Tony Marino stood at the rail, stopwatch in hand, as he watched his trainer, Hank Stevens, lead his horse Manhattan on to the dirt track at Dimple Downs. This was to be one of many morning training races to prepare for race day a week away.

Hank led Manhattan into the gate where three other horses were already waiting. When all was ready the starting pistol fired and Tony clicked his stopwatch along with a gaggle of other owners, trainers and bookies lined up along the rail at the finish line.

Tony watched as Manhattan rounded the final turn onto the straight away finish line and knew his run time would not be good because he was obviously trailing two other horses.

Clicking his stop watch as Manhattan crossed the finish line, Tony turned to his trainer, holding up his stopwatch and yelled, “This is not good. It is unacceptable. You’ve got to do better. I have $50,000 invested in this horse with loan sharks breathing down my neck. We will do this again tomorrow.”

“The horse needs more rest after this workout,” Hank said.

“Tomorrow. Understand?” Tony said as he stormed off.

Tony knew next to nothing about horse racing and race horses other than the few times he bet on the ponies. At the auction where he purchased Manhattan he was told that he had good breeding, had won a few purses and had a good vet report. But most importantly, he got the horse at a low price. What’s to know? Tony thought. Get a good horse at a good price and a good trainer, then watch the money roll in.

The following morning Manhattan was lined up in the gate with three different horses and had a strong start.

As they rounded the final turn on the track and headed toward the finish line, Tony felt a little better. His horse was in second place, but then the unimaginable happened. His horse stumbled and fell, throwing the jockey into the dirt.

Tony and Hank jumped the rail and ran over to where the horse had fallen. Following close behind was the track vet. They passed by the thrown jockey, who was obviously injured and in pain, leaving him to be attended to by the on duty EMTs.

Looking down at the horse it was obvious there was nothing to be done. Blood ran from the horse’s nose and mouth onto the dirt. Manhattan was dead. “Looks like exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage,” the vet said, “won’t know for sure until after the necropsy.”

Tony knew his days were short when he turned to return to the grandstand area and caught the unmistakably threatening look and throat slashing gesture from his loan shark.

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We awoke on Thursday morning to what sounded like the roar of a rushing train and a flickering orange glow that lit up our bedroom. Outside we could see what we knew was a wildfire over the ridge behind our house. Was it coming our way? It was too early to tell.

Out on the street we saw a steady stream of firefighters and their equipment going up the canyon road.

“This is not looking good,” I said to my wife Jill.

Without rain, the transpiration of the trees had long ago stopped. This left the normally damp forest floor a dry tinder. We’d been noticing that for the past few years the footfalls of our daily walks in the surrounding forest sounded more like we were stepping on potato chips.

Hoping our evacuation preparations would be sufficient, Jill and I began loading the car with our bug-out-bags containing some clothes, toiletries and medications, bottled water, a Rubbermaid container of photos along with our legal and financial documents and finally my laptop computer.

Our world changed in an instant when around noon time I felt the wind shift causing the wildfire to loom over our neighborhood like a shield with the trees along the ridge above us exploding into flame. It looked like the gates of hell. Along with the shift in wind direction the rising heat of the fire created a terrifying vortex and I felt like it would suck me up along with the cooler air along the ground and from further down the canyon as if in a giant vacuum cleaner.

Ignoring Jill’s protestations, I climbed up onto the roof with the garden hose trying to douse the burning embers that were now falling all around us. I wore a wet bandana around my nose and mouth so I could breathe through the suffocating smoke and soaked down my clothes to prevent them from catching fire but it was of little use since I could feel the pinpricks of hot ash on my skin as the rain of falling embers burned through my clothes. There was little that I could do, however, to prevent the smoke from stinging my eyes.

When the authorities came by announcing a mandatory evacuation I had been on the roof for almost three hours while Jill worked around the outside of the house with another hose putting out hot spots all in an attempt to protect our property. In a way, I felt relieved. I was tired and ready to give up.

We had no sooner driven out of our driveway than a pine on the border of our back yard burst into flame throwing a shower of red hot embers on the roof of our house. In the rear-view mirror, I saw our beautiful home consumed by the fire. We knew then that we could never return.

