung Babs aside, and she and the baby tumbled into the stuffed chair.  Then he advanced towards Paulina Sue and grabbed his little son. He pointed his gun barrel at the child’s head and said, “Back off.”  Paulina Sue stood motionless.

Andy shouted.  “Tell her to take the kid back.”  He looked at his wife.  “And stay there. Get your ass in a back bedroom and watch those kids.  Keep ’em there.” He turned to Babs and the baby who was now crying.  “And take her with you.  Now!” Paulina Sue took the child from Dawson and with Babs following, retreated to the rear of the house.  Dawson picked up Anita, and while Clive groaned about his eye, Andy picked up Helena who was still in her underwear, and the two men tossed the cuffed women onto the couch.  Suddenly, everything, except Clive’s whimpering, was quiet.   Dawson, Andy, and Clive went into the foyer to discuss their plan.

The closet door was partially open. Dave and Rick had watched helplessly as their wives were manhandled. Dave had not been gagged.  “I should have never let you launder money in my place,” he hissed at Rick.

“In case you haven’t noticed,” Rick cooly replied, “that’s my wife… the other woman… they’ve got.  And don’t be so naive.  These hooligans have nothing to do with the money I exchanged.” He felt like his old superior self and rather enjoyed taking a kind of scolding attitude to the CEO.

“What the hell do they want?”

“My house, for starters.  They were squatting in it and Tom Wauneka helped me to get them out.”

“I know.  He told me.  And Dodge Rosewall came looking for you.  Whose attorney is he?”

“Not mine and not Helena’s. My guess is that our temporary host, Mr. Donald Dawson, hired him.”

The doorbell rang.  Dawson, holding his gun behind him, and Andy went to the door. “Who is it?” Dawson shouted.

“Orren.  Open up.”

Andy unlocked and opened the door.  Orren and a uniformed man stood at the entrance.  “Wha’cha do?” Dawson said to Orren, “call a goddamned cab to bring you here?”  Orren did not know what to say.

“Actually,” Morgan explained, “I gave him a ride on my way back from the gas station. Is my employer here?  I wanted to tell him I’m back, safe and sound.  His cellphone was off.”

“Come on in,” Dawson said.  As Orren and the chauffeur entered the living room, Dawson kicked Orren from behind and sent the boy sprawling to the floor.  He pointed his gun at Morgan and told him to sit down and be quiet.  He kicked a couple of zip ties that lay on the floor towards Andy.  “Zip the driver,” he ordered.  “This is turning into a goddamned circus.”  He sat on the couch and put his face between his hands,  “Let me think,” he said.  A moment later he began to give orders.  “As long as we got his wife, Begay don’t have a choice. I’ll take the pruning shears and cut him and the driver loose.”  He went to the closet and cut all of Begay’s restraints.  “You’ll have to go back to your office and get back here before 1 p.m.  That don’t give you much time to mess around. Any tricks and I’ll cut up her fuckin’ face up so bad she’ll have to walk around with a bag over it.”  He walked to the couch and cut the zip tie Andy had just put on the chauffeur.

Clive was useless and could only whine and hold his forearm up to his damaged eye. Rick shimmied out of the closet far enough to see Clive.  “Will someone get this man a towel!” he shouted. Nobody moved.  Instead, Dawson grabbed Anita and held his gun to her throat.  He looked at Begay and Morgan, and then he growled, “Get movin’. And don’t come back with petty cash or chips.  We want cash…. get it right outta the countin’ room.  Twenties, fifties, hundreds.  All used bills.  And as many thousand of ’em as you can carry in a big sack. Just keep askin’ yourself how much your wife’s face is worth.”

Holding Anita by the hair, he went to Orren who was still lying on the floor and kicked him. “You had to spoil everything.  Stupid fuckin’ kid.  Didn’t have enough sense to cover your goddamned face when the dogs attacked.  Then you come in here now and ruin the party.”  He kicked him again. Anita twisted away from him and tried to run to her husband. Andy blocked her and Dawson grabbed her again. He flung her onto the floor and kicked her, too.  He pointed his gun at her head.  “Get movin'” he said to Begay and his chauffeur.

“Please!” Morgan begged. “I’ve got stomach flu.  At least let me go to the bathroom first. If I get a cramp I won’t be able to drive. That’s why I had to go to the gas station.”

Orren said, “He was sick before. Got the runs.”

“Andy,” Dawson ordered, “take him back but don’t let him outta your sight.”  David Begay had knelt on the floor to help Anita who had had the wind knocked out of her by Dawson’s kick.  “Get back in the closet,” Dawson ordered, but first put your hands behind your back.  “Clive!” he yelled. “Forget your goddamned eye and cuff him again.”  Clive tightened a zip tie around Begay’s wrists while Dawson kept his gun pointed at Anita.  Begay crawled on his knees a few feet and got back into the closet.  Dawson slammed the door shut.

One of the children came running into the room, crying.  Helena knelt down and tried to comfort him. “Don’t you want to watch cartoons?” she asked.  Dawson got up, shouted at the boy to go back to his room, and pushed Helena’s head down to the floor.  She lay face down, wondering if there was anything that she could do to help.  It would be no problem for her to step through her bound hands and at least bring them in front of her.  But when should she do it?

“Don!” Clive whined.  “I’m hurt bad.  I can’t see outta one of my eyes.”

“Ya lost a fight with a woman, for Christ’s sake.  Stop advertisin’ that you’re a pussy.”  He went to the hallway and yelled, “What the hell is taking so long? Put a goddamned diaper on him and let’s get the show on the road.”

Outside, two cars filled with casino security men, passed #124 and saw the limo.  They knew which house was their target.

The Squatters (#8)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
http://www.zenanthonywolff.com

The Squatters

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

To see all available chapters of “The Squatters” click here

 

Part 8:  One corrective surgery is completed

 

Lafayette Street was now a happy street and, leaving the security guards still in place, Rick took Helena down to Phoenix and engaged the best plastic surgeon available to correct bone damage caused by the explosion and the superficial work that had been done as emergency surgery.  Helena had four different imaging procedures to undergo before the surgeon would give an opinion.  Rick therefore went shopping for rugs and some furniture he wanted for his living room.  He also checked into a cheap motel near the hospital, telling the clerk that he had no idea how long his stay would be.

After a morning spent getting diagnostic tests, Helena had lunch alone while the surgeon studied the results.  Finally he came to discuss her case.  “You will never be without some scarring,” he warned. “It won’t be like those miraculous restorations you see in soap operas on TV.  You’ve sustained bone damage: orbital… zygomatic…nasal.  You’re fortunate that your vision wasn’t damaged.  I’ll rebuild the damaged areas and correct the distortions and replace those wide scars with very fine lines.  I’ll also prescribe a cream that will help the scars to fade, and then a good quality makeup will do the rest.  Repairing the damaged bones will be the most complicated part.  Not exactly difficult, but hard on the patient.  Delicate areas are involved and your head will have to be immobilized so that you don’t tear out any sutures. The anatomy of the face and neck is far more complicated than people imagine.”

“I’ll be a patient patient,” she said.  “How soon can you admit me?”

The doctor checked the receptionist’s “Patient Information” sheet which Helena had filled out as the vital preliminary step.  “I see you’ve got good insurance coverage, Mrs. Dubrovsky, and you’re from out of town. Since your condition predates your inclusion in your husband’s policy, we may run into trouble with the insurance company.  They tend to regard facial reconstruction as cosmetic work.  Your husband has notified the accounting department that he will deposit a letter of credit, that is, he’ll pre-assign payment to me and the hospital whatever total charges are made. And that, I assure you, makes for happy campers.  That he should think so far ahead indicates to all of us that he loves you very much.”

“Yes,” Helena said, “he is the most wonderful man God ever made.”

The surgeon stood up.  “Now, since you are from out of town, there’s no point in making you travel unnecessarily.”  He made a few calls.  “We’ll admit you today and get your bloodwork done and run a few more tests.  I’ve got an OR I can use at 10 a.m. tomorrow.  There’s no reason to operate in stages except, of course, time.  We’ll see how it goes. How does that sound?”

It sounded wonderful to Helena. She called Rick’s cell and since he was in the midst of picking out an expensive rug, she told him to come to the hospital the following afternoon.  By then, she guessed, she should be out of the recovery room.

Rick told her where he was staying and wished her well.  He had admired a silk Persian rug that cost $60,000.  “I thought it was too ritzy for Lafayette Street; but once you’ve got those scars removed, no one will notice the rug. I’ll buy it.”

He followed the store’s truck all the way back to his motel room and helped the driver to carry the rolled-up bundle, all wrapped and tagged, into his room.  Then he tipped the man, and called out for a pizza and Coke.  Things were going well.  He derived a special satisfaction from imagining the look on Dawson’s face when he realized that instead of having 500K in the bank, he owed $107K.
The beautiful portrait of Anita Begay had appeared on the cover of a Navajo Nation news magazine.  Dave Begay and his wife granted interviews and it soon seemed that there was not a news stand from Tucson to the North Rim in which her portrait did not appear. Who was the mysterious artist who had signed the portrait simply as “M”?  Dave would reveal nothing.

Thomas Wauneka, Esq. called Dave Begay to congratulate him on the portrait.  “What can you tell me about the artist?”

“I hope I’m speaking confidentially to you–”

“Dave… I’m your attorney.  All that you say is confidential.  I hope that goes both ways.”

“Ok. I can tell you that her face was scarred from several deep cuts… and her neck had burn scars. She was here with her husband.  I’d really like to contact her. The address they gave was a home in a mobile home park. And they’re gone now.  My mother-in-law is driving me crazy wanting to commission a portrait from her.”

“If I’m not mistaken, you’ve described clients of mine.  Are they in any trouble?”

“No.  Their paper was good.  They didn’t cause any disturbances.  They were nice people, But Tommy, they were laundering money big time. If it hadn’t been for the way Anita’s portrait was turning out – I would sneak down every night and look at it – I’d have sent up signals to be on the look-out for Julius Markovitz.. That’s the name he used. When I heard that other casinos were cashing so much of his paper, I probably should have said something. But as long as nobody was getting burned, I figured what the hell. He was laundering it on sovereign reservation land so fuck the feds.  Frankly, I’ve gotten more than a million bucks in publicity over that portrait and I’d like Helena “M” to do a few more.”

“I wonder what money they were laundering?” Wauneka asked.

“It wasn’t drug money.  I’d have heard.  What I do know is that Dodge Rosewall came here asking for information about Markovitz.”

“That’s interesting.  Who’s his client?”

“Probably the source of the money Markovitz was laundering. At least, that’s the impression I got when I agreed to speak to him. He described a guy and I said he didn’t sound familiar. He asked me if I ever heard of a guy named Rick Dubrovsky who lived on Lafayette Street in some upscale development near Holbrook.  I said I didn’t know the name; but I had my guys check it out and Dubrovsky is our boy. Helena’s his wife.”

“Yeah… you got it right.  I represented them in a squatters eviction and also in a zoning variance.  Helena wants to convert her house into a artist’s studio.  So I don’t want you to think that because I do criminal work that’s why he contacted me.  It wasn’t the stuff of high crimes and misdemeanors. A notice of trespass and a zoning variance.  I’m not kidding you.”

“Did they get the variance?” Neither Begay nor Wauneka had any reason to connect “squatters” with an insurance settlement or Markovitz’s money.

“As a matter of fact, they did.  But I have no idea about any money laundering.”

“Look, if this guy should need help and there’s any way you can help him on the QT, do it and send me the bill.  Don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not particularly interested in his welfare, but what happens to him happens to Helena.  And I’m definitely interested in her welfare.  You know, she wouldn’t take a goddamned nickel or let me comp her to a cup of coffee.  And then she thanks my wife for having inspired her to paint again. Unbelievable!”

“I’ll let them know that Rosewall is on their ass.  As far as Helena’s concerned, she’ll be opening the studio soon.  The renovations have started.  Incidentally, she’ll be getting plastic surgery done in Phoenix. I had a question about the variance and called Rick.  He’s in a motel down there while she’s seeing the surgeon.”

“If he wants to bring her here to recuperate, he’s welcome at no charge whatsoever.  He ain’t laundering money any more… not that I’ve heard of.”

The two men spoke Navajo for another twenty minutes and then returned to their work.

Dodge Rosewall was conflicted, not by allegiance to another client or to his own interests, but by his own distaste for Don Dawson.  He personally regarded Dawson and his family and friends as sub-human beings, a species of creatures whose chromosomes lacked any gene related to conscience or an empathetic guide to “Golden Rule” behavior.  These people were not successful criminals who operated with some sort of code or at least a semblance of communal care. Even Mafiosos, he thought, wanted to be respected and maybe even loved by the folks in their neighborhoods. Yes, these squatters were parasites who would feed on each other with the same indiscriminate regard as they had for the rest of the creatures beneath them on the food chain.  No, he corrected his thought, no animal was above or below them. They were one of a kind, a disgusting non-human species, and he hated Rick Dubrovsky all the more for having forced him to lower himself to act as their “representative.”  In no way did J. Dodge Rosewall, a fourth generation Holbrookian, represent anything about Don Dawson,  He furnished him with legal advice and that was all.

When Dawson called Rosewall, the attorney happened to be in the hotel/casino restaurant.  He knew that Dawson would be wanting a progress report and that he would not attempt to conceal where he was. “I just met with my P.I.,” Rosewall said.  “I pushed the idea that the “M” that was signed on the portrait could have stood for Markovitz but that it could also stand for Maxwell.  Dave Begay doesn’t grant interviews to inferiors, so when my guy couldn’t get in to see him, I drove over here myself.  He wouldn’t identify Dubrovsky, but when I described Helena, he agreed that she did the portrait.”  The waiter arrived with his steak.  “I can’t talk right now.  I’m in the middle of lunch.”

“That’s all you got?” Dawson asked. “This guy don’t seem too useful.”

It irritated Rosewall to be questioned by Dawson.  He decided to fabricate something that would irritate his client and justify his expenses. “There’s more. After he left here he went to a couple of casinos and talked to friends who were cashiers.  All he could learn was that the woman who was with Markovitz was a nice looking gal – definitely not Helena. We know where Helena was… painting Begay’s wife.  So I asked him who the broad with Markovitz was? A paid escort or a steady girlfriend?  He didn’t know so I sent him back to find out.  My guy got both cashiers to reveal that they overheard Markovitz call her, “Holly.” She was unknown to the staff.  That’s all he’s got so far.”

“Holly or Olly?”

Rosewall smiled at his little triumph. “He said Holly.  What?  Are you thinking Olivia was with him? My God, man… Well, I hadn’t thought of that but it wouldn’t surprise me to know that it was someone in your family. I told you that already.  Hey… you know the woman. Would she do something like this?”

“That’s what I need to find out.”  He paused, “Where is this Casino?”

“Don… for Christ’s sake… Are you like the home owner who signs a listing with a real estate agent who does the legwork and advertises the house and when a buyer shows up, the home owner tries to make a secret deal with him?  If you want the results of an investigation, you’ve got to pay the investigator.  You can’t let him do the work and then cut him out of his fee. These guys don’t take kindly to cheaters.”

“You know and I know that the guy is Dubrovsky. I wanna know more about Dubrovsky’s girlfriend.  He dumps Helena off at one joint and then he takes some gal to go play in another joint?  I was away for weeks. Who knows what Olivia was doin’?”

Rosewall tasted the wine, nodded his approval, and the sommelier poured a glass.  “Don, I’ve got to make this fast.  You’ve got to get me an alternate to blame for touching Shawna. I got a copy of the medical report.  That scarring was old.   Where did you live before you moved to Lafayette Street?”

“Phoenix.”

“Did she go to school in Phoenix and were any of her teachers male?  Or maybe you had a neighbor who was a registered sex offender?”

“How the hell am I supposed to know that?”

“You’re not.  That’s why you pay an investigator. But what you are supposed to do is think about renters or neighbors or anybody else that could have harmed her.  That’s it.  I’ve got to go.  You just keep thinking.  Make a list.”  He disconnected the call.
Dawson sat in the van, parked by the curb, waiting for Olivia to return from the market.  He preferred his van to the interior of the squatter’s house. Orren would be home from school and he’d be sitting on the couch watching television. “And I gotta look at that messed-up face and deal with knowin’ my own wife did that to him and then stole the money supposed to fix it. That just chaps my ass,” he said aloud, getting more angry by the minute.  “I’ll get it back from her and her boyfriend.”  He thought he’d pay his lawyer and then get himself a Hum-V.  Then he’d dump her.

Olivia, Babs, and Paulina Sue, pushing a baby coach and two strollers filled with kids and groceries, turned the corner.  He signaled Olivia to get into the van. “I wanna talk to you,” he called. The other women went into the house and as Olivia sat in the passenger’s seat, Dawson’s phone rang.

“We’ve got a crisis here in the bank,” the manager said.  “You opened your new account with cash and that’s fine.  But you also made quite a few deposits into the account that were written on accounts that had been closed for some time.”

“What are you talking about?”

“As of this moment, you owe this bank $107,024.29.  And the manner in which you withdrew your cash is highly suspect.  In four days you managed to make over fifteen hundred     withdrawals from a variety of ATMs. The banking fees you accumulated were huge.  I do not remember ever seeing such an ATM statement in my life.  Hundreds and hundreds of withdrawals at ATMs that did not happen to have photo records.  Many were made at the identical time miles apart.  This was a gang raid on that account.   I’ve got to warn you that unless you deposit this overdraft within twenty-four hours, the authorities will question you. I have no choice in the matter.  Bank fraud is a federal crime.  Please don’t take this matter lightly.” His attitude softened.  “I’ll look for you tomorrow. If you can’t recover it all, I’ll do my best to work with you. But one way or the other, this debt must be satisfied.  Don’t fail to make good on these checks, Mr. Dawson.  This constitutes criminal deception.  Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Dawson replied in a robotic monotone.  “I understand.” Then it occurred to him to ask, “I gave a couple of checks to Dodge Rosewall.  I wrote them on those temporary checks you gave me.  Did they clear my account?”

“No.  They were returned, ‘Insufficient Funds.’ As will be any others you wrote until you solve this problem.”

Don said nothing.  He disconnected the call and put his phone in his pocket.

“What’s goin’ on?” Olivia asked.

“I used to think you thought you were smarter than you was.  I got it wrong.  You’re smarter than I figured.  You made a monkey outta me.  You stole a million bucks from me.  Had a good laugh?  Game’s over.  Where’s my money?” he snarled.

Olivia fearfully pushed herself back against the window. “What are you talking about?”

It was not the answer Don Dawson wanted to hear.  He reached across to grab her hair with his left hand, pulled her head forward so that he could punch her repeatedly with his right fist. She tried to defend herself and he grabbed her right arm and wrenched it out of its socket.  She screamed in agony.

Clive had come out to help collapse the baby strollers.  He saw the beating and rushed to open the van door.  Olivia fell out, writhing, bloody, and screaming. He carried her into the house.

While Babs and Paulina Sue tended to Olivia, Don explained the situation to Clive and Andy.

