‘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.

 

 

Preview my Non-Fiction books “Empty Chairs” & “Faint Echoes of Laughter” @pursoot #RRBC #IARTG #IAN1

Please be advised, the contents of my non-fiction memoir books are disturbing. Child abuse is not a pretty topic. If my books helps you understand the long term repercussions  of abuse, it will have been worth the pain of writing them.

.”Empty Chairs” BOOK 1 (Standing Tall & Fighting Back) By Suzanne Burke writing as Stacey Danson.

empty-chairs-cover-kindle-showing-series-details

 

Newly Edited May 2017.
Stacey Danson, lived through and beyond horrific child abuse. This book tells of her brutal beginnings, the streets of Sydney at the age of eleven were preferable to the hell she endured at home. She ran, and those streets became her home for five years. She was alone, ill, and afraid. Stacey also had an unshakeable belief that she would do more than just survive her life. She would not allow her future to be determined by the horrors of her childhood. She reached out for something different; there had to be more to life; if she could only find it. She had a dream of a life where pain and humiliation had no place. She was determined to find that life. Empty Chairs is the beginning of the journey. Now she is living the dream.

Just one of the 390 outstanding reviews of Empty Chairs.

on March 13, 2017
This was a profoundly painful read. The author writes from her experience, from her terror, from her strength. She uses the language of this experience to powerfully capture the depraved situations that she ultimately survived. Everyone should read this book – everyone. Why? Nothing will change in terms of child abuse until we are all aware of its horror. Perpetrators, whether doctors or priests or parents or neighbors, need to be incarcerated where they will learn what it means to be terrorized and used. Therein rests the hope for our children. No one who tortures the most precious among us (little children) has a right to walk our streets freely.

“Faint Echoes of Laughter” Book 2 (Standing Tall & Fighting Back.) By Suzanne Burke writing as Stacey Danson.

Faint echoes kindle with series details. (2) copy

The shocking and spirited sequel to the much-praised ‘Empty Chairs’. Life on the streets of Sydney was preferable to the nightmare Stacey Danson had survived in the hell that was home.

She hit the streets running at the age of eleven, and armed with a flick-knife and a fierce determination to live a different life, she began the journey from the 1960s to today. For those that came to know ‘Sassy girl’ in ‘Empty Chairs’, and for those caring people that asked how her life worked out from there, ‘Faint Echoes of Laughter’ continues the story.

For those that haven’t met her yet, this book stands alone as a tribute to the kindness of strangers, the loyalty of true friendships and the way things really are on the streets of any town …. anytime.

JUST ONE OF THE 189 Outstanding Reviews.

on April 26, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I read Stacey’s first book ‘Empty Chairs’ and was eager to read the sequel and find out what happened to this brave and courageous little girl, who ended up living on the streets of Sydney at the age of eleven. ‘Faint Echoes of Laughter’ continues her story. As you read you are pulled into Stacey’s world, her struggles, her thoughts and despite it all, her dreams for a better life for herself. Tough decisions are made and with a reference written by the local librarian and friend Eunice, Stacey lands herself a job after many knock backs. A page turner in every sense of the word you read how are slowly her life changes for the better. Heartbreak and pain follow as the scars from the past are impossible to erase, despite being married to a loving husband. The roll of honour at the end of this most emotional and inspiring memoir brought me to tears as Stacey recounts what happened to her friends from her past life on the streets. An absolute must read.

BOOK 3 of my memoir “Still Sassy at Sixty” Available early 2018.Still sassy at sixty 1st promo SEPTEMBER 2017

“Pulse!” A short story from my upcoming Anthology: “Front-Line Heroes.” #RRBC #IARTG.

HEROES LOGO

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.

 

Front-Line Heroes … An Anthology of short stories.

PULSE.

By

Suzanne Burke 2017.

Chad moved gingerly, his bruised ego competing with his other more visible bruises for distinction.

He’d once believed he could hold his liquor better than most guys his age, but his heaving stomach rapidly turned that hopeful little daydream into a blatant lie.

He made his way to the bathroom, pleased with himself for a moment as he looked around his small apartment, and found contentment by the order he found there.

He avoided the mirror this morning. His hands were too shaky to risk a shave.