We inched our way down the canyon road, still wearing our water soaked bandanas. The smoke, in places, was as thick as a winter whiteout as we slowly navigated around stranded vehicles, people walking along the side of the road, and various sorts of emergency services vehicles. Finally, we made it out to the major highway.

“Where are we going to go?” Jill asked.

I didn’t have a good, truthful answer, so I said, “I don’t know. I guess we’ll just have to play it by ear.” We felt fortunate to have escaped alive.

Paradise was to be our retirement home tucked away in nature. Now it was just a pile of ash straight from hell.

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Sweet Revenge

Bill checked his appearance in the mirror: tie straight, hair combed, jacket collar down as he headed out the door to attend his first high school class reunion ten years after graduating. The organizers had held previous reunions that he didn’t attend for a variety of reasons, away serving in the military being the most prominent. Truth be known, he was anxious about seeing his former classmates and rationalized many excuses to avoid attending. It was not as if there was any requirement to attend these gatherings and like most people he liked a party; it was just that he felt uncomfortable being in the company of these people.

High school is for many a difficult, traumatic and torturous experience, perhaps because it happens during those growing-up years where you become more culturally aware and are moving toward independence. For others, to hear them tell it and tell it, those years were the pinnacle of their lives where attitudes take shape along with solidifying lifelong relationships. For Bill, however, these lifelong relationships were a foreign concept.

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The Cabin

“Daddy, I want to go home,” Amy said as she pulled weeds and harvested zucchini from the raised garden bed she was working on. “I miss my friends and I miss going to school.”

Working on another garden bed with his back to her Paul said, “I know you do sweetheart, but this is our home now and we have to make the best of it. Besides, I thought you enjoyed coming to the family cabin.”

“I did when it was only a couple of weeks in the summer, but now I can’t even go swimming in the lake. It’s so dried up that I have to walk out a half mile through the soggy mud flats just to get to what little water is left.”

Paul sympathized with his daughter but could not come up with a suitable answer so he asked his wife, “How are those tomatoes coming over there Joan?”

“Fine, looks like we might have a good crop,” Joan replied.

“Speaking of those mud flats, I’m going to take the wheelbarrow down to the lake bed and dig up some topsoil.”

As Paul returned with a load of dirt, Joan asked, “Do you have patrol duty today?”

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Beach Therapy

beachAshley sat huddled on the sand hugging her knees to her chest fetal-like watching the setting sun while she wondered what she was doing here. The rhythmic sounds from a drum circle further up the beach seemed to compete with the rumbles of a distant thunderstorm off to the West. A beautiful scene, to be sure, she thought, were it not for the traumatic memory of a violent police chase and gunfight which caused her to wince at each pop of the beat.

The rhythm finally became soothing and she was about to nod off when she heard a voice from behind her ask, “Mind if I join you?”

Looking up she saw her landlord standing next to her holding a bottle of wine and two glasses.

“Mr. White, you startled me.”

“Please call me Randall or Randy if you prefer. We don’t stand on any formalities around here.”

“Okay, please pull up a bit of sand,” Ashley replied.

Randy eased himself slowly onto the sand and asked, “Care for some Chardonnay?”

“That would be great, thanks.”

Randy poured the wine and set the bottle in the sand then they clinked glasses as he toasted, “To a great evening and the beach life.”

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Murder in Port Isaac: A Patricia Ida Mystery

After yesterday’s discovery of a corpse on the north beach the small seaside village of Port Isaac was all abuzz, including the Seagrape Café where P.I. Patricia Ida and her partner Bonita (Bunny) Hopper were at their usual table overlooking the harbor trying to have breakfast.

Port Isaac, located about 50 miles from the nearest major city of Westfalia, is mostly a tourist destination and get away for folks who are fortunate enough to afford second homes. The town has only two full-time police officers and a dispatcher who spend most of their time handling domestics, bar brawls, and DUIs. Occasionally they would call in help from Westfalia but they depended mostly on Pat and Bunny to do any major gumshoe work.

“Hey pi pi, any news yet on the dead guy?” asked a local passing by her table.

“Not yet,” answered Pat.

Everyone in town knew Pat as pi pi owing to the combination of her business as a P.I. and her initials P.I. She didn’t like it much but what could she do, besides it was good for business even if she was the only licensed P.I. around these parts.
Pat and Bunny were no strangers to murder investigations and it didn’t bother them to discuss the details, no matter how grizzly, during their daily meeting over breakfast.

