“When The Rains Fell”

The roar of the motorcycle zooming up the driveway and into the garage woke Keri. Again! Damn drunk of a brother-in-law! She didn’t need to look at the clock. It would be after two when the bars closed on Friday nights. She hurried to lodge the kitchen chair against the locked door of her bedroom. If Keri failed to act, good old drunk Richard would “accidentally” jump into bed with her. She stood by the door listening to Richard stumble and bumble his way in the house. As she turned back to her bed, loud pounding began on the bedroom door startling her.

“KERI LET ME IN!”

“Go to your own room. Richard you’re drunk.”

The banging continued. “Come on Keri. How bout a good night kiss?”

“I’m not your wife! Sleep it off and keep your hands off my sister!” She heard Richard rush into the bathroom probably vomiting. Then she pictured his large body bouncing off the walls and falling onto his own bed passed out till morning. Keri removed the chair and unlocked the door. It would be safe now. When she opened the door, she spied a light on. More than likely her sister Liz. She loved her sister but Liz always played the victim never standing up for herself.

“Liz, you’re still up? It’s nearly three a.m.”

“Get a glass from the kitchen and have some Sparkling Red wine.” She took a long drink waiting for her sister to join her in the family room. “I’ll pour.” Her hands were shaking. “Guess you should pour Keri.”

Keri regarded her sister. If not for Liz’s short black hair, they could pass for twins. Liz’s watery green eyes stared back at Keri. “Is that a fresh bruise by your eye?”

“Yes.” Liz admitted.

“You can’t live like this. Leave Richard.”

“And go where? I have no money. Our parents have been gone over six years. Should I live in a shelter?”

“We could leave together. I”ll help you.” Keri wore her long black hair in a single braid down her back. About three years younger than Liz, Keri remained the practical sister. “Jim isn’t coming back. I’m free to do what I want.”

“I’m sorry Jim walked out on you.” She produced a Kleenex from the pocket of her pink robe and dabbed her eyes.

“Left in the middle of the night and he never came back. That asshole!” Keri sipped her wine then sat her glass on the coffee table.  “When the bank foreclosed,  I lost the house. I couldn’t afford the payments by myself.”

“We took you in. I’m not having my sister sleeping under a bridge or in a homeless shelter.”

“I appreciate that sis. I’ve worn out my welcome. I need to leave. Richard hates me. And I’m scared to be around him.”

Liz said,”I used to love Rich. We never had kids. I think he’s blamed me for that.” She couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. “How did everything turn to shit?”

Keri threw her arms around Liz. “I’m here for you. There’s got to be a better life than this.” They sat quietly hugging for what seemed like hours but it lasted only minutes. Finally Keri spoke,”Let’s get some sleep. I’ll think of something. Good night sis.”

A loud buzzing sound, Rich reached for his cell on the nightstand. “What time is it? Seven thirty? Frank why are you calling so early? Raining? Didn’t even watch a weather forecast last night. They’re wrong most times. All day rain? There goes our golf outing. You call the other guys? Well thanks for telling me. I’m going back to sleep.”

“Who called?” Liz asked.  She heard the rain hitting the roof.

“Frank. No golf today. Damn, I counted on drinking and golfing all day. Why don’t you take a shower and make me some breakfast?” Rich closed his eyes.

Liz couldn’t sleep so she grabbed her robe and headed for the shower. Whatever happened to the mornings when Rich wouldn’t let her get out of bed or when he would join her in the shower? She tried hard not to cry again. Liz let him sleep as long as possible, less hours together the better. He must have gained fifty pounds in their twelve years of marriage, she thought shaking her head. “Rich, ten minutes till breakfast if you wanna get a shower.”

Rich mumbled something and walked down the short hallway to the bathroom. Within minutes he threw on his old black jeans and black Harley Davidson sleeveless t-shirt. He towel dried his short brown hair tossing the towel on the bathroom floor.

Liz brought a plate of bacon, fried eggs and toast to the kitchen table. She poured his cup of black coffee. “Not shaving today?”

“Why bother? Not going anywhere but the garage. Guess I’ll work on my bike.”

Liz sat at the table watching him eat. She drank the remainder of her orange juice.

“You should drink coffee,” Rich said as he chewed his bacon.

“We’ve had this discussion too many times. I just don’t like the taste of it. Besides, there’s more for you,” she reasoned.

“Your tramp sister drinks it too. When’s she moving out? No wonder Jim ran out on her! And we’re not getting any rent from her, that lazy bitch!”

“Don’t call her that!”

“Watch it Liz. Don’t raise your voice to me! I don’t wanna hit you.”

“I’m sorry Rich.” She pushed in her chair. Thunder crashed through the sky and the rain poured down even harder. “I’m waking Keri before I sort laundry downstairs.”

Rich finished his coffee and carried his dishes to the sink. One last thing for her to bitch about leaving stuff on the table, he thought. Liz walked past him on the way to the basement, any reason to get away from Rich. He heard the shower, Keri.

A simple twist of the doorknob, Rich entered the bathroom. He pulled back the shower door reaching through the hot water and steam. His hand grabbed Keri’s ass.

“What are you doing?” Keri raised her voice pulling away. “I locked that door.”

“And I have the key.”

“You son of a bitch! Why are you here?”

“Admiring the view Keri. You know we could hook up again. Pretty sweet last time.”

“I was drunk. I didn’t know what I was doing.”

“Think bout it. Your sister’s a coldhearted bitch but you’re as hot as a firecracker on the fourth of July.” He laughed closing the shower door. “I’ll be in the garage if you change your mind. Liz never goes out there.”

Keri dressed in jean shorts and a blue patterned blouse. She reached the kitchen finding a blueberry muffin for breakfast. When she heard the washing machine start, she hurried to the kitchen counter before Liz returned. She poured the remainder of the hot coffee in the Packers travel mug, Rich’s favorite. “I’ll be right back,” she told Liz as she passed her in the kitchen.

Rich enjoyed spending time by himself in the garage, an attached garage so he didn’t have to deal with the pouring rain. He cranked up his XM radio to classic Rolling Stones. He turned to his Harley. His motorcycle cost a lot of money still worth every penny. He began wiping off his bike when the side door opened.

Keri entered the garage. She wore her dark hair straight down her back instead of the usual long braid.

“Change your mind Keri?” Rich hoped for a positive response.

“We don’t have much time.” Keri handed him the Packers mug. “You can drink the rest of the coffee. I’ll put on a show you’ll never forget.”

Rich grinned and drank the hot coffee. True to her word, Keri swayed her hips to the music and started to unbutton her blouse. Rich gulped down the final drops of coffee. Something hit him hard. His stomach exploded and white foam came out of his mouth. He took two steps towards Keri. What did that bitch do to me? He fell straight down dead.

Keri knelt down holding her hand by his neck. No pulse as she expected. Blood spilled from his smashed face that landed on the hard concrete floor. Time to tell Liz the good news. She clicked off the loud music remembering to rebutton her blouse as she left the garage.

“You need to come with me to the garage,” Keri said.

“Can it wait?” Liz asked.

“No.” Keri held Liz’s hand and walked her out to the garage.

“OH MY GOD!” Liz screamed. “CALL 911!” Blood mixed with the white foam around Rich’s head.

“We can’t call 911. Calm down.”

“What do you mean we can’t?”

“I poisoned him. I spiked his coffee.”

“YOU KILLED HIM?” Liz yelled.

Keri slapped her across the face. “He needed to die. Let’s clean up. Put that coffee mug in the dishwasher. I’ll take the shower curtain to wrap him in.”

“We’re going to jail!”

“SHUT UP!” Keri demanded. “No we’re not. Give me your cell phone. I don’t want you doing anything stupid.” Liz surrendered her cell. “We’ll get rid of his body when it gets dark. We need a story to explain Rich’s disappearance.”

Liz’s shaking hand picked up the Packers mug and returned to the kitchen. Keri passed her carrying the shower curtain. She would have to do all the work. Liz wouldn’t be mentally ready to be much help.

Placing the shower curtain on the concrete floor, it took all of Keri’s strength to roll Rich over onto the plastic. An occasional salad would have helped Rich! The next step involved cleaning the blood off the floor. She searched the garage and the basement until she found a bottle of bleach and a scrub brush. Then Keri had to force Liz to help lift Rich’s body into the back of the white SUV.

Nobody ate lunch. And dinner seemed in doubt too. Liz would burst into tears until she agreed with Keri to lay down for a very restless nap.

Keri watched it rain. The new normal seemed to be settling in. No more Richard. The house belonged to Liz and Keri. But they needed a cover story. What could they say to Rich’s friends and co-workers? At least it was Saturday. Monday and his job would be here soon enough.

Suddenly a car pulled in the driveway. A man walked to the front door. Keri jumped into action when the doorbell rang.