“You sayin’ we’re broke?” Clive asked.

“Not just broke, Clive,” Andy explained, “but we’re in hock for over 100K.  Don’s got reason to believe Olivia was in cahoots with Rick Dubrovsky to get the insurance money – Rosewall got information that Dubrovsky was taking her out gamblin’. As to the ransom money, the bank manager says that in four days hundreds of withdrawals were made that emptied the account and worse, a bunch of bad deposits were made.  When they finally bounced it was against an empty account and we gotta make good on the loss.”

Oliva regained consciousness.  Six teeth on the left side of her mouth were loosened by the blows, her nose was broken, and her left eye swollen shut.  Paulina Sue went into the garage where the three men were still talking.  “Olivia’s jaw doesn’t seem to be broken but her nose is and Don knocked a bunch of her teeth loose. I can’t tell the condition of her left eye.  Her shoulder’s dislocated and there’s blood all over the place.  She’s in awful pain.”

Andy took her aside and explained the situation to his wife.  “Are you serious?” she answered.  “We’ve been together every goddamned hour of the day since we moved into this dump.  ‘Hundreds of withdrawals miles and miles apart?’  Just when do you figure she left her body here and spiritually floated over the Southwest hitting ATM machines?”

Don had been listening to her.  “Don’t take us all for fools.  You, Babs, Olivia and who the hell knows what friends you used could have done all this together.”

“You’re all sick!” Paulina Sue said disgustedly.  She went into the kitchen and filled a few cotton balls with clove powder.  Then she took them to Olivia.  “We’ve got no money to take you to the dentist, but all he’ll advise you to do is to push those teeth back into their sockets and hold them there till they root up again. Bite down as hard as you can until you feel the teeth being shoved back into their places.”  She turned to Babs. “Hold her down and help me so’s I can get her arm back in the socket.”  She put her foot into Olivia’s armpit and then pulled her arm until she heard the bone click into place. “Babs, take whatever cash you can find in my purse and go down to the drug store and get her a couple of bottles of peroxide to use as a mouth wash and a two-inch roll of the strongest adhesive tape you can find so we can set her nose.”
Don tried to call J. Dodge Rosewall, Esq. But the attorney was winning at the craps table and, like any responsible casino visitor, he had turned off his phone and left it in his room.

His luck turned after midnight and he had to use the last of his cash to pay two call girls who came, by appointment, to his room.   The attorney did not awaken until lunch time.  When he finally turned on his phone and got Dawson’s messages, he immediately consulted the “check-out” notice on his bedside and realized that he had only fifteen minutes left to call the desk. If Don’s checks were bouncing, they’d bounce against his account.  He thanked God he had had no accident with the Ferrari.  He’d find a way to cover the $30,000 in cash.  He did have $4000 from Don that was good money in his account and he had made a few other deposits that had to be good.  He called the desk to initiate his check-out and he called his office and told his secretary not to mail out any bills that he recently signed.

“Sorry,” his secretary said. “The mailman picked up everything yesterday afternoon,.. and the checks including the large one for rent.”

Rosewall groaned. The insurance check would probably bounce as would the check to the DMV.  He threw his clothes into his suitcase and without showering or shaving, left the room.
Once again, he spoke to Don and this time, as he drove back to Holbrook, he had him explain the situation very slowly.  But the more Don talked, the more Rosewall’s thoughts drifted back to his own problems.  Rousing himself, he said, “Maybe Dubrovsky depleted Orren’s account – alone or with help – but the loss of the other half million was done by many people and he doesn’t have that many friends.  For Christ’s sake, he’s new to the area.” Suddenly Rosewall’s train of thought jumped the track. “Incidentally, you do realize that at some future time the kid may sue you for mishandling the money that was entrusted to you.”  He quickly realized that he shouldn’t have said this.

“Look, you asshole, Orren ain’t my problem now.  I’m worried about committin’ bank fraud.  The Feds… you understand what I’m sayin’?  The Feds will get me for this!”

Rosewall tried to recover.  “I only mentioned Orren because I want to illustrate that you can’t trust family. Dubrovsky may be clever, but he doesn’t have a support group big enough to pull this off.  He’s not a Robinhood who overnight develops a band of thieves.  The only person he knows is Helena and you know she isn’t the thieving type. You have to consider your own circle of acquaintances as being the recipients of that money.”

“How could they turn on me?”

“Mr.Dawson, who else knew about that deposit? The Internal Revenue Service and the Drug Enforcement Agency may accept that you simply redeposited the insurance money, and Markovitz’s account didn’t exist long enough for them to waste their time poking around the sovereign Navajo nation.  So let’s forget that insurance money… and the other things. You need to help me figure out who got your half million and put you in more debt.  They represent a threat to you.”

“How do I find that out?”

“You can start by installing surveillance equipment.  Record their phone conversations.  Put a bug in their cars.  Keep your eyes and ears open.  Notice what new things they’ve bought or vacations they talk about.”

“Go ahead and buy the stuff outta the four grand I gave you.”

“Mr. Dawson, that money was compensation to me.  I was not working pro bono.”

“I don’t have more money. You’re so goddamned smart.  Why haven’t you been askin’ yourself why nobody’s raised hell about the bounced deposit checks?”

Rosewall had not given that aspect of the crime any consideration at all since the answer was obvious.  “The thieves had to do that so that there would be funds to draw from.  When a deposit is made at an ATM it is automatically credited to your account.  The bad co-mingle with the good. In a few days the bad is distinguished and charged back to you – that means it is subtracted from your account.  The checks that were deposited were from companies that went out of business a few years ago.  But so what?  They could have been printed yesterday.  Your original deposit of half a million in cash was obviously good currency. The thieves wanted it all and you might have spent some of it so they were just protecting the full extent of their theft. So the answer is that they themselves are the depositors of the phony checks.  They are not going to complain.”

“So how do I get my money back?  I got a court-date comin’ up for filing a false police report.  I need somebody to represent me. Are you tellin’ me that I need a public defender?”

“I, too, have bills to pay.  Public Defenders do win cases and one can be made that you were acting in accordance with the information you had been given.  It was a terrible mistake, one for which you are sorry. Apologize to Rick.  You’ll pay for the door’s repair and a new lock.  So stay out of trouble and you’ll be fine.”

“Bullshit. Dubrovsky is Markovitz and he’s a clever son of a bitch. He snagged my wife!  I should go beat the shit outta him till he starts talkin’.”

“Mr. Dawson, I must caution you against committing yet another crime.  You’re a man with a gifted imagination.  Surely you can come up with something that will restore the funds you owe the bank!”  He disconnected the call.

 

Helena Maxwell Dubrovsky underwent hours of delicate surgery.  At 2 p.m. Rick stood in the doorway of her room, shocked to see her head, covered mummy-like, and secured by clamps so that she would not move it and tear any of the sutures.  Two black holes with tubes protruding from them allowed her to breathe.  He had see latex suits once in an SM salon in which the submissive would be completely covered in latex and had only two tubes, fragile as soda straws, that were easy to pinch closed and shut off the submissive’s air supply. The sight revolted him. He decided that sadists were sick and, now that he thought about it, masochists were even sicker.

Helena looked so vulnerable… passive and being fed intravenously. He made no attempt to sit by her bed.  He would not have done so if he had been asked.  Instead, he said, as he passed the surgeon in the hall, “I sure hope the surgery gets a good result,” and then he bought a gallon of cheap wine and went back to his motel room and got drunk.  He intended that when he awakened and sobered up, enough time would have elapsed so that Helena would not have looked so other-worldly, so masochistic and unholy when he saw her again.

Twenty-four hours passed.  He took a cold, lingering shower to wake himself, and then he turned the hot water on and washed himself.  He drank three cans of orange juice from the self-service bar, shaved and dressed.  Finally, he felt ready to return to the hospital.

 

Lafayette Street was eerily quiet.  The relatives, each with their share of the cash taped beneath their underwear, had all gone home.  Security guards looked occasionally out of the windows of both Helena’s and Rick’s houses. No dogs – not even Bruno – barked or even chased a cat.

A black van slowly drove down the street. The driver took his eyes off the road to stare at  Helena and Rick’s houses. The junked cars were gone.  There was no trash.  Perennial rye grass sodding remained green and had been carefully mowed.  Evergreen shrubberies hinted at the lawn’s beauty which would be fully appreciated when Spring let the fruit trees blossom and the flowers bloom. “Bastards,” Don Dawson hissed. “One person in a whole house.  It ain’t fair.”

Olivia had told Orren’s physician that there was an unexpected hold on Orren’s money and the doctor softened the news by telling Orren that since he had not yet completed his adolescent growth stage, all his plastic surgery would have to wait.  During the settlement negotiations, a plastic surgeon had testified to the extent of the procedures and their approximate costs, and Orren looked forward to getting his face and ear restored to a more normal look. His leg was badly scarred, but he did not limp. It was his disfigured face that tormented him. From the day that he registered at his new school, he was the object of derision. His usually dirty clothing and worn shoes did not make him more appealing.

On the day he entered school, the nurse checked him for vaccinations and recorded his height and weight. After that initial visit, he would frequently stop at the infirmary to ask her to check his height.  He had not grown in weeks. Repeatedly he asked his Aunt Olivia when she was going to take him to the doctor to get his repairs done; and repeatedly she answered that the delay was part of his punishment for having done things he shouldn’t have done to Shawna. He hadn’t done anything that was bad, he thought. Shawna had never complained. But after the dogs, he no longer could understand anything that happened within the family.  And now, his Aunt couldn’t even talk at all.  He felt no compassion for her.  When he saw her after Don had punched her several times, he looked at her bloody face and said, in a whisper, “Now you know how it feels, Aunt Olivia.”

As the weeks passed and the mockery persisted, Orren began to search through the mail that was finally coming to “their” Apache County address.  He read bank statements and eavesdropped on conversations. He finally understood that the money that was to be set aside for him was gone.  There would never be a time when the laughter would end, and he began to feel a deep nebulous anger that tended, like a room filled with the fumes of sulphuric acid, to affect his senses.  He could see nothing through his tear-distorted squint as he tried to grope his way out.

Anger is a gateway drug.  When it is engaged in a daily basis the ability to remember, concentrate, or think constructively atrophies. The law of diminishing returns becomes the dominant rule. More and more is required to accomplish less and less.  He tried to forgive or even to understand everyone’s sins against him, but he did not have the energy to continue to tolerate even the presence of those who had harmed him. His ability to think would not have been more impaired if his head had been filled with opiates.

Sullen and withdrawn, he languished in his teen-age limbo, knowing that his sadness was perceived as a freak’s stupidity.  He could not do his school work.  His grades dropped. In the lunch room at school, no one would sit with him and so he ceased to eat lunch.  He soon began to ditch school and because he couldn’t avoid the mockery in public, he stayed home and watched television. The shows were mindless and the advertisements taunting.  He could not afford any clothes, cars, sports equipment, games or social activities.  And the beautiful people who did, reminded him constantly of his ugliness. In his nightmares he was always pounding on a door, begging to be let in.  And soon his nightmares furnished his burdened brain with the one thought he could focus on: his own family had literally thrown him to the dogs.  He hated everyone around him.  Occasionally he remembered the sound of gunfire. He remembered Rick covering him with his own body and shooting the dogs that were trying to kill him.  Everyone around him hated Rick Dubrovsky, but to Orren, there may have been six billion creatures on the planet, but only one was a human being. He had heard his Aunt Babs tell Paulina Sue that Uncle Don intended to kill Rick Dubrovsky. He decided to betray his family and tell Rick about the plan, and suddenly he became more aware of his surroundings.

On the day after the beating Don put Olivia in a wheel chair and pushed her into the bank.  Pamela Sue had made a sling for her dislocated shoulder which displayed a maximum amount of the bruised area.  Olivia wore a bra and, over it, a blouse that covered only her left arm.  Despite Olivia’s obvious agony, Don had demanded that she put on a performance that would force the manager to agree to an extension of the time he needed to confront Rick Dubrovsky and find a way to force him to return the insurance money.

Olivia could not use her right hand to hold a pen and she could not speak since her mouth was still stuffed with clove soaked cotton.  She could barely see with her right eye and not at all with her left.  Don, exuding tact and delicacy, wheeled her into the manager’s office and she, requiring twenty five minutes, typed out a message on the manager’s laptop: “i am trying to make good on the debt we owe you. it is my fault, not my husbands.  i was injured in an auto accident – the tire blew and i hit big rocks.  but i cannot afford to go to the hospital.  please give me a little more time and when i can talk on the phone i will make calls and get the money we owe.  please have mercy on me.
olivia dawson”

The manager looked around to see everyone staring at him.  Her injuries were so severe and obviously genuine that he feared that if he did not accede to her request for more time, his bank would receive an endless stream of bad publicity.  He smiled at Olivia, and said, “Dear lady… you just stay home and get your rest.  What happend?  Didn’t your air-bag deploy?”

Olive made negative groaning sounds and tried to make puffy movements with her exhausted left hand.  Don gently touched her hand and pushed it down to rest in her lap.  “It was the airbag that deployed and struck the right side of her face.  Those little cuts you see and her right arm and shoulder are from the bag exploding.”

“My God!” the manager said hopefully.  “You should sue the airbag manufacturer or the car company. Have you documented her injuries with photographs?”

“No,” Don said.  “What good would it do?  She’s in awful pain and we can’t afford stuff to ease it except aspirins.”

The manager and his secretary both quickly photographed Olivia’s face, neck, arm and shoulder. She winced in pain and pulled away when Don tried to remove her blouse to show them, “the really bad damage to her lady’s part… you know… under her bra.” He hoped her ribs had not been broken.  “We’re prayin’ all we can,” he said boldly.  “Prayer changes things.”
With Orren, Clive, or Andy, Don reconnoitered Lafayette Street, but Rick was not at home. Security guards and their company cars were always on site, but Rick and Helena did not seem to be home. Every few hours another security car drove down the street.  “Maybe they went on vacation with our money,” he said.  He drove to Rosewall’s office and was told by the receptionist that Mr. Rosewall no longer represented him.

“You go ask him where Rick and Helena are.  They off vacationing with my money?  You go ask him now!”

The receptionist entered Rosewall’s office and then quickly returned to say, “Mrs. Dubrovsky is recuperating from surgery.  That is all Mr. Rosewall knows.  I’m sorry, but if you don’t leave the office immediately, I shall have to call the police.”

“Tell Rosewall to go to hell,” Don said as he walked out.

The Squatters (#7)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
http://www.zenanthonywolff.com

The Squatters

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

To see all available chapters of “The Squatters” click here

 

Part 7:  Rick employs Kabbalah meditation techniques

 

Don Dawson called his attorney.  “You can get that P.I.” he said.  “I got the money.”

“Bring it to my office now,” Rosewall replied.  “We have no time to lose. Is it in cash?”

“No.  Why does it have to be in cash?  I’m not paying some gumshoe drunk under the table.  If he’s legit he’ll have business cards and gimme’ a paid invoice.  I’ll write him a check.”

Rosewall replied in an indignant tone. “Please don’t insinuate that I’d ever use any but the best professionals.  I was merely asking what form the payment would be in.  And for your information, he bills me and I bill you.”

Dawson went to his attorney’s office.  As he presented him with a check for Fifty thousand dollars, he said, “Anything he don’t spend, I get back. Right?”

“You’re assuming I won’t need him to work on that nasty child-molestation matter.  But naturally I always return any funds that haven’t been used up.  When did you open this account?”

“Yesterday. They gave me temporary checks and said my printed checks and my credit/debit card would arrive in a few days.”  He filled out a check for Fifty Thousand dollars.

“Fine,” Rosewall said, putting the check into his briefcase.  The prudent course, he knew, was to wait a week or so before depositing it.  Banks tended to be cautious with new accounts. He hesitated, before locking his briefcase.  “And the rest of my retainer?”  One of his clients, a Navajo gentleman, owned a ‘Pre-driven’ car business.  Rosewall had seen a used Ferrari in his lot and upon inquiry was told he’d get it “at cost.”  He also wanted to indulge his passion for the “tables” and calculated that between the price of the Ferrari, minus the trade-in value of his present car, plus a good bankroll to start with, he could use another Thirty thousand.  “My retainer fee would have been Forty,” he said cordially to Dawson, “but you paid Four which indicated a good faith deposit to me, and for that, I’ll reduce my fee to Thirty. Well, Thirty-four minus the Four. And again, if I get good results quickly or if those other charges are dropped, I’ll return as much of it as I can.”

Dawson wrote a second check for Thirty thousand dollars.

 

With all the adult neighbors assembled and all the children safely in the basement watching movies, Rick addressed the group.

“As many of you know, I am an ordained Priest.”  He presented his credentials which were passed around.

“First,” he said, beginning a semi-fantasy account of his own history, “I need to explain.  When I entered the seminary I gave no importance to the requirement that a novice sign over to the religious order all of his present and future assets.  I had no assets.  But then my dear mother developed cancer in the year I graduated from seminary school and quite out of the blue, an uncle I had never even known existed died and left me a few million dollars.  Now I could send my mother to one of those specialty cancer hospitals.  Or so I thought.  Our mail was routinely opened by the Dean’s secretary, and when they discovered the bequest that had been made to me I was ordered to put the money in the seminary’s general fund. Actually I had signed a contract to do this. And, no doubt, I should have done so.  But my mother was the light of my life and I knew I couldn’t live with myself if I just let her die.  They needed me to sign a few papers and after giving it a great deal of thought, I refused.  What kind of priest would I be if I turned my back on the woman who gave me life… and a smile…  always a smile even when she took food off her own plate to put on mine.  We had nothing.  My father was an alcoholic. I could not disappoint her the way he had.  I quit the Order.  End of story.

“Since I technically am a priest, I know something about meditation. I want to tell you now about one of the many ways people have learned to meditate.  In thirteenth century Spain a Kabbalah master named Abraham Abulafia developed an extraordinary way:  permutations and the concentration required to create them.  Simply put, there are a limited number of ways in which you can take a group of different letters or numbers and combine them.   Take A,B.C. We can write ABC, ACB, BCA, BAC. CAB, CBA.  Six ways only.  This number is determined by what we call the factorial of the number we are seeking to permute.  If there are three numbers or letters; we multiply 3 x 2 x 1.  If there are four numbers or letters, we multiply 4 x 3 x 2 x 1. As you can see, the number of ways has increased dramatically. 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 24.   Twenty-four.  That doesn’t sound like much but here it is on a paper chart I made for you.”  He placed the chart against his chest.  “Let’s say we want to permute the numbers 1,2,3 & 4.

1234    1243  1342    1324  1432  1423
2134    2143   2341    2314  2413  2431
3412    3421   3214    3241  3142  3124
4123    4132   4231   4213   4321  4312

Keeping these numbers straight and developing a system requires total concentration – and Abulafia used many more digits than 4.  But I guarantee that if you take a name… like Christ…and permute it, before you’re finished you’ll be in a deep state of meditation.  But you’re not here to learn permutations.