“So let’s review what we know about our John Doe,” said Bunny. “We know he was obviously murdered since the dagger was still stuck in his chest.”

“Not so fast,” said Pat, “We think the body washed up on the beach sometime during the night since it was discovered by some early morning beach walkers and we don’t know how long it had been in the water, also we can’t easily tell if the stabbing was pre or post mortem.”

Pat’s favorite cousin Kathy who waitressed at the Seagrape came by to refill their coffees and asked, “Any progress yet?” Pat remembered her days as a waitress. It was honest hard work but she was glad she was now a P.I.

“No, but we are working on it. By the way, I almost forgot,” handing Kathy a flyer with an artist’s rendition of the victim’s face Pat continued, “could you please post this somewhere. Maybe we’ll get lucky and someone will recognize him and call the police hotline.”

“No problem, anything to help,” Kathy said as she left to continue her rounds.
“Now where we,” Pat said. “Oh yes, there is the issue of his arms and legs which by all indications were devoured by sharks so that leaves out any chance of a fingerprint ID.”

“We still have a chance with the DNA,” Bunny said.

“Yes, but that and the tox screen will take weeks to get back from Westfalia.”

“Wasn’t the shirt he was wearing a hoot?”

“Yes, only the tourists wear those loud Hawaiian shirts around here. But that gives me an idea. What if our dead body went missing from a passing cruise ship or was thrown overboard from one of the boats now docked in our harbor? I think it’s time to pay our harbormaster a visit.”

Leaving the Seagrape they walked the short distance down to the harbor stopping briefly at Josie’s Confectionery to get Bunny her daily fix of a chocolate covered strawberry.

The harbor master’s office consisted of a long bar similar to one found in a tavern that Jake, a slim, energetic old seafaring man, kept smooth and glossy. Local folklore had it that the counter was made of wood salvaged from his handcrafted sailboat. Behind the counter was Jake’s desk which faced out the large front window with a clear view of the entire harbor. Along the back wall was a bank of radio equipment that he used to monitor the constant chatter from boat and ship captains and to radio back any harbor directions.

Completing a phone call Jake said, “Hey pi pi. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Unfortunately, not so much pleasure. It’s about the body, or what was left of one, that washed up on the north beach yesterday.”

“Aye, grizzly business that,” Jake said.

Bunny pulled a copy of the flyer from her satchel, pushed it across the counter and asked, “Do you recognize this man?”

“No, can’t say as I do.”

“We were thinking that maybe you could show it around the boat folks.”

“Will do and I will do you one better. I will fax it to all the cruise ships that have passed by here for say the past two weeks. See if they are missing any passengers.”

Later that day Jake heard a vicious quarrel come over the radio, “you bitch, he may have been a dishonest lecherous lout but you didn’t have to kill him” said one voice. Another said, “What was I going to do? The more he drank the meaner and more abusive he got. You of all people should know what he was like. Besides, he was pawing all over me and I’d had enough.”

Somehow the radio mic must have gotten keyed by accident, Jake thought. Zooming in the lens of the CCTV camera and looking around on his monitor he saw several people apparently involved in an animated argument coming from the yacht Anger Management tied up at buoy 15.

A short while later three people from the Anger Management boarded a zodiac and started toward the docks.

Jake called Pat and filled her in. Pat and Bunny made it to the dock ramp just as the zodiac arrived.

As the three passed them on their way into town Pat showed them the flyer and asked, “Do you recognize this man?”

After they passed by Pat said to Bunny, “Did you see that? They passed us by with their heads down as if we were Hari Krishna asking for a handout.”

Their suspicions raised, Pat and Bunny grabbed a dinghy and went out to the yacht. Bunny dropped Pat off at the stern ladder of the yacht then moved the dinghy out of sight on the far side of the boat where she was hidden but could still be a lookout.

Pat quickly looked around for any evidence of an altercation. Finding none she made her way into the main salon. On one wall she saw a photo of two couples. One of the men in the picture was none other than that of their dead body. Pat quickly took a picture of it with her cell phone.

Returning to the docks Pat and Bunny conferred. “I think it’s time we turned our evidence over to the police,” Pat said.

“Now what do you say we get another chocolate covered strawberry at Josie’s to celebrate?”