“I’m Frank,” said the tall blond-haired man in a green raincoat. “Can I talk to Rich?”

Liz paused sorting through a series of lies to tell then selected one. “I’m sorry to tell you – Rich and Liz separated. I don’t know where he is.”

“How about Liz? Is she home?” Frank continued.

“Yes, but she’s napping. As you would expect, she’s very upset. Now is not a good time. Sorry.”

“Well tell Rich I stopped by.  No real surprise they split up. I kinda saw it coming.” He returned to his car. Keri watched him leave through the sheets of pouring rain.

Night enveloped the sky and the rain continued to fall. Keri greeted her sleepy sister with a tray of hot tea, toast and a Valium. “This will make you feel better Liz.”

“Is Rich really dead or did I have a nightmare?”

“He’s dead.” Keri replied coldly. “Get over it. It’s for your own good. Eat up. We need to leave soon. Wear old clothes and boots.”

Keri had changed so she threw two shovels in the SUV and backed it out of the garage. Finally Liz left the house carrying her purse. Wordlessly, she sat next to Keri.

“I’ll drive. I know where I’m going,” Keri said trying to reassure her sister.

After several minutes Liz couldn’t control the panic in her voice,”What if the police stop us? We have Rich’s dead body in the car!”

“The police won’t bother us,” Keri replied calmly. “I’m driving the speed limit. Cops don’t wanna step out in the rain if they can stay in a warm, dry police car.”

“I feel sick to my stomach. This was a mistake. You shouldn’t have killed him Keri.”

Keri slammed on the brakes pulling to the side of the road. “SHUT UP LIZ! Did you forget about all the times he hit you? Someday you’ll realize that your little sis gave you a new life!” Then she jerked the SUV back on the road.

Liz sat and stared at the wipers fighting the losing battle to keep the rain off the windshield. She fought back tears. Maybe I’ll wake up in my own bed next to a snoring Richard, she thought. Suddenly she blurted out,”How do you know where to get rid of a dead body?”

Keri looked straight ahead. “It doesn’t matter how I know. I just know where to go.”

“Have you done this before? Kill someone?”

“Be quiet sis. Don’t make me angry!”

Silence fell again. The drive continued through the rain. Keri slowly turned at the Granger National Park sign. Minutes passed as she navigated the dark roads illuminated only by the SUV headlights. She drove off the paved road following a dirt road for several more miles.

The SUV stopped. Keri reached for the two shovels. “Come on. We have work to do.” She led Liz to a small grove of trees and started shoveling. “Help me Liz. I can’t do all the digging.”

Liz reluctantly joined in. She cried freely only the rain washed away her tears.

“Be happy it rained all day. It’s a lot easier to dig in the mud.” Keri seemed to be doing twice the work but decided not to say anything. At least Liz helped.

More time passed as the digging continued. Suddenly, Liz screamed out,”There’s another body down there!”

“That would be Jim.”

“My god Keri! You killed him too!”

“Shut up Liz!”

“We grew up in the same house with the same parents. How could you turn into a cold blooded killer?”

“That’s enough sis!”

“I’m calling the police! Give me my cell back. You’re sick you need help Keri.”

“You’re not calling the police!” Keri raised her shovel over her head. “There’s room for three bodies down there!” She slammed the shovel onto Liz’s head striking her again and again.

She shoved Liz’s lifeless body into the large hole. “You wanna spend forever with Richard? You got your wish Liz.” Dragging, pushing Rich’s body from the SUV, Keri was exhausted. But she found the strength to shovel all the dirt onto her new victims’ bodies.

Keri’s mind considered the new situation. She laughed out loud. Of course it would work. The drive seemed faster this time. She grabbed Liz’s purse and entered the house.

A hot shower is just what the doctor ordered. Once the steam cleared, Keri found the scissors in the drawer. She leaned Liz’s picture on the bathroom mirror. In a way, she would miss her long hair. Her newly cut hair covered the sink. Keri smiled at her work.

The pile of her muddy clothes including the boots filled a trash bag. Keri raided Liz’s clothes closet. Liz’s clothes fit her, not as tight as her usual wardrobe. Next, her handwriting had to be perfect. Keri practiced repeatedly as she sat in her new family room. At last Keri looked at her reflection in the mirror saying,”Hello, my name is Liz.”

Michael Woll

 

 

 

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“The Great Waldini”

The tired face stared out at his old friend. Al dreaded moments like this but the time had come for the talk. The box office needed a boost that The Great Waldini couldn’t provide anymore. Perhaps the carnival needed a young stud magician that at least the ladies would respond to even if his act sucked.

“How long we known each other Phil?”

“Gotta be sixteen, seventeen years. We met in Vegas when I was headlining at Caesar’s. That’s where Margo and I hooked up. She danced at the Riveria and came over every night to see my magic show. Great times Al!”

“Margo,” Al’s yellow teeth broke into a smile drifting back to those days in Vegas when he signed the rising star to join his traveling carnival. The coffers were overflowing those first five years. “What a babe she was, still has her figure.”

Al’s face grew serious. “That’s not what I wanted to talk about Phil. It’s your act. Nobody’s in your corner more than me. You ain’t drawing flies. Either upgrade your show or else!”

Phil’s dark eyes fought back tears. “What am I gonna do? Being a stage magician is all I been doing for twenty-five years. Even as a kid I’d put on magic shows for the neighbors.”

“I can’t have a traveling carnival without a magician. When we setup in Tampa, I signed Bruce Grimes, the next David Cooperfield, to headline our opening night. Watch his act and learn from one of the rising illusionists in the magic world.”

Phil walked out passing a line of trucks and trailers until he reached his own. “The Great Waldini” read the bright blue letters with a cartoonist drawing of him wearing the purple turban and white gloves. Embarrassing! If they wanted to sell tickets, Margo’s hourglass figure in her short stage dress would be much better.

“What’d old Al want this time?” Margo sipped a glass of lemonade as she hemmed her dress, sitting provocatively in her sheer dressing gown.

“The usual. Disappointed with my act. Wants to replace me.”

“I told ya. I warned ya this day would come. When Al finally has the balls to fire your ass, I’ll be a cocktail waitress again, too old to be a dancer.”

Phil’s eyes drifted to the fading posters of “The Great Waldini Live at Caesar’s” that served as a daily reminder of how far he’d fallen. He remembered all the sold-out shows, the audience of fellow magicians and Vegas entertainers that pushed the tourists into the cheap seats in the back. The magazine interviews, the cover of People, when he and Margo were still in love . . .

“Why’d you buy these books? Are we made of money?” Margo interrupted his thoughts.

“They’re books on magic, even a reprint of ‘Modern Magic,’ the first real book of magic from the 1870s.”

“Didn’t know you could read anything but the race results from all the tracks. How much you lose on the horses last month?”

Phil wouldn’t take the bait, ignoring her gambling insults. “I want one major trick to add to the act, a showstopper! I’ve been reading bout Harry Houdini. He’s the famous escape artist who couldn’t be held by handcuffs, prisons, strait jackets, coffins, even a Chinese water torture cell when he hung upside down.”

“You’re not Houdini, even in your dreams.” Margo dropped her gown and switched to a flowery print dress. That always got his attention, a quick flash of her body.

“No it’s not the escape part. In 1918,” Phil opened one book to the folded page,”Houdini performed at New York’s Hippodrome, the largest stage in the world at the time. He made a five ton elephant disappear! That’s what I want, a vanishing trick.”

“Good,” Margo said slipping on her black heels,”cause I’m gonna vanish right in front of your eyes. I’m going for a walk. I’ll leave you to your books.”

“David Cooperfield, in one of his tv specials, had a jumbo jet disappear in front of a worldwide audience.” At that point Phil knew he was talking to himself. “Don’t you remember the Statue of Liberty vanished on live tv?”

The trailer door opened and closed. He was alone. Where did she go on these afternoon walks and who took walks in heels? He suspected that she cheated on him but never pursued it. Maybe today he’d find out the truth.

Before Phil left the trailer, he glanced in the full-length mirror Margo had insisted she needed. Never any fun to see himself. He had more grey hair on his chest than on his head. The obvious weight gain gave him a gut that he concealed well in baggy stage clothes. But he knew the real story. His rugged good looks had left him years ago, probably why Margo had lost interest in him. Only a business relationship existed between them.

Still, they were married and Phil didn’t want to be the source of all the whispers when he walked by their carnival family. He knew where to look first – Samson the Strongman’s trailer. Even though Margo had to be  seven, eight years older, he watched the two of them exchange glances and smiles right in front of him.

The unlocked door led Phil inside Samson’s trailer. Most of the carnival trailers were setup the same, a small kitchen and living area to the right, bedrooms and bath to the left. He didn’t have to walk very far. Black heels, the flower print dress, her birthday present last year, lay on the hallway floor followed by her pink undergarments.