The shower revived him to a reasonable degree. Orange juice and strong coffee took care of the rest.

He flicked a look at his phone,  checked a couple of missed calls, but nothing urgent needed his attention for now.

Today was already planned, based on an assumption that the few drinks with the guys and girls from his future work place couldn’t possibly result in feeling less than the six-feet-four, well-muscled and lean persona that belonged utterly to Chad Williams. Ego is such an inconvenient thing. The thought made him smile for a moment.

He shook his head to clear it a little: he’d need to get moving if he wanted to see and map out the sections of the city that would most likely need his attention two nights from now.

He glanced across at the uniform and jacket that hung on the hook outside his wardrobe. The jacket, large and in screaming yellow with Paramedic emblazoned across it to identify him to anyone that needed to know why he was wherever they ended up.

He’d not so long ago worn a different uniform in a very different theater of combat.

“Old habits die hard, that’s how it goes down. I need to take the pulse of my new terrain, do you get that?”

He’d spoken those words to the paramedic he’d be riding with in just a few short days.

“Yeah … Oh yeah, I get it.” Katrina Georgiou gave him a brief smile. “But …” She stopped to better form the question, “I’m gonna be ridin’ with you, Chad. I need to know what you’re bringin’ with you from your past, into my current equation. Do you get that?”

“So … why did I choose to leave? Is that what you need to know?” He asked, with a mask rapidly descending over a face once young, but rapidly ageing.

“Yeah … that’ll about cover it.” she’d said.

Chad had considered his response for a few long moments. His face reflected sadness accompanied by a firm resolve. “When you do your job … you do it for strangers, and the chances of you being called to attend someone you know and care deeply about are minuscule at best. Would that be an accurate assessment?”

She nodded her head, “If you mean family, I’ve only ever heard about that happening, maybe twice or three-times in my twenty-three-years on the job. But, I guess there are many different layers of caring … aren’t there?” She questioned gently and then continued, “Go on.”

“The people that I saw, the dead and the dying, the ones I could help and the ones it was too late to offer anything but  a prayer for, … a thankful prayer that death had been mercifully fast to take them. They weren’t nameless strangers. I ate with those men and women; I played cards and shot the breeze about baseball, and basketball and whatever other damned sport you care to name. I laughed with them and occasionally at them … and then far too often … I watched them bleed.

“So, here I am. These folks we’ll try and help, these folks will be strangers. Strangers I can tend to, to the best of my ability, and when they have been handed over to the hospital I can walk away without the need to hear the ones that care, the ones remaining, cry out their despair.” He looked into her face and saw the beginnings of understanding reflecting back at him from her kind eyes.

She touched his arm, “You’ll do me just fine.” She stood then and offered her hand, “Welcome to your new battle station, Chad.”

He shook the hand that she offered and left her.

He had uncharted terrain to explore. He’d grown up in this city, but he knew her pulse had changed.

He was almost done … only a couple of the dockyard places remained to  be looked at more fully.

The pulse of the city had slowly revealed itself to him,   making itself known to his hyper-alert senses.  He recognized the heartbeat of this city he’d been born in … and over the course of three long days and nights he began to recognize the areas that could explode with testosterone-fueled rage, or the rage of futility … for he knew too well, that rage had its own unique pulse.

Fear signaled a different beat again, the fear pulse came with a residual echo, as if hopelessness had its own sounding chamber.

The visual images of fear burned themselves into his core memory … .

He would save them for later.

Partly satisfied that his recon had given him at least some parameters to work with, he crawled into bed and finally slept. The sunrise heralded the beginning of his new tomorrow.

He watched it rise, and spent the day quietly; his shift began at 2100 hrs … 9.00 pm he corrected inside his military trained head … . He wanted to be, needed to be … must be, on premium, optimal, alert.

He was a little tense on the drive in, and pulled over and breathed through it before he continued.

Katrina  Georgiou,  acknowledged him briefly “We already have a call out, Chad. I’ll fill you in once we get underway.”

Chad climbed up into the ambulance and seated himself in the shotgun position beside her.

“Ready to rock n’ roll?” She asked.

“Let’s do it.”

She nodded and drove out.

