Monday, August 22, 2016

Action Men and the Great Zarelda, Part 6


Continued from Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 ...

The two guys wheeled the box out on a dolly through the back door while I, unable to squeeze through the “pasta press,” went out the front door and met them in the parking lot in the rear. Together we put the box into the SUV, an Out of the Box Toys company vehicle.

“Do I need to sign anything?” I asked. “Do I get a receipt?”

“We've emailed the receipt to Zarelda,” said John.

With the box secured in the back, I got in the driver's seat and started to drive towards Zarelda's theater. I began flipping through the Sirius radio stations: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s … What decade did I want to listen to? Or did I want to listen to all Neil Diamond all the time or all Elvis all the time? Well, Elvis couldn't be so bad. He was the King after all.

It was one of his gospel songs that came on, a strange pick for me as an agnostic. “I don't know just where I'd be if the Lord wasn't walking by my side ...” It had a fun rhythm, and I didn't change the channel. Was the Lord walking by my side? Jack would say, not so much that He was, in my case, but that He would be if I let Him. “When I was drifting (I was drifting on a sea of despair,) and I was wondering (I was wondering if Jehovah's up there ...)” Well, that was true enough. Maybe it wasn't such a strange song pick for an agnostic.

I drove down Newark's Broadway, past a lot of small storefronts, some with security steel curtains rolled down, their business names spelled out on awnings.

“When Jesus found me …” Scratch. “(When Jesus found me in my sinful life...)” Scratch Scratch.

What was with the scratches? What sort of old recording was used for this song? An old vinyl record full of crackles and pops? Weren't there ways of reducing these kinds of noises on old recordings?

I turned the radio off. Scratch. Scratch.

“Oh great,” I said aloud. The noise was coming from the car. What was it? My brakes? One of the tires?

I pulled the car over to the curb and parked and turned the car off.

Scratch Scratch. I was still hearing these noises with the car parked and no longer running. And then there were more noises, bigger noises, like thumping. It was all very unnerving.

I got out of the car and walked over to the sidewalk side, a little nervous to be walking about in this neighborhood which was much more crime prone than my hometown.

Parrots! It's got to be parrots! But that box was empty! I resisted the urge to talk to myself aloud and give passers-by the vibe that I belonged in Bellevue.

I opened the back of the SUV and looked at the magic prop box. There were two swinging doors on the top side of the box over the chamber that John and Kumar had shown me was empty. I swung these open.

“Woah!” I said as I bent over and looked inside. “You guys are not parrots.”

I was looking down at two tiger cubs, neither of which was your typical black and orange tiger. One was albino, and the other was nearly all black. They were cubs, cute little guys really, but already bigger than any house cat. They were attached to oxygen – how thoughtful! – but the white cub seemed to find this plastic attachment to his nose annoying and was swiping his paw at the tubing and crying, sounding very much like a human baby.

“Somehow,” I told the tigers, “when I imagined becoming a father, it played out differently in my mind.”

I wanted to help the little guy, but I was afraid he'd mistake my hand for a steak. I could see now how this compartment had appeared empty to me just a little bit earlier. The tigers were behind an angled mirror. The mirror was positioned in such a way to make the compartment from my earlier perspective look empty.

“I think I'll name you Ebony and Ivory.” I had gotten carried away with myself. I had no right to these tigers, never mind naming them. I thought of the '80s song by Stevie Wonder and Sir Paul McCartney and started to sing, “Ebonyand ivory, live together in perfect harmony, side by side on my piano keyboard. Oh Lord, why can't we?” But since every song I sing comes out like a monotone
“one note samba,” I wasn't sure this was the best strategy for persuading them not to eat me.

I was admiring this symbolic microcosm of racial harmony when a man of the ebony sort, with bundled dreadlocks hanging down his back, walked past me on the sidewalk. I looked up, and he looked back over his shoulder at me, and we made eye contact. “Hey brother, you can't sing,” he said.

“I know.”

He smiled. “But I like your spirit. That really touched me … right here.” He tapped the center of his chest. He started to walk towards me, and I began to get nervous. Oh boy. Here it comes. He is going to hug me. He was a hugger, not a mugger. It was I who was the criminal, at least by appearances, with a car full of hot tigers, for Pete's sake. I backed away from him slightly, trying to position myself so that I shielded my illegal cargo from his view. As smooth as I tried to be, I stumbled a bit over the uneven sidewalk.

“Hey, relax man. I'm going to hug you, not mug you.”

Almost my own exact words! I quickly shot an arm behind me and closed the top swinging doors of the box. When Mr. Random Hugger approached, I was ready with open arms. It was a beautiful moment, and I could enjoy it much better now that I knew the box was closed.

“All right, brother. Peace out.” He thumped himself in the chest twice more, gave the peace sign with his fingers, and then Mr. Random Hugger walked off into the sunset.

I got back in the driver's seat. I had hated to shut the tigers once more in darkness, but it seemed it couldn't be helped. I couldn't very well let them wander freely around the vehicle. Maybe they would take the cue and take a nap … or maybe not. Soon, I could hear them both crying from the back. Perhaps, they were hungry.

