Best of Friends (9/2/2011)

My Journal, 3/1/2011

Today the weight loss contest started here at work.  I know what I weigh (and I don’t like it), but I’m going to lose.  Absolutely.  I decided I need some motivation, so I’ve hung up a picture of Jim from Facebook on my cubicle wall, along with a picture of myself as I am now.  It’s a reminder that I hope I’ll get to St. Louis by the end of the year and meet Jim face to face, but not looking like that. I expect it’ll help.  I hope so, anyway …

My Journal, 4/10/2011

Having trouble getting my eating under control. No surprise. But I’ve been working out so I know that will help. Still, every time I feel like eating something that’s really wrong, I look at the picture of Jim.  Since he owns a Gold’s Gym franchise, I know he understands the process of getting in shape and I can imagine him encouraging me not to give in to temptation. He even “liked” the status I posted the other day about having lost weight. What a great friend …

My Journal, 6/1/2011

Today was the weigh-in for the first half of the contest.  I was really disappointed to only have lost about 7 pounds.  In three months, I should have done better.  When I came back from the locker room where the weigh-in was, I was too ashamed to meet Jim’s eyes. How am I ever going to get to meet him, looking like this? He hasn’t been posting on FB either, lately.  I’ll bet he’d be so disgusted if he could see me right now …

My Journal, 7/14/2011

Here I am at the midpoint of the second half. I’ve hardly lost a thing. I can just see the sneer on Jim’s face, the contempt. “I see people all the time who are getting fit.  Why aren’t you?” I can just hear him now. Probably that blonde he friended the other day was one of them. I just know that’s his type, not someone like me. Not a frumpy, fat person like me …

My Journal, 8/31/2011

Final weigh-in. I lost a whole 15 pounds this summer.  Nothing I did was right. When I got back to my desk, I tore down the picture of him and threw it away.  I could hear him laughing at me, probably the way he laughs at me when he’s with all his hotshot gym buddies. I really thought he liked me, but he fooled me.  Well, no more.  I’ve had all I’m going to take …

St. Louis Dispatch
September 5, 2011


In what is surely a cautionary tale about befriending strangers on the Internet, James Sawyer, 37, the owner of a local gym, was shot down at his place of business by Berta Ingles, 42, of Harton, Ohio, a small town outside of Youngstown.  Sawyer had previously friended Ms. Ingles on Facebook.  “I think he did it out of kindness,” said Al Forman, Sawyer’s grieving business and life partner. “He wasn’t that into Facebook anyway — he used it mostly for business purposes. She apparently saw things differently, because she came in shouting that she wasn’t going to put up with him laughing at her any more. I have no idea what she was talking about. Jim wasn’t the kind of guy who laughed at anyone.” Ms. Ingles is presently being held in MPC for psychiatric evaluation…

Three Word Wednesday, 7/6/2011

Cease, Heat, Nasty

I walked down the sidewalk, which was nearly empty in the stifling August heat, accompanied only by myriad dim reflections of myself in the dusty windows of the empty stores I passed. This part of town was past being just depressed; I would have called it depressing, if I had anyone with me to talk to.

The number of the building I stopped in front of had once been lettered proudly in gold leaf, but now one whole digit was missing and the others were neglected, slowly disintegrating. I could see enough in the almost-clean spaces to know I was at the right place, though, and that was all that mattered.

My footsteps echoed hollowly as I climbed the rickety staircase. At the top, I knocked once on the worm-eaten door, paused, then knocked once again. I could feel the eye at the peephole, watching me, then the door opened and a nasty-looking fellow in a shabby suit and a shirt that had definitely seen better days peered at me suspiciously.



He waved me in laconically, shut the door behind me and then went back to whatever he’d been doing. Judging from the way he sprawled in his chair, I assumed it had been nothing.

A guy who looked like an unsuccessful prize fighter stood between me and the man I’d come to see.

“You know the drill,” he rumbled.

I did.  I raised my arms slowly to the side and stood as he patted me down. When he realized I wasn’t carrying, I got a stupefied look. “Mr. Sposo, he aint got any heat.”

“Doesn’t surprise me, Charlie.  Let him go.”

Charlie got out of my way.  The expression on his face was that of a man presented with a riddle too complex for him to solve.

I ambled forward until I stood in front of Sposo. “Well? You called for me.  I’m here.”


“Thanks, no.  I’d rather stand.”

He shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He pulled the front section of yesterday’s newspaper from a pile and slapped it on the desk, turning it to face me.  “See that?”

“Yeah.  They’re expecting a heat wave.” I staggered a little as Charlie shoved me.

“Don’t wise off to Mr. Sposo.”

I gave Charlie a sideways look, then met Sposo’s eyes again.

“I mean this.” He pointed to the article on the right column.

I knew what he meant. Everyone I knew had called me and told me how much trouble I was going to be in. Hey, I believed in freedom of speech. Even guys like me had Constitutional rights.


“I’m tellin’ you – what is it they say? ‘Cease and desist.’”

“Just like that?”

“Yeah, “ he said, settling back into the big wooden chair.  “Just like that.”

“And if I don’t?”

“There used to be an elevator in this building.  Elevator’s gone, but the shaft’s still there. You don’t, and Charlie will show you to the elevator.”

“Do tell.”

Charlie had sat up like a mastiff offered a bone. Obviously he liked playing ‘fetch’ for Sposo.

I leaned forward slowly, took a sharpened pencil from the jar in front of me and shook my head ruefully.  “That’s too bad. I hate to spoil Charlie’s fun, but –“  With no warning, I swung the pencil sideways and buried it in Charlie’s throat.

He gibbered at me, eyes bulging, hands grasping, as he tried to stop the bleeding to no effect.

In one movement, I stepped nimbly back and curled my other hand into a fist and swung, crushing the windpipe of the man who’d opened the door. He crumpled to the ground like a wet piece of paper.

Sposo tried to reach for the drawer where I knew he kept a gun, but I made it around the desk in time to slam the drawer shut. At the same time, I took the newspaper and slapped it over his mouth, pressing down to stifle his scream.

I watched him quizzically. “You know who I am and what I can do, and you still summoned me down here like an errand boy. You tried to tell me what to do.  I can’t have that.” I shoved his head back hard, paper still over his face. His head slammed against the radiator and his eyes rolled up in his head.

I checked for a pulse, but I knew he was dead.

On my way to the door, I took a piece of celluloid from my pocket.  It fit nicely under the threadbare carpet, and I struck a match on Charlie’s shoe and lit it. Just to show there were no hard feelings, I straightened the handkerchief in his jacket pocket.

“Charlie, if I thought it would help you, I’d let you in on a little secret.  Just because a man doesn’t carry a gun, it doesn’t mean he hasn’t got any weapons.”

As the carpet caught, I closed the office door behind me and trotted down the steps.  As I left the building, I began to whistle.

– 30 –

Three Word Wednesday, 5/18/2011

Damp – Incensed – Skid

It seemed as though it had been raining for weeks.  I tried to keep my speed reasonable, given the damp roads and the way people tended to disregard the danger of driving on them.  Still, it didn’t completely surprise me to round the next curve and begin a skid.

I know you’re supposed to turn INTO a skid to correct, but it’s always seemed so counterintuitive. Still, it was a good thing I fought my instincts, because the ridge over the Chagrin River was below and it was a good 200-foot drop.

I guess my brakes were wet, because for a heart-stopping moment, I thought I was going to be testing the strength of the guardrail. Finally, the car screeched to a halt about six inches this side of doomsday and I sat for a moment, breathing hard.

Thirty long minutes later, I pulled slowly into the driveway. Mike burst from the house, incensed. “Where the hell have you BEEN?”

Still shaking, I got out of the car, doing a great imitation of an octogenarian with Parkinson’s. “I almost didn’t get home.” I told him about my near-mishap, and he calmed down – I think.  I was still shaking enough that I wasn’t completely sure of my surroundings.

He put an arm around me. “That’s too bad.” I glanced at him and saw a thoughtful expression on his face. We walked into the house and Mike carefully sat me on an armchair.

“So, you say the brakes were wet?”

“I guess so. Why else wouldn’t I be able to stop?”

“Sure. That makes sense.”

He left me for a moment to take a bottle of wine – no, champagne – out of the ice bucket, where it sat waiting.

“Champagne, Mike? What are we celebrating?”

“Just us, sweetie.”

He went into the kitchen, and I heard him fiddling through things for a bit. He came back with a glassful and handed it to me. “Here.  Maybe this will calm you down.”

I don’t drink much because of my heart, but I figured this once it might help.

Mike watched me narrowly.