“The question is, are we going to be a bank to these thieves… to work hard all our lives and give them all that we have saved and all that we can borrow any time they threaten to burn our house down or murder our children?  Or are we going to form a brigade and go out there and station ourselves near the squatter’s place and follow Don Dawson when he goes out to make a purchase… gas, food, whatever… and get at least part of his 4 digit pin number? This will have to be done by someone he doesn’t recognize.” Everyone looked at the four grandparents. “All that these four individuals have to do is to follow him into the store and to observe him when he puts his pin number into the check-out register. He may have his wife with him and she may perform the transaction which is why we need,” he nodded towards the grandmothers, “we need you ladies.  We need at least two of those four numbers, preferably consecutive numbers.  This will get us started.  Are you all willing?”

All four agreed to tail Dawson and follow him into a store or get behind him in an ATM line. But they wanted to know more of Rick’s plan before they went into Holbrook and rented cars.

“All right,” Rick began, “let’s say we get the first two numbers and they’re six and three.  Now we have to find out the last two numbers.  But unlike the example that I did the permutation on, there are not four numbers, but ten numbers that are possible.  0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,& 9. Without knowing at least two of the numbers, the permutations are beyond our capability.  But let’s say we do get those two numbers, and, for the sake of argument, they’re six and three.

“We fan out and go to ATM machines that have no cameras and punch in 63 plus two of the permuted numbers and if that number is wrong, we get two more chances to punch in the correct number.  There are a hundred possibilities – I’ll show you them in a moment – and as soon as someone gets the right pin number, he withdraws $300 and calls everyone else and then we can all begin to withdraw from ATM machines.  The exact addresses of ATM locations we can download from the internet.  We can go to New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, or California.  We can withdraw $300 at a time until we recoup the entire $500,000 the kidnappers stole.”

“I’m in,” Jack Thompson said, opening his son’s bookbag.  “Let me get a calculator.  How many times does $300 go into $500,000?  1666.66.”

Rick answered.  “Right! 500,000 divided by 300 is 1666.66 and when you divide that by the number of folks who are willing to participate in this… which is…” he looked around and began to count the raised hands. “Four grandparents, two parents, six neighbors equals twelve.

Jack Thompson did the calculation  “That would be 138 visits to the ATM.  Each of us would have to make 138 withdrawals.”

“Now,” Rick continued, “we also need bank debit cards.  I happen to know – because I tailed him  – that Dawson opened an account at his old bank. No doubt he had to put the money in the same bank because he recently made a large legitimate deposit of $700K that the IRS would have had to clear.  So when he makes this new deposit he will want the IRS to think it is the same money being put back because the Mexican real estate deal fell through.  It’s the only reason he’s got to get it past them. He’ll probably say that Markovitz is a big time gambler and that’s the way he paid him back… in currency.  This will check out.”

“Now, for a price I’m willing to donate, a shady friend of mine – actually I ministered to him while he was in prison, but that’s another story – was able to hack into the credit card company that manufacturers the bank’s plastic – so much for bank security! – and another associate of his created a whole bunch of duplicate debit/credit cards for me with Dawson’s name and account number. He overnighted them to me.  Unfortunately, he could not get the pin number. The cards are here in this candy dish.”  He placed the cards in the dish. “Well, who’s game and ready to start?  I’m sure you know the procedure.  You insert the card at an ATM – one without a camera that takes your picture – or you wear a wig, dark glasses, and a hoodie – and when you’re asked for your pin number, you punch in four digits.  That’s all there is to it.  Now,  since we have ten numbers, 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 we have ten pairs of numbers to permute. Each pair can permute ten times.  That makes 10 x 10 = 100 possibilities.  Here’s how the permutation looks.”  He held up a chart.

00
01   10   11
02   20   12   21   22
03   30   13   31   23   32   33
04   40   14   41   24   42   34   43   44
05   50   15   51   25   52   35   53   45   54   55
06   60   16   61   26   62   36   62   46   64   56   65   66
07   70   17   71   27   72   37   73   47   74   57   75   67   76   77
08   80   18   81   28   82   38   83   48   84   58   85   68   86   78  87  88
09   90   19   91   29   92   39   93   49   94   59   95   69   96   79  97  89   98  99

“Every one of these numbers begins, let’s say, with 63.  Now we’ll need to assign the possible pin numbers.  We need to form two groups.”

“Let’s all exchange phone numbers,” Jack Thmpson’s mother suggested, “and write them down on a piece of paper instead of in our phone.”

“Good idea!” Rick shouted.  “Ok. Six of us get on one side of the room and the other six on the other. Couples stay together.”   The group moved accordingly.  Rick cut the permutations’ list in half and gave each side fifty possible numbers.  “This, I repeat, is dependent upon gaining at least two of those pin numbers by following Dawson when he buys something.”

Jack Thompson drove the two sets of grandparents into Holbrook so that they could rent four cars.

When they re-convened, Rick announced, “One thing more!  I’m going to deposit a series of bad checks into Dawson’s account.  I got the checks from the trash of a company that went out of business a couple of years ago.  You may not know this but certain garbage men will cull the discarded stationery… the paper invoices, purchase orders, memo forms, and, of course, the checks to defunct bank accounts… and fence them.  There’s a market for this stuff.  Anyway, Dawson’s account will be duly credited and no one should encounter a zero balance when a request for cash is made. It will take a week or so before the bad check deposits bounce and the kidnapping Mr. Dawson will be liable for the difference. This is a simple variation on the old check kiting scheme. Are there any objections?”

“No! None!” everyone shouted.

“To save time, let’s first divide the maps!” Jack Thompson shouted. He distributed the copies Rick had made and everyone agreed to a territory within the map’s area.

Harry Nicholson offered to lead the four rented cars to the squatters’ house in nearby Apache County.  As soon as someone learned at least two of the pin numbers, they would notify the others at any time of the day or night.

Rick and Helena returned home to get as much rest as possible. It was not until 10 a.m. the following morning that Dawson drove to a gas station and the four rented cars cautiously followed him to the pump.  Both grandfathers agreed that the first two numbers that Dawson punched-in were 3,3.  Jack’s father called the others and repeated the advice.  “Remember, use only those machines that don’t take photographs.  If you want to be extra safe, buy yourself a wig or a hoodie and sunglasses.  Use the machine once and then move on. You can return to the machine later.”  Everyone agreed to be careful and began to drive to the targeted ATMs.

Harry Nicholson got the correct pin number on his second try.  He called everyone.  “It’s 3342.”

The raiders each accessed between five and ten ATMs that day.  Still, they brought home nearly $25,000. Everyone pledged to get some sleep and be ready to start again the next day.  Nevada, New Mexico, California…  they consulted maps. After they exhausted Arizona, they planned to fan out.  The Thompsons created a ledger of “repatriated funds” and hid the money in their house.  Although the Nicholsons had not contributed to the ransom, they had been been helpful in redeeming the ransom.  They had been heavily fined for letting their pit bulls run free and had  to hire an attorney and were financially desperate.  It was agreed that they would be given a sum to cover these expenses.  Those who had borrowed on their credit cards were ecstatic since the loans had been made at a near usurious rate.  So oblivious were the twelve raiders to the possibility that they’d be caught committing such a crime, that they enthusiastically discussed the “cover story” they’d use to account for the return of the ransom money.

It is a commonplace that the most rigorously honest people, when they believe they are the victims of someone they determine to be evil, will casually commit the most heinous crimes against him if given the opportunity.  The rationale is always that the one who initiated the evil deserves to be punished for it; and if, as in this case, law enforcement agencies cannot be contacted without great risk, then the victims, themselves, must do whatever they can to solve the problem.  If at all possible, they will strive to effect a punishment that will end the criminal career.  Believing this, they act with a religious conviction that perhaps only witch burners could appreciate.  But some of these vigilantes, unlike witch burners, will direct their efforts against someone they know to a certainty is guilty of a terrible crime. The people who assembled in the Thompson home had no doubts about Dawson’s culpability.

And also, no one doubted that he would have killed Louella if the police were summoned.  Dawson had been in prison before and had the kind of mean streak that would not have allowed him to accept a life sentence for kidnapping especially when he felt victimized by the theft of the insurance money. At the sight of police officers, Dawson was entirely capable of killing everyone in sight, including himself.

The police had been summoned before and, claiming the law inhibited them from interfering in what had been deemed a civil mater, had shown little interest in solving any problems that involved the squatters. The victims were not entirely unreasonable in their supposition that for so long as this excuse existed, the problems would be dragged through the courts, further punishing the man who did not want to share his home with undesirables. The twelve raiders were eager to take action.  Not only had Dawson kidnapped and terrorized an innocent child, but he had placed them in the position of having to finance his luxuries with money they would have to work hard to repay. Dawson had financially ruined or damaged them.  In many small acts, they would even the score.

No, there were no pangs of conscience.  There was only enthusiasm and a “can do” spirit that removed stultifying fear and depression and allowed them to think creatively. They were gleeful. An onlooker might have seen the same expressions on the folks who danced around the burning witch. The difference was justice – justice that was not only blind, but apparently invisible.
Because none of Rick’s fake deposits had yet bounced, the group would finally tally $607,000 when their foray into the wold of ATMs was finished. They had “earned” $107,000 extra for their four days of exhausting work.

Rosewall deposited into his own account Dawson’s two checks that totaled $80,000. Rosewall withdrew $30,000 in cash and went on to the “Pre-driven” car lot to pay by his own check the $50,000 he needed to get the Ferrari he wanted.  As he drove the car off the lot, he headed for a high-end western clothing store.  He needed a new Stetson, a shearling jacket, jeans with a new silver buckle, and a pair of fine crocodile boots. He stopped at his insurance agent’s office and got both collision and liability coverage on the Ferrari and then he went to the Motor Vehicles Department, registered the Ferrari, and drove directly towards the hotel/casino of which Dave Begay was the Chief Executive Officer.  By the end of the week, when all the phony deposits bounced, he would owe a variety of people and governmental agencies over a hundred thousand dollars that he did not at the moment possess and had no hope of recouping.

Rick could not remember a time in which one of his schemes had rewarded him so well.  He did not know that a man who hated him was sitting outside David Begay’s office, waiting to ask him about Mr. Julius Markovitz and the artist who signed herself as “M.”

The Squatters (#6)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
http://www.zenanthonywolff.com

The Squatters

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

To see all available chapters of “The Squatters” click here

 

Part 6: Quid Pro Quo Crime, but no “draws” allowed

 

It did not take long for the squatters to discover that their dog-bite bounty had disappeared.

Since he and his family now lived in Apache County, Dawson, with Olivia waiting in the van, had gone directly to the bank to pick up his bank statement.  He trembled, stunned, to see that he and Olivia had a mere $4,908 in the bank. A photocopy of his $650K check to Julius Markovitz accompanied the statement.  He asked about the transaction and was told that evidently he had invested in property in Mexico, as it indicated on the check.  Dawson didn’t know any Markovitz and he certainly hadn’t purchased property in Mexico. Why, he wondered, had Olivia not mentioned any of this to him?  His mouth had gone dry and his heart was beating wildly as he asked the clerk for more information.  The clerk shrugged and told him to talk to the manager of  Markovitz’s bank. He was also given a copy of the certified letter that he had signed.  “Oh,” Dawson said, “well, thanks.”

He stumbled from the bank and confronted his wife.  “Who the hell is Markovitz?” When she denied knowing anyone by that name, he did not believe her.  “Somebody does,” he said, “and I mean to find out who that somebody is.” He drove to Markovitz’s bank and walked into the manager’s office without being announced.  “How much money is in this fella Julius Markovitz’s account?” he asked.

The manager was familiar with the strange real estate deal. “The account has been closed and that is all that I am prepared to tell you,” the manager said, nodding to a security guard who entered the office and with a gesture indicated the direction Dawson should take to find the front door exit.

Dawson went home, seething in anger, certain that his wife had double-crossed him.  Maybe Harry Nicholson had something to do with it.  He didn’t know what to think. There were so many possibilities.

Since Rick had officially dropped the charges against him, and Cincinnati had withdrawn the warrant, he had only Helena’s door and circuit breaker box to worry about and, of course, the messy business about the child-molestation charges. A friend who had once been Dawson’s “cellie” in prison had rented a room from him several years before.  This was the man who had molested Shawna; but Dawson decided not to report him since such a report would have violated the man’s parole and sent him back to prison. Olivia was furious with him about his decision. Maybe, he thought, she might be trying to get even with him for that.  If she conspired with someone to steal the insurance money, she could easily claim that he was the one who had defiled the girl.  He had to be careful with Olivia, he told himself.

“What’s our next move?” he asked her.

Olivia could not comprehend the loss of so much money. She stared into space and said, “I guess you need a lawyer. The one who handled Orren’s medical problems doesn’t handle criminal matters.”

There was only one attorney who might be interested in taking his case since it was known that he no longer represented Helena Maxwell. Don Dawson therefore went to see J. Dodge Rosewall, Esq.
Rosewall listened intently, instinctively sensing that some how, some way, Rick Dubrovsky had something to do with the missing funds.  “I don’t want to take your last cent,” Rosewall said, “so let’s go down to your bank before it closes and give me $4,000 as part of my retainer.  I know people over at Markovitz’s bank.  I’ll find out more about his account.   I think we have good reason to hope we can recover your money.”

Dawson had to wait in the parking lot as Rosewall entered and took some literature from a table.  He exchanged looks with a teller he had known for years.  He looked at the clock and raised 3 fingers.  She nodded.  He tossed his head indicating “outside.”

They waited in the parking lot and at 3 p.m. the teller came out of the bank.  Rosewall asked her if she had heard anything about Markovitz’s account. “That’s all everybody’s been talking about,” she said.

“Where did the money go?”

“His checks were all cashed at Indian casinos.  If you want more information,” she paused to smile sardonically, “you can always ask them.”

“Yeah,” Rosewall said.  “Like you can get blood out of a stone.”  He put a curled-up hundred dollar bill in the palm of her hand and closed her fingers around.  “Take care of yourself,” he said and put his hand on Dawson’s shoulder and gently pushed him away.

As they walked to his car, Rosewall said with a low growling determination, “This means we’ll have to hire an investigator – a Navajo P.I. – thank God I know a good one.  Don’t worry.  We’ll find out what we need to know about this fellow Markovitz.”

“What’s this P.I. gonna cost?” Dawson asked.

“They all start with money up front.  They always tell you they’ll return what they don’t spend, but he’s the only one I’ve ever dealt with who actually does.  He’ll find out if he registered alone, or with a woman, or just used the hotel’s escort service.”

“So how much?”

“Fifty thousand, but he can hit the jackpot right away.  If Markovitz brought the same woman to two different hotels, that means he’s traveling with someone… a partner, maybe.  He’ll get a description and won’t have to look farther.  We’ve got a good chance of getting most of your money back.”

“I don’t have 50K.”

“Somebody who knows your business does. Maybe that pot of gold is sitting right under your bed.  And Don… remember… this will only lead you to the people who have victimized you.  You still have to go to trial on charges you victimized others.  Find that money!  You’re gonna need it.  But first you’ve got to learn the identity of the thieving serpent in your bosom.  Get that Fifty.”

The Catch 22 dilemma was not lost on Dawson.  “I can’t get the money till I know who took it and I can’t know who took it till I come up with the money.”

“Use your imagination.  You’ll think of something.”

 

Rick and Helen did not live exclusively in either residence.  They needed to have a presence in Rick’s house, if only to nullify any claim that it had been abandoned.  As soon as the last repair was made, the home began to acquire an atmosphere that was more conducive to creative thinking, at least in Rick’s opinion.   Helena brought many living room pieces that she had moved into a spare room to create her yoga and meditation room.

“You know what I think,” Rick asked.

“No… what?”

“I think your portrait of the Indian woman was gorgeous.  You’ll get a lot of business from it.  Her husband is showing that painting off to the world.  Let’s get started with the renovations to your house.  When can you change the deed to read both our names as joint tenants?  And then I’ll commission the contractors who have done such a great job on this house to work on yours.  You could use a little publicity, too.  But first we also have to figure out a way to get everybody on the street to agree to a variance to the zoning restrictions.  We’ll need their permission to use a residence as a professional building.”

“My bank has multiple services.  I can transfer the deed there and they’ll even take it to the recorder’s office.  We’ll have to pay the stamp taxes on the transfer but I think I can cover that with no problem.   As to the variance, I’m sure you’ll figure out a way.”

“Maybe while the work is being done we can run up to Vegas and get hitched.  How does that sound?” He tweaked her nose.

“Like an invitation to Heaven.”
Babs, Paulina Sue, and Olivia decided that it had to be the Nicholsons who were behind the theft of Orren’s settlement money.  They wanted to get even with Harry and Pamela, but Dawson ruled them out.  “Don’t go starting trouble with them or else they’ll get my bail revoked.  I don’t think it’s them. What’s more important right now is that I don’t like this hole in the wall you picked to live in.” He turned to his wife and gave her a disapproving look.  “You coulda found a nicer place. I liked our old neighborhood. I’m thinkin’ now about the folks who lived on the other side of us – the Thompsons.  They scare easy and they got money.  Makes more sense to grab one of their kids and make ’em pay to get him back.  We need money quick.”

Paulina Sue shook her head and stood up.  “Kidnapping?  Things aren’t bad enough and you want to add kidnapping?  And we’re supposed to help you?  This is just your way to get us included as defendants.  Until now, you, Clive and Andy were the only ones in trouble.  What happens to the kids if we all get charged?”

“Sit your ass down!” Don demanded.  “You’re in it same as us.  You got a better idea?  Big mouth bitch!  You tell us your big idea!”  Pamela Sue had no idea to share.  The need for such an immense sum had never occurred before.

Babs looked at Olivia.  “It’s your decision.  Olivia knew from Don’s attitude towards her that he suspected her of having stolen the money. More, he intimated that she was making plans to exclude him from future adventures.  Fearfully, she looked at Don and nodded. Babs stood up and began to give orders.  “We’ll get a room ready for the kid.  We can glue paper over the window and put padding under the door.  The bedrooms all have radiators.  We can just keep the kid hooked up to the radiator.  We won’t need more than a couple, three days.” Babs walked back and forth a few times.  “It’s February… spring time.  They all walk home from school. We’ll catch one – it don’t matter which one – and get the money.  I got the best penmanship.  I’ll write the ransom note and leave a space blank until we know which kid we catch.”

Dawson said. “We’ll tell ’em to leave the money in a trash can at a rest stop on the interstate. If the money’s all there, they’ll get the kid back.”

This, then was the extent of their planning.

On Monday, they waited in a white van as a group of kids came by heading home from school. Babs, wearing a wig that looked nearly identical to her own hair, false teeth, and glasses, got out and stooped down as if she were looking under the van.  As one of the Thompson girls approached, Babs asked, “Have you seen my kitty?  I lost my little kitty.”

“What color is it?”

“It’s orange like…. have you ever seen an orange kitty?”

“Yeah, sure.”  The children with whom she had been walking yelled for her to come and she replied that she’d be there in a minute. They kept walking.