Phil had to look for himself. Enough evidence displayed in front of him but he needed to see them together. He took two steps into the bedroom. Margo and Samson rolling around naked in a darkened room became the second worst moment in his life. In first place at age five he walked in on his parents in bed and yelled,”Stop hurting my mom!” He hurried out of the trailer, trying to throw up but couldn’t.

What were his options? Fight Samson and get his ass kicked? Divorce Margo and have no partner for his act? Training someone new took time that he didn’t have. In a matter of days, he could be out as a magician. Was anyone at the carnival on his side?

The carnival fortune teller, Anastasia, read tarot cards for a living. She came from an East German circus family and left Europe after a tragic fire killed her parents. When Reed, her lion tamer husband, died of a heart attack, she made it clear to Phil of her long-standing feelings for him. He never responded, still she was attractive and available. It had only been six weeks since Reed’s sudden death.

Phil looked at her trailer just three down from his. Now was the wrong time. He returned to his trailer and threw the first book he saw against the wall. It crashed and then fell open on the floor. Angry and at the same time curious, Phil lifted the book off the floor. It had opened to a chapter titled,”Black Magic.” He didn’t recall that being in any of his books. Maybe fate had entered his life. He began reading and reached for paper to jot down some notes. That might work, he thought.

Showtime in forty-five minutes found Margo toweling off after a quick shower. She dressed in her tight, purple sequined dress. Her short blonde wig completed the picture. The mirror reflected back a beautiful woman as she approached forty.

Adjusting the purple turban on his head, Phil wore his matching purple tuxedo coat. With a white shirt, black pants and shoes and then the white gloves he waited to leave for the show tent. Phil stared at Margo as she brushed her hair one last time. Try as he might, he couldn’t get the picture of Margo and Samson together out of his head.

The last night of the carnival always pulled in the most customers. Kids came for the rides and cotton candy. Adults pursued the shows and gambling tents, even though the cards were stacked and marked against them. Loud organ music played through the numerous speakers. Several carnival barkers lied in flowery language to encourage people to drop their coins and see the many shows in small colorful tents.

Al entered the magic tent but sat quietly in the back to watch The Great Waldini. The long, multicolored scarf appeared from Phil’s hand and the yellow birds flew from Phil’s empty hat. The audience clapped throughout the show. Cutting Margo in half followed by levitating her in the air, what man in the audience didn’t fall for Margo’s shapely legs? The chemistry Phil and Margo displayed, just like the old days!

Phil ended the show releasing doves into the large crowd. The audience applauded as they rose to leave. Al rushed through the people. “You guys were great! Proud of you two.”

“Thanks,” Phil acknowledged.

“But I stand by what I said before. You need a new act. Everyone does these tricks.”

“I’m working on a new trick, something spectacular. It’ll be ready when we open in Tampa.”

“I hope so Phil. I’m glad you’re taking my threat seriously. The three of us been together for a long time. I want this to continue. Tonight was a step in the right direction.” Then he left the tent and joined the crowd outside.

Margo waited until they reached their trailer. “You have a new trick?”

“Not yet,” Phil admitted. “Those books you made fun of gave me an idea. A showstopper for all time.”

After returning for the second show to a sparse crowd, they packed up their birds, equipment and headed back to the trailer. They separated with Margo taking the main bedroom and with Phil in the spare room that had evolved into his bedroom this past year. At least he didn’t have to look at her with the betrayal fresh in his mind.

Sleep wouldn’t come for Phil. When eleven turned to midnight then one a.m., Phil got dressed and left the trailer. Who would welcome him at this hour? Only one person he knew.

Before he knocked, the trailer door swung open to Anastasia in a red silk robe with her long black hair reaching her waist. “I knew you were coming. The cards told me.” Only candlelight illuminated the trailer. Phil started to speak until Anastasia placed two fingers over his mouth. “No words are necessary,” she said softly. She kissed him passionately and opened her silk robe revealing – everything. “Follow the candles and share my bed Magic Man.”

Teardown Day greeted them at an early hour with the loud noise of the crew taking apart all the tents and loading the trucks for the drive to Tampa. Phil reached for his clothes. Anastasia took his hand instead. “Stay with me forever,” she pleaded. “We can leave the carnival and start a new life together.”

“I can’t,” Phil regretted, kissing her willing lips. “There is unfinished business with Margo and the carnival. Maybe after we leave Tampa. I’m sorry but I need to get dressed.”

Margo stood over the coffeemaker as he entered the trailer. “Where you been?”

“I’ll tell you when you tell me where you really go on your afternoon walks.”

She backed down stirring the milk in her coffee. “You feel guilty Phil?”

“I’m taking a shower. We’re leaving in less than an hour.” He added,”It’s a four and half hour ride to Tampa.”

One of the crew, Stanley Dobbins, drove their trailer. He was a young runaway who liked the constant change of locations. People suspected he left arrest warrants behind in several Northern states. He did his job, stayed sober for the most part and kept out of people’s business. Phil’s mind wandered to Margo hitting on Stanley next. His cell rang. “Thanks Al. Give him my number.”

“Who was that?” Margo asked as she painted her nails.

Before he answered, his cell rang again. “Bruce, the new David Cooperfield, calling me?”

“The Great Waldini. You don’t know it yet. I saw your act in Vegas with my parents when I was ten. You were my inspiration man!”

“Thanks. So why are you calling me? We’ll be in Tampa by noon. We can talk face-to-face in a few hours.”

“Got this idea Phil. I would be honored to have you on stage with me. Maybe give you ten minutes. What’d say Phil?”

“That would be great. I have a new disappearing trick I wanted to try. Look forward to meeting you and working out the details.”

“Bye Phil.”

Black Magic dominated Phil’s thoughts. A chance existed to impress a standing-room-only audience and reestablish his reputation as an illusionist. And have Margo pay for her betrayal. Back to the mysterious chapter he stumbled upon and create the showstopper people would talk about for years and years.

What bitch took Phil in last night and how many other times did it happen, Margo wondered. Samson occupied her thoughts and desires. But Phil married her and if they broke up, she would be out of the carnival. She needed to keep an eye on him.

Signs for Tampa brought an end to their trip. Less than an hour to go, Phil left the living area taking his book to the bathroom. He spoke the ancient words and stretched his hands over the sink. Real flames appeared from his fingers! Damn, he thought, the old magic worked. In the early days magicians were connected with witches and the occult. How else could real magic happen unless the devil himself whispered into the magician’s ear? Today, Phil could use Black Magic and be admired again as a genius.

Before setting up for tonight’s opening performance, Al provided tables of salads, chicken and desserts for everyone to enjoy. Phil and Margo sat together. Her eyes followed his as he exchanged smiles with Anastasia. The widow, of course, Margo should have guessed.

Bruce Grimes arrived shaking hands, signing autographs and taking pictures with the carnival family. Then he walked over to Phil. “The Great Waldini, we meet at last.” Handing his camera to Margo, he added,”Please take our picture. Thanks.”

“Let’s walk and talk Bruce,” Phil suggested rising from the table.

“My show van is here. My guys are ready to unload when the tent’s up.” They walked away. 

Margo stared at Anastasia thinking, I never liked that dark-haired bitch. I want revenge on both of them. Something that would send a scare to Anastasia and an embarrassment to Phil in front of that huge opening night audience.

Late afternoon the large main tent filled with rows of wooden chairs and an array of colored lights. Bruce Grimes directed his men as the massive equipment covered the stage. “Very impressive,” Phil said joining Bruce in the middle of the stage. “I’m not used to the big stage anymore. They have me working the small tent. The animal acts usually open here.”

“Not tonight my friend.” Bruce patted him on the back. “It’s a magical night. Here’s my plan. I’ll open and say forty to forty-five minutes in I’ll introduce you and leave the stage. Say ten minutes later, I’ll return and go another hour.”

“You never met Margo, my wife and stage assistant. She will disappear in front of everyone. No mirrors, real magic Bruce.” Phil climbed down the steps. “See you before the show starts.”

Phil pulled the folded paper from his shirt pocket. The strange words of another time yet the perfect words for the perfect trick. Margo will vanish from the world tonight, never to return! Unlike the past mirrored cabinet that masked her disappearance, this Black Magic he could direct but never control. Top that Bruce Grimes!

He passed Anastasia’s trailer and fought the urge to enjoy the afternoon with her. More practicing and checking the cabinet for tonight represented the keys for success. For his dream to be with Anastasia soon, this night would guarantee their future together. Bye bye Margo!

The afternoon turned to early evening. Cars and trucks parked everywhere and people stood in long lines. Excitement and organ music filled the air. Al couldn’t help but smile over the successful booking of the next David Cooperfield.

Margo rushed into the trailer, nearly out of breath. “Sorry, I had something I had to do. I’ll be ready on time Phil.”

Phil adjusted his purple turban in the mirror. Did Margo have the nerve to visit Samson and almost miss their biggest show in years? Concentrate, concentrate on the words, the hand movements.