“Aren’t you going to join me?” I asked.

“I’ll have mine later. Just drink up.  It’ll make you feel better real soon.” A slow smile spread over his face. Dear Mike. He always takes such good care of me.


She watched him greet his guest at the airport. Some business thing or other, she supposed. This wasn’t the time or the place, after all. Her hand caressed the gun in her pocket and she waited for them to go by, the woman by his side pulling a wheeled carry-on with a portfolio carefully balanced atop it.

She followed them all day. He took the woman back to her hotel and waited briefly in the lobby for her to return. Then they went across the street to the team shop in the Arena where his guest bought a jersey.

She stayed carefully back as they visited what was left of the old Forum and looked at team memorabilia. Hmm. Someone who loves the sport as much as he does. I wonder …

In late afternoon, they found a restaurant not far from the arena. Must have flown in for the game. But to come all that way? How does she know him?

Finally, she stood in the doorway of an office building nearby and watched and waited as they went to the game, glancing at her watch. The last couple of years had taught her patience, where he was concerned. This is worth waiting for. I can wait forever.

Gradually, the city’s lights rose. She huddled in the shadows, and was finally rewarded as people exited the arena, rejoicing in a hometown win. He’ll be so happy. A pity. I’d rather he’d been disappointed. Like me.

There! The two of them crossed the street together, holding hands like children, laughing, talking of the game they had just seen. Did you see that? That was a play to remember! He smiled at her. The watcher was furious. He SMILED! At HER! Goaded into action, she darted from her hiding place, pulling the gun out and pointing it at him.

They gaped at her, frozen in bewilderment. “What?” was all he had the time to say before she fired. But the woman with him pulled him aside and spun in front of where he’d been. She staggered and fell, and he caught her in shock. “Allie? Allie? My God, what?”

For a moment, she was furious. All that planning. All this time. And that bitch ruined it — then she really saw him, saw the pain on his face as his friend died in his arms. And she began to laugh.

“This is so fitting. I wanted to kill you, but this will hurt more. Hurt that someone else died for you.”

“Who ARE you? I don’t even know you!” He rocked the dead woman back and forth as if he could revive her, comfort her.

An ugly snarl disfigured her face. “You don’t know me? Every day for two years you walked by and I said hello and YOU NEVER SAW? YOU NEVER SAW!” She raised the gun and put it to her head. “Now there’ll be two people who died because of you.”

As people came running, including two police officers, she pulled the trigger and the gun clicked on an empty cylinder. Puzzled, at a loss to understand, she looked back and forth between the empty gun and the approaching officers. What? What? What did I do wrong?

The police wrestled her to the ground. What did I do wrong? One of the cops took the gun and looked at it.

“She was trying to kill herself, she said.” He came up behind them, face hard and set.

“Well, I guess she didn’t know she had a gun with a hair-trigger. She emptied it all at once.”

“Into Allie.”

“Yes.” The officer had the grace to look abashed. “But she’ll stand trial for it. She won’t get to choose her own way out.”

“Good.” He spun away, angry, and wiped the tears from his face. “To use her own word, that’s fitting.”

I’ll Be Seeing You

Everyone who knew Joe Mandeville would have bet that Marilyn Franklin would never have fallen for him.  After all, it was his brother Pete that most people remembered; Pete the high school and college athlete, the handsome one, the one people saw in the commercials for his bookstores.  Joe was more intelligent, perhaps, and probably ran a little deeper, but most people would have called him boring.

So it was with considerable surprise that they received the introduction of his new wife at Pete’s party to celebrate the opening of the 100th Mandeville Books.  Pete kicked the party into higher gear at the news, to the surprise of the people who thought he might resent losing his share of Joe’s estate someday.  There was nothing mean about Pete, Joe always said, and Pete’s reaction proved his brother’s faith.

The next big shock was even greater.  Joe had gone to an antiques auction one afternoon and returned home to find Marilyn dead — raped and strangled. For quite a while, life shut down for him.  Pete took care of his brother, seeing to his day-to-day needs, until his wife began to complain.

“He’s an adult, for dog’s sake, Pete.”

“He’s my brother, Julie.  Maybe that doesn’t mean anything to you, but it does to me. Besides, he didn’t just lose Marilyn …”

What no one had known except Joe and Marilyn was that she was expecting their child. Joe had gone to the auction that day to bid on an antique cradle to surprise his wife.  It had come from the auction house, and sat in the corner of Marilyn’s office, unopened, unwanted.