As soon as the little girl stooped down to help Babs look under the van, the rear door opened and Dawson swooped down and, cupping his hand over the girl’s face, lifted her into the van. He wore a latex Halloween mask to conceal his identity. Telling her that if she made a noise, they’d hurt her mommy and daddy, she stayed quiet.  Babs put on latex gloves and got out the unfinished ransom note. “What’s your name?” she asked the sobbing child.

Don answered.  “It’s Louella, stupid,” he said, whispering in Babs’s ear. “Jesus, woman, she lived next door to you for a year and you don’t remember her name?  Louella Thompson.”  Babs filled in the name.

“Louella,” Olivia asked, “what is your Daddy’s telephone number?” Before the rest of the kids could get within two blocks of their home, the van drove to Lafayette Street, stopped at the Thompson’s mailbox, and placed the ransom demand in it. They immediately continued on to their new squatting place.

They gave Louella some candy and ice cream as they shackled her to the radiator.

The demand was for $500,000.  The note concluded, “Instructions will follow.  Don’t call cops or she dies.”

In the house’s broken down garage, Dawson, Clive, and Andy quickly masked the van’s chrome and glass, and, using a professional paint sprayer, Dawson painted the white van black.

Harry Nicholson came to Helena’s house to tell her and Rick the news.  “Looks like Dawson’s trying to get Five hundred Gs out of the Tompsons. Where the hell are they gonna get $500K?” he asked.

Rick’s expression registered doubt. “How do they know it’s Dawson?  He ought to be flush with all that money he got for Orren’s dog bites.”

“You’d think so… but no. Dawson’s supposed to be busted again. They’re still living in that squatter’s dump in Apache County…on Tarryton Drive. My kid’s math teacher was goin’ that way and saw them when they were unloading their stuff.  And he says they’re still there.  Only this time he got Rosewall to represent him for his upcoming trial… or maybe to get the money back.  What a joke.”

Helena sniffed.  “Rosewall will keep them poor… if nothing else.  And it doesn’t surprise me at all that he’d take ransom money as his retainer.”

“Now, dear,” Rick commented, “we don’t know that the kidnapper is Donald Dawson. Let’s not jump to conclusions.”

The Thompsons, understandably confused and terrified, called their parents and other relatives begging for money to pay the ransom. Both grandparents mortgaged their homes and other close relatives borrowed money using credit cards or their homes as collateral. It would take another day or two to get the mortgage money and fly it to Arizona.

“We’ll have to stall the kidnappers,” Thompson told Harry Nicholson.  “We can’t get that money before seventy-two hours and we’re still short.”  They had used Harry’s phone to call their friends and relatives.  They needed to keep their lines open for the ransom call, but no call came.

Dawson had gone out walking, looking for a public phone but the only ones he found had been vandalized.   He returned home.  “I’ll try again tomorrow. The van’ll be ready by then.”

 

Rick Dubrovsky thoroughly enjoyed his life with Helena Maxwell. It would be worth paying for her plastic surgery.  He was tired of playing games and he needed an income.  Yes, with a little effort her house could be turned into an artist’s studio with maybe a room for teaching yoga.  She was so incredibly nimble and he had seen for himself the extent of her talent.  Why… signing “Dubrovsky” to her portraits would, he thought, bring additional honor to his name.  Yes… he would marry her and then get her to a plastic surgeon to have some of those goddamned scars removed.  He’d need the good will of the neighbors.  He did not want to move and he disliked the idea of renting a studio facility somewhere else.  What? Then rent out her house?  No, no more renters or unpleasant neighbors.  He needed a zoning variance.  Well, he thought, he had Harry and Pamela’s good will.  And the Thompsons? How could he go about getting theirs?  And the folks who lived in the two other houses on Lafayette Street’s spacious block?  He’d have to work on that.

When the neighbors heard about the ransom (neither Harry nor Pamela could resist gossiping about it) Helena and Rick went to the Thompsons and offered to donate Ten thousand dollars, “If such a small sum would help.”  Rick regretted that he could not pay more. The Nicholsons could offer nothing, but the other two families did manage to match his donation and as the Thompsons finally began to amass the necessary amount, the extra Thirty thousand dollars did, in fact, complete the needed sum.  They were so grateful.  Rick led them in prayer.

“You,” Helena later said to him, “have been sent to me by God.  I kept the faith.  I did not retaliate against my oppressors.  I knew that if I prayed hard enough an angel would come and he’d lead me in the ways of their destruction. Do with me whatever you will.  I am your eternal servant.”

Rick rather liked that.  Lascivious thoughts that had lain dormant for many months were suddenly vivified.  He imagined strange and mysterious things he would do to Helena.  “When this kidnapping crisis is over, we’ll go up to Vegas and make it legal!” He laughed as she flung herself into his arms.

The next day Dawson found a servicable phone in a gas station.  He called the Thompsons and disguising his voice as much as possible said that the money should be put in a shopping bag and left in a trash can at the rest stop where Interstate 40 meets Cataract Lake Road.  “Thursday at 7p.m. We’ll count it and if it’s all there we’ll call and tell ya where the kid is.  Don’t be late and no cops.”  Harry Nicholson was at the house when the call came in.

One of the Thompson’s set of parents was driving down from Utah.  The other was flying in from Pennsylvania.  Jack Thompson had his car ready to drive down to the Phoenix airport to meet them at two o’clock.  In case Jack had unexpected car trouble, Harry offered him his own car which he had gassed up and ready to go.
On Thursday Jack Thompson brought his parents home from the airport, put more gas into his car and set out to deliver the money.  He gave himself extra time.  At the turnoff, he parked at the far end of the rest area’s parking lot.   It was dark at seven o’clock.  He got out of his car and walked to the trash can at the other end of the lot.  He placed the shopping bag that looked as though it was filled with old cups and wrappings in the trash can, then he returned to his car and waited.

Several people threw trash in the receptacle but their bodies always seemed to block his view.  He could not tell if any of them removed the shopping bag.  Finally, his phone rang.  His wife called to tell him that she had heard from the kidnappers.  They got the money and said Louella was inside the bathroom there.  He lay the phone down without disconnecting the call and rushed to the bathroom, calling his daughter.   When she heard his voice, she shouted for him and he grabbed her and cried with joy.  He returned to his car.  “She’s fine..  Here… I’ll let you talk to her.”

Rick waited on the other side of the expressway until he saw the newly painted black van enter and then leave the rest area.  He followed the van into Apache County and saw the house Dawson was squatting in.  In the morning, he returned and waited for several hours to follow Dawson and see where he took the money.  Dawson would not, Rick reasoned, leave it at home in a house filled with thieves.  But he might put it into a safe deposit box.  That would present a whole new problem. Rick, wearing a sandy-blonde mullet hairstyle wig and glasses, followed Dawson into the bank and watched to see if he headed for the “New Accounts” or the “Safe Deposit Box” section.

Dawson reasoned that since he had already lost the settlement money – a large amount which had been flagged by the IRS and cleared – he should deposit the new money in the same bank and say that it was the settlement money which he had gotten back when the Mexican land deal fell through.  He therefore opened a new account at his old bank and explained the money’s source to the manager.  “I never liked that Mexican deal,” he said.  “My wife talked me into it. We was supposed to make money on the deal. Instead, as you can see, we lost it. So I’ll keep it safe in my name only.” The manager understood.

Rick called an old friend in Las Vegas who had a connection to an illegal hacking service. A new bank account would offer a debit/credit card; and the bank would order the new card through a company that manufactured plastic credit cards, and from this company the account number could be obtained for $21,000 sent in three wire transfers of $7,000 each to three different names.  Rick wired the money.

Rick and Helena went to each of the houses on Lafayette Street and invited everyone to come to their house to celebrate Louella’s safe return.  “I’ve engaged a special armed and mobile guard to watch our street,” he said. “We can relax and order a keg and some pizza.”

“But let’s do it here,” the Thompsons insisted.  “This is our treat.  Probably the last treat we’ll have… but it’s worth the celebration tonight.”

Everyone became friends, fulfilling Rick’s plan to obtain the zoning variance.  “I’m gonna say just one thing about this nasty event…and then let’s say no more about it tonight.  The $10K I gave I intended to use for my wonderful Helena’s engagement ring.  She knew this and said to me, “Every time Louella puts her arms around her mother or father’s neck, she’ll make a ring of her arms.  And that will be my engagement ring.” Everyone cooed.

Harry joked, “And just wait until she starts showing that left hand off to her friends!” Now, everyone laughed.

“I’m getting dizzy already,” Jack Thompson said. “Up and down and all around and all of a sudden she starts gesturing wildly.”  He imitated Helen showing off her big man-ring. Yes, it was a good night.

Rick, certain that no one would oppose the variance, announced, “Now that the crisis is past, Helena and I will go up to Vegas and get married tonight.  And then, tomorrow morning, let’s all meet and figure out a way we can get that money back. I believe that I have a way… I’ll know tomorrow. I’ll need you all.” The grandparents had not intended to stay, but the prospects of getting their money back so quickly glued them in place.

That night, Rick and Helena got married in Las Vegas.  He hoped no one would recognize him, but he had lost so much weight since he was last seen there that no one was familiar with his body profile.

In the morning, he drove past his old house and was disappointed to see that the landscaping had been perfectly maintained.  “Fucking Mafia,” he hissed.

The Squatters (#4/#5)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
http://www.zenanthonywolff.com

The Squatters

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

To see all available chapters of “The Squatters” click here

 

Part 4 and 5

 

Part 4. A rejected attorney and a new law suit

 

Dodge Rosewall followed his two clients home to Helena’s house so that they could discuss “a defense.” Rick did not like the man but he concealed his annoyance.  Rosewall still had Helena’s deed.

Rick was irritated.  Yes, he knew that Helena had tried to help him.  Still, he did not approve of her telling Rosewall about the mail tampering and the surveillance system he had installed.  Worse, she had underestimated his ability to deal with inferiors and this chaffed him. But ah, he thought, she did not know him well enough to realize his resourcefulness. Rosewall was another matter.  He was a greedy incompetent man and Rick knew that he wouldn’t be persuaded but that he could be outwitted. He went to his suitcase and removed a small digital voice recorder which he put into the shirt pocket of the street clothes he finally changed into.

Over gimlets, they spoke casually about the legal differences between states. Finally, Rick steered the conversation to Rosewall’s retainer and surreptitiously switched on his recorder.

“Isn’t she wonderful,” he said looking at Helena.  “A man is blessed to have a woman he cares for spring into action so quickly on his behalf.  And offering the deed to her house to pay my bail.  Really!  How many women would be so loyal… so generous.”  He paused.  “Have you returned the deed to her yet?”

“Helena came to me because I am her attorney.  She retained my services and in the course of retaining them she admitted to having committed several felonies.  Your bail became secondary in importance.  I’m holding onto her deed to protect her since, as my retainer, it is exempt from attachment.   Especially since she is so involved with you… I mean no disrespect, but throughout months of innjuries inflicted by the people who occupy your property, she never once resorted to childish acts of reprisal much less serious federal offenses. Your past negligence may have lost you your property, but now you have put her ownership of this house in jeopardy by those senseless acts.”

“I did not know that she engaged your services for herself.  I was under the impression that she asked you to help me.  As it happened, I neither needed nor wanted your services.  I concede, that in a moment of confusion, I did retain them.  Now, if you will please send me a bill for your consultation, I will pay it and you can return Ms. Maxwell’s deed.  The matter will have been concluded.”

Rosewall clearly did not wish to part with the deed.  He then made the mistake of speaking to Rick as an equal – which was bad enough – but then as someone who was less than his equal.  Not realizing that he had placed himself in such a hazardous position, the attorney continued to affect superior airs.  “Concluded? Surely you realize that your adversaries are likely to pursue their own claims against you. They will not be content merely to win. After all, you did commit some serious offenses.  The smart thing… the informed thing… is to prepare a good offense and we do that best by finding out all we can about these people.  In short, to investigate them fully in order to discredit them.”

“But my parents already paid to have them investigated,” Helena interjected.

Rosewall looked at her sympathetically. “Dear Lady, the cast of characters has changed.  Circumstances have changed.  You were simply trying to seek compensation for utility bills and an errant fire-cracker.  Yours was not a matter of eviction, a matter which is more difficult to win than you can imagine.”

Rick spoke gently.  “I see; and you expect them to win. Tell me – if I’m not being too inquisitive – how often do you win these eviction cases?

“Less than I like to admit,” Rosewall languorously replied. “I still feel the sting of losing to persons of such low mental capacity – as if I were trying to dislodge a bunch of neanderthals from a cave. But they can be clever. When the squatters include a disabled veteran in an eviction case, they convert a homestead into an impervious fortress.”  He sighed. “It is so difficult… so difficult.  Judges tend to yield to some misguided patriotism instead of following the law.  Law-enforcement doesn’t take these cases seriously.  An abandoned house at least keeps these persons off the streets. Unfortunately, when an absentee landlord resorts to childish acts of self-help, he usually commits more serious crimes than the ones he feels victimized by. No, you two are not out of the woods yet,” he said ominously, looking directly at Rick, “not by a long shot.  Should you be charged with state and federal offenses, your defense will prove expensive, but I’m confident that we’ll prevail.”

Rick had little tolerance for personalities or ploys.  He could sense when he was being played and took for granted that Rosewall was experienced in using “bait and switch” tactics.  The initial enthusiasm of Rosewall’s – that ‘Yes, of course, I can help you!’ – had left Helena in a worse state after July 4th than when he first agreed to help her, getting a retainer of thousands which her parents paid.  He proceeded to bait Rosewall.  “Since Ms. Maxwell was not involved in any of the assault or molestation charges tonight, would you please return her deed to her.  She’ll sleep better when she knows her home is securely in her hands.  I’m sure you want what’s best for her.”

“Ms. Helena Maxwell is a cherished client of mine.  I’m bound by my ethics to care about her best interests.  However, I am not at liberty to discuss my dealings with Ms. Maxwell with you or anyone else,” Rosewall responded cordially.  “It’s that sacred attorney-client relationship. I’m sure you’ll come to appreciate it more if your adversaries bring suit against you or, for example, the feds charge you.  Sadly, you’ll both need representation.”

“Perhaps you misunderstood her reason for coming to you,” Rick responded by reviving the snide tone of indifference that in previous years had been his normal manner of speaking, “but as she will attest, she was asking you to help me.  And I’m simply telling you that I prefer to engage another attorney. I don’t think you can competently represent my interests. I’m therefore discharging you as my attorney.  And Ms. Maxwell has no need of any attorney. You have no right to retain her deed.”

Rosewall retorted, “This business with the child may have helped you at the moment, but you are an ‘outsider.’  The courts will not favor you.  Again, let me stress that you have involved my client in numerous illegal acts. Ms. Maxwell is obviously vulnerable, physically and emotionally, and, let us be honest about this, it’s clear that you induced or perhaps seduced her to help you.  You’re the instigator of these actions.  Someone who has so insouciantly violated laws of privacy that all of us, as citizens, hold dear ought not to criticize a member of the bar who must labor in the fields of jurisprudence.  That is both unfair and unwise.”

“And how would it be unwise?” Rick gently asked.

“You’ve done a goodly amount of law-breaking in the short time you’ve been here, Dr. Dubrosky. Reprisals breed reprisals. Perhaps you should remember the maxim, “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”  His tone carried a personal threat. “When you criticize someone, that person is quite able to criticize you, in return. Secretly perhaps… a word here, a word there.”

Rick put his phone on speaker and asked information for the number of Navajo County’s Bar Association. When the call reached voice-mail, Rick identified himself and gave his phone number.  He continued, “I have a problem and don’t know how to proceed.  An attorney, who, a few hours ago, accepted a retainer from me, has responded to my criticisms of his failures to litigate a case obliquely related to mine by threatening me that if I persist in criticizing him, he will reveal confidential information given to him.  His name is J. Dodge Rosewall. Would you kindly return my call and direct me to the proper official?”  He disconnected the call.

Rosewall had smirked throughout Rick’s telephone gambit.  “You do like to play brainless kiddy games, don’t you?” he said.  And then he listed ways Rick’s actions could result in prosecution by the proper authorities who were tipped off to them.  “And all it would take is one anonymous call.”

Rick reached into his pocket and switched off the recorder.  He spoke in a matter-of-fact manner.  “Perhaps, counselor, you should think of me as a brainless mamba or taipan. Brainless but quick to act defensively.”  He took his recorder out of his pocket and held it in one hand as he held the other hand out to the attorney. “The deed, if you please.”

Rosewall grew livid.  Trembling, he opened his briefcase and took out the documents Helena had signed, including the transfer of title to her property, and tore them into small pieces.  He placed her original deed upon the table and took a dollar from his pocket which he tossed on the floor.  “I no longer represent either of you,” he said and proceeded to leave the house, stepping through the large oval hole left by the staved-in stained glass.

“We must board-up that door,” Rick said. “Do you have any wood left over from building your tea house?”

Helena jumped up and went into the garage. “I have a piece of plywood that had been used as a political advertisement.  It should fit.”

Rick followed her to the front door and collected all the stained glass in a heavy garbage bag. “This door was so beautiful, especially when the morning sunlight shone through it.  Let’s take the door off completely and take all the pieces to the glass workers and have them reset the leaded-in section.  We can board the whole area up with the big piece of plywood.”

Working together they removed the hinges, unlocked the door, and carried it into the living room. They nailed the plywood to the jamb. “Darling,” she said casually, as they returned to the kitchen, “do you have another attorney in mind? One to keep on-hand in case those people try something else.”

“Let’s check the internet,” Rick said. “Rosewall is a loser.  We can do no worse than pick another loser.”

Donald Dawson’s wife Olivia returned to #124 Lafayette Street with the wives of Clive and Andy.  As they opened the front door, they were assailed by the stench that Helena had poured down the chimney.  As cold as it was, they turned on the air conditioning units and opened the doors. They knew precisely what had been introduced into their home.  It would take days for the stench to dissipate. Olivia found the source.  “That fart juice got poured down the chimney. We had the flue closed so it hit the back where we can’t reach it to wash it off.

“Light a fire,” Paulina Sue, who was not only the largest of the women but also the most intelligent, recommended.  “The flue plate will heat up and burn-off most of it.  We’ll look pretty damned stupid lighting a fire with all the air-conditioners going, but we’ve got to eat to keep our strength up and nobody’s gonna eat in this stench.”

They opened the flue and lit a fire.

Babs Bristal, the wife of the youngest member of the trio, made a big plate of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  They sat near the open kitchen door in their winter coats.  “I been thinkin’ ’bout this whole deal and I figure the only person who could have done this stinky-stuff dirty trick is Harry Nicholson.  Look,” she reasoned, “we were outside, standin’ in the street, when all this went down.  Nicholson says he saw the whole thing, yet it took him half an hour to speak up.  Think about it.  Here and at the station, everybody else is accounted for.  Maxwell ain’t the type who’d do somethin’ like that, so who else could have done it? This stink bomb was dropped on us when we all went to the station… all except Harry Nicholson.”