To be continued ...


© 2016 Susan Joy Clark

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Action Men and the Great Zarelda, Part 5



Continued from Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4


As I entered the shop, I wore the spy glasses, carried the spy camera pen in my front shirt pocket and carried the spy coffee cup, which was, of course, empty of any actual coffee.

The young Asian man behind the counter eyed me curiously when I told him I had come to pick up an order for Zarelda. The first words he said to me were, “You're not Rodrigo.”

I wanted to ask him, “What gave it away?” “I don't look like much of a Rodrigo,” I told him. “A Quinn maybe, possibly an Erik or a Vincent.” I was thinking of the redheaded Van Gogh with the last name listed.

“So, which are you, Quinn, Erik or Vincent?”

“None of the above. I'm just Andy … Andy Westin.”

His companion behind the counter with a name tag announcing himself as Kumar, said to him, “Don't you know? He's the new Rodrigo.”

I had heard about pink or orange being the new black, but, apparently, I wasn't entitled to my own identity. I was simply “the new Rodrigo.” I didn't know if Jack's or my suspicions were founded or not, but I wanted the camera, one of them, to capture their names and faces, and although I think Jack's a genius, wasn't really sure of the quality of the images any of these cameras could capture or from what distance. I thought I could stretch out one arm with the coffee cup and the other arm with the pen, but wasn't sure how I could do that without looking like I was signaling in semaphore … with stranger objects. I pulled the pen from my pocket with my left hand, although it seemed I had no immediate use for a pen.

“Rodrigo. Yes ...” With the “yes,” I pointed the pen towards Kumar. “I've heard so much about him.” I hadn't, of course, but I was hoping these guys had and would open up.

“He was good,” said Kumar. “He'd swing his whip and hit, say, that box over there … “ He pointed to a box left of the counter. “And things would appear.”

I nodded. “And yet, as the new Rodrigo, I have no talents whatsoever.”

Kumar's partner, whose tag, I saw, identified him as John, was eying me strangely again, and I thought I should tone down the smart alec a bit … if I could help it. “Except picking up packages. I'm excellent at picking up packages.” Again, I used the pen in a pointing gesture for what might be an overly dramatic way of emphasizing the word “excellent,” this time pointing it towards John. At this rate, I would never work my way free of the strange looks he gave me.

“Come with me to the back,” he said. He led me past bookshelves full of instructional DVDs and displays with hanging trick card decks, magic wands and hats. Kumar accompanied us.

The “back” was separated from the front area with a red velvet-like curtain hung over a doorway. The song that came over the sound system just then was America's “You Can Do Magic” which seemed appropriate. The “back” seemed to be a sort of jumbled stock room filled with large boxes, cardboard shipment boxes as well as the multi-colored magic prop sort and a desk with a computer which was piled high with crooked stacks of spread sheets, paper corners pointing in all directions. It also looked like it belonged on the TV show Hoarders and was a neat freak's or a claustrophobic's nightmare. I was getting palpitations.

John and Kumar seemed to me to be at least ten to fifteen years younger than I am and were as thin as fettuccine and, apparently, just as pliable. I watched as John and then Kumar slithered their way sideways through a narrow space between the corner of the desk and a giant box the height of Jack and the width of a wardrobe. Maybe this was how they managed to be thin. They passed themselves through this pasta press every day. They really were magicians or contortionists or both.

“I can't do what you just did,” I said. “I am not liquid. I have these things called bones.” I shifted myself to the side so that I could better see over the stacks of papers into the space where they now were. I thought this might put me in a good position after all since I was so close to the desk overflowing with their business transaction records. If I could scan it with one of the three secret cameras, I could have evidence of their business, the legitimate one or, perhaps, anything a little less legitimate.

“Uh … I guess you can stay where you are for now,” said John.

I switched the coffee cup to my left hand and the pen to my right hand. “It's quite some place you've got here.” I said, moving both hands in wide circles to either side, with the pen camera sweeping over the top of the desk. I decided not to move the coffee cup in this manner over the desk, lest I should make them nervous I would spill coffee over their important papers.

The two rolled out a dolly from a space just slightly aside from my line of vision. Propped on the dolly was a large box the length of a man but a little too high and much too colorful to be quite coffin-like. I found a little stool poking out from below the desk and stood on it. It seemed a better option than standing on one of the boxes of questionable strength and vanishing into the surrounding debris. The box was painted with a galaxy design with a black background splashed with swirling clouds of purple, blue and pink and dotted with tiny points of light.

I wondered if my hand gestures were too fast for the pen camera to catch a clear image. “Walk Like an Egyptian” came on over the sound system, and an idea struck me. I turned profile, put out my hands Egyptian-style, my hands flat and pointing forward and back. “The '80s, you know … I can't resist the beat,” I said. I pulled my pen hand, the right one, forward and back in the Egyptian dance move, and afraid to go too fast, I did my own artistic slo-mo version of the '80s trend dance, which probably seemed to demonstrate I had no concept of the beat I supposedly could not resist.

