The Big Kaboom, a comic thriller

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The Big Kaboom is part One of Rooster: The Bog Kaboom, coming soon

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The Big Kaboom By Neil Crabtree Fiction Copyright 2010
Part One of Rooster: The Big Kaboom, my comic thriller. Get yourself

some!

1. Dream

I had a strange dream one night, weird stuff, a bunch of men sitting in a lounge or waiting area, being served by tall women in long white gowns and head pieces. I woke up startled for some reason, and thinking about Johnny Fallon. I wondered how he looked, after ten years in a Federal prison, with another fifteen years to go. People who‟ve never done time have no idea what it‟s like, have ideas about incarceration that come from TV shows and movies that end in one or two hours. My own judicial disaster seemed trivial to what my old partner had caught. Twenty-five years is forever. So when I went out my front door at seven in the morning and found Johnny there, leaning against a big black SUV parked in my neighbor‟s slot, my first reaction was shock, then panic. He‟d broken out and stolen a car and God knew what else and I was going to be late for work and arrested for harboring a— “Jesus. Get in here quick before you‟re spotted,” I said, heading to unlock my door again. There‟d be helicopters flying over any minute. “Rooster. Stop. Relax. ” He grinned at my paranoia. “It‟s cool.” I could hardly talk, surprised by his physical presence, the voice so calm. His short hair was lighter, there were lines on his once smooth face, and a scar showed like a seam in a patch of missing eyebrow. His grip shook my whole arm. He wore black jeans and boots and a gray short sleeve sweatshirt with a Harvard logo. I expected shackles on his legs, the chain cut at the weakest link dragging behind him. “Johnny, I can‟t believe my eyes. What are you doing here?” “Hey. They can‟t keep a good man down, right?” “They can usually keep him locked up.” “I‟m out. Sort of. Back in business anyway. Looking for a man I can trust.”

“Did you forget about ripping me off? What do you mean out? Out like free?” He laughed. “Out, but on a leash. You can help get me free. And make a lot of money too.” In the bright Miami morning, with the sound of traffic building up on the street in back of my condo, I felt the pressure of sticking to my daily routine overpowering the surprise of seeing Johnny on my sidewalk. Years of not seeing him had numbed me into repression of knowing him at all. He‟d become a buried memory, one I had no fondness remembering. My life had changed completely since I‟d seen him last. No more smuggler‟s life for me, no more bags of money, no cops bearing down. A normal life, once so impossible for me to even imagine, now started when I opened my eyes in the morning and went on nonstop throughout my working day. I didn‟t like changes in my schedule, had no use for a surprise visit from the living representative of the very worst time of my life. And I had a million reasons—or at least a quarter million reasons—not to believe a damn thing Johnny had to say. He‟d left me in real trouble years ago, disappeared without a care. I remembered that clearly. I wondered if he did. Johnny had a talent for downplaying the damage he caused. “I can meet you somewhere tonight,” I said, to let him know I did not share his playful mood. “But for right now, I‟ve got to pick up a kid on my way into work. He‟s waiting for me.” I saw the flicker in his steely blue eyes, though his smile stayed in place. He told people what to do, and did not ask if they liked it or not. That was his way. Being polite or considerate was unusual for him, like speaking a foreign language when he did not know all the right phrases. He looked for patience in the white clouds above us. A green minivan pulled into the parking lot and started honking the horn. I saw my neighbor lean out the van window and point at the black SUV. “I‟m heading to the airport,” Johnny said to me. He turned and saw the van and shook his head. “What‟s his problem?

“You‟re in his parking place,” I said. “What the fuck. There‟s two spaces right there by the curb.” “Closkey‟s a jerk.” Closkey started yelling. “ Hey. That‟s my space. Move your car.” Johnny shook his head. “I‟m serious, Rooster. I want to make good with you. This new deal I got going, it‟ll make us both rich.” “Let‟s talk some other time, Johnny. Right now, I just want to get to work.” Closkey climbed down from his van and came right up to where we stood, a fat hulk of a man, bigger than either of us but way too overweight. He panted like walking had been an exertion. “I told you to move your car,” he said to Johnny, who looked at me and laughed. “When I‟m done talking, Fat Boy. Now shut up and go park somewhere else.‟ Closkey couldn‟t believe what he heard. “I‟ll have you towed away,” he said. Johnny turned and got in Closkey‟s face, his solid presence intimidating the bigger man into moving back. “Do I know you?” Johnny asked. Closkey tried to talk but nothing came out. He shook his head no. “Then FUCK OFF,” Johnny roared. Closkey made the mistake of raising his hands to push away. Johnny moved so fast the fat man did not see the blow that knocked him back into his own bushes. He fell heavily and lay face down in the greenery. “Stupid fuck,” Johnny said. “Go away, Johnny,” I said. “Before someone calls the cops.‟ “He started it. You saw him raise his hand to me.” “Just go. Here‟s a card. My number‟s right there. Call me tonight.”

“I‟ll be gone for a while. I need to talk now” “Look, Johnny. I don‟t want any dealings with you. I don‟t want you to make me rich. It was all I could do to survive the last time you came round. We can talk but don‟t expect me to be your Bud. I‟m not your Bud.” “Rooster, you haven‟t even heard what I‟ve got to say. But okay. You‟re right. We‟ll talk again. In the meantime, this never happened. You never saw me.” He went and got into his Lincoln and pulled out, going too fast through our quiet little condominium community. I went to help Closkey, who was throwing up in the hedge. Not even eight in the morning, and my normal life seemed to be losing definition. I had no idea how Johnny got out of the correctional facility but I knew that nothing had changed him into a better human being in all the years of being corrected. “Who was that guy?” Closkey wanted to know, once I got him sitting up. “Never saw him before,” I said. “Bullshit, Rooster. You were talking with him.” He rubbed his jaw, spit blood out of his mouth. “No, I swear. He said he was looking for Laura Norwell.” That got Closkey‟s attention. Laura had lived in the condo between his and mine while she‟d been separated from her abusive husband. Closkey somehow found a way to get to her, and had actually spent the night at her place several times. One day she just disappeared. A moving van came and hauled her stuff out, and I never saw her again.I knew Closkey had worried about her jealous husband for a long time, and the only conversations we ever had were him asking if I‟d heard from her. “You mean that‟s her old man?” “I don‟t know. I didn‟t want to talk to him. He seemed really hostile.” I said all this with a straight face, watching the worry grow in his big protruding eyes.

“He attacked me in my front yard. You didn‟t tell him about me and Laura, did you?” And that‟s how I knew he bought the whole pile of bullshit. “Not a word. I don‟t talk to strangers about people in my neighborhood.” “I‟ve got to find her. Maybe warn her about this crazy guy coming round.” “You okay now? I really have to get on the road. I‟ve got to pick up my boss‟s kid and I‟m late already.” I helped him get to his feet. „Thanks, Rooster. Thanks for the help.” “Anytime, Big Guy.” “Buy you a beer later.” “Right.” He walked okay for a guy who‟d just been knocked out cold. I waved at him as I pulled my pick-up out of the lot. I laughed as I drove, sure now the fat man would not call the cops. I did not know the man who punched him. That‟s my story, and I‟m sticking to it. Now if I could have just stopped the scene, frozen the frame, hit the rewind button, I would have seen clearly an omen as ominous as a gypsy‟s curse. There it was, the prediction of my own destruction, contained in the tableau of me standing there like a dummy, while Johnny Fallon towered over my neighbor, knocked unconscious into the hedge. A thunderclap would have helped, with maybe a flash of lightning. A black crow could have landed on the parked car, a deranged laugh could have been heard from a crazy woman locked in a second floor room, the rattle of a snake could have startled me from behind as the heavy bass chords of a huge piped organ sounded spookily out of nowhere. Why is it that in real life we are denied these useful props? If I had known how many people would die as a direct result of Johnny‟s reappearance, I might have called 911 right then and there. But standing on my sidewalk in the clear morning light, all I‟d thought was, this is a big hassle, and I‟m going to be late for work. Late for work! In

a month‟s time I‟d see a car full of people blown to bits, my family threatened, my lawyer kidnapped and I‟d be accused of his murder. And then the really bad stuff would happen. It was all there, if I‟d only paid attention. Johnny should never have been out of prison. That was a major warning sign. He should never have come to me for help in his crazy scheme. I should have defended my neighbor from attack, even though, really, I didn‟t like him, and thought he had it coming. I had options, I must have had options even then, things I could have done, had I sensed the danger. But not me, not good old Rooster. I had a normal life now, after years of trying. I was a straight arrow, hard-working, tax paying member of the community. I felt safe from all those crazy kind of things. I headed for the expressway, unaware that there‟d be no more simply following the schedule. Everything that I did that day would have a different edge to it, shaped by Johnny and his talk of money, and I‟d be oblivious to it all, heading blindly to the big kaboom.

2. Kids

When I pulled into the parking lot of Friendly Counseling, I saw young men, teenagers mostly, policing the grounds, scrubbing the walkways, carrying big plastic bags of trash to the dumpster, doing their chores under the watchful eyes of two counselors, a heavy set brownskinned man in gray sweats and a skinny white dude in black shorts and a T-shirt that advertised a local radio station. There were no fences or barbed wire here. This was a rehabilitation center, not a jail; in fact, it was the alternative to jail for first-time drug offenders and harmless potheads. Junior had completed the first six months and was now eligible for work release. He sat on the picnic table, shaking his head as I slowed the pickup. An athletic blockhead of a boy, sixteen and looking very much like Oscar De La Hoya, he bounded off the table and climbed in the passenger side. “Man, Rooster, you get later every day,” he said as we drove off. “I‟m not used to being in the chauffer business.” “I‟m kidding, right? Got my smokes?” “In the glove compartment.” “You da man.‟ Junior found his cigs and lighter and even remembered to roll down the window. “I thought you were going to quit,” I said. “Changed my mind. I got these people busting my balls all day about my addiction. Over a couple skinny joints. So fuck it. This is about the only pleasure I get that won‟t get me in trouble in a piss test.” We rode through a God-forsaken part of Miami that once must have been run by carnival people, architecture out of Popeye cartoons, beat-looking people and gangstas, pawn shops and strip clubs and liquor stores with iron grating over the windows, somebody‟s grandma pushing a

shopping cart full of debris and aluminum cans, two different kinds of shoes on her feet, a bandana on her head and a Happy Face T-shirt with the eyes X‟d out. “How‟re you doing in the program?” “Two more months.” Junior blew a cloud of smoke sideways out the window, watching the old lady stumble as she crossed the railroad tracks. “Sometimes I think I should have gone to trial, done the jail time. Be done by now.” “You don‟t want to go to jail, kid. Jail sucks.” “Yeah? You ever do time?” I blinked, looked at the road. “A partner of mine caught Federal time. Twenty five years.” “Damn. That‟s like Star Wars time. You get out and the world‟s changed. There‟s flying cars and shit. Pussy-in-a-can. Never catch up with all that.” “You don‟t want a record. Your folks would freak.” “That is so true. They‟re half freaked now.” “So do the program and lay low for a while.” “Listen to him. Rooster the man with the plan. Keeping it all cool.” “Jackass.” “Let me use your cell phone, man. I got to call my girl before she gets to school.” So I drove while Junior talked, gesturing, making faces, another brotha from a different motha, the kids so hip to black culture the color line had faded edges, calling each other my nigga this, my nigga that, stuff that started riots when I was young. Sometimes I thought about how these kids were just like my hippie buddies when I was young. Only instead of joints they smoked blunts, pot wrapped in cigar leaves, for Christ‟s sake. Did they inherit the Halfway Houses as part of the legacy? Peace and love, well, I was never that kind of hippie. We were more into the underground commerce side of things. Next to me the kid jumped up and down in the seat, the phone shoved nearly into his ear. Junior laughed so hard he farted and made a crazy face.

On the radio, the oldies station offered some disco version of a once decent song. Junior punched the buttons until he found some booty music, never once interrupting his conversation with someone somewhere else. The cab filled with semi-pornographic chants. Overhead, as we entered the expressway, the billboard showed an athletic man shirtless, wearing tight white jeans with a pronounced bulge at the crotch. “ARE YOU READY FOR GREATNESS?” the ad line read. Dr. Graytly‟s penis augmentation had become the most popular cosmetic procedure since Botox. Greatness was the theme of an ad campaign that seemed to be everywhere at once. There were waiting lists for months at the authorized clinics. Going to the beach was out of the question at this point, ruined by a parade of goofballs with what looked like sausages stuffed into their Speedos, unaware of the young girls laughing at them. We passed a PCAmerica store, customers of mine, and I remembered an order I had to deliver. There was no sense wondering about Greatness or halfway houses or Star Wars time. I had work to do.

3. TopShelf

At TopShelf Computer, things were already busy. A semi sat parked at the loading dock. Munchi backed the tow motor out of its trailer holding a stacked and shrink-wrapped pallet of large boxes. Raul, Santos and another man, the semi driver probably, stood drinking Cuban coffee and jabbering away in Spanish. The parking lot was full of cars new and old. The ladies from the assembly line stood outside on a smoke break, in bright colored old clothes they didn‟t mind getting dirty, tight across their big butts and bosoms. They watched us park, greeted Junior warmly. He was their boy too, not just Arturo‟s. These were immigrant women, well acquainted with how easy it is to get on the wrong side of the law. Whether they were legal or not didn‟t matter to me. They were my ladies, always there to share their bread or desserts, and joke around, our communication a pleasurable puzzle of Spanish, English, sign language and charades, playful and mostly concerned with my sex life or hangovers. By the time I made it inside the offices I carried a little plastic cup of espresso and a piece of buttered Cuban bread. Antonio waved to me from the cage, a fenced in area where the small but valuable computer parts, CPUs and memory and hard drives, were kept under lock and key. Derrick, our Jamaican head tech and weed connection, looked up as I passed the window to the lab, where the specialty computers were serviced and prepped with software. Derrick made a gesture, a phone of his hand saying call me, and I nodded. Penelope was behind her desk, looking stunning in a tight white top that showed off the golden tan she acquired on her boyfriend‟s catamaran over the weekend. She was on the phone, speaking Spanish in her sultry voice, with a lot of mi amors and mi vidas and laughing out loud. She winked as I went to the door into the offices.

As I entered the conference room, Arturo sat with two men, neatly dressed in suits and ties, obviously not from Miami, an Asian with a big smile, and his companion, a spitting image of the Cornhusker mascot of the University of Nebraska. Arturo sat at the head of the table, looking very pleased with the meeting so far. The fact that he had not mentioned this meeting to me did not seem to bother him at all. I stood in the doorway, unsure of whether to enter. “Rooster, get in here,” Arturo said playfully, like this was something I would really enjoy. “Gentlemen, this is Rooster McGhee, the man who sold all those super servers I showed you earlier. Rooster, this is Tony Wang and Jeremy Odom of the DooMee Corporation. They‟re here early to bring us some very good news.” I had been in business long enough to know when something was introduced as good news, disaster was just around the corner. What had Arturo gotten us into now? Jeremy stood up and pumped my hand, beaming goodwill like radioactivity. “The DooMee Corporation wants to use TopShelf Computer as its US distribution hub,” Arturo explained. “We will be the fulfillment center for both the reseller channel and direct sales.” Everyone in the room seemed to know what was going on except me, and they were hoping for my approval, I could sense that. Approval for what? “And what does DooMee Corporation want us to distribute?” I asked. They looked at each. Jeremy elected himself to make the presentation. “Are you an adventurous man?” he asked. “I like to think so.” “Well, I‟d like you to try something. An adventure. You‟re not a prudish man? Arturo seems to think you have an open mind. Is that right?” “What mind I have is usually open, that‟s correct. Why?”

