Book Review: “Finding Billy Battles” by Ron Yates. #RRBC #IARTG @jhawker69 The final review for 2017.

Please join me as I share my final review of 2017. “Finding Billy Battles” by Ron Yates.

RON YATES AUTHOR PIC

About the Author

Ronald E. Yates is an author of historical fiction and action/adventure novels, including the popular and highly-acclaimed Finding Billy Battles trilogy. His extraordinarily accurate books have captivated fans from around the world who applaud his ability to blend fact and fiction.

Ron is a former foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and Professor Emeritus of Journalism at the University of Illinois where he was also the Dean of theCollege of Media.
His book, “The Improbable Journeys of Billy Battles,” is the second in his Finding Billy Battles trilogy of novels and was published in June 2016. The first book in the trilogy, “Finding Billy Battles,” was published in 2014. He is currently working on Book #3 of the trilogy with an intended publication date in spring or early summer 2017.

Ron has been a presenting author at the Kansas Book Festival and the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, among other venues. He is also the author of The Kikkoman Chronicles: AGlobal Company with A Japanese Soul, published by McGraw-Hill.

Before leaving the world of professional journalism where he toiled 25 years, Ron lived and worked in Japan, Southeast Asia, and bothCentral and South America where he covered several history-making events including the fall of South Vietnam and Cambodia; the Tiananmen Square massacre inBeijing; and wars and revolutions in Afghanistan, the Philippines, Nicaragua,El Salvador and Guatemala, among other places.

His work as a war correspondent resulted in several awards, including the Inter-American Press Association’s Tom Wallace Award for coverage ofCentral and South America; the Peter Lisagor Award from the Society ofProfessional Journalists; three Edward Scott Beck Awards for InternationalReporting, and three Pulitzer nominations.

Ron is a proud graduate of the William Allen White School ofJournalism at the University of Kansas and a veteran of the U.S. Army where he served in the Army Security Agency.

BOOK COVER

Cover Billy Battles by Ron Yates

 

BLURB

When a great-grandson inherits two aging trunks and a stack of meticulously detailed journals penned by his great-grandfather, he sets out to fulfill his great-grandfather’s last request: to tell the story of an incredible life replete with adventure, violence, and tragedy. The great-grandfather’s name is Billy Battles–a man often trapped and overwhelmed by circumstances beyond his control.
For much of his 100-year-long life Billy is a man missing and largely unknown to his descendants. His great-grandson is about to change that. As he works his way through the aging journals and the other possessions he finds in the battered trunks he uncovers the truth about his mysterious great-grandfather–a man whose deeds and misdeeds propelled him on an extraordinary and perilous journey from the untamed American West to the inscrutable Far East, Latin America and Europe.
As he flips through the pages of the handwritten journals he learns of Billy’s surprising connections to the Spanish-American War, French Indochina, and revolutions in Mexico and other Latin American countries. But most of all he learns that in finding Billy Battles he has also found a long lost and astonishing link to the past.

My REVIEW of “Finding Billy Battles.”

on December 5, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A book to be treasured and read over-and-over again.

🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

This book has earned some outstanding reviews and is deserving of every one of them. Finding Billy Battles is an engaging and believable journey through time as told by an aged Billy Battles in the pages of journals that span his existence from 1860 to 1960.

This talented author has crafted characters that engage the reader immediately, we are willingly taken into each scene, we see the characters there, all breathing, moving … and sounding a particular way, the visualizations in this book are superb.

Character depth connects us immediately to the roguish and beautifully layered persona of Billy Battles. The man is revealed with great skill throughout the book. Peel back those layers and recognize the man that dwelt beneath that skin.

I thoroughly enjoyed the journey into the old west and those well-known characters that greeted me there.

This marvelous blend of fact and fiction is a book to be treasured and read, over-and-over again.

What a stunning read to end 2017 with. Top notch.

I will be reading the other books in this trilogy.

 

Find Books by Ron Yates here.

Finding Billy Battles on AMAZON.COM

Ron Yates on TWITTER

Christmas on the streets. The truest meaning of Christmas. Christmas morning 1966: 2:00 A.M. #RRBC #IARTG #IAN1

BEAUTIFUL BABY DOLL FOR BLOG CHRISTMAS 2017

Thank you for joining me. Whenever the darkness of our crazy old world threatens to overwhelm me I remember the times when the wonderful spirits of good people who saught only to give joy with no expectation of return enriched my life. I share this precious miracle with you each year that I am able. My Christmas gift to all those that may despair or have lost faith in the belief that most human beings are intrinsically good.

CHRISTMAS MORNING 1966: 2:00 AM.

The Christmas season is the harshest of all when you live on the streets.

On ANY streets … In ANY town.

A miracle happened in our small dark world that hot and steamy Christmas morning all those long years ago.

It was not a ‘miracle’ of biblical proportions, yet for us, it was a miracle that we would hold in our memories forever, to be taken out and looked at whenever life grew harsher.

I have taken the chapter from my memoir, and I am sharing it with you here.

I hope that it makes you nod in understanding.

I am smiling through my tears as I remember…..

 “Faint Echoes of Laughter” Book 2 of the “Standing Tall & Fighting Back.” Series. Non-Fiction. Memoir.

Chapter 7

Christmas was barely a week or so away, and the mood wasn’t good.

Christmas out here meant different things to each of us I guess.

My memories of Christmas’s past were all bad. Even last year when I’d been on the streets alone for barely a month had bad stuff attached to it, yet it hadn’t been nearly as bad as the ones I had lived with back in the home I called ‘hell central’.

I asked Baby Jenny to come for a walk with me down to see Big Mike. I wanted to ask him if he could scrounge up some leftover decorations to put up in the ‘palace’ to lighten the mood up a little.

He gave me a thoughtful nod, and said he’d “see what he could do.”

He spoke to Jenny…”I swear you get prettier every day, Jenny. Don’t let Sassy here teach you any bad habits.”

Jenny grinned at him too shy to respond.

I kept my mouth shut except for a “Gee thanks … Big Mike”

He smiled and wandered off, and we headed back up to the palace. We spent a lot of time outdoors during the heat of the summer. The cooler breezes from the water were good. The heat inside our metal home was dreadful.

When a week had passed and we hadn’t seen Big Mike we figured that he had forgotten. It was disappointing, but he didn’t owe us anything; and after all, he had helped us out with Momma and other stuff like wood for the fire in winter, so we didn’t really expect the decorations, we just hoped for them.

Jenny was extra quiet. I wondered if she would ever be able to talk about why she was here. I didn’t ask her. I hadn’t discussed my background with any of them, even Jamie. So I understood that it was not open for general discussion.

Christmas Eve dawned fiery red. It was going to be a very, very, hot day according to the radio forecasts, with a cool southerly change expected later in the evening.

We all headed up to Hyde Park very early and took a Christmas bath in our favorite fountain. At least the palace wouldn’t stink quite so badly for Christmas day.

It was tempting to just jump in the ocean so close to the Palace, but Big Mike had warned us all about the sharks, so we didn’t dare.

Sydney Harbor wasn’t the safest place to swim. We planned on heading down to the Botanical Gardens for a swim in the lake that evening. We figured there wouldn’t be many people around because it was Christmas Eve.

The sky began to look dark and threatening early in the afternoon. The southerly buster was heading up the coast rapidly. We were all unusually quiet and sitting around outside in the shade of the container when we heard the sound of vehicles heading toward the Palace.

We headed around the front to see who had arrived and watched in stunned amazement as Big Mike and two of the other guys whose names I can’t recall, began unloading boxes of stuff from their cars and placing it in the shaded opening of our tin home.

Big Mike looked uncomfortable; if possible, he was even gruffer than usual. “You lot need feeding up, so we brought you some stuff.”

We were all too stunned to say much at all, these hard men were all smiling and a little red-faced. I swear if they could have, that they would have scuffed their shoes in the dirt like little kids with embarrassment.

Big Mike shook Jamie’s hand and accepted the ‘thank you’ from him.

I was speechless which wasn’t a common occurrence, I just grinned like mad and gave the guys a hurried “Thanks.”

They were the unlikeliest Angels you would ever see, sweaty and dirty after a long hot day’s work, the sight of them unloading the Christmas goodies and punching one another in the arm in a gesture common amongst males remains etched starkly in my memory.

Big Mike reached into the front seat of his car and pulled out a parcel that was wrapped up in Christmas paper, with bright ribbons attached. He walked over and handed it to Baby Jenny.

She looked confused and wasn’t sure what to do with it.

“The women picked this out for ya, little one.” Big Mike said.

Jenny still wasn’t sure what to do.

“Go ahead and open it, Jenny,” Jamie said.

“Um, later. Later. Okay?” she replied looking very unsure of herself.

She looked at the men, and gave them one of her sweet smiles, “Don’t matter what it is. I never had a present before, so…Um…Yeah, thanks, thanks a lot.”

The men seemed to understand that she needed to be alone when she opened it.

As for the rest of us, we tore into those presents and boxes like there was no tomorrow…squealing in delighted surprise with everything we found.

There was more food than any of us had ever seen.

Tinned Hams, fresh pineapples, cherries, and plums. Cooked Turkey and Cranberry sauce …with all the trimmings. Fifteen red t-shirts all large sizes. Paper plates, and plastic knives and forks, a can-opener. A Cooler packed with ice, a radio, and spare batteries. A big crate of beer and bottles of Coke.

That night, we all huddled around the new radio; it was bigger and put out a better sound than the small transistor we had been using, we sat drinking the beer and singing our version of Christmas carols, none of them repeatable. Trust me.

Jenny sat on her sleeping place; she was a little tipsy as well having been allowed one-half of a small bottle of beer. We glanced at her as she picked up her present and watched the look on her face as she unwrapped it.

It was a baby doll, all soft and dressed in bonnet and booties with a pretty pink knitted dress. “Just what we needed, another fuckin’ mouth to feed,” she said…but the smile on her face could have lit up the entire city.

We were fed, content, and a little overwhelmed and unsure at the kindness of these people.

Typically, we questioned the motive behind it. We all wanted to believe that maybe, just maybe, they had done it for no motive other than the wish to make this Christmas a good place for us to be. It was an alien experience but a welcome one.

We had only sampled a little of the huge amount of food, deciding to save the rest for Christmas Day

That night we were all tipsy. Strangely quiet as we bedded down for the night. I think we were all a little overwhelmed by the generosity of these men.

It was around 2.00 am Christmas morning I guess when I felt something was wrong. Whatever the something was, it wouldn’t let me sleep. I couldn’t place it immediately. It was a strange sense of something missing, and it troubled me.

Jamie was on watch; I climbed over the others and hunkered down next to him. Jamie smiled at me and said, “You too hey, Sassy?”

“Yeah, I guess–what is it? Something’s different.”

We sat a while just listening. Then Jamie said, “Oh shit! It’s Jenny, she’s not crying!”

My heart was in my mouth. Jamie grabbed the torch and we played it across the others, several of them were already awake, and wondering what the hell was happening. Jenny had cried herself to sleep every night since she’d come to this place. It was a sound we all tried not to hear. She couldn’t be comforted, we weren’t permitted that close. She’d been here for two years now. Jenny was around eight-years-old.

