Food for Thought
Ma and Pa Gleeson lived on twenty acres just outside the town of Dalton, West Virginia. Pa Gleeson worked at the Dalton Lumber Mill and Ma Gleeson kept house. She cleaned and cooked and grew a few vegetables. She made her husband a wild meat pie every Friday in which she put what her husband had hunted the previous weekend or fresh road kill from the interstate that ran next to the farm. Most often there were possums or squirrels from the hunting Pa Gleeson did with his buddy Paddy Murphy every weekend. The Gleesons only had one child, a grown son, who they only saw occasionally when he was between incarcerations in one of the county jails. One Saturday while Pa Gleeson was away hunting, Ma Gleeson had a sudden desire to have a hamburger and fries. She got in the old Ford truck and rode to town. She parked outside the diner and was about to get out of the truck when she looked across the sidewalk and into the nearest diner window. She saw her husband sitting opposite a blonde woman some years younger than him. Ma Gleeson forgot about the hamburger and drove home. She said nothing to her husband. She continued to give him his wild meat pie every Friday but now she made a separate one for herself. His pie she spiced up a bit with an ingredient from the tin on the top shelf in the barn. Pa Gleeson’s health started to decline, but Doc. Carver could not find out what was wrong with him. Pa Gleeson died in the early fall. Ma Gleeson spared no expense on his funeral. He had a fine casket and Ma Gleeson dressed herself in fine new clothes and a fancy hat. After the funeral there was an Irish style wake hosted by Paddy Murphy. At the wake Ma Gleeson received the heartfelt condolences of most of the town’s people including the mayor and the sheriff. She got a shock when approaching her was the blonde woman from the diner. The woman walked right up to her and said, “I am so sorry to hear about your husband. He was a good man. He helped my brother on many weekends fixing the old house I bought when I came back to Dalton last year.” Ma Gleeson said nothing. She just nodded her head and smiled sickly.
The Good Old Days
It was a post-apocalyptic scene. There were hundreds of rusty iron poles standing in rows along curved tarred banks. The tar was crazed and in the cracks grew grass and weeds, even trees struggling to exist. The projection room and adjoining café was a pile of rubble. Across the entrance was an old chain and a padlock long since seized solid. I stepped across the chain and walked amongst the weeds and let my mind wander back in time. It used to be one of the best places to go to enjoy oneself. I can remember, way back, going there in Dad’s Rover, us three kids in the back, Mom in the front next to Dad with a picnic basket on her lap. If the film was good, then life was perfect, well almost as long as you didn’t have the seat in the middle. The sound was not good. I guess the speakers had to be cheap since a fair number must have been driven off with. If it rained then it was hard to hear the soundtrack as the raindrops drummed on the car roof. It was also a mission to get to the café if it rained. It was still always a treat. Dad was an expert in placing the Chevy just near enough to the speaker post for the speaker to reach but far enough away so he could open his car door. As a teenager the drive-in was even more of a treat. It offered amazing opportunity in the courting process. If a girl agreed to go with you on her own it was a signal that an attempt at a kiss would probably succeed. If she agreed and didn’t ask what the film was, then the kiss was guaranteed. A perfect evening would start with a clear sky to allow a visit to the café for a burger, but would progress to rain which had the advantage of forcing you to close all windows, which in turn steamed up the windows to create perfect privacy. I once saw and admired one Romeo who took his girlfriend to the drive- in in a pickup. He parked in the last row and reversed up and half over the ramp. In the back of the pickup was a mattress and cushions. Romeo and his girlfriend lay comfortably in the back, probably not watching the film! I once met a couple whose first child they had called Drive-in. I wondered whether his other children had names like Motel, Bedroom or even Cancun? I only had one bad experience at the drive-in, and that was the night we went in the girlfriend’s car. I dutifully went to the café for burgers and while I was there the heavens opened. I discovered how hard it was to find a car in the rain not knowing either the registration number of the car or even its make! To make matters worse she dumped me!