Pete eventually left Joe alone at his own request, but returned the day the police arrested Earvin Maxie. Maxie had been seen in their apartment building the day of the murder, carrying a bouquet of flowers.  The police were convinced that he’d been hired to murder Marilyn, but not even the most cynical detective seriously thought Joe was guilty and no one could imagine who quiet Marilyn could have angered so much that they wanted her dead. Besides, Maxie denied consistently that he had been hired — and he’d used the flower trick before in the rape he’d been convicted on years back.  The police weren’t entirely convinced, but offers of immunity or commuted sentences had been laughed off.

“Fellas, this is Texas.  Do you seriously expect me to believe that the state that executed the most murderers last year is gonna let me walk for what I did?”

So the jury convicted him and he refused all appeals.  One week before his scheduled execution, he demanded and received an audience with the warden, and made an unusual last request.

“Are you sure about this?”

“Yes, I’m sure.  And it has to be private.  Really PRIVATE. No guards, no mikes, no snooping.”

So Joe Mandeville stood at the entrance to Huntsville, waiting for the guards to let him in.  In his pocket was a pack of unfiltered Camels.

He sat down across a picnic table isolated in the exercise yard and glared at the man who killed his wife.  Maxie surprised him by not showing any of the cheeky attitude that had convicted him as surely as the evidence.

“Mandeville, there’s something — no, several somethings — I need you to know.”

Joe folded his arms and didn’t speak.

“First off, I’m sorry about the baby. She begged me and I even called the one who hired me — ” Joe’s eyebrows nearly launched themselves off his face ” — and told ’em, but then they just got madder and said to kill her. It was only supposed to be a rape, at first, maybe smack her around. She was so hated.”

Mandeville couldn’t move. ” You — who — what –” He fumbled for words.

Maxie held up his hand.  “Wait. There’s more.” He seemed to be finding it hard to talk too. “What I got, I had to take. I told her I’d spare her if she went along, but she said she loved you and she’d never do that.  I think that’s what brought this on in the first place.” He swallowed and continued.  “I ain’t gonna get religion here at the end or anything like that, but I got to square this.”

“Why didn’t you tell the police?”

“The police!” Contempt was plain in the inmate’s voice. “You think lethal injection’s anything to be scared of? You got those cigarettes?”

Joe took them out slowly and tossed them on the table.

Maxie took them and lit one.  As he took a deep drag, he began coughing, nearly retching. “I got the big C, you see. Lethal injection’s a mercy compared to waiting around to cough up a lung and die.  Besides, I keep seeing her face, begging me for her son’s life.” He raised his eyes to Joe’s face. “And I think you’re gonna want the son of a bitch whose idea this was to suffer more than that.”

Earvin  took a folded slip of paper from his pocket. He held the cigarette pack below the table and put the paper in it. “You go to this address.  A friend of mine is holding something for you.  Something that’ll tell you who wanted this done, and give you something to hold over ‘im.”  He slid the cigarettes back across the table to Joe, who took them numbly.

The day after Maxie’s execution, Joe went to the address.  The man who lived there, an elderly black man who shook his head when Joe told him what he wanted, went back into the shabby little house and brought out a cell phone.

Joe stared at it blankly.

“Earvin said to keep this charged up and give me the money to keep it runnin’.  He had it with him that day and the last call he made on it was to that person who caused you so much grievin’.  Earvin said to tell you push the green button twice and you’ll know.  You’ll know.”  He turned around ungracefully and staggered back through the door.

Mandeville went home with the phone.  He put it on the coffee table and stared at it most of the night.  Marilyn, is this what you’d want me to do?

When the sun started to rise, he went into her office and brought out the cradle.  Slowly, almost by touch, he unpackaged it and brushed his hand over it gently.  I’ll never see you.  Never hold my son. The morning sun glittered through the tears in his eyes.  He fumbled for the phone and pushed the green button twice, holding it to his ear.

“Hello?” The voice that answered the phone was fearful — and he knew it right away. Stunned, he listened as the person repeated, “Hello? Who IS this?”

Through a jaw clenched by rage, he answered as calmly as he could. “Hello, there. Recognize the number, do you?”

At his brother’s terrified gasp, he began to smile without humor.  “Take care, Pete.  I’ll be seeing you.”