“Do me a favor,” Jeremy said, picking up what looked like half a motorcycle helmet. He handed it to me. “Put this on for a minute.” “What is it?” “It‟s a kind of virtual reality movie player.” “And it runs off the notebook? I like it already.” “Wait until you see the show.” I put on the helmet and Jeremy helped adjust it to my head. Quiet jazz music played through the earpiece, excellent quality, as though a live band was in the room. Then the visor back became a video display, and a beautiful young woman in a bikini climbed out of a hot tub and walked right up to me until she was close enough I could hear the sound of the wet fabric sliding off her skin as she dropped the bikini top and lifted her large golden breasts to my face, the 3D look and sound so real I reached out to touch her. “Holy shit,” I said, grabbing empty air. The other men laughed. “Keep watching,” Arturo called out from somewhere far away. The helmet filled with the sound of her breathing as she sat down on a bed and urged me closer. “Watch this,” she whispered into my ears. With both hands she pulled the bikini bottom down off her hips and slid it down her long legs and suddenly I was right there between her legs and I felt shocked as she opened her legs and touched her dark curly hair. “Stand up,” Jeremy said, pulling me to my feet. And when I stood and looked down on her lying open before me she was reaching up to pull me on top of her. I heard her breathing hard and when she whispered “Take me now” I wanted to do just that. I pulled the helmet off and took a deep breath, embarrassed to be back in the well-lit office with three men all looking at me. “That is fantastic,” I said finally.

“The DooMee Virtual Player has been in development for some time. Now that the DooMee Interactive Device is ready to ship, we have the complete package,” Tony Wang explained. “This seemed pretty interactive to me,” I said. I put the Virtual Player on the table, peeking inside to see if the girl was still there waiting. “It shuts off when the helmet is lifted,” Jeremy said. He picked up a plain brown box and lifted out a white plastic device peculiarly shaped like a short elephant‟s trunk with two cords hanging down and a bright pink interior of softer material. Jeremy handed it to me. Its obscene form made its function pretty obvious. “That is the DooMee Interactive Device.” “You‟re kidding, right?” I put my fingers into the small cylindrical hole and the pink liner felt like plastic-wrapped ground beef, malleable but capable of holding a shape. “This is no fucking joke,” Jeremy said, and the three men laughed. “Let me explain,” Tony said. “Virtual reality players and helmets will be all over the market next quarter and the margins will erode very quickly. Where we differentiate ourselves is with the ID, the short name for the Interactive Device. When you plug this into the Virtual Player, the 3D sexual experience is intensified to the point that fantasy becomes reality, and sexual satisfaction is achieved.” Arturo leaned forward. “The Main Stream OEMs don‟t want to touch this. I checked. It‟s too controversial for them. Tony has the market cornered.” Jeremy took the cord from the ID and plugged into the Virtual Player. “You really should try it,” he said. “I think I‟ll pass,” I told him. “It‟s a little early for me to be pulling my dick out at work.” Arturo took the device and looked inside. “You use a condom with this, to keep it clean. The inside lining is washable, just undo the Velcro snaps. And it adjusts to any size, even an extra large like myself.”

Jeremy laughed but Arturo was not kidding. Tony smiled. He was proud of his product. “The interior is lined with a plasmatic material,” he said, “that pulses from tip to base and back again when activated, simulating sexual intercourse.” “The market is ready for a technology break-through in adult sex products,” he continued. “Think about it. Viagra, Cialis, all advertised day and night on television and radio. Erectile Dysfunction is dealt with pharmaceutically, clinically and prosthetically, in newspapers, on radio and TV. These devices will do more to restore sexual vitality than all of the pills. These products work.” I had to admit the product certainly worked on me. The combination of the Virtual Player while wearing the Interactive Device would be the closest thing to a wet dream I‟d ever experienced, no doubt at all. I could still see the exotic young woman touching herself. Yikes. “Arturo was telling us that you have connections with PCAmerica,” Jeremy said. “We would like to get the product into a retail chain.” “Look next door to the computer store and what do you find?” Tony asked. “In the same shopping plaza there is a drug store selling ribbed condoms, KY Jelly, and all the sex enhancement compounds. In addition to being the outlets for prescription erectile dysfunction pills like Viagra. This product is marketed as a technological alternative to drug therapy, with none of the side effects. A technology store should have no problem with these products. Jeremy has the ads right here.” . Jeremy brought up a large leather bound portfolio and unzippered it, opening the display on the tabletop. There were full color advertising posters on stiff backing, with a thick lamination protecting each. The first showed a doctor in white lab coat, stethoscope around his neck, holding a DooMee Interactive Device, showing it to a man and woman chosen to represent Average America seated before him attentively, with a caption in bold letters:

„Yes, there is a treatment for your condition without drugs and their dangerous side effects. It‟s the DooMee Interactive Device.‟ The text went on to pitch the product on the same lines, citing numerous doctors and medical reports on the side effects of prescription drug treatments, side effects like heart attack, stroke, nausea, arrhythmia, blindness. Jeremy turned the page and the next ad was a poster of the beautiful woman from the video in a skintight dress and high heels. “When are you going to DooMee?” she asks. “We let the venue pick the advertising theme,” Tony Wang said. The portfolio held ten different variations on the two themes. Each showed the quality work of a major ad agency. I had to laugh. These guys had done their homework. “The TV ads start soon,” Tony told him. “What do you think?” “Why does it need the computer? Can you play video from another source?” I asked. Tony Wang smiled, his even white teeth large and artificial looking. “A feature is included in the software that requires computer processing. Let me show you.” He pulled the laptop to him and began a series of mouse clicks and key commands. “Now take a look in the visor.” I pulled the helmet back on. The woman in the bikini again climbed from the hot tub. But this time the woman was Sarah Palin, former governor of the great state of Alaska and undoubtedly the most attractive politician I‟d ever seen, her hair pulled back and wet curls over her ears, her eyeglasses slightly steamed up. She dropped the bikini top and I was so embarrassed I pulled the helmet off. “Jesus. That‟s obscene.” “It works with any digitized photo. Imagine the possibilities.” “Tea party takes on a whole new meaning.” “Would you like to see Hillary Clinton?”

“God, no. I‟ve seen enough.” “The print ads come out in twenty magazines in thirty days. The TV and radio spots start next month. Our website has started its campaign already.” Tony Wang was determined to make me understand that this was indeed the Next Big Thing. “Oh. One more thing,” Arturo said. “Dr. Graytly will be endorsing the product on national television. He will recommend the DooMee as part of the augmentation post-op therapy.” I was being pitched, more out of courtesy than anything else. I was sure Arturo had already signed whatever contracts were involved, and product was en route to TopShelf even as they sat bringing me into the picture. Arturo knew more about making money than I did, knew a good deal and how to seize an opportunity. I looked at my partner‟s steady gaze, and the Asian man who for some reason wanted my approval. My objection would be bad form, nothing more. “Sure,” I said. “Let‟s see what we can do.” “We‟re all going to South Beach tonight,” Arturo said. “To celebrate.” “I wish I could,” I said. Arturo gave me The Look. “Mr. Wang,” I said, taking the little man‟s arm. “You know I will work hard to help you succeed. But I have to pick someone up at the airport tonight and I won‟t be able to make it. Is that okay with you?” “Mr. Rooster, you do what you need to do. Get a good night‟s sleep. So you can work hard tomorrow, right? Arturo and Penelope can show us around.” The three of them went back to Arturo‟s office to finalize the terms. I stayed back, and re-boxed the two products. Through the window the sun shone brightly off the windshield of my pickup. Arturo stuck his head back in the door. “I was counting on you going with us,” he said, somewhat cross. “That‟s why surprises in business are always a bad idea, Arturo. Maybe next time you make a deal without consulting me you‟ll remember this.”

Arturo shook his head. “Touché. Oh. I nearly forgot. Call Sheldon.” “Sheldon?” “Yeah. The lawyer who stole your wife. He called twice, says it‟s urgent.” He went back to his guests, a smirk on his face, the last laugh. It made me angry that he thought he should be such a wise-ass. Maybe the DooMee would make enough money I could get out of here. Maybe Johnny‟s deal wasn‟t so bad after all. The sudden shift in the company‟s product focus seemed ridiculous, but I sure didn‟t feel like laughing. I took the boxes out to the Raul, the warehouse manager, to be bar-coded and received as inventory. “What is it?” Raul asked. “Our new product. Pussy-In-A Can.” “Should I put it as Peripheral or Accessory?” “Peripheral sounds right.” “SKU numbers for each item?” “Sure. The manufacturer‟s codes are on the boxes.” “I‟ll use their product descriptions.” “Whatever you think is best.” “Does Arturo know about this?” “It‟s his baby.” Raul put on his glasses and began inputting the data of the product stickers into his computer. “Pussy-In-A-Can,” he muttered. “Rooster, you say some crazy things.” “It‟s a crazy world,” I told him, meaning every word.

4. Sheldon

I didn‟t usually get calls from the man who stole my wife, so even expecting to hear from Sheldon, it took a second to understand who it was, less than that to remember why I disliked him. “Rooster, Sheldon Teller here.” That‟s how Sheldon talked, even though I had known him for years, and certainly recognized his voice. “Jesus. Is something wrong?” I worried something had happened to my ex, or our teenaged son. “Listen, something‟s not right, but it‟s not me or my family. Your partner in crime called me. You guys got a lot of nerve, Rooster.” “What are you talking about, Sheldon? Who called you?” “Fallon called me. He says I owe him a half a million dollars. And he‟s coming to get it.” “Johnny‟s in Federal prison.” I saw no reason to tell him anything. “He‟s supposed to be in prison. He deserves to be in prison. But he‟s out.” “He can‟t be. He caught twenty-five to—“ “Rooster, listen to me. He called me. He‟s on the street. I got calls in to find out how, but it doesn‟t matter how. You better tell your crazy friend to keep the hell away from me or he‟s going to be back in prison so fast he won‟t remember being out. I‟m not some rookie lawyer out of Stetson. I‟ve been doing this a long time. I play golf with people who will eat your lunch if you guys mess with me.” “Sheldon, I haven‟t heard from Johnny in ten years.” I wished it was true. “I‟m telling you. Don‟t mess with me, Rooster. I‟m not afraid of Johnny Fallon.” “I hope you didn‟t tell him that.” “What? You think I should worry about some Cocaine Cowboy? I thought you‟d gone straight, Rooster. You‟ve got a son who thinks the world of you.”

“Sheldon, you listen to me. I don‟t have anything to do with this shit.” “I want to hear from you that you‟ll take care of this. That‟s why I‟m calling you. I‟m giving you a chance to take care of this problem before I have to use my resources and take of it. Understand me? You‟ve got a nice little computer business going. You work hard. Don‟t give it all up over some hare-brained extortion scheme.” “Are you familiar with the expression „Go fuck yourself‟?” “Just take care of this, wise guy.” He hung up before I could respond. By then I‟d missed my turn as the spaghetti tangle of merging highways left me heading the opposite direction of my destination, west not east, and I had to exit and get back on again. I was in a fine mood for a customer call, a fine mood indeed.

I puzzled over Sheldon‟s call as I walked into the tiled lobby of Kimberlin Research, one of the bio-med industry‟s rising stars. When I first started dealing with Kimberlin, they occupied two small offices and a lab in the industrial park east of Florida Atlantic University. Now they had offices in Blue Lake, the campus of buildings IBM built to develop their first Personal Computers in the early eighties, the place where the PC business started. IBM was long gone from Boca Raton, but major technology companies now leased different buildings at the site Big Blue abandoned. The facilities had been built to outlast hurricanes long before Hurricane Andrew forced Florida to change its building codes, and each part of the campus had triple power backup generators that would run indefinitely when local power lines were down. Here Bill Gates had made the sale of his disk operating system, or DOS, and Microsoft became the standard for nearly every computer in the world. I loved the place and its history, and was happy to see my friend Jim Patterson had survived the recession and grown his business so well. The receptionist paged Patterson while I waited near the three-level fountain and watched water flow from basin to basin with a comforting gurgle and soft splash in the bottom pool.

Watching it made me want to pee, and I was about to ask for the men‟s room when a burly man with a Marine‟s crewcut head called to me across the lobby. “Rooster! Why didn‟t you call? I‟ve got a board meeting in thirty minutes.” Patterson was a big man whose bulk was nicely disguised by the expensive Italian wool of his gray suit. He looked bigger than he had the last time I‟d met with him. His grip on my hand still had the force of a vise, and shook my whole arm up and down. “Hey, Jim. Your new IT manager called me up here. He wants to return all the equipment I just delivered. Says the machines are defective.” “What? I‟ve never had trouble with your computers. Who‟d you talk to?” “Bob Whitehead called in and complained.” “Whitehead? He‟s no manager. Let‟s go see him. The regular guy‟s on vacation.” “I know Whitehead from other jobs he‟s had.” “And what?” “What he lacks in technical skills, he makes up by misunderstanding simple facts.” “I didn‟t hire him. HR liked his resume.” “I want to check the equipment.” “Sure. I‟ve got ten minutes.” Patterson gave me a summary of the new projects Kimberlin was working on as we walked through the double doors and the CEO used his security card to admit us to the Computer Room. Whitehead was at his desk eating a sandwich, and nearly choked as the head of the company came through the door with an old enemy. He spit a mouthful of bread and bacon into a napkin and jumped up. “Did you call TopShelf Computers and complain about machines we ordered in?” Patterson demanded. “Yes sir. They won‟t run. I‟ve got them on the bench over there.”

“Hello, Whitehead. It‟s good to see you again,” I said, mister nice guy. “I thought you were leaving the computer business. And here we are together again.” “McGhee, I didn‟t know you were coming.” Whitehead backed away as if afraid that I might hit him, as I had threatened to do the last time we‟d met. “Rooster is an old friend of mine, Whitehead. When this company didn‟t have two nickels to rub together, he brought in leasing companies to finance the equipment we needed to survive. If you have a problem with him, I want to hear about it right now.” Whitehead watched as I went to the bench and began removing the case covers of the TopShelf equipment, then turned back to his boss. “There‟s no problem. I just need the equipment to work. That‟s all. It shuts down as soon as it comes on. One won‟t post. I reported the problem to their tech staff.” On the floor near his bench was a stack of Dell computer boxes, computers Kimberlin should have been buying from me. I hated seeing that Dell was already sending computers here, after I‟d worked for years to keep them out. This was Whitehead‟s doing. I was sure of it. I stopped with a power cord in my hand, thinking what a nice garrote it would make, then reached over and moved one of the computer parts. It wiggled freely in my hand. I went to each of the machines and did the same. “I found the problem.” “Can you fix it?” Patterson asked. “In no time.” “What is it?” “It‟s the ID-Ten-T error.” “What?” Whitehead said. I went to the whiteboard hung on the wall over the bench and picked up a grease pen and wrote: ID10T

“The ID-Ten-T error is what we get when some idiot,” I paused and stared at Whitehead, “goes into a computer he knows nothing about and moves the parts around. The heatsink has been moved on this processor, see here, Jim? So when the machine comes on and the processor has no cooling, it shuts down to keep itself from burning up. And on this one here, the memory module is installed backwards, so it‟s not making contact with the motherboard.” “That‟s how they were when I opened them,” Whitehead protested. Patterson looked at me, and I shook my head, and handed over the diagnostic test papers from my pocket. “The machines wouldn‟t even run these tests, much less pass them, if they had parts positioned like this,” I explained as he looked at the printed pages. “I‟ve seen this problem at Mr. Whitehead‟s previous employment as well. He likes to take things apart. Then he can‟t remember how to put them back together. The best way to protect your computer equipment and keep it working properly is to make sure Mr. Whitehead never touches it. Isn‟t that right, Bobby Boy?” “Listen, McGhee----“ “I‟ve got a board meeting to go to,” Patterson said, interrupting Whitehead. “Come on, Rooster, I‟ll walk you out.” “I can fix these,” I said. “Let Whitehead do it. Got that? If these machines aren‟t up and running when I get out of my meeting, you‟re fired. You better get it right too.” “But I don‟t know how to rebuild these units,” Whitehead complained. “You‟ve got an hour to learn.” “Yes sir.” I smiled. “Call Derrick,” he said. “I‟m sure he‟d love to help you out.” On the way out, Patterson apologized for Whitehead. He asked something he had asked several times over the years. “Why don‟t you come to work for me, Rooster? You‟ll be set for life.”