William Sampson lived on his own on a farm in the Rift Valley in Kenya. One day while out riding he came across a dead female leopard, probably killed by lions or hyenas. As he rode on, he heard a crying sound and found a very young leopard cub. It was obvious that its mother was the dead leopard. Bill took the cub home and fed it on milk with an eye dropper. The cub not only survived but thrived and soon graduated onto a doll’s baby bottle. The leopard slept on his bed every night. As it got older it, being a nocturnal animal, felt the need to explore and hunt at night, so it used to jump out of the bedroom window, onto the veranda, and from there disappear into the night. It would return in the early hours and jump back through the bedroom window. As it approached adulthood its jumps back through the window became longer until it was landing on his bed. Bill got tired of being woken up in the early hours every night but didn’t want to close the bedroom window as the nights were hot and any breeze coming through the window was welcome. Eventually, Bill had had enough. So, one day he put a collar on his leopard and that night attached a chain to the collar and the other end of the chain to a pillar on the veranda. He was fast asleep when, early in the morning he was awoken by something landing on his bed. In the moonlight he could make out the shape of a leopard. He lost his temper, jumped out of bed and grabbed a rhino hide whip from the corner of his room. He beat the leopard which had turned on him, growling and snarling. Bill drove the leopard back with his whip and eventually the leopard jumped out of the bedroom window. Bill went back to sleep. In the morning he went out on to the veranda to find his leopard still chained to the pillar!
The Last Alien
Two grey haired men examined the object that sat on the bench top in the brightly lit laboratory. It was a highly polished metal sphere with a flattened base on which it now rested. It was about thirty centimetres in diameter. It had a screen about fifteen centimetres across. Professor Moulton, Head of The British Space Laboratory was the first to speak, “I suppose that after a two-year journey from Alpha Gemini VI, it is unlikely to be carrying any bacteria or viruses.” “Not likely,” said the other man, Dr. Pierre Spies, his assistant. “Looks like it’s made of titanium or tantalum, or at least the exterior is. Wonder what’s inside?” Moulton picked up the metal object and examined the underside. The base seemed to be a separate piece of metal. He carried it to another bench on which stood his laptop. To the amazement of the two men, the screen on the computer lit up. For several minutes there was an unfathomable mess of figures and numbers on the screen. Then suddenly writing appeared on the computer screen. What it said was: Need charge, need charge by induction The two men just stared at the metal object. Then Moulton understood the mention of induction. He carried the sphere and placed it next to a power point on the wall. His computer screen flashed the message: Good. Need one hour, The two men spent the next hour trying to make sense of what the item they were looking at was. They agreed that at the very least, it was a computer and probably a very advanced one. After just under an hour, Moulton’s computer screen lit up again and said: Fully charged. I have been able to access data in my memory that will allow me to communicate with you in your language. You may ask me questions. Spies spoke,” What are you. Are you just a computer or what?” I am more than a computer. I am a being from what you call Alpha Gemini VI. I no longer have an organic body. All the information in my brain was transferred to my computer about two hundred of your years ago. My computer is very much more advanced than your earthly ones. My computer circuits are printed on an atomic level. I have more information stored than all the computers on your planet. Moulton then asked,” Are there more of you back on your planet?” The answer came back on the computer screen: I am the last one left. There were thousands of us, but our planet was hit by a severe solar storm from our sun that destroyed all our batteries. My battery continued to function as I had had a slight computer malfunction that caused me to descend into a fissure on our planet and I was shielded from the solar storm. My battery is already beyond the date until it was meant to last. I need to charge again. The screen went blank again. Moulton and Spies sat and discussed the unusual situation in which they were. Their first problem was as to what to do with the computer-person. Should they keep quiet about what happened in the last two hours or not. They agreed that the object they were studying probably contained computer technology far in advance of anything on earth. Moulton was inclined to open the metal sphere to reveal what was inside. Spies wanted to take a more conservative approach and access as much information from the computer as possible. Spies also questioned if they destroyed the sphere, whether that would be murder or not. He queried whether a being was an organism or the brain contents of that organism. Their discussion was interrupted when the computer screen lit up again. They read: You are thinking of taking me apart. Not a good idea. I need to give you and your kind a warning. My people made more and more advanced computers until they were far cleverer than we were. We then thought that by emptying our brains into our brilliant computers we could give ourselves immortality. Look what happened. I am the only one left and my battery is not going to last. Moulton looked at Spies. “We need to open this thing up and find out what makes it tick.” With that he went to a cupboard and took out a small angle grinder. “Soon open this baby, titanium or not!” Neither of the men noticed that in letters that were fading slowly, the screen read: Please don’t be clever. My computer is set to self-destruct if threatened. The newspaper headline read “UNEXPLAINED EXPLOSION IN SPACE LAB-TWO DEAD!”
