Category Archives: fiction

The whole damned city had changed

“Me?” I said. No one comes to see me. Not anymore.

“You are Mr. Pyrus,” she said. It wasn’t a question.

“Just Pyrus will do. My friends call me…”

“We shan’t be friends,” she said with a sweet smile. “Can we talk somewhere?”

Shan’t we? Has this woman modeled herself on an Audrey Hepburn character, I wondered. Anyway, we couldn’t go back to my office, not with Thorn strapped to a street sign. “Let’s take a walk.”

All that commotion surrounding the shooting spree was ramping up. Police cars, helicopters, ambulances, TV reporters – all the usual. The city was getting good at dealing with this nonsense. We walked in silence down 9th toward Gansevoort Street, where the Whitney Museum had relocated a couple years ago. It was a nice space if you were into art. We ducked into a cafe on Washington St., a place with $7 coffee and $10 muffins. The place had changed. The whole damned city had changed.

I bought her a cup of coffee. She declined the muffin, saying, “I don’t eat bread.”

“What’s this all about?”

“It’s my husband,” she started. She wasn’t wearing a ring, but I could see the outline as if she’d just slipped it off. “He’s a runner. He likes to run in the early morning. When he came home Friday morning after his run…”

She looked around. We were sitting outside on a bench, our backs to the Ripoff Cafe watching people walk by. “That man who was following me…”

“Don’t worry about him,” I said. At least not for now. Maybe later.

“When my husband came home, he was agitated.” That word was a little warning sign to me. People don’t use words like agitated when they’re about to describe a traumatic event. Maybe they’d say upset. Or freaked out. But agitated? No.

“And his name is?”

“Oh, yes. Of course. Alder Fanspree. I’m Laurel.”

“What happened next, Mrs. Fanspree?”

A man in running attire came around the corner of Horatio St. and stopped in front of us. Mrs. Fanspree gasped and quickly rose and touched his cheek with her hand. He was taller than she was by a few inches. They kissed.

“Mr. Pyrus, this is my husband.”

I reached out to shake his hand.

“I was about to tell you that he was missing,” she said. “But I think we may not be needing your services after all.”

I shook his hand.

“I’m afraid we do,” Alder Fanspree said. “Need your help, I mean. Does the name Shnabullious Traffletum mean anything to you?”

“No,” I said. “Not really.” I was beginning to doubt the Fansprees. “Traffletum. Come on, that’s not even a real name.”

They were wasting my time. On the other hand, I had a lot of free time and they both did appeared to be genuinely shaken up. We sat down on the bench, the three of us. Mr. Fanspree also had the shadow of a ring on his ring finger.

Yeah, yeah, yeah

It’s a bad idea, going after the woman. It’s already cost me a sport coat and pair of pants. Nice pants. If I think about it I’m already invested in this case. What case? She has disappeared up ninth and I’m a block away.

On top of that, I’ve pissed off whoever Thorn works for. Thorn’s a common simpleton with bills to pay. But his boss, he’ll come calling on me, no doubt. I round the corner at ninth, pedaling uptown now. The street’s packed with the usual traffic. Trucks double- and triple-parked unload produce, pedicabs slow down the one lane that is moving. There’s no space to squeeze through with the old bike so I jump the curb and now I’m swerving through a mass of foot commuters.

“Get off the curb, asshole,” a guy shouts.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I say.

“Get off and walk it or you’re getting a ticket,” a cop says. “Oh, hey, Pyrus, how you doing? I didn’t see it was you”

I dismount. “Hey, Weed,” I call back over my shoulder. I stop. “You see a pretty redhead in a black skirt come by?”

“‘Bout a minute ago she crossed 19th.”

“Thanks.”

At 19th, I lose her. I look left. I look right. I check straight ahead. I turn on 19th, heading west, toward the High Line and the Hudson River beyond. It’s a nice day. Maybe I’ll lock the bike and walk, or ride in the park next to the river.

I pass the galleries and coffee shops, peering in the windows to see if I can catch a glimpse of red hair. The galleries aren’t open yet but the coffee shops are crowded with morning types wanting their specialized brews. Just give me a simple espresso and I’m happy.

I’m near the High Line when I hear a rapid firing of shots followed by screams and more shots. I see a man running and shooting calmly on the raised park, an old train line that serviced the butcheries and factories of the former meat packing district.

“Great.  Another angry man with a gun,” a woman says. Standing beside me, two cups of coffee in hand, is the redhead. She hands me a cup. “I assume you take it black?”

We stand there and watch the man duck behind cover. He’s cleared the High Line and now he comes to the railing and starts shooting at people in the street below. “Maybe we should get out of here,” she says.

But then a single loud shot cracks and the man tumbles forward over the railing smacking onto the street below him. Later, we’d learn that he killed seven and wounded 23. My buddy Weed, a member of NYC’s finest, heard the shots, grabbed the rifle from the trunk of his cruiser and nailed him with a single shot from a block away.

“I wanted to thank you for stopping that man earlier.”