Jenny lay on her side, sound asleep with both arms wrapped around that doll so tight there was no space between them.

That was the first time I had cried in a very, very, long time. I glanced at the others, without exception we were all affected the same way. No one wanted to look at anyone else, shit we were supposed to be the toughest kids on the block! Hell, we were the only kids on the block. That Christmas was the first real day of Jenny’s childhood. From then on, Christmas became Jenny’s birthday.

I’d like to tell you that a miraculous change came over her. That she was instantly transformed. In a make-believe world, she’d be outside singing all the hits from ‘The Sound of Music’ and wearing a pretty new dress and shoes.  But this is the real world, and the changes took place over time.

Jenny named her doll, Francine.

The greatest change of all; was that, from that night, for all the years that Baby Jenny remained in our world, she never cried herself to sleep again.

***

Many years have passed since that long ago Christmas Eve. My darling Jenny has gone.

So many of my Christmas Eves’ over time have been special ones. But the one I recall with tears of happiness on my face, and a smile in my heart … is this one.

Jenny lost her battle with life in September of 2008.

The doll Francine was buried with her.

Thank you for being here. I wish each and every one of you a peaceful, serene and joyous Christmas, no matter where on this planet you’re from.

Faint Echoes of Laughter here on Amazon.com

KOALA CHRISTMAS

 

When Anxiety Whispers. Have we forgotten how to be human? #Living with stress. #RRBC #PTSD #STRESS

ANXIETY WHISPERS

When Anxiety Whispers.

We all hear those dark whispers, those paralyzing moments of anxiety. It comes with the territory of living in a society set on fast forward when the pace of everyday life becomes so frantic, so overwhelming, that we begin of necessity to sacrifice something intrinsic and necessary within us.
The days we live now are filled with the marvelous inventions of the internet, but has the pace of our knowledge grown beyond our capacity to understand its repercussions?

I make full use of everything available to me and, yes, I am grateful for the brilliant minds that opened my small world up to so much more than I’ve ever dreamed of. I acknowledge that connectivity, I understand that we are living in an age where no one need be isolated, those folks too shy or encumbered by ill health either physical or mental to be able to connect with others of our species by interacting on a personal level now have an outlet, a way of joining in on life’s conversations.

I get that we are privileged; I understand and accept that this is indeed an amazing transition from an age where television was a new invention, and not every home had the telephone available.
But … my concern is this … we are human, we are warm-blooded creatures, we need contact with others of our species the way a seedling needs rain. We are becoming isolated but not insulated from the world we now live in.

Has our humanity diminished as we shut ourselves inside our gated communities, or triple lock the doors of our homes? Where bars on the windows are commonplace, and we alarm our houses and insert surveillance cameras’ just so we can grab a few hours sleep at night. We live in fear of those that would take our cars, our electrical equipment, our goods and chattels, fear of the dark figures possibly armed that may invade our only safe haven.

But what of the fear of stolen identity?

My anxiety stems from my growing awareness, an awareness of a disconnection, a step back from human to human interaction. I witness every day the people around me, with earplugs firmly in place and concentration and awareness of their immediate environment depleted, where they check an app on their iPhone to discover if the weather will be sunny or if rain is on its way. They can no longer remember if indeed they ever knew what it is to look simply look at the sky and have long forgotten the smell of rain pending on the wind.
They scurry by with heads down and absolute focus on their cellphone, they walk out into oncoming traffic, surprised and annoyed when someone in a car suddenly blares the horn.
The price we pay for our new world is enormous. Those anxious whispers catch the unprepared and inexperienced traveler and hurtle them full throttle into sleepless nights and stress-filled days.
Those of us that delude ourselves that our world is malleable to our wishes, those that struggle on despite the imprisoning chains of our existence, these are the people that at times pay the highest penalty of all.
For we begin to lose sight of the precious moments as we battle each day. We forget what the dream was to begin with, as we attempt to manipulate life to fit our own agendas.
Where did the days disappear to, when did the nights become just another stretch of time to endure?

When was the last time you laughed with the simple delight of living? Did those you love hear you tell them that you loved them today?

Are you so busy working, traveling each day to a place that you’ve grown to detest, to find that one precious moment in time to just take a deep breath and be quiet within yourself?

Did you notice the seasons changing? How did the summer end and the leaves begin to turn golden, without you witnessing and rejoicing in that precious life-cycle?

When did your child grow to be so tall? When did your friends stop calling? When was the last time you all got together and caught up on sweet memories for just a brief while? Don’t you miss that shared laughter? Don’t you miss those hugs of acknowledgement or concern?

The dark whispers grow darker with no light to stop them.

The feelings of being unable to deal with the task of just surviving each day grow large and ever darker as those anxious whispers spiral out of control.

When did you begin to need a drink each night in order to relax in your own home?

When did just one or two drinks cease to create the resultant deep breaths that you crave?

When did your iPhone replace a face-to-face conversation? How is it that your partner has now gray in their hair? How did that happen without you witnessing the transition?

We stand to lose far more of our dreams as our world grows more frantic.

When does it stop? Do we have the capacity to alter that state of being?

I embrace the technology but my concern grows for the generation now coming.
Will all the Science Fiction writer’s be proven right? Will our growing super-technology deplete what we have always valued in each other, to a point where the word human is only recognized as a label to pinpoint what planet we came from?

If we can but step back one pace, make a time and a space and a place to recall how it once was, and value that memory. If we can scent the wind and feel the rain on our faces again. If we can stop by at a friend’s home simply to say “Hi, I’ve missed you, how are you today?”

If we can turn off the television, the laptop, the Ipad and the iPhone for just an hour each day, and sit together again at the dining table and make eye contact and heart contact once more.

If we can treasure those brief moments together of fellowship and connection, then perhaps those anxiety whispers will still.

We’ll render them useless as we reclaim the dreams … and our lives.

Make the time, take the time, make those anxiety whispers lessen as we recreate briefly a world where human touch, and the simple joy of companionship is again treasured.

It would only take a brief moment of your time. Surely, that’s not too much to ask.

Is it?

 

“Hidden by Shadows” A short-story from my upcoming Anthology ‘Front-Line Heroes.’ #RRBC #PTSD

DEPRESSION

My latest work in progress is an anthology of stories dedicated to the bravery of men and woman worldwide. ALL those that silently and without fanfare hold down the Front Lines. ALL the front lines. On the streets of any town, anywhere, you’ll find them, The Policeman, Paramedics, Firefighters, Nurses and Doctors and all their support personnel. Those on the battle-fronts in foreign lands, and those on the battle-fronts of streets peopled with others that have slipped through the cracks and crevices of the world we now live in. The many brave souls that endure the lasting, life changing flashbacks, and battle each and every day with the nightmare that is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

These are their stories.

 

 

Hidden by Shadows.

by

Suzanne Burke

 

Davey Minchin rubbed his gritty eyes hard, but nothing erased the things he had seen in his sleep.

He couldn’t stop the images flashing on fast-forward through a brain now too weary to block them.

He reached across for his glass and found it was empty, “Oh, for fucks sake.”

He clambered up from the litter-strewn floor and headed into the kitchen, avoiding the mess on the counter as he reached for the bottle of Jack Daniels, now almost empty. He held it up to the light that shone valiantly through the smudged and dirty window, wanting to confirm the fact that he’d need to head for the bottle shop soon.

He had no idea what time of day it was. He walked to the bedroom, glancing at the alarm clock next to a bed he couldn’t remember having slept in for quite a while.

“God damn it!” he uttered the words, disgusted with himself for having been away from reality for yet another lost day. “It doesn’t matter.” He spoke aloud seeking the reassurance of the sound of his own voice.  Knowing that the other voices clamoring in his head to be heard would lay mercifully dormant once he’d had a few drinks.

He hurried now, filled with the urgency to top up his supply of memory blocking booze.

He glanced down briefly at what he was wearing, content that he wasn’t too dirty to be seen on the street. He pulled on his cleanest pair of gloves.

He ran a brush through his thick, still curly hair; still shocked at the sight of all the white that now grew there.

He turned away, opened the door, and headed outside.

***

He glanced briefly around at his environment, seeking assurance that no one he knew was in view.

He took the longer walk, studiously avoiding the Gas Station on the block that would have had him reach his destination much faster. The smell of fuel was something he refused to deal with yet.

The guy behind the counter looked up as he entered, “Mornin’ Davey! What’ll it be today, buddy?”

“I need to stock up, Bill. I … I’ve got some buddies comin’ over. So, I guess I’ll maybe need a couple of bottles of the JD, and the Bacardi, and a case of beer.”

Bill Eckhart looked at him, trying without success to mask the concern on his face. “Sure thing, buddy.”

Davey turned and gave Bill access to his backpack; the man behind the counter removed it gently and placed it next to the register. “I’ll drop the case of beer around for you a little later, Davey.  You want a mixer for the J.D and the Rum?”

Davey hesitated a little too long before responding, “Mixer?” he laughed. “Yeah, I guess, mixer … sure.”

Bill just nodded, and headed out back to fill the order.

Tara Farrell looked up from the invoice she was checking, “What’s up?”

“Davey Minchin is back in for an order.” He said.

“So soon?” her voice expressed her concern.

“Sometimes I hate workin’ here, Tara. I hate the shit that we sell, and what it does to good people that didn’t earn it, you know?”

She shook her head sadly, “Yeah, I know. Davey’s one of the good ones, ain’t he.” It was a simple statement of fact, not a question that required any answer.

“Yup. He is that. Best fill his order now I guess, and let him get back on home before the snow hits.”

“Uh-huh. Yeah. I guess.” She looked back at her invoice with a shake of her head, trying to dislodge the sadness.

Bill bagged the order and returned to the front counter. “You and your buddies havin’ a poker night, Davey?”

“What? Oh, yeah … yeah we are.”

“I expect your luck is due to change soon, Buddy. You just keep hangin’ in there, okay?”

His customer just nodded and handed over the money. Bill placed the bottles of alcohol carefully in the backpack;  then as always helped his customer struggle into it, stealing himself every time he did it, worried that he’d somehow hurt this man.

Davey gave him a smile, “Thanks, Bill … See ya.”

“You take care now, Davey.”

“Yup … planning on doing just that, buddy.”

Davy headed back home, the long way.

One or two of his neighbors called out a greeting, he raised his left arm as best he could and gave them a wave.

He picked up his pace and only felt safe when he strode into his own driveway.

He didn’t look at the overgrown lawn, or the dead plants that sat accusingly in the untended garden.

He let himself in to the empty house he hadn’t bothered to lock.

He walked past the bedrooms that had once been overflowing with laughter and toys.

He didn’t look at the framed photographs that lined the walls of the hallway.

He opened a refrigerator now empty, except for a few mangled slices of old cold pizza, and a foul-smelling container of what had once been Chinese takeout.

Before he poured his first drink of the morning, he charged his cellphone. He’d call out for a take-out Italian order later.  If, he remembered.

His frustration grew as he struggled to open yet another bottle with fingers that couldn’t respond to his brains orders to do so.

He pulled off the gloves; he didn’t need to cover the ugly burn scars from himself.

He washed out a glass, refilled it, and sat on the sofa seeing nothing as he began to pour the booze down his throat.