I could see from the look in John's eyes I had graduated in his opinion from merely odd to borderline lunatic. “You're very right when you say you don't have that sort of talent,” he said.

“Thanks, Simon Cowell.”

Kumar turned his attention from the galaxy box to me. He folded his arms and tilted his head to one side as if thoughtfully assessing my dance skills. “I don't know. I could see him as a clown … a kind of clown dance.”

“Well, that's what I was going for, a clown dance,” I said, turning profile the other direction.

“Funny dude … in a sort of deadpan way,” said Kumar.

When “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” came on next, I switched to a different '80s dance fad, the sprinkler, putting my right fist, clutching the pen, forward, swinging it to the right and pausing in jerky motions until I reached the side, then pulling it swiftly back to the center. John and Kumar watched my madness for a second or two more before turning their attention back to the box.

When I saw the two turn their attention once more to the box, I turned forward. I watched as they opened up two swinging doors on the top of the box over the half closest to me and opened another hatch on the side facing me. There were two compartments in the box, and, through the open hatch, I could now see the dividing panel at the halfway point. John flipped this panel like a revolving door, and when it rotated so that it was parallel to the two sides, I could clearly see there was nothing but an empty chamber behind it. So, maybe this was it. There were no magically manifesting macaws. There was just a magical illusion box with escape hatches similar to the one used in the final vanishing act, just the sort of equipment you'd expect this shop to sell to someone like Zarelda.


To be Continued ...


© 2016 Susan Joy Clark

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Action Men and the Great Zarelda: Part 4


Continued from Parts 1, 2 and 3 ...

“You look like a guy in show biz,” said Jack. “You look like someone who belongs in a magic show, which is what people expect.”

“I look like I belong in a '70s variety show … and I don't even know how to get down and get funky.”

“I'm sure it will be very simple, Andy,” said Jack, suddenly tightening my tie. “All you have to do is be a prop for the illusions to be done around.”

“Do I have to burn everyone's eyes out as I do so?”

Jack lined up several items on the console table in front of me. “I've been working in the lab,” said Jack. “You have your choice of hidden camera devices, depending on the situation.”

I suddenly felt like Bond with his Q … a more flamboyant parody on Bond, either that or Batman, not the Dark Knight, but the Knight in White Satin, with his Alfred.

The first item was a paper coffee cup with a lid and cardboard cuff, the kind that we would pick up at the Salvador Deli. Jack showed me where the miniscule hole was for the camera and how to further conceal it by the placement of my hand on the cup, as well as turning the camera on and off. “You can spy on Zarelda or anyone else while seeming to take part in an all-American past-time.”

Jack then demonstrated a secret camera in a classy pen. “You can use this while writing, pointing and gesturing, or it can just film the goings-on from your shirt pocket.”

I didn't exactly have a shirt pocket available in my current couture, but the upcoming rehearsal would not be a dress one.

The final item was a pair of glasses with dark plastic earpieces and a thin dark plastic frame on the top side of the lenses.

“I wear contacts,” I said. “She's never seen me wear glasses.”

“You can claim to have lost one,” said Jack. “This here is a screw.” Jack pointed to a small screw on the thick plastic end of the right earpiece that was facing front. “But this … “ He pointed out the parallel position on the opposite side, “is a hidden camera, which can be switched on and off here.” He indicated a small button on the inside of the earpiece.

“Okay then.” I said, sighing. “Here goes.”

That night I went, costume-less, to the rehearsal with Zarelda, with a lightweight drawstring backpack that held my spygear. Jack was partly right. My role as a magician's assistant wasn't utterly brainless. I didn't feel like the male counterpart of Vanna White. I did have to think about where to stand and position myself and find hidden compartments, but I was more comfortable with the idea of concealing or partially concealing myself than breaking out into a song and dance routine on center stage.

The vanishing trick for the show's finale involved me escaping through a secret hatch in the back of the box and merely hiding behind the contraption. Zarelda assured me the audience would be awed when I disappeared and she magically appeared in my place.

After rehearsal, Zarelda accompanied me as we both moved some things to a basement prop storage room. The mysterious area seemed part fun house and part medieval torture chamber, with mirrors and brightly-colored sorts of boxes crafted and painted like gypsy wagons on the one hand and swords, knives and assorted weaponry – whether genuine or faux I couldn't be sure – on the other.

Standing by the steps we had just descended, I noticed a couple of braided leather bullwhips which were coiled and hanging on the wall and thought briefly of my mission. “Why do you have whips? Do you ever use those on … on animals?” I had conjured up an image of an old-fashioned circus lion tamer. I put on my spyglasses. It seemed like a natural moment to do so, as if I needed them for distance vision.

“On animals, darling?” Zarelda stood along the wall below the items of my interest.

I wasn't sure if I alone had earned the title of “darling” or if that was how she addressed all men. Even thinking it was more likely the latter, I rather liked it. She pulled one of the whips from the wall, and I felt a cold tingle down my spine. She suddenly seemed unpredictable.

“These belong to Rodrigo, darling.”