The Aspidistra and the Mock Turtle Soup
The letter that came in the post was intriguing. The envelope was pale green and was addressed in the most beautiful handwriting. Inside was an invitation to dinner with Robert de Morgan on a date two weeks hence at ‘Rogues Manor’. We had only just bought the farm in the Eastern Mountains of Rhodesia and had no clue as to who Robert de Morgan Esq. was. We made enquiries from our new neighbours and learnt that Robert de Morgan was a sort of remittance man. He had disgraced his well-known and wealthy English family by openly flaunting his homosexuality at a time when that type of behaviour was not acceptable. He was banished to Rhodesia with a generous allowance so long as he kept away from his country of birth.
My reaction, as a full blooded, rugby playing male, to the invitation, was to resign it to the waste-paper basket. My wife though, was more liberal and convinced me that it ‘would at least be interesting’ to meet Robert and share a meal with him. We politely replied indicating our pleasure at the chance to visit him at Rogues Manor. Further enquiries elicited the information that when dining with Robert de Morgan, one was expected to dress for the occasion. I no longer owned a dinner suit but appeased my wife by wearing my old but still moth hole free wedding suit. I made a concession to myself by wearing a rugby club tie.
A man in khaki uniform opened the wrought iron gates that marked the outer perimeter of Rogues Manor. We drove up a long tree-lined drive to a striking large house built of hand-hewn stone with a Broseley tile roof. A tall grey-haired man greeted my wife and I at the top of the varandah steps and guided us into a lounge that looked more like a museum than a sitting room. The walls were covered with paintings and obvious family photographs including some old sepia tints that had faded badly in the harsh African light. One wall was covered with weapons from cavalry swords to a clay more and a Gurkha Kukri. Once we were seated a tall figure in a white robe, a khanzu, and fez suddenly appeared next to Robert. Robert told us that the man next to him was Jamu, who was a Swahili from Kenya and had worked for him for over thirty years. Jamu took our drink orders. My wife ordered a Pimms No. 1 and I ordered a Castle Lager to continue my qualification as a man’s man. Robert ordered a Martini. To be honest, I found that after the third beer I was talking happily to our new friend.
Robert de Morgan was obviously a well-educated and kind man and lonely, I suspected. By the time we went to the dining room for our dinner I had happily accepted Robert’s offer to cut as much timber in his wattle tree plantation as I wanted. Jamu, who now wore white gloves, brought in a large soup tureen which he placed on a fine oak sideboard and proceeded to serve each of us in turn. My wife and I were both just about to take a spoonful of the soup when Robert told us that we should enjoy the mock turtle soup as it was from Fortnum and Mason’s in London which he had bought just before the last war. He told us that the tins were a bit rusty, but the soup looked fine.
My wife gave me a distressed look across the dining table. I had to think quickly. I noticed a small gecko hanging onto a wall in the corner of the dining room. I quickly explained that my poor wife was terrified of geckos. Robert rang the little silver bell in front of him. Jamu appeared and was instructed to chase the gecko with a feather duster. While Jamu went to get a feather duster I scanned the dining room. Behind me, in a lovely Chinese jardinière, was a good-looking aspidistra plant. Jamu returned to the dining room with a long-handled feather duster and proceeded to antagonize the poor little gecko. With attention focused on the small reptile and his efforts to evade Jamu, I poured the contents of my soup bowl into the jardinière and then followed my portion of soup with my wife’s! It wasn’t long before normality returned to the dining room. The gecko had headed out of the dining room window and on to the varandah. My wife and I both put our soup spoons down almost simultaneously and expressed our thanks for the culinary delight. The roast leg of lamb that followed was excellent as were the crepes suzettes which Robert informed us were one of Jamu’s specialties.
Over the next few years, we saw quite a lot of Robert. He came to tea with us on our farm. He loved my wife’s scones with jam and cream. He opened the window into his past by telling us how much he had loved scones as a child growing up in Devon. We also had dinner at Rogue’s Manor quite often. I no longer flaunted a rugby club tie but wore a more neutral cravat. The food was always good, and we never had mock turtle soup again! Jamu was always there in the background. I sometimes felt that he was secretly laughing at me. I took up Robert’s offer of free timber and cut hundreds of wattle poles in his plantation, poles that I used for fences and building drying racks for our coffee crop.