He heard the siren in the distance and shuddered, unable to block out the sound. Davey reached across and flicked on the radio, turning the volume way up to drown out the peripheral noise.

***

His cellphone rang and cut through the haze he was encased in, he answered it on reflex, “Yeah?”

“Davey, it’s Doctor Peters. How are you?”

“Hey, Doc. I’m doin’ well. What can I do for you?”

“Well, son … you’ve missed the last two appointments. I was a little concerned.”

“Sorry, Doc. I guess I should have called you. I … I’ve had the flu virus that’s doin’ the rounds. Haven’t felt much like headin’ out in the cold.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, son. I would like to see you though. Can you make it tomorrow? I’ll make it later in the day, when it’s warmed up a little. Would that suit you?”

“Oh, hell, doc. Sorry … I’m headin’ out of town for a few days. Tell you what, I’ll call you as soon as I get back, how would that be?”

“Out of town? Where are you headed?”

“Someplace warm.”

“Davey, you aren’t really going away are you? Son, you’re isolating yourself again. Are you taking your anti-depressant medication?” The doctor’s voice was clearly worried.

Davey looked at the full glass in his hand. “Yeah, doc, I’m taking my meds. Look, I have to go now. Somebodies at the door. I’ll catch up, soon. Okay?”

“But, Son …

Davey disconnected the call.

“Why the fuck can’t you all just leave me the fuck alone!” The words echoed back from the dark empty rooms.

He drank the full glass of straight rum and took a couple of deep breaths. He knew in another glass or two he start feeling almost nothing.

Then came the time he gave up on any pretense at dignity, and drank bottle two straight from the bottle. Until he was feeling nothing.  Nothing at all.

He welcomed oblivion as one does a dear friend that they trust.

***

The car ahead was speeding. Davey Minchin looked at his own speed; he was doing the speed limit and the Corvette screamed past him as if he were stationary.

“Moron!” Davey hissed, automatically reaching for his cellphone. He punched in the number.

“Division 21, Sargent O’Keefe.”

“Hey, Jay. It’s Davey Minchin.”

“Hiya, Cappie how’re you doin?”

“Never better, buddy. We have an idiot out on 75 thinks he’s drivin’ in the Daytona. He’s headed east. It’s a Corvette, so God only knows what it tops out at. The speed he’s doin’ he’ll reach the overpass off ramp really soon.

“Thanks for the heads up, Cappie. I’m on it. We good for poker Friday night?”

“Planning on some winnings, buddy?”

“You know it. Catch ya then, Cappie.”

“Yup.” Davey ended the call.

He peered through the thick fog, dropping his speed on instinct when he recognized the approach to the stop lights he knew were a little way ahead.

He heard the crash before he saw it and picked up speed in that direction. The wreck ahead of him kicked his adrenaline into hyper-drive.

He hit the speed dial on his phone, “Station 23. What is your emergency?”

“Pete, it’s Davey. We need full crew out on 75 … The lights on the overpass exit. Three-car pile-up, get the Paramedics.  The police are on their way, but that’s for the speeder, call O’Keefe, and have him send out more cars.”

“Gotcha, Captain. Are you the only assist on the scene?”

“The only trained one, affirmative, Pete.”

“Good luck. The crew, are on their way.”

***

Davey hit the ground running, and could smell the fuel in the air.

Jesus!  A ruptured tank? Shit!

The corvette was concertinaed from the imploded front windscreen to the trunk. Davey knew even as he felt for a pulse, that he would find none. The driver had a steering column skewering him in place like an awkward bleeding mannequin. It would have been fast, at least.

Davey moved on towards the next vehicle; his trained eyes already accessing the incredible level of damage the out of control Corvette,  had left in its speeding wake.

What had once been a family wagon was now bent like a boomerang; the driver’s side door now met the passenger side with the body of what once had been a young woman crushed in between.

He was on autopilot now, and called out, “Everyone else okay out here?” as he became suddenly aware that the vehicles that had been close behind on the exit ramp had rear-ended, and the stunned, but otherwise undamaged passengers were now exiting their slightly bent cars.

“We need, blankets, canvas, anything we can lay these folks down on, back at least fifty-feet away from the wrecks.” He sniffed at the air again, “No smoking, we may have a ruptured tank here.” He yelled it to the onlookers.

He heard a cry and spun to locate where it was coming from. Sweet Lord, that’s a baby! The plaintive cry was coming from the wagon. Davey covered the few feet in an instant and cringed as he realized the sound was coming from the floor behind the dead passenger.

The door was crushed metal and would need the squad to arrive with the Jaws-of-life to have any hope of getting it open. He ran to the other side of the vehicle, there was a narrow gap between what had once been the bench seat in the rear and the crumpled mess that was once the front of the car

The infant was on the floor, inside the upended baby-capsule, and wrapped in a blanket, and the cry grew weaker with each second. Davey silently thanked God when the sound of the sirens heralded the arrival of the experienced crew.

The overpass was now jammed with people, many had left their cars and now stood at the edge of the railing gazing down with shock and dismay at the scene below them. Many were openly crying. One of the distressed onlookers took a pack of cigarettes from a side pocket and lit it; sucking in the nicotine to quieten his fast beating heart.

All eyes were now riveted on the surreal sight confronting them as the lone man struggled to remove an infant from the wreckage …

The nervous onlooker watched transfixed, unthinking and doing what long habit had trained him to do … he flicked the lit butt of the cigarette over the railing…

Davey’s troubled hands searched the darkness for the infant. The crying had stopped. It seemed to take an eternity before he freed the baby from the restraints of the capsule.  His thankful shout of “Yes! Hold on, little one!” was heard with gratitude by those close by. He felt the baby underneath his fingertips … his hands wrapped around the blanketed infant, and he began extricating the child, very carefully avoiding the jagged metal all around them, that would cut to the bone.

The lit cigarette ignited the small river of fuel seeping from the ruptured tank as Davey had just secured the small helpless bundle in his muscled arms; and he’d turned to hurry away with his charge to relative safety.

The fire-flash caught him and spun his body backwards, with his last lucid memory of searing pain embedded in his consciousness.

The fire fighters from his own station were on the scene moments later, and one of the closer onlookers had covered him with a blanket and tried desperately to extinguish the flames.

The baby was safe, Davey had somehow thrown himself face down and the infant was shielded from the flames, bruised, but otherwise untouched by the explosion. Far too young to understand the loss of its mother.

***

 Davey awakened himself with the sound of his own screams.

Sitting up … still wildly disorientated; he was frantically patting at his now useless right arm, attempting to extinguish the flames that infiltrated his nightmares night after sleepless night.

He looked around to get his bearings … It’s okay … I’m here. Home. Yeah, right, home.

He reached a gloved hand across to the bedside table. Deciding against the anti-depressant medications and narcotic pain-relief that sat there, gathering dust. He’d stopped taking those weeks ago, or was it months? Didn’t matter anyway, the booze worked better. He was pleased to find the glass still half-full of the straight Jack Daniels he’d come to prefer. He wondered idly and not really caring, just how long his liver would hold out under the onslaught of the things he used just to get him through one more day.

He missed his wife, and he ached for his children.

The long months of repetitive surgery, and all the efforts of those at the rehab unit for almost a year, had left him with his right arm still withered and useless. Fit for only filling the fabric of the longed-sleeved-shirts that he now always wore. Not wanting or needing the horrified looks from passersby, or the children who stared at him as if Halloween had just arrived.

He only left the house now to top up his booze supply.

His other hand and wrist had been scarred; but some movement and flexibility remained. He couldn’t make a fist, but he managed to wipe his own ass. I’m grateful. Bonus! The bitterness filled his tone more often of late. He’d never regret what he’d done, it was all he’d ever wanted to do. But sometimes the bitterness in his throat threatened to choke him.

He looked at the cotton gloves he used, more now to stop others from witnessing his anguish at the disfigurement, but even more so for the abiding sense of utter uselessness that he now lived with twenty-four-hours of each long, lonely, deteriorating day, every time he looked at his once athletic body.

His wife Marcie, had tried. Lord knows she’d tried, she’d been with him every-step-of-the way. Until the day came when she had no heart left to give to a man that was already lost to her.

His kids became accustomed to him spending hour after hour locked away in the room he had for his physio sessions.  His friends and colleagues had raised funds to kit it out with everything necessary to work out daily … everything that is, except his will to go on doing so.

He could no longer work in the field he had chosen since he was old enough to understand that his father and his Grandfather had been firefighters, loved ones he’d been proud to call his own.

It was all he had trained for, it was all he knew.

He had tried. Nobody that watched him push through the pain ever doubted his desire to return to what he loved to do.

His body would never completely recover. He was no longer a part of the high functioning team he had once been so proud to Captain.

His friends from the station-house and even some from his college football team had rallied around, the lawns were mowed and the gardens tended, the woodshed was always kept full.

His buddies had all come at first, with their wives there to give Marcie and the children all the support they could offer.

Davey tried hard, but he began to resent their presence, the conversations peppered with stories from the Station or the sports they played regularly had begun to make him feel the anger that frustration only heightens and enriches.

The medications he took vegged him out until the days and nights blended, in a never-ending procession of exhausted snatches of sleep.

The flashbacks came uninvited, his wife and children all caught up in the sounds of despair they could hear coming from the room he now frequented without their presence.

Marcie had stayed longer than most would have, and then she had taken the boys and moved up north to live with her parents. Recognizing before he did, that to stay would destroy the love she and his sons still cherished.

They had gone in the summer, and the year had spun ever onward in and out of the seasons. While Davey Minchin slowly started to drink himself into oblivion … the oblivion he now craved.

Davey stood unsteadily and made his way out to the kitchen, avoiding the walls in the hallway filled with photographs of a life he no longer recognized as part of the fabric of his existence.

He used his left hand to slowly drag out a box from the back of the walk in pantry. He could no longer carry its weight, so he rummaged one handed through it until his hand identified the shape he was after.

He took the paper bag and placed it on the coffee table.

He stood and  returned to the hallway and gave a left-handed salute to the images. “Sorry dad.”

He returned to the kitchen and took the new bottle of Jack Daniels from the shelf.

He sat quietly in front of an electric heater, no longer able to tolerate the burning logs in a fireplace that took him into the flashbacks again.

It had taken him weeks of visits to different Doctors and Drugstores before he was satisfied; he had enough of the mix of medications that he knew would take him forever away from the pain and the memory.

He painstakingly opened the boxes and lined up his solution ready to be taken.

He took them all.

Hours passed by as he sat quietly waiting. Until at last, finally, he felt nothing. Absolutely nothing at all.

***

The phone rang in a small house in the suburbs, and the man ceased playing with his son and made a grab for it.

His young face was pale when he turned his attention back to the three-year-old boy playing happily on the sitting room floor with his blocks.

He hugged his son to him and again felt the deep sadness at the loss of his wife.

But he had his boy. He had his boy. The gratitude he felt towards the man who had saved his child at the expense of his own safety was constantly present.

Now Davey Minchin was dead.

The man hugged his child to him and made a silent vow to make his little boy aware that heroes really existed.

There were many others who gathered after the funeral who took a private moment to look at their own families and hold them tighter. In silent thanksgiving that men like Davey Minchin would go on saving other lives at risk of their own.