“Rodrigo?” The creepy feeling hadn't quite left me, and I almost wanted to brace myself against a ninja-like attack from the mysterious Rodrigo who might manifest himself from one of the surrounding props.

“Rodrigo, my former assistant.”

“The one you fired.”

“Yes, darling.” Suddenly, she put the whip through a lot of energetic gyrations, making rhythmic sounds as the whip hit the floor. “Rodrigo incorporated a bit of malambo into the act, an Argentinian gaucho dance, and he used the whip like so. I don't know how to do it like he did. It's not a dance for ladies. It's a gaucho dance.”

Rodrigo, apparently, had some performance art skills, and yet I was hired to replace him almost on an impulse, and I had no talents at all … at least none that translated to the stage. More questions raised themselves in my mind, but I did not know how to ask them without raising her suspicions, so I didn't pursue anything further.

Several days later, on the day of my showtime debut as her assistant, I got a call from Zarelda while I was out with Jack for lunch.

“Darling, I have a favor to ask of you.”

“Okay?”

“I need you to pick up an order for me at Houdini's Magic Shop. Please, I need this order. Please pick it up and bring it to the theater before the show tonight..” She gave me the Newark address for the shop.

I was beginning to feel more like a gopher than a magician's assistant. Was this part of the normal job description? Would I be compensated for this task? “Excuse me for asking, but is this merely a favor or will this be included in my time working for you?”

“Oh, you will be paid very well, darling.” She said it in such a way as to make me think I'd be paid overtime or enormous tips or something similar.

Alone, driving the SUV to Houdini's Magic Shop, I contemplated Zarelda and the elusive Rodrigo. Why was the talented Rodrigo fired and why was I hired? Why had Zarelda hired me after such a brief conversation, hardly what could be called a proper job interview? Were my looks irresistible? As much as I might like to think so, it seemed unlikely. Was it – I hated to consider it – my submissiveness that was appealing? What had she asked Rodrigo to do that he had refused? Was he an egotist showman or did she ask something that was unreasonable or morally wrong? Was she convinced I was so smitten with her that I would blindly do whatever she asked? And finally, just exactly what was I sent to pick up? At the end, I was so nervous I had all three spy devices on my person when I arrived at the Houdini's Magic Shop.

To be continued ... 



© 2016 Susan Joy Clark

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Action Men and the Great Zarelda: Serial Part 3


Continued from Parts 1 and 2 ... 

“An animal smuggler? It's painfully obvious? How?”

Jack looked at me. “Clue number one, the big costume skirt that didn't seem practical for travel. Clue number two, the warm pulsating something against your leg. Clue number three, this blue feather.”

“So what? She had birds nesting in her skirt? Wouldn't they be noisy and fluttering and, you know, tweeting?”

“Not necessarily. Animals smuggled in planes are generally sedated.”

“That's quite some theory you have.”

“Andrew, you weren't taking leave of your senses. I would bet a steakhouse dinner that what you felt against your leg was an Amazonian blue and yellow macaw parrot.”

Janie came just then with our lunches, and I wondered how much of our conversation she had heard. She set my psychedelic burger in front of me. “I had a cobalt blue tarantula crawl on my leg once … in one of those hands-on museums,” she said.

“You weren't freaked out?”I asked her.

“Of course not. He was quite a cutie actually.”

I nodded at her with what I'm sure were wide eyes. I was intrigued by this bit of random information and might have pursued it more if I weren't so concerned about Jack's theory and Amazonian parrots.

Janie set the Jackson Pollock coffee in front of Jack. The mug had a layer of cappuccino foam at the top which was embellished with swirling streusels of syrups in brown, caramel, white and red. The saucer too was splashed with varying colors of syrup.

“Fantastico,” said Jack, giving Janie the OK sign. “An artistic masterpiece.”

Janie beamed at him, her dimples deeply showing.

When she walked away from our table, Jack looked to me, bobbing his head slightly in the direction in which she had gone. “What about Janie?”

“What about Janie?”

“Well, when one door closes, a window might still be open …”

“Can you stop talking in code?”

“I just thought that instead of mourning that your lady love is a criminal …”

May be a criminal … innocent until proven guilty.”

“May be a criminal … there's a woman right here who finds you intriguing and, most likely, for better reasons …”

Some time back, in spite of our ongoing competition in insults, Janie had made it perfectly clear that she, as the British might say, “fancied” me. I was both amazed and flattered. I watched her across the room as she helped customers at another table. Her wit and style and dimpled smile were rather appealing, but Janie Duveau didn't make castanets dance in my chest. Janie Duveau made me feel comfortable.

I looked to Jack and, not sure how to answer him, I stuffed my face with technicolor burger.

“This wouldn't be the first time you've fallen for a woman with criminal ties,” said Jack. Jack reminded me of Angela, the cute cowgirl I met at the Boot and Scoot, who turned out to be the wife of the man who later held me at gunpoint and attempted to kidnap me.

“So, I haven't had much luck with girls. A guy can hope …”

Jack grinned at me. “You need some Love Potion Number Nine?” Then singing, “... I told her that I was a flop with chicks. I've been this way since 1956.”