Robert passed away about four years after we first met. There were hundreds of people at his funeral. The church was full to overflowing. I found it strange that a man so different to us rough Rhodesian farmers was accepted, warts and all, by us but not by his own kith and kin. Jamu was at the service. He looked older and leaner and uncomfortable in a flannel suit. I shook his hand outside the church. I could see pain in his black, age furrowed face. It was common knowledge in the district that Robert had left everything to Jamu and three weeks after the funeral there was a dispersal sale at Rogue’s Manor. I bought the Gurkha kukri for a fair price and my wife bought Robert’s Prince Albert tea set. Near the end of the sale when most buyers had left, I saw the aspidistra standing alone on a table, unsold. The poor plant had saved us in the past and deserved a good home, so I bought it.
I carried the aspidistra to place it in the back of the pick-up. When I reached the vehicle, I noticed that Jamu had come up behind us. He had a smile on his face when he said in perfect English, “You needn’t have thrown the soup on the plant. I knew the soup from Fortnum and Mason’s was dangerous and, without Robert knowing, I substituted some other soup.” From the way he referred to Robert, my wife and I both realized that Jamu had been more than a servant to Robert. Back home we placed the aspidistra in a suitable place in the lounge and both stood there looking at it and laughing. Every year from then on, on the anniversary of Robert’s death, we poured a tin of vegetable soup into the aspidistra’s jardiniere. It thrived but I did question whether what we were doing was botanical cannibalism!
The Legend of Big Bad John
By Mike Paterson-Jones. I moved to Fayetteville in the fall of 2015. I went there primarily because I had never been there with my ex-wife and it could therefore,not hold any memories for me. Besides, it was a pleasant little town on the banks of the Seneca River. It was a sight to see in fall, a blaze of yellow and orange and red. It also had a challenging golf course along the banks of the river.
On the day that I moved in, the removers had barely left when there was a knock on the door. It was the Sheriff. I quickly thought of any thing I might have done wrong in the four hours I had been in his jurisdiction and came up with a blank. Sheriff Meyer had come to welcome me to the town and to ask if I needed any help. I was surprised. Where I had lived for twenty years, two blocks from Central Park in New York, visits by law enforcement officers usually meant one two things: bad news or an arrest warrant. I offered the Sheriff a cup of coffee and he accepted. Once I had told him that I was from New York he monopolised the conversation. He told me that it was believed that sometime in the War of Independence, General LaFayette had stopped for a night at a farm on the banks of the Seneca River and hence the town’s name.
Meyer described all the amenities in the town such as the library, the clinic and Jo’s, apparently the best diner in town. I later learnt that itwas the only diner in town. The Sheriff was an overweight late middle aged man with a kindly face and when he had finished his coffee and made to go, his parting words did not fit my image of him.He said, “Chuck, we are a nice little town with no serious crime and we want to keep it that way. Have a good day.”I wondered why I should be issued with a veiled warning. I was just an elderly writer running away from a financially demanding ex-wife and a dirty noisy city.
I settled well into life in the town. My colonial style house with two imposing Corinthian pillars at the front stood on a plot, half wooded, of some six acres. The first fall I found out that my little wood was home to deer and lots of wild turkeys. In the winter there were lots of cardinals that looked like pools of blood playing ln the snow. The sheriff had been right about the diner and I was to be found there most days, either for a breakfast or a meal at night. The sheriff often joined me for morning coffee and slowly, very slowly, opened up about the town’s people.
The sheriff and I had become good friends, but it was almost two years before he told me about Big Bad John. He told me because it explained why Fayetteville had no serious crime and had been like that for at least five years. Big,Bad, John, the sheriff explained, lived on his own on a hundred acres on the west side of town. He made a living carving wooden objects made from dead branches he found in his woods. He sold them to dealers in tourist towns and cities like Buffalo . John Walton grew up in Fayetteville alongside his twin brother Walt. They were both good athletes and fair scholars but,where as Walt was an outgoing jock, John was a reserved, shy person. The boy’s parents died when the boys were eighteen and the boys both went to Syracuse University on athletic scholarships.