And again I politely declined. I said I liked where I was, which was almost true, and liked the people I worked with, also true. “And these people depend on me for their jobs,” true as well, and important to me. What I never said or could say was that I didn‟t want his HR department to run my background check. I didn‟t want to have a conversation with him about working with Johnny Fallon, or about my conviction, about things that decent people should not have to worry about. If you weren‟t in The Business, you didn‟t know about The Business. And if you‟d been in The Business, there were things you remembered you never talked about, not with anybody in the normal world. Who could you tell your stories to?

5. (Way Back When)

Johnny Fallon and I rode horses down a rocky trail coming from way up in the Sierras behind Santa Marta. We rode into a farmyard with five other horsemen escorting us, guides and bodyguards, and four tough teenagers who had walked and run with us from the high country to keep the horses on the path. There we rested, drinking cervezas and waiting for the jeeps and trucks to come meet us, at the field serving two farmhouses, where the road ended going up the mountain and the trail for mules and horses began. In the twilight we watched the headlights of the Suzuki coming up, disappearing as the road curved behind trees and boulders and reappearing as bouncing beams as the little jeep raced dangerously close to the edge of the cliffs as it fought its way over ditches and rocks. Johnny and I passed a joint back and forth, too tired and stiff to talk at first, and then feeling better as the peppery smoke clouded around us. By the time the jeep arrived, we were stoked. Orlando learned the bad news. He stood talking with the driver, a tall wiry black man wearing a campesino hat and smoking a cigar, looking over to where Johnny and I sat leaning against the wall of the shelter arguing, joking, distracting ourselves from the strangeness of locale and situation. “I can‟t believe you talked me into it,” Johnny said. “Two thousand pounds, big deal. You saw those poor people. No electricity, no plumbing, I mean Jesus, Johnny. You did the right thing.” “The right thing? I just bought forty bales of ragweed.” “Hey. They cleaned out all the seeds.” “And rocks. Those bastards had put rocks in the bales to boost the weight.” “And so they cleaned out the rocks too.” I said.

“We wasted a whole day there. Five thousand pounds of primo you told me.” Johnny laughed again, me too, remembering the sorry procession of skinny villagers bringing their stash down from the hills on donkeys, a caravan of gray burros as sorry-looking as Eeyore, each carrying two burlap bales of marijuana balanced on its side, guarded by men in serapes with machetes and one or two ancient shotguns. Johnny and I sat eating a sancocho of chicken and yucca out of wooden bowls with the village jefe in the shade on the porch, talking bullshit in broken Spanish and hand gestures and Orlando‟s occasionally accurate translation. We had smoked two pipes stuffed with the gold buds brought down from higher up and were tired and hungry and grateful for the hospitality and the chance to get off the damn horses for a while. We were the only gringos the villagers had ever seen. The children had wanted to touch us. They could not believe my red hair. When the villagers opened the bales, the pot looked ancient, dry and crumbling buds that dumped big pockets of dark seeds into the bottom of each bag. Johnny had shouted at them, No, no, no, no, grabbing handfuls of the dried out herb and tossing it in the air. He made the purveyors clean each bale on the flat two-man colanders used to sort coffee beans, accepting only the intact buds and leaves, watching fascinated as the piles of seeds, rocks and debris grew larger beneath the sifted pot. I was glad we were stoned, for there would have been trouble trying to leave without making a purchase. “A thousand pounds of rocks and seeds, oh sweet Jesus. I couldn‟t believe my eyes.” Johnny liked telling the story of his momentary lapse of reason. We were still laughing when Orlando approached with a scared look on his face. “What‟s up, Doofus?” Johnny asked him. Orlando was our interpreter, a fat lazy middle-aged Panamanian pressed into service by Don Ricardo, head of the gangster family that supplied the marijuana and loading zone. Orlando was terrified of Don Ricardo but more terrified of Johnny Fallon, who asked him to translate word for word his insulting responses to Don Ricardo‟s demands for more money, responses that,

if made by a Colombian, would have guaranteed a quick and brutal death. I knew enough Spanish to tell that Orlando softened Johnny‟s words considerably before relaying them to the drug lord. “There is a problem,” Orlando said. The tall black man stood beside him grinning. I stood up, signaled for Johnny to do the same. “Who is this man, Orlando?” “This is Hugo, Don Ricardo‟s uncle.” “Senor Hugo,” I extended his hand and the black man took it in a strong grip. “Me llama Rooster. Y mi amigo, Juan.” The black man shook Johnny‟s hand in turn, pleased by our manners, and attempt at Spanish. “Con mucho gusto,” Hugo said. “Please to meet you,” he surprised us. “You speak English?” Johnny asked. “Please to meet you,” Hugo repeated, smiling. Johnny looked at me. I looked at Orlando. “So what‟s the problem?” “The commandante of DAS for the region is looking for you. His soldiers are in the village two miles down the road,” Orlando said. “I thought Don Ricardo guaranteed our safety,” Johnny said. The black man spoke quickly to Orlando. “There is no danger. It‟s only Don Ricardo has not paid him. He wants to hold you at the carcel until he gets paid,” Orlando said. “Carcel?” I did not recognize the word. “The jail, like a house in the village,” Orlando explained. “Fuck that,” Johnny said. “No way.” “No way,” Hugo repeated. I could tell he did not like this scenario either. “It would only be a couple days. You can stay in the hotel.” “Tell Hugo I am very concerned how Don Ricardo handles his business,” Johnny insisted. “I can‟t afford this trouble. I can‟t be held, I can‟t be photographed, I can‟t be fingerprinted. You guys get this fixed right now or there will be no business. Tell him that.”

Orlando translated while Johnny and I exchanged looks. “I knew these beaners would fuck this up,” Johnny said. “Fifty thousand pounds of reefer and this guy can‟t make his payoffs. Ol‟ Rickie needs to tighten up.” “I don‟t think he pays anyone until he absolutely has to,” I said. “That was part of the delay up the mountain. The farmers say they never got paid on the last deal.” “Well, we paid him. This is his operation. Wait until I see that bastard.” “There‟s got to be another way down this mountain.” “These are your buddies, Rooster. Straighten this mess out.” I knew the scenario Johnny feared most. The soldiers would hold us, and Don Ricardo would stall delivering the money, and the soldiers would ask the DEA man in Barranquilla what he would pay for two gringo marimberos caught red-handed in the Sierras. Hugo had listened to our conversation, not needing a translator to see how pissed Johnny was. He pushed Orlando toward us. “Hugo has another way to do this,” Orlando said. “He wants to go north, across the Sierras into La Guajira. I told him that was too dangerous.” Johnny grabbed Orlando by the shirt. “Who told you to say that? Did I tell you to say that? You fat fuck.” Orlando knew to keep his hands down and his mouth shut. “Rooster, tell Hugo we are in his hands. We depend on his experience to get us down the mountain and away from the soldiers,” Johnny said, shoving Orlando aside. I tried to think of the words. “La idea tuyo es un buen idea, Senor Hugo,” I began. “Si,” Hugo responded. He said something about knowing the way, this was his home. His family was in La Guajira, the coastal wildlands leading to Venezuela. I caught most of it, asking Hugo to speak slowly, despacio, so I could keep up. “Two days ride,” I told Johnny. “His family will meet us.”

Hugo gestured to Orlando, said something else. I got the impression that the ride would be three days if Orlando went with us, he was such a poor horseman. He nodded. “We‟ll send Orlando down the mountain to tell Rickie Ricardo the plan. Make sure someone is there to meet us.” I explained to Johnny. “Orlando, come here.” Johnny‟s face had the texture and weight of stone. “You tell the soldiers where we are and I will find you and kill you with my bare hands. Do you understand?” He shook his finger in the fat man‟s face. “Yes, Mr. John, but it is a danger---“ “What do you know about danger?” Johnny roared. Hugo quickly stepped between the two men, pushed Orlando to ground on his back. From behind his back he drew a nine-millimeter automatic and pointed it at Orlando, who cried out in terror. Hugo pulled the slide, cocking the weapon to fire. Johnny and I froze. “Now what?” Johnny asked. “Hugo,” I started to say. Hugo began speaking to Orlando in a deep voice full of menace. The words were hard to follow, a mixture of Spanish and Indian words, and Orlando ended on his knees begging for his life. Hugo looked to us gringos. “No, Hugo,” I said. I waved my hands. No. “What the fuck do you care?” Johnny asked me. “Let him shoot him if he wants. It‟s not our business.” He turned away, looking for his unfinished beer. “Hugo, por favor,” I continued. “No…uh, Don‟t kill him,” I said, unable to think of the right words, afraid if I got it wrong the gun would go off. “Mr. Rooster,” Orlando said in desperation. “Tell him I will do what has to be done. I work for you. Always I do what you say.” “No,” I repeated to Hugo. The black man looked to each of us, uncocked the gun, put it away. “No kill.”

Orlando scrambled away. I could see he had soiled his pants. Johnny shrugged, held out his hand. “Hugo, you‟re one tough son of a bitch.” “Sonabitch,” Hugo said, shaking the hand, tapping Johnny‟s chest with one long finger. “We are sonabitch.” He laughed, glad the phrase came out so well. “Right,” Johnny agreed. He looked to me. “Ask him if he has another gun.” We spent the night there at the farmhouse, drinking aguardiente with Hugo and his men until two bottles were gone. There was no electricity anywhere for miles around, and when I stepped away from the campfire to piss, the night seemed to stretch so far into space that time itself bent to accommodate the millions of stars. As I stood in the bushes to the side of the trail and heard the night sounds of animals up in the deeper vegetation, I could believe there were Indians, jaguars, mountain gorillas, undisturbed all these centuries, a Lost World, no longer myth but real enough to see and touch by simply walking out into the dark night. It did not scare me to be at the edge of such a jungle. I‟d been looking for wildness like that, some place no one had civilized, something you dreamed of but never expect to see When we awoke the sun had barely risen. The air was chilled, smelled of smoke and damp vegetation. Around us the mountain range looked purple and black, big rocky formations surrounded in cloud with dark invisible valleys in between, high solid peaks turning orange and yellow as the sun struggled to get above them. The Sierras looked new, like they had only sprung from the earth a month ago, jagged rocks thousands of feet high without the gradual transition from rolling hills. The Sierras rose five thousand feet less than a mile from the flat beach at Santa Marta. From our mountain camp we saw Sierra Nevada and its white snow-capped peak three mountains north of us, from our vantage point at the top of the world. It was like waking up still stoned, tripping to vistas hidden by mother night. Hugo and the men were up, had fresh horses saddled and ready for us. Breakfast was eggs and meat and arepas cooked over the campfire. We drank strong coffee in tin cups, relieved ourselves in the trench latrine, splashed icy cold water on our faces from the mountain stream.

Hugo gave us straw cowboy hats and serapes to wear over our gringo clothes. Soon we were up in the saddle, following Hugo and a companion, three bodyguards on mules trailing behind us. While the soldiers waited for us to come down the west slope, we would climb east, toward the higher Sierra ranges, up them then down again, into the badlands, La Guajira. “Wild wild west,” I said as we rode out side by side from the station. In his straw hat and red, green and black poncho and mounted on the big chestnut mare, Johnny looked like Eastwood in the spaghetti westerns. “Smuggling,” Johnny said, mimicking the US Army commercial, “It‟s not a job, it‟s an adventure.” We were still laughing when the horses went single file to start climbing the narrow mountain trail.

6. (Now)

Alicia, my stolen first wife, called as I finally broke through the traffic, to bust my balls about my son‟s soccer game that night. “Good morning, Rooster,” she said. I could hear she too was on a cell phone, driving in traffic. She had the back windows on her Volvo down, smoking cigarettes again. “Do remember Chris‟s game starts at seven tonight?” “Yikes. I can‟t make it. I‟ll call him later.” I had forgotten all about the game, something I did often. My son never complained but my ex was a different story. “Rooster, it‟s the semi-finals. He expects you to be there.” “No. You expect me to be there.” “He‟s your son. You should be there.” “And I would if I could. You know that.” I could hear the traffic noise again as she thought of something nasty to say that blamed me for being the absentee father but absolved her of making me absent. “Alicia, what‟s up with your husband?” I heard her exhale smoke. “Well, he tells me you and Johnny Fallon are trying to extort a half million dollars from him. He‟s quite upset about it, actually. Can‟t blame him, can I?” “I haven‟t talked to Johnny in years. Tell him that, will you? I have no idea what he‟s talking about.” Sticking to my story came naturally, after years in sales. “Rooster, can you meet me at Riverton around three? I‟ll buy you lunch at Marinero‟s. We‟ll be able to talk without all this long distance runaround.” “I‟ll meet you upstairs. Three o‟clock.”

“Fifteen minutes.” She liked to estimate how late I would be. Alicia hung up before I could respond.

In the Tech Room at PCAmerica, Wilson and Ruben laughed when I told them about our new product. As I unpacked the box and brought out the DooMee Interactive Device, they looked at each other, incredulous that this was not a joke played on them. The two young men were big guys in XXL company polo shirts stretched like second skin over their bellies. Wilson, the Tech Shop Supervisor, and Ruben, the Head Tech, ran the most successful Tech Room in the most successful store in the chain. New products were sent here for evaluation. Over the years they had helped me get approved as a vendor for the chain‟s Southeastern stores, and bought most of their custom configured computers from me when customers needed something more than the prepackaged machines on the retail shelf. Corporate accounts needing servers and storage appliances and rack-mountable equipment created enough custom-build business to keep TopShelf Computers busy filling these orders. Custom-builds also were sold at higher margins than the fiercely competitive retail machines, and always had additional warranties added on, the real profit maker. Wilson and Ruben worked hard to make sure their shop sold more specialty units than any other store, and that I gave them the best prices and fastest delivery. The two looked alike the way football linemen look alike, big and strong and used to knocking people down and laughing about it. “Did you put your dick into this thing?” Ruben asked, taking the white, oddly shaped appliance from me. “This unit is brand new. Besides, it comes with a dozen condoms to keep it clean,” I explained.

“You obviously haven‟t been to a whorehouse in a long time,” Wilson laughed. “I told you to come to Mexico with us. You missed a great trip.” “Your company wanted to charge us fifteen grand to attend.” “Shit, look at all the business you would have picked up. Every company officer in the chain was there.” “Too rich for my blood.” “Arturo should have sent you.” “We‟re still a small company.” Ruben looked into the cylindrical opening for pubic hair, seminal fluid, DNA evidence. “I‟m not sure my dick would fit into this thing,” he said. Wilson snorted. “I know. It‟s way too big for you. The Please Insert Member light wouldn‟t even go out.” “Fuck you,” Ruben said. “I want to see Rooster demonstrate this to the sales staff.” “Should I call everyone back here, Rooster?” Wilson asked. “Let‟s not rush things,” I said. “The good part is the Virtual Player. Wait until you see the 3D video. The chick is unbelievable, honest-to-God.” “Hook it up. Ruben doesn‟t do anything but jerk off all day anyhow,” Wilson said. “Rooster, why do you think PCAmerica will want to sell computer peripherals that customers insert their privates into? I missed that part of the presentation.” Ruben asked. “Thirty eight per cent of all the male customers have prescriptions for Viagra, Cialis or Levitra right now. Erectile dysfunction is creating a growth market for adult products that are advertised on television and radio constantly. The release of a high-tech product that addresses this consumer need is long overdue.” “You know, I almost believe him, he‟s so sincere,” Wilson said. “Is this kind of a personal issue for you, Old Timer?” “The margin you‟d make on each sale is over one hundred per cent.”