I shook my head at him. “I wasn't even a gleam in anyone's eye in 1956.”

“All right then,” said Jack, this time singing, “I've been this way since 1986 ...”

I didn't know whether to laugh or bang my head into the wall in frustrated acknowledgment that this was very nearly the truth. Then I remembered that Jack Donegal wasn't exactly Mr. Chick Magnet himself. “We've gotten off topic.”

“We have.”

I looked down at the feather. “A blue Amazonian whatever sort of parrot you claim this to be from is incredibly specific. How could you possibly know this without watching way too much of the Animal Planet?”

Jack took his iPhone and, in moments, brought up images of the blue and yellow macaw. He held the feather beside the photos, and the blues did seem to be the exact same shade and hue.

“It's a good match,” I said. “Still, feathers can be dyed. You haven't disproven that it's a feather from her garter.” I bit into my rainbow burger, Kool-Aid pickles and all.

“And neither do you have an alternative explanation of the warm, pulsating thing on your leg.”

I have to admit that I preferred to believe that I wasn't mad. “So, she's a criminal … maybe. She still doesn't seem like the most evil of criminals.” I stabbed a bit of runaway blue pickle with my fork and examined it. “She likes animals. Who else would bother to smuggle an animal across borders but someone who likes animals?”

Jack rubbed his fingers together in the universal gesture for money. “Andy, I think you ought to take up this challenge of being her magician's assistant. You could do a little undercover investigation.”

“What do you expect me to do? Frisk her and search her skirts for hidden pockets full of parrots?” I suddenly found myself blushing profusely at the thought of frisking this bombshell of a woman. “Actually, I think that might kill me.”

“I thought you might keep a lower profile.”

A day later, my costume arrived. I was to meet Zarelda later that evening for a rehearsal. I stood looking at myself in the round living room mirror after I tried it on for size. I felt absurd in a pearlized white tuxedo and top hat, silver sequin vest, silver lamé cummerbund and shiny iridescent dress shoes. The only way I imagined I could be gaudier was to edge my tie with blinking lights. “I think the Osmonds are missing a brother,” I told Jack. “Do the Osmonds have a red-headed brother?” I paused. “If the Osmonds aren't missing a brother, maybe the Jacksons are … and, yes, I do know that's even more of a stretch.”


To be continued ...


© 2016 Susan Joy Clark

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Lit Club Mystery: A Grace Darby Mystery (Part 4/The Finale)




Continued from Parts 1, 2 and 3 ...

At the night of the Lit Club Book Swap, books completely swathed in brown paper accumulated on a long table. The idea was that club members would bring a wrapped disguised book and would pick up another. They could broaden their exposure to literature, selecting something they might not ordinarily choose. Grace couldn't help trying to guess the contents of them. She picked up one paper-wrapped book and lifted it up and down. “This is a Bantam Classic.” She picked up another, studying its dimensions. “And this is a Penguin Classic.” Bantams and penguins. What was it with birds and books?

“Maybe,” said Angela, the club's president, “But which one?”

Grace turned to smile at her. She noticed Zach Olsen in the midst of her Lit Club students. It surprised her a little. Perhaps he came, as he had suggested earlier, for love advice. Mentally, she heard music from “Kiss Me Kate.” Brush up your Shakespeare. Start learning it now. Brush up your Shakespeare, and the women you will wow.

“I might be able to make an educated guess,” said Grace.

One book looked considerably larger than the rest. She lifted it, and it felt heavy in her arms which should not have surprised her but did, not so much that it was heavy but just how heavy it was. “This one must be 'War and Peace.' On second thought, it's the complete collection of Tolstoy. Ah! I have it. It's the Oxford English Dictionary, which is actually quite a useful choice,” said Grace. As she set it down, she felt like there was something odd about it, not the weight, but the balance.

Grace turned to face the students. “How shall we do this? We'll draw numbers from a hat to see who gets first chance at a book. The second person can choose a book from the table but has the option to either open the wrapped book or swap the wrapped book for one that is opened, and so on.”

Angela was the first to go, picking up the large and heavy book. Devin jumped up, handing her another option from the table. Angela shook her head at him. “I could really use a dictionary,” she said.

“I know for certain that this is a Jane Austen set, two in one,” said Devin of the package he indicated.

“Well, in that case,” she said. Angela dropped the “dictionary” and took the package he offered.

“Oh, come on, Devin,” said Michael, a member from the group. “You can't do that.”

“I'm just helping my neighbor make a good choice,” said Devin.

Somehow, Devin was next and made his claim of the “dictionary.”

“Gee, Devin, what's in there that you need it so much? Lady Chatterly's Lover? Lolita?” Michael teased.

Devin shrugged and smiled smugly. “Wouldn't you want to know?” Devin looked at his cell phone. “Hey, I've got to go. I totally forgot that I have something else scheduled tonight, a meeting with my Rubik's Cube coach.” He packed up his large heavy package and left the room, much to Michael's protests.

