Biff Sock Pow

Finding the humor in everyday life.

Archive for the category “Biff’s’ Piffling Fiction”

Chief Inspector Biff in “The Drawing Room Murder”

inspector

A 60-Second Mystery

(Solving Times May Vary)

Chief Inspector Biff walked into the drawing room and stood looking about the crime scene, taking it all in. It was your typical overstuffed drawing room in your typical Victorian motif. He was mildly gratified when the two uniformed coppers, one posted at each door of the room, snapped suddenly to attention at his appearance.

“At ease, boys,” he said gruffly. They stood less at attention, but still eyed him warily.

In addition to the uniformed coppers, two plain-clothed inspectors were poking about with little plastic things that looked like pencils, but which were actually solid plastic Official Police Investigation Sticks™. Everyone just called them Opies. They prevented getting fingerprints or body oil all over everything. After all, one never knows what might actually turn out to be evidence. For instance, in The Case of the Compromised Crime Scene it turned out that one of the Opies themselves was a piece of evidence. It had been quite an ordeal to not get them all mixed up. The whole affair had been like a crazy game of Pick-Up Sticks.

“What have you got?” said Chief Inspector Biff to the two investigators who had not even looked up from their fine-toothed comb business.

They stopped crawling about on the floor and stood up to face him. “Not much, I’m afraid, Chief Inspector Biff,” said one of them, gesturing to a small collection of little plastic baggies sitting on one of the occasional tables in the room. “Just the usual assortment of hairs, lint, lipstick-stained cigarette butts, swizzle sticks, cocktail napkins, buttons, pearl earrings, cuff links, tie studs, gold teeth, monocles, cat toys, aglets, paper clips, hair bands, a cheese ball, and a single bullet casing.

The Chief Inspector raised his eyebrow slightly. “What was that you said?”

“Bullet casing?”

“No, before that.”

“Cheese ball?”

“Yes. That one.”

“I said ‘cheese ball‘, Sir,” confirmed the investigator.

“Very interesting,” said the Chief Inspector, stroking his chin thoughtfully. “And where was the murder committed?”

“Right there,” said the inspector, pointing at a body lying between the card table and the clavichord.

Chief Inspector Biff took a step towards the body and bent over slightly at the waist to get a better look at the deceased. After a moment, he straightened back up and turned back towards the inspectors. “Yes. Quite. Very interesting. And who is the deceased?”

“Sir Reginald Duke Lord Baron Earl of Wightsmith Downs-HamptonShire.”

The Chief Inspector raised his eyebrow just a bit higher than it was before. “That’s quite a mouthful. Cause of death?”

“According to the medical examiner, it appears Sir Reginald was done in by that candlestick lying next to him. Blunt trauma, most likely.”

Chief Inspector Biff stroked his chin again. “Sir Reginald . . . in the drawing room . . . with the candlestick.”

“Yes sir, Chief Inspector.”

“And I am sure you noticed the orange-ish smudge on the candlestick?”

“No, Sir.” The inspector looked sheepish.

“Yes. There. On the column, just below the knop.”

The inspector leaned down and looked closer. “Gosh, sir! You’re right. I hadn’t noticed that. I thought it was just a bit of wax.”

“And what is the butler’s name,” asked the Chief Inspector.

“Brimble, Sir.    Nigel Brimble.”

“Sir Nigel Brimble?”

“No, sir.  Just Nigel Brimble.”

“Go fetch him at once. And take a close look at his left index finger. I expect you will find it coated with an orange substance that is nearly impossible to wash off.”

“The cheese ball!” exclaimed the second investigator who, up to this moment, had not had any speaking parts.

“Precisely,” said Chief Inspector Biff, snapping his fingers to drive home his point. “There is no stain more indelible than synthetic cheese powder with a base of one or more of the following: corn oil, canola oil, coconut oil, or palm oil.”

“You’ve done it again, Sir,” said the first inspector, his voice full of awe.

“Posh,” said the Chief Inspector. “It was elementary.”

“That one’s taken, sir,” said the first inspector.

“Oh. Then it was … er … um … facile.”

Everyone was about to laugh, but the scene froze and the credits began scrolling by at a dizzying speed.

 

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An Interview With the Author of the “Alistair and Alexis” Comedy Series

Biff, author of the wildly unpopular “Alistair and Alexis” series of allegedly humorous short stories was recently interviewed by Yuks and Chortles Magazine.  What follows in an unauthorized, copyright-infringing excerpt from that interview.

Y&CM:  We understand, Mr. Biff, that you consider yourself a humor writer.

Biff:  Please.  Just call me Biff.

Y&CM:  Right-o.  Biff it is, then.  And you consider yourself a humor writer?

Biff:  Not originally.  No.  I was an ordinary writer, but in college I kept getting my papers back from my professors with things written in red pen at the top of the paper like “Oh, you think you’re funny, huh?” and “Funny guy, eh?” and “Very humorous.  Please see me after class.

Y&CM:  And that led to a life of comedy writing?

Biff:  No, it led to a life of ostracism and privation.  It seems comedy writers are held in the same regard as carpetbaggers, used car salesman, and people with pinkeye.

Y&CM:  I see.  Most interesting.

Biff:  Not really, no.  But thank you for saying so.

Y&CM:  I would like to ask you about your “Alistair and Alexis” series of short humorous pieces.

Biff:  Must you?

Y&CM:  Yes.  Your check cleared the bank and so this was our agreement.

Biff:  You’ll edit this part out, right?

Y&CM:  Oh yes.  Without a doubt.

Biff:  Good.  Carry on.

Y&CM:  A lot of humor experts and analysts say that comedy very often comes from a dark place, a place of pain.  Is that true of the “Alistair and Alexis” series?

Biff:  Oh yes.  Indubitably.

Y&CM:  And what is the pain that is reflected in “Alistair and Alexis”?

Biff:  The pain and anguish that resulted from my not being born into a wealthy family.

Y&CM:  So you live vicariously through Alistair?

Biff:  No, I live precariously through myself.  Alistair and I are nothing alike.

Y&CM:  How so?

Biff:  Well, Alistair is shallow, self-centered, highly educated while not being very bright, and he tends to drink alcohol when he feels nervous and unsure of himself.

Y&CM:  And how do you differ from that?

Biff: Well, I prefer chocolate to alcohol.

Y&CM:  But you’re alike in every other way?

Biff:  No.  As I pointed out earlier, he is fabulously wealthy.

Y&CM:  And you’re not?

Biff:  Well, I’m a comedy writer …. soooooo …

Y&CM:  So, no.

Biff:  No.

Y&CM:  And what of Alexis?

Biff:  What of her?

Y&CM:  Is she symbolic of something or is she merely a foil for Alistair?  His “straight man”, as it were.

Biff:  I think the politically correct term is “straight person”.

Y&CM:  Straight person, then.

Biff:  Or Person of Straightness.

Y&CM:  As you wish.

Biff:  Or “Human of linear extension with non-curvature”.

Y&CM:  And you feel that accurately describes her?

Biff:  Who?

Y&CM:  Alexis.