Olivia and Paulina Sue both agreed.  “He’s been out to get even with us ever since his stupid wall got knocked down,” Paulina Sue offered.  “Well, they want to pay rough.  So I guess we oughta  do somethin’ fast.  We need money to bail the guys out… and pay their lawyers. What should we do?”

“They got a couple of pit bulls runnin’ free out the back of their house. Maybe we should poison ’em,” Babs suggested.

“You’re carryin’ a baby,” Paulina Sue objected.  “You don’t want to go messin’ with poison.”

“Now, what we could do,” Babs timidly offered, “An’ I don’t want none of ya’ll blamin’ me if you think this is wong…”  She turned to Olivia, “Shawna’s gonna tell them what that renter we had did to her a couple years ago.  And she’ll spill the beans about what happened tonight and you can bet Don is gonna get blamed for lots of stuff.  You know who’s been messin’ with your Shawna?  Orren, that’s who.  That boy’s at the age when sex is all they think about.  Orren may be Don’s brother’s kid, but he don’t carry his own weight around here.  I can’t get that boy to do nothin’.  So he can make up for all the care we give him by letting one of the Nicholson’s dogs take a little bite outta him. They’s got a homeowner’s insurance policy that’ll pay a whole lot of money.  They woulda paid to have the wall rebuilt, Harry was tellin’ the Thompsons, but he decided to take it all down hisself. So we know he’s insured.  The kid will heal… hell, what’s a little dog bite? Meanwhile I know somebody who got $300,000 for their kid gettin’ bit by a pit bull.”

Olivia made it final.  “If Orren was messin’ with my Shawna, he needs punishin’ and rather than just take a switch to him – which gets us nothin’ – we ought to put his punishment to good use. And he is a lazy little twerp.”

Paulina Sue was more concerned with the stench that filled the house. “Let’s not let on to Harry that we’re upset about the smell.  We’ll just act natural,” she advised.

“Then tonight when everybody’s sleepin’,” Babs whispered, “we can put a couple lamb chops over the Nicholson’s gate on one side, and when the dogs come to get it, we’ll open the gate on the other side.  We can tell Orren we heard a kitten meow and he should go out and look for it.”

“Both those gates got padlocks!” Olivia objected.

“Then we can take the big bolt cutters,” Paulina Sue said.  “Orren can wear new jeans and knee socks for protection.  The most they’ll get is a nip at his legs.  But that’s enough to make them pay plenty.”

Olivia called Babs aside.  They casually walked into the kitchen.  “I’ve got an idea,” she said. “We can rub meat juice on Orren’s jacket. He don’t have to know nothin’.  We’ll run home quick and tell Orren to go out and look for the kitten. The dogs will pick up his scent fast.  So here’s what we’ll do.  We’ll make sure our doors are locked so Orren can’t just run inside. Those dogs are crazy.  Harry had to bring ’em home in a cage.  They’ll fight over a few lamb chops and wolf ’em down and run to hear the noise of the gate opening.  By the time they make it around the house, we’ll be inside ours.  They’ll be sniffin’ and smellin’ and their noses will lead them right to Orren.”

“I get it,” Babs said.  “The dogs will get more than a few nips outta Orren’s legs.  Serves him right.” They returned from the kitchen.

“One thing more,” Paulina Sue noted, “We have to be sure to bring the cut lock with us when we open the gate, otherwise they’ll have evidence that we cut their lock with our bolt cutters. The cops can match the cut marks.  And let’s do it late tonight, while it’s still dark.  And since that new guy must have some special cameras working, we can use the bolt cutters to open their breaker box and shut off the power. We don’t need a record of us crossin’ the street.”

 

Part 5.  Rick outwits the squatters and Helena resumes her career

 

Rick and Helena had been too excited by the evening’s events to sleep.  “My Pet,” Rick said, “I’d have loved to watch you scale that wall…. you cat burglar you!  So nimble! My kitty cat is nimble!”

Helena playfully meowed like a cat.  “Increase your yoga time with me in the morning and you will be nimble too… and slimmer since you insist that you want to lose even more weight.”

Rick, satisfied and happy and feeling more human than he had felt in weeks, agreed to go on an even more stringent yoga regimen with his accommodating hostess. “All right,” he said, “but you must remember to be gentle with me. I’m becoming fragile at 190 pounds.  Maybe we can get one of those rowing machines.”  He drew the drapes to shut out the street’s lamplight, locked their bedroom door, switched off the light that controlled the end table lamps, and padded across the floor of the master bedroom to the bed where his new love waited.

Around 3 a.m., the lovers were jolted awake by a terrible commotion outside.  Both of them jumped up and pulled back the drapes to look out the front window.  There, in the lamplight in the middle of the street, Nicholson’s two new fully-grown pit bulls were attacking the squatters’ teen-aged boy.

Rick pulled on his terry-cloth bathrobe.  He flipped the light switch, but the lamps stayed dark.  Able to see sufficiently by the outside light, he drew a gun from his suitcase, racked it, ran downstairs and exited the house through a side door to get to the street to defend the boy.

There was so much movement, so much rolling, twisting, shaking, so many screams of the boy and snarls of the dogs, that between the confusing noise and the strength of the dogs’ jaws, it was impossible to pull either dog off the boy. A few neighbors came out to look, but no one volunteered to help. Rick pressed his gun against the head of the dog that held Orren’s leg in his jaws, and fired.  The animal immediately went limp and Rick flung him to the side.  The second dog’s jaws were biting the boy’s head.  Rick did not want to fire his weapon too close to the boy’s ear.  He therefore threw his weight against the dog and shot him in the chest.  It required four shots before the animal’s teeth loosened their grip.  Helena called 9-1-1 and Rick yelled for towels and a robe as he sat naked on the ground, using his own robe to press one sleeve against the boy’s head and the other against his leg.  Finally, Jack Thompson – the neighbor on the other side of the squatters – came out with a stack of hand towels; and Helena, wearing only a sheer penoir, brought him a robe that had belonged to her former fiancé who was many sizes smaller than Rick.

One of the renters came out holding a rifle which he pointed at Rick. “What you doin’ to this boy?”

“Trying to save his life!” Rick shouted. “Don’t just stand there!  Get more clean towels!  Emergency services have been called.” The man did not move.  Rick shouted again, “Put that goddamned gun away and get me more clean towels!”

Jack Thompson shouted, “He probably doesn’t have any clean towels.”  The man shrugged and went inside.

Orren suddenly tried to whisper.  His bloody mouth garbled his words, but Rick could understand what he was saying.  “They wouldn’t let me back in.  They knew the dogs was on me but they wouldn’t let me back in.”   Rick pressed down hard on his cheek to staunch the blood and Orren did not try to speak again.

“Did they know you were outside?” Rick whispered.

“Yeah. They told me to look for a kitten that was meowing.  Then the dogs jumped on me and they locked the doors so’s I couldn’t get back in. I knocked and hollered,” he wailed.

Harry Nicholson, dressed in street clothes and shoes, came out of his house, shouting, “The kid unlocked our gate!  Hah.  He tried to turn the dogs on you, Rick, but he got hoisted by his own petard!” Laughing wildly, Harry dragged the dogs’ carcasses to the gutter on his side of the street. Rick noticed that Helena’s entire house was in total darkness.  None of the flood lights was lit.

Rick, scratched and smeared with blood, flipped the gun’s safety on and gave it to Helena.  “Take this inside and just leave it on the coffee table. See if any of our lights are working.”   He turned to Harry, “Those dogs weren’t after me. They were after this young man and they got him.  I hated to shoot them. Were they family pets?”

“Hell, no.  I got ’em from the pound in Phoenix last week.” He looked at the boy’s wounds. “Boy, this is terrible.  Rick, he can thank God you acted as fast as you did.”  Orren was sobbing in pain and in humiliation, yet Harry would not be dissuaded.  “See what happens when you let pit bulls out? Huh!  Huh!  You brought this on yourself!  This man saved your life, son.  What he did was damned heroic.”

Olivia came out.  “What’s goin’ on here?” She pushed Rick away and whispered a warning into Orren’s ear.  “You keep your mouth shut. We gotta ‘nough trouble.  So ‘Shut it!'”

Sirens could be heard in the distance.  Helena came from the house with towels and an old robe that had belonged to her former boyfriend. “I had to use my phone’s light,” she said.  “We’ve got no electricity at all. They must have gotten into the circuit breaker box.”

 

Once the paramedics and police arrived, Harry produced papers that indicated that the dogs had received their rabies shots. Rick gave a quick report and tried to excuse himself saying that he needed to wash the blood and dirt off himself. In fact, his large show of flesh was embarrassing him. Since the robe Helena had brought him was much too small, he could only tie the garment’s sleeves around his waist so that the cuffs covered his genitals. His torso and legs shone moon bright in the street.

The deputy looked him over.  “I see scratches but no lacerations.  Are you sure you don’t want the docs to check you out?”

“I’m sure. Ms. Maxwell will attend to the worst scratches with antibiotic cream and some bandage patches.  I’ll be fine.”

“You gotta permit for that weapon you used on the dogs,” the deputy asked.

“Yes, of course.  But in Nevada.  Does that make a difference?”

“You’re supposed to register it in Arizona. Get that taken care of first thing tomorrow. For the record, what was it?”

“Colt Mustang .38, semi-automatic.”

“Nice piece. Well, the weapon wasn’t used on a human being and seeing how it did save the kid, I’ll let it go now. If the kid’s parents take action against the dogs’ owner, you may have to produce it then.  Around here, a pit-bull’s jaws are regarded as lethal weapons.”

 

Using a flashlight that she propped on a shelf, Helena stayed with Rick inside the shower stall to wash his back. She daubed it dry and bandaged some of the worst scratches, and brought him new lounging pajamas she had gotten him as a gift.  Together, they went into the yard to examine the circuit breaker box.  The shackle of the padlock had been cut through.  But Olivia had forgotten to take the severed lock with her and it lay on the ground.  “Go and get my Colt, ” Rick said.  “I’ll guard the lock as it lies here… in situ.  And ask one of the deputies to return to show him the evidence of this vandalism… say that it pertains to the attempted murder of the boy. Helena returned with the gun, made the call, and in fifteen minutes a detective and a new ADA who had not been present at the attempted “frame” of Rick for child-molestation, arrived.  Helena showed them the boarded up front door and led them back to the circuit breaker box where Rick waited.

Rick pointed to the severed lock. “We haven’t touched it.  But the person who severed the shackle no doubt did.”  The deputy carefully placed the useless lock into an evidence bag.

“Can you think of any reason why anyone would have done this?” the ADA asked.

“Only that they didn’t want any video recording of the event.  They probably thought the Nicholsons, being the only homeowners around who still had a homeowner’s insurance policy – Helena’s and mine certainly have not been renewed – were still able to pay the large sums of money they need for attorneys and bail. They probably drew the dogs down to the fence on one side of the house and then went to the other fence and cut the padlock and opened the gate. Then they left the kid outside to be bitten.”

“Are you suggesting that they deliberately left the boy outside to be attacked by two pit bulls?”

“I’m saying that you should talk to the boy before they get a chance to. When the boy is able,  he’ll tell you what happened… assuming they don’t intimidate him into lying.”

The ADA smiled and nodded condescendingly. He considered Rick’s theory a bit too far-fetched.  “I’ll see that no one is permitted to visit him.  How old a kid would you say he is?”

“Fourteen, maybe.”

Helena brought a replacement padlock from the house and as Rick fixed it in place, he began to get a nagging sense that his judgment was as useless as the lock that had been vandalized.  “Why the hell didn’t you get that battery generator?” he asked himself.

At dawn, as Helena went downstairs to make breakfast, Rick, stiff, scratched, and disturbed by

the cruelty of the squatters, began to think coherently.  He realized that his “petty reprisal” or “get down to their level” attempts to dislodge them was beneath him.  A shift occurred in his perspective.  He had wanted to be “good” – to turn over a new leaf – but he had merely reverted to a child’s way of dealing with the world.  Childhood and goodness were not the same things, he reminded himself.  The old Rick would have found a way to poison them, sell them into slavery, leave them on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, frame them for murder… ah, he didn’t know at the moment, but he’d have harmed them seriously.

He asked himself, When there is no legal remedy, just how the hell does a mature person act when confronted by such a problem?  How does a person do a necessary evil?  From what interior font of wisdom does he draw so that his actions flow naturally in a way that befits his age and station?

He imagined the dignity and grace of a Samurai committing seppuka.  And if the Samurai’s master had commanded him to do this and sat and watched, what grace and dignity would he display?  That was what was needed.  Intelligence.  Culture.   Dirty little tricks?  No. No. No.  Either fight them head on, man to man, and use his own intellectual weapons or sit back and surrender and let the enemy hack him and Helena to pieces.  The Samurai had a code.  They thought ahead. They could see centuries of shame being brought upon their offspring. “Ah,” he said aloud, “that’s the secret. Futurity. The historical record pored over by one’s descendants.” That thought depressed him. “Ah, you might as well be the palace eunuch,” he muttered.  But then he walked to the window and looked down at the street. What a sad fate! To be literally thrown to the dogs by one’s family. They would be getting a cash settlement from the insurance company. Now, without resorting to those mechanical devices that get the user sent to federal prison, how could he gain access to Dawson’s bank account.  Did they use a debit card when they went shopping?

He could smell the coffee brewing.  Helena would soon bring up his breakfast tray and he’d ask her then.  He’d also have sex with her. He rather liked the accommodations, but here he was, insouciantly having unprotected sex with a woman who might still be fertile.  He had never asked her about menopause.  Damn! he thought.  I don’t know anything about her.  I’m just using her the way I’ve always used people.  Never thinking ahead.

They had breakfast at a table in the master bedroom’s bay window. “Have you any samples of your work around the house?  I’d really like to see some of the portraits you’ve done.”

“No. I’m afraid not.  I got rid of everything.  Just didn’t want to be reminded, I guess.”

“That’s such an egregious response.  Talent is an internal thing… a gift from God.”

“My talent’s end came with the end of my will to live… after the Fourth of July.  I was heart-broken.  I had lost so much. And to be honest, when I got home I couldn’t paint if I wanted to.  There are little movements you make looking between the subject and the canvas and the canvas and the palette.  I sustained some neck damage… bone… tendon… nerve… something. I couldn’t stand or even sit and make those movements for any length of time.  And really, who would want to have a portrait painted by someone who looked like me?  I owed so much money. Rosewall’s services cost my parents a fortune.  I gave away all my brushes and tubes of oil paint. I had big cans of turpentine and I was told that if they threw another Molotov cocktail at me and the turpentine got involved, I’d have a household conflagration instead of a back yard fire.”

“Plastic surgery could repair much of that damage,” Rick noted gently.

“Yes, but who can afford it?  As I’ve said, I’m up to my neck in debt.  My parents have given so much already.  My brothers and sisters look at me as though I’m a thief… robbing them of their inheritance.”

“Tell me, are you still… of the… child bearing age?”

Helena sat up.  “Yes… I suppose I am. I’m thirty-six.  It wasn’t a problem before because my fiancé had a vasectomy.  He did not want more children.  I’m not on any birth control pills.  But I suppose I ought to discuss not taking them with you.  It’s just that I never…”

“Don’t change anything for me.  We’re all in God’s hands.  If the Almighty decrees that we should be fruitful and multiply, then let’s be fruitful and multiply.  I have no children, at least none that I know of…  well…  yes…  I do have one.  Years and years ago I was paid handsomely to impregnate a lesbian… but that’s another story.  I signed away all my parental rights.”

A maternal light suddenly shone from Helena’s eyes.  “And if I did get pregnant?  Would you want me to have an abortion or be a single parent?”

“Woman! What do you take me for?” The new Rick was sincerely indignant, but in that glimmer of light the old Rick saw the future and needed to clarify her income potential before committing himself.  “You said that your movements were inhibited by the explosion.  Are you still unable to move your neck properly?”

The question seemed strangely non-sequitur to Helena. She preferred to interpret it as being able to care for a baby.  “How sweet you are!” she said.  “Well, I’m happy to remind you that I do yoga.  Yoga cures all sorts of things of this nature.  Of course I can carry and diaper and feed and do whatever is needed.  I lost my desire to paint, that’s all. I’m not a glutton for pain.  So, of course, I solved the muscle problem.  But dear… you haven’t answered my question.  How would you feel about the…  the pregnancy thing?”

“Oh, that..  Well, I totally disapprove of shotgun weddings.  I’m a man of the cloth. It’s understandable that I sin… those things are always so spontaneous.  But that I was so careless! As though it didn’t matter whether or not I brought another life into the world?  That is not understandable.  So if there is a possibility that I will impregnate you, I insist that you become my wife.”  He grinned. “I am not some cheap one-night stand!  You’re surely not thinking, ‘Any port in the storm,’ eh?”

“Darling… do you realize you just proposed marriage to me?”

“I don’t have a ring to give you.  Let’s not discuss it again until we can do this properly… so that we can look family and friends in the eye and say that we proceeded as God intended.  Tell me more about those beasts next store.  Now… now… that parenthood has become a possibility, things are looking different.  No more childish games.  Come sit on my lap, you naughty kitty. Let the world know that officially I am your very own Tom Cat.  Perhaps I will get you a diamond studded collar instead of a ring.”

“Whatever you like, my love,” she said, straddling his flabby thighs.

“One more thing,” Rick said.  “I need to know if the Dawsons use a debit or credit card.”

“Debit,” Helena answered, kissing his ear.

“How do you know?”

“They buy food and they drive cars. I’ve seen Olivia at the supermarket.  I’ve been behind her in the cashier’s line many times.  She has long acrylic nails… they must be a half-inch long.  She stabs in the pin number.  He just fumbles and pushes the buttons at the gas station.  But I never look to see what the number is. That’s considered impolite.”

“You good sweet kitty cat.”

Before lunch, Rick, wearing a dark brown curly wig, mustache, and glasses took one of several identification document envelopes he kept in his suitcase, and, choosing the one for Julius Markovitz, drove Rocinante to a mobile home park and rented space for two months. He paid cash.  Helena followed in her car.   She then drove him to a bank so that he could open a checking account.  He explained, “It’s for our future use. In a few weeks we’ll be able to use the account without any unusual delays.   It’s worth a few hundred dollars to have such a resource.”  Helena did not quite understand the purpose of the mobile home address and checking account, but she went along with Rick and waited in the car as he went into the bank and completed the Markovitz transaction.

Despite Rosewall’s threat, Rick and Helena continued to pick up the mail.  They now knew which people were most often called and they knew the local bank the squatters used.  They also knew Donald Dawson’s mother’s maiden name.  More, they also learned Olivia Dawson’s and Babs Bristal’s maiden names if they indeed were married to the two men.  Welfare checks had been included in the mail and it began to seem that all those children were officially fatherless.  Rick copied every document.  “You can never tell what is going to become important,” he told Helena who tended to enjoy their “great adventure.” Fully armed with documentation, they went to the offices of a young criminal lawyer in Holbrook, Thomas Wauneka, Esq.