“Whoa. How can that be? Nothing has that kind of margin anymore.” “This product has no competition. It is being released with a media campaign like nothing you‟ve seen since Windows XP. And the DooMee Corporation will send live models, the DooMee Girls, to your stores to promote the product line. Look at this poster.” I unfurled a large full color graphic showing an exotic looking full-bodied model in a futuristic chrome bikini leaning into the camera as clouds billow around her. When are you going to DooMee? the text read. “Now that is hot,” Ruben said. “I could sell the poster right now.” “It‟s all hooked up,” I said, handing him the helmet. “Try the Virtual Player, watch the video for a minute.” “Ruben, you take the lead on this.” Wilson checked the cable connections. “Just so I don‟t have to, you know, uncover my manhood.” “I think we can skip that part for now. Thank God,” Wilson said. “We‟ll get the new guy to do it later. Put on the helmet. You got the video loaded?” “Ready to go. It will activate when he places the unit on his head firmly,” I read from the manual. “You heard the man, Ruben. Go ahead.” Ruben put the brightly colored headpiece on, adjusting it over his big ears. “I hear music, it‟s excellent quality audio and…Holy Cow. He‟s right about the chick. The graphics really are three-dimensional. Damn, Girl. You be fine” While he stood against the metal worktable wearing the Virtual Player, Mackenzie, their boss, came through the swing door from the sales floor. Wilson put a finger to his lips to quiet him down, laughing quietly. By now Ruben was reaching out to touch the Virtual Woman only he could see. “Jesus, I don‟t believe this,” he said. He reached out and squeezed Mackenzie‟s chest as Wilson and I cracked up.

“It even feels real,” Ruben said. There was a large bulge in the front of his trousers that he rubbed against the table. “What in the hell are you guys doing?” Mackenzie yelled. Ruben pulled off the Virtual Player, his face flushed bright red. “Product evaluation, Boss,” he said. “You ready to try the Interactive Device?” I asked him. “Funny, but after seeing that 3D video, I may not need an Interactive Device.” We laughed again. Mackenzie was smiling too, ready for the punchline. Of all the Store Directors, Mackenzie was the least stuffy, the least hung-up. His crew helped him make the big bonus money month after month. He gave them a lot of leeway for bringing in new products. He liked giving me a hard time about all the money he spent with TopShelf, but it was good-natured kidding. Everything‟s funny when you‟re making money, that was the motto of the computer business. “Rooster has a new line of adult technology products he wants us to sell,” Wilson explained. “Adult in what way?” Mackenzie asked. “Products that treat erectile dysfunction in a positive way and help users achieve sexual fulfillment,” I told him. “From the DooMee Corporation.” “Is that the porno crap you emailed me? Jesus, That‟s disgusting,” Mackenzie said. “When can I get one?” “He has one that interacts with your johnson,” Ruben said. “This is the 3D video player. It‟s fantastic, Boss. I‟d swear the actress was live and in the room.” “How can we sell sex aids in a computer store?” “The same way they do in the drug store next door. It‟s all very discreet. Very sophisticated marketing. Like the Boner pills they market on every channel everyday,” Wilson said. “Look at the poster he brought.”

“When are you going to DooMee?” Mackenzie read aloud. “That‟s clever.” “Big margin products, Boss,” Ruben added. “Yeah? Well, you guys work out a way to display this stuff that won‟t offend anybody, we‟ll talk about it. No kids, got it? Not looking at it, not touching it, not selling it. Definitely not buying it. Adults only. Special order through the TechShop, that kind of thing. And No Returns, No Refunds. I‟m not taking back any product somebody blew his load in.” Mackenzie, ever the businessman, had a way of summarizing issues with new products. “And full vendor support. Advertising, point-of-sale marketing.” “Live in-store models,” Ruben volunteered. “No tramps, no whores,” Mackenzie demanded. “Sexy but clean. Right? Possibly attracted to tall figures of authority who determine their work hours. Nothing blatant.” “National ad campaign. USA Today, Golf World, Business Week, Time, Newsweek, major networks, broadcast radio, People, GQ, Today‟s Health,” I said. “What about tech support? I‟m not answering questions at the counter about why some asshole can‟t get his rocks off,” Wilson said. “None of my guys will do that, understood?” “Toll-free phone number, 24/7 support. Some call center in Bombay. Always open lines.” I answered. “Did you bring samples?” Mackenzie wanted to know. “Two of each,” I told him “Great. Some of us are going out on a boat charter this weekend. I need at least five. People like them, you‟ll pick up the other stores right away.” “But we get the lowest price, right, Boss?” Ruben asked. “Rooster knows I‟ll cut his balls off if he ever sells any other store cheaper than mine. Right, Rooster?” “Exactly as you told me a long time ago,” I agreed.

“And one more thing: if I get any flak about this from Corporate or from the Holy Rollers or the Americans Against Sex or anywhere else, I know nothing about it, and you guys are taking the heat. Right, Wilson? Right, Ruben?” “Same as always, Mac.” Wilson said. “You got it, Boss.” Ruben added. “Make sure my guys don‟t get in any trouble, Rooster, okay?” “I will. Definitely.” “Get me five deluxe kits here by Friday or I‟ll kick TopShelf out of here for good.” “You don‟t have to threaten me.” “I like threatening you, Rooster. That‟s how business works.” “Get the new guy to try the dick warmer,” Mackenzie instructed Wilson. “Headset and all. Call me when you‟ve got him ready. I don‟t think you‟ve met this guy, Rooster. We think he‟s a company spy. Trying to get us in trouble with Chicago HQ. I want digital pictures of him with the headset on and his pants around his ankles, okay guys? We‟ll help him with his next career move.”

7. Lunch

Alicia sat at an outside table in the shade drinking a tall fruity drink. Not beautiful in the movie star sense, she had the strong features and smooth unblemished skin of a model. She was sexy the way intelligent women are sexy, middle age empowering her looks by removing the frivolity of youth and replacing it with regal appearance of a woman used to getting her way. Slender and tall and in excellent shape from years of exercise and diet, she looked great. Alicia spent lots of money on her sense of style and poise. Dressed casually in khakis and a striped silk shirt, a close inspection of her designer sunglasses and Hermes purse and the simply elegant gold Cartier watch declared her ready for a quick interview for the local society page. Her brown hair was streaked with blonde and pulled away from her face by a pink clip that perfectly matched the stripes in her blouse. Waiters loved to flirt with her, looking for the invitation out of the drudgery of working every day. She was watching the young men watching her when I approached and kissed her cheek. “Alicia, you break my heart,” I said. “You look terrific.” “Hello, Rooster.” She smiled, perfect white teeth, full lips. “You didn‟t have to dress up on my account.” “Jeans and sneakers. The business casual look.” “Business casual would mean clean pants.” “I‟ve been making deliveries. You know. Work.” “That‟s right. How‟s business these days? Does Arturo keep you running?” She resented the way I had let the business run into debt and resented Arturo for bailing me out. She even resented me letting Sheldon run off with her and our son, though it had been entirely her doing, while I had been away in the one place where I could do nothing about it.

Sheldon had been my defense attorney and had lost my case miserably. While I was away making license plates, I got the divorce papers. “We have a new product venture you might like,” I told her. “Really? I could use a new PDA. Can you get me the new Blackberry?” “You‟d be better off at a department store where you can return it five times.” “You seem in high spirits today. Did you discover a cure for hangovers?” “No. I just get excited when I get a chance to be with you.” “That‟s what everyone says, though I can‟t imagine why. I‟m getting to be such a bitch.” “Years of practice. You‟ve become certified.” “You‟re probably right. I need to be good at something. Besides dressing myself.” “Use your influence and get a waiter over here. They must be hoping for me to leave.” She lifted her glass and two young men in black trousers and white shirts started their way, the one getting the jump taking the table. “Good afternoon, sir. Will you be joining us for lunch today?” he asked, with a trace of a European accent. “No, but I will be joining my wife here. How about a Budweiser?” “Bottle or draught?” His smile faded. “Bottle. And a cold glass. And an order of chips and the spinach dip.” “And for you, Madame. Another daiquiri?” “Bottled water, I think. And a glass of ice. Cancel the chips and dips.” Alicia disliked bar food, chicken wings, salted nuts, chips and dips. Empty calories, she called them, though these items were part of my food pyramid, along with cheeseburgers and antacids. “Right away. Today‟s specials are on the front of the menus.” “Thank you, Josef,” she said. “Of course.” I watched her smile entice the young man like a magic spell.

“Were you being rude to Josef?” she asked. “Fuck Josef.” I wiped a bit of cardboard off my shirtfront, detritus from delivering boxes. I had washed my hands but now felt dirty again. “I swear you act like you are ready to fight,” Alicia pouted. “I‟m too old to flee.” She reached over and put her hand over mine. Her fingers were so thin, I could have crushed them with one good squeeze. When Alicia flirted, trouble usually followed. “You miss me, don‟t you?” she asked. “Always,” I said, looking at her, looking away. “Never.” “Sometimes?” She knew I was off-balance. It made her smirk. “Sometimes I try to remember when we were married,” I said. “We were stoned the whole time. That‟s why it‟s hard to remember the good times. We were stoned every day for two years and drunk half the nights. Then I got pregnant and quit all that. But you didn‟t, Rooster. You couldn‟t change for me.” “It‟s the nature of The Business.” “Are you sure?” “I didn‟t know any other life style.” “You had to get arrested to slow down. You had to get imprisoned to stop. That‟s pretty self-destructive, Rooster.” “I‟m a slow learner.” “I miss you too sometimes,” she said, leaning back. “Then I realize how miserable it would be to live with a man as financially irresponsible as you, and I count my blessings.” “You did the right thing.” “You always say that. I never know what it means.”

Josef returned with our drinks. I let her order, asked for the same thing without even listening to what it was. Looking out on New River, the yachts moored there seemed hostile, like enemy gunboats. I suddenly felt very depressed. “Don‟t look so down, Rooster. On such a beautiful day.” “It‟s a perfect day for bananafish.” “Drink your beer, Seymour. Tell me about your new product.” “It‟s a computer based sex aid.” I drained half the bottle in two swallows. “Like Internet porn?” “Better. The marketing never mentions sex. This is an electronic peripheral that attaches via the USB port to any computer. For erectile dysfunction. You watch a 3D Virtual Reality video and your member is strengthened by the Interactive Device.” “Which does what?” “Simulates a feeling of the contractions of a healthy vagina during sex.” “It jerks you off.” “Its design helps ED patients achieve erections without drugs.” “Or women.” “There is a vast market for the therapeutic treatment of male sexual problems.” “I can‟t believe you now sell electric pussys.” “Neither can I.” “Do they have them for women?” “The DooMee2 will be released two months later.” “DooMee2. My women‟s group will go nuts over this.” “The ads are designed not to offend women.” “Offend? I‟m talking about women who will buy these things.” “Oh. Right. I thought the whole thing was a joke until this morning. Apparently this is big business. Arturo signed a contract for us to be the national fulfillment center. All logistics will

go through TopShelf Computers. And I just did a presentation at PCAmerica. It‟s so bizarre it might work. Wouldn‟t that be weird?” “You might actually make some money this time. That‟s great.” Alicia smiled the smile I knew so well, the dagger underneath to puncture my pride. “It‟s a work in progress.” “So now you and Johnny won‟t have to rip-off Sheldon.” She talked like she had it all figured out, which was more than I did. “I‟m not trying to rip-off Sheldon. I‟m not sure what is going on, but I have nothing to do with it. I like Sheldon. No, I don‟t. I tolerate Sheldon.” “Come on, Rooster. You know the story.” “I don‟t. I swear.” Alicia drank some of her bottled water, poured the rest over ice. “Remember a long time ago when Sheldon was bringing that money from Fallon in LA? The money the DEA grabbed at the airport security station?” Besides being our attorney, Sheldon had established himself in the money-laundering trade as well. From time to time, he‟d fly out to pick up our cash, for a hefty fee. “Yeah. I remember. I had to spend the next day emptying safe deposit boxes to replace it. Johnny refused to try to claim the money, wanted nothing to do with the Feds.” “Well, Sheldon saw that you guys abandoned the cash. So he and one of his clients retrieved the money.” “No way. Johnny would have killed him.” “This was after Fallon disappeared.” “You‟re kidding. Are you telling me Sheldon stole three hundred grand of Johnny Fallon‟s money?” “He didn‟t actually steal it. He asked Fallon to put in a claim. Fallon refused to even consider it. It‟s funny because the Feds ended up finally arresting him anyway.”

“I can‟t believe this. You never told me.” I was surprised she could keep a secret that long. Sheldon must have scared her. Or not told her, knowing the ever-suspicious lawyer‟s way of doing things. “The time was never right.” “Jesus, Alicia. The past won‟t go away, will it?” “I figured you would want me and Chris to be provided for. Besides, you both got convicted and sent away. It wasn‟t like you needed the money. Fallon‟s supposed to be in prison for years and years. I don‟t know what he‟s doing loose.” “I wonder how he found out about this. You didn‟t tell him, did you? You or Sheldon?” I could see Johnny blowing his stack, planning retribution. “God no. Fallon scares me to death. We would never tell anyone. No one is supposed to know. Sheldon‟s client was a foreign businessman. That‟s how they were able to claim the cash. International investment.” To her, it made sense, a good business deal, if you didn‟t consider the murderous son of a bitch whose money it was. “Johnny‟s out of prison, he knows what Sheldon did, and he wants his money. I have trouble believing any of this.” “Plus interest,” she said. “He wants five hundred thousand dollars. Cash.” “ Well, then you guys are fucked,” I said. I waved my empty bottle at Josef, who waved back an okay sign. “It‟s a situation, that‟s for sure. We need you to help us.” “You must be crazy. I‟m one of the guys you stole from.” “Don‟t talk that way. You sound like a criminal again.” “All of a sudden selling Pussy-In-A-Can seems like a great idea.” Alicia laughed her low mischievous laugh. “And I had fantasized you were the brains behind this,” she said. “I actually thought you were shaking Sheldon down.”

“Why?” “For me, moron. To get the money and me.” We both laughed at this but for different reasons. “Are you saying that if I got the money from Sheldon you‟d come back to me?” “No. I‟m saying without the money there‟s no way I‟d go back with you.” “Suppose I don‟t want you back.” “Well, then I guess I should cancel the room I reserved for us this afternoon.” “Alicia, I‟m not buying it. Josef has a better chance of going to a hotel with you.” “He does now.” Our food came, some kind of giant salad with shrimp and crabmeat, and more types of greens than I could name. The waiter served us with a flourish. Grinding fresh pepper from a handheld mill drew such warm comments from my ex-wife that Josef checked my face to see how I was handling her flirtations. What he saw there moved him from our table as quickly as he had come. “I just realized that we haven‟t had a meal together in years,” I said between bites. “Just holidays. Oh I know. A meal alone. Just the two of us.” “I‟m starting to remember why.” I wasn‟t kidding. “Darling, I hope you‟re not upset. I‟m just playing.” “That‟s what scary.” “So, are you going to seduce me?” “Not today. I‟ve already had my fair share of abuse.” “Oh, that‟s right. You‟re busy demonstrating sex toys.” “Right. Saving myself for the customer.” “The shrimp are slightly undercooked, don‟t you think?” I had eaten all the shrimp on my plate and half the crabmeat. “Mine were great.”