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

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‘Uh-oh! an interview with a cross-dressing, Al Pacino loving Crocodile named Cyril. Just for the hell of it.

CYRIL FOR BLOG ON WELCOME TO THE WORLD

For the bold and the brave and the uninitiated … This is the sort of stuff I write when I need a break from the real world …

Good Luck!

Smiley face large

For those of you that haven’t had the  …” Novel ” experience of meeting Cyril, please allow me to introduce you.

Perhaps it would be best if in my capacity as Cyril’s, um … Creator {No offense, God} I have decided to interview Cyril… (well … you’ll see) and you can get to know him a little, more or less.

Morning, Cyril! Welcome to your interview my friend.

Morning?  It’s morning? Why wasn’t I told? I’m simply not prepared; where’s my breakfast?

 Now Cyril, watch your blood pressure.

 Blood pressure, can I die from that? Am I dying. How odd. What does one wear when one dies?

 Cyril, settle down, buddy, your face is turning red, in a greenish sort of way.

 Red…eeek! No, that will never do, I never wear red. Does dreadful things for my complexion. Red indeed. Sooo last season. Not about to happen.

 Oh, I don’t know mate, it kinda matches your eyes.

 Very droll, imbecile. YOU shouldn’t have allowed me to drink that entire bottle of J.D. What were you thinking?

 It’s hard to resist a drunken 28ft long crocodile, especially when he is sitting on your chest at the time.

Oh, give me a break. You know I like company. Reality check, you don’t seriously call that a chest,  Now, that lovely girl type person … oh, you know the one on ‘Modern Family’, you know the one? The dark haired stunner…Now she has a chest.

 Careful, green buddy, we wouldn’t like to misplace all those wonderful Al Pacino downloads would we?

Eeeeek, Soooz, no! Is that even legal? You wouldn’t. You couldn’t! Yes ,you would. Noooo! I’ll behave … I’ll even wear non-designer. What? Wait, no, cancel that remark. I’ll…promise not to fart in mixed company.

 You do enjoy Mr Pacino … and of course we then have Mr. Brando. Tell me did you enjoy the movie last night?

Enjoy? Tsk, I hate understatement. The Godfather … sigh! So romantic. And of course they are BOTH in it…I dressed for the occasion. Do you have any idea just how difficult it is for me to wear TAILS? Seriously?… Ah, but nothing less would do. Tell me, what happened to what was left of the horse?

That was make believe Cyril.

Make believe what? ‘A horse is a horse of course of course.’

That’s from ‘Mr Ed’, Cyril, be original, can’t you?

You want original? Soooz, you are talking to a 28ft long crocodile … who is wearing a pink sun hat, Gucci sunglasses, and a Givenchy designed T-shirt, not to mention drinking VB beer from a stein. And, you want Original?

Point taken.

Taken where?

No … it’s an expression.

“I got 46 expressions …soft as soap and tough as leather and that’s 46 more than all those Barrymore’s put together!”

That’s Streisand, from ‘Funny Girl’.

I love Babs.

Perfectly understandable. I have another Brando movie up for you to watch tonight.

Ooooh, I must dress, is it another romance, like the Godfather?

Not … exactly. It’s called “Last Tango in Paris.”

A musical! How stunning … Brando in another musical. Oh I am soooo excited. What does one wear to a musical?… The Carmen Miranda,perhaps. I simply can’t wait!

Neither can I.

Soooz! You’re smirking … why are you smirking? Weird things happen when you smirk like that! SOOOZ!

***

 

‘Human Disinterest’ Part 3. “Aftermath” The story ends. From my upcoming Anthology ‘Front-Line Heroes.’ #RRBC

Front line-heroes HUMAN DISINTEREST PIC

My latest work in progress is an anthology of stories dedicated to the bravery of men and woman worldwide. ALL those that silently and without fanfare hold down the Front Lines. ALL the front lines. On the streets of any town, anywhere, you’ll find them, The Policeman, Paramedics, Firefighters, Nurses and Doctors and all their support personnel. Those on the battle-fronts in foreign lands, and those on the battle-fronts of streets peopled with others that have slipped through the cracks and crevices of the world we now live in. The many brave souls that endure the lasting, life changing flashbacks, and battle each and every day with the nightmare that is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

These are their stories.

If you missed PARTS 1 and 2 of HUMAN DISINTEREST here is the link.

 

PART THREE : OF HUMAN DISINTEREST

AFTERMATH.

 

Melisa Doyle was incapable of speech for quite some time. The film crew finished up, said their goodbyes, and headed back to the studio. The laughter they normally shared after a shoot was absent. Melisa had the distinct feeling that they’d be having more than their usual amount of after work drinks this night.

Jenny was talking quietly to Deke, away from the rest of the group now huddled around the fire. Melisa glanced over and saw the woman give Deke a hug. He hugged her back. She watched him raise his hand to the rest and he headed off alone into the darkness beyond the perimeter of light given by the fire.

Melisa stood, and without speaking, she walked across to where Brad was standing in front of the food truck.

“You doing okay, Melisa?” He asked softly.

She didn’t respond.

“Melisa? You okay?” he repeated.

The young woman appeared to hear him then, “I’m okay, Brad. Thanks.”

“It’s never easy, hon. You hear these things out here, and it just doesn’t get any easier, no matter how many times you hear it.” He patted her on the arm. “Coffee’s still hot if you’d like one.”

“Please, yes. Yes, that would be good. Thanks.”

“Come and help yourself to cream and sugar, I’ll get you a cup.” He entered the van and busied himself, to give her a moment longer to pull herself together.

He caught sight of Jenny with Rusty at her side sitting with old Davey Kelso, he saw the old man nod at whatever Jenny had said, and she moved on one-by-one, till she’d spoken with all the folks around the fire, and then she headed back in the direction of the van.

He took the styrofoam cup with the freshly brewed coffee outside and handed it to Melisa Doyle, she accepted it gratefully and was sipping at it when Jenny joined her.

“Brad?” Jenny said, “Any chance of a cup of that hot brew for me as well please, buddy?”

“You got it. You want it black?”

“Yeah. It could be a long night.”

Jenny walked closer to where the reporter stood. “Well now, I think it’s time I called you, Melisa. What do you think?”

The reporter looked at her, “I’d like that … Jenny.”

“Good. Take it a little easy on yourself, you hear. You did a great job back there. Thank you.”

“I just don’t know how you do this, Jenny. How do you deal with all of that pain, day in and day out?”

“We deal with it, because somebody has to. We keep on dealing with it for the same reason. It doesn’t get any easier. But, Melisa there are a great many folks in organizations bigger and smaller than ours that all keep doing it. Simply because somebody has to. Somebody has to care.”

The younger woman shook her head sadly. “How can I have spent my life in cities like this and never really looked at it? I feel so damned stupid, Jenny.”

“It’s not stupidity that makes folks turn a blind-eye, Melisa. It’s self-protection. That isn’t going to change overnight, no matter how good our intentions may be.”

“Will Deke be okay?”

“He’ll be okay, tonight. He needs to be alone with himself for now. I keep a close eye on him, when I can.”

Jenny gave the girl a quick hug. “Are you up for any more, tonight, Melisa?”

“No, I don’t believe I am. Not yet. But I’ll be back. I have a feeling that the network might run with this one alone. I’m heading back to the studio to view the film, I promise you, nobody will edit it. Will Deke want to see it?”

“I’ll ask him. But, somehow I don’t think he’ll want to. Call me tomorrow morning, let me know how it goes with your boss, okay?”

Jenny smiled at her, and continued, “I’ll have Brad give you a lift back. He needs to brief the next shift before they come out, and then he’ll come back and collect the rest of us. You did just fine tonight.”

Melisa nodded and waited for Jenny to talk to Brad, then, when he was ready she climbed back into the van and headed back to her own safe world.

***

Melisa’s hunch had been correct; the network felt that the story was powerful enough to be aired alone.

She rang Jenny early the next morning to check on Deke and to ask if he wanted to see the final print of the show.

“I’m pleased that they reached that decision. I think it’s wise. I spoke to Deke again very late last night; he doesn’t know if he wants to see it. I’ll need to let him make his own choice about that. Maybe the group will come in here to the warehouse when it airs. I can set up a large screen T.V. I doubt they’ll be up for it, but I’ll ask.”

“Thanks, Jenny. I’ve been thinking hard since I left you, is there something I can do, I mean there at Street Angels? Anything at all, I don’t mind what it is?”

“I’m certain there’s a million things you can do, and I’ll be pleased to have you, for whatever time you can spare.”

“Good. I’m available this afternoon. I’ll come over, is that okay?”

“I’ll be here till four. See you then. Oh, Melisa, when will the show go live?”

“They want to do a heavy promo, so at this stage I’d say three weeks. I told them we needed it to air before the onset of winter. Maybe there will be some donations that might help out as a result of it.”

“Yeah, well you never can tell. I’ll chat more a little later.”

“See you then.”

***

Three weeks later.

There were an odd assortment of people gathered in the warehouse. The large screen television was mounted on the wall, and an eclectic mix of donated chairs formed a semi-circle in front of it that night.

Melisa Doyle was seated next to Jenny and Brad. Further around the front-row-semi-circle, sat Kelso and four of the folks that had been gathered around the fire that night.  All the volunteers that weren’t out on the night-shift had come in and prepared food for everyone, and then seated themselves and waited with all the others.

The noise of various conversations quieted suddenly as nine o’clock approached.

“Here we go.” Melisa spoke softly. She watched Brad take Jenny’s hand in his own, wishing she had one like it to hold on to.

Nobody spoke when the show ended. The muffled sounds of people attempting to control the tears that had caught them unprepared was all that echoed around the room.

Jenny recovered faster than most of them, and she stood with a sad, sweet smile on her face. “Who wants coffee?” she asked, already on her way across to the bench where the urn had been set up.

The young voice from the back of the room surprised her, “I’ll have one of those, thanks, Miss. Jenny.” Said Deke.

“Deke! I didn’t see you come in. Come on over and help yourself, there’s food left as well.”

“Thanks, that sounds good to me. I’ll be right there.”

She watched him walk across to Davey Kelso and hand him a handful of cigarettes. The old man took them, and offered the boy an old hand to shake, “You did good, boy. You did good.”

The smile on the boy’s face was unshielded, and for a brief, precious, moment, the others in the room caught a glimpse of what could be, if only this kid caught some breaks.

Outside the southerly wind had turned bitter as the last week of fall drew to its inevitable end.

Melisa came over to Jenny, unable to hide the concern that was etched clearly on her pretty face, “Jenny, we don’t have enough bunks left down in the shelter for all of the folks. It’s too cruel to make them go back outside in that cold.”

“Honey, there are never going to be enough beds. That’s the hell of it. They will make the choices of who stays and who goes back to watch over their turf.”

Melisa just nodded … wishing she didn’t understand the wisdom these folks had, or where it had come from. The last three weeks had ripped the blinkers from her eyes, and she could no longer hide.

It took a couple of hours before all the choices had been made and this group of survivors split up and each headed to a different destination.

Melisa became aware that her cell phone was vibrating in her pocket, suddenly remembering she had switched it to silent when the show had come on.