Grace felt uneasy. All of the clues she'd been chewing over for the past few days were starting to fit together, and she had a hunch. “Angela, I'm going to leave you in charge of the swap. I have to go too. I can't explain it right now.”

Grace drove her car over to the Phi Delta Nu fraternity house. She felt like a trespasser as she climbed the grass hill to the side of the property, but she knew she was on an important mission. She found Devin, as she expected she might, sitting on a tree stump about 15 feet from the building. He was drinking from a bottle, not vodka, not even beer, but a Boylan's root beer.

“Hi Devin.” She kept her voice calm, steady, gentle.

“I knew you'd come,” said Devin, without even turning his head to see her. “I knew you'd figure it out.”

“I think you wanted me to. You wanted someone to stop you. You even had second thoughts once or twice. 'Do not pick up articles,'” she said. “But you did pick up some articles. Well, no, you didn't personally. Your cousin did. He's the only one of you that has a car. He told me that.”

Devin stared ahead, drinking his Boylan's root beer.

“What are you going to do with that bottle?” asked Grace.

Devin didn't answer.

“I knew whoever was placing the messages in the books was a careful, fastidious person. The books were so carefully placed on the table. Then, when I knocked your pencil on the floor, it seemed so important to you to have it placed so perfectly on your desk, just like it was important for you to place the book so carefully on the table. And the Rubik's Cube. You weren't lying to me then.” She relaxed slightly, walking closer to him. “You weren't cheating. It was just something you had to do. It's a compulsion you have, isn't it?”

Devin looked at her this time. “You're good. I picked a good person.”

“I'm not sure when you picked me, but you knew I'd been snooping in your messages. Zach had seen me. You left the anagrams for me.”

Devin bent his head back and laughed, but it wasn't a joyful laugh. “I always see you solving the newspaper anagrams before class, and I know that's your corner at Beans.”

“Right,” said Grace. “Zach told me what happened, what happened with the boys here.” Her legs quavered slightly. She was treading in a sensitive area. “Nothing graphic. I feel for you, Devin. I want justice just like you do.” She paused. “The anagrams were a kind of shopping list. I see that now. And the Russian drink wasn't vodka like I thought at first. It makes perfect sense now. Molotov was a Russian, and a cocktail is a drink. Please, Devin, hand me the dooslebat … and the lighter.”

“I've been humiliated enough. What am I going to do? Tell my story to the police and to a judge? Jury?And what will happen to these guys? A whole lot of nothing.” He was getting agitated and started pouring the remaining soda on the grass. “Their lives will go on, but I'll never be the same.”

Grace mentally agreed that it often seemed justice was not executed.

“I got angry too when I heard. I dreamed up all sorts of punishments for these guys. Devin, you can rise above this pain, but your abusers have to live with what they did. Misery will find them one way or another. Let the police do their job. Let God do His job. You can have a good life again but not so easily if you carry out what you've been planning.”

He leaned forward, resting his head in his hands.

“You wanted me to stop you. Why else would you make a game of it? This sort of justice only appeals to one part of you. If you carry out your plan, you'll be the one in prison, and all those brains and talents of yours will be wasted. Put down the bottle and turn over the tape and the motor oil, the whole shebang. Let me take you to my brother's.”

“Who's your brother? I'm not going to a headshrinker.” He spoke with his face down, hands on either side of his head.

“He's not a headshrinker. He's something better. He's a minister.” Grace imagined the scene in her mind. “He lives a ways out from here, in the country, with his wife and kids. He has three dogs, four cats, rabbits and chickens, and if that atmosphere doesn't do you a world of good, I don't know what will.”

Devin rubbed down his face. “Well, Zach was right about one thing. You do care.” He paused. “You won't report me to the dean, the police, the school psychologist, somebody?”

“No. You haven't done anything, have you? Except sit on a stump and think terrible thoughts. You do have a problem though. Let's just address it the right way.”

Devin gathered his paper-wrapped bundle and walked down the hill towards her.


The End


© 2016 Susan Joy Clark

Sleepytime Songs


I am an occasional insomniac. I guess I am what you may call a light sleeper. If I have a headache or a tummy ache or if I'm too hot, any of these can give me difficulty sleeping, and sometimes, my brain just likes to be active and dream up story plot ideas in the middle of the night. (Now, if I can only manage to do that while dreaming.) So, sometimes some sleepytime music helps ease me into Sleepland. So, to all my fellow occasional insomniacs, I hope you find this list of sleepytime songs helpful.

Fellow insomniac and blogger friend, Song Smith, recently blogged about her sleepytime song picks from Norwegian singer Ane Brun. I've already checked out Ane's music and discovered it did help me sleep. Read Song's post here. You may also enjoy Song's other blog posts. Her posts often give virtual hiking tours in her native Netherlands and elsewhere. Occasionally, her cat Viggo takes over the blog and talks about his trials as a kittycat.