When Walt and John had graduated they both came back to Fayetteville, lived in their parent’s home and both became teachers at the local high school. Walt was popular with all his pupils and became a successful football coach. John discovered dried trees and started carving. John did wonder why Walt always had unbounded energy, could party on a Sunday night and still teach class on a Monday. It was only when Walt started to borrow money from him, that John realized that all was not well. He tackled his brother and asked him what was going on. Waly broke down and admitted to John that he was a meth addict, that he had started on methamphetamines while still at university. John was devastated. He had always looked up to his twin as the successful one, to discover that he was nothing more than a paper tiger
Over the next two years. Walt, financed by John ,went in to rehab several times, but could not shake the habit. He stopped eating properly and got thinner and thinner. He started feeling things under his skin and scarred his face trying to dig these things out of his flesh. He had long since had to stop teaching. When he died, John retreated into himself and gave up teaching. He seldom went to town. Sheriff Meyer went to see John now and again. One time John asked the sheriff who had supplied the meths to John. The sheriff said it was a Nigerian from Syracuse, but he could n’t prove it or he would have done something. The day after the sheriffs visit, John went into town and talked to some people on the poorer side of town. The next day the sheriff was called to an injured man lying on the sidewalk in a backstreet. It was a Nigerian,with two broken legs and two broken arms. The sheriff asked if the Nigerian knew who had assaulted him. The Nigerian replied, that the man said his name was Big Bad John. “ Never heard of him said the sheriff.”
In the months that followed a series of suspected drug dealers were found in various states of bodily harm. Some didn’t want to say who had damaged them and a couple mentioned a Big Bad John, who the sheriff had never heard of. Most people in the town seemed to have heard of Big Bad John, but nobody talked about him not least Herman Folk ,who had been accused of raping a twelve year old girl. The sheriff had no proof and mentioned this to John. The next week Herman Folk had to travel to Syracuse to have surgery to restore his ability to procreate. He could not help the sheriff to identify his assailant, not that it was really necessary.
One drug dealer that tried to sell drugs to the towns school kids was treated badly by John and threatened to come back and shoot him. For some reason John believed him. Two nights later a figure wearing a balaclava crept through the woods to Johns house. He found a window open and fired at the shape on the bed. At almost the same time he found himself shot through both knees. John explained that the shape on the bed was two pillows under the duvet. As the man was wheeled away on a gurney, the sheriff whispered to him,” never mess with Big bad John.”The town of Fayetteville had no crime beyond the odd belligerent drunk or domestic spat for five years. Everybody in the town knew what was the legend of Big Bad John, but never talked about it to strangers.
John Walton died of pancreatic cancer before he was thirty. Almost the whole town attended his funeral, but did not say why. I was there standing outside the diner when a long caravan of cars passed, following the hearse. A tourist standing next to me said,” must have been pretty important. Who was he?”
“ Just an ordinary guy who loved this town,” I replied.
Jeffrey died healthy
Jeffrey was a fifty looking, thirty-year-old man who was not good looking. He was overweight, with lank unkempt dark hair. He rarely smiled, mainly to hide his teeth which were crooked and stained. Jeffrey worked as a shipping clerk and his employer had him out of public view in a corner office. Jeffrey lived in rooms above the shipping business in a dingy street near the docks.
Jeffrey had no friends except the cat that came to his door every night for food. He did not have any family. He was an orphan. After work he always went to the diner down the road fora sausage, an egg and a large pile of fries liberally covered in ketchup. Having eaten, he would walk slowly back to his rooms where he lay on his bed and listened to the radio. He loved to listen to jazz guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. He longed to be like them.
One evening he had an ice-cream as well. Afterwards he felt bloated and decided that he should go for a walk. Without noticing, he found himself away from the docks in a strange area. He was about to go home when he noticed that he was outside a pawn shop. In the window was a solid body guitar and amplifier for sale for a hundred dollars. It took him two days to pluck up the courage to go and buy the guitar, but once he had bought it, he only put it down to work, eat and sleep.
Jeffery discovered that he had a talent for the guitar. Within months he was playing many of the pieces he heard played by his favourite musicians. As he played more confidently, he played his music more loudly. He didn’t need to worry about disturbing his neighbours as he didn’t have any after dark.
On the day that marked Jefferies tenth year with the firm, his boss planned a party for him after work at the office. It was a Friday. Jeffery had never had an alcoholic drink but was persuaded by his colleagues to have a beer and then another. He liked the feeling the alcohol gave him and became more talkative. He told his colleagues about his guitar. One of them suggested that Jeffrey get his guitar and they all went to McGinty’s along the road. Friday was ‘Talent Night’ at McGinty’s.