“Melisa Doyle” she said, her voice vaguely irritated. Most of her friends would never call her so late.

“Melisa, it’s Connie, you might want to put this on speaker for Ms. Thurston to hear. Tell me when that’s done please …

“Jenny! Connie Farrell on speaker for you.”

Jenny nodded and joined her as Brad went off to answer the warehouse phone.

“Go, ahead, Connie, she’s listening.”

“Great! Ms. Thurston, you might need to come over to the studio, we’ll send a car for you. We’ve had to call extra staff in to handle the calls that are coming in. It’s an unprecedented response unlike anything we’ve experienced on anything we’ve ever aired. I need your instructions on where to direct these calls, or instructions on how best to have these folks make the donations they’re offering. I can have a car there in ten-minutes. Can you come in? Please.”

Jenny looked shell-shocked for a brief moment, “Well, I … yes, yes of course. I’ll wait out front, shall I?”

“Wonderful, thank you, Ms. Thurston. Melisa? Can you come in as well?”

“Sure thing, Connie. I’ll see you soon.” She ended the call.

Jenny turned to her, “I wasn’t expecting a reaction, let alone a big one. I … well yeah, let’s just see what happens I guess. I’ll just change my shoes.”

Melisa grinned broadly when she automatically looked down at Jenny’s feet; she wondered how she’d failed to notice the fluffy dinosaur-feet slippers till now, “Your version of ‘Jimmy Choos’, Jenny?”

Jenny’s happier laugh was a pleasure to hear, “I’m all class, aren’t I.”

Melisa grew serious, “Yes, Jenny. Yes you certainly are.”

Jenny turned to Brad, “Can you lock up please, hon?”

He was laughing, “Jenny … the phone hasn’t stopped ringing. I get the feeling we won’t be locking up anytime soon.”

***

Jenny was driven back from the CNN studio at around 3.00 a.m. She climbed out of the warmth of the luxury vehicle and into the icy cold of morning.

She was weary, excited and hopeful all at the same time.

She let herself in made herself a pot of coffee, she knew already that she couldn’t sleep, and besides that, I do love my coffee.

She curled herself under a warm throw on the sofa, her laptop open, to keep responding to the emails that had gone overwhelmingly insane on her account.

The numbers had caught her unprepared, and, as she’d been doing  for hours now, she had to read each one, respond to it, and allocate it to a file labelled by type of donation pledged.

CNN had been putting up info breaks with all the hotline numbers for the donations, and as requested by Jenny Thurston they had asked out-of-state folks to take their food donations, and offers of blankets and sleeping bags to any reputable charity, operating within their own cities and towns.

***

Melisa Doyle arrived at the warehouse at 7.00 a.m, not surprised to find a line of folks already waiting, to either volunteer themselves, or make a personal donation. After all the calls she had taken had slowed down a little, she was too excited to do anything but come here. She knew instinctively that Jenny would already be busy trying to make sense out of the unexpected chaos.

Brad was looking pleased and exhausted, sitting quietly on his own for a well-earned, but very brief break.

He looked at her as she entered, “Welcome to the Land of Oz, Melisa.”

She grinned, immediately visualizing singing Munchkins in her mind.

“So where’s the good witch of the north?” she asked with a giggle.

“Follow the smell of the coffee-beans, honey. I haven’t seen her this happy since … come to think of it, I’ve never seen her this happy.

“You ain’t seen nothing yet! Brad, wait till you hear what calls I’ve been getting! Come on, you’ll want to be there when I tell her.”

Jenny saw them coming and waved them over, her concentration all on the call she was responding to. She ended it and turned to face them. “Melisa, you look like the cat that swallowed the canary. Guilty with pleasure, yet. So … tell me, what’s happening.”

“You know all those big ego’s we spoke of, the celebrities I’ve done shows on … well some of the big names have decided to get together and have a benefit concert. They’ll cover the costs, and all proceeds from ticket sales will come to Street Angels, with the only proviso being that a Trust fund be set up for Deke and kids like him, to pay for any counselling and all their education! Do you believe that? It’s enough to make me believe in miracles again, Jenny. And … and, CNN are planning a telethon with all proceeds donated to be split across all registered charities here and throughout the viewing area.”

“You’re serious aren’t you? I … I don’t know what to say.” And she promptly burst into tears.

***

The calls, emails and letters had only just begun to slow down a week later.

Jenny, Brad and the rest of the volunteer staff had worked in shifts twenty-four-seven, and the imperishable foods had been sorted and handed out.

The blankets that had been delivered from a large bedding manufacturer had gone out with the freshly washed used ones, that the public had given.

They still had a small stockpile waiting for any new folks that had been added to the numbers.

Other charities in the city had also reported a higher than normal donation event since the special had gone to air.

The older folks like Kelso and the very young ones, often with their entire families now homeless, were donated the sleeping bags that would help shield them from the elements.

Deke had managed to stay out of the limelight, keeping close to his group and watching the goings on around him and being pleased at what he was seeing.

Jenny had spoken to him about the funding and the number of people who had offered him a home. He needed time to absorb that. Jenny knew he’d need a great deal of counselling, but the when of it needed to be his choice alone.

The excitement of the past few weeks had left her depleted of energy, but more hopeful than she could recall being for a very long time.

It was after midnight again before she called it a night, and she laughed on finding Brad asleep with his head on his desk in the office.

“Hey, sleepy-head. C’mon, wake up, I’ll fix you a coffee for a change.”

She waited downstairs on the small sofa they’d set up for the volunteers to take a quick nap on, if they got the chance.

Brad wandered across and dropped onto the sofa beside her.

They sipped their coffee’s silently, gathering their own thoughts for a while.

“We won’t lose as many this winter, honey.”

“The best thing of all, is knowing that people do care, Brad. They just needed a little reminder that we all bleed red when we are cut.”

“Yup. Another coffee?”

She flashed her smile at him.

“Always.”

***

 

Melisa finished her shift at Street Angels and had showered and dressed ready for the studio. Jenny had just arrived back in and was ready to start her own day.

Melisa had been hesitating for a couple of weeks before she finally decided to ask Jenny the question that had been hovering in her consciousness since the night of the show.

She approached it cautiously, “Jenny, may I ask you a personal question?”

Jenny looked interested. “Well … sure, I guess. You want to know how much coffee I drink in a day, right?”

Melisa didn’t laugh.

“So, okay. It was a nice deflection though, I thought. What do you need to ask me, honey?”

Melisa took a breath. “You were out here once, weren’t you, on the other side of that fire?”

Jenny hesitated for a long moment “Well now, your instincts have sharpened. Yes, Melisa … I was. A long time ago, now.”

Melisa looked over to where Brad was standing, trying hard to appear like he wasn’t listening. “Jenny … sometimes happiness can be right under our noses, if we only get brave enough to look.”

Jenny followed her gaze, and her skin flushed a flattering pink.

“You could well be right, honey. Maybe I’ve been wearing those blinders as well. But for now I could sure use a coffee. You want one?”

Melisa smiled. “Always, Miss. Jenny.”

***

 

“Human Disinterest.” A short story from my upcoming Anthology ‘Front-Line Heroes’ #RRBC #IARTG #IAN1

 

Broken hearted

My latest work in progress is an anthology of stories dedicated to the bravery of men and woman worldwide. ALL those that silently and without fanfare hold down the Front Lines. ALL the front lines. On the streets of any town, anywhere, you’ll find them, The Policeman, Paramedics, Firefighters, Nurses and Doctors and all their support personnel. Those on the battle-fronts in foreign lands, and those on the battle-fronts of streets peopled with others that have slipped through the cracks and crevices of the world we now live in. The many brave souls that endure the lasting, life changing flashbacks, and battle each and every day with the nightmare that is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

These are their stories.

Human Disinterest

by

Suzanne Burke

PART 1. The Offer.

Jenny Thurston hung up the phone, then sat in her creaking office chair and gazed longingly up at the brief glimpse of sky visible in the confined space permitted to a two-story building surrounded by towers of concrete and glass.

Brad Levinson hesitated momentarily outside the door, and then he walked heavily, the sound of his intrusive feet deliberately loud to gain his boss’s attention.

“’Sup, Jenny?” He asked.

“I had a phone call, just now. CNN want to do one of their ‘A Day in the Life of…?’ series.”

“Wow, Jenny … I mean, hon, that is huge!”

“Oh, it is huge alright. It’s not a focus on me or our work here they’re after; they want to do a three part series based on interviews with our street folks. They want me as the as head of Street Angels to gain them introductions after they have carefully chosen their preference. Jesus, Brad … they don’t give a crap, that just want someone guaranteed to spike the ratings.”

“Well that would have been a fast conversation. You didn’t threaten them, did you … Jenny?” He looked at her face and found his answer, “Oh, Jenny … not again?”

He was trying hard not to laugh and failed miserably.

“Winters coming fast, Brad. I don’t have time for this shit. You know we stand to lose a few. The donations always slow down around now.” Jenny smiled and then said, “Anyways, I made them an offer.”

She stood then and stretched her lean frame, “Let’s go over those rosters again for tomorrow night. You know it’s going to get crazy. Friday night and a full moon both at once. I’ll need our most resilient on duty. Can you contact the guys for me, please?”

“Whoa, go back a second, you made them an offer? Please tell me it wasn’t one they couldn’t refuse.”

“Yeah …Don Corleone, I’m not.”

Brad just grinned and said, “Coffee first?”

“Always.”

He laughed again. Jenny was like this most of the time. The other times weren’t so hard to witness knowing that this Jenny …his Jenny would be always come back.

The coffee mugs were washed, and the roster argued over and finally completed before Brad approached the subject of the CNN offer again. “C’mon … tell me, what did you say?”

“The repeatable stuff?”

“Oh, hell. C’mon, Jenny, spill it.”

“Simple stuff really, I get to choose the folks they speak to; and this Melisa Doyle, the woman conducting the interviews … she spends some time with me first. No cameras.”

“Do you think they’ll do that?”

“I doubt that this little ‘Human Interest’ special will be enough of a ratings booster to bother. I don’t think they’ll be in contact, except to say ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’”

“Did they talk about donations, relevant to the story?”

Jenny looked stunned … “Oh, hell. I guess they didn’t get around to that; I may have been a little abrupt. Besides, they wouldn’t agree. It would cramp their style too much.”

“Hmm … I guess we wait and see.”

 

***

Jenny was wearier than usual this morning. She moved reluctantly under the covers testing her limbs before she slid silently out of her warm bed.

She checked the clock on the wall, reassured as its strangled old bell clanged through the morning silence. “You and me both, buddy.” She commiserated with the worn timepiece.

It was barely seven am, and Jenny was anxious to learn the final outcome from last night’s patrol. She and the ‘A Team’ the Street name the folks they looked out for had given the staff and volunteers of Street Angels, had had a long, bad, sad night.

Jenny had finished her shift barely five-hours-ago, and some of the younger and physically fit volunteers took the 2.00 am till 8.00. am stretch that was usually the ass-end of a bad night.

She was caught up in those thoughts when her home telephone jangled on its perch in the sitting room.

“Hello, am I speaking with Jennifer Thurston?” A vaguely familiar voice asked.