Twenty minutes later they waited in the back of the stage for their moment. “It’s the same cabinet we’ve used before Phil. How’s this vanishing trick any different?”

“You’ll see Margo, you’ll see. Just stay inside the cabinet. That’s essential for the trick to work.”

Bruce Grimes announced,”I would like to introduce the man who I consider my mentor and new friend, The Great Waldini!”

They both appeared waving to thunderous applause, like the old Vegas days. “Thanks for the kind words Bruce. I’m also a big fan of yours!” Bruce bowed slightly and left the stage.

The crew rolled the cabinet on the stage as Phil said,”My assistant and my wife Margo!” He waited for the clapping to stop. “Margo will disappear before your eyes tonight!” Phil opened the cabinet so the audience could view the inside. Then he continued,”Say goodbye to Margo.” Margo stepped inside the cabinet and Phil spun it around twice.

Margo had already slipped through the false bottom and under the stage. Now was the hard part, taking Anastasia all tied up and gagged and pushing her through the false bottom and into the cabinet.

The Great Waldini uttered the ancient sounds. Flames appeared from his fingertips. The stage lights blinked nearly turning off. A cold wind entered the tent. The trance like feeling overpowered him as his arms flew violently in the air. Then he stopped. Margo was gone forever!

Phil threw open the cabinet doors, nothing, no one inside. It really worked. The crowd erupted in loud applause.  Suddenly Margo appeared in the audience walking up the stage steps. Bruce returned to the stage. “Great trick Phil. You fooled everyone.” He extended a hand to Margo and helped her back on stage.

“That’s not the trick. Something went wrong.” A pale Phil stared at Margo. “Why are you here?”

A confused Margo explained,”I don’t know what you did but Anastasia was in the cabinet. I put her there myself. You made her disappear!”

Michael Woll

 

 

 

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“Deadly Desire”

I woke up face down on a dirt covered road. My entire body ached and bled. I tried to raise my left arm but it only moved inches. Something burned on my forearm like I was branded with a hot iron. No street lights, no lights of any kind. I’m surrounded by the night. Can’t even move my body off the road. Maybe the pain will go away if I die here in the dark.

Bright lights, headlights, moved quickly towards my mangled body. This is how it ends run over by a car in the middle of nowhere. The lights stopped in front of me. Suddenly a female in white illuminated by the headlights (an angel?) walked towards me. “Oh my god!” I heard her say then I passed out again.

I remember being lifted onto a stretcher and the loud, blaring sound of the ambulance. Incoherent voices talked to me. Nothing made sense. Everything was blurry. I fought hard to stay awake. People kept talking around me. “He’s lucky to be alive . . . lost a lot of blood.” ‘I’ve done all I can for him.” ‘The police want to talk to him when he regains consciousness.”

My mind saw Isabella’s cover girl face, the source of my greatest joy and my greatest pain. Her long black hair cascaded over the white pillow case. A pear shaped diamond necklace drew my eyes to her sensuous ebony body. Laughing, happy, she enjoyed the moment with me. Isabella’s soft brown eyes invited me to a world of pleasure.

Isabella screamed! Then the pain began.

I recall being thrown from the bed against the far wall. Gilley stood over me. His menacing six foot frame had a muscular build from his obsession with the weight room. “YOU BASTARD!” He kicked me in the stomach. I gasped for breath. “And robbing me too!” He emptied the briefcase covering me in a sea of fifty and hundred dollar bills.

Isabella ran from the bedroom wrapped in a sheet crying loudly. Taz, Gilley’s henchman a mountain of muscles and tattoos, rushed in. “What happened?”

“Mac was in bed with my wife!”

Taz jammed a silver revolver against my head. “Just say the word Gilley.”

“Not here. Drag his ass  behind the house in the woods.” Then Gilley looked at me. “I won’t kill you. But when we’re done with you you’ll be begging for a bullet to your head!”

“She loves me Gilley.” I blurted out.

Taz’s boot smashed into my face. The next few hours I was in and out of consciousness. The beating brought me to a new level of pain throughout my body. I heard Gilley say something about calling Joshua, Gilley’s tattoo guy, “to come over right now. You and Joshua dump his body couple hours from town.”

I woke up on the dirt road and again in a hospital bed. A warm hand in mine. A woman’s voice.”I’m alone in the world since  my divorce is final. No reason to hurry home just Checkers my cat waiting for me. I hope you wake soon. There’s so much I want to share with you.”

My eyes tried to focus. A nurse sat next to my hospital bed. I attempted to smile at her instead I moaned. The cute nurse had blondish brown hair, dark, expressive eyes and reacted with a big smile when I opened my eyes.

“Hi. Welcome back.” She greeted me.

“Were you the one who found me, who saved me that night?”

“Yes I did. I take that shortcut to the hospital when I’m running late and I’m always running late. There’s no traffic. It saves me ten minutes every day.” She paused and gripped my hand tighter. “I almost didn’t see you. I could have run you over.” A tear ran down her cheek.

“But you didn’t. I’m alive thanks to you.” I returned her smile even though my face hurt. “How long have I been here?”

“One week tomorrow. You were in a coma for days. I didn’t know if you would come back to me. I sit with you every day on my breaks and after my shift’s over. You have blue eyes. I haven’t seen them till now.”

“I’m sure you have lots of questions for me.”

“You’ve mumbled some names in your sleep like Gilley, Taz, and Isabella many times. I hope you’re not married.”

“I’m not. No kids either. Let me rest. We’ll talk tomorrow. And thanks again for saving my life.” I passed out and didn’t hear her leave.

The next day I spent with doctors and medical tests. Everyone seemed happy that I had returned from the dead. Nobody asked me my opinion to be back among the living. Maybe it would have been better for everyone to have died on that dirt road.

Still, I longed for my dark beauty Isabella, my reason to keep living. Would I ever see her again? The welcome mat will definitely not be out for me if I go back.

My dinner tray arrived. Hunger dominated my thoughts until I saw a bowl of soup, crackers and orange jello. I used the straws for my drinks. Based on my sore jaw I couldn’t chew anything hard. I had my last spoon of jello when she walked in my room. “There you are,” I said. My nurse friend had arrived. She removed my tray and sat next to me.

“We haven’t been introduced. I’m Kate Mathews. No one knows your name. You’re listed as John Doe.” Her hand slipped into mine.

“Everyone calls me Mac.”

“Are you able to answer my questions? The police detective said you couldn’t remember what happened.”

“For you I’ll answer anything.”

“Who beat you up and nearly killed you?”

“That would be Gilley.”

“Who’s Gilley?”

“My brother. A dangerous man. He’s involved in drugs and guns. Not the man to cross.”

“Who’s Isabella?”

“The reason I’m in the hospital. Gilley’s wife. We were gonna run off together with a briefcase full of Gilley’s drug money.”

Kate dropped my hand. “Maybe I have judged you all wrong.”

“I’m not a bad guy. Just got crazy over the wrong woman. The other name you mentioned Taz is a big mean dude. Avoid him at all costs.”

Kate stood and looked at me. “You’ll be able to leave the hospital in a few days. I thought about offering my home to you. I’m not sure. Can you explain your tattoo?”

“What tattoo?” She pulled off the long bandage on my left forearm revealing, DONT COME BACK. “I didn’t ask for that.” I explained.

“You need my help. I’ll take you home on a trial basis. We’ll see how it goes.” She left the room.

The day finally came and I rolled along in the wheelchair to Kate’s waiting car. My legs were gaining their strength from my daily walks down the hospital hallways. My left arm remained weak though.

We ate a quiet meal of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Soft food helped my jaw the most. I finished my coffee. She walked me to the guest room. “I hung some of my ex-husband’s old clothes in the closet. They should fit you. I’m across the hall. Don’t get any ideas. I’m locking my door.”

I slept soundly and woke to an empty house. Kate left coffee for me. I managed to find the toaster for some breakfast. I showered, dressed and watched tv until I fell asleep in a comfortable chair.

Kate ran into the house. “Mac, a man came looking for you at the hospital. A huge man dressed in black, Taz?”

I jumped to my feet. “Do you have a gun in the house?”

“Yes, but I’ve never used it.” She handed me the pistol and a box of bullets. “He won’t find you here.”

“He might have followed you from the hospital.” Suddenly a bullet shattered the front window. I knocked Kate to the floor. The second bullet slammed into the wall over our heads. The only good news, Taz couldn’t shoot real well. He relied on his brute strength to punish people. I loaded Kate’s gun and crawled to the broken window.

Taz’s size made him a very big target. He ran from the oak tree for a closer shot, his fatal error. I could shoot. I did learn something from my brother Gilley. Both bullets hit his chest knocking him backward to the ground. I hurried outside and watched him struggle and bleed in front of me. My last shot went directly into his large head. I took his gun and fished two more clips out of his pocket. Grabbing his Humvee keys, I found Kate standing behind me.