Well-oiled by five beers, Jeffrey stepped confidently up to the microphone and played and how he played. He was a virtuoso on his pawnshop guitar. The crowd in the bar stopped drinking and talking and just listened. Jeffrey played until he was exhausted and very drunk, a condition that seemed to have little effect on his guitar playing ability.
Jeffrey woke the next day with a massive hangover. As he gradually surfaced, he discovered several things. Firstly, he didn’t really like alcohol. Secondly, he had left his guitar at McGinty’s and finally discovered that he had an agent. According to what was written on a foldedMcGintynapkin, his agent was a Sue-Beth Combrink. He did vaguely remember her. By that evening he felt somewhat better and made his way to McGinty’s where he was greeted fondly by the bar’s patrons.
Jeffery asked for Sue-Beth. The barman explained that Sue-Beth was a ‘lady of the night’ and wouldn’t be in for another hour. When Sue-Beth arrived, she went straight up to Jeffrey and greeted him with a kiss. She was a blousy blonde nearing her ‘sell-by-date’ in her profession. Sue-Beth sat a bewildered Jeffrey down in a booth and explained that as his agent she was going to put him on the map on the local music scene. Jeffrey just said nothing and listened. She told him that one of her clients was a music promoter who had a loving wife who would not like to know about her, Sue-Beth.
The next few months passed in a busy blur for Jeffrey. Sue-Beth paid for new clothes for Jeffrey, who now did three gigs a week at McGinty’s and had stopped being a shipping clerk. She enrolled him at a gym and personally cooked all his meals, healthy meals. Sue-Beth took him to a dentist who removed all his front teeth and replaced them with implants. The new Jeffrey was trim and good looking, and his fans loved him. She also applied pressure on the music producer and in less than a year Jeffrey had two albums in the US Top 40.
Jeffrey was making a lot of money, closely controlled by Sue-Beth. She did however allow him to buy himself a 1968 Ford Mustang. It was black with white upholstery and its chrome gleamed. Jeffrey loved to drive it fast. One night he took the Mustang onto the freeway. He was going along the straight at well over the ton and approaching a curve. He took his foot off the accelerator, but it remained depressed. The accelerator cable was stuck.
The police found a dead Jeffrey in the mangled remains of the Mustang. It had missed the curve and hit a large tree on the road verge. Sue-Beth was momentarily upset but quickly consoled with a hefty insurance payout. She continued to live, wealthy, but at least Jeffrey died healthy!
Caleb Goodman was half Oneida Nation and half White American. He was proud of his Iroquois heritage and treasured his Oneida name, Black Badger. He was a fit, fifty-year-old owner of the Courtland Lumber Yard when his life fell apart. Life had been good to him. He had worked for Dieter Marx at the lumber yard from the time he left school. Dieter was good to him and when he lost his one hand in an accident at work, Dieter created the job of lumber manager for him. Caleb lost his hand when he was cutting some lumber on the circular saw. Dieter shouted something to him, distracted him and the next thing his hand was on the floor and there was blood everywhere. At the Courtland Hospital the bleeding was staunched, but there was no surgeon available to re-attach his hand.
Nobody in Courtland was surprised to find that when Dieter died, he had left his business to Caleb. It seemed a reasonable thing to do as he, Dieter, had no family, and he was the cause of Caleb’s lack of a hand. Caleb was thirty years old and unmarried at the time he inherited the business. He put all his effort into the business, and it flourished. It was only at weekends that Caleb relaxed and indulged in his favorite pastime, fishing. In summer he fished Oneida lake for his favorite fish, the walleye, and in winter he set up his ice shanty on the same lake as soon as the ice was safely thick enough and fished for walleye through a hole in the ice. He lived in a modest cottage on the shoreline of Lake Oneida.
Every weekday Caleb stopped for his breakfast at the Chevy Diner. Day in and day out he had his cup of joe and a donut with chocolate and sprinkles topping. He nursed his coffee until just before it was time to cross the street and open the lumber yard. One day Caleb was aware of a new face behind the counter at the diner. It belonged to a startling blonde in her early thirties. She was maximizing her assets, wearing a uniform at least two sizes too small for her. Caleb was so floored by the blonde beauty in front of him that he forgot to order his usual donut. Caleb took to getting up a quarter of an hour earlier in order to prolong his stop at the diner. After two months of gazing at Gracie, he summoned up his Iroquois bravery and asked her out. He was shocked when she accepted his proposal. That Saturday he took Gracie to the movies in Syracuse. The next week Caleb and Gracie went to the Turning Stone Casino where the pair gambled recklessly with Caleb’s money and amazingly ended the visit with winnings of ten thousand odd dollars. Caleb insisted on giving Gracie half the money.