“I’ve got a criminal problem,” Rick said.  “I understand that there’s a law that makes squatting or trespassing a crime.”  He outlined the problem, gave the attorney the retainer he requested, and confessed to the few dirty tricks involving syrup, a dead rabbit, and “stench-in-a-bottle.”

Wauneka laughed.  “Don’t, for God’s sake, do anything like that again. Ok. If they’ve never had a lease with you, they are squatters. Have you accepted any money or services from them?  Have they made any improvements?”

“No, and they’re destroying the house.  It is uninhabitable as far as I can see.” He also told Wauneka about the recent dog biting incident.

“These are tough people.  Be careful,” the attorney advised.  “The IRS and state welfare will be interested in their rental income… and those air conditioning units have serial numbers that can be traced.  Their original owner may be interested in that.  Mainly, you don’t have to evict squatters.  They are simply trespassers.  So, since they haven’t met the requirement of two years of continuous hostile or adverse possession, subsequent to a legal demand to vacate, and with the condition that you are accompanied by at least one law enforcement officer, you may enter your premises and change the locks.  But you must stay inside, and it is also wise to engage a professional guard service.  I will research current law and make sure they receive a proper certified letter of your demand that they remove themselves from your property within two weeks and that you intend to occupy the house as your residence.  Don’t be big hearted and offer to put them up in a motel for a week until they find new accommodations.  This tends to indicate a guilty conscience.  And wait until they’re away from the house before you take possession of the place.”

“What about the disabled Vets?” Rick asked.

“Do they get mail at your house?”

“Actually, no,” Rick answered.  “I had the Post Office hold all my mail for personal pickup  and no mail has come for them.   Maybe they just haven’t had a chance to file a change of address.”

“Then we can’t lose any time.  I’ll get the letter out immediately.  At the moment, they’re also just trespassers, too.  I’ll alert the V.A. for whatever that’s worth.  Are they native Americans?”

Helena answered.  “One of the women squatters seems to be part Indian… but I don’t know from which nation.  She’s a big gal with long brown hair.  The others, including the vets, are all lily white. Hill-billy types.”

“There are shelters here in Holbrook for the vets.  If they’re disabled, they probably get checks, so they’re not impoverished.  I should also add that the sheriff’s department is usually not too cooperative in such matters.  The owners leave.  The squatters return.  Back and forth it goes.”

Helena groaned.  “I’ve suffered so much from them.” She indicated her scars.

Wauneka asked her to tell him about the burns and scars. He took notes as he listened to her entire story of the fire and the water and electricity theft and then the terrible Fourth of July.  “At least,” he said gently, “you have a good man to care for you.  I think about that poor boy who will also have many scars and will then have to return to the very people who arranged for him to get them.  There’s no doubt in my mind that they’ll sue your neighbors for those dog bites. And we can be sure they’ll collect millions from the homeowner’s policy… or whatever the maximum amount is and then, should the award exceed that figure, they’ll get a judgment against the neighbor’s house. As far as your particular problem is concerned, I always tell people to treat their homes like Pandora’s Box.  Don’t open it for anybody. Only evil comes out.”

“I was so stupid,” Helena said.  “I brought this all on myself.”

“You didn’t know.  It’s like secretly recording a conversation.  One person knows the script. The other speaks casually.  The one who’s recording knows how to get you to let your guard down.  Your first mistake was in allowing them to use your water which gave them permission to enter your property.  This is just like allowing someone to live in your home.  Let’s say a friend tells you she’s having marital trouble and needs a place to stay. She cries and you empathize, imagining yourself in her position. You say that she can stay with you until she finds other acceptable accommodations. She says, not unless you at least let me pay the water bill.  You think that she just doesn’t want to feel like a parasite and you say, ‘Ok.’  Well, that’s a contract… she stays at your house until she finds accommodations that suit her, and the consideration is the monthly water bill.  A month goes by and she gets mail at your house. Oh, she pays the water bill and maybe she also registers to vote at your address.  But then she becomes a slob or a drunk or brings strange men home, or helps herself to your food, or she snorts cocaine, or some money or jewelry goes missing. You ask her nicely to start looking for her own place.  She says, ‘No. We have an agreement. I’ve paid the water bill every month. I have rights.’  The smart person will see an attorney immediately. And then it is a tough battle to get her out. You can win the legal battle and lose the war if she decides to pour cement down your drains. You can’t evict her for non-payment of rent – which is the best way to win an eviction case.  The average homeowner or lessee goes a little crazy and puts her clothing and possessions in boxes and puts them on the front porch and then has the locks changed. The unwanted guest just gets a police officer, shows him an envelope mailed to her at that address or cancelled checks from the water district, and then files a complaint against the owner.  Enraged at the ingratitude, the owner may easily be goaded into having a physical altercation with the unwanted guest.  The guest bangs herself up a little more and goes to the hospital to get records of the assault, files a restraining order, and guess what?  The owner isn’t allowed to come within fifty yards of her own property.  The guest sues for damages and pain and suffering and punitive… on and on… and winds up getting a judgment and owning the house.  Never do favors.  If someone’s homeless, there’s a reason.  And that reason just might bite you. If you really do want to help someone, put a limit on your charity.  Pay for a motel room, give them money to buy food, or pay to get their car fixed.  Whatever.  Don’t expect repayment.  And send them away. Don’t let them spend the night, and don’t get sentimental.  If half of the marriages – in a church and after having kids – end in divorce, just how sure can you be of someone who says she’s your friend?”

Rick shook his hand.  “You don’t get paid enough.”

A week after the dog bite incident, the Nicholson’s were served with papers.  They were being sued for 5 million dollars, damages and punitive. They had no defense.  Pit bulls were known to be aggressive.  They should have taken extra care to prevent them from getting loose from their home.  The boy’s hospital bills had already passed Sixty thousand dollars and would doubtless go higher. His skull had been damaged and the emergency room sutures to his face and ear would have to be refined by a plastic surgeon.

The first part of Rick’s plan required that he visit a Christian supply store and buy himself a shirt with a clerical collar, a couple of Bibles, and several “get-well” cards.  He then bought a black suit at a uniform store and, properly attired, he visited Orren as a prelude to contacting Don Dawson.

Aside from persons interested in his claim against the Nicholsons, the boy had not had any visitors.  He thanked Rick for saving his life and Rick assured him that he would have done the same for him had their positions been reversed.  They spoke about the incident briefly and, without going into any detail, Rick voiced the opinion that Don Dawson had nothing to do with the incident.  Orren was glad to hear it. “I’m going now to make a pastoral call on your uncle,” Rick said.  “Do you have any message for him?”

Orren smiled.  “Tell him I’ll take the Cardinals over the Lions.”

“Will do!” Rick said, ending the visit. “Here’s a Bible for you.  Read it in your darker moments.  You’ll feel better.” He patted the boy’s shoulder and told him to keep his chin up.  Then he headed for the detention center attached to the sheriff’s station and assumed a pastoral air.  He introduced himself as “The Reverend Richard Dubovsky, a servant of Christ, an appellation I much prefer to ‘the pit bull killer,'” and questioned the deputy about the prisoner’s well being. Informed that the prisoner was doing as well as could be expected which, of course, told him nothing, he replied, “We’re all sinners, but we don’t all have the benefits of forgiveness.” He averred his uncompromising belief in the power of forgiveness, which, in his opinion, “benefited the one who forgives more than it benefits the one who has erred.” He pointed to several bruised areas on his face that were still discolored. He asked to speak to Dawson and for permission to give the prisoner a Bible and a few greeting cards to send to his hospitalized nephew. The sheriff’s deputy frisked him, examined the cards and Bible, and let him enter the visitor’s room.

Dawson was surprised and suspicious. Rick was effusively sincere. “I know, Mr. Dawson, how bad you feel about the kid.  I’m sad to say that I’m the only visitor he gets.  He knows that none of this was your fault and he misses you and hopes you don’t get into any trouble over the dogs. He did give me a message for you.”

Dawson had looked at Rick with complete distrust. “What’s the message?”

“He told me to tell you that he’ll take the Cardinals over the Lions.”

Dawson grinned and nodded approvingly.  “He knows I’m a big Lions fan. He’s funnin’ me.”

“He also knows, as do I, that you’re not the kind of man who would turn dogs loose on your brother’s boy.  But Orren is alone there in the hospital, and I’m sure he feels bad about not hearing from you. Incidentally, he is healing nicely.” He produced the greeting card from Loving Uncle. “You go ahead and write what you want.  I’ll see that he gets it.  I’ll wait in the outer office.  The bailiff can bring me your letter when you’re finished.  And here’s a Bible for you to read if you’ve a mind to consult the Good Book.”

Dawson had not known of his wife’s plan and was furious with her for offering up his nephew to those dogs. He was also grateful to Rick for intervening and shooting Nicholson’s dogs.   Rick chatted with the deputy as Dawson sat alone behind the protective screen and committed to pencil-stump print his well-wishes and love to the recovering boy.

Helena, Rick learned, was a natural forger. Ever though she was a trained artist and had an eye for detail, she bought a comprehensive book on handwriting, and after only a few days’ practice, she was able to imitate Dawson’s crude handwriting perfectly.  Rick also contacted several real estate agents in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico and asked, in Don Dawson’s name, to be sent brochures about property he could invest in.

It was November 19th, three days before Thanksgiving that Rick, accompanied by a locksmith, a glazer, a chain link fence installer, a home security guard, a carpenter, and two deputy sheriffs, planned to raid his house. They waited inside Helena’s house for Rick to give the signal to hop the fence and enter the rear of the house. Wauneka’s certified letter had ordered them to leave the premises immediately, but two weeks had passed and the squatters had not complied.  The men had not been able to make bail, the boy was still in the hospital, and the women were either visiting the men or, at Dawson’s order, the boy, or they were out buying groceries. A truck from a housing charity stood by to accommodate the disabled veterans if they were still inside the residence.  The renters’ cars were gone, although it was possible that they were inside the dwelling. There had been hope that Orren would be released from the hospital that day, but the doctors, forewarned about the intended raid, postponed his release date.

“The object,” Rick said, “is to avoid confrontations inside the house.”  He therefore made a large donation to a high school marching band that was rehearsing for Thanksgiving’s big football game.  In exchange for the money, they agreed to march down the street while he and the others waited.  All the neighbors came out to watch the band come trumpeting, with fifes and drum beats and majorettes throwing their batons in the air. Even the veterans rolled out of the garage in their wheelchairs to see the spectacle.   Rick went into the Helena’s back yard and put the ladder against the fence. He and a deputy climbed it, dropped down onto his property, and entered the house through the back door.  While the deputy went through the house to lock the front door, Rick signaled the others and lowered the garage door.  The men from the shelter got out of their fan to assist the vets.

Photographing each room as they went, Rick and the deputy searched the filthy debris-choked rooms.  No one was inside the house. A technician changed the frequency of the garage door opener and gave Rick a new remote opener.

The deputy escorted the vets into their room to gather their belongings and helped them to carry everything out to the waiting shelter van.  He then positioned himself at the front door while the locksmith installed a new lock.  Immediately a post hole digger and a concrete mixing machine came to install the posts for the new chain link fence.  The air-conditioning units were removed from the windows and in a truck Rick had rented, were delivered to the sheriff’s department as “recovered stolen property.” The deputy also removed as evidence a bolt cutter which had cutting ridges that might be matched microscopically with the lock cut from Helena’s circuit breaker box. Everyone searched for the Nicholson’s severed lock but it could not be found.  “Maybe it’ll turn up later,” Rick said.  “Right now Harry’s case can’t be helped.”

The carpenter and his helper began to restore old sills and sashes and then turned their attention to the cabinets. A glazier replaced broken windows. A general contractor had been called to give Rick an estimate on restoring the kitchen and installing a complete Spanish tile floor throughout the building.  An evaporative cooler expert came and installed a new fan belt, motor and straw pads, and soon cold air was temporarily blowing through the house, removing much of the stench of the once trash-filled house and the residual fart and skunk scent-in-a-bottle. A chimney sweeper came and loosened years of carbon deposits most of which settled on the hearths. All of the squatters’ clothing and personal possessions were carefully placed in boxes and all of the furniture in the house was loaded into a truck to be taken to a storage unit Rick had paid for.

Another deputy came to stand guard at the back door, a towing company took the vehicles off the lawn and those which were parked on the street and did not have current tags, were impounded.  Since Rick had engaged a professional guard service to be on the premises 24/7, a relief guard came and took his position, walking the perimeter.

An agent from a new home owner’s insurance company came and said that when the repairs were completed, he’d issue a policy.  Rick immediately hired a landscaper and told him to make his house the envy of the block.  The front yard chain-link fence, he explained, was only temporary.

At the post office, he told the clerk to begin again to deliver the mail directly to his house. The squatter women and children would have to find a place to live and they’d be checking with the post office who would have to direct them to Rick. He planned to give them the complete collection of mail that came since he moved into his own home.

The ADA had thought Rick’s theory about deliberately leaving the boy outside to be bitten by the dogs was a great cocktail party yarn; but he did not take it seriously and did not trouble himself to question the boy in a timely manner.  His Aunt Olivia got to him and told him what to tell the authorities when they questioned him. “If you don’t tell them what I say you should tell them, you’ll go to jail for messin’ with Shawna.”  He therefore claimed he had gone outside because he thought he heard a lost kitten cry and tried to look for it when the Nicholson’s dogs got loose.

By the time he was released, he had the scars of 52 stitches in his head and leg, and the insurance company had agreed to settle immediately for 1.5 million dollars, which included his legal and his present and projected medical expenses.  The squatting women and children had found another place in nearby Apache County to occupy. The men were still in jail when the insurance company agreed to settle the claim.  They notified the attorney and hospital administrator that they would meet with Olivia Dawson, who, along with husband Donald, was a legal guardian of the minor child, at the hospital on December 8th at 2 p.m. The attorney would be paid his fee, the hospital bills would be paid, and the balance of $700,000 would be given to Olivia to be held in trust for Orren Dawson.  Rick and Helena, having learned of this through opening Dawson’s mail, sat outside in her Lexus and watched the hospital as the meeting occurred. They loosely followed Olivia to the bank, knowing in advance which bank Don Dawson kept his account.

Rick regularly visited Don Dawson and always stayed with the deputies to chat about life, the power of prayer, and the schedule of events Dawson could expect. Cincinnati had not decided whether or not to extradite Dawson on an assault case and Dawson’s bail hearing could not occur until Child Protective Services issued its full report. Although Rick claimed to be inclined to drop all charges against the three men, he could not speak for Helena who still had signed complaints against them for vandalizing her circuit breaker box and for breaking her front door.  Christmas season had arrived and things at Child Welfare moved slowly especially since Shawna had no legal address to be returned to. The owner of the building from which the air conditioners had been stolen, had contracted with a salvage company who had intended to sell those units. Their damaged condition at recovery made them unsalable and their insurance company insisted that charges be filed against them.  Calculating all the charges and determining a bondable amount was no simple matter.  Worse, Don Dawson and his friends Andy and Clive, had no legal address and this fact, alone, tended to inhibit the cooperation of bail bondsmen.  Jurisprudence wisely took its time.

At the mobile home park, Rick received the new printed checks in the name of Julius Markovitz. “It’s time,” he said to Helena, “that you write a counter-check to Julius Markovitz.” He handed her Dawson’s bank statement that had been mailed to his address.  “You can get the account numbers from the statement.  Before Dawson gets out on bail, we need to collect the money those people have cost us.”

Helena immediately forged a counter check made payable to Julius Markovitz in Dawson’s handwriting for $650,000 for the purchase of a property located in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico, information Helena managed to squeeze on the check’s explanation line.  Dawson’s bank, taking the extra step of securing their customer’s verification of the payout, made several calls to Dawson whose cellphone was turned off as it lay inside a bag on a shelf in a jailhouse property room. They left urgent voice-mail requests for call-backs and when they did not receive a call, they immediately sent a certified letter to Donald Dawson at Rick’s house.  Rick, wearing a long sandy blonde wig, mustache, and glasses opened the door for the mailman and, having practiced signing Dawson’s name numerous times, signed for the certified letter.  He opened the letter and promptly checked the approval box.  In the explanation space, Helena wrote in Dawson’s clumsy hand, “Me and my wife bought property in Mexico from Mr. Markovitz. It’s legit. Pay him.”  She then signed his name, placed the form into the bank’s self-addressed and stamped envelope, and drove to the post office to drop the letter into the post office’s mail box. Both of them were careful to wear latex gloves.  The bank had conveniently enclosed an envelope with a self-sticking flap.

Using a “burner” phone, Rick had made reservations at many Navajo hotel-casinos for Mr. and Mrs. Julius Markovitz using a credit card that was issued in that name. When he was certain that the check had been deposited into Markovitz’s account and was considered good, Rick, in his Markovitz disguise, and Helen wearing a red wig and glasses checked in at a nearby Indian-owned hotel-casino on Navajo land. Registered as Mr. & Mrs. Julius Markovitz, they gradually began to wipe out the Markovitz bank account. They would gamble, ask that instead of a “marker” being run – an unlikely possibility – the casino simply have funds transferred from their account into the Casino’s.

On the first afternoon of their Navajo vacation, something unexpected happened to Helena Maxwell.  She had seen the beautiful wife of the hotel’s CEO at the indoor swimming pool. “May I paint you?” she asked Anita Begay, astonishing herself that she had finally desired to paint a portrait.  “If you like,” the surprised woman replied.  Helena, in love with the divine Rick, alive, and feeling powerful, drove immediately to a hobby supply shop in Holbrook and purchased a professional set of oil paints, pigments suitable for glazing, “madder lake” for the red sandstone cliffs that she planned to use in the background, charcoal pencils, brushes, cleaning supplies, palette, easel, and waited until the clerks in the art department created a full length stretched canvas.

Anita Begay had not taken Helena seriously and was therefore surprised to see the artist approach, leading a bellman who carried the easel and canvas.  “I’m not dressed and my hair’s a wreck,” the startled subject complained.

“Those are mere details, Madam,” Helena replied.  “What I need is a room that has northern exposure. Any room will do.  A store room… an old office room.  I’ll fill in a proper setting later.”   Anita led her to an old storage room.

“I’ll paint you full-length,” Helena said in a matter-of-fact way.  “What would you like the viewer to see.  In other words, how do you wish to appear… what kind of social message would you like the pose and expression to convey?”

Anita laughed.  “Something regal, I guess… but not that traditional “Navajo regal”…  no over-blouse and long gathered skirt with a silver and turquoise belt and squash-blossom jewelry.”

“Diamonds are my specialty,” Helena replied.  “I’ll use as a model for pose and jewelry a photograph of a young Queen Elizabeth II that I think is particularly beautiful.  It hangs in Buckingham Palace.” Anita googled images of the Queen.  She thought the portrait was beautiful but dated. “Oh,” Helena said, “I intend to change the dress and you can think about how you’d like your hair to be styled beneath a diamond tiara.”  She had Anita stand upright but relaxed, her hands touching gracefully at her waist.  “Fix your eyes on that–” she looked around the room… “that calendar on the wall and try to convey the expression that you are looking into eternity with confidence.”