“You’re not going back there! They beat you to death last time.” Tears welled in her eyes.

“I have to. They nearly killed me twice. I can’t wait for them to come after me again.” She reached for me. I turned away.

“All you care about is that bitch Isabella!”

I didn’t answer. I didn’t look back at Kate. I hopped in the Humvee. If they see Taz’s vehicle, I might be able to drive right in before they notice. Was I going back for revenge on Gilley or for the love of Isabella? Maybe both. Since I had a couple of hours to drive, I thought about Kate. She had feelings for me. It might be better to turn around and make a new life with her. Sure I’ve had my share of other women in my life. But Isabella brought a sensual desire I’ve never known before. Being with her makes the whole world stop. Only the two of us exist in a combination of lust and love. My exotic girl, my reason for living.

Gilley would never understand. He tried to corner the market on beautiful women of every color. Isabella represented his flavor of the month. He would tire of her and send her packing. All I want is one woman, Isabella; he can have the rest for himself.

I crossed into Taver Hts. and knew it would only be twenty more minutes to reach the other side of town and Gilley’s house. I had no plans, running on straight adrenaline. Pulling to the side of the street, I reloaded the clip in my gun. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Taz left a bottle on the floor. I filled my mouth with good Kentucky bourbon. This could be the beginning of my new life or the end of my sorry one. There would be no mercy from Gilley, even for his own brother. I glanced at Joshua’s tattoo – DONT COME BACK. Too late. I’m back right now!

Gilley’s big country house had a large yard until he bought out his neighbors and tore down their houses. Then he owned the whole street. For late night shipments of guns and drugs, no prying eyes wondered what that truck delivered at four in the morning. At any given moment, six of his henchmen worked in the house or in the vast woods behind the house. Most of the men knew me. I’d work for Gilley off and on. He always overpaid me probably felt sorry for me.

I remember the first time I saw Isabella, the African queen of Gilley’s collection of gorgeous, international females. When our eyes met, I knew I had to have her. I started hanging out more at Gilley’s house. Unloading trucks, packing boxes, anything to appear useful, I needed to see her, be around her all the time.

That moment in the kitchen her hand touched mine. I reached for her hand squeezing it tightly. This time our eyes locked together for a brief moment. Talk about dangerous desire, my brother’s wife! We would exchange words in passing throughout the house.

“He won’t let me leave the house ever. I’m like a prisoner here. You know he hits me when he’s drunk.”

“We have to be careful or he’ll kill us both.”

Another time days later she said,”I’ve been putting money aside for us. He’ll never miss it.”

We stepped into an empty bedroom. I hugged Isabella for the first time. We shared a passionate kiss. I unbuttoned the front of her white cotton dress. Then I let my hands move across her black skin and she moaned with desire. I had to have her.

“When?” I whispered.

“Tomorrow afternoon, he’s leaving with Taz for a meeting downtown. It could take hours.”

The next afternoon we planned to take the briefcase of money and leave everything else behind. It didn’t happen that way. We were in the bedroom. We were alone in the house. One kiss led to another. Clothes flew in all directions. The blue quilt joined the clothing on the carpeted floor. Passion made its own plans, its own rules. Her perfumed body, her inviting brown eyes, I never heard Gilley’s voice until he opened the bedroom door.

Now I approached the house in the Humvee. A red Benz left the four car garage. Seeing my arriving Humvee they assumed a returning Taz and kept the garage door open and honked in my direction. At this time of night, probably a food run before the trucks rolled in again. A lucky break for me.The other two cars in the garage included an emerald green Jaguar and the midnight blue Corvette. Gilley loved his cars. As I closed the garage door, I set the house alarm to warn me when they returned. Any opened door of the house or garage would set it off.

I needed to find Gilley before I could save Isabella and live out my dream life. College football blared from the enormous family room tv sound system. No one occupied the black leather furniture. I entered the adjoining kitchen. There Gilley sat on a bar stool with his back to me. He drank the remainder of his Scotch rocks. “That you Taz? You killed Mac for me?”

“Afraid not Gilley.”

He turned to face the pistol I pointed at him. “Don’t do anything stupid Mac. You want money, I’ll give you money.”

“You know what I want, who I want.”

“Isabella? She’s outta your league brother. She loves me for my money. You have nothing to offer her.”

“Is she alright?”

“Outside of that black eye for saying your name, she’s perfectly fine.” I watched his right hand move slowly to a butcher knife laying on the counter. “You won’t leave this house alive. The guys’ll kill you if I don’t.”

“Nice try Gilley. I saw them leave.”

He threw his glass at me and grabbed the large knife. My gun fell to the floor. I managed to kick the knife out of his hand. We scrambled for the gun. He elbowed my nose and it exploded in blood. The gun landed across the floor from us. But Gilley moved faster and inched closer to the gun and killing me.

I didn’t hear her. Isabella stood over Gilley screaming and stabbing him repeatedly with the butcher knife. Lastly, she buried the knife up to the handle in his back.

Gilley was dead.

“We have to leave now.” I pleaded with her. I tossed her a kitchen towel. “Wipe the blood off your hands.”

“I need my purse.” Isabella hurried up the stairs unsteadily as if the reality of the moment finally caught up with her.

We raced to the Humvee. We’ll need different transportation that will blend in soon. I punched in the alarm code and we drove away. With Gilley and Taz both dead we had time to disappear. Isabella sat next to me leaning on my shoulder. Tears of joy and I’m sure regret, streamed down her face. From now on we would live our lives on the run.

By the way, her purse was filled with Gilley’s cash!

Michael Woll

Posted in "Deadly Desire" | 1 Comment

“MEPHISTOPHELES”

I sat in the darkness with my newly lit cigar and a glass of forty year old Macallan Scotch. Easing back in my comfortable rocking chair I tried to relax.  Smooth jazz played through my Bose speakers. Dave Brubeck will be missed in the music world. I wore my navy silk pajamas one last time. My life was ending and I had grown to accept the inevitable event. Will this be my new reality – eternal night?

Dr. Harvey gave me my death sentence. “Sorry, there’s nothing left we can do. The cancer has spread throughout your body. Go home. Spend time with your family and friends.” I never told anyone. Just a quick smile and reassuring words that everything would be alright. They bought the lie.

Are there days or hours remaining for me? The grandfather clock chimed loudly twelve times, the midnight hour. I drank my expensive Scotch. No reason to save that $10,000 bottle anymore. Nothing to be concerned with since my will and power of attorney  were all in place. I waited for my midnight visitor.

I exhaled the cigar smoke into the air. Suddenly two red eyes appeared out of the blackness of my family room. “Mephistopheles, I wondered when you’d show up.” I forgot how tall the devil’s wing-man stood nearly seven feet.

“Good evening Edward. Time to pay the piper as they say.” Mephistopheles sat in the chair next to me.

I blew smoke rings in his face and laughed. “I know all about contracts. I’ve practiced contract law for thirty-six years.”

This seemed to amuse him. “Experience? Try hundreds of years dealing with mankind’s greed and desires. You are still a rookie when it comes to contracts.”

I tapped my cigar lightly onto the ashtray watching the burning ashes. “Should I turn on a light?”

“You know I have an aversion to light.”

Jumping to my feet, I began switching on every lamp in the room. “Now I can see you in all your ugliness.” He wore a black cape over his leathery  crimson skin. Huge red wings and a bearded face with small horns completed the fallen angel’s appearance. “If you made a deal with your boss Satan for good looks, you need to rescind the deal.” It was my turn to laugh.

“Glad to see you are in good spirits knowing your soul is going to eternal damnation in a matter of hours. The fires of Hell are real and waiting for you.” His large frame shifted uncomfortably in the chair. “Most men in your position are crying and begging. Praying to the god they betrayed for a last minute reprieve. Take me to the pearly gates. Please god please.” His laughing filled the room.

“No regrets, no begging from me.” I drank deeply from my Scotch rocks. “A deal is a deal. After my years of contract law cases, I know if the t’s are crossed and the i’s dotted, a contract is a legally binding agreement in any court of law.”

Displaying the ancient book in his hands, he said,”I brought the book you signed in blood in case you would argue that you never wrote Edward J. Sterling Jr. inside.”

My laughter stopped him. “Sorry, please continue.”

“A sense of humor still?” The face of evil spoke. “Your soul will be mine. You had your successful life, your wealth, your bling as they call it today.”

“Yes, that was part of the contract or was it?”

“Are you trying to confuse me? Do not waste my time Edward. This is not my only stop tonight.”

I left the room and refilled my Scotch. “If these are my last hours on earth,” I said entering the room again,”I get to select the topic of our discussion. The other souls can wait.”

“I will play along with your game for now. But do not try my patience Edward.” His personality could change from charming to screaming in a second. I’ve witnessed both.