Biff:  Oh!  Alexis!  No, she has curves.

Y&CM:  So if she is not merely the … er … um … foil to Alistair’s antics, then is she symbolic of something else?

Biff:  Yes.  She’s symbolic of his wife.

Y&CM:  But she actually is his wife.

Biff:  Right.

Y&CM:  So that’s not symbolic.  That is, in fact, who she is.

Biff:  Symbolic.  Symbiotic.  Semiotic.  Schmimbolic.  Potato, puh-tah-toe.  She just sort of appeared in the first story.  What was I supposed to do?  Tell her to hit the bricks?  They seemed to hit it off okay so I thought, “What they hey?”  And the rest is comedy history.

Y&CM:  Is it?

Biff:  No.  It’s not.

Y&CM:  So what’s next for the “Alistair and Alexis” franchise?

Biff:  Well, Y&CM … do you mind if I call you Y&CM?

Y&CM:  No, go right ahead.

Biff:  Well, Y&CM, I hope to write enough “Alistair and Alexis” stories to be able to mimeograph them out into a small booklet and leave it in the waiting area of Gate 32 in Terminal C of the DFW International Airport.  The plan is to have a literary agent, who might be traveling from Dallas/Fort Worth to, say, Wilmington Delaware in order to scout out a good military school for his bratty son, find the booklet and read it on the plane.

Y&CM:  And you think he will find it so good that he will publish it?

Biff:  No, I expect the mimeograph fumes will be so strong that he gets so high that he thinks it would a good idea to turn “Alistair and Alexis” into a TV series or a movie.

Y&CM:  I see.  That is actually fiendishly clever!

Biff:  Thank you!

Y&CM:  Well, Biff, I see from the time that your check for $32.50 has been consumed and so we must bring this interview to an end.

Biff:  Must we?

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Cracks in the Clay

Short Fiction by Biff

Lonely-plant-penetrating-dry-clay

The Texas sun beat down on my old faded red Ford F-250 like rain on a tin roof, but instead of water, it was heat.  I just sat there sideways on the driver’s seat with the door open, one foot resting on the stepside, waiting for the inside of the truck to cool off a little, but there weren’t enough of a breeze to do much coolin’ off.  The cicadas wailed so loud I couldn’t hear myself think and the sound made it feel 15 degrees hotter’n it probably was.  It was already 110 if it was a degree.

I adjusted my cowboy hat to keep the sun out of my eyes.  I wanted to smoke, but I had give ’em up just about a month ago and I didn’t want to start back.  That was why Amy had left, because I couldn’t seem to stop smoking.  I did finally quit, but by then she had done left and took up with somebody else.  So here I was.

I felt the sweat trickle down my back as I stared out over the acre of waist high weeds that was smack in the middle of nowhere, smack in the middle of the 16 acres my granddaddy left me right before he died.

I reached over and pulled a beer out of the Styrofoam cooler I had sitting in the passenger seat, popped the top, and sat contemplating the field of weeds.  The tall grasses were already brown and raspy from the heat and no rain.  The devil’s tongues were tall and green with red blushes and stickers that’d go right through jeans and into your hide like a pincushion full of hot needles.  Devil’s tongues always grow where nothin’ else will.  Yellow sunflowers stretched up over it all, having clamored up over the fray, curious to see what was up there.  It was as if they had give it all just to see what was going on, but then were disappointed at the view of all the mess and chaos and so just give up, their heads drooping a little

Grandaddy would be spinning in his grave if he knew this field looked like this.  When I was just a young’n, Mama would bring me here and there was always a field of corn or beans or peas or okra, every row as straight as if he’d planted them using a plumb line, everything tall and green and lush.  He always had a bushel of something for Mama, even before Daddy ran off, but he sho nuff did after Daddy up and left.  We never went hungry, even if it was just snap beans or okra.  We may not have ‘et high on the hog, but we for sho didn’t starve neither.

And now look at it.  A goat would starve in this field.  Or get ‘et.  Grandaddy used to try to teach me how to farm, how to grow things, how to make the land give up something to be ‘et, even if that old black clay was as stingy as the devil himself.  I think he was hoping I’d take over and keep this patch turning out food someday, but I was 12 way back then and thought farming was for suckers.  Then Grandaddy died and his land all went to hell, but ‘specially while I was locked up down in Huntsville.  But I’m out now.  I give up smoking.  But not before Amy give up on me.

I looked at the beer in my hand.  I done very nearly give up alcohol too, but not quite.  It was the one thing I inherited from Daddy, other than being worthless.  Mama used to tell me I wasn’t, but all you had to do was look at Daddy to know he was about as worthless as they come.  And ever’body says I’m the spittin’ image of him.  His worthlessness is in my blood as sure as this beer is in my blood or these cracks are in this clay.

I slid out of the truck and down on to the ground and I could feel even through my ol’ wore out boots that the ground was hard as concrete.  It was covered over here and there with thin pads of dead grass, bleached nearly white from the sun.  Two inch wide cracks spread out all over the black clay, like a windshield shattered by a rock, before getting’ swallered up by the weeds.   I’m sick and damn tired of being worthless, but I’ll be damned if I know how to go about turning this patch of weeds into a field of anything anybody’d want.

How barren can a man be?  Baked by the sun of his own worthlessness, the weeds of his lesser self flourishing, while the bounty of what he could be withering and passing away into the nothingness of baked clay.  Cigarettes and alcohol and foolishness growing and crowding out what should be there instead; the love of a woman, that look in her eye when she looks at you proudly, that way she touches your arm when you’re too tired to even get up off the front porch step, all your strength laying out there in that field you just plowed or seeded or harvested.  But that little touch … that little look … the way she tucks her hair behind her ear and just sits next to you on the step, waiting for you to have enough strength to talk again.  She doesn’t realize that that IS what gives you the strength.  It is that touch, that look, that smile that keeps you moving forward, keeps you getting up after getting knocked down, keeps you taming a field that the devil is hell bent on taking away from you.

But Amy’s gone now.  She got tired of the foolishness. She got tired of me.

And now it’s hard to get back up after being knocked down.

.

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©2017 by biffsockpow.wordpress.com

 

 

Alistair and Alexis Go to an Antique Shoppe

 

vintage_silhouette_elegant_man_woman (v1)

“I say, Old Thing,” I said, addressing my better half.  “Take a look at this.”

“First off,” said Alexis (aka my better half), her hand on her hip, “Don’t ever call me Old Thing again.  And secondly, I am not going to keep reminding you that you’re not British.  You’re as American as drive-ins, monster trucks, and urban sprawl.”

“My apologies, Old … I mean, Sweetheart.  It’s British comedy week on PBS during their pledge drive and I’m afraid I immersed myself in it.”

“A bit too much, I’d say,” she said.

“Can one have too much British comedy?” I asked, stroking my van dyke beard thoughtfully.

“Given the poor quality of your faux British accent, I’d say the answer is a resounding yes.”

I drew myself up to my full height, to protest.  However, drawing myself up to my full height around Alexis is usually pointless, given her diminutive stature.  I tower over her no matter how I am standing (or even slouching).  But what she lacks in height, she makes up for in intractability and fractiousness.  In fact, it was her willful personality which first drew me to her back when we were mere fledglings on the playground at school.

◊◊◊◊◊◊◊ Wavy, out-of-focus lines indicating a flashback sequence … ◊◊◊◊◊◊◊

She walked right up to me on the playground and said, “I bet you can’t push me on the swing.”

Of course, I could not turn away from a challenge and so I drew myself up to my full height then, too, though it was much less dramatic back then than it is now, and I said, “Is that so?  Well I’ll bet you I can.”

And she said, “I bet you my milk money that you can’t.”

And I said, “You’re on” and soon I was pushing her on the swing victoriously.

She was obviously delighted that I had proven her wrong.  She gladly gave me her milk money afterwards.  Later that same day I bumped into her in the lunchroom (not surprising inasmuch as we were in the same grade and were both students of Mrs. Stern) and she asked me if I could buy her a milk since she was a bit short. I was nothing if not chivalrous and so I bit my tongue and did not utter the obvious joke and loaned her enough money to buy milk.

◊◊◊◊◊◊◊ Wavy, out-of-focus lines indicating end of the flashback sequence … ◊◊◊◊◊◊◊

I shook my head and came back to the present since nothing that was in the flashback is germane to the current story, other than to point out that over time I came to tower over her in height and she came to tower over me in treasons, stratagems and spoils.

“My accent is just fine,” I said.  “The lady who answered the phone at the pledge drive complimented me on it.”

She just looked at me dubiously and then seemed to realize something that gave her a start.  “Oh no!” she said.   “Are we about to receive a truck load of tote bags and coffee mugs and DVD sets of things you can watch online for free?”

“We may receive the odd coffee cup,” I mentioned blithely, “But I was assured they were of the highest quality.  But the really amazing part is that when you pour a hot liquid in to them they magically display the phrase ‘What ho!’, which is, I believe, something they say a lot in Britain.”

“You know what else they say a lot in Britain?” she asked.

“No,” I said.  “What?”

“Are you completely barmy!?”

“Ah, yes,” I nodded knowingly.  “I believe I have heard that uttered once or twice during the marathon.”

“Well, anyway,” she said, seeming to tire of our discussion of the subtle brilliance of British comedy, “What is it you want to show me?”  I have noticed throughout our life together, that Alexis seems to have a very short attention span when it comes to certain topics.  Apparently, British comedy is one of those things.

“Simply this,” I said with a flourish as I pulled the object from behind my back where I’d been holding it this entire time.

“What on earth is that?” she asked, plainly appalled.

“A walking stick,” I said, proudly.

“I can see it is a walking stick,” she said.  “Why are you showing it to me?”

“It’s British,” I said proudly.  She still did not seem to understand and was just staring at me like a flounder.

“Are you telling me you drug me to this dusty old antique shop to show me some beat up old walking stick?”

“But it’s British,” I said again, since she had not seemed to grasp the import of that the first time I said it.

“So’s my Uncle Bob,” she said, “But you don’t see him hobbling around on some old stick.”

“Bob’s your uncle?” I asked, a little surprised.  “I always thought he was Dutch.”

“Can we focus on this gawd-awful stick you are waving around?” she asked.  “What on earth do you need a walking stick for?  Do you have a janky knee you haven’t told me about?”

“No, my knee is fine, my dainty little delphinium.  Thank you for asking.  But this stick is more about fashion than convalescence.”

“Fashion?  That old thing?”

“Yes,” I said.  “See this?  This is black ebonized malacca.”

“Fascinating,” she said, though I could see she was far from fascinated.

“And the handle … that is genuine buffalo horn.”

“Is it?  I was thinking it was complete bull.”

“Nope.  Pure buffalo.  And this collar?  That is solid silver.  See that intricate design?  AND … it is hallmarked.  It says right on it, 1887.  Can you imagine?  This beautiful walking stick is nearly a hundred and fifty years old!”

“Amazing!” she said.  “Just think, it was built right around the time this conversation started.”

I chose to ignore her sarcasm.

“And here is the best part,” I said.

“Oh my god!” she exclaimed, putting her hands to her cheeks.  “It gets better?”

I tugged on the handle, pulling the U-channel epee blade from the malacca shaft.

This time she said “oh my god!” with much more emotion and much less sarcasm.

I nodded appreciatively at her appreciation.  “I know!” I said enthusiastically.  “Isn’t it great?”

“Great?” she said.  “It’s insane!  Why do you need a sword in a cane?”

“It’s not a sword, my petite little flower.  It is an epee.”

“I don’t care if it is a butter knife.  Why on earth would you need it in a walking stick?”

“Oh, you know,” I said, matter-of-factly.  “One never knows.  Just in case.”

“Just in case what?  A fencing competition breaks out at the theater?”

I pondered her words.  “I suppose it’s not out of the realm of ….”

“Put it back,” she said.  “I won’t have such a thing around the children.  What if Edmonton …”

“Edrington, Darling.”

“Yes, Edrington.  Of course.  What if he were to find it?”

My resolve faltered at bit.

“Or little Eveline,” she continued in order to drive her point home.

“Evangeline.”

“Yes, what if our little Evangeline were to find it?”

“Well, a walking stick is hardly appropriate with a lady’s attire.”

“I think you’re missing the point,” she said, a little perturbed.

“This point?” I asked, touching her arm ever so lightly with the blunt tip of the epee.  “Touché, eh, what?”  I smiled at my own joke.

“Oh my god,” she said, exasperated.  “You are not British!  Please put the walking stick back.”

“And the monocle, too?” I asked, somewhat crestfallen.

“Especially the monocle.”

“And the spats?”

She eyed me briefly and I could see her patience was wearing thin.  “I will wait for you in the car,” she said.  She turned and exited the store in something of a huff.

There was a moment of silence as I slowly slid the epee back into the black ebonized malacca walking stick.

“So, you won’t be purchasing the walking stick?” asked Evan, the proprietor of Evan’s English Antiques.”

“No, Evan.  I am afraid not.  The missus has quite put her foot down.”

“Or the monocle?”

“No.  I’m afraid not,” I said, a bit downheartedly.

“Or the top hat?”

I perked up.  “Oh, no.  I am definitely keeping the top hat.  I think it’s smashing.”

“And your lovely wife did not specifically say for you to put it back,” he said, picking it up off of the counter where it had been sitting.

“You are quite right, Evan,” I said.  “She did not.”

“Shall I wrap it up for you, Mr. Callington?”

“No,” I said, thoughtfully.  “Just have it shipped to my office.”

“Very good, Mr. Callington,” he said, smiling.

“What ho,” I said, and turned to go join my lovely little rose bloom in the car.

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©2017 by biffsockpow.wordpress.com

By Any Other Name

secretary

Humorous Short Fiction by Biff

I pushed the button on the intercom on my desk and summoned Rose, my secretary, into my office.  She stepped in and promptly set off the smoke alarm.  I stood on my chair to reach it and, after pounding on it with the stapler for a few moments, I finally managed to quiet the beast by removing its battery.  Once that matter was dispensed with, I gestured for her to sit down.

“Rose,” I began, sitting behind my desk.  “Let me start off by saying how happy I am with the work you’ve been doing.”

“I’m fired, aren’t I?” she said, her voice distraught.

“What?” I asked, flustered.  I hate it when people break my chain of thought.  I had been going through this conversation in my mind for two days and not once in those two days did she utter anything of the kind.  Now she has thrown off my rhythm.

“You’re giving me the sack, aren’t you?” she said, sounding for a moment as if she might cry.

“Of course not,” I said, shocked.  “Why would you think such a thing?”

“You always start your sacking speeches with ‘Let me start off by saying how happy I am with the work you’ve been doing’.”

“Do I?”

She nodded self-assuredly.

I leaned forward and jotted on my Day-Timer, change sacking-speech opening.  I then leaned back and steepled my fingers and considered her somewhat paternally.

“I assure you, Rose, you are not being sacked.  I really am happy with the work you’ve been doing.”  I cleared my throat nervously as I approached the delicate subject I had called her in to discuss.

She looked at me suspiciously, but did not say anything.

“No,” I continued, this is a much more delicate matter.

“Delicate?” she asked, her voice even more suspicious.  She pulled her sweater closer around her throat as if she thought I were about to lunge at her and shower her with unwanted affection in direct violation of our Employee Handbook, specifically Section 7, Paragraph 7.2.1, bullet 2.

“It’s about your perfume,” I said, deciding just to jump into the matter feet first.

She softened a bit and seemed flattered.  “Oh, you noticed?”, she said, seeming to momentarily forget all about Paragraph 7.2.1, bullet 2.

“Yes, I did.  As did the smoke detector a few minutes ago.  I’m afraid, Rose, that there have been complaints about the copiousness of your applications of it.”  I slid my finger under the collar of my shirt and tried to loosen it a bit.

“I don’t wear that much,” she said defensively.

“The office pool has the over/under amount at 1.1 gallons per day,” I said, dabbing at the tears that were now forming in the corners of my eyes.

Rose gasped, obviously shocked and hurt that such a thing could happen.

“I was as shocked as you are, of course,” I said sympathetically.  “And so naturally took the under.”

“Well, Allan in shipping wears too much Old Spice aftershave,” she said haughtily.

“Yes, I know.  I was going to have a word with him about it yesterday, but unfortunately, he got too close to someone who was smoking a cigarette and burst into flames.  He had to be rushed to the hospital.”

“Is he okay?” she asked, horrified.

“Oh, yes, he’s fine,” I said, edging towards the window.  “Apparently, it was one of those low-heat chemical fires and did no more damage than a bad sunburn.”

I gave a tug at the window.  It didn’t budge.  Damn these modern office buildings!

“Well,” she continued, re-adopting her haughty tone, “I don’t see how anyone could possibly say I wear too much perfume.  I can’t even smell it.”

I tugged a bit more determinedly at the window.  The room was beginning to warp and shimmer.

“I’m sure you can’t,” I said, my throat a bit dry and hoarse.  “One’s olfactory senses tend to become immune to strong smells over time.”  I tugged again with a little more urgency.

“Besides,” she continued, “This is a very subtle fragrance.”

“No doubt you’re right,” I said, “I’m sure it is, in the proper measure.  I say . . . do you see fireflies in here, Rose?”

“Fireflies?  Of course not.  What are you talking about?”

I was seeing small flashes of light in front of me where ever I looked.  I knew what my course of action must be.

“Please stand back a little, please,” I said to her.

“Why?  What are you going to do?”

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to throw my chair through the window.”

“What on earth for?” she asked, horrified.

I clutched at the arm and back of the chair, but could not lift it.  Too weak.

“Must . . . . . get . . . . .  air,” I said.  The fireflies had become fire-pelicans and circled around me lazily.

 

*          *          *

 

When I opened my eyes, I noticed a paramedic was staring down at me.

“He’s coming to,” said the paramedic into a small microphone on the shoulder of her uniform.

I took a deep breath.  Ahhh . . . fresh air.  Well, fresh for the back of an ambulance, I suppose.  It reeked of rubbing alcohol and disinfectant and diesel, but it was not so bad after being buried alive under an avalanche of Eau de Malodour or whatever the heck that stuff was.  I tried to sit up.

The paramedic kept me down with a hand on my chest.  “Ah, ah,” she warned.  “It’s best for you to remain lying down for a bit.”

“What happened?” I asked, as if I didn’t know.

“You were the victim of  an attack using an air-borne chemical agent of some sort.   Or perhaps you have been sniffing glue?”

“Absolutely not!” I said vehemently.

“Highlighers?”

“No!”

“White-board markers?”

“Of course not!”

“Well,” she said as if disappointed that I would not cooperate.  “The haz-mat team is in your office now conducting tests on the air quality.  We’ll soon get to the bottom of this.”

“I can save them the trouble,” I said, brushing aside her hand and sitting up.

“Until you admit that you have a problem,” she said in feigned concern that came across as mere condescension, “We can’t help you.”

“The only thing the haz-mat team will find in my office is the scent of my secretary’s perfume.”

The paramedic raised her eyebrows as if to say “hullo hullo hullo.”

“She wears the stuff by the bucket, you see.  I was overcome by the fumes.”

The paramedic seemed disappointed.  “That’s it?”

“And nothing but,” I said.

“The whole –?”

“So help me, God,” I said.

She heaved a heavy sigh, closed the plastic case of her paramedic kit, and snapped the clasps.  She stood up to go.

“Well, then,” she said, sounding disappointed.  “There’s nothing for me to do here.”

“I appreciate your efforts nonetheless,” I said, trying to sound appreciative in spite of her accusations earlier.

She shrugged.  “Well, no crime was committed.  You came out smelling like a rose.”

.

.

©2017 by biffsockpow.wordpress.com

 

Alistair and Alexis Go to a Concert

symphony-clipart

I leaned over to Alexis and whispered, “Who are we here to see?”

I thought I caught a hint of rolled eyes, but she marshaled herself admirably.  “It’s not so much who we’re here to see,” she said in a whisper.  “It’s who we’re here to hear.”

I nodded thoughtfully.  I glanced around the symphony hall that was slowly filling up with people.  The women wore nice dresses of black or regal colors.  They all glittered with jewels and precious metals and their hair was impeccably coiffed.  The men generally wore black or blue suits except for the occasional rebel that wore tweed sportscoats with patches on the sleeves.  I’m surprised such subversives were admitted.  I’m quite sure the management doesn’t care much for ruffians and vagabonds.  I couldn’t help but notice that the men in tweed were unaccompanied by the fairer sex.  Who wants to be seen with a vagrant wearing herringbone?

“So, then who are we here to hear?” I whispered to the lovely little Mrs. Callington.

“Vivaldi,” she said simply, for she was distracted by looking all around us to see if she knew anyone.  She certainly seemed more intent on seeing someone than hearing them.

I nodded, again thoughtfully.  “I am pretty sure he is dead, isn’t he?” I asked.  “It would be quite a miracle if he were to show up on time given the circumstances.”

“He’s not here in person,” she whispered in exasperation.  “They are playing his music.”

“Well, that’s wonderful,” I said, nodding my head approvingly.  “I’m sure he would like that, God rest his soul.  What a nice way to honor the deceased.”

“They play him every year,” she said.  “It is tradition.  The third concert every season is Vivaldi.  Really, Dear, I’d think you’d know that.  We have been season ticket holders for years.”

“Ah,” I said.  “I didn’t know he was part of the regular rotation.  Third concert every year, eh?  Good for him.  He deserves it.”

“Oh look,” she whispered suddenly, putting her hand on my arm just above my wrist to simultaneously get my attention and to tell me to shush.

“What am I looking at?” I asked, trying unsuccessfully to follow her gaze to see what she was looking at.  All I saw were well-dressed concert goers looking for their seats, obviously eager for a generous dose of Vivaldi.

“There is Tricia,” she whispered, and flicked her chin almost imperceptibly towards a knot of people looking for their seats.

“Oh, jolly good,” I exclaimed in an approving whisper.  I had no idea which of the 20 or 30 women who lay in the direction of Alexis’ nod was Tricia.  Or how we knew her.  But I’ve found it best in these situations to just play along.  “It’s good to see her up and about.”

“I can’t stand her,” said Alexis through clenched teeth, her grip tightening on my arm.

“Nor can I,” I said, quickly changing teams.  “Can you believe her gall at showing up here tonight?  What would Vivaldi say?”

The little woman glanced at me in what could either be exasperation or amazement that I was somewhat able to keep up with the batting lineup.

“It’s not so surprising,” she said.  “Her husband is Herb Blakely of Blakley’s Better Bitters.  They are one of the patrons of the symphony”

I perked up.

“Blakley’s?  The beer magnate?”

“Yes.  And she is insufferable about it, even though she merely married into the family.”

“How dare she!” I said with high dudgeon, for I thought that’s what the situation called for.  I’ve found it’s always best to stay on the good side of someone with a high and unpredictable temper, particularly if that person is within arm’s reach.  “Although,” I said, striking a more contemplative tone, willing to see both sides of the situation, “If one simply must get married, one could do worse than marrying a titan of the ales and spirits industry.”

“It’s not that she married into the family,” she said, still gazing with gimlet eyes at the group which contained the odious Tricia, “It’s that she lords it over everyone as if she were royalty.”

“The nerve!” I said hotly. Then, with what I considered to be an acceptable length of pause, followed with, “Do you suppose the bar in the lobby is stocked with Blakley’s since they are a patron?”

“How can you possibly be thinking about beer at a time like this?”

I drew myself up, cut to the quick.  “Hey, I am on Team Vivaldi,” I said.  “I’ll buy one of his jerseys in the lobby after the show.  I’m perfectly fine without a rejuvenating tonic.  I am perfectly content to sit and have my fill of Vivaldi for …what would you say … 20 minutes?”  I put out feelers for what she thought the duration of the concert might be.

“The concert lasts for two hours,” she said, her face in a bit of a frown.

“Two hours?” I asked, shocked.  “Just how much music did this Vivaldi fellow write?”

“He wrote hundreds of concertos and sonatas and even some operas.”

“Hundreds?” I asked, aghast.  I may have paled a bit.  “Who could possibly have had time to compose hundreds of anything back then?” I asked.  “Weren’t there plagues or wars or inquisitions that took up a lot of peoples’ time?”

But my little dimpled daffodil had other things on her mind.

“I am going to go over and talk to her,” she said.

I may have been a bit confused at this point.  “I thought you couldn’t stand her,” I said.

“I can’t.”

“Well then that makes going over to see her seem a little … well … fatuous.”

“Not at all.  Have you forgotten that I have been put in charge of the big charity fundraiser next month?”

“Of course, I haven’t forgotten,” I said, looking hurt that she would think such a thing.  “But what exactly are we raising funds for again?”

“For the Polk Inn restoration.”

“Ah, yes,” I said.  “How could I forget the ol’ Polk Inn restoration project?  If anything around here needs restoring, it is the Polk Inn.  Why, just last week I was telling Jeremy at the club that the ol’ Polk place was becoming an eyesore and in need of some major restoration.”

But I was talking to myself.  My Lovely Little Dahlia had gotten up and approached the abominable Tricia with purpose.  It was obvious she was willing to set aside her distaste of Tricia for her enthusiasm for the Polk Inn restoration.  Which, now that I think about it, just where in the heck is the Polk Inn?  I can’t say that I’ve ever seen it before.  However, this was no time to spend contemplating dilapidated old piles of brick and wood where Washington may or may not have slept.  The time had come for action.  To think was to do and, just like a hare would do if the cobra were to look away for a moment, I bolted and in a moment, I was in the lobby, one foot on the brass footrail, my forearms against the highly-polished bar.

“I’ll have a pint of Blakely’s, please, Barkeep,” I said.

“Yes, sir,” came the reply and he turned to pull the amber fluid into a pint glass.

“Oh, you like Blakely’s do you?” asked the whiskered man beside me.  He looked for all the world like a sea captain from the days of Clipper ships.  He wore a navy-blue blazer with gold buttons on it, white shirt, blue slacks, and blindingly polished black shoes.  He had a slightly nautical air about him, possibly due to his thick, gray beard.

“I must say, I do,” I said, hoisting the full glass of it in a sort of toast.  “I’ve always said that if there’s one thing that goes swimmingly with two hours of Vivaldi, it is a pint or two of Blakely’s finest.”

“I’m glad you like it,” said the nautical-aired man.  “Grandfather would be pleased.”

“Grandfather?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.  “I say, you’re not related to Vivaldi, are you?”

“Oh, goodness no,” he said.  “I’m about all Vivaldi’d up.  If the wife drags me off to one more of his operas, I think I might just become a hermit.  Last month she dragged me off to see “La verità in cimento” and I seriously contemplated jumping from our box seats and making a run for it.”

“So, no relation, then?” I asked, having picked up on his coolness towards the Vivaldi family.  Perhaps there was an old family feud still going on between his family and the Vivaldi’s.

“Not a bit.  No, the grandfather I was referring to was Grampa Blakely.”

My eyes widened.  “So …. So … you’re …”

“Yes, yes,” he sighed.  “I’m one of those Blakely’s.  Herb Blakely, to be exact.”

“Well, if you don’t mind me saying it, you sound a lot less happy about that than I would be if I were one of those Blakely’s.”

He shrugged and took a hearty drink of one of his own beers.  “People think ales and spirits is all fun and games,” he said, almost sadly.

“A common misperception,” I agreed sympathetically.

“But it is just like any other business,” he said.  “My days are filled with accountants and lawyers and marketers.”

I shuddered.  There but for the grace of God go I, I thought to myself.  I patted him sympathetically on the back.

“I’m sorry to hear that, old man,” I said sympathetically.  “A man in your position should be able to enjoy the fruits of your labors without having to deal with such things.”

He nodded and glanced at me appreciatively.    “You seem like you understand my situation.”

“I do.  I do,” I said.  “I avoid lawyers and accountants and marketers like the plague.  Of course, I am handicapped somewhat by having married one.”

“Which?  An accountant or a lawyer or a marketer?”

“I can’t really remember,” I said.  “But she is one of the three.”

We both sipped contemplatively on our Blakely’s while leaning against the bar.

“What you need,” I said finally, “Is something else to take your mind off of the unsavory characters you are forced to associate with.”

“You mean like a hobby?”

“No, something more than a hobby.  Something that will give you purpose and a sense of fulfillment.”

“What do you suggest?”

I looked around, trying to think of something.  It was at that moment I saw my diminutive daisy stalking purposefully and with pique into the lobby looking for me.  In desperation, my mind tossed me a lifesaver in the form of an idea.

“You should take on a project that will challenge you and yet fulfill you.  For instance, you could take over the restoration of the old Polk Inn project.  Now there is a project worthy of the talents and energies of a man like you.”

He stared off into space for a moment as if trying to imagine himself leading the resurrection of a moldering pile of old lumber and masonry.  I could feel Alexis’ footsteps drawing ever nearer.

“It would be just the thing to bring you back your joie de vivre,” I said, trying to push him over the edge.

“Maybe you’re right,” he said, warming to the idea.

“Buttercup!” I said brightly to Alexis now that she was in our midst.   She was about to give me a speech on temperance, but I jumped in quickly before she could build up a head of steam.  “I’d like you to meet my friend Mr. Herb Blakely.”

“Blakely?” she asked, her eyes widening and all of the ire draining out of her.  She suddenly became the solicitous flower that I had married long ago.  My stock just went up considerably in her eyes.

“Yes,” I said, as they shook hands.  “And furthermore, he has agreed to take on the Polk Inn restoration project.”

There are few things in a man’s life that fills him with a sense of accomplishment and victory like avoiding a dressing down by his petite jolie fleur.  Of course, the antidote to that feeling of warmth and happiness is two hours of Vivaldi.

Jack Be Nimble

agility-meeting-rm-v1

I strode purposefully into the conference room where my staff was already assembled.  About half of them were looking at their phones and busily swiping left to right or up and down, depending on whether they were looking for a date or catching up on what their friends were doing.  The other half were talking quietly among themselves and laughing a little, no doubt talking about what they did last weekend or are planning to do next weekend.

“Okay, people,” I said as I closed the door to the conference room.  “Let’s get busy.  The customer will be here tomorrow afternoon and we need to get this presentation polished up ASAP.”  I sat and hooked up my laptop to the overhead projector.  “I don’t need to tell you how important this presentation is.  We have been selling them for three months on how we are nimble and agile and can meet their specification quickly.   Now –”

“Um, Jack?” said Dave, raising his hand slightly as if we were still in high school.

“Yes, Dave?”

“I noticed the company logo …”

“Yes?” I said.

“I noticed that it’s the wrong color blue.”

“Wrong color blue?”

“Yes, sir.  The logo is supposed to be Pantone 2132 XGC, the logo in your presentation is Pantone 2387 XGC.”

“Um … yes.  Thank you.  I’ll make a note to have it updated.”

“It’s in the header on every page.”

“Noted,” I said, making a note on my legal pad.  Then I straightened back up,  “And so, we’ll just move on past the title page …”

“Jack?” came Mary’s voice.

“Yes, Mary?” I asked.

“The title font is Cambria and it should be Century.”

“Um … yes … okay.  Thank you,” I said, making a note in my legal pad.

“And the body font throughout should be Times New Roman,” said Tim.

I glanced up over my glasses at him.  “Very good.”  I made another note.

“The title page needs to have our company’s security and privacy markings,” said Ellen.

“Yes.  Fine,” I said, trying to hide my mounting frustration.  “But I think it’s important that we move on to the actual content of the presentation.”

Having silenced them temporarily, I moved off of the title slide and to the first slide.

“Now on this slide,” I said, “I want to grab their attention.  I want to get across to them why we are uniquely positioned to quickly …”

“Um, Jack?”  It was Dave again.

“Yes, Dave?”

“Your bullet list contains diamonds.”

“Yes?  Is there something wrong with diamonds?”

“Diamonds are not on the company’s approved list of bullets.”

“You don’t say.”

“Yes sir.  I would suggest either dots, circles, squares, open squares, or pips.”

“Pips?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very well.  I’ve made a note to have that corrected.  Now, on this first bullet, I’m going to state how we can meet their schedule because of our agility …”

“Jack?”

“Yes … Mary …”  I said, finding it difficult to mask my growing frustration.

“The hanging indent on your first line should be a half inch …”

“Listen,” I said to the room at large.  “We are never going to get through this if we just focus on formatting issues.”

There was a moment of silence and I was about move on when I heard a small voice say, “Nimble is misspelled in the second bullet.”

                                                              *

Seven hours later the door of the conference room opened and we all filed out, totally exhausted and dejected.  We had finally gotten through the three-page slide presentation and had cleaned up all the formatting, font, and color issues.  I would just have to review the content at home that evening so that I could make sure it was okay before the customer presentation tomorrow.

I’d call a quick 8 am meeting tomorrow morning with the engineering staff so they could review it.  That should work out okay.

Alistair and Alexis Attend an Auction

art-gallery

“I say, James,” I said, by way of addressing James, who was busy chauffeuring like nobody’s business at the moment.

“Yes, sir?” came his response from the front seat in the cool, calm, unflappable manner which has no doubt made him a legend among chauffeuring circles.

“What say we swing by The Gryphon’s Nest for a snifter?”

He glanced at me briefly in the rear view mirror and then returned his gaze to the road, a move that separates the professionals from the rookies.

“Do you think that is wise, Sir?”

“Wise?” I asked, philosophically.  “I don’t know about wise, but I think it is damned necessary.  I will leave the question regarding its wisdom to the philosophers.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Would Plato have thought it wise?  Aristotle?  Spinoza?  No doubt they would have had their doubts.  As for me, of doubts I have none.  Swing by the ol’ watering hole, if you would be so kind, James.”

“Yes, Sir,” he said.  And then after a moment’s hesitation, said, “I was only thinking …”

“Thinking of what, James?”  I asked, my mind a little distracted about what Spinoza would have thought of The Gryphon’s Nest.  No doubt he would have enjoyed their hot wings and their 100-inch ultra-high definition television.

“I was only thinking that Mrs. Callington was expecting you to meet her at the auction.”

“Which is precisely why I need the snifter, James.  One can’t just simply go to an auction without being fortified.”

“Yes, sir,” came the professional, if somewhat pointed response.

“One needs bracing.  A little gusset for the spine.”

“Yes, sir,” he said again, which was his way of saying, “It’s your funeral.”  And perhaps he was right.  What are auctions if not the funerals of the detritus we no longer want or need?  James must be in a particularly philosophical frame of mind today.

Still, when I arrived at the auction an hour later after a brief stop at The Gryphon’s Nest, I believe that my course was the best and I was gusseted and well-oiled to be able to endure the auction.  A snifter or two of Kentucky’s primary export had braced me to a considerable degree for the ordeal that was no doubt to follow.

“Where have you been?” hissed Alexis as I sauntered into the auction venue.  This was her normal greeting for me.

“I’m fine, thank you, Dear,” I said warmly, for I was full of bonhomie.  I kissed her cheek.

She eyed me for a moment with wild surmise.  “Have you been at the Crow’s Nest?”

“Gryphon’s Nest,” I corrected.  “The Crow’s Nest is a bar.”

“Well, what do you think the Gryphon’s Nest is?” she asked.

“It is a pub.”

“It’s the same thing,” she said.

I was about to correct her and explain that a pub is far more sophisticated and effete, but there was the sound of a gavel and a deep booming voice saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, if you please.  The auction is about to start, so if you could take your seats, please.  Thank you.”

“Never mind,” she said.  “Let’s go take our seats.”

She turned and walked towards the array of chairs that were nicely padded, but were still the sort of chairs one finds in a hotel banquet room.  Except that we weren’t in a hotel banquet room.  We were in the ballroom of Drimble Manor, which had been converted for the occasion.  The occasion, of course, was the dissolution of the Drimble estate, prompted by the untimely (though not entirely unexpected) passing of the senior Mr. Drimble, the founder and chief executive scoundrel of Drimble’s Kibble, the high-end dog food for snooty dog owners.

I sat next to the lovely Mrs. Callington and smiled at her.  She was looking quite lovely this evening in her prim pencil skirt and white silk blouse, black stiletto heels, and patent leather belt.  Her jet-black hair was pulled back particularly tight this evening, reflecting the lights of Drimble Manor like moonlight on an inky sea.

“You look … lovelry … lovel …ry …. level .. ree ..tonight,” I whispered, then added as an afterthought, “My dear.”  I thought it was a good save.

She suddenly rolled her eyes as if someone had stepped on her toe.

“Good god,” she whispered.  “How many bourbons did you have?”

“Just … just … the two.  Or three.”

“Well for god’s sake, don’t stand near any open flames.”

I looked around but didn’t see any flames of any sort.  “Yes, dear,” I whispered.

“And don’t bid on anything.”

On this topic, I was quite prepared to speak.  I leaned back over to her and whispered.  “Not … not … not to worry, my Delicate Cherry Blossom.  I pursued … perused … the catalog, my beer … deer … dear.  There was not a shingle … single .. splinter of furniture, not a single slosh of paint on canvas, not the first shark … sherpa … shard of glassware, that caught my eye.”  I pointed to my eye pointedly, so that she could get my point.

She put her hand on my pointing finger and lowered it back down onto my lap.  “Well just make sure you don’t bid on anything.”

I put my finger to my lips as if I were shushing myself.  “Not a single bid will I make.  Other than for your affections.”  She rolled her eyes.

At that moment, the auctioneer gestured towards a painting.  “Our first item up for bid this afternoon is a lovely painting by Amaud Desrosiers.  It is an abstract entitled, “Jolies filles à la plage”1.   The opening bid is two thousand dollars.  Do I hear a bid?”

I scrutinized the painting.  There were straight lines and garish colors, like geometric shapes run amuck.  There was no balance among either the elements nor the colors.  And, my French may be a little rusty, but I did not see either filles nor plage.  A better name for this monstrosity might have been “Boîtes mal dessinées2.  I was incensed.  What was monsieur Desrosiers trying to pull here?  Did he think we were plebeians?

Où sont les filles?3” I whispered to Alexis, my dudgeon quite high.

“Shhh!” she shushed sharply.

“Où sont les filles?!”, I repeated a little louder, for perhaps she hadn’t heard me.

“Oh my god,” she hissed at me, “You’re not even French!  How are you speaking French all of a sudden?”

“We have a bid for $2000,” said the auctioneer.  “Do I hear $3000?”

I let out a derisive little breath.  I whispered to my lovely Alexis of the beautiful scowl.  “Can you believe someone bid on this poubelle4?”

She glowered at me.  “You!  You bid on it,” she said in a sharp whisper.

“I?” I gasped, metagrabolised5.  “That’s impossible.  I would not bid on such … such … “ I gestured towards the piece of offending art looking for the correct word.  “Such rubbish.”

“We have a bid for $3000,” boomed the auctioneer.

“For god’s sake,” said my petite little Alexis of the smoldering glower.  “Stop flapping your arms.  You’ll bankrupt us.

*                                          *                                             *

Later, on the ride home, I confided in James.  “She was quite right to be so upset, James.”

I saw his eyes in the rear-view mirror glance back at me for about an eighth of a second, which is the correct amount of time for someone of his professional demeanor to look at an employer who had bid on poubelle against the better judgement of his better half.  A glance that had lasted any longer would have been untoward.

I looked around me on the rear seat of the limousine.  In addition to the execrable “Jolies filles à la plage”, there was a Schovajsa  glass vase that weighed about 20 pounds and probably would not hold a thimbleful of water, a Louis XV chair that looked as if it were upholstered in curtains salvaged from a defunct brothel, and an art deco figurine of a woman that was so exquisitely rendered that it would most likely take some additional explaining to the lovely Mrs. Callington over and above the seventeen hundred dollars I’d accidentally bid for it.

James looked back towards the road, but his eyes had said everything in that eighth of a second that the irascible Mrs. Callington had said quite verbosely over the course of the ten minutes we sat at the bursar’s desk settling up our account.

I was beginning to understand how the now-defunct Mr. Drimble had ended up with so much flotsam over the course of his 98 years.  An accidental gesture here, and intemperate wave of the hand there, and suddenly one’s ballroom is full of dubious artwork.

Perhaps we should have an auction of our own soon.

.

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©2017 by biffsockpow.wordpress.com

 

 


  1. Pretty Girls at the Beach 
  2. Poorly drawn boxes 
  3. Where are the girls? 
  4. Trash 
  5. Mystified 

Pye in the Sky

skyscraper-and-moon

Eric got on the elevator and pushed the button for his floor.  The door closed and the elevator ceased looking like an elevator and looked instead like a tiny little room of wood and mirror and brass.  Some quiet orchestral music lilted unobtrusively from speakers hidden somewhere behind the wood or brass.  It sounded vaguely familiar.  He concentrated on it for a moment and then realized that it was one of his favorite songs from high school, the one he used to listen to with the windows down on his car, the song blasting at full blast on the stereo, while he drank beer and traded insults with his friends.  He shook his head.  It was practically unrecognizable now.

Eric’s ears popped familiarly and he glanced up at the big red numbers on the LED display.  The dashes had turned to numbers.  The express elevator didn’t even start counting floors until the 40th floor.  Now it was 68.  75.  80.  84.  88.  The elevator slowed imperceptibly then stopped, very smoothly.  The doors opened and he stepped out onto the marble foyer of Terra Firma Architectural Associates.   His wingtips clicked on the highly polished marble.  The door beeped pleasantly in a sort of subdued greeting as he scanned his badge and then opened for him.  The marble gave way to plush, thick carpeting.  He was now surrounded by cherry paneling, chrome accents, and a sort of 1940s art deco vibe.  Helen was at her post at the high, curved receptionist desk.

“Hello, Mr. Pye,” she said brightly.  Her eyes were preternaturally blue.  Her hair was always perfect.  The perky little flip at the back would probably remain unperturbed in a hurricane.

“Hiya, Helen,” he said, smiling at her.  Then he looked down at the carpet.  He avoided looking at the large glass windows that revealed a panoramic view of the city all around them.  The view stretched out in every direction to the horizon.  But he did not look at it.  He walked quickly towards his office, keeping his eye on the carpet or the potted plants or the art hanging on the walls.  He only glanced upwards when someone would greet him and he would smile and return their greetings, but then he would look back down at the carpet.

He scanned his badge at his office door and when he heard the click of the lock he pushed his way into it.  The light came on as he entered.  But it needn’t have bothered.  The vertical blinds were open.  Sunlight streamed in through the lightly tinted windows.

“Dammit,” he murmured.  The cleaning crew had left his blinds open again even though he had left them explicit directions a dozen times to keep them closed.  He set his briefcase down on the carpet and felt his heart beating quicker as he edged slowly over to the cord of the blinds.  He kept his eyes shut as he pulled on the side of the cord that closed the blinds.  By the time he got them closed and had blotted out the view of the city below, his pulse was racing.  He felt hot and flushed and a little nauseous.  He sat down in his high-backed leather chair and pulled himself up to his desk, his back to the window blinds he’d just closed.

Just then, Tina, his assistant entered his office holding a long tube.  “Good morning, Mr. Pye!” she said brightly.  “How are you this morning?”

“Fine,” he said, though not convincingly.  He slipped his finger between his collar and his neck and ran it along the inside of his collar, as if loosening it.  “How are you?”

“I’m fine, thank you.  I brought this blueprint for you to look at.”

“That’s fine, Tina.  Thank you.  Just put it over there on my light table.  I’ll take a look at it in a minute.”

“Yes, sir.”  She set the drawing on the table and turned to face him.  She was all smiles and perkiness.  “Don’t forget about your ten o’clock.”

“My ten o’clock?” he asked, loosening his tie just a little and unbuttoning the top button of his shirt.

“Yes.  The crew from International Architect will be here to interview you.”

“Ah.  Yes.  I had forgotten.  Thank you.”  He looked at her for a moment.  “Does it feel warm in here to you?”

“No sir.  It is very comfortable.  But I can turn down the thermostat if you like.”

“No.  It’s fine.  I just feel … a little …”  He paused and was stock still as if he were listening for some faint noise.  “Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“It was like . . . kind of a light popping noise.  Almost a ticking.”

“I didn’t hear anything.”

Eric stared at the “executive toy” on his desk, which was a chrome pendulum mounted on a mahogany base.  He stared at it intently for several moments.  It was completely motionless.

“Yes.  Okay.  Thank you, Tina.  That will be all for now.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Pye.  Don’t forget.  Ten o’clock!  The world wants to know all about the world’s youngest designer of skyscrapers.”

“I don’t know why anyone should be interested in anything like that,” he said as he popped open his briefcase and began removing papers.

She looked incredulous and amused.

“Not interested!  Of course they are!  Just imagine … 28 years old and sitting on the 90th floor of a building that you designed.  That’s pretty amazing!”

But he wasn’t listening to her.  He was frozen like a rabbit that had heard a twig snap nearby.  His eyes were glued on the pendulum on his desk.  Tina stared at it as well, but it wasn’t moving even the slightest little bit.  He was quite pale.

Tina shrugged and turned to leave.  Geniuses were so strange.

“Tina … one more thing.”

She paused and looked back at him.  “Yes, Mr. Pye?”

“Tell the crew from International Architect that I will … um … meet them in the coffee shop in the atrium on the ground floor.”

Tina stared at him a moment and then said in her practiced professional voice.  “Yes sir, Mr. Pye.”

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©2017 by biffsockpow.wordpress.com

Sixty Second Fiction #4

1953-chevy-pickup

Rory pulled the beat-up old pickup truck off of the red dirt road and onto the county blacktop and floored it.  It chugged loudly, the engine hesitating occasionally, and seemed to resist going too fast, but Rory kept his foot pressed all the way down on the accelerator, only letting up when he had to mash the clutch and yank the gearshift mounted on the steering column to the next gear.  He could see the smoke behind him in his rear view mirror.  It was a combination of red dust and burning oil.  He looked down at the speedometer.  The needle climbed steadily, if slowly, upwards.  Past 40.  Then 50.  Finally 60.  He couldn’t seem to encourage it to go much higher than that.

This had been his grandfather’s truck.  He’d bought it brand spankin’ new in 1964 from Belden’s Chevrolet over in Marcusville.  It had been a work truck, a farm truck, and a go-to-church-on-Sunday truck.  It had somewhere north of three hundred thousand miles on it, though it had never been more than fifty miles from Grampa’s farm.  It didn’t have air conditioning or a radio or seatbelts or much of anything, really.  Grandpa had told the salesman back in ’64 “I don’t want no dern fool contraptions on it.  Just gimme a plain ol’ truck.  All I want’s an engine, a bed in the back, a seat, and a heater in the cab.”  And that’s exactly what he’d gotten.

And now it was Rory’s.  Grandpa had passed away a few years ago when Rory was too young to drive, but he’d given it to Rory’s father and told him to give it to Rory when he was old enough to drive, which he now was, but just barely.

There was a loud, dull thud from under the hood that jarred the entire truck and his speed rapidly decreased.  He looked in the rear view mirror and saw that the smoke had changed from light gray to black.  The speedometer read 40.  Then 30.  Then 15.

Rory eased the truck over into the tall, dry grass on the side of the two-lane blacktop road that wended its way through the white-pine forest.

Dammit!

He turned off the key, though there was no need.  The engine was already dead by the time the truck came to a stop in the tall weeds.  Rory got out into the stifling heat of an Alabama August.  Cicadas were wailing.  The dry blades of the thigh-high Johnson grass raked against each other in the slight breeze.  The pine trees moaned low from way up high in their tops where the breeze filtered through them.  He opened up the hood, but couldn’t see much through all of the smoke that came billowing out from under it.  It wouldn’t have mattered.  He didn’t know anything about engines.

Rory went and let the tailgate down on the truck, hoisted himself up on it and just sat, looking down the empty, lonesome road he’d just come down.  He lit up a cigarette and flicked the match out onto the blacktop.  He drew on the cigarette and blew out the smoke listlessly.

Grampa’d have a conniption fit if he thought one of his kin was smoking a cigarette.  “Smoking’s the devil’s calling card,” he’d always say.  “That’s how he gits ya,” he’d say.  “One puff at a time.

“Crazy old coot,” thought Rory to himself.

He swung his legs back and forth as he sat on the tailgate.  Just like he used to do when he was a young’n and Grandpa’d let him ride into town sitting on the tailgate.  Nobody thought anything of it back then; kids always rode in the beds of pickup trucks.  He’d just hold on tight to the tailgate chain and swing his feet back and forth and look down at the blacktop that was a gray blur