Helena deftly began to outline the figure in charcoal. Occasionally, Anita Begay turned her eyes to look at Helena and sensed immediately that this strange woman knew precisely what she was doing.  She relaxed and began to wonder how she would have her long black hair styled.

Rick looked for Helena and finally asked the help of the hotel manager.  He was directed to the storeroom.  Not knowing what to expect, he entered and saw what Helena had accomplished in charcoal.  “My God,” he exclaimed, “the body’s outlined and you’ve already captured her face.  I’m amazed.  The likeness is uncanny.”

“Please don’t interrupt us, my dear,” Helena said.  “My subject will tire soon enough and I’ll have to work without her.  Can’t you carry on without me?”

“I’d be delighted to. It’s wonderful to see you work… and at this superb level.  You just forget all about me.  I’ll be here and there… maybe spend a night or two at some other tourist places.  I won’t even disturb you with a phone call, but if you need me, just call.”

Rick left to check into another hotel-casino, ostensibly with his wife who would possibly arrive later.  Helena often met him at night and then at dawn they’d breakfast and gamble.  Rick would write large checks to whichever hotel-casino they were registered in. Not until the bank transferred the cash into the casino’s account would Rick be given chips.  He and Helena would walk around the casino gambling small amounts before Helen would drive away in her rented car. Before he checked out, Rick would cash-in his chips. Three shifts of cashiers issued and cashed the casino’s chips, and alone or together, they never cashed in their chips from the same shift of cashiers that had issued them.

Helena ceased to meet him when all the nearby casinos had been visited.  As Rick went farther away, she was free to attend to minute details of her composition and to stand before her easel for twelve hour stretches.  The air in the storeroom was so dry that no time was lost waiting for a coating to set.  Anita’s brother, an amateur photographer, had taken a series of hill-top views of the Reservation landscape.  She picked the one she liked best and Helena agreed to use it as background. Anita would appear to be a monarch surveying her domain.  “The Queen of England wore a strapless white bouffant dress with a blue sash, but I will make the dress a sleeveless, pale green satin A-Line gown with a low round neck.  Instead of that blue sash of rank… since the eagle is the official Navajo bird, I’ll create a band made of eagle feathers.”

Anita’s hair had been pulled back into a braided bun.  The tiara gave Helena endless trouble until she decided that Anita, who had a high forehead, should wear an inch-wide band of two-deep marquise cut diamonds, as a fila, across her forehead. A similarly designed diamond bracelet was on her left wrist and her earrings were a simple design of two vertically stacked marquise cut diamonds that matched the width of the band. She needed no necklace since the black tips of the eagle-feather sash ran from her right shoulder-neckline diagonally down across her chest.  The sash was fixed at the left side of her waist with a silver and turquoise Navajo clasp and terminated about six inches below the clasp. Helena had perfectly captured the woman’s beautiful face and figure, and the effect of the gown, jewelry, and sash was stunning.  The glazing technique that she used lent a luminosity to the figure that arrested the eye of the viewer.  When the portrait was unveiled, it was impossible to look away from it.  When Helena formally presented the portrait to Anita, the young woman gasped in admiration and Helena thanked her for “having given me back part of my life that had been lost.”  At Rick’s reminder, she had signed “M” only in the corner.

“Can you make ten more?” the CEO, Dave Begay, tearfully asked.  “I’d like to hang one in the lobby, one in my home, one in my office… everywhere.”

His assistant stared, open-mouthed, at the portrait. “You ought to put a guard on it or I swear somebody will try to steal those diamonds.”  It was a great compliment to Helena.

Begay pretended anger.  “Steal the diamonds?  What about trying to steal the gal who’s wearing ’em?” Everyone laughed.

Helena studied her work.  “I’ll let you know if I do resume my career.  It would be nice to paint your wife at intervals, to see how she mellows with age… like fine wine.”

For nearly two weeks, Rick, alone or with Helena, made the rounds of hotel casinos in seveal states.  When they finished, they had cashed in more than $600,000 worth of chips. At their last stop, Rick called the bank and asked that the Markovitz account be closed when the final service fee for transferring money into another account was deducted.  The amount the bank required was $48,543. Rick wrote the check and the casino cashed it after the bank made the required transfer.

They returned home with Rick contented to have been able to replenish the cash he had thus far laid out since moving to Lafayette Street and with Helena happier than she had ever imagined she could be.  She had decided that she would resume her professional career.  This naturally suited Rick since it would guarantee them a steady income.  “Perhaps, my dear,” he said, “it is time for us to consider marriage.”  Helena gasped in delight.  Rick continued, “but there are a few things that we must do first.  For example, I’d like you to place your home in both our names.  Then I can order the renovations to make it an artist’s studio and maybe a yoga center.”

“Of course,” she gushed.  “Anything you want.”

“And then we can look for a good plastic surgeon to take care of those scars.”

“Oh, darling.  I know that finally we have the money, but I didn’t want to be presumptuous and ask.”

Olivia Dawson had thought that Don would be returned to Ohio on the old warrant, but the authorities in Cincinnati decided not to prosecute because their principal witness had died from causes they determined were unrelated to the assault.  She instead was able to pay 10% of the bail bond for each of the three men.  The total came to $45,000.  Since Rick’s Markovitz check for $650,000 had already cleared the Dawson account, after writing the bail bond check she felt far richer than a woman who had only $5,000 in the bank had a right to feel. The $700,000 insurance check she received for the dog bites was nearly gone.

 

The Squatters (#3)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
http://www.zenanthonywolff.com

The Squatters

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

To see all available chapters of “The Squatters” click here

 

Part 3: The squatters strike back.

 

A good night’s sleep had clarified his objectives which he discussed with Helena over breakfast.

“Naturally, I don’t want to see them suffer.  I am a good and gentle man.  I simply want to see them gone. Let’s not involve any other people unless we have to.  I had wanted to lower a dead animal down their chimney and drive them out with the smell of decomp, but your idea of getting that fart and skunk juice at a party store is a much better idea.  But we shouldn’t buy it around here. I have an idea. We’ve missed the Santa Fe summer opera season but we can spend the night in Santa Fe at the Hotel San Francisco. They serve wonderful Irish oatmeal with dates and nuts and cream for breakfast.  Then we can hop down to Albuquerque and hit the party shops.”

A date?  Helena’s eyes filled with tears. She used her napkin to wipe one away and murmured, “That would be wonderful.  I have just the dress to wear for dinner at a fine hotel.”

“I hope you like to dance,” he said gallantly.  She blushed.

“But first things first.  I have all the documentation that’s required to ask the post office to hold my mail for personal pickup except an Arizona driver’s license.  Let’s do that now.  I’ve got one from Nevada, so it shouldn’t be a problem.  No moving violations whatsoever.”

They drove Helena’s Lexus to the Department of Motor Vehicles and while she waited, Rick took the brief written test and then had his photograph taken.  The license would be mailed to him within 48 hours. “This means,” Rick noted, “that we have to be outside waiting for the mailman when he comes to deliver the mail.”

“He comes by at 11 a.m. faithfully every day.  I know him personally.”

“As soon as I get my license, I’ll go to the P.O. and stop the mail.  Then we’ll steam open their mail and find out things we need to know about them… phone numbers, bank account numbers, rent checks paid to them… things of that sort. Harmless actions.”

Helena agreed to the plan and amplified it. “After we’re finished with their mail, I can take Bruno for a walk and casually stick it in their mailbox along with any other junk mail.   If there’s ever a question, I’ll say it was received by me in error.”

 

On Monday of the following week, Rick took his driver’s license and grant deed to the post office and put a hold on all mail delivered to his address. Every day he picked up his mail, and, after culling it for information and resealing it, Helena would nonchalantly walk past the squatters’ curbside mailbox and casually insert it.

“A kettle and steam,” Rick noted.  “Who needs high tech solutions?”

 

Harry and Pamela Nicholson, the neighbors who lived in the house across the street with their four grade-school children, had not been particularly nice to Helena ever since the squatters moved in.  As the squatters increased their income by renting rooms, the number of cars in the area grew.  There were no concrete sidewalks on the street – passage across the lawns that paralleled the street was effected by flag stones or other spaced brick pavers – but soon the cars and trucks, driven often in drunken carelessness, were knocking down mail boxes and parking on lawns. On many occasions, the Nicholsons found their driveway blocked and had to call the police.  As the offending car was being towed away, always, according to the scheme, the car owners said that they had been given permission to park there by Ms. Maxwell who claimed she owned the property. Having said some ugly things to Ms. Maxwell, the Nicholsons were loathe to admit their mistake when they learned the truth.  And she, considering them an ally of the squatters, made no attempt to be friendly to them.

On one occasion, the squatters called Animal Control to report the Nicholsons for an animal cruelty infraction, leaving Ms. Maxwell’s name as the complainant.  They had secretly opened the Nicholson’s gate, letting their cocker spaniel out.  They immediately replaced it with a sick and emaciated dog one of their renters provided.  Animal Control took the sick animal into custody and since there was no chip in the animal’s scruff, issued a citation.  The Nicholsons sounded moronic when they insisted to the judge that their spaniel was well fed and cared for and missing.  Only a costly appearance by their veterinarian convinced the court that this was not the animal the Nicholsons brought him for routine care. Still, before his testimony could be given, the Nicholsons had directed harsh words at Helena and repeatedly demanded that she tell them what she had done with their dog.

After the July 4th incident, when the police did canvass the neighborhood, asking if anyone was aware of illegal fireworks being used on the street, the Nicholsons, who were aware of such fireworks, spitefully said that they knew nothing.  It was a lie and they knew it, but shame when not overcome by quick apology, has a way of converting into reasonable self-defense. As the troublesome nature of the squatters became more apparent, they automatically forgave themselves for being coerced into committing such an understandable offense.

Despite these difficult circumstances, an incident occurred that gave Rick and Helena an opportunity to convert the Nicholsons into allies.

Harry Nicholson had hired a contractor to build a low brick wall across the front of his property.  He did not extend the wall up the sides of the property and so no right-of-way infringements occurred. The street was exceptionally wide and allowances for traffic and parking were easily observed. A gutter running along his property created a dip in the street surface so that his three foot high brick wall – which met existing building codes – seemed higher.  The new brick wall, completed on the Friday that Rick and Helena left for Santa Fe, had been landscaped with honeysuckle that would have remained green throughout the year.  The wall lasted two days. The Nicholsons awakened on a rainy Sunday morning to discover that an unknown vehicle had backed into the wall, knocking a six foot section of it onto the lawn and walkway.

Harry went across the street and examined the cars and trucks that were parked on the lawn and street.  Just as he found a heavy duty truck that had fresh rear end damage, one of the squatters came to the window holding a rifle and demanded that Harry get off his property.  Harry had a camera with a telephoto lens and ran home to get it so that he could safely photograph the damaged vehicle; but before he could find it and return to get the photos, the truck drove away along with his proof.  Two days later the truck returned, but the damage to its rear had been repaired.  Harry complained to the sheriff who sent a deputy to question the truck’s owner who, as expected, denied any knowledge whatsoever of the collision.

 

Just before they made their New Mexico trip, however, Rick and Helena talked about many instances of squatter criminality as they sipped what had become Helena’s speciality: vodka gimlets.  Helena, wanting to know how they would register – whether as friends in two rooms or man and wife in one – tried to steer their conversation to the planned visit to Santa Fe.  “Let’s talk about pleasant things,”she said. “It’ll be good to see the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest.”  Rick agreed.

The neighborhood had been in a quiescent phase and judging from the information Rick gleaned from opening squatter mail, a funeral plot and casket for one Jay J. Mulroy of Cincinnati, Ohio, had recently been purchased. Rick consulted a calendar. “Some of them may have gone East for the funeral service.  Let’s see. Columbus Day falls on October 8th.  It amazes me to think that I’ve lived with you for only ten days and here we are, preparing to take a long holiday weekend together.”

“Yes,” Helena tried not to sound eager.  “The time does seem opportune.  Only the squatters’ renters seem to be home.”

“Since we’re only going to be gone a few days, let’s leave tomorrow morning,” Rick suggested, “the 6th, and lessen the odds that your property will be damaged. I’ll change our hotel reservations right away.”  He called the hotel.

The subject of how they would register was answered. Rick ordered a suite for two.  It saddened Helena that her self-esteem had become so low that she had ever doubted that he would publicly disown her. “So much will seem new to me,” she confided.  “I hope I remember how to dance and which fork is the salad fork.”

Rick laughed.  “Let’s make a deal,” he said. “I promise not to step on your feet if you promise not to step on mine.” It was meant to be a joke (he said it as a child would say, ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,’ and the two of them chuckled.

Helena immediately went into Holbrook to an exclusive cosmetics shop and bought herself new heavy-duty make-up.

 

On the road to Santa Fe, Rick told her a sanitized version of his partial castration.  “I vouched for a friend who borrowed a considerable amount of money from the wrong kind of people.  He asked me to vouch for him… co-sign, so to speak… and then he just skipped out without repaying them, and they came to me and collected the full amount plus an exorbitant amount of interest and inflicted physical damage as a special punishment for having vouched for the fellow.  I’ll let you see the results when we get to the hotel,” he said.  “I’m only beginning to be comfortable with exclusivity of the “dress left” tailor’s measurement.  I used to be “dress right.”  Helena did not know what this meant, and he laughed and told her about zippers and the scrotum and penis bulge.  She thought it was adorable that he shared the information with her.  It seemed to confirm that they were, indeed, “a couple.”

Dr. and Mrs. Rick Dubrovsky (he claimed a divinity doctorate) left their room wearing formal clothing.  They frequented a few hotels near the downtown plaza in Santa Fe and returned to spend such a night sating their long-starved lust that it was necessary to stay another day.  On their way home on Wednesday they stopped at a party shop in Albuquerque and bought a supply of the worst “fart and skunk stench-in-a-bottle” the store sold.
When they were finally home, they watched on their monitors the events of the days during their absence.  The truck and wall incident was completely recorded in astonishing clarity.  Rick consulted the manual.  “Now is the time for us to make friends of your neighbors.  The license number of the truck can easily be read.”  He copied the incident onto a DVR.  “Here, my darling Helena,” Rick said, “take this to them as a belated gift. Tell them that after we left for our holiday, I forgot my camera and came back to get it. I had important film on it I wanted to show our friends. To make sure the camera was working properly, I did a test film and happened to catch this action. I immediately started to go outside to confront the driver but he had just driven away. You were waiting for me in Santa Fe – we had a social affair to attend – and I didn’t want to keep you waiting. When we returned we saw that the truck had been repaired.”  He frowned.  “When those sons of bitches could have helped you on the Fourth of July, they stayed quiet.  Make it clear that we won’t testify about the footage because we fear the reprisals of these terrible people. Give them a dose of their own medicine.”

Giddy with the thought of being useful to “her man,” Helena crossed the street and knocked on the Nicholson’s door. She did not see that several of the squatters were watching her and wondering what was contained in the disk she carried in the plastic DVR case.

Pamela answered and saw immediately the plastic case Helena held up and waved teasingly in her hand. “Come in,” she said.  “Is something wrong?”

“I know we haven’t seen eye-to-eye in the past, but my houseguest happened to pick this up on his camera. You may find it useful, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t avail you of the opportunity to see it.  He went out to confront the driver, but the man had already driven away.”

Harry came into the room.  He put the DVR into the TV player and watched in stunning detail as the truck knocked down the wall, with the clearly visible driver who did leave the driver’s seat to examine the rear of his truck, and then simply drove away.  “I don’t know how to thank you,” Harry said.

“It’s nothing.  Rick and I only wish we could have gotten this to you sooner.  But we’re glad to help. I hope you understand that we cannot come forward in court to help you by authenticating the film.  I’ve already sustained enough damage.   Rick will not allow me to expose myself further to their deadly tricks. But this video should ease your mind about who exactly damaged your wall.  I hope you understand our need for anonymity.”

“Of course,” Harry assured her.  “No one understands better than we how vindictive those bums are.  Please convey my thanks to Rick.”  Harry gallantly opened the front door for her and nodded his head as he smiled gratefully and waved in the direction of her house in case Rick was watching.

Helena knew that she had secured two allies.  The squatters saw that she was now empty-handed and judged from the effusive way the Nicholsons stood in the doorway and thanked her as she left, that the silver record she carried was undoubtedly a video.  Don Dawson smirked.  “Is she bringin’ it or returnin’ it? Ain’t no Blue Grass music they’re listening to.  Whatcha’ think is on that record?”

Olvia Dawson offered an explanation.  “You know… one of the renters told me he saw some strange guy up on their roof. I looked through binoculars but I couldn’t see anything. If they’ve got cameras, they’re pretty well hidden. Maybe they got a new kind… one the stores don’t use outside.  Funny they didn’t give them any video of the brick wall being knocked down sooner.”

Dawson smirked.  “How could they? It happened when they was away.”

“Yes, dear.  I know. The whole purpose of the cameras is to record stuff that happens when folks aren’t home.”

Dawson grunted an acknowledgement of his wife’s superior knowledge about such things.
Since Halloween was quickly approaching, Rick and Helena agreed that the general hubbub of the evening would provide the greatest cover for her to “deliver” the stench-liquid.  Pamela Nicholson came to tell Helena that she and several other neighbors had agreed to hold private parties to avoid having the squatters’ children come to their homes.  The front of their houses would, therefore be kept dark.

Rick, unaccustomed to feelings of manly responsibility, was uneasy with the thought that all the houses would be “off limits” to the children next door. His own parents had strictly avoided participating in such pagan celebrations. He recalled how he felt missing out on all the fun.  He bought pumpkins, cut monster faces in them, and placed candles inside.  Helena would be shutting off the electricity so that she could go up onto their rooftop without any record being made of her excursion.  Rick bought several bags of candy bars to give to the children who came to the front door and, draped in a old sheet which was supposed to make him look like a ghost, he sat inside near several lit pumpkins, positioning himself close to the door to be sure that no one entered.  Helena, meanwhile, hopped the fence, hoisted herself up onto an air-conditioning unit, and then onto the roof where she poured the fart and skunk scent down their chimney.

While the four squatter children came to the door, their parents stood on the driveway near the street, waiting for them. After they each got a candy bar of their choice, Rick assumed that all the trick-or-treat children had already come to the house, but he stayed by the front door, waiting for Helena. He blew out all but one of the candles and began to pick through the candy bars stuffing himself with the ones he liked.  He heard a tapping on the front door and opened it to find an eight-year-old girl from the squatters’ house.  She had previously received candy from him and Rick became immediately suspicious.  “Can I use your bathroom?” the girl asked.

“No. I’m sorry,” Rick said, “but you have a bathroom you can use next door where you are staying.”