“I graduated from Notre Dame and remained there for my three years of law school. By my last year, I had met my future wife, Abby. We didn’t know until graduation day that she was pregnant with our son, Frank.”

“You are boring me,” Mephistopheles commented.

“Wait till you enter the story.” I puffed on my cigar before placing it in the ashtray. “When the final rank of my law school class came out, I dropped to twelfth. Sure I graduated from Notre Dame but the top ten lawyers were guaranteed the big money. This is when you came into my life.”

“The star arrives.” He smiled his crooked yellow teeth at me.

“I was desperate. Abby and I married. The big law firms passed me by. I had huge college loans. I had a family.”

“You needed my assistance. I met you at midnight in your apartment.”

“Then you painted the picture of golden tomorrows, of power, prestige, and wealth. At twenty-five, my mind was law school sharp. I listened to your offer. Weighed the pros and cons.”

“Mankind is weak.” Mephistopheles continued,”I tell people what they want to hear. Money for a soul. People are not even sure what the soul is. If only they knew! Losing one’s soul  did not matter when one is desperate or greedy like you.”

“Have you ever lost a soul you thought was signed, sealed, not delivered?”

Mephistopheles responded,”I try not to dwell on that.” He seemed to choose his words with care. “Of course over hundreds of years, someone slips away. A very rare occurrence.”

I smiled at his lies. He would never admit to failure in front of a mere mortal. “Back to my story, I signed your book in blood. Edward J. Sterling Jr. The contract between us began.”

“You have no regrets?”

“None for Edward J. Sterling Jr. Within a week I flew to New York and interviewed at Danford and Associates. They hired me. I made six figures by my third year at the firm. My stock choices were golden. We had more money than we could spend.”

“A fairy tale came true.” He answered with sarcasm. “Are we done reminiscing? I have other places to be.”

“No.” I finished my cigar. “Abby became famous for her charity work and served on many boards in the art world. Then came her heart attack. I called for you.”

“Yes, we met a second time.”

“But you wouldn’t help her. My contract did not include her deteriorating health. Damn you!”

“A deal is a deal. You said it yourself.” He rose from the chair and began pacing back and forth. “The hour is late Edward.”

“Frank became successful in the brokerage business selling commodities on Wall Street. He married Ava and they are expecting their first child soon.”

“Enough! Let us finish our business.” Mephistopheles marched towards me. His size alone intimidated and then there were those glowing eyes of fire.

“Sit down,” I said as firmly as I could. “Let’s talk about that contract you think you have.” I smiled at the evil being.

Mephistopheles returned to his chair. “We both know your last hours on earth have changed to minutes. Ticktock, time is almost up.”

“About that contract . . .” I teased him.

“Again?”

I stood and acted out the part of my favorite contracts law professor, Dr. Metger. Yeah, the same guy who wrote all those books and was on the short list for the Supreme Court. “Each side enters into a contract with a promise made. The first party offers a life of wealth and fame. The second party offers in return his immortal soul. A binding contract is made when, in this case, his name is signed in blood in your book of souls.”

“Yes, yes. I need to leave!” His anger grew with each word.

“What if a mistake happened to void the contract?”

“Impossible!”

“Oh no, very possible.” I lit my final cigar to celebrate my victory. “The name I signed in your book look at it again. Open your book of souls.”

“What exactly am I looking for?” His vicious temper nearly exploded.

“The name Edward J. Sterling Jr.”

“Yes. I see your signature. What is your point?”

I blew smoke in his direction. “That’s not my name. My father was named Ralph and my grandfather Benjamin. Sorry no junior. You made a deal with someone who doesn’t even exist! I keep my soul. You lose!”

His book flew past my head. He shrieked. Suddenly, the archdevil appeared to regain his composure. “You win your soul. But you gave away another’s soul tonight. Remember what you did for all eternity!”

“What are you talking about? There is no Edward J. Sterling Jr.”

“Call your son.” Mephistopheles vanished from sight.

I dropped my cell and tried again for his number. “Frank?”

“I was just about to call you. We have great news dad. Ava had a boy and we named him after you, Edward J. Sterling Jr.”

“NO! NO! NO!” I stumbled backwards, fell and left this world a broken, bitter man.

Michael Woll

Posted in "MEPHISTOPHELES" | 1 Comment

Murder Me Twice

novel

Posted in "Moonlight Drive" | Leave a comment

“If the Shoe Fits”

Annie marched down the sidewalk, passed the car-lined street, and blended in with the large group of people walking towards the mansion. At that moment she searched through the crowd. “Ricky?”

“I’m here.” A reluctant Ricky responded. “Told ya I’d rather wait in the car.” Her flowing red hair and captivating smile made it hard for him to say no.

“This is where Vito the Mauler Lepinski lived! One of the most famous mobsters of all time. Don’t you wanna see his house?” They walked through the imposing iron gate.

He caught up with her. “No. Not interested in a giant garage sale.”

“It’s an estate sale, not a garage sale. They’re selling everything for cheap. Maybe you’ll find something to buy.”

“I doubt it,” he said. “All the good stuff is probably gone by now. Okay, I’ll play along. After all I’m Italian too.”

A long table was set up opposite the front doors and had become the place of business. Two serious-looking men in short sleeve shirts sat in front of a cash box with a stack of papers between them. A uniformed policeman paced behind them reflecting on his luck at getting this off duty assignment. The short line of people carried everything from lamps to paintings over to the table.

Annie grabbed Ricky’s hand. “Let’s explore the upstairs. There’s over a dozen bedrooms.”

“How exciting,” Ricky yawned.

The large staircase led them to spacious hallways. After ducking in and out of several rooms, Ricky spied a king sized bed and sat down. “I’ll wait for you here. At least this bed’s comfortable.”

“This is Vito’s bedroom!”

“It’s as big as the entire first floor of our house! Look a mirror on the ceiling too. Who needs a room this size?”

Annie pointed at the burgundy couch and chairs with the well-stocked bar. “Bet a lotta deals went down here. Probably gave orders to have people killed.”

“You read too much. That’s gossip not fact. I heard he never served a day in jail.”

“Gangsters got the best lawyers. Everyone knows that.”

Ricky reached under the bed. “Hey look what I found – black patent leather shoes! I could use new dress shoes. I’m sure they won’t fit.” Ricky tried on both shoes and stood up. “Damn, they actually fit. Good condition too. I’m guessing two hundred easy for these.”

Annie entered the huge walk-in closet. “There’s still some of his suits in here. Maybe you can find a suit to go with your shoes.”

“Thought he was fat.”

Annie laughed. “You haven’t looked in the mirror lately.”

He flipped through the suits and pulled out a black three piece suit. “What’d think Annie?”

“You’ll fit in at Muraski’s Funeral Home.” She placed a black felt hat on his head. “Now you look like a real gangster!”

They cut short the rest of their upstairs tour and joined the line of customers. “Don’t know what they’ll charge me.” Ricky remembered having about a hundred and twenty in his wallet and had to buy dinner tonight for them. “I wonder if Vito left me some cash.” He laughed this time.

Ricky rifled through the suit pockets and retrieved a handful of hundred dollar bills. Since the line was slow, he counted out twelve hundred dollars. This day just kept getting better! “I owe you a special dinner tonight honey.” He flashed the roll of hundreds for only her to see.

“Wow!” Annie reacted. “Let’s dress up for dinner. You can wear your new clothes.”

They reached the table with the emotionless men staring at them. “What are you buying?” The man on the left asked.

“Gotta suit, shoes and oh yeah this hat.”

The second man wrote everything on a blank sheet of paper. “Your offer?”

“Two hundred for everything?”

“Done. Sign here and put today’s date. All sales are final, no refunds.”

Annie left the mansion and began strolling through the colorful flower gardens, neatly trimmed hedges and Roman style water fountains. Ricky followed closely behind. He would not complain this time. Maybe he finally got lucky; his ship had come in at last.

Hours later, they dressed for their night on the town. “Yes you need to wear a tie Ricky.” She stood in her white slip staring into her closet. Something dressy, something sexy. The short navy dress always looked good showing off just enough of her shapely figure to turn a few heads when she entered a room. Of course she would add the pearl necklace.

Ricky walked in with two ties. “The blue stripes or the solid red?”

“Blue, it’ll match my dress.” She was startled by his smack on her behind as he left the room. “You’ll pay for that Ricky.” She giggled.

“I plan on collecting babe.” He called to her. “How bout that expensive Italian place, the Golden Bowl?”

“You need reservations to eat there.”

“Well let’s stop anyhow. I should buy a lottery ticket with my luck today.” As he zipped her dress, he said,”You look amazing!”

“And you look like a gangster out of the old black and white movies, especially with that hat.”

After a short drive, they reached the Golden Bowl. Annie took his arm as they walked up to the maitre d. “Need a table for two Oscar.” Ricky said to the white coated man.