“Sure. Where were you heading to in such a hurry?”

She takes a sip from her cup. “To see you.”

She looks familiar, but then, everyone does at a distance

Editor’s Note: this is a continuation of story started two posts earlier about a reluctant detective. You may recall that the narrator observed a man chasing a woman down Eighteenth Street and out of a sense of either chivalry or boredom decided to intervene. There’s no connection to the most recent post, and no way to explain that entry’s  appearance other than we’ve had some difficulty with the writer lately and he’s back on track now after we threatened to replace him with either a robot or a random word generator. 

I’m standing there on Eighteenth in the shadows of the overhead building corridor, twisting the arm of a thug I happen to know who goes by the name of Thorn. I shove his face into the wall, just enough to let him know that he’s got some explaining to do.

“Thorn,” I say. “How’s things?”

“Not bad. Keeping busy,” he says.

“That kid of yours ever get straightened out?”

“Yeah. You wouldn’t believe it, but he’s applying to law school,” he says. “Thanks for asking.”

“Great. That’s great to hear. Why are you chasing the lady?” I ask.

“There’s no chase,” he says. “I’m just in a hurry.”

With my free arm, I increase the pressure on his face. It has to be uncomfortable, but he doesn’t make a sound. The red-headed woman is now nearly a block away. Even with her in those heels, I wouldn’t be able to catch her on foot. She looks back over her shoulder, stops for a moment, appraising the situation, then slows to a casual walk. She looks familiar, but then, everyone does at a distance.

Decision time: get some answers from the thug, or go after the woman and see if she has anything to say. There’s a third option. Keep the thug here long enough to let the woman get away, then get back to the business of finding some business.

I twist Thorn’s arm with a bit more pressure. “Still got nothing to say?”

This time he responds, “Unnnnh.” I’m getting through, but not fast enough. I think maybe the woman might be in a chattier mood.

“Have it your way,” I say. I pull a zip tie out of my pocket, untwist his arm and zip his wrists together behind his back. With another tie, I zip him to a street sign. Then with a third, I zip him at the ankles to the sign. That ought to keep him still.

“Good luck with things,” I say, waving goodbye.

“Yeah, you too, Py,” he says.

I unlock the door to the Flamm, grab my bicycle, a Rudge, and sling my leg over the seat and wheel off down Eighteenth in pursuit. My right pant leg, however, gets caught between the crank and the chain and in an instant the bike halts and I go over the handlebars landing hard on the cobbled street. I pick myself up to check for damage. A hole in the jacket and shirt at the elbow and a bloodied, skinned elbow showing through. The right pant leg torn at the cuff. Damn. I like this jacket.

I tuck the pant leg into the sock and start off again, a little more slowly.

The takedown

The morning of the takedown was the first time dad said to Mara and me, “Don’t waste food,” and it had real meaning. We might regret not having that food soon enough. She was little and had burned her bread and didn’t want to eat it. Dad said the time of excess was coming to an end and people had to compete with each other and with wildlife for the first time in anyone’s memory.

We walked to the big hill, my sister and I each gripping one of my father’s gnarled hands. The people circled the great White Oak that stood with giant sheltering arms spread over the hillside, stretching some 120 feet into the sky. Mrs. Heiser arrived and the circle parted and let her in. “Quercus alba,” she said, and, shading her eyes with a hand, looked up to its crown. “All things must pass,” she said to the crowd.

“All things must pass,” they replied.

She walked completely around the base of the tree, running a hand along the rough bark. After completing a circuit, she stopped and stood with a palm resting on the bark, eyes closed. The tree was sick, beginning to show the early signs of the blight. “We must take her now,” Mrs. Heiser said. “so that we can salvage her wood.”

 “What does she mean, dad,” Mara asked.
     “She means that the blight hasn’t gotten deep into the wood yet, but it will. If we don’t cut her down, she’ll fall soon enough and the wood will be useless, even for burning.”
     “All right,” Mrs. Heiser said. “We’ve all done this before. If you don’t know what to do, now’s the time to ask because once we start, it gets dangerous. This beautiful old white oak was here before your great grandparents and probably would have gone on living if times had stayed the way they were.”
     “But they didn’t,” a man called out.
     “They didn’t!” the people replied in one voice.
     “They didn’t, and we’re the reason,” Mrs. Heiser said.
     “We’re the reason!”
     “We honor this tree by cutting her down and using her branches and boards, for shelter, for heat, for whatever may come.”
     “For whatever may come!” the crowd called out.
She strapped crampons on her boots and wrapped a strap around the tree, sliding her hands through loops at each end. With a  flick of her wrists, the strap went up several feet and she scampered up so that she was now about four feet off the ground. She repeated the process so that in a burst she stood hugging the tree some 30 feet overhead to where the lowest branches split out. She rolled up the strap and hooked it to a clip on her belt and continued climbing by hand until she stood at the point where one of the highest branches split off at an angle. She quickly attached a rope and lowered it. Without a word, someone tied a basket on one end and someone else put in a gigantic pulley with a handle on it.
     “That’s a winch,” the father answered without being asked. “Watch.”
     In a few minutes a man strapped a harness on, it was Mr. Paulings, the tooth man. He waved an arm, and called out, “OK, pull me up” There were two sets of winches, one at the top that Mrs. Heiser turned and a large one at the bottom with a big steel wheel turned by two hulking men. Mr. Paulings was up in a matter of seconds. The two hitched themselves to the trunk and walked out on the branch, and about halfway out, began sawing.
     This would have been quick work with a chain saw, but the community voted to use hand tools to minimize noise and the chance of rovers detecting us.