Suddenly the girl screamed and dropped her trick-or-treat bag scattering candy on the portico’s floor.  She ran to her parents screaming, “He made me do bad things to him!”  Her father, Don Dawson, and two other squatters, Andy and Clive, marched up the driveway towards Rick who quickly shut and locked the door.

The girl’s father pulled a child’s torn and slightly blood-stained panties from his pocket and threw it down amongst the candy.  “You can’t hide, you pervert!” he shouted.  “We’ve already called the police.” With a powerful kick, he smashed in the front door’s stained glass panel, reached through the aperture, and turned the lock. Rick tried to wrestle with him but two other men jumped on him, pinning him down. “Hold his legs so’s I can get his pants and shorts off,” Dawson yelled, and he reached up under the ghost-sheet and clawed at Rick’s thrashing body to get a grip on the underwear and pajama bottom.  In the semi-dark foyer he could not see that he left long scratches on either side of Rick’s waist.

Olivia appeared at the door’s aperture. “We’ve called 9-1-1,” she said.  Dawson handed her Rick’s torn-away garments.  “A unit’s on the way,” she said, secreting them under her coat as she turned and ran back to the street.

Helena had returned to the house and because some of the stench was on her, went directly to the  shower.  She had gone up the rear staircase to her bathroom and had no idea of the events taking place in the front of her house.

While the men continued to subdue Rick, the police arrived.  “We’ve made a citizen’s arrest of this child-molester,” the men said as Rick was transferred into police custody.

The wailing child told her horrific tale of being forced to touch the man who had pulled both his and her pants off and made her fellate him while he touched her “down there,” hurting her badly. Since the sheet might contain evidence of the crime, Rick was read his rights and led away in handcuffs and a tattered bed sheet. Helena came downstairs and saw Rick being led away as the squatter-women shouted “child molester” at him.  She quickly got their supply of bottled stench and the notations they had made of information gotten from the mail and put it in a carry-all bag.  She also got a folder that contained the deed to her house.  She ran down to the garage, opened the garage door, and against the protests of the two remaining deputies who were putting yellow tape across her portico, drove to the bus station and put the evidence in a locker.  She then drove directly to the lawyer who had unsuccessfully represented her previously

Dodge Rosewall, Esq. answered his door with some annoyance.  It was a little late for children to be calling at his home.  Seeing an obviously distraught Helena Maxwell, his attitude changed immediately and, though he was in a dressing gown, he invited her into his study.

“Those squatters are trying to frame my… well… fiancé.. though that is by no means official. He felt sorry for the children because all the other neighbors had private parties for the expressed purpose of excluding those brats.  But Rick, who is the legal owner of that property – and, incidentally, is a former seminary graduate, is a compassionate man and he bought candy bars to give them in case they came trick or treating.” She completed the sordid tale.

“Where were you when all of this was supposedly happening?”

“Uh… Uh… Is that important?”

“Of course it’s important!  It’s your house.”

“You’ll hate me if I tell you the truth.”

“I won’t take your case unless you do.”

“Rick and I went to Santa Fe for the holiday and on our way back we bought some stinky stuff in a Party store and I poured it down their chimney.”

“That was a childish thing to do.  I would have understood it better if you took an AK47 and shot them all.  But you didn’t.  You resorted to ‘self help’ and that is invariably a problem.”

“We had an elaborate security system installed.  Rick paid for it.  We have cameras everywhere, but because we didn’t want the cameras to pick me up climbing up onto their rooftop, we turned the system off.”

“Are you telling me everything?”

“Previously we did toss a few balloons filled with syrup at their lawn and we tossed a dead rabbit we found on the road into their… no… Rick’s swimming pool.”

“Helena, that is kid stuff.  You ought to be ashamed of yourself.  But something tells me that you haven’t finished your litany of dirty tricks…. so let’s have it.”

“Rick, having proof that the address is his, had all the mail held at the post office.  We picked it up and steamed open any mail that might contain information about them… phone numbers from their phone bill, credit card information, letters from Dawson’s grandmother that would yeald an answer to “mother’s maiden name”… that sort of thing.  Then we resealed the envelopes and I put everything in their mailbox.”

“Do you have any idea how serious these charges are?  Sure, if they win a child molestation charge they can get Rick’s house – which they already have, de facto if not de jure.  He’ll go to prison for at least a dozen years.  But you have no home owner’s insurance as I recall.  You’ll lose your house to them, too.  And for tampering with the U.S Mail you may get a little time in the slammer, too.”

“What am I to do?”

“Do you have money enough to pay for a defense?”

“Cash, no.  But I have the deed to my house.”

“Then sign it over to me immediately.” He produced additional papers from a desk drawer. “Sign these, too,” he said.  “Don’t worry about the house.  I’ll refund to you whatever’s left from representing you.  They can’t touch the house as long as it is legitimately given in lieu of cash as my fee.  I’ll use it as collateral to pay Rick’s bond.  We’ve got to get him out of jail.  I don’t trust the sanctity of jailhouse interview rooms.  I’ll talk to him when we get him out. Make sure he has a dollar to give me to make my representation legal.  A dollar,” he explained, “will create an attorney-client relationship, but it will hardly suffice to cover my fee.  Getting him out of trouble will be a major enterprise.   Tell me…” he asked slyly, “does he have ready access to his property’s deed? And, is it unencumbered?” J. Dodge Rosewall, sixty, flat-black dyed white hair, and a lifetime of failures buried in the furrows and creases of his face, saw his clients not as defendants or plaintiffs, but as potential sources of income.  He adjusted his knowledge of the law to fit the task of extracting as much money as he could from the client.  Only “billable hours” and “retainers” determined the merits of a case.
Harry Nicholson had seen the police cars arrive.  He had been watching the house, cursing Rick for being so “soft” as to give candy to the squatting vandals.  He bore witness to the fact that the little girl had knocked at the door and when Rick opened it, she had turned, screaming “rape” to her parents.  He could not account for Helena’s whereabouts.  The trees had not yet completely lost their foliage and she could not be seen as she tiptoed to the chimney.

He called the sheriff’s station and learned of the charges.  “They’re absolutely false charges,” he assured the deputy, a fellow who played on a bowling team at the lanes Harry’s team used.

“Well, if you’ve got something to say about this matter – which is very serious – come on in and give your statement.”

Harry left immediately for the station.  He was ushered into a rear interview room where he sat unattended for half an hour. Not only was it a busy holiday night, but everyone’s interest was focussed on the recently apprehended child molester.

Rick, never without the resources of his mind, had asked the sheriff, an investigating detective, a deputy, and an assistant district attorney to come into the secured interrogation room.  The four men had the demeanor of good men who had caught a bad man in the act.  “Gentlemen,” Rick began, “I’d like to show you something that will immediately give the lie to the charges that child and her parents are making.  But,” he added, “I can’t do this without your cooperation.”  This was certainly a novel approach.  The men brought extra chairs into he room and sat down.

Rick continued.  “The girl says that I made her fellate me and that I put my fingers into her private parts. I was attacked by her father and two other men immediately.  And then I was transferred into your custody.  At no time have I had an opportunity to wash my hands.  So, first I’d like you to have your forensic people swab my hands completely. I never touched that child. Secondly, she has said that I made her fellate me.  I’d like you to show her photographs of a normal men’s penis and scrotum and also pictures of men who have undergone an orchidectomy… one testicle removed without any prosthetic implant.  The difference in appearance between a normal man,” he stood up and lifted his sheet so that they could clearly see the surgical procedure he had recently undergone, “is noticeable to anyone with eyes.  I didn’t touch that child and I did not ask her to touch me in any way.”  It was the first time that he had seen the scratches on his waist. He lifted his T-shirt to see the full length of the scratches.  “Look at this!” he nearly squealed, “these are the marks of wide adult fingernails, not a little girl’s scratches.”  He looked up registering horror that his flesh had been scraped by “a filthy beast like Dawson!”

The onlookers were more interested in Rick semi-castration. “Son of a bitch,” the detective said.  “More trouble from those squatters.  I don’t know what the hell is keeping the owner of that joint from taking legal action against them.”

Rick bowed his head.  “I, sir, am the legal owner.  Your point is well taken.  My negligence is  to blame.  But of this child molestation charge, I am innocent.”

A forensic technician came into the interview room and swabbed Rick’s hands looking for any trace of blood or tissue from the scratch on the girls pubic area.  He also trimmed Rick’s fingernails. ‘I’ll give you a preliminary report asap,” the technician said as he left.

“First,” said the A.D.A., “see what there is to be found under Donald Dawson’s nails. And if you find human tissue, type it precisely and come back and get exemplars from this man’s waist.” He turned to the others to explain, “There’s skin and then there’s skin.”

The photograph library was searched for pictures of male sexual organs.  No one could find a photograph of a scrotum that had only one testicle. When the sheriff regretted this, Rick lost his temper.  “For God’s sake, then take photos of mine.  Put them with the others and see how she reacts!”   Using several different cameras, angles, and backgrounds, Rick’s genital area was photographed.  One was selected for the photo line-up.

Jeffrey Lowe, the Assistant District Attorney, had already summoned, according to procedure, a child psychologist, Dr. Irene Ives, who was regarded as a “stupid opinionated bitch” by the entire department, including the women. When she went into the interview room to question the victim privately, the others watched from the other side of a two-way mirror.  They also listened to the interview.

Holding two dolls, a male doll that wore a loin cloth and a female doll who wore a sun dress and underwear, Dr. Ives began, “Shawna, can you tell the difference between these two dolls?”

“Yes,” sniffed the girl.  “The man has a towel around him and the lady is wearing a dress.”

“Excellent!” Dr. Ives exclaimed.  “Now, let’s pretend that the lady doll is trick-or-treating and comes to the man doll’s door.”  She placed the two dolls into the child’s hands.  “Can you show  me what happened when after she knocked at the door?”

Shawna Dawson was confused.  She had not been rehearsed in the scenario using dolls. “I asked for candy… trick or treat.” She looked away and pursed her lips.

“And then did the bad man tell you that he had candy inside?” Dr. Ives asked.

“My God,” the ADA whispered, “She’s leading this kid. A good defense counsel could get the whole thing thrown out.”

“Let’s get a real doc in here,” the Sheriff said, summoning a deputy. “Get Dr. Ferguson over here to conduct a prelim.”

Shawna Dawson twiddled her thumbs. “He said he had good candy for me inside and that I should come in.  I went in and he shut the door and took my hand and led me into the living room.  He showed me a big bowl of candy bars and said I could have them all if I did something nice for him.  Then… then….  Oh, I don’t want to talk about it.  I want my Daddy.” Shawna pursed her lips again, indicating that she would say no more.

“Daddy’s outside waiting for you.  We’ll see him as soon as we finish talking in here.” She picked up the dolls.  “We don’t have to talk about what he did to you, but these dollies want you to show me what he did to them if they were you when you, as the girl dolly, went into the house and asked the boy dolly for candy.”

Shawna picked up the girl doll and pulled down its panties.  Then she removed the loin cloth from the boy doll and bent the girl doll’s legs so that she was kneeling before him.  She then described the action with flawless detail.  Dr. Ives thanked her and led her from the room to her waiting father who was, at the moment, balking at having his fingernails scraped and cut by the technician.  “You lookin’ for his skin?  You’re gonna find it!  I had to fight the bastard and he’s a big fat guy.”

The ADA privately asked Dr. Ives for her opinion.  “Undoubedly she is telling the truth. No child could relate the event in such detail unless she had, in fact, experienced it.  I’ll have my report on your desk in the morning.” She saw the police surgeon and a registered nurse arrive. “What’s he doing here?  The physical examination should be conducted in a hospital.”

The police surgeon paused to answer her.  “The sheriff asked me to come in and do a preliminary exam,” he said as the sheriff handed him a release form. “I see we have parental permission,” the doctor said.  “Good. Let’s go into the infirmary.”

It was clear that there was a fresh superficial scratch and many old vaginal scars.  He left the girl with the nurse and came out of the infirmary to speak to the Sheriff.  “She’s got a fresh scratch on the inside of her thigh and a lot of old vaginal scars that evidence some serious trauma. Since your suspect has been in the vicinity for less than two weeks, he can’t have caused the damage.  The child’s hymen was not intact.  It had been breached, and,” the physician added, “not recently. I’ll send you a formal report, but in my opinion, he’s not your guy.”

The sheriff called the ADA aside and informed him of the surgeon’s finding.  “Proceed with that photo lineup,” the ADA said.

The forensic tech called to tell the sheriff that under gross examination the material under Dubrovsky’s nails was chocolate and ordinary household dust.  “There’s lots of human tissue under Dawson’s nails.  I’ll get you the DNA results asap.”

As Don Dawson, the complaining parent, signed the official typed document he had just dictated, a photo line-up of male genitalia was spread on an interview table and the girl was asked to pick the one that looked most like the man who had assaulted her.  Fortunately, she picked one that had a small penis and large scrotum, and to Rick’s relief, the sheriff nodded affirmatively to him and Rick’s possessions were returned to him with the request that he not leave town.

To the chagrin of the child psychologist who was soothing the “tormented” child, the ADA informed Dawson that his daughter showed no evidence whatsoever of having recently been molested.  “She isn’t a virgin and she couldn’t correctly pick a photograph of genitalia that even remotely resembled the man she accused,” he said sternly. Meanwhile, a deputy was downloading Dawson’s RAP sheet.

All this was too much for Dawson to comprehend and he began to berate the child viciously for not having told her story properly.  The ADA placed him under arrest for suspicion of having filed a false police report, a charge that would hold him until they could get a complete rundown on his criminal past.  The deputy shouted, “Hold on! There’s a warrant out for him in Ohio!”

“Cuff him,” the ADA said, “And read him his rights!”  A bailiff had entered the room intending to escort Rick to the admission’s room where he’d be given “jailhouse stripes” to wear as his sheet was collected as evidence.  The bailiff was confused.  “We’ve got a different guest to admit,” the ADA said, pointing to Dawson.  He looked at Clive and Andy.  “Three of them.” He looked to the deputy, “Cuff ’em!”

  1. Dodge Rosewall and Helena entered the room just as the ADA said this, and seeing Rick standing there without any restraints on him, assumed that the ADA meant that Rick should be cuffed.  “Just a minute, Counselor,” he shouted  “I represent Dr. Dubrovsky and I’d like a few minutes to confer with my client.”

Rick began to say, “I don’t need–”

Rosewall abruptly cut him off.  “Say nothing and do you have a dollar on you?”

Helena stepped forward and pressed a dollar bill into Rick’s hand. “Give him the dollar… please, Darlng. Please,” she begged. Rick, annoyed by the presence of an attorney he did not need, but wondering if there was something else going on that he did not know about, gave the dollar to Rosewall.

“Good. Now it’s official,” Rosewall whispered.  He turned to the sheriff, “Which interview room should we use?”

“Your client is not under arrest,” the sheriff said simply.  “He’s free to go.”

Rick turned to the Sheriff. “Those three men assaulted me – as your own deputies can attest.  They also smashed the stained glass panel in Ms. Maxwell’s front door which I had just locked. The door will be expensive to repair. Tomorrow my bruises will come out more clearly if you want to photograph them.  But they attacked me, punching and kicking me and pinning me to the ground.  And all of that brutality was part of their scheme to extort money from me by filing false charges.  Am I wrong?”

“They were pretty rough on him,” the deputy said.  “And the door was in fact destroyed… they kicked the stained glass clear through.  Hung there like a broken web.”

Rick signed the complaint and the other two men, Clive and Andy, were also arrested.  Their wives, however, were not and, though Shawna was placed into the care of Child Protective Services, they were free to go pending charges of child abuse and neglect that might possibly follow in another day or two.

Suddenly, everyone stopped to look at Harry Nicholson who ran down the hall and burst into the station’s main room. “This man,” he said, pointing at Rick and waving a DVR, “did not allow that child into the house.  I was watching from across the street.  I saw the parents waiting at the lawn’s edge.  The kid went up to the door, knocked, he opened the door and she started screaming ‘rape’ and ran back to them and the three of them broke in the door to attack him.”

Harry pointed at Dawson who responded by calling him “a nosy bastard,” among other unpleasant names. “You’re just trying to take it out on me… that brick wall business.”

Rick’s case was not the only one being processed in the station.  People who had been waiting began to complain and everyone began shouting for attention.  Aside from the complaints of strangers, Rick insisted that he would sue Dawson for damages and wanted to sign a complaint.  The psychologist decried the police surgeon’s lack of respect for her profession.  The ADA accused the psychologist of incompetence and naivete.  Harry defended Rick as being a good neighbor and again charged the squatters with knocking down his brick wall. Helena wanted her attorney to return the deed to her house.  Another deputy insisted that it was pointless to cuff a man before his fingerprints were taken.  The sheriff required five minutes of shouting before he could get control of the station.

Harry Nicholson and all non-essential persons were ordered to leave the station.  Harry went to a chair in the corner and sat down.

Rick stayed to talk to the ADA about the “break-in and battery” of the three men.  He could hear Helena and Rosewall talking.  He had not paid much attention to what they said, but a note of anxiety had filled Helena’s voice. So he held up a finger to his lips and gestured that the ADA should wait a moment until he finished listening. Helena had asked Rosewall to return her deed to her because, “It was just a mistake… one that followed on several errors.  Rick is not under arrest for anything.  I’ll happily pay you for your consultation this evening; but I’d really like my deed returned.”

Rosewall had taken a “father knows best” attitude towards her.  “Now Helena… you and I have known each other long enough to know that I would never do anything to harm you.  The deed kept in my hands as a retainer is a wise investment on your part.  True, it is not needed for bail… yet.  But you and Rick are not out of danger yet.  Those people can cause you both a great deal of trouble.  I’m asking you to take a few days to think about it and see what develops from your self-help adventures.”

Rick knew that if he could hear Rosewall, so could the ADA. Any normal person would ask, “What self-help adventures?” This was outrageous! Her own attorney was standing in a police station all but charging her with criminal conduct.  Fortunately, Harry, seeing a pause in Rick’s conversation, jumped up and broke into the discussion.  He waved the DVD in front of the ADA and insisted that he at least watch it.

Rick immediately supported the idea.  “Yes, it will give you some idea of what we’re dealing with.”  The three of them went into the sheriff’s office and played the DVD.

“These people are evil,” Harry said. “You cannot continue to sit by and allow our lives to be destroyed.  Your function is to protect and to serve us, the citizens.”

ADA Lowe was trying to be reasonable.  “You can’t hold Dawson responsible for knocking down your wall. We can clearly see the driver and it isn’t Dawson.   But it is proof that the man left the scene of an accident, although the DA will want the video authenticated. So at this stage you need to get your ducks in a row, and decide what you want to do – charging anybody at that house with anything comes with a load of risk.  If you think your brick wall is worth it, I’ll give you all the cooperation I can when you sign the complaint.”

Harry Nicholson looked at Rick who negatively wagged his head, indicating that he would not authenticate the recording. “I can’t give you the source of the video, that’s a promise I had to make,” Harry said,  “and for the same reason – the goddamned reprisals of those lunatics – I’ll let it go… for now. I just wanted you to see what we’re up against.”