Gracie came from a poor, drink bedeviled Syracuse family. One-handed Caleb was no prize suitor, but he had two assets that offset his age and one handedness: he was relatively wealthy and adored her. Previous romantic interludes had not gone well for her, so when Caleb proposed, she said yes. The couple honeymooned on The Thousand Islands and returned to a life, if not of bliss, at least of happy companionship. Gracie insisted that she continue working at the diner. Life for Caleb was good. A pretty wife at his side in church every Sunday, did a lot for his image in the town. Gracie had no complaints. Caleb’s demands in the matrimonial department were not great and she had a brand-new Chev Corvette to drive slowly down Courtland Main Street. Things would have been fine in the Goodman household if a new football coach had not been appointed at the Courtland High School.
Gene Cooper was thirty, tall and well built. He was single and soon became the target of the unattached young women in the town. Gene sampled the affections of a few young women until he went to the diner. Gracie squeezed into a waitress uniform, was irresistible to Gene. It was not long before Gracie and Gene were very firm friends. Their chances to express their friendship were limited so they were forced to get together about once a week after Gene was finished at school football practice and before Caleb got home from the lumber yard. Gene and Gracie’s expressions of friendship took place in Caleb and Gracie’s bed. Things went smoothly for several months into the winter until one day. It was snowing and cold and there were no customers in the lumber yard. Caleb closed his business early.
When Caleb turned off Lake Road into his driveway, he saw Gracie’s Corvette but did not see Gene’s truck parked round the corner in Lake Road. Caleb also did not notice the shoe tracks leading to his front door almost filled in with snow. Caleb walked into the house and heard laughter coming from the main bedroom. He burst into the room in time to see his wife and a stranger occupied in bedroom calisthenics. He said nothing but walked out of the room, put on his heavy coat, boots and gloves and walked down to the lake shore. He crossed the ice to his ice shanty where he lit the small wood stove and sat on a cement block and sank into deep thought. Hours later Caleb returned to the cottage. Gracie was sitting in the sitting room crying. She tried to apologize but Caleb ignored her and went to bed.
The following day Caleb went to work at the yard. He phoned a friend and managed to get Gene’s phone number. When Gene answered, Caleb, talking very calmly, told him that they needed to talk. He told Gene to join him on the following day, Sunday, at the ice shanty. He instructed Gene not to contact Gracie until they had sorted out the mess. Gene agreed. Caleb ignored Gracie when he went home and went out on the ice to his shanty. He lifted the wooden lid off the hole in the ice. It was a larger hole than most people made in the ice, almost eighteen inches across. He pulled in his two fishing lines and landed two good size walleyes which he dispatched with a wooden club. Back in the cottage, Caleb made himself a burger and went to bed in the spare room. He said nothing to Gracie.
On the Sunday Gene arrived at the Caleb’s ice shanty just after dark. Caleb waved him in and told him to sit on a cement block. Gene did so nervously. Caleb wasted no time in saying that he was prepared to let Gracie go if Gene promised to look after her. Gene laughed and told Caleb that Gracie was just a bit of fun and he would just move on to pastures new. A red mist descended over Caleb’s eyes. He picked up the fish stunning club and hit Gene on the side of his skull. Gene fell unconscious. Caleb sat for a few minutes and thought carefully. He took a piece of rope hanging from the wall of the shanty and tied one end to the cement block on which Gene had been sitting. The other end of the rope he tied round Gene’s chest. With some difficulty he forced the body in front of him down through the hole in the ice. He was about to drop the cement block into the hole in the ice when he remembered Gene’s car. He took the car keys from Gene’s jacket pocket and dropped the block into the hole in the ice.
Caleb baited two fishing lines and dropped them after the block. He found Gene’s car in Lake Road. He drove it quietly away to forest a few miles away. He locked it and threw the keys away into a snowbank. It took him nearly an hour to walk home where he found that Gracie had gone to bed and was sobbing quietly in their marital bed. Caleb ignored her. The following day, Monday, Caleb went to the lumber yard as usual.