Catching up with an old friend

The woman passes below my window, my perch in the connecting corridor suspended over 18th Street between two buildings, the Flamm and the Mercator. She’s walking eastbound on the south side of the street, sticking to the thin band of shade shiellding her from the summer sun. It’s not her red hair that has my attention, or her tight skirt that stops just at the knees. It’s the hurried nature of her walk. Gaits are a pastime of mine and hers isn’t the oh shit I’m late kind of walk.  It’s the kind of walk you have when you don’t want someone catching up. Short, quick steps and a quick glance over the shoulder. And there he is, about a half block away, a guy in spandex running gear and a jacket, a hand on the pocket.

If you’re like me you’re thinking that maybe there’s a gun in that pocket. Maybe there’s just a sandwich, an egg and cheese from Jonny’s truck just around the corner. It’s not worth guessing it’s just breakfast. He’s matching her pace, craning his neck around people. She’s looking back over her shoulder every few steps and he’s looking straight ahead. Not gaining on her, but not falling back either.

I grab my sportcoat and race down the steps to the street, coming out of the Flamm door just as the guy’s passing. I fling the door open and it makes him step to the side. I don’t knock him over. Hey, he says.

Hey, yourself, I say and reach out and grab his arm. I have his attention. Get off me, he says. Bobby, I say. Oh it’s you, he says and takes a swing. I see it coming and slide my head back. He makes contact, but it’s no big deal. I take a side step, and twist his arm around behind him.

Fear of _________

There’s too much air in the house,” Lydia said.  She took a deep breath and pinched her nose to hold the air in then all at once blew it out until her lungs were empty. Then she took long sniffling breaths until her lungs refilled, again pinching her nose then coughing the air out.

Archie looked up from his Sunday Times puzzle, which, after three solid evenings of work had little more than the top right corner completed. Sure, there were a few three-letter words scattered about – ego and fur – but the abundance of white space was beginning to agitate him. “I’m never going to finish another puzzle,” he said.

“Who are you kidding? You’ve never come close…,” she squeaked, and on the verge of passing out, took another massive inhale. “…to finishing even the Monday puzzle. Did you hear what I said about the air? There’s too much air.”

“Tourniquet!” Bob said, slapping his hand on the arm of his chair. “This changes everything.”

He glanced up at Lydia, who was holding her nose. Her face was getting red and a bead of sweat drizzled down one of her temples.

“Archie, honey,” she said, “I think I’m going to pass out.”

Her head pitched forward and Archie, quick as an ocelot, sprang from his chair and caught her an inch from the coffee table. He lay her down on the couch with her head on his lap and fanned her face with the Sunday Magazine.

She opened her eyes. “The air,” she started.

“I know. There’s too much of it. Why don’t I open a window to let some out.”

“Oh, would you?”

Archie stood and opened the window.

“Archie?”

“I know, darling, I’ll close it in a minute before too much air gets out.”

She sighed, contented, and picked up his puzzle. “Twenty-seven across.,” she said. “Anemophobia. It fits.”

“Well, look at that; it does.”

“Close the window,” she said.

The jelly bean conversation

Jelly Beans?

No thanx. I’m off sugar.

Oh come on. Have one. Just one won’t hurt.

No really. I’m not eating the sugar anymore.

These are really special jelly beans. They’re imported from Madagascar.

Madagascar? Bullshit.

Kids love ’em. You know, Reagan kept a huge bowl of jelly beans in the Oval Office.

And you’re saying that because Ronald Regan ate jelly beans, I should too.

Yep.

I should start eating processed fake sugar because some wingnut fascist did.

I think you’re being awfully hard on The Great Communicator.

Well, I have a headache.

That’s too bad. Long day?

It’s caffeine withdrawal. I’ve cut out coffee.

Why would you do that? I couldn’t do that.

And Archie, he don’t give a shit. He makes a fresh pot every morning. Drives me up a wall.

Archie’s coffee is the best. Is he still baking those amazing pies? The ones with pralines and burnt sugar…?

I wouldn’t know.

How long you two been together now? Eight, nine year?

Eleven. I don’t know what I’d do without him.

So what is all this about anyway? Why no sugar and coffee?

I just want to be better.

What do you mean? You got diabetes or something?

No.

The cancer? This some new age treatment?

I just want to be better.

How about a jelly bean then?