“Who is this?”

“Ms. Thurston? This is Connie Farrell from CNN … we spoke very briefly earlier this week. About the ‘ Day in the Life of … program …?”

“Yes?”

“We would like a chance to speak to you, about your proposal, that is. We believe we can agree to your terms. What day this week would be suitable for you?”

“Give me your number. I’ll speak to my staff, then I’ll get back to you. It may not be this week.”

“We would like to have the show underway very soon. Is there any way …?”

Jenny interrupted, “I’ve said I will get back to you, Ms. Farrell. Good morning.” She hung up.

She dialed Frank Daley, her friend, and occasional legal advisor. She grinned, knowing in advance that he wouldn’t miss an opportunity to ask her out on his version of a date, with privileges attached.

After convincing a disappointed Frank that this wasn’t a booty call, they agreed to meet and talk about the possible ramifications of proceeding with this type of hyper-publicity.

***

The machinery was in place some three weeks later. Jenny was finally reasonably content with the outcome. Content enough to speak to a few folks out in her small slice of this city.

CNN had tried to stipulate the types of people they wanted. Jenny had exploded. “This is not a damned Hollywood casting for people that fit your vision of what real people living in this situation look like and sound like!”

She’d stood  … all five-feet-seven of her ready to lash out.

The CNN producer had called a truce, and suggested a lunch break to allow everyone to cool down.

Jenny refused to haggle about it. “I know these folks pretty well. I let you make the choices, you’ll end up with the blow-ins that will do or say anything for money. You’ll end up with folks that anyone with good instincts will recognize as a fucking fraud.”

It was finally agreed that Jenny would choose the people best able to contend with being asked intimate questions.

She also insisted on meeting and spending some time with the popular host of the program. Melisa Doyle had a sound reputation as a fair player. But then, her world was permeated by celebrities that all clamored for her individual attention.

Jenny needed to gain a measure of the woman. She wouldn’t chance her street folks being subjected to any form of ridicule. They had that every day, all day. She would spare them yet more of the same if she could.

***

“Are you gonna cut her any slack at all, Jenny? Brad asked carefully.

He watched her draw back from an automatic denial. “I can’t answer that … till I get to know her a little.”

“So … you don’t know anything about her, and she probably knows very little about you apart from the fact that you run this place … well no, you are this place. I’m certain she hopes that you measure up to her expectations as well.” Brad said gently.

“Ouch!  … But …yeah, yeah … I guess that’s a fair call.”

“She’s in the reception area. I’ll bring her up.”

“Why do I feel like I’m being ambushed here?”

This time it was Brad’s turn to be blunt. “Boss-lady people need to understand better. Don’t let your need to protect your street babies keep a possible way of reaching that understanding from happening.”

“Shit, Bradley! You’ve been hangin’ around me too long!”

They were the first words Melisa Doyle heard as one of the volunteers ushered her upstairs to the office of the head of the Street Angels.

Brad extended his hand to the woman, and stood aside to allow her to walk ahead of him into the room.

Jenny decided to behave herself. Brad caught the expression on her pretty face and wondered how long that would last.

“Ms. Doyle, this is Jenny Thurston.” He said. “Good luck.” He left the office with that ambiguous statement hanging in the air.

Jenny stood, “Come in please, Ms. Doyle. Take a seat. Can I arrange a coffee for you, or perhaps tea?”

“Coffee, please. Cream and two.” The elegant woman took the proffered seat and continued, “We are going to be seeing rather a lot of each other. Do you think we can drop the formality? Please, call me Melisa.”

“Thank you, Ms. Doyle. But let’s leave it at formal for now.” Jenny looked her over, “You’re younger than I thought.”

The woman wasn’t certain where to go with that statement. “This business ages you fast.”

“Hmm … . Just why are you doing this particular series, Ms. Doyle? It’s far removed from the glamorous celebrities you are accustomed to featuring.”

“Well, CNN thought that …”

Jenny held her hand up, “No, I asked you why YOU are doing this. What do YOU hope to achieve?”

“I … I suppose, that is, well … I …” She floundered and a red flush made its way up her elegantly made up face.

“Yes, please go ahead.”

The woman recovered sufficiently to respond. “I’m doing this series because my network have instructed me to do so.”

Jenny smiled. “Thank you. That’s honest at least. So, what experience have you had that might prepare you for what you’ll be dealing with?”

“I deal with huge ego’s each and every day. Apart from needing to watch, catch, and stop myself saying yes too often, I guess I have only media interpretations of street life as a guide.”

“Are you willing to learn more? I mean really learn, not just observe?” Jenny’s face gave an indication of just how important the question was.

“Yes … yes, I …yes, yes I am.”

“Okay. Are you ready?”

“What … you mean right now?”

“You need to see the streets during the day, from the perspective of the people that survive there. It becomes a different experience at night. You need to see both. Is that a problem?”

“My crew?”

“No … no camera’s. Not yet. Do you take a crew uninvited into the home of your other guests, Ms. Doyle?”

“No.”

“I thought not.”

Jenny assessed the younger woman, “You’ll need to change your clothes.”

“Oh … of course. But these people will still know who I am.”

“How many of these people do you think have television sets, Ms. Doyle?

“Oh, I’m sorry. That was a rude supposition, wasn’t it?”

Jenny gave her a small smile. “Stupid, and rude. You did say you dealt with ego’s, Ms. Doyle. That’s not what you’ll find out here. Make no mistake about this … these people you may meet will catch you out in a falsehood faster than you can imagine. So … no bullshit. Are we clear?”

“Yes.”

“Good. I’ll meet you back here in an hour. Wear comfortable clothing; you’ll be doing a lot of walking.”

***

Brad was at the wheel of the van and patiently waiting. He knew that the early afternoon warmth would soon make way for the southerly wind. Soon now and with little warning, the winter would arrive. He hated the winter. They lost good people each year, and the loss repeated itself …again and again … just like the seasons.

He watched Jenny and the Doyle woman walk across to the vehicle, pleased to notice that the anchor-woman was now wearing jeans and a hoodie, her hair was scraped back in a pony-tail. Oh, crap … she looks about twelve-years-old. I hope Jenny doesn’t eat her alive.

“Where to, Boss-Lady?” He asked as the two women clambered up and into the van.

Jenny flicked a look at her watch. “It’s too early for the move to the night spots. Head into the main drag, please, Brad.”

Brad just nodded and maneuvered the van out and into the traffic.

She turned to Melisa Doyle, “Are you an observant person, Ms. Doyle?”

After a moment to digest the question the young woman answered, “I think I am. Is that what we’re doing now, testing my powers of observation?”

“I need to know what you see.” Jenny responded.

“Brad, pull over and let us out at the next set of lights, please.”

The traffic slowed them a little, building fast now as the early starters finished their shifts. Public transport upgrades had eased the congestion some over the past few years, but the exhaust fumes still hung tenaciously in the afternoon air.

The two women climbed out, and Jenny lead the way to an alcove, it gave them a clear view of the opposite side of the city street.

“I want you to watch them. There are two of the folks I’m familiar with right in front of you. I want you to watch them for a while, and then I want you to tell me what it is you see.”

Melisa Doyle nodded her understanding. She leaned back into the sandstone wall, and focused her attention straight ahead.

Fifteen-minutes later, Jenny called a halt. “Okay, now turn away and face me, and tell me about them.”

“Which one do you want me to start with?”

“Which ever one caught your attention first.”

Melisa Doyle took a breath, and began.

“I noticed the guy with the dog straight up. The man looked to be somewhere between thirty-and-forty-years old. I couldn’t tell his height too easily, but from the length of his arms, I’d guess he was well above average height. His hair was long and blondish brown. He wore a baseball cap, but I couldn’t make out the logo. He had two other hats, one in front of him, and one in front of the dog. I think the dog was a Labrador. It looked in better shape than he did.”

“Is that all?”

“He smiled all the time, like it was a mask plastered to his face.”

“Anything else grab your attention?”

“No … I … no, I don’t think so.”

“And the other one?”

“It was a woman, I think. It was hard to be sure because of the layers of clothing. The hair was very long and hung across the shoulders in dark matted strands. She wore a pair of large sunglasses, and she didn’t look up once. Um … she had some sort of plastic container in front of her. She was stooped over, I’m not certain if that was because of her age … or her state of mind.”

“Uh-huh, now … tell me, which of them collected the most donations in that fifteen-minutes?”

“I don’t think … . Oh, no, wait … yes, that’s right; the dog had two people stop and drop something in the hat in front of it.” The woman’s face suddenly flushed a deep, unflattering red as she registered what she had just said. “Oh. … Oh my God.”

“So please, tell me …are they just dog-lovers, Ms. Doyle?”

Melisa Doyle’s face mirrored the sudden understanding. “Oh … sweet Lord. They think the dog has no choice … to be there on the streets. But they think that the human must have one.”

“Yes, Ms. Doyle. Some people firmly believe that the human element could be somewhere else if they chose to be.”

“That’s wrong.”

“Wrong? I understand and so should you that this action doesn’t make them bad people. I believe that the state of our current world has desensitized a lot of good folks. The violence, the divisions within their own once safe environments. That’s all they see everywhere they look… on their televisions each night … and on their social media outlets, each and every hour of the day. The passers-by make no eye contact, Ms. Doyle. I understand it as much as I deplore it. That desensitization is becoming common place throughout our entire species.”

“How do I help the public connect?”

“The best you can do is make them feel forever grateful that they are in a safe, warm, hunger free environment. Perhaps that lost empathy will surface for a short while.”

“They don’t look because they don’t want to be contaminated by the pain?”

Jenny nodded. “Something like that.” She almost whispered the words.

She checked on the time, “Let’s grab a coffee. The exodus starts just after the rest of the city workers head on home.”

“The exodus?”

“Coffee, and then we’ll talk, okay?”

Melisa had to agree, but she was clearly anxious to learn more.

The café wasn’t busy, not yet. However it would soon be filled with the folks that either had to catch a later bus or train, and wanted a spot to sit for a while, or those that had dates or appointments after dark. The folks that didn’t utilize the many cafes would frequent a club, or a bar, needing a hit of booze in order to face the crowded, tiring commute back to the familiarity and safety of their homes. Even if that home was not what they’d dreamed, worked and hoped for. It was still a place to call home.

Coffee had been ordered and drunk in silence, and the empty cups waited to be cleared from the table before Jenny spoke again.

“So … the exodus. Just before full dark, or if the weather turns angry, most of the street-folks leave the day spots that have sheltered them. The store-fronts, and bus shelters in the center of town are far too dangerous at night. The smarter ones, the long term folks that have been out here for years, and occasionally some of the newer folks, all head for their own patch of turf. That doesn’t guarantee them safety, but it gives them a fair shot if something bad goes down.”

“They have the same area every night? The reporter asked.

“That’s what they try for. The ones that seek safety in numbers tend to remain in a pseudo family group. That’s how they come to think of each other when they’ve been out here too long to have had any further contact with any other family they may have had once.”

“Can you show me?”

“Yes … I can show you, but be aware it’s not pretty, and the situation can turn dangerous very quickly. We do all that we can do to counteract that possibility, but there are times when even we are taken by surprise.”