She pulled expertly into the heavy traffic of a Friday night in this city, and hit the siren. She grunted in satisfaction as cars began to pull over to let the ambulance through.

“Okay, Chad, here’s where we’re at. We have a Police officer down.  Multiple shots fired, officers responding report  that our patient is on the pavement at the entrance to the old art-gallery off George and Park. No movement detected.”

“We first in?”

“Looks that way.”

“Understood” … “ETA?”

“Four minutes.”

Katrina pulled the ambulance expertly into the boundary already set up by the responding officers.  It was bordered shoulder-to-shoulder with a blue breathing wall of police.

The officer on the sidewalk was around fifteen-yards from the edge of the police presence.

Katrina spoke up, “We need to get to the casualty.”

The officer in charge nodded his head. “I understand that. He’s my man, but we still have a shooter somewhere in that alley. The rear access is covered, so our shooter could be more than a little desperate right around now.”

The body on the sidewalk moved slightly, an arm suddenly extended to drape itself across the side of the man currently facing them.

Chad looked at the blood rapidly pooling on the sidewalk.

“Oh fuck … he’s gut shot.” he said half to himself. “We don’t have time for this, guys. He  could bleed out pretty quickly.” He looked at Katrina and she gave him the yes nod he’d hoped for.

The cop in charge looked at them hard for just a moment “God bless you both.” He turned to his men. “Let’s do this … Jesus … okay, move … on my signal” He gave it, and put both he and another two officers in the direct line-of-fire to escort the paramedics the short distance to the fallen man in blue.

No shots came at them,  and Katrina and Chad set to work.

They were both on autopilot now … focused only on what they needed to do to give this one the very best chance of surviving.

“We’ll need the gurney to move him.” Katrina spoke softly.

“It’ll take too long, Katrina. I’ll carry him, if you go ahead of me and hold the drip feed lines. Yeah?”

She agreed and they prepared him hurriedly for the necessary dash to the ambulance. Both of them focused only on what was ahead and not what could well be waiting to kill them all from behind.

The cops closed ranks and provided them a brief shield, falling back into line with a rapid but pleased glance from the others still waiting to be ordered to move in.

Katrina climbed in to the driver’s seat once they had their patient secured, and Chad sat alongside the unconscious man and willed him to hold on.

The sound of a second shot startled them both, and not waiting to hear more, Katrina revved the vehicle, set the sirens screaming …  and got them all the hell out of Dodge.

The casualty made it the hospital and was still alive when he was handed across to the ready and prepared E.R staff.

***

Chad joined Katrina outside and was grateful when she offered him one of her cigarettes.

“That was quite a christening.” Katrina said as she lit up his Marlboro.

He looked down at his hands, relieved and a little surprised to find that they were steady.

“It was the same, wasn’t it … that Pulse beat you were talking about?” She asked suddenly.

He was surprised … then felt suddenly guilty at feeling that way. “Uh-huh … yeah, yeah …  it was.”

She reached for his arm and gave it a gentle squeeze.

“You do know that those boys in blue will be buying you beers for a long while to come … If you let them that is. Will you let them in close enough to allow that, will you let them be grateful, Chad?”

Chad checked his pulse rate, and then gave her a weary smile.

“I have no choice. Do I? Can we check on him before end of shift?”

“Welcome back to the land of the still living, Chad.”

Chad just nodded his head.

Ready or not … He had finally come home.

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Alexis in Blue” A short story from my upcoming Anthology “Front-Line Heroes” @pursoot #RRBC #IARTG #IAN

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.

 

Alexis in Blue

 By

Suzanne Burke

I have always been one of those people that should never be around bleeping car alarms, or crying babies.  There is just something about the urgency of those sounds that creates a twitch in my brain and a frown on my face.

The restaurant was crowded.  The food was good.  My date was not, he had pulled the old left my wallet at home number on me again, and I was pissed as hell about it.

He left.  I stayed.  The phone rang.  The booth was just off to my right.  It rang and rang and my twitch and frown deepened.  I got up and walked over and into a nightmare.

“Yes” I said.

“There’s one born every minute.”  It was a male voice, flat, and cold.  It continued, “Well now, I expected a woman to pick up. I figured it would be a woman, women always stick their noses in where they’re not wanted.”