“Like you even tasted them as fast as you eat. Tell me again why you can‟t make our son‟s semi-final tournament game.” “I‟m picking someone up at the airport. There‟s no time to change plans.” “Picking up someone like who?” “No one you know.” Alicia chewed her salad greens, thinking before she spoke. Her face lost its playfulness. She sipped her water. “One of those barmaids you seduce, right?” “A friend. Try not to be so snotty.” “Sorry. I‟m just making conversation.” “Why does everything have to be about sex?” “You‟re the one who told me men are like dogs. Have you changed your evil ways?” Alicia pushed her plate away, the food uneaten. Not knowing what I was up to made her angry, like she had lost her powers, and I was walking around uncontrolled. “Life is full of surprises, as you used to say.” I wanted a day-long vodka martini, but there was no way. Not with Alicia. “Don‟t get all defensive. I was trying to be nice,” she said. I did not want to talk about my guest or Sheldon or Johnny Fallon. I just wanted to know why we were there together at that particular place in time. Under her cool facade the desire to say something honest flowed like voltage unregulated, but she could never remember what that something was. I felt that underlying current whenever we were together, the urge to remake the connection that had been unmade, but could think of nothing to say that wouldn‟t get thrown back in my face. “Are you all right?” she asked. “You look so tragic.” “I was thinking the same thing.” “I don‟t mean to pick on you. It‟s just that you make it so easy.”

“I was raised on the three D‟s.” “Three D‟s?” “Defeat, Disaster and Despair.” “You see? How I am supposed to relate to you, when you talk like that?” “I‟ll talk to Johnny sooner or later,” I said, balling up the napkin and dumping it on the table. “Tell Sheldon he should just pay him. It would be simpler.” “Sheldon‟s cash flow is not what it used to be.” “That‟s not my problem.” “Are you really mad at me?” “How the hell would I know? I just want to get back to selling DooMee Interactive Devices. DooMee Virtual Players. DooMee2s. DooMee Buttplugs. That‟s my mission in life. When are you going to DooMee? I‟ll stop bitching if you DooMee. Are you going to DooMee2? It feels great when you DooMee. Stop worrying and just DooMee. You DooMee and I‟ll DooMee2. Christ, I nearly had virtual sex with Sarah Palin.” “No wonder you‟re depressed.” “Hey, I might even make some money for a change. Right? I‟ll get samples for you to give your friends.” “Your check or mine?” “I‟ll buy lunch, Alicia. You save your money to help poor Sheldon.” “So what do I tell him?” “Tell him to fuck off. He‟s on his own.” She stood up quickly and grabbed her purse. “You‟re a bastard, Rooster. You probably are working with Fallon again.” “Wait and I‟ll walk you to your car.” “Screw you. I‟ll tell Chris you‟re too busy to come see him play.”

“Alicia---“ but she was walking quickly away. I considered running after her, but that was the point, wasn‟t it? Run after her, say I‟m sorry. But I wasn‟t sorry. Josef came and gestured at the table. “Was everything all right?” he asked. I stopped myself from smarting off and looked at the polite young man. “Everything was fine, Josef. Just bring me the check, please.” “I‟ll just clear these plates. Would you like coffee?” “Just the check.” “Sir?” “Yeah?” “Madame forgot something.” He handed me a plastic card with a magnetic strip on the back he found under her plate. It was a room key. I looked down the walkway but Alicia was long gone. I wondered briefly if the card was for me, or for the handsome young waiter. I stuffed it in my pocket. Fuck Josef. Let him get his own wife.

8. That Night

In the waiting area for arrivals, a skinny woman maintained a food cart with hot dogs and sodas and coffee, like the one outside a courthouse. Would I like a cup of coffee? There was still some left in the bottom of the canister. “This is crazy,” an elderly gentleman next to me said. The man was bald except for tufts of white hair around his ears and wore an Addidas jumpsuit and white sneakers. “Tell me about it,” I agreed. “My son‟s flight is delayed two hours,” the man said. “ And the coffee is terrible. Sent me straight to the john.” “Thanks for the warning. I was about to get some.” “Like taking a laxative,” the man confided. “Mitch Alton, Boca Raton,” he added, extending his hand. “Rooster McGhee,” shaking hands. The man had quite a grip. “Rooster, hey. Like that movie with the Duke.” “Right. My real name is Jonathan but I‟ve been called Rooster since I was a kid.” The man was listening so attentively I felt he had to go on. “My dad tagged me with it. When I‟d come down for breakfast my hair was all pushed up from my pillows and so he called me Rooster. Once my buddies heard it, they never let it go.” “My dad used to call me Sonny. But that sounds like a ballplayer or a boxer or something. Mitch is what I go by.” “Good choice.” “You‟re waiting for someone, right?” “Yeah. No other reason to stand around here, you know.” I have a bad habit of imitating the speech of strangers that I meet. Now all of a sudden I was a retired New Yorker, either Jewish

or from a Jewish neighborhood, Brooklyn or Queens. With Arturo I became a second generation Cuban. No one ever seemed to notice or mind. “My son‟s coming in from The City. Probably needs money. But what do I care? He comes and my wife is happy and we play golf and it‟s nice. Money doesn‟t worry me. I can‟t take it with me, right? Believe me, these are days when I wish I could take it with me. Just so the government won‟t piss it all away.” “I hear that. They keep coming after it no matter what you do.” “What type of business are you in? I hope you don‟t mind me asking all this, but it helps pass the time. You seem like a nice man. Let me guess. You‟re a builder. Am I right?” “No, Mitch. I‟m in computers.” “Really. I lost a lot of money in technology last couple years.” “Sorry to hear that. I‟ve been hit pretty hard myself.” “And you will stay in the computer business?” “Sure. We‟re expanding our product line, diversifying.” I wondered how to explain the DooMee Interactive Device or if I should even bring it up. What the hell, Mitch was an adventurous investor if he stayed in tech stocks when everybody else bailed. “In fact, Mitch, we just acquired distribution rights to a new biomedical technology.” “Really. Digital Imaging, right?” “Better. A technological treatment for erectile dysfunction.” “Like Viagra and those type of pills.” “Right. That‟s the pharmaceutical approach to the problem. Lots of people can‟t take those drugs and so they need a non-chemical treatment.” “That‟s very interesting. You ever take any of that stuff?” “The pills?”

“Yeah. I‟ll tell you, it works. I took one of the samples my doctor gave me coming out of his office one time and I had such a stiffie all day I couldn‟t walk around my office. I had to go home early. My wife won‟t let me take it any more. Jeez.” “There a lot of side effects with medications.” “I know this much. If I‟d been in New York I sure would not have gone straight home. You know what I mean? But what the heck you going to do in Boca Raton?” “I hear you.” “But your product is new to the market?” “Brand new. A new computer technology.‟ “What‟s it do? How does it work?” “Well.” I took a breath, looked around, made sure Mitch saw I was checking for competitors hot to steal the idea. I explained, in detail, the workings of the 3D Player and the Interactive Device, stressing the therapeutic treatment of erectile dysfunction. “And bam, you blow your wad in the cylinder,” Mitch said, grasping the point. “Mitch, you‟re a man who tells it like it is.” “Seems like a lot of machinery to jerk off.” “The device is designed to help a man achieve a full erection. What he does with his achievement is his business,” I countered automatically. “Ah come on. Who‟s going to take off the equipment in the middle of this mind-blowing experience?” “”It just takes some getting used to. That‟s part of the therapy. It treats premature ejaculation that way. And let me tell you a secret. You know the Greatness? Dr. Graytly is going to endorse this product for therapy for all his patients.” “Jesus. The Dick Doctor is on TV every day.” Mitch looked me over, trying to make sure he was not being had. “What‟s the name of your company?” he asked.

“My company is TopShelf Computers. The device is called the DooMee. Double o, double e. It‟s made in Taiwan. We distribute it.” “You got a card?” “Sure.” I took a business card out of my wallet, handed it to him. “You‟re in Miami. This sounds like a great product for export.” “It comes with both American and European power connectors.” “Unbelievable. Here‟s my card.” Mitch Alton Holdings, Inc. Arriving passengers came down the walkway. Mitch watched for his son. We both stopped to look at a beautiful young woman with long straight dark brown hair, pushing a lightweight stroller. She wore a tan suede skirt and boots and a black pullover sweater that showed her figure, and pointed to me, smiling, talking to the baby. “Wow,” Mitch said. “Your wife?” “A friend,” I said, “Come to visit.” Paula came up to us beaming. She threw her arms around me and kissed me full on the mouth, totally surprising me, and Mitch as well, judging by the way his eyes bulged. I hugged her and managed to say to Mitch over her shoulder, “We‟re very close.” “I‟ll say,” the old man said smiling. “Rooster,” Paula was saying. “How are you?” “You look great, Paula. Really. Fantastic.” “And this is Alfie,” she said, lifting the baby out of the stroller. “Say hi to Rooster, Alfie. And his friend.” The baby boy had curly red hair and chubby cheeks that shone with good health and much doting. He waved his cookie bag at us and laughed. Mitch smiled at Paula and her son. “That‟s the most beautiful baby boy I‟ve ever seen,” he said to her. It was true. The boy had on tiny denim jeans and a ski sweater so small it was like he had just arrived from the Baby Winter Olympics.

“Thank you,” Paula smiled, kissing Alfie‟s cheek until he giggled again. “My pleasure, dear. I was just talking to Rooster here while waiting for my son to arrive. He‟s coming from New York tonight.” “I heard that the New York flights are running late,” she said. “Very late. But it has made my night meeting you. I hope you have a wonderful stay. And someday I hope to have a grandson as cute as this fellow. How old is he?” “Fourteen months. He‟s getting to be a big boy now. Aren‟t you?” “Take good care of these two, Rooster.” “Count on it.” We left Mitch to his vigil and went to find Paula‟s luggage, the baby with a big grin on his face as I carried him. Alfie got a grip on my Marlins cap and I took it off and let him hold it as we rode the escalator, Paula talking a mile a minute. I could hardly hear her, the delight of actually seeing her again keeping me one millisecond behind the conversation, like it was a movie dubbed from some wordy Romance language into grammatical English. I had to listen and look at everything going on to make sure I didn‟t miss anything, and then still couldn‟t remember my lines.

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At the condo, I took Alfie for a walk around the complex, carrying the baby in the crook of my arm, showing him all the wonderful things there in Spring Meadows. Alfie carried my keys and shook them as we walked, his little arm pumping in excitement. We saw the Big Dog. We saw the Big Dog‟s business. We saw Kitty Cats and Mr. Turtle and near the creek we saw the Duckies lying down in the grass hoping we‟d brought bread or some other handout. We saw the Big Trees and we saw the Little Trees, and we said hello to the power walkers coming briskly

around the corner. Everyone we met smiled at the baby waving keys and the smiling man carrying him, even neighbors who complained regularly to the homeowners association about me not bringing my trashcans in off the curb for days or not rolling up my garden hose after I washed my truck. Paula had unpacked and rearranged the guestroom to look like a nursery using the contents of two enormous suitcases. I stood watching her. She had changed into white shorts and a red tee shirt and walked barefoot on the carpet, whipping her long hair back with a toss of her head when she bent over to pick something up. “Sorry, lady. We must be in the wrong house,” I said from the doorway. “I hope it‟s all right. I didn‟t want him to miss his toys and animals,” she said. “I was sure you didn‟t have any baby things.” I looked around at the Elmo and Bert „n‟ Ernie dolls, the walker and the sling chair and assorted rattles, shakers and playthings, and posters from Sesame Street on the wall. “How did you fit all that in?” “It‟s a big suitcase.” “No, I meant into the plane.” “I‟m a good packer.” “Little guy was looking for you. The neighborhood loves him already. They may let me go on living here.” “He likes being with you. Look at that. Most people he tries to jump out of their arms. Come here, Alfie. Let‟s get your jammies.” I passed the baby to her and she lifted him high above her head and spun him around. He laughed and laughed. “Me next,” I said. “I‟ll take care of you later,” Paula said, giving me the look. “Whoa. We have to have some rules around here.”

“Like what, Rooster?” she hugged the baby and gave him a big kiss on the cheek. Alfie waved his hand to me. Like, so long, see you later. “Well, for one thing. Close the door when you use the bathroom.” “Of course,” she said. “And light a match if you do a stinky.” “Is that what the candle is for?” “That‟s for major loads only.” “Why don‟t you just use the one downstairs then?” “See? You‟re not even here an hour and you‟re running the show.” “It‟s all downhill from here, Rooster. Wow. Talk about stinkies. Didn‟t you notice he had pooped?” “I just thought it was his breath.” “Oh that‟s mean. What are we going to do with that mean old Rooster? Hand me a diaper will you? And that tube of cream. Right there on the dresser.” “Can you handle this?” I said, passing the stuff to her. “I get lots of practice.” “I‟ll be downstairs. Getting some fresh air.” “Mean old Rooster.”

I took a shower in the downstairs bathroom and put on some ragged shorts and a Miami Dolphins tee shirt. Paula was still upstairs when I went to the kitchen. On top of the refrigerator were three bottles of formula, and when I opened the door to get a beer there were four baby bottles already prepared in the door shelf. Little jars of baby food were in the cabinet. She had come prepared, and knew me well enough to know I would not have a clue where to begin. I loved that about her, her preparedness, her organization. I could not understand how her husband could let the woman get away.

When I turned around there she was, holding a room monitor, adjusting the volume. “He‟s out for the night,” she said. “Maybe one more bottle around three.” “I‟m amazed what a good mother you are.” “Why?” “I don‟t know. I always pictured you as a businesswoman, or a lawyer or something.” “They‟re not mutually exclusive, Rooster.” “I know. Hey. I bought you some wine. Good wine. Cork and everything.” “That would be nice.” “Sit down, get comfortable.” “I want to be here with you.” “So sit.” I looked in the cabinets for something resembling a wine glass, found stemmed crystal I did not recognize behind the coffee mugs. The corkscrew I found after searching just three drawers. “You look in pretty good shape, Rooster.” “I work out now and then. Since I cut back on the drinking.” “Why‟d you do that?” “Women I‟m attracted to started calling me „Sir‟. And women I‟m not attracted to started calling me „Honey‟.” “You‟re not that old.” “Old enough.” “I missed you, Rooster.” I paused while cutting the foil of the bottle top. “Do you want to tell me what happened?” She shrugged. “Pour me some wine and I‟ll tell you the whole sordid story.” “You don‟t have to.” “Oh yeah I do. You‟re the only one I can tell it to.”