Logan Stortlemeyer was sheriff of Courtland. He was well into his sixties, fat and slow moving. He had been sheriff for over thirty years and ran what he called a ‘clean’ town. He had realized long ago that he couldn’t stop all crime, so he took a liberal approach to minor crime but a different approach to serious crime. Minor infractions within the town’s limits were usually punished with unpleasant hours of community service picking up dog poop in the town’s park or along its streets. Serious crime was a different matter. When drug dealers from Syracuse tried to peddle their wares in the town, they were taken beyond the town limits and badly beaten by one or both of Stortlemeyer’s two deputies. Their broken bodies would then be deposited on the doorstep of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse. Few dealers came back.
Stortlemeyer got a call from the principal of the high school on the Monday. Gene Cooper had not reported for work. He was not at the room he rented. Stortlemeyer told the principal that he would make enquiries, but it was likely that a dalliance with one of Gene’s lady friends had gone into overtime. The Sheriff instigated a low-key investigation into the apparent disappearance of Mr. Cooper. It was only when Gene’s car was found that his disappearance was taken seriously. Stortlemeyer and his deputies interviewed every female friend of Gene’s and where appropriate, their husbands. The sheriff was surprised when Gracie turned out to be an associate of the football coach. He interviewed both Caleb and Gracie without getting any useful information. Gracie admitted to having an affair with Gene but said that it was long over. Caleb claimed to know about the affair but said he had forgiven Gracie and blamed himself for neglecting her.
The search for Gene made no progress. It was only in late spring that Gene’s body or what remained of it was discovered. The ice on Oneida Lake had melted. A motorboat’s propeller had seized. Investigation showed a rope wrapped round the propeller. On one end of the rope were human remains and clothing. On the other end was a cement block. The remains were identified as Gene’s. Stortlemeyer had the rope and the cement block photographed and stored. He was inclined to suspect that Caleb was involved in Gene’s death but had no evidence other than the body was found in the lake not far from Caleb’s cottage. The cement block was indistinguishable from thousands of others available in several stores in town. There were no fingerprints in the car except Gene’s but people wore gloves in winter.
Several months passed and no clues as to who had dealt with Gene emerged. On impulse Stortlemeyer had another look at the Cooper file. He paused, looking at the photograph of the rope and the block. He noted for the first time that the knot that attached the rope to the cementblock was unusual. He went to his computer and looked up knots. It was not difficult to identify the knot as a bowline, a knot mainly used by the sailing fraternity. This discovery set Stortlemeyer off on a chase to find out how many of his suspects had sailing experience. This narrowed his pool of suspects to four including Caleb. He interviewed the four men again. Again, he made no progress. He put the Cooper file aside. Another winter came Oneida Lake froze again.
One dark winter evening the Sheriff was at the school hall watching a quiz competition between the Courtland School and a school from Rochester. A question came up,what knot used in sailing, can be easily tied with one hand? When the answer came up, bowline, the critical piece in the Cooper killing puzzle fell into place. Stortlemeyer drove straight to Caleb’s cottage. Gracie was there on her own. She told him that Caleb was in his ice shanty fishing. Stortlemeyer slipped his way across the ice to the wooden structure and noted that Caleb’s name was painted on the outside in three-inch letters as required in the Oneida Lake bylaws. He entered the shack. Caleb was sitting on a cement block. “I know you did it, Caleb, and I have the proof”, said the Sheriff.
“What proof?” said Caleb.
“The knot. You tied the rope to the cement block with a bowline!” said Stortlemeyer.
“Of course, I did. It’s the only knot I can tie with one hand” Caleb retorted.
“We have other evidence even if its circumstantial. I understand why you did it and it is not for me to judge you. I could also put pressure on Gracie to tell the truth, “the sheriff continued.
Caleb hung his head and said quietly. “She was my Gracie, and he took her from me just to use. I did what I had to do.”
“I know,” said Stortlemeyer gently. After a pause, he continued,
“I am going to wait for you at the cottage, Caleb. I suggest you pull up your fishing lines and store your equipment. Don’t be too long”, said the Sheriff.
Caleb’s body was only found the next spring. Gracie sold the lumber yard and bought a house in the town. She carried on working at the diner. Stortlemeyer was having a double hamburger there one evening. He noted that Gracie still looked good in her tight waitress uniform and wondered if he should make a play for her. He decided against it as he wasn’t prepared to take a chance on dying for her.