“Fuck you, whoever you are.”  I said about to slam the phone down.

“NO!  Not a smart thing to do, lady.”  The voice screamed.

“I’ll play.  Why not?”

“Because, you stupid bitch, you activated the timing device on a bomb when you picked up the phone.”

I remained silent.  The words unscrambling themselves in my alcohol-infused brain.  “Bull shit, creep.  Ha ha, I’m not buying it.”

“Too bad, bitch. That pretty blue dress is gonna get all covered with blood and brains. Such a pity.”

My brain kicked into overdrive.  This bastard could see me.  He was watching me.  I looked around me fast, trying to see who it might be.  Whoever it was, they had to be on a cell phone.

“Well,” he said, what do you think?  Which one of us is it, bitch?  Huh?  C’mon bitch, figure it out; which one of us are you talkin’ to.  Which one is gonna blow you and all these other assholes to hell?  Talk to me, bitch.  Don’t make me push my little button too soon.  Where would the fun be in that?  I like to have fun.”

I couldn’t afford not to play the sicko’s game.  If this was a game.

“What do you want?”

“Ah, see now, that’s better.  Play nice.  It can be fun; you just have to find a way.  Can you find a way, bitch?”

Sweet Jesus, what the hell do I do?  What if it’s real?  What if there is a bomb?  “What do you want?  Please, tell me what you want?”

“Oh, you disappoint me, you already asked me that.  Shouldn’t disappoint me, I don’t like it when women disappoint me.”

I swallowed the bile that came up in my throat, I had to think, think. My stupid brain wouldn’t respond.  What could I say?

“Um—my name, is Alexis.”

“So?”

“So, what’s your name?”

“Boring and stupid.  Is that all you can come up with?  My name is Alexis.  I can tell you my name, but I won’t.  How ‘bout you guess my name.  Yes, that will keep me amused, for a while.  Alexis has to guess my name.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Wrong!’

“Please, why are you doing this?”

“Wrong!”

My knees were shaking and the nausea was threatening to overwhelm me. Why didn’t anyone come near?  Why couldn’t they see?  I looked frantically around again trying to make eye contact with someone, anyone.  Please, please why can’t you see?

“Um … Robert.” I said, trying to keep my voice from breaking.

“Do I sound like a Robert?”

“I don’t know.  I don’t know.  Can you give me a hint?  Please.  Will this stop if I guess your name?  Why would you do this, do I know you?”

“Oh—poor little bitch.  Poor little bitch in a blue dress.  Poor bitch wants a hint.  Will I give you a hint? Lemme think ‘bout it.”

What can I do?  Think … dammit … think.  Keep him talking, keep him talking.  This place has to close.  Someone will get suspicious; surely, someone will wonder why I’m on the phone so long.  Keep him talking.

“If not, Robert.  Then give me a hint.  Play fair.  Or don’t you know how?”

“Wrong answer, bitch.  Nice try.  But gettin’ me mad ain’t a good idea.”

“Then give me a hint, please.”

“Say sorry.”

“I … I’m sorry, please.  Don’t do this.”

“Pleadin’ won’t help, bitch.  What is my name?”

“Frank.”

“Wrong answer.”

I could feel the tears running down my face and turned around so people could see them.  Dear God, please someone look at me.  Can’t you see?  That woman, that woman in the leather jacket she is looking at me.  I nodded my head at her.  Yes, yes.  Please come see.  Please. No! Don’t give me me an embarrassed smile and turn away.  No, no no.

“What is my name, little bitch in blue?”

“I don’t know … I don’t know! Please why, why are you doing this?  Why?”

“It’s time.”

“Ti … time … no … no …! Time for what?”  I screamed into the phone, a couple of people looked up, and looked away again quickly.

“Time for all the people to pay.  Alexis in the blue dress.”

“Pay for what?  What did they do to you?”

“Too late—too late, it’s done.  Nobody cared, Alexis in the blue dress.”

“I—I care!”

“Of course you do … you are going to die.  Everyone cares when they are about to die.”

“Then–why don’t you tell all these people, why they must die?  Punish them like you are punishing me.”