“Thanks. For coming here. Bringing the baby. I missed you too, Paula. I mean, I want the best in life for you, always, but I‟m glad you came here when you did. Separation is always a strange thing.” “Wine, Honey.” She waved her glass by the stem. “Sorry. Here we go.” The cork came out with a popping sound. I poured her glass half full and she looked at me until I poured more. “Maybe you‟d like to drink right out of the bottle,” I said. “Maybe I will.” “Did you call and tell people you got here all right?” Paula took a big sip of wine before answering. “I‟m debating it. The only one I would call is Robbie‟s mom. She has been the perfect grandmother, honest to God. She loves Alfie so much. But you know something? When I told Cynthia about what Robbie had done, she blew it off like it was some childish prank. Alfred, Mr. Reynolds, agreed. Still sowing wild oats, he said. Can you believe that? Their precious son just abandoned his wife and infant son to run off with some bimbo from the office and they tell me it‟s no big deal. So fuck them. I‟m not calling. If they want to see their grandchild again, they better call their son and tell him to straighten up. It‟s a terrible thing and I hate having to hurt them. But I‟m hurt, Rooster. He really got me on this one. I don‟t know what else to do.” She was close to crying and I went and put my arms around her. She buried her face in my shoulder and I could feel her shake with the sobs she held back so long and now got the good cry, then the get it all out cry, and I kissed the top of her head in sympathy. “I bet my life on that man. We have a happy home. He loves Alfie, I know he does. I thought he loved me. Now who do I have? Mom‟s dead. Dad‟s a pervert. Grandma and Grandpa are gone. I‟m all alone with my baby and I want my home back. I want my husband. How can things be so screwed up? We have a new house, new furniture. We have a rose garden. He has a big gas grill and a screened-in patio. He even bought me a new SUV. I went to the gym every day

for four months. God damn it, we made love ten days ago. I feel like I fell in love with a perfect stranger. What did I do?” “Paula, you didn‟t do anything. Robbie is scared.” “Scared?” “Scared to death. All newly married men are scared to death. Especially somebody like Robbie, who‟s been a playboy for so long. Intelligent women are scary to guys.” “What are you talking about?” “Every guy who loves someone tries so hard to impress that girl that when he finally wins her, he‟s run out of tricks. When you‟re going out, you go everywhere, dancing, dining, camel rides, fast cars, hot air balloons. But when you get married and have a baby, you don‟t go anywhere. You go home and the baby‟s asleep so you tiptoe around your own house and when you have a drink you‟re scared something will happen so you don‟t dare get high and when you watch the news there are eighteen million ways disaster can kill your loved ones, disease and fires and accidents and on and on.” “This is a guy thing, right?” “You look in the mirror one day and you see the bags under your eyes from being scared, from all the responsibility you‟ve taken on, and you realize getting high and getting laid are the only things you know how to do. You don‟t know shit about being a good husband and a good father. So when the chance comes along to get high and get laid, guys give in all the time. Because we don‟t know any better. We‟re like dogs.” “That part is true.” “Just like dogs running around sniffing each other to see who‟s getting high, who‟s getting laid. If you read People magazine, you‟ll see it‟s everywhere. Who‟s getting high, who‟s getting laid. When was the last time you saw a show about being a good father and a good husband? Never, that‟s when. Robbie is scared out of his wits, barking at the moon.” Paula leaned back in my arms and looked up. “I can‟t tell when you‟re being serious.”

“Oh, I‟m very serious,” I told her. “I abandoned my loving wife and a baby boy every bit as beautiful as that little guy upstairs. And I did it because I was scared. I went out to get high and get laid because I couldn‟t handle the new role life had put me in. I didn‟t know what to do, I didn‟t know what to say. It was like everybody had a script except me. Robbie‟s a selfish bastard, don‟t get me wrong. But he‟s crazy. Only a crazy man could let a woman like you get away.” We looked at each other, faces inches apart, and I kissed her forehead and held her tight. She hugged me, and grabbed a handful of my ass. “Hey now.” “I wanted to see if you were wagging your tail.” “I‟ll be wagging something, we keep this up.” “You know something, Rooster. You might be right.” “Of course I‟m right.” “And you think Robbie will come back?” “On hands and knees, whining like a puppy.” “I‟m going to beat him so bad when I see him he‟ll be dragging his ass in the dirt for a month.” “Do what you‟ve got to do.” “Oh I‟m going to. Count on it.” “You hungry?” “Starving. I‟ve been dieting six months. For nothing. Hah! I want to eat like a pig.” “You‟ve come to the right place. I‟ve been needing someone to cook for.” “Well, get to it. I‟m going to check on Alfie. See if you can hear me on the monitor.” I watched her walking up the stairs, wishing I was twenty years younger. Then we‟d see who‟s the big dog. We ate steaks and grilled onions and baked potatoes with sour cream and butter and drank the bottle of wine, talking and laughing. Paula told me about Robbie‟s success with the

electronics stores, how he was opening the third store in two months. And how the house looked and the furniture she had picked out and how Alexandria had boomed since I‟d last been there. And I told her about the computer business and Arturo bailing me out and how I wanted to sell solutions but Arturo had us committed to selling the DooMee devices. She was curious about the DooMee and I had to get one and let her try on the helmet and she made so much noise when the 3D video played the baby woke up and I had to pull the headpiece off and send her running upstairs. I was drinking a glass of ice water when she came back down. Her dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail, her makeup was scrubbed off showing just a hint of olive in the smooth skin. She looked more like her Italian father than her mom, who was a mousy little woman of light brown hair and slim almost skinny frame. In fact, that was why Miriam had gotten a breast augmentation, saying she was tired of looking like a boy. When the lumps in her breast turned out to be cancer and not bad silicon, it was too late to be successfully treated. We‟d been friends. I tried to help her. “I was thinking of Mom,” Paula said. “You and her living here.” “Me too,” I said. “And she was sick the whole time.” “She was a tough one.” “Oh Rooster. You know while I was at school she would write me she was getting better, everything was going to be fine. Then I‟d come home and she was ten pounds lighter and her skin was like paper. It broke my heart. I think the only way I graduated was because you took care of her.” I looked away, to the blankness of the wall, seeing some picture of the past there, me standing by the bedridden woman, hearing her awful pain. “I couldn‟t do much,” I said. Paula shook her head. “She was so mean sometimes. I hate to remember her that way,” she said.

“Don‟t. She was a good person. She loved you more than anything.” Paula smiled. “She‟s probably giving them trouble right now. At the barricades of heaven.” “ You‟re probably right. There‟s a bunch of Cuban ladies standing at the Gates talking, blocking the way.” We laughed, picturing it. “That would make her mad. Make her change her mind. Ask to go to hell.” “She‟d have a lot of friends there,” I said. “I think I hear my son.”

I cleaned the kitchen and washed the dishes and put everything away so she wouldn‟t have to deal with it in the morning when I left to work. When I went upstairs the guest room was dark so I did not want to disturb them. I brushed my teeth and was lying on the bed with a small table light on reading VAR Business when the door opened and there she was, in just the tee shirt. “Hi,” I said, quiet as possible. “Turn out the light,” she said softly. “Paula,” I began. “Don‟t talk, Rooster.” I turned out the light and saw her silhouetted against the faint light from the balcony window, saw her open the verticals to let the moonlight shine in. When she pulled the tee shirt off up over her head I caught my breath, overwhelmed by her reckless nudity. She came and lay down and I touched her nakedness, felt electricity surge through me. I ran my hand down her back to the curve of her buttock and felt the weight of her, this fine full woman, and her lips were on mine, and wet, a delicious mouth ripe with need. I kissed her mouth and neck and breasts, I heard her heart pound like mine, her breathing deep as we rolled, and I could not touch, could not taste enough of her.

We did not stop until we were exhausted, spent, satisfied there were no other ways the male and female bodies could be joined together. I lay on my back holding her, her cheek on my chest, quiet, without thinking, at peace at last. Finally she kissed me and got up from the bed and put on her shirt. “Back to reality,” she whispered. “Right.” “Good night.” “Night.” She left the room to go to her baby. I missed her already. This was not supposed to happen and yet was as inevitable as a lunar tide. The water kept coming, no matter what I intended. But what could I do? Back to reality. A grudge fuck, a very good one, but still. She would get her husband back, and I would sell the DooMees through stores and Ecommerce and catalog companies. Women with silicon breasts would dance for men with augmented penises. Lonely people everywhere would embrace a new technology, put their faith and their members into Interactive Devices, spend their nights wearing helmets filled with Virtual Reality, have 3D sex with politicians and celebrities in multi-channel visions and surrounding sounds. I would spend my days talking with glassy-eyed people, and my nights with drunks in dark loud taverns. Johnny Fallon would join us at TopShelf Computers. I‟d put him in charge of Collections. Time would go on. Time takes care of everything. Paula would never tell Robbie. I would keep my mouth zipped. The night would be something stored away for safekeeping, the most intimate of things. A secret.

9. Sheldon

Sheldon‟s office was bigger than I remembered, better organized, and I saw Alicia‟s influence. One whole wall stood crammed full of history, devoted to framed photographs of the couple at social functions, Society Page stuff.. Sheldon in a black tuxedo. Alicia in a variety of evening gowns, with different bigwigs in each photo posing with them, all with nice smiles like the cocktail reception never ended. Little gold plaques at the base named the functions but I didn‟t bother to read any of them, they all seemed the same event, with Alicia changing outfits between shots. Sheldon‟s hair changed also, going from curly gray to short and stylish to shaved bald, years of social service measured in diminishing locks and shiny pate. I counted twenty-eight photographs. When I turned, there on the wall near the shelves of law books was a family portrait that made me wince, Sheldon and Alicia and Chris, Chris must have been around thirteen, their faces so rosy and made-up looking I could not tell if it was a painting or a very touched-up photo. Looking at it, I found myself wanting a strong drink, though it was only ten in the morning. It was funny because I no longer drank hard liquor, but there was something about waiting in that wealth of images that made me want a jolt, a heroin suppository, something. Sheldon came in with a cell phone to his ear, nodding his head like the caller could see him, waiting for his chance to get a word in, his face paused in readiness, mouth half-open and drawn back into something between a smile and scream. He waved for me to sit down, pointing at the leather and wood chairs in front of the desk, as he moved to his own seat behind, and sat down, concentrating on what he heard from somewhere else, rather than on me, there in the room with him. This was typical Sheldon. He always had someone more important he had to talk to right away, something else he needed to finish before he began the meeting he had scheduled and arranged. His shiny shaved head looked hideous, like what inmates in asylums would look like,

and his glasses on his wide nose were made with frames so fine they would snap apart with one healthy sneeze. Sheldon looked up, nodding again to the invisible caller, forcing his way into the conversation, “We‟ll do that. Sure, we can do that,” he said into the phone before begging off. Sheldon was heavy, broad-shouldered, and the shaved head made him look stronger, bigger. I knew he went to the gym, all the upwardly mobile did, I‟d see them in store lots parking their BMWs and Saabs along the curb rather than in legal parking places, hurrying to the ATM machine in shorts and sweatbands while their cars blocked everyone else, too lazy to walk while on their way to run on a treadmill and ogle the girls in tights. Sheldon thought he was a tough guy, the most dangerous delusion he could choose for himself. In the joint, he‟d be wearing his briefs with the pee hole in the back after a month. Sometimes I‟d move up close to Sheldon just to see him squirm, during our chance meetings at soccer games or school events for Chris, knowing that Sheldon was constantly waiting for me to strike him, had been waiting for years for the blow that never came. But Sheldon could be tough in other ways, like brow-beating his clients or demanding more money or working his familiarity with the wealthy and powerful against me at social functions I never wanted to be at in the first place. “Sorry about that,” Sheldon said, putting the cell phone aside on the glass of the desktop. “I swear, Rooster. It seems like we never get together unless there‟s a problem.” “And we never will,” I answered. “Jeez. I can‟t get used to your head. Do you shine it with something?” “Like it? I figured I was going to lose my hair anyway. My father‟s bald, his father. The women tell me it‟s sexy.” “They‟re just being polite.” “Oh no. I get looks. I can tell.” “And Alicia? What does she say?” Sheldon made a face. “You know how she is. She wants me to get tattoos put on it, like Queequag in the Moby Dick movie. I can‟t go to court with tattoos on my head.”

“You guys getting along?” “Ginger peachy,” Sheldon said in a way that said the opposite. “Didn‟t you just see her?” “We had lunch. She doesn‟t really open up with me. More like she opens up on me, like a sniper. She seemed normal,” I said. “Sure. We‟re happy. Everybody‟s happy.” “But what?” “We‟re trapped in a happy marriage.” “Your doing, counselor.” “Yeah. Well, we‟re fine.” “Why did you call me here, Sheldon?” The lawyer leaned back in his chair, his imperial head taking on the appearance of serious thought. Which said, Danger, bullshit straight ahead. “Your partner is shaking me down,” Sheldon said. “Extortion.” “So?” Sheldon leaned forward suddenly. “So? I want you to call him off, God damn it.” “People in Hell want ice water,” I said. “Doesn‟t mean they‟ll get it.” Sheldon bent his head down, pursed his lips, looked off to the side as he contemplated ways of dealing with a hostile witness. Next he would try a series of leading questions, Sheldon always playing to a jury only he could see, his everyday efforts judged from a high bench somewhere, a trait both Alicia and I laughed about when feeling a need to disparage someone other than ourselves. “You remember the cash that was seized at the airport?” Sheldon asked. “Yes, I do,” I answered. I was reminded of years ago, practicing answers with Sheldon before my trial, realizing I should have copped a guilty plea, taken whatever the State offered, rather than allow this vain man an opportunity to perform in front of a live audience. “Do you remember that I asked both you and Fallon to help me recover the money?”

“I remember.” “And what was your answer?” “No one wanted to get involved with the Feds. No one wanted to sign the recovery sheet.” “What did Johnny Fallon say at that time?” Sheldon was enjoying himself. “He did not even want the receipt. He said to cut our losses.” “And what else?” “He said he was going to kill you.” This was not the answer Sheldon was looking for. He seemed startled. “He did?” “Yes, he did. We decided killing you right away, though desirable, was going to bring in cops, and cops would be bad for business.” Sheldon blinked. “Business?” “Right. Killing you was kept as option for further discussion.” “Jesus, Rooster. You never told me that.” “You never asked.” I could see Sheldon deflate, as he looked into that window to the past, saw himself go from one of the gang to an outsider, a security risk, his murder discussed and postponed as casually as travel plans. “You want some coffee?” Sheldon asked. “Let me get you some coffee.” “Shellie, cut the crap. Tell me why I‟m here.” I was uncomfortable around Sheldon, tired of his posturing, tired of history now once again shared between us. “Are you working with Johnny now?” Sheldon asked. “No. Not now, not in the future. I don‟t want anything to do with him. Or you. I don‟t want anything to do with either of you.” “Fine way to talk to the man who raised your son,” Sheldon said.

I sprang up and grabbed Sheldon by the tie and shirtfront and pulled him across the desk, throwing him to the floor roughly. I started to kick him hard in the stomach, was about to kick him, when through a red haze I saw Sheldon, covering himself, hiding his face against the carpet. I kicked the chair instead, sent it crashing against the bookshelf. Sheldon got to his hands and knees, sucking air, his glasses twisted and hanging from one ear. We were both breathing hard. Everything had happened so fast I was startled by the violence. I was surprised by my own anger, by the quickening blood pressure, the brutality when I‟d attacked Sheldon. I might say something like I never thought about it beforehand, it was more a reaction like jumping out of the dentist‟s chair when the drill hits a raw nerve. But I‟d lost control, and could still feel something telling me to kick the shit out of the man and be done with it. “Get up, counselor,” I said, squatting down beside him. “We‟re trying to have a conversation here.” I tried to pull the heavy lawyer to his feet. Sheldon swatted at me blindly, the ineffectual swing of a fat boy against a bully, eyes wet, snot leaking from one nostril. “I‟m going to call the cops.” “Go ahead,” I told him. “Here. Use my phone.” “I think you busted my kidney.” I laughed, pushed Sheldon roughly, letting him know I might not be finished. “I‟m going to break your fucking head if you don‟t shut up and get in that chair.” “Fuck you.” Sheldon rocked back on to his knees, away from his attacker. I stood up and stretched, looking around the office. “I think I‟ll have that coffee now,” I said.

10. Chris

When I got home, there was a shiny new tan Jeep with a canvas top parked in my space. I smiled and parked in a visitor space. My son had arrived early. Inside Chris was holding baby Alfie in his arms while Paula laid out the child‟s new outfits across the back of the sofa. The baby wore Chris‟s Soccer Locker cap and seemed more interested in the young man holding him than in the new wardrobe. I did a double take, it appeared my son had grown three inches taller and twenty pounds heavier since I‟d seen him a week ago. Going on seventeen, Chris looked very much a grown man, lean and muscular with a small goatee growing, light brown hair sprouting from his chin. “Hey Dad,” Chris said. Alfie saw me then, began bouncing up and down in Chris‟s arms. “That‟s a fine looking Jeep out there,” I said. “Thanks. Mom got it for me. Shellie helped pick it out.” “And he took us for a ride already,” Paula said. “He took us to the mall, and to Steak‟n‟Shake, and to the park where he plays ball.” “You made him take you shopping?” “He volunteered.” Chris was grinning. “It wasn‟t so bad. Girls go crazy over the baby.” “Great. Because I‟m not much of a shopper,” I said. “Mom said to tell you she can‟t make it. She has her club meeting tonight.” Paula looked at me. “I talked to her on the phone. She said she didn‟t want to intrude. Whatever that means.” “With Alicia, it‟s better not to ask.” “Here, take your son,” Chris said to Paula. “I want to show my dad the Jeep.”