Jenny looked at the other woman hard. “Knowing that, are you still wanting to go on?”

“Yes. I am.”

“Okay. You must listen to what I say, and do as I tell you. Don’t deviate, don’t speak unless invited to do so. Understood clearly?”

“I think so.”

Jenny nodded her agreement and messaged Brad to pick them up two blocks east. “We’re taking Ms. Doyle on a little guided tour of the red zone.” She said when he responded, “Bring Rusty, and the night crew.”

“Are you certain about this, Jenny? I mean she can’t be prepared, no one ever is the first time.” Brad’s usually soft voice held sharp concern.

“I think it’s past time for ordinary folks to see this.”

“Will it make a difference?”

“I guess I’m not prepared to gamble that it won’t.”

“See you in twenty-minutes?” Brad responded.

He was there in fifteen.

***

The women re-boarded the van. This time it held three others to be introduced. Two rather large young men, named Tag, and Davey … and an older woman named Betty who smiled at her, saying no more than a “Hello”, with a quick handshake included.

The other member of this night-shift crew extended his paw to be shaken. Brad smiled at Melisa Doyle’s obvious surprise.

“This is Rusty. He’s our bodyguard, and sometimes he’s the only reason we are granted entry into their world. Many of the folks crave the comfort of just petting him.”

The German Shepherd settled himself comfortably in his own space, and the odd contingent headed further into the red-zone.

***

Melisa Doyle looked out the window and watched the neon rainbows begin to ignite the streets.

She thought she spotted several homeless folks along the brief journey down to the edge of the dockland that bordered one small bay in the midst of the concrete citadels.

Brad brought the van to a stop and the motley group assembled in a semi-circle and waited for Jenny to allocate them their patch for this shift.

“The food van will swing by around seven-o’clock, Ms. Doyle. We do it then to catch as many as possible here and waiting, before the bars, clubs and pubs start spewing out the fueled violence.”

“That makes sense. Do the numbers fluctuate much?”

“Depends on the season. Winter is the harshest out here. The numbers increase noticeably if the crowd offers a fire, plus the added security of simple numbers. Summer isn’t as difficult; if they make it through the cold. We always lose people in winter.” Jenny shook her head roughly to dispel the memory of too many seasons when death had taken members of these, her street family.

“What do you want me to do?”

“Do you see the small group in the clearing in front of the overpass?”

“Uh-huh.”

“I think you may want to talk to one or two of them. I’ll ask them … and if they consent, I’ll give you some guidelines to consider while you are with them. Agreed?”

Melisa Doyle nodded. “Yes. I understand, and I agree.”

“Good. Wait here. I’ll let you know when you can come over, if they agree.”

***

Jenny took Rusty off his lead, and he walked quietly beside her as they covered the ground to the group of people now attempting to get a fire burning in their prized 44-gallon-drum.

“You’re too early for dinner, Jenny-Wren.” The man coughed and spluttered when he started to laugh.

“Damn it, Kelso, and here I am all dressed up and ready.”

He grinned at her and called out “Rusty, come here, boy. Come say hello to old Kelso!”

Jenny gave the dog a brief pat, “Off you go, Rusty.”

The dog was happy to obey.

“Pull up a piece of grass, Jenny-Wren … sit with us for a while.” Kelso patted the ground near him.

“Thanks, Kelso.”

Jenny selected a spot in the half circle and perched herself. She collected her thoughts before speaking and then, spoke clearly and gently, “I’ve come to ask you folks permission to let a television reporter talk to you. Well, maybe two of you. It will be filmed to be aired in Prime-time. I’ll be with her the whole time.”

“Another one of those shows. It doesn’t make a difference, Jenny-Wren. You know that better than most.” Kelso almost spat the words.

“Can we risk that, Kelso? What if it does? What if even a few of the viewing public were galvanized into doing something constructive to help?”

“Won’t happen. Count me out, Jenny-Wren. My life is nobodies’ business but mine.”

“No problem, Kelso.”

Jenny looked around at the gathering. “Anyone? I don’t know yet what way this lady will approach this. But I do think she’ll at least try to listen and hopefully ask questions that you can willingly answer.”

A few of the group turned away and towards the fire now burning brightly.

But a few were still listening.

“You think this might help?” The voice was strong.

Jenny tried to mask her surprise at its owner speaking at all. “Yes. Yes … I think it may. But, you have plenty of reasons to stay out of that sort of spotlight. This isn’t something that you need to be doing.”

“They can disguise my face, yeah?”

“I’ll insist on it, if this is something you’re certain about.”

“I think maybe it’s time. I’ve been hiding too long.”

“I’ll bring her over; or would you prefer to talk away from here?”

“Nothing these folks are going to hear will shock ‘em. I’d like it if you sat in though, Miss Jenny. This reporter might need a translator.” The laugh was cynical.

Far too cynical a sound to be coming from a twelve year-old boy.

***

Human Disinterest Part 2

The Interview

PART TWO … The Interview.

Jenny stood; still concerned at the turn this had taken. Nothing had prepared her for this volunteer to come forward. She looked quickly back at him sitting there watching her. He trusted her to be there with him while he spoke to a woman as alien from his world as it was possible to be.

She walked back quickly to where Melisa Doyle stood waiting.

“Ms. Doyle. I have someone who is willing to talk to you. His face will need to be disguised or hidden. That is the only way it will be done. Can do?”

“Yes, absolutely. The crew? I mean, he may not be willing to talk to me more than this once. I’d like it to be recorded if this person consents. Please.”

“He gets the final say before it goes to air. There is no point to this exercise if the network plan on censoring or editing it before airtime. I suggest it be programmed late in the evening. With viewers warned beforehand of what they may hear. I’ll talk to him now, and on that basis I’ll okay him going ahead.”

“Do you hold that much sway with these folks?”

Jenny shrugged. “I guess you’ll need to ask them that. Now are we agreed?”

“I need to get the crew here, and of course I’ll need permission from the network to okay the lack of censorship and editing.”

“I wouldn’t leave it too long. I’ll talk to him once you have that assurance. How long will your crew take to get here and set up?”

Melissa Doyle was already hitting the redial on her cell phone. “Give me a moment and I’ll give you a time.”

Jenny listened in on the call, and the reporter put the response from the network on speaker-phone to allay any fears Jenny Thurston may have about her rules being implemented. She was surprised that all the requests had received such a firm and committed yes in response.

Melisa Doyle then spoke to her crew. She turned to Jenny, “I need an hour. Is that a can do, Miss Thurston?”

“I’ll ask.”

Jenny did so and returned very quickly. “He’s agreed. He’d like me to be present at all times. I’ll introduce you to him now. Are you ready?”

“I guess I have to be, don’t I?”

Jenny just nodded and said, “The others might consent to talk with you. Be aware that they’ll be watching and listening, even if they seem too distracted. So … let’s get this done shall we.”

***

Melisa Doyle followed the woman, careful not to glance in the direction of the others that sat in a semi-circle watching covertly. Jenny stopped in front of a young male, and with a warm smile of encouragement in his direction, she made the introduction.

“This is Deke, Ms. Doyle.”

The young man didn’t stand. He extended his hand and the anchor-woman shook it with no hesitation. “Hello, Deke.”

“I seen you on the telly, in the window at the electrical store. You look better than you do on there. What’s your other name?”

“Melisa.”

“Jenny says you’ll look out for me. How you gonna cover my face?”

“We have the technology to blur out your features, Deke, we can also disguise your voice if you wish.”

“Nah, that don’t matter so much. I have some smokes somebody gave me, you want one? It might help you look less like a stray dog caught in car headlights.”

“I don’t smoke, but thank you. Do I really look that way?”

“Yeah, just now you do. Can the technology cover over that for you too?”

“Pretty much. The crew will try and present me as professionally as they can, and they can cut to a shot that says that about me.”

“That’s kinda cheating, isn’t it?”

Melisa Doyle was a little unprepared for his blunt observation, and clearly intrigued to hear more of what Deke had to say.

“I’ll just call you, Melisa. How long till you get them cameras here?”

She was about to respond when the television van bearing the CNN logo followed the Street Angels food truck into what passed for a parking area.

“I guess that’s about to happen. Do you want to eat first?”

“The older folks go first. Then, if there’s enough I’ll have something. It’s funny how folks like things to have a little familiar comfort around them. These older folks still remember that stuff. The respect they had once, you know?”

“Can we wait now for a moment, Deke? The crew will take no time at all to set up. Then I’ll do an intro piece to tell the viewers what we are doing here; then, when you’re ready I’ll ask you some questions. You only answer the questions that you choose to answer. Is that okay?”

“Yeah. Okay.”

It took a little more than fifteen-minutes for the crew to be satisfied that they were set up for optimal filming. The lights attracted the eyes of those in the group that had until then kept their faces averted.

Jenny sat out of view of the camera, but still close enough to intervene if she felt it was needed. She hoped that her judgement of the younger woman didn’t let her down.

The introduction wasn’t lengthy, and pretty much what she expected.

Then Melisa Doyle sat on the ground near Deke, and began.

“How old are you, Deke?”

The young man thought about that for a moment, “I guess I’m around twelve, maybe thirteen.”

“You guess? Don’t you know?”

“Not for certain. I can remember back to a sort of party thing. There was cake, with maybe four candles. That was a long time ago.”

“How long have you been out here, Deke?”

“With these folks, you mean?” He asked.

“With these folks, and before that?”

“I’ve been in this spot now for two summers, and last winter.”

“Since you were around ten, or eleven?”

“Yeah, pretty much. I guess that’s around the right age.”

“Deke, can you tell us where you were before that?”

The boy glanced across at Jenny. She nodded slowly, “Only if you want, buddy.”

“I guess it’s important, ‘cause most folks that will maybe be watchin’ this, well those folks will have ideas of their own. That’s fair I guess.” He nodded to himself as the thoughts began to clarify themselves. “I had a mom and a dad just like everyone else does. We lived in an apartment building not too far from here. I remember we had heating, and food that weren’t spoiled. I remember we had a television, and I had toys. There was no rats in that building.”

“That changed? Can you remember when it started to change, Deke?”

“It’s a bit jumbled together, like some bits just don’t fit.”

“Just talk about what you remember. Those pieces that are jumbled are part of it too.”

“Okay. I do remember my dad comin’ home drunk. I remember that first time, ‘cause I’d never seen my dad drunk before. He was crying. My mom told me that he had been laid off from work. She said he was just sad, ‘cause he’d been there a long time. She said not to worry about it. She said everything would be just fine.” He shook his head as the memories started to resurface.

“And was it, Deke? Was it just fine?”

“In the beginning it was okay, you know? I kinda liked him being around all day. He’d say it was lucky that he had his rainy-day-money. He’d watch the television with me and stuff. He had a drink sometimes at night. He didn’t think I knew about that. I saw the bottles and asked him about the stuff that was in them. He said it was just somethin’ he had so he could sleep. He started to sleep a lot. It got to be that I only saw him maybe once or twice in a day.”

“How did your mother deal with that, do you know?”