“Tell all the people?”

“Yes, yes.  Tell all the people. You want them to be afraid, don’t you?  You want them to suffer with that fear like I am before they die. Don’t you?”

“Make them afraid.  All of them?  Yes … NO!  What is my name?”

“Look, look around you.  More people are leaving.  They never got to care what happened to you.  They never got to be afraid.”

I said a silent prayer that he didn’t just push the damned button.  My instincts told me it was suddenly more important to confuse him. He appeared to be rattled just a little.

“What did they do to you to make you hate them?”

“I don’t hate.  I don’t feel anything.  They have to pay.”

“Because … because you don’t feel anything?”

“Yes—Alexis in the blue dress.  Because I don’t feel anything.  They did that.”

“Who is they?”

“People.  Just people.”

“But, why me? Why these people in particular?  What did I do to you?  What did the woman and that little girl in pink do to you?”

“Wrong—no more questions.  Just answers, get it?  What is my name.”

His voice was becoming agitated.  No longer cold and flat, it was raised in protest at my questions.

“George, is it … George?”

“No.  This is boring.”

“You will die too, won’t you?  You are here in this restaurant, watching every little move I make. So, you will die too.”

“Yes—of course.  No matter, I feel nothing.”

“You don’t feel pain?”

“I feel nothing.  No more questions.  I’ll give you a hint.”

“What if I don’t get it right?”

“Get it right.  Alexis in the blue dress.  Do you like music?”

“Yes, yes I do.”

“Do you know music?”

I thought hard before I answered.  “No—not very well.  I just like music, that’s all.  If you give me a hint, and I get it right what will you do?”
“What will you do?”  I repeated.

“I’ll stop.”

“You’ll stop the bomb from detonating?”

“Yes.”

“Why should I believe you?”

“What choice do you have, Alexis in the blue dress?”  He laughed.

The terror had gone. I’d replaced it a with a desperation that was tinged with acceptance.  I was going to die.  These people were going to die. How dare he decide so many fates.
More couples left the restaurant.  The woman in the leather jacket looked at me again, I mouthed the word…  Help.  Again, Help.  I couldn’t risk signaling her in any other way.  He was in here.  Watching me.  Watching everything, I did.

She looked at me oddly.  Then she picked up her purse and she and her male companion left the restaurant. She gave me a brief backward glance as then disappeared from sight around the screen near the entry door.

I could barely breathe.

I had wet myself and all I could do was stand there in silent unobserved humiliation. Was this how my life would end?  I hated knowing that it was.

The restaurant was emptying, faster now.  It was getting late.  Time was running out.  The waiters were going around to the occupied tables and soon after a few of the customers here and there got up and made their way slowly outside.

That was good, I was relieved it might end up with just me and some staff perhaps.  The woman and the little girl got up to go.

“What are you doing?”  His voice was querulous, agitated, different.

“Nothing—you can see me!  What does it look like I’m doing?  Nothing—right.  Just waiting for the hint.”

I looked around, again.  Damn who was it; there weren’t many of us left.  Five males, four females and the staff.  Was it one of the staff?  What good would knowing do me?

“So—come on—what is the hint?”

“I’m thinking!”  He raised his voice angrily this time.  I had rattled him.  I don’t know how.

“C’mon, c’mon.  If I’m going to guess your name, I need a hint.”

“Wait!  Are you in a big hurry to die? Alexis in the blue dress.  How old are you?”

“Why does that matter?”  I have to stall him now.  The longer I can keep him occupied the more people would get out.
“I asked how old you are?” he was angry.

“And I asked you why that’s important.”

“Tell me!” he screamed.

“I don’t think I will.  You have to give me the hint.  You said you would, now you will not.  If you are a liar, why would I believe you about the bomb?  I think I’ll just walk out of here.  You have had your sick fun.”

“Tell me your age and I will give you a hint.”

“How old do I look?”

“Stop it!  You must answer the questions.  Don’t ask them.”

I looked around; several of the waiters appeared to be going off duty.  Why had no one questioned me still being on the phone?

I saw him!  It had to be him, or one of the staff.