“Vito?” Oscar couldn’t hide the shocked look on his face. “Of course, your usual table follow me.” He tried to regain his composure.

They sat at a small table by the enormous fireplace. The waiter appeared handing them menus and pouring glasses of water.

“Tony, how’s the veal tonight?”

“Delicious, your favorite meal I know. Sorry for giving you menus Mr. Lepinski. A pleasure to have you dining with us again.” Tony reached for the menus and disappeared into the kitchen.

“How do you know everyone’s names?” Annie questioned. “I thought you never ate here before.”

“They wear name tags I guess.”

“No, they don’t Ricky.”

Ricky shook his head. “Can’t tell you. It just came to me.”

Tony returned and filled their wine glasses with champagne. Then he left the bottle in a bucket of ice by Ricky’s chair.

“You’ll love the veal doll. Best I ever had!”

Annie said,”Ricky, you’re doing it again! You’re scaring me. It’s like you became Vito!”

“Don’t be silly.” He grabbed her leg under the table. “Who else would do that?”

“Okay, I’m overreacting. Let’s enjoy our dinner.”

The salad bowls were quickly joined by their dinner plates of veal and penne. They ate quietly. Ricky refilled their glasses until the bottle was empty.

Oscar rapidly crossed the restaurant to Ricky’s table. “Vito, you need to leave now! The Torelli brothers pulled up in a white limo. Follow me through the kitchen. We have a car waiting for you.”

“Annie, we gotta scram. Those are the Torelli brothers who killed me!”

Too startled to talk, Annie’s wine glass slipped from her hand spilling champagne on the white tablecloth. She took Ricky’s hand. It felt like a dream or a nightmare and she couldn’t wake up. They rushed past the kitchen crew and into the dark sedan in the alley.

Oscar closed the car door. “That was too close,” he said to the darkening night sky.

“Is it really you Vito?” The driver asked as he drove rapidly through the downtown streets.

“Michael, good to have you at the wheel. Like old times.”

Was it the champagne? Had she fallen asleep watching Edward G. Robinson in a gangster movie? Tell me this can’t be happening; Annie cried into her hands.

“Change of plans tonight Michael. Drop us off at 1370 Wallings. Then disappear. I’ll see you in the morning, usual time.”

“Whatever you say boss. Gotta a little hideaway for you and the girl. Fine by me.”

Annie waited in her lace robe until she heard Ricky snoring. As she expected, he piled all of his clothes on the bedroom floor. Whatever spell Ricky was under, the clothes appeared to be the key. She scooped them up, with his shoes, into a garbage bag and threw it in the trash can behind the garage. Perhaps she could sleep and life would be normal in the morning.

Ricky emerged from the shower towel-drying his black hair. “Annie, I barely remember what happened last night. I should never drink champagne.”

Putting on her robe again, she responded,”We had a great time, especially when we got home.”

“That I remember!” He smiled when the sizzling memory resurfaced. “You’re incredible.”

Annie kissed his cheek. “I’ll make some coffee while you get dressed.”

Ricky called out to her,”Hey, where’s my new suit?”

She didn’t answer. Maybe the genie was finally back in the bottle. No more mobster Vito.

“I found my new shoes. Must’ve put them in the closet.”

Shoes, Annie thought, they were tossed away too. She poured the water in the coffeemaker and flipped the switch.

Ricky appeared in all of his gangster clothes – black suit, black shoes and hat. Annie was speechless. No, it couldn’t be possible! “Ricky?”

“Who’s Ricky?”

Ricky/Vito kissed her hard on the lips and squeezed her ass. “Thanks for last night doll. I feel like a new man. See you soon. Michael’s got your address.” Then he walked out the door and into the waiting Lincoln Town Car.

Annie collapsed onto the kitchen chair in a burst of tears. Why? Why was this happening?

“Where to boss?” Michael asked.

“Silvio’s. Gotta connect with the boys. Let ’em know I’m back.”

“Oscar called me from the restaurant. Said the Torelli brothers came in heavy looking to kill you. Guess they went away disappointed.” Michael finished the drive and opened the car door. “Call me when you’re ready to leave boss.”

Ricky walked through the side door of Silvio’s. “Hey Frankie, good to see ya.”

Frankie’s large frame slowly rose from the desk chair. Stacks of twenties, fifties, and hundreds covered the desk. “Vito?”

“Who else?” He hugged Frankie patting him on the back. “How’d we do last night?”

“Pretty good. I’m still counting. Surprised to see you Vito.” Shocked better described his true feelings as he returned to his chair.

“We need to hit Dominic and Vinnie Torelli. They were gunning for me at the Golden Bowl. We gotta put them in the ground.”

“Lemme call Max. His crew would be perfect. Nobody knows them.” Frankie dialed and nodded to Vito. “They’ll be here in ten minutes.”

“I’m going too.”

“Not a good idea Vito. They’ll see you coming.”

“I’ll stay outta sight. I gotta watch them die for what they did to me!”

Joey, a slender man in his twenties, walked in. “Rumors must be true! Vito lemme make you a drink. Scotch and water?”

“Always, thanks Joey. Good to be back.” Ricky sipped his Scotch and waited.

The phone rang. “Yea,” Frankie answered. “Keep an eye on ’em. Call me here if they leave.” Frankie hung up the phone and wrote on a small piece of paper. “Got an address, Hillcrest Motel over on State. The Torellis are staying there.”

Max opened the door. His blonde hair and glasses reminded Ricky that he wasn’t Italian but had prove his loyalty many times. A ruthless killer he could rely on.

“Here’s the address.” Ricky handed him the paper. “I’m riding along with you.”

“Yes Mr. Lepinski. Whenever you’re ready.”

Max opened the back door of the black Impala for Ricky. Two other men were already seated rechecking the clips from their pistols. Max took the wheel as they slowly approached Hillcrest Motel. He stopped and gave the orders. “Front door for you two. Bobby take the parking lot. I’ll take the door.”

Like a smooth military operation, Max’s boot kicked open the motel door. All three men fired before the Torellis could reach their guns. Dominic never got off the bed. Vinnie fell by the bathroom door riddled in bullets. Max shot each brother in the head.

Ricky stood by the motel door. “Good job! I could always count on you Max.” Then he turned and walked away.

Frankie answered the ringing phone. “Max, is it done?”

“Yes. You won’t believe this Frankie. Vito vanished. All we found was a pile of his clothes. Can’t find him anywhere.”

“Is this a joke? It ain’t funny Max.”

Annie started to calm down by her second cup of coffee. Nothing made any sense. Vito back from the dead? Suddenly Ricky walked in the house. Annie jumped up and greeted him with a big hug. “I’m really glad to see you.”

“Crazy thing is I don’t have any shoes.” A confused Ricky added, “And I’m standing here without any pants on. What’s been going on?”

Michael Woll

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“Christmas Cash” – 1

The economy sucks and so does the job market. But you know that! Craigslist, newspaper classified ads, employment agencies – I tried all of them and nothing worked. I heard encouraging words like “apply on line” and “part-time could lead to full-time.” No help. I kept hearing I have one talent. “You have a great voice. You should be an actor.”

I laughed at that remark. An  actor? I can’t memorize a tiny grocery list let alone Shakespeare! And I was told I have the dance moves of a rhino on ice. So I continued looking for work. I lived off my slim savings account for now. But for Christmas expenses I needed a job.

All the tv commercials were promoting Christmas. The new toys every kid wanted and that swell present your wife or girlfriend desired. A brand new car as a holiday present? Who did that? With my credit cards tapped out I needed cash for the holidays. My search continued.

I knew one job I could always get if I was desperate – PHONE SALES! Every list of employment opportunities included many companies advertising for phone solicitation. Finally desperation won. I looked at the company names and decided to go with the first company, Acme Inc. Wasn’t that the company the coyote ordered his stuff from when he chased the roadrunner? That never ended well!

One call later and I headed for Acme’s phone center. A fast-talking guy named Roger led me to his office. I looked at the rows and rows of people talking on their phones. I counted fifty total with five rows of ten desks.

“Sit,” Roger insisted as he closed the office door. “I remember your voice from the phone call. What’s your first name?”

“Alvin,” I responded. “But you can call me Al.”

“Okay Alvin. Here’s how this job works. I give you a script to read from. This week we’re selling Hamilton’s Encyclopedias. Disc or books are available.”

“Does anybody buy the books these days?”

“You never know. Sometimes your older customers don’t use computers and will buy the books. I’ll also give you the yes and no lists. If a customer says yes, follow these directions to close the sale. If a customer says no, these are the answers to say for any question or doubt the customer has.”

“Anything else I need to be aware of?”

“Let’s go.” Roger walked out of his office and I followed. “This is the break room, restrooms, refrigerators, vending machines. You get five minutes off every two hours and a dinner break for twenty minutes. Try not to take your dinner time before seven. You’ll miss out on some good sales.”