The Jeep had all the great features, luggage rack, MP3 player, GPS, leather seats. Chris was proud of it, but had taken me outside for another reason. “Is something going on?” he asked. “Like what?” I had looked away, made myself look back. “Sheldon was talking some weird shit last night.” It felt strange, hearing my son say „shit‟ and not objecting to it. I could imagine what Chris might have heard. “Who is Johnny Fallon? Shellie was saying you and this guy Fallon were going to be in a lot of trouble. He said you wanted his money,” Chris told me. “I‟m sorry you had to hear Sheldon‟s big mouth.” “I‟ve been listening to it my whole life. But this was something way different.” I had never discussed my past life with my son. Alicia had wanted it that way, and in reality it was easier. I‟d been in the computer business while Chris was growing up in the Teller house, had been the weekend father. The Business was over and done. Now here it was all over again, inside Chris‟s house, affecting his mother and stepfather, and his dad had to explain why. I felt caught in a lie. My life was the lie. “Chris,” I began, my son‟s full attention on me. “There are times when the past comes back on you. That‟s what‟s happening now. Before you were born, Johnny Fallon and I were in The Business together. Sheldon was our lawyer.” “Mom said you were smugglers.” “Yeah. That business.” “Hey. That‟s cool. You don‟t have to explain.” There are things a kid knows in his own way, I understood, seeing the look in those young eyes. He had his own image of me as a smuggler, like a pirate or something. “I‟m not trying to get Sheldon‟s money, Chris. I‟m not helping anybody get it either.” “I know that. He‟s always talking shit.”

“But he has a good reason to worry about Johnny Fallon.” “Maybe this is his wake-up call.” “Oh yeah?” “Coach says we all need a wake-up call now and then, even standing there with your eyes open.” “Well, he‟s exactly right. I really don‟t want dirty money involved in my life anymore. I like my life now. I appreciate all the things Sheldon has done for your mother. And for you. This is a pretty nice ride you‟ve got here, Chris. But this other thing is a secret, all right? Just between you and me.” Chris looked at me, still not square with what he‟d been told. “I think you should kick Sheldon‟s ass,” Chris said. The image of Sheldon on the carpet flashed through my mind. “For me or for you?” “Both.” “Everybody gets what‟s coming to them sooner or later.” I put my arm around his shoulders. “Don‟t worry about it. I‟m glad you see what‟s going on now. Let‟s keep it that way. You worry about school and girls and soccer. That‟s a good life. That‟s the life I‟ve always wanted for you.” “Does Mom know all this?” “Yep. Don‟t let on you know, if you hear what I‟m saying. You want to talk about this stuff, come to me.” “You are something else, Dad.” “I‟m hungry, that‟s what I am. Let‟s go cook something special.” “And Paula?” Chris asked. “She doesn‟t need to know. The Business is not something I feel comfortable talking about. I need those days to be over. The fewer people who know, the better.”

“Good. I like her. She‟s really smart. But she might not understand this stuff.” “Now you‟ve got the picture.” But when we went back in, Paula acted like she knew she had been left out of something. I could feel it, the change in her expression, like a cloud moved in front of the sun casting a shadow. “Everything all right?” she asked. She was cleaning the kitchen, wiping down the countertop. Alfie sat in a portable high chair that bracketed to the dining table, drinking a bottle of juice. I saw the look in her eyes. “Sure. Chris, how about if you light up the grill? There should still be half a bag of charcoal out there. Then we‟ll make some of my special chicken.” When Chris went out, I went and stood close to Paula. “Yes?” she said. “Chris really likes you.” “Well, great. I like him too.” “There‟s a problem at his house.” “Alicia?” “Not this time. One of my old partners is trying to shakedown her husband for a half million dollars.” “Really?” Like really, that‟s not what I expected to hear. “They think I‟m in on it. I‟m not.‟ “Why would they think that?” “Some of it was my money.” She looked at me from under her hair. I reached to push it from her eyes. “You‟re full of surprises, Rooster,” she said. “I guess.” “And you told Chris not to tell me.”

“Swore him to secrecy.‟ “Blabbermouth.” “That‟s me.” 11. Johnny

Johnny Fallon came through the restaurant doors like a man in a hurry. He looked quickly around at patrons sitting at tables, at the bar, checked where there were exit signs and restrooms and counted the number of waiters and waitresses and what door led to the kitchen, all while walking directly to the booth where I sat drinking beer. In all those years, the walk and the attitude and the posture had not changed. Johnny‟s hair was still clipper-cut close to his head like a soldier‟s, a look that had once again become popular though he could have cared less. He was tanned and powerful looking, muscles well defined under the dark blue knit pullover he wore. Two women eating salads at a corner table said something and they both turned to look and the blonde said something that made her companion laugh. Johnny caught it even with his back to them and turned and smiled to them before he sat down. They smiled back. “Jesus, Rooster, you look like an old man,” he said, grabbing my hand and shaking it enthusiastically. “These girls must think I‟m meeting my father.” “I can‟t believe you, Johnny. You look great.” “Good clean living. Did you order yet?” “No. You hungry?” “Actually, no. Let‟s get out of here, go for a ride.” We got up to leave. I left a five on the table. A young woman with a half-apron and a nametag and two menus approached. Johnny pulled a twenty out of his pocket and held it out to her. “See those two ladies in the corner there. Send them drinks on me, okay, Martha?” “It‟s Marta. Sure. Can‟t stay?”

He took out his cell phone. “Duty calls. Keep whatever change for you, Marta. Did this man pay you?” “I left a five on the table,” I said. “Better check,” Johnny said to her. “Might be a one.” “Good night, guys. Come back soon,” she said. She meant it. Outside Johnny had left his big Lincoln Navigator right in front of the valet stand. He handed a frowning brown skinned kid in a uniform a folded bill that must have been bigger than expected, because his whole face changed when he looked. “Now that wasn‟t so fucking hard, was it, Curley?” Johnny said, motioning for me to get in as the electronic lights of the vehicle came on and the doors unlocked. “Nice ride,” I said across the leather seats. Johnny accelerated quickly out of the parking lot, made an illegal U-turn and headed north on US 1. He checked his rearview until satisfied he was not followed. He pulled a small electronic device with an antenna from under the seat, looked at its reading before he spoke. “You know what this is?” he asked. “You‟re checking to see if I‟m bugged.” “And why would I do that?” “Because you‟re still an asshole.” “Right. Just wanted to make sure we understand each other.” “Never a problem.” “Did you miss me, Rooster? All these years. Tell me you‟re glad to see me.” “I‟m glad to see you, Johnny. I‟m glad you‟re out. I‟m glad you‟re healthy and have a nice car and a good tan. I‟m just not sure why you‟re here.” “I‟m here to help you, my old friend.” “That‟s funny. I was going to offer you a job to help you get back on your feet.” Johnny laughed like he‟d been told a joke.

“Does it look like I need help getting back on my feet? I mean, look around, Rooster. You come work for me, I‟ll give you this car. Or any car you want. I came to help you get some real money again.” “I can offer you thirty thousand salary plus ten per cent commission on everything you sell. The DooMee products are going to be a big hit.” “DooMee?” He was unfamiliar with the term. “Dick massagers.” “You need to listen to me, Rooster. I don‟t want to sell dick massagers. I don‟t want you selling dick massagers. You come with me you can make thirty thousand a month. Tell that beaner to take his job and shove it. I need you with me.” We drove to the Rickenbacker Causeway, letting the conversation sink in as we approached the tollbooth. Johnny paid but shook his head. “Toll‟s doubled what it used to be.” “What doesn‟t cost more?” “Everything looks so different except here. This doesn‟t look much different than in the Eighties,” Johnny said. “Except for the giant island condos lighting up the bay.” “That was started then. I was buying in on William‟s Island before the Feds got me. Fucking RICO Act. They can‟t actually catch you at anything so they invent a law that lets them arrest you anyway. What‟s happened to this country?” “Why didn‟t you call or write in all this time?” I wanted to know. “So they could bust you too? Come on, Rooster. You know the routine. Only family, and then only family that didn‟t work with you. You could have been RICO Act‟d just like me. Anyway, I heard you went down too. How‟d you screw up?” I was actually embarrassed. “I got popped in Tampa delivering half a pound of coke to some gamblers this guy knew. Turns out it was a set-up. I walked right into it.”

I did not continue right away, busy watching Johnny fresh out prison driving a car that had to cost eighty grand. Day to day reality was out the window, on the other side of the tinted glass. “I wasn‟t much of a coke dealer. I was my own best customer,” I said . “I fucked up, all right. Had a wife, a new baby. The Business was over. You disappeared. I just kept waiting for something to happen, get it all started up again.” “Sheldon was your attorney, right?” “Oh yeah.” “And then he stole your wife and baby after he lost the case, right?” “Pretty much so. I was at Lake Butler being processed when I got the word.” “That bastard is about to get his world dumped upside down. Good old Sheldon is going to learn the hard way. Rules of The Business. You don‟t bullshit a bullshitter. And you don‟t fuck with a fucker. Just wait until I get done with him.” “Alicia would have dumped me anyway,” I said, though he seemed not to hear. We rode in silence again as Johnny drove down the causeway. It was the end of November and the kids were still in school and the winter tourists had not yet arrived. We parked at Hobie Beach, away from the few other cars out on a windy night. “If a cop comes, pretend like you‟re blowing me,” Johnny said. “Why don‟t you pull down your pants while I go get some beer?” “I got beer. There‟s a cooler in the back with the fishing gear.” “I might be falling in love in spite of myself.” “You‟ve always been such a pushover.” We got out. The night was cloudless and starry and the bright half-moon reflected on the surface of the water. There was enough of a north breeze I was glad to be wearing long sleeves in the crisp clean air. Johnny opened the rear hatch to a neatly arranged cargo area with tackle box, two rod and reels, a gaff on a pole, a pole net, a flare gun, a fire extinguisher, a flannel jacket,

wading boots, and a big Coleman lantern beside a red and white cooler with wheels and a pull handle. “Nice,” I said, smiling at Johnny. “I thought you‟d like it. And look what I‟ve got here.” He pulled a buffed aluminum attaché case from under the jacket and spun the combination numbers. When he opened the two snaps, the lid popped up. The case was filled with stacks of money. “Jesus. What‟s that?” Johnny let me look. I saw his eyes checking the beach and the road before he closed it up and spun the lock. “Fifty thousand dollars, Rooster. That‟s for you.” He slid the case back under the jacket. I stood slack-jawed. “I don‟t get it,” I said finally. “Well, let‟s have a beer and talk about it.” We pulled a couple longnecks from the ice and walked down to the water‟s edge. The lights of Vizcaya and Coconut Grove marked the serpentine coast and farther down the beach Key Biscayne quietly held its place as if waiting for some holiday to bring it to life. The Christmas lights were not yet hung on all the street lamps. The palms leaned forward in the wind and this was autumn in the tropics, this humidity and quiet; no brightly colored leaves, no smoke from raked piles, no bare trees or threat of snow. Shells crunched beneath our shoes as we walked. “How did your time go?” I asked. “You know how it is.” Johnny looked off at the horizon line, remembering how it is. “You do your time without becoming a queer or a Christian, there‟s still a little bit of you left at the end of the day.” “I hear that.”

“It seemed like forever at first, like I was just going to die of boredom and old age. Then they saw in my jacket that I had a construction company and they put me to work remodeling the yard. Hell, I must have done over a million dollars worth of projects for the facility by the time I left. It made the time go faster and helped me get privileges. I even had an office in the workshop by the end. But you think I just got out, don‟t you? Rooster, I‟ve been out for nearly three years. Doesn‟t seem like that long sometimes. But be glad you didn‟t hook-up with me when I first got released. Took a lot of crazy shit to get me back to normal.” I drank from the bottle, tried to picture Johnny getting out three years ago, where he went, what he did, why he didn‟t call. There was Johnny. He was getting out. He was free. He went to a quiet forest, sat beneath a tree. Then he began digging up a box. In the box, once he got it clear and wiped it off, there were stacks of money. Beneath the money were a .45 automatic and two extra clips. I wondered how far from the truth was this little vision. “How did you get your sentence cut? A mitigation?” I asked. “Ten years the Feds spent making a case against Don Ricardo, they snatch him from his finca and fly him to Miami. But while waiting for the trial to begin, the two key witnesses get killed. The Feds have no case. So who do they come looking for? Yours truly, my friend. They need me to testify. They have the photos of my business meetings with this drug kingpin. They make me the offer I cannot refuse. The trial goes down, I say my lines, and whoosh, out to Fremont to work in some aircraft factory with a brand new identity. Before you know it I am out from behind the fence and in the witness protection program.” “You testified against Ricardo?” “Hey. It was me or somebody else. They weren‟t letting the guy go. So I got out of Federal prison and Ricardo went in. Nature of The Business.” “Jesus, Johnny. I never knew.”

“Two and a half years of this bullshit. Then one day my case agent shows up, offers me a new deal, and before you can say Artful Dodger, Johnny Fallon is born anew. Sets me up to work with these Homeland Security guys. A couple ex-mercenaries. Sick motherfuckers.” Johnny‟s gaze was so intense I felt caught up in it until we were both chuckling. Then Johnny walked to the car and brought two more cold ones. “So you see, Rooster your deliverance is at hand. Out of the blue your old partner reappears and offers you a new deal. What do you think of that? Did you ever in a million years think I‟d be the one bailing you out of this mess you‟ve got yourself into? You know who you have to thank for this generous offer? Sister Ellen.” This time I did laugh out loud, hearing the name from so long ago. “Sister Ellen told me to watch out for you, Jonathan. She thought you had your head in the clouds way too much.” “That‟s funny,” I told him. “She told me to try to keep you out of trouble. Johnny‟s a good boy, she said, but trouble just comes looking for him sometimes.” “That fucking nun. God bless you, Sister Ellen. We love you, wherever you are.” We drank a toast in the dark, to Sister Ellen and watching out for each other and getting free after being locked in chains. When it came down to it, there were no other people we could talk to about the Business. Our strange history. “You still pissed about the last deal?” Johnny asked, reading my thoughts. “That was a long time ago. What a disaster. And you just took off and left it all for me.” “You made another deal with Ricky, didn‟t you?” “Didn‟t have much choice. Ricardo would not believe you were gone. Had to do something to get the money back.” “And it got caught.” “Main engine blew on the piece of shit freighter Ricky sent. Adrift in the Gulf Stream for a week. The captain finally called the Coast Guard himself when he realized there was no help

coming. Turns out there was my load and another for the Boston guys on the same boat. Basically, that was Ricky‟s last run. The coke cartel took over after that, put the marimberos out of business. Put me out of business.” “See? You needed your partner.” “I kept waiting for you to show up. You remember Alicia? She was pregnant. I needed cash. She wanted to get money from Daddy, good old rich Daddy. I started buying and selling coke, dealing with some of the young guns from Colombia. Started whoring around, freebasing for days, spending what money I made on these deals. Until finally I flew drunk to Tampa to make a quick sale and walked right into a trap. Probably saved my life. I was in a bad way. The only way to clean up was to get busted. Sounds crazy but I swear it‟s the truth.” We sat silent, all the why‟s of the past rolling away like the surf down the beach. “Well, we‟ve gone our separate ways, Johnny. I really don‟t see that changing because we‟re having beers and bullshitting. You know what I‟m saying?” “Hey, don‟t get offended. Your personal life is your business. I meant no disrespect.” “Sure. But listen to what I‟m saying. We‟ve gone our separate ways. I don‟t know why you‟d even think I‟d work with you again. Don‟t give me that Sister Ellen bull crap. Don‟t tell me about the good deed you‟re going to do for me. Don‟t help me out. Okay? Because we both know you never help anybody but yourself, Johnny. It‟s the way you are.” Johnny looked at me hard. “You are one cold motherfucker,” he said. “Keep your money, Johnny. Go away. Stay away.” “Rooster, listen to me now. You‟re the only honest man I know. The people I‟m working with, I can‟t trust anybody. We do a deal and I know then they are coming after me and my money. I know it.” “You‟re talking about the feds?”