“Mom … well she would always tell me it was okay. Till it wasn’t okay any more. I’m thinkin’ that that rainy-day-money wasn’t meant to last through a storm that big. They started screamin’ at each other. It was loud enough for the folks upstairs and in the apartment next door to pound on the walls and yell at them to just shut the hell up. The cops came, and they was okay at first. It was like they understood, some. As long as my mom told ‘em that nobody was hurt here, they kinda looked at me with that sad look they get sometimes, and then went on about their business.”

“Did it get worse then?”

“Not straight away. My mom found out she was havin’ another baby. I remember her tellin’ me I was gonna have a little brother or sister. I don’t really know how I felt about that back then. But … my dad … he cried a whole lot more. I heard him promise my mom that he’d get a job. I heard a whole lot more stuff that I didn’t understand too well, back there and then. But I did understand that he gave it a shot. ‘Cause things did get better there for a while. He got a job some place, and was so worn out when he got back home, he’d just fall into bed. He kept at it though. He did. The power got turned back on. I remember just being happier for a while there. I figure as long as I had food in my belly and the screamin’ had stopped … well, you know, I guess I figured everything would go back like it was.”

“Did it, Deke?”

“It did.” He watched her face. “No, really, it did, for a while. It must have been for a few months at least, ‘cause my mom had my baby-sister, and her and my dad seemed to laugh more again. Then it changed. It wasn’t a slow thing that creeps up on you when you’re not watchin’, you know? It happened before I had time to gather some peace from being almost back to the way it used to be.”

“Did you ever have a visit from Child Protective Services, Deke?”

“I think maybe this lady that came by was with those folks, but she came when my dad was workin’ again, and we had food and power and stuff. I didn’t see her no more after that.”

“ What happened, then, Deke? Did your dad keep his job?”

“I think he would have. But … he’d met up with some new folks. I don’t know where exactly he met them. I don’t know if they worked at the same place he did, but I doubt it. It don’t matter anyways I guess. Not now.”

The young man lit another treasured cigarette, and then passed the near empty packet across to Jenny. Melisa Doyle watched the pantomime that passed between them, and then she saw Jenny quickly move over and hand them to an older man, one of the ones now watching on. He took them with a smile, and raised his hand and snapped off a salute. “Thanks, Deke.”

The young man gave him a grin and needed to say nothing in reply. It was simply understood.

“Is he your friend, Deke?”

“My friend? Yeah, you know somethin’ he probably is at that. We kinda all look out for each other, those of us that still can.”

“Can you tell me what changed at home, Deke?”

The young man looked sadder than any twelve-year- old had a right to look. Melisa Doyle was worried that he couldn’t continue and the silence dragged on …

“Deke, we can stop now. It’s okay.”

He looked back at her and managed a crooked grin. “Nah. Folks maybe need to know this shit. Maybe it will help ‘em a little bit, to give ‘em an idea, you know?”

“When you’re ready, Deke.”

“Yeah, okay.” He sat up a little straighter and continued, “So, like I said there was new folks comin’ and goin’ in the house, seems it was always full to busting with folks. Some stayed for a while, and some only came to the door and disappeared quick before I saw who they was. My dad didn’t seem to mind it a bit, and he didn’t sleep much anymore. He was wired up all the time, you know? He moved different to what he used to do. Like he was all jerky and faster. Mom just seemed to get all caught up with my little sister and me, and she stopped talkin’ a whole lot of the time.

“Anyways …  I was told to stay in my room when anyone came, and the telly was good company you know? But … sometimes I needed to use the bathroom.” He took a deep breath, before he went on. “One time there was this small plastic bag thing sitting on the counter in the bathroom, it was kinda like a sandwich bag only real small … I picked it up and opened it to see what the white stuff was that was in it, it smelled funny. Anyways, someone came in and I got a surprise and I dropped the open baggie thing in the toilet bowl. Then there was just a whole lot of screamin’ and the guy that had come in hit me in the face, and I bled. My dad came rushin’ in, and saw me bleedin and cryin’ and I thought he’d pick me up to see what was happenin’. But he just shoved me out of the bathroom, and screamed at my mom to get me the fuck back to my room.”

“You know now what is was, don’t you?”

“Hell, of course I do. It was cocaine, it has its own special look. So does crystal-meth … ice. That’s how my dad was earnin’ enough money to keep the apartment and buy food and pay for the shit he was shootin’ into his veins. He was dealin’ … and he was using as well. That ain’t never a good combination, Melisa.”

“Deke, what about your mom? What was she doing while you were being hit? What did she have to say about it?”

“She just put iodine on my face, and told me never to touch anything I saw around the place. She was sad, I reckon. Then she’d tend to my little sis, who was startin’ to walk by then. I was in charge of makin’ sure, Casey … that’s my sisters’ name, Casey. I was in charge of watchin’ her and makin’ sure she didn’t touch anything at all.”

“How long did this continue, Deke?”

“For a long time, it seems. Casey was startin’ to talk. She was so sweet. I took to takin’ her out when the weather was kind. I used her pram, you know … the ones that the little kids sit up in? I’d pack us up some food, and we’d go to the park closest to home. She loved to feed the ducks. I figured gettin’ her out of the apartment was a better idea than havin’ to keep her cooped up in my room all of the time. I pinched some of my dad’s rainy-day-money and I got her juice and sometimes those little packets of sherbet, those ones that go all fizzy and sweet on your tongue. She loved that sherbet.”

“What were your parents doing at those times, Deke?”

“Dad was only home at night; he was dealin’ pretty full on, and using much more stuff to get him through the days. My mom was gettin’ to be real skinny lookin’ and she said it was just losin’ the weight she put on having Casey, but she looked bad. She still cooked every night, but I didn’t see her eat. Pretty soon she stopped cookin’ at all, and I’d bring her a sandwich in her bedroom after I fed me and Casey. I learned how to change Casey’s diapers, and I’d get ‘em as clean as I could manage. The washing machine was broke. Dad said he’d get it fixed, but that didn’t happen.”

“Was your mom using Ice or Cocaine, Deke?”

“I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think so. I asked her one time, and she just shook her head, she said she’d go see a doctor ‘cause she was feeling sick all the time.

“I pretty much took care of Casey by myself then. I had her sleepin’ in my bed with me, so I’d know when she moved and I could see what she was doin’. I guess I figured that would keep her safe.”

Melisa Doyle caught the tone in his voice, and looked across at Jenny Thurston. The woman had tears rolling down her face.

The reporter hesitated for a long while before she asked the next question.

“Did it keep her safe, Deke?”

“No… .  No … it didn’t. Came a time, I got sick. The chicken in the refrigerator had tasted funny, but you know, I was hungry. I just made Casey her favorite peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But, I ate that chicken.  I was pukin’ and needin’ the toilet all of the time for a couple days, or maybe three. Dad had the place full of those people that he hung with, and he just said for me to feed Casey and take her to my room. I was dizzy and I hadn’t had anything to eat for a couple of days, cause it made me puke worse. I guess I passed out cold.

“I woke up sometime in the early mornin’ to the sound of my mom screamin’. I rolled over and Casey wasn’t there. I got out of my bed as fast as I could manage and made it out to the sittin’ room.

“Casey was layin’ there on the sofa, and my mom was shakin’ her and screamin’ but that baby didn’t open her eyes. I ran over and touched her, and she was cold. I grabbed my mom’s cell and I hit 911. My dad was cryin’ … but he grabbed the phone off me and yelled that he’d take her to the hospital. He didn’t want the paramedics in the apartment.

“I recall screamin’ at him,  Dad, we ain’t got no car no more! Mom, please Mom  … it will take too long! My mom was past listenin’, she held Casey and she was rockin’ her back and forward like she did when Casey was just a baby. I ran to my dad and started pleadin’ with him to let me call 911. He pushed me hard and I fell. I got back up and I guess I went kinda crazy and started kickin’ him and punchin’ him …  and then he punched me in the face, and I guess I went down for the count.”

Melisa Doyle was crying openly now. She stopped the crew filming for a moment and wanted to offer comfort to the child man she had in front of her. The look on his face stopped her in her tracks. In her entire life she had never witnessed such desolation. One of the crew pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket with hands that shook. He lit one and walked across and offered it to the boy. Deke took it without comment and allowed the stranger to light it.

Melissa Doyle didn’t even try to pretend she wasn’t openly crying.

“Deke? We’ll stop now. Okay?”

NO.” He stood up. “By the time I came around I knew she was already dead. That baby girl was already dead. There was lines of cocaine on the coffee table, with little hand marks in ‘em. That baby had white powder around her little mouth and all over her fingers. I think she maybe thought it was her favorite sherbet, you know. She had blood comin’ out of her mouth. My dad wasn’t there, he’d run off. My mom was still holdin’ Casey and croonin’ and rockin’ just like baby-girl was just sleepin’. I rang 911. They got there real quick, but it was already way too late for them to be able to help. My mom went with them in the ambulance. They wanted me to come in the ambulance, but I stayed and waited for the cops to come.

“ I told them everythin’ about my dad, and his dealin’ and I gave them a whole bunch of names. They found drug stuff all over the place. The cops was kind, they were as gentle as they could be, and a couple of ‘em looked real shook up. They told me that I would go with them to the station, and they would have someone from Child services come over to see me, after they had me checked out by a doctor.

“They was busy, going from room to room looking for anything to help this make sense; while they waited for a lady cop to arrive to sit with me.

“I took off. I ran as hard and as fast and as far as I could. I just wanted to run and run and never look behind me.

“I’m still runnin’ I guess.” The boy was quiet now. The German Shepherd came over and sat beside him, and Deke stroked his head.

Melisa Doyle leaned forward, “Deke, your father … what happened? Do you know?”

“They ain’t never found him. He was a weak man. So if he’s dead it wouldn’t surprise me. But if I find him first the cops won’t need to bother none.” He left that statement to stand on its own.

“The others, the ones that came to your apartment?”

“Some of them got busted. Some of them are still out there someplace, if they ain’t left the country by now.”

“Are they after you, Deke?

“I don’t know, Melisa. I doubt they was far enough up the food chain of dealers to be bothered. I guess I just have to keep watching, you know. But, I was just a kid, back then. I’m all growed now. So maybe not.”

“Where is your Mom?”

“S’far as I know she’s in a place for folks that are gonna die soon. She has the cancer right through her brain. It weren’t her fault, Melisa. I was in charge of lookin’ after Casey. I gotta live with that.”

Melisa Doyle clearly wanted to say something to reassure him that that wasn’t the case at all, the look on his face stopped her.

“How have you kept track of what was happening, with your Mom, Deke?”

“That don’t matter. I guess maybe there is just some good folks in this world. Sometimes they don’t stand out from the rest, and sometimes they just do. So let’s just say I got real lucky and I met me some of those ones that stand out. Okay?”

“What will you do, Deke? Is this where you want to be?”

“Here? I don’t know, Melisa. I guess I just keep going and hope maybe to make some sense of this fucked up old world. I just gotta stay alive long enough for that to happen.”

“Deke, is there anything you’d like to say to the people watching this show?”

“No … I guess I’ve already said it.”

Melisa Doyle leaned across and extended her hand. “It’s been an honor to meet you, Deke.”

He just nodded … and Melissa said “Cut.”

***

Part 3 … “The Aftermath” will be posted tomorrow. I do hope you’ll join me here.