1. "Hushabye Mountain" -- Hayley Westenra


I love Hayley's pure lovely voice, and I love this "Hushabye Mountain" lullaby from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang so much. My only objection is that it is too short. The tinkling music box sounds are gentle and pleasantly haunting.
2. "Brahms Lullaby" -- Hayley Westenra 



Here is another example of Miss Hayley singing a lullaby. She has, among others, an entire album of lullaby music, so if you like these examples, you can easily find others. Some of her other classical crossover and Celtic recordings would also work for sleepytime.

3. "Sweet Dreams" -- Jewel



Jewel also has an entire album of lullaby music. I really like this one with its gently lilting melody and poetic lyrics.

4. "All the Pretty Little Horses" -- Charlotte Church



Charlotte Church commented on this one that she wasn't sure if the baby would want to sleep or get up and dance. The Spanish guitar on this one does give it a different feel, but it is still gentle and soothing.

5. "Hushabye Mountain" (a much longer rendition) -- Youtuber ShadowCa7


I don't know this Youtuber by any other name than her screen name, ShadowCa7 or Destiny. In her own comments, she humbly asserts that she can't play and can't sing. I beg to differ! If the first "Hushabye Mountain" was a little too short, this rendition is extra long with some new additional verses created by ShadowCa7.


6. "We Will Go Home/Song of Exile" from "King Arthur" soundtrack -- ShadowCa7


Here's another example of her beautiful singing and guitar, this time with a little violin as well. You can download some of her music for free here or donate to help her create more videos.


7. "Misty Mountains" from "The Hobbit" soundtrack -- Peter Hollens, ft. Tim Foust



I do tend to find soprano voices particularly angelic or soothing, but I'm not as prejudiced against male voices as this list might make me seem. I really like this rendition of "Misty Mountains." His collaborator Tim Foust has a great bass voice and looks the part for Aragorn or Boromir.

8. "Somewhere Out There" from "An American Tail" -- Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram



"Somewhere Out There" is not a recent soundtrack song, but it stands out to me as a favorite among soundtrack songs from a non-Disney animated film. It's also gentle and with lyrics like "under the pale moonlight," it seems appropriate for sleepytime.

9. "Once Upon a December" from "Anastasia" -- Deana Carter



Here's another favorite from a non-Disney animated film. I adore this song, and really like the original with the music box sounds. This version seems to have more Russian folk-y instruments, which I also like.

10. "Cossack Lullaby" -- Natalia Faustova



Speaking of things Russian, I came across this Cossack lullaby while randomly searching Youtube. This led to finding lullaby music from nearly every culture: Turkey, Israel, Portugal, Norway and on and on. I'm including this one, because I found it particularly interesting. The video includes the Russian words with English translation and some Russian folk art style illustration. Daggers seem strange to mention in a lullaby, but I suppose so do cradles crashing down out of treetops.


11. "Sleep My Young Darling" (Icelandic Lullaby) -- Sissel



Norwegian singer Sissel sings this lovely Icelandic lullaby.

12. "If You Were a Sailboat" -- Katie Melua


This song by Katie Melua has some poetic lyrics, and the accompanying video looks like a surreal but pleasant dream. You may want to enjoy some of these videos while you're still awake. Katie has a unique almost quirky voice that I like.

13. Katie Melua with Georgian Polyphonic Choir



I discovered Katie Melua through Pandora radio and Georgian polyphonic singing through someone I follow on Pinterest, and then I discovered the video above which combines the two. Katie is British-Georgian.

14. "Qartuli Khmebi" -- Imeruli Simgerebis Popuri



I have no notion what I just typed above except that it is the language verbatim from the video itself. Here is another example of Georgian singing. I may not understand the language, but I feel the spirit of it. This seems like it could be romantic dinner background music as well as pacifying enough for sleepytime.

15. Humperdinck: "Hansel and Gretl Prayer" -- Libera



I remember singing this lullaby with my college women's choir. Libera is a boy choir however.

16. "Isle of Innisfree" -- Celtic Woman


The harp is thought to be -- without a lot of Biblical evidence -- the instrument of angels. It does have the right sort of sound for sleep.

17. "A Dream Within a Dream" -- Bogdan Ota



I enjoy discovering new talent through "America's Got Talent," "Britain's Got Talent" and other world versions of the game. Bogdan Ota was a discovery through "Norway's Got Talent." The above is his own neoclassical composition, and the title seems rather fitting for this list. The video has some interesting animation.

18. "Asleep at Last" -- Wailin' Jennys



If you were to play this list at bedtime, by the time we get to this point, hopefully, you will have long been "asleep at last."

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Action Men and the Great Zarelda: Serial Part 2


Continued from Part 1 ...

(Recap of conversation)

"If you're going to be my assistant, I will need to get you a costume."

"Oh. Costume. You're serious."

To be continued ...

Part 2

"Of course."

"Don't you have someone already?"

"I did. I fired him." She rolled her R on “fired.”

"Oh," I wasn't entirely sure this was a good thing. "Uh ... Why?"

"He did not do what I asked." She leaned in, facing me, touching her left shoulder against my right one. This time, I did not imagine it. I caught the scent of her perfume, floral and musk. "Would you do what I ask?"