No! It had to be him.  He sat at the back of the restaurant, alone.  That’s why he couldn’t guess my age.  He was too far away to be sure, or even close.  But, was the bomb on him, or planted?  I couldn’t let him know that I had figured out who he was.  I must not.

“I’m thirty.”  I lied.

“That’s better.  That’s young.”

“How old are you?”

“As old as time.”  He sounded weary, fed up.

“What is my hint?”  I pushed it.

“Purple Haze.”

“What?”

“Purple Haze.”

I watched another couple of people that could only have come from the kitchen walk out the front door. One of them still wearing the white cap of a kitchen hand. There was none of the laughter and good natured ribbing you would expect to hear from people finishing work and heading elsewhere.

I realized then that they knew.  Someone had tipped them off.  Maybe the woman in the leather jacket.  The lights were all still blazing.

“I said, Purple Haze.  Alexis in the blue dress.”

He was so focused on me I don’t think he had noticed that hardly anyone remained in the restaurant.  I turned around and looked in his direction.  I couldn’t make out detail.  He was in clear line of sight from me.  Sitting behind the table.  His hair was dark and long.

“Answer me.”  He screamed again.  “What is my name?”

Jimi, it must be Jimi.” I screamed the name.

“How? How … did you …?”

I put the phone down on the bench.  I wanted to run like hell.  But I forced myself not to.

I walked outside, slowly in an sleepwalkers mist … straight into the arms of the bomb squad member ushering the other occupants to safety.

Everyone but Jimi was out.  I sobbed in the arms of the big guy in the full kefla suit.  I threw up, and then had to sit; I was grabbed by two more big cops and carried to the barricades down the block a piece.

Jimi exited the restaurant.  There were cops and bomb squad people everywhere.

Jimi was in a wheelchair.

“I feel nothing,” he had said.

“Oh God” I screamed … “He’s gonna do it…please, please, no! No, he’s gonna do it!”

The blast knocked a few cops off their feet.

I remember crying out, “NO!” and then I passed out cold.

I awoke in hospital, groggy from the tranquilizers.  The woman that had called the cops was sitting beside the bed.  So was my ex-husband.

“I … who was he?”

“Later, Alice,” said my ex. “Rest up okay.  Just rest.”

“No dammit—no! I need to know?”

“His name was James Fredericks.”  The woman said, flashing her badge as she spoke.  “You are one brave woman.  How did you know to lie about your age?”

“You’re a cop?”

“Yes, I was off duty last night, but as soon as I realized there was a problem we put a tracer on the phone line and listened in.  Then, we started very slowly getting people to leave the restaurant, just one, or two at a time.”

“How did you know the answer?” she asked.  “I mean it was an ambiguous hint, Purple Haze.  What is that?”

“A song by Jimi Hendrix.  I’m a child of the sixties.  As soon as he asked me about music, and my age, I figured he was gonna try and make it something I wouldn’t know. I love music.  And Purple Haze was a favorite.”

“He was a Nam Vet wasn’t he?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Not all of them came home.”  I whispered sadly.

I cried for Jimi.

I cried for all the Jimmies.

***

“My Name is Flic.” A short story by Suzanne Burke. From my upcoming anthology. “Front-Line Heroes” @pursoot

FIRST RESPONDERS BEST LARGE

What follows is one selection from an Anthology I’m working on.

The books title: “Front-Line Heroes.”

I want to pay tribute to ALL the Front-Line Heroes. The Soldiers, Paramedics, Police Officers, Firefighters, Doctors, Nurses, Drug Enforcement Agents, Teachers, Foster-Parents, Counsellors and Carers.

The selfless angels that work the streets every night from all the marvelous charitable organisations. They are the Front-Line Heroes … every precious one of them.

I hope my stories assist in further understanding their utter devotion, and undeniable humanity, and how they may need to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

These are all works of fiction. However I hope that each reader will recognize these people, and give thanks that they exist.

***

My Name is Flic.

A Short Story.

By Suzanne Burke

Some people grow into the name they were given at birth by a mother caught up in hormone driven, wishful thinking. I wasn’t one of them. She named me Felicity. Now, I’ll grant you there is nothing wrong with the name. But, you know, sometimes people have a visual image pre-ordained in their heads that have all the Felicity’s as golden-haired, blue-eyed and sunny-natured, shining examples of goodness.