Roger continued walking into the call center. “Row three, you’ll be at station 27. Most guys would fight for this spot.” He stopped in front of my new home desk 27. “Girls, this is Alvin. Alvin, these are the twins Teri, number 26 and Tara, number 28. If it wasn’t for the numbers, I couldn’t tell one from the other.”

“Hi Teri and Tara.”

They both smiled in my direction as they talked on the phones. “Try to ignore them and just do your job,” Roger said. “I know that’s not easy. The reason we have this opening is because the last guy at 27 tried to date both of them.”

“I’m here to work. I need the money for Christmas.”

“Good. One more thing tonight’s incentive is $50. The first person with three confirmed sales gets this fifty dollar bill. Best of luck Alvin.”

“Call me Al.” But he was already gone. I opened the large phone book to M. Here goes nothing!

Michael Woll

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“Christmas Cash” – 2

Alvin was an okay name until the Christmas songs started dominating the radio. Alvin and the Chipmunks, need I say more? So call me Al please!

The first night at Acme was uneventful. A few sales and a lot of weird calls. Let me give you an example. I dialed the next number on the page and said,”Good evening. I have a unique opportunity for you tonight. My company purchased a boat load of encyclopedias from Hamilton Inc., the world’s largest publisher of encyclopedias. I can give you a great price if you act now.” Yes I was off script.

“You have a wonderful voice. I trust you,” the woman responded.

“You can have the entire world at your fingertips. Do you own a computer or would you like the books instead?”

“If you can bring the books to my house tonight I’ll buy them dear.”

“Before I get your credit card information, can I ask your age?”

“Seventy-five,” she answered proudly. “Come see me honey. Forget the books – just you! Get it while it’s hot!”

“I don’t think it’s been hot since Nixon was president.” I hung up the phone quickly. Of course there were a lot of people’s hangups and cursing before I could get into the sales script.

Teri, the blonde on my left, won the fifty dollar bill. As she walked up to get the cash, yea I watched her walk, I wondered if the callers saw the twins when they talked. I looked over at Tara. Why do twins always dress alike? Now I know why the last 27 was fired.

Here are some more insane reactions from my phone calls:

“Alvin? Are you a chipmunk?”

“You are part of the alien nation. I watch for you every night in the stars.”

“I can buy one book a month if that’s okay.”

“Are you sleeping with my wife? Would you like to?”

Anyway, I waited till the middle of the week before I asked Teri and Tara to a late dinner after work. They knew an Italian place, Lembertos, fifteen minutes away. To make it easier, I followed them in their car. It was a bit of a surprise that they didn’t have identical cars!

We sat in numerical order like we did at Acme. I checked over the menu as an older woman approached our table to take our order. The twins, in unison, ordered for all of us in ITALIAN! Unbelievable!

So much for the dumb blonde jokes, I was the dummy at this table. As we ate our eggplant parm and wine, I asked,”How long have you worked at Acme?”

“Four years next month,” Teri responded.

“Do you really enjoy talking on the phone?”

Tara laughed,”I’m on my cell all the time so why not get paid for it.”

I sipped my wine and noticed the twins even ate alike. “When you two get dressed in the morning, do you look at each other and not a mirror?”

They both laughed this time. Teri looked at Tara,”I told you he was funny. We still fight over the mirror every morning.”

I filled our wine glasses. “Do you always dress the same?”

Tara answered,”Ever since we were kids. Blame it on our mom. We never buy clothes unless we can purchase two of everything.”

I paid for dinner and we walked to our cars. Teri and Tara each kissed my cheeks. “Thanks for dinner Alvin.”

“Call me Al,” I smiled back. I watched their car drive off. Now I can’t wait to go to work tomorrow.

Michael Woll

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“Christmas Cash” – 3

Wow! My desk turned into a winter wonderland overnight. In the corner of my snow-covered desk glowed a tiny Christmas tree with flashing lights! Teri and Tara smiled over their handiwork. “You girls are too much. Even my apartment never looked this good for the holidays!”

“You’re welcome Alvin,” they responded in unison. “Look at our desks too.” Snowmen and candy canes decorated their desktops. A small string of red and green lights blinked to the Christmas carols playing over Acme’s speakers. Of course their desk displays were identical. “Roger lets us select the music to play.”

Roger appeared from his office and announced,”Our new product this week is our biggest seller every holiday season – Mrs. Smith’s Fruitcakes. Everybody loves fruitcakes at Christmas.” Our new phone scripts were passed out to everyone. “The first confirmed sale today wins this fruitcake.” He held it proudly for all of us to see.

I  said only to my blonde neighbors,”I’m going for the second sale. I don’t want a fruitcake. Most people avoid fruitcakes or people who act like fruitcakes.”

The girls laughed as they read over the new script. “You’re so bad,” Teri stated.

“It’s the ultimate gift to regift for the next holiday season. Besides, fruitcakes last forever. You never know how old they are unless you carbon-date them.”

Tara tried not to laugh,”Teri’s right. You are an evil man. Funny but evil.”

We reached for our phones. My black phone looked like it was covered with snow. I don’t know how they did it. I looked closer and saw a miniature winter village with houses, sleds and snow-covered trees. Oh yea, I’m supposed to be making phone calls!

The first call was always the strangest. I went through my script and waited for a fast hangup or a curse word you don’t use in front of grandma ever. But to my surprise – a sale! I got all the information and bragged,”I got a sale!”

The twins yelled loudly,”Alvin has the first sale!”

A smiling Roger handed me the boxed Mrs. Smith’s Fruitcake. “Good job Alvin. I’m sure you’ll enjoy your fruitcake or use it as a holiday gift.”

After Roger returned to his office, I said,”If I give this fruitcake to someone I know, I’ll never see them again. How come I never win the fifty dollar bills?”

We returned to the phones. What started out as a very profitable night slowed down. All I had the rest of the night was one more sale. If you’ve never had a job like this, and I hope you haven’t, they pay you a low hourly rate and bonus money for every sale.

I looked over my Christmas list and knew that I needed more money. My cell bill and next month’s rent cut into my holiday cash flow. I might have to use that fruitcake for a present after all.

The rest of the week the twins wore Santa hats. If they were Santa’s elves, the kids might be in line for Santa Claus but the dads would be in line for telling the twins what they wanted for Christmas. HO HO HO!

Selling fruitcakes was a lot like selling snow to Eskimos. It could be done just not easily. I better sell some fruitcakes fast!

Michael Woll

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“Christmas Cash” – 4

Three days till Christmas and I’m not finished shopping. Not for lack of time, it’s a lack of money. I rolled into Acme determined to have a good sales night. Roger posted a one hundred dollar bill as tonight’s bonus.

Teri and Tara were wearing identical, of course, green elf costumes, including little green hats that couldn’t completely cover their long blonde hair. “Hi Alvin.” They smiled and spoke in unison.

“Hi girls. You look wonderful and more distracting than usual.” They giggled. “I’m going for that hundred bucks if I can stop looking at my double vision of Christmas. Teri and Tara, you’re making my life great and terrible at the same time.”

“Sorry Alvin,” Teri answered. “Would it help if we wore brown paper bags to work?”

“No, I would still be gazing at my stereo sweethearts.” I laughed. “If you wore paper bags, it wouldn’t be any fun here.”

We finally got to the phone calls. Gotta move those fruitcakes! First call. I zipped through my little speech and waited for a response.

“What kind of fruit? Is it fresh fruit?”

“No it’s fruitcakes.”

“Cake, I like cake.”

“Fruitcake, fruitcake, the best of both worlds.”

Hangup! I tried the next number and had success.

“I’ll buy three if I can get them before Christmas.”

Yes! “If I have to, I’ll drive them to your house.”

Moments later I returned to desk 27 one hundred dollars richer. Teri and Tara clapped for me. Whenever society has picture phones, Teri and Tara will be instant millionaires. Nobody would say no to them!

The rest of the night was hit or miss. A few sales added to a productive evening. I decided to visit the mall tomorrow morning and finish my shopping. My Christmas cash idea worked!

The next night my entire life changed with one phone call. I called Browning Inc. I usually avoided calling companies but I had nothing to lose. I altered my script slightly to promote a company sale.

“Ted Browning here. I was walking by my secretary’s desk. What did you say about a great Christmas present for my employees?”

One thousand fruitcakes for his employees and ten for Ted’s family, I was walking on air!

One year has passed since that famous call. Let me catch you up. I replaced Roger as the manager at Acme. Teri and Tara are working for me at desks 1 and 2. The biggest news, I found a way to have the twins wear different clothes, for one day at least. I married Teri! One wedding dress allowed, sorry Tara.

It’s a great life! We were married on Christmas day by a justice of the peace dressed as Santa Claus.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I hope all your dreams come true!

Michael Woll

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