Why was this question so unnerving? Were we still talking about magic shows or something else? I began to think she really was a siren that would charm me to death while leaving me shipwrecked. "Nearly ... nearly anything ... you know, that didn't involve setting myself on fire. I like entertainment, but I have my limits." Why did my voice sound like it had reached a Vienna Choir Boy pitch?

"I can see you would be a good assistant.” Zarelda touched my forearm.

The magician was casting a spell on me. What was I thinking for even a moment that I could be her magician's assistant? The next few lines from the cowboy ballad came to mind, “Blacker than night were the eyes of Felina, wicked and evil while casting a spell ...”

I can't travel the world with you as your assistant.” I pointed my thumb at Jack. “I'm his assistant. Without me, his right arm falls off.”

Truer words have never been spoken,” said Jack, giving me a couple of thumps on the shoulder nearest him.

Oh, I don't do much travel,” said Zarelda. Just like a confident saleswoman convinced she could close the deal, she brought out a planner app on her cell phone. “I own my own theater in Newark, and I do regular shows there as well as book other performers. Try one show and see how it suits you. Have an adventure.” Her eyes flashed as she said the last word, and then looking down at her planner and tapping her fingers on the screen. “When can we schedule a run-through?”

And, of course, I agreed, me … Andy Westin, who doesn't like costumes or performing or generally making a spectacle of myself. Some minutes earlier, I might have hoped for a date, hopelessly hoped, since she was obviously light years out of my league, and now I was agreeing to dress up in who knows what sort of get-up and allow myself to be sawed at and vanished and levitated and other indignities to my person.  

Some time later, after our arrival in Newark, after Jack and I had claimed our luggage and headed to our cab, Jack shook his head at me. “Your female friend … she's trouble, that one.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I know.”

It seems to me, at times, that Jack knows everything there is to know about everything, but this was a very unsatisfying answer, like a parent telling a child, “Because I told you so.” Jack's cowboy hat exaggerated his height so that I felt comparatively vertically challenged in spite of my average height. I felt like Baba Looey to his Quick Draw McGraw. Jack looked like a cowboy caricature, one that belonged in a theme park hugging children and having his photo taken. “You could be wrong,” I said.

“I'm usually right,” said Jack.

“You're right … 99.9 percent of the time, but there's always that .1 percent.”



The next day, Jack and I found ourselves at our favorite spot for lunch, the Salvador Deli. Our usual waitress and barista girl, Janie Duveau, came to our table. “What are you having today? We have a special, the Manet's Luncheon on the Grass bread, cheese and fruit plate.”

She had to be kidding me. “Bread, cheese and fruit plate? Do I look like a mouse to you?”

“Do you have to set me up like this?” asked Janie, swatting me with her order pad. She tilted her head to one side, her brunette ponytail flopping. “You look like something in the rodent family, not a mouse exactly … more like a weasel.”

“Well, if I'm a weasel, you're a weaselier weasel.”

“A weaselier weasel? That's the best you can do?”

“I haven't warmed up yet. I've been away. I'm out of practice.”

“Well, while he's contemplating his repartee, what will you have, Jack?”

“I'll go with the Mona Lisa Italian sub.”

“Excellent choice.”

“And since I'm feeling adventurous, the Jackson Pollock coffee, whatever that is. I'm curious.”

Janie turned to me.

“I'm a carnivore. I need something with meat.”

“How about the Warhol burger?”

“I'm afraid to ask. Does it come on a purple roll?”

Janie pointed her pen in my direction. “A very good guess. It comes on a hot pink roll … with speckled butterhead lettuce, blue Kool-Aid pickles, purple onion, heirloom yellow tomato, sage and port wine Derby cheeses …”

I stared at her, unblinking. “Please tell me the meat is meat-colored.”

“It is.”

“Fine then, the Warhol burger.”

When Jack and I were alone at the table, I brought up Zarelda. I shouldn't have, but I couldn't seem to stop myself. I had transferred my treasures from the plane to a new outfit, so I pulled out her business card from my shirt pocket. “Zarelda,” I said. “She's quite a woman. It's not often a woman like that pays attention to me.”

Jack leaned his face in his hand and smiled at me in a way that I imagined Christopher Robin would look at Winnie the Pooh just before he said, “Silly old bear.”

“Did I say 'not often?' What I really mean is not ever.” I even told Jack about the mystery of the phantom leg touching me in the plane and the blue feather that manifested out of nowhere, just like you'd expect with a magician. I pulled the feather from a pocket too and showed it to Jack. “Do you suppose it came from her garter? Do women even wear garters anymore or is that just something they do at weddings?” I shouldn't have asked Jack. The man is as pure as an Appalachian spring. I doubted he spent much time thinking about women's garters.

“You're asking me?” Jack took the feather from me and stared at it. He began to smile, and after some moments, began to laugh.

“Are you making fun of me?”

“It's just so painfully obvious.”

“That I'm ridiculous?”

Jack turned to look at me, “Your lovely lady friend is an animal smuggler.”

To be continued ... 

© 2016 Susan Joy Clark