So, everyone that knows me understands that I prefer to be called Flic.

It had always been strange coming into this office. Trepidation was my constant companion on those days. The smell of the furniture polish never changes, nor does the light penetrating the squeaky-clean glass of the double glass doors.

It’s lonely here gazing down at the quadrangle, knowing I can see so clearly, without being observed.

I feel like an intruder in other people’s guarded moments, yet I need the comfort that observation will grant me right now. I needed to know what’s waiting down there in the quadrangle. I need to prepare.

The new intake of girls stand segregated for now, whilst the teachers act upon predetermined decisions on who to pair them up with. Each newbie will be partnered with an older, more experienced member of this community of discarded young people. A mentor to help ease them in to the difficult period of adjustment that lay waiting.

I watch the body language of the group, I need to identify them for my own satisfaction … I’ll know better how to move among them that way.

Four of the young people are quietly standing, eyes downcast, shoulders slumped. They have long believed themselves unworthy of being loved. It would take time, and patience before that could change … if it ever did.

Three of the new intake are afraid. They have been suddenly taken from their comfort zones, their sanctuary. No matter how bad it had been, it was familiar, and something they had lived with all of their lives … until now.

Now the courts had made the choice to remove them from that environment. To place them into the care of people trained to help them redefine who they were.

Definitions were difficult in those early weeks and months as both teachers and students struggled to be accepted. I knew that.

I recognized two of the girls standing to the rear of the assembly. These girls were not new. I know them. They had been placed in foster homes and returned when they had proven too difficult to keep. The haunted look in their eyes battled with the sadness, as they accepted finally that the only home they would ever know … was this one. Until and unless they found the courage it would take to make it alone. My memory was rippled with the scattered bodies of these kids.

I knew their anger seethed just below a surface they created to expel any thought of comfort or human contact. They had long ago witnessed just how their skin could be stripped from their bones with words used like weapons on their fragile defenses.

I knew that anger. I also knew that it could and would explode into violence, unleashed by any one of a thousand trigger situations they could suddenly find themselves in …utterly unprepared.

The other girls stood out clearly, they didn’t walk to assembly, they strutted. Tossing long hair and smiling as if they held a secret that only they could ever see. These broken babies flirted with everyone, irrespective of gender or position in the pecking order. You were human and breathing and that was enough to force them to offer you themselves in return for whispered lies of love. Learning to stop equating sex with being loved was a lifetime of counseling away.

I knew too that the teachers burned out fast here. Some managed to survive all the pain they witnessed daily; but it was the support network they had outside these walls, that offered them their only tangible comfort.

Those that tried to absorb all that they witnessed in the vain hope they wouldn’t get flamed into nothingness by it … they crumpled like singed tissue paper and burned to a cinder. Many of them would never be able to teach again.

I looked on as a few of the youngest students started to cry. I watched them comforted by the others that had enough heart still left in them to offer it.

It all came down to the look in the eyes of both students and teachers. There was a hunted and haunted look that ate into your soul and remained there … indelible, immovable, and endlessly sad.

The door opened and Margot the school secretary caused me to turn away from the window.

She glanced at her wristwatch and gave me what passed for a reassuring smile, “It’s time, Flic.”

I nodded and answered, “Be right there.”

She smiled in acknowledgement and left the door ajar.

I gathered my scattered thoughts and wrapped them around me as I walked downstairs, and caught brief smiles of recognition from a few of those assembled.

I stepped up to the microphone. “Good morning, everyone.”

And sixty voices echoed back at me, “Good Morning Principal Flic.”

I had traveled full circle. I had come home.

 

 

 

Celebrating the newly edited edition of “Empty Chairs: (Standing Tall & Fighting Back Book 1) #Memoir On sale now at $0.99.

The following trailer and the contents of my memoir are very confronting. Because they absolutely must be. Child abuse will never cease if we continue to turn away, seeing nothing … doing nothing.

HERE IS THE TRAILER Created by my dear friend Sessha Batto.

PREVIEW EMPTY CHAIRS BELOW.

Contact me Contact me on TWITTER!

Find me on FACEBOOK

My BLOG