“ Feds? Rooster, these guys are the original License To Kill operators. I need someone I trust to get my money somewhere safe for me. I need somebody who won‟t change sides at the end of the deal. I need you, Rooster. Don‟t just blow me off because of the past. Let‟s make one last deal, you and me, get our fair share and go away forever. Will you consider what I am saying? We both need a score. Go out winners.” We stared at each other, two guys who knew each other as kids forty years ago, two guys who risked our lives together for money and adventure, two fifty year old men now looking at the age showing on the other‟s face and wondering how much old friend was under that skin, that silvery hair. “It‟s raining. Get in the car.” “I want to think about it,” I said, getting back into the leather seat.. “Thanks. That‟s all I‟m asking.” “I need to get going.” “Sure, buddy. First let‟s make a stop. That fifty large in the back? Help me out for a minute, it‟s yours. Tonight.” “Jesus, Johnny.” “No big deal. Just want to show I‟m serious.” “I don‟t know about this.” “There‟s nothing going on you need to know about, Rooster.” “Johnny, you show up after fifteen years, act like nothing‟s happened. I‟m glad you‟re not behind the fence anymore. All right?” “That‟s a relief. For a while I wasn‟t sure.” “And I offered you a job selling computers. You laughed at me.” I paused to make the point that I wasn‟t kidding. “Johnny, let me tell you something. There‟s nothing wrong with it. Live a normal life, work with normal people, pay your bills, and head home. Go to a bar where you know everybody, watch football on the widescreen TV, get laid every now and then. You

don‟t have to be rich to enjoy being alive. I don‟t want to be rich. I don‟t like money. I don‟t like rich people, I don‟t like what they do or how they think. I like being left alone.” “Rooster, my friend, take it easy,” Johnny said. “I know you‟re a working class hero. You are the wage-slave to end all wage-slaves. I‟m proud to know a man like you.” “Fuck you. I‟m trying to tell you something.” “I appreciate what you‟re saying. Honest to God,” Johnny leaned over, mocking my sincerity. “I‟m flattered that, after all these years and everything that‟s happened, you still care enough to offer your old friend and partner a low paying position in the sweatshop where you yourself work so hard to make other men rich. You have heart, Rooster. Real heart. That‟s what‟s got you to where you are today.” We looked at each other and I finally laughed. “Can you believe this?” I asked. “My life made sense to me until just now.” Why did the truth always seem so funny? No wonder people accused me of not taking things seriously. Being serious cracked me up. “Hey. Don‟t think I‟ve got it any better of than you,” Johnny said, and looked over. “The guys I work for, you don‟t want to know. You don‟t produce, your bonus check gets smaller. I don‟t produce, I sleep with the fishes. When I call you a slave, it‟s one slave to another. Don‟t get me wrong.” “These are the feds you‟re talking about?” Rain started a mist we drove into. I watched the wipers smear, then clean the windshield. “They‟re feds, but not like other feds,” Johnny told me. “These are deep cover guys. CIA, NSA, hell, I don‟t even know. My guys are ex-mercenaries. They have a mission, they get federal money and equipment, but the shit they do, you‟ll never see it on TV. I doubt the government even knows what these guys do.” “Jesus. And you can‟t walk away?”

Johnny shook his head. “Not an option. I mean, they tell me when we‟re done, I can go. But I don‟t think so. More like they throw me out of an airplane over the deep blue sea.” His eyes blinked once, like he visualized it happening. “My plan is to acquire as much money as I can and make a run for it,” Johnny said. “Keep a stash to buy them off if they find me. I don‟t know what else to do.” “Christ, Johnny.” “Tell me about it.” “Tell me something,” I said at last. “What?” Johnny said. “Would your plan be any different if you weren‟t working for these guys?” Johnny smiled broadly. “I like the way you think.” “What way is that?” “You think we should kill these guys and keep all the money.” “You‟re crazy,” I said, shaking my head. “That‟s not what I mean. What money? What money are you talking about?” Johnny drove a while before he spoke, a thoughtful look on his face, and I knew he was trying to figure out if there was a way to take out his mentors, some way he had not considered before, some way that would involve me in an active role, get me in real trouble. “You know who FARC is?” Johnny asked. “I know FARC the Colombian guerrillas.” “That‟s right. They‟ve taken control of the drug business down there. Anyone who wants to operate has to pay them. Don‟t pay the tariff, they kill you, kill your family, everybody.” “Okay. But that‟s down south.” “Well, there were a lot of people saw it coming, got out, moved to the States before they were targeted. This pissed off the guerillas royally. They‟re coming after them.”

“Here? In the States?” I had heard something about the guerrillas and the traffickers, but this was new. “Some guys escaped with millions in assets. Cash, jewelry, stocks and bonds. FARC wants their tariff. So they send hitmen, go after their targets.” “Probably right here in Miami.” Johnny looked at me. “Now you get the picture.” “Not really. I still don‟t see where you fit in.” “Well. My guys turned one of these hitmen around. They got the list of targets. They call it the FARC Shitlist. Their mission is to get to the targets first. Take the assets. I mean, it‟s not like these gangsters can go to the cops for help.” “You guys rip-off dealers. I get the picture, Johnny.” I could not keep the disappointment out of my voice. “Hey. It‟s not like they‟re paying taxes or something.” “That‟s what the guys who killed Knight must have said.” Knight was a friend of ours in St. Pete, killed in his bed by two guys looking for his stash of money. A long time ago, but not so long the memory didn‟t chill both of us. “These are beaner gangsters, Rooster. They‟re nothing like Knight. There‟s not one of them that isn‟t a murderer and a thief a hundred times over. Like Ricardo. How many farmers did that guy rip off? How many do you think he killed when they came to collect their money? Fuck all of them. They‟re dirt bags.” . Light rain kept falling, the palms bent patiently in the damp breeze. Traffic was light as we headed down the causeway past the marina. “Where are we going?” I asked. “To dinner. I have to make a stop first. Relax.” We continued into the Key past Crandon Park. “I saw Sheldon the other day,” I said.

“Oh yeah. Speaking of thieves, eh? How‟s that bastard doing?” “He‟s freaked. You can‟t tell him to give the money to me, Johnny. I told you I don‟t want anything to do with that scene. I want you to leave him alone.” Johnny grunted. “Rooster, right now, that is a low priority for me. Okay? If it makes trouble for you, then, okay, I‟ll back off. Fair enough? I had no idea you guys were so tight.” “We‟re not. But he lives with Chris and Alicia. I have to get along. Understand?” “No problem. It‟s your world, pal. I‟m just living in it.” Johnny turned and began following the narrow lane down to the big houses on the Bay. These were giant places, BeBe Rebozzo houses, surrounded by iron fences. Most were dark, hidden by big trees, their private drives leading into the gloom. At one he turned down a delivery alley and pulled up to an iron gate with a chain and a padlock and stopped. “Pretty nice place, huh?” Johnny asked. “Yours?” “No way. I‟ve been house sitting for a friend. I‟m going to run in and get my suitcase. I‟d invite you in but the place is like a freaking museum, you can‟t touch anything. Here. You drive. I‟ll be out in a minute. We‟ll go to the Pelican and get stuffed.” Johnny reached under the seat and took something wrapped in newspaper before he climbed down and went to the gate. I got down and went to the driver side as Johnny opened the lock with a key and waved to drive the Lincoln inside the fence. “Park under that big magnolia tree out of the rain,” Johnny called. “I‟ll be right out.” I parked, leaving the engine running and watched as Johnny used another key and went inside. I saw a light come on in part of the mansion, turned the radio on, caught the nightly sports report on the Dolphins chances against the Jets. Then the program was turned over to listeners calling in, and they all disagreed with the analyst‟s report favoring the Fins. From their accents, they were calling from Brooklyn. I was considering calling in and griping about the Jets fans

monopolizing the airwaves when it dawned on me Johnny was taking a lot more than a minute. I was about to flash the headlights at the back of the house when it all started happening. First, headlights of a big double-wheeled pickup lighted the front gates. Then the gates opened electronically, swinging in to either side of the white rock driveway. The vehicle drove in toward the front of the house then stopped. From an angle its lights shined on the Lincoln parked in the back and I knew right away this was trouble. Doors opened, men got out and started pointing at me, then more men got out, armed with pistols and automatic rifles. “Oh shit,” I said aloud. The side door of the Lincoln opened suddenly and Johnny scrambled in, carrying a rectangular black box. Metal flanges, some with bolts still in the sockets, were twisted around it. “Go!” Johnny yelled. “Floor it! Through there.” He pointed at the way we had come in as shots rang out in the wet night. A tree branch was hit and fell on the roof as we sped through the delivery gate. “Left, then the first right. Get out to the boulevard fast.” Johnny reached back and pulled out a Glock automatic. “Don‟t stop for anything.” “God damn it, Johnny. What have you done?” I drove through the intersection without slowing down, raced out onto the wide boulevard to head out of the Key. “Floor it, Rooster. Don‟t worry about cops.” The headlights and then the 4 x 4 came tearing out into the street chasing us. In the rear mirror I could see someone hanging out the rear window with a rifle. The muzzle flashed and our car‟s side mirror blew up into a million shards of shiny glass and bent metal. “Shit,” I screamed. “Shit shit shit.” “Get around the bend,” Johnny yelled at me. “Don‟t let up.” He forced the metal box to floor between his feet, started lowering his window to get off a shot. We were hitting eighty something as we passed the park. A black Crown Vic was parked down in the sea oats.

“Cop car!” I screamed. Sweat from nowhere ran down into my eyes. “That ain‟t a cop. Just drive, damn it.” I floored it and we bounced as the road dipped and came up suddenly. The Lincoln had one hell of an engine. I could see we were pulling away from the pickup but had no idea of what would happen at the tollbooth or at US 1. I watched in the mirrors as the pickup approached the sea oats and the dark Ford hidden there. And then BOOM, the truck exploded in a ball of fire, flames twenty feet high, and rolled into the park and crashed into the trees. I ducked my head instinctively and took my foot off the gas, staring at the fire and smoke. “Ha!” Johnny shouted, pounding the dash. “Take that, motherfuckers.” “Jesus, what happened?” “Superior firepower, buddy. Wins every time. Keep going, head for the Pelican‟s lot.” Johnny had a crowbar and he pried open the metal box on the floor between his feet. I slowed but the car still slid as we turned into the long driveway leading to the parking lot of the Rusty Pelican restaurant. I pulled to the side and stopped. My heart was pounding crazily, my mouth hung open gulping air as Johnny reached into metal box and pulled out a handful of rough pale green stones. “What the hell is that?” “Kryptonite,” Johnny said, laughing. “What? Johnny we‟ve got to get out of here. There‟s going to be cops everywhere in a couple minutes. We‟ve got to go.” “Cool it. We‟re okay.” Johnny held the pale green rocks under the overhead light. “Emeralds,” he said. “I had bad information. These are uncut. I have no idea what they‟re worth. There must be ten pounds of these fucking things.”

Johnny looked up, pointed, as the black Ford Crown Victoria, its windows dark as death, passed us on the highway. The driver flashed his high beams off and on a couple times then sped away. “See what I mean? Those are some tough hombres,” Johnny said. He scooped a handful of smaller stones and handed them to me. “Take these. And some more. Here. I‟ll have to take a rain check on dinner.” “That was your guys?” I stuffed the rocks into my pockets. “What am I supposed to do with these?” “I don‟t know. Hang on to them till I find someone knows how to cut them. They‟re probably worth a bundle cleaned up. Now hop down.” “What? I can‟t stay here.” Johnny face was shiny with sweat, like he‟d just had a quick game of tennis, and I was furious he could be so calm after what he‟d just done. I punched Johnny hard in the chest, tried to hit him again, but Johnny grabbed my hand. “It‟s all right, Rooster. Trust me. All the cops will be going that way, to the fire. Nobody knows what we‟re doing. Besides, you don‟t want to be sitting in this car if they do. So go get yourself a drink and a nice dinner and then take a taxi and go home.” “Are you out of your fucking mind?” But Johnny put the box behind the seats and got down and went round to the driver‟s side. “Look, Rooster. I know that was a shock. Honestly, the bad guys were supposed to be out of town.” “You can‟t do this shit, Johnny. I don‟t want this happening in my life.” “Well, we‟ll talk. Now hop down so I can get this fucking car out of here before it‟s too late.”

Sirens filled the night air as police cars and emergency vehicles raced in formation to the park. When I got down, I could see smoke rising high above the orange glow. I was shaking, my teeth chattering like it was freezing cold. Johnny put the car into gear and turned a quick U in the lot, running over the curb. When he got beside me, he rolled down the window. “I‟ll call you next week,” he yelled. “Don‟t,” I yelled back. Johnny laughed and waved and sped away, leaving me standing there wet in the dark, my pockets full of uncut gems. I watched the Lincoln get to the highway and roar off. More flashing lights and sirens went the opposite way. As I walked, I cursed Johnny Fallon and the way he‟d suckered me into this. I‟d had the beJesus scared out of me, I survived danger, nearly got killed, and I tingled with the weird sense of adventure that comes when something extraordinary happens. Johnny still had his fifty grand, and was driving away. How many times in the past had he shown money, then somehow gotten out of paying me? Keep your damn money then. Wait till I see you, son of a bitch. And I cursed myself for going along with it after all. It was like I was back in The Business. ###

The Big Kaboom is Part One of my novel, Rooster: The Big Kaboom, available soon. This free download provides a generous sample of what you can expect, a boisterous comic thriller that delivers the entertainment readers expect from writers with something to say. Disclaimer: Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra are trademarked brand names for pharmaceutical products that, when used as prescribed by physicians, treat medical conditions in effective ways unavailable to previous generations. Their side-effects are minimal, and clearly indicated in their product literature and advertisements, and should always be discussed with the prescribing doctor or other consulting physicians. They should never be used without a prescription and physician consultation, or in ways not specified in the manufacturers‟ literature. Sarah Palin is one of the leading political figures of the twenty-first century. The former governor of Alaska and candidate for Vice-President of the United States was not contacted by this author at anytime during the writing of this novel. Ms. Palin is certainly one of the most attractive politicians featured regularly in the media, and has never, in my two years of watching her, said anything that she did not believe in her heart to be true. That‟s a rare thing in a career politician, and will guarantee Ms. Palin‟s continuing popularity. My text is not intended to discredit Sarah Palin or embarrass her family in any way. Rooster is about technology‟s insidious interference with our old time values, and certainly Ms. Palin is a champion of that cause. All the characters and businesses are fictious, and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. The DooMee does not exist —yet. But the technology is there, and the device may appear before final printings of this novel Be ready, folks. As they say, we have to be careful what we wish for. Neil Crabtree, September 7, 2010. Discover other works by Neil Crabtree at Smashwords.com Believable Lies, stories for grown-ups

The Dead Mayberrys and Other Stories a free book of weird stories Believable Lies is also available as a print paperback at Amazon.com

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