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Kilroy Girl

Pam popped up like a prairie dog from its burrow at the sound of a loud commotion coming from the end of our row of cubicles. With her nose appearing to rest on the top of the cubicle partition and her hands griping it on either side she reminded me of that old iconic graffiti cartoon “Kilroy was here.”

Pam was new to our cubicle farm and unaccustomed to these regular disturbances which the rest of have learned to ignore.

“What’s happening,” she asked in a near whisper.

Looking up into her wide brown eyes I replied, “It’s just another firing.”

“But it looks like Don has gotten into a physical altercation with someone, they are screaming at each other and there are a couple of big security guys—” Continue reading

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Tina was not quite five years old, but she knew Mr. Binkley was up to no good when she saw him in her backyard at three o’clock in the morning. In the full moon light she could see he was on his hands and knees on the grass digging with a small garden shovel. Was he burying something and why in my yard? Tina thought.

At breakfast Tina told her mom, “Mama I saw Mr. Binkley digging in our yard last night.”

“You must have been seeing night shadows and what were you doing awake in the middle of the night, young lady?” Ellen said as if scolding her daughter.

“I could not sleep and got up to look at the full moon but just for a minute, I promise. That’s when I saw him.” Continue reading

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Sorting through my late parent’s memorabilia I came across the recording, pictured at the left, among the hundreds of what I call “war letters.” Actually these were love letters spanning the period from before they were married in 1941 until about 1945. But this story is more about the record than the letters.

The record label indicates that it was recorded on an instantaneous recording machine. This may seem not so unusual in this era where recording on a smart phone is common place. However, from the 20s to the 60s coated acetate [1] or lacquer discs were used to make recordings either for personal use or commercially by radio stations to record events for later broadcast.

Presto and Voice-O-Graph were two companies who were in the business of making the recording machines or lathes, as they were called, because they cut the grove in the disk to record the sound. The three extra holes in the record were necessary to keep the disc from slipping while the grove was being cut during the recording process.

An article describing the Voice-O-Graph company reports that “the Voice-O-Graph was invented in the 1940s, and for the better part of two decades it was a popular feature at fairgrounds, arcades, bus stations and tourist attractions. The booths originally were used more for audio telegrams than making music. Messages ranged from marriage proposals to correspondence between soldiers and their families during WWII.”[2] Dropping 35 cents or a token into a slot in one of these booths allowed you to make a 35 second recording. At the end of your session a 7 inch diameter 78 rpm record was delivered to you through a slot in the front much like a vending machine.

The hand written portion on the record label by my father says “Maybe – Balconodes – Nov. 19, 1940 Bob.” But what is the meaning of “Maybe” and what is/was the Balconodes? About the only thing I know for sure is that the date indicates the record was made some five months before my parents were married and almost two years before I was born.

Since the record had deteriorated so badly over the years making it unplayable I can only speculate that it was a recording of “Maybe.” This song, recorded by the Ink Spots, was ranked number two according to the American Music Charts for 1940. I can’t imagine that the recording was of my father singing the song any more than I could the four Ink Spots crammed in and around a phone booth sized recording studio to make the record for him. Perhaps he was just saying the lyrics as a message to my mother. After all my parents at the time were still in the courtship phase of their relationship.

A bit of research into the mystery of the Balconodes has revealed that it seemed to be a night club in Pittsburgh. In the 50s it was mentioned in the local newspapers that it was a venue for a popular Miami based female impersonation show called the “Jewel Box Review.” So there is a good possibility that it was also some sort of popular night spot in the 40s but is it possible that the club had a recording booth for patrons to make records? Perhaps. But it is also possible that the club had the ability to make acetate disc copies that were sold to the patrons.


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Running along the beach as is my morning habit I often pass by an old man standing at the edge of the water with the gentle waves licking at his bare toes. From his tracks in the sand leading back to the state run nursing home up the beach I suspected that he was one of their residents. I see him looking longingly into the surf and doff his mushroomed shaped hat to nothing in particular that I could see. Does he remove his hat to let the cool sea breeze blow over his bald head or is he waving at some imaginary ships?

After reaching my quota of words for the day I usually head down to the local tavern to celebrate this modest accomplishment.

I had no sooner gone through the door than Sal the bartender had my pint waiting for me on the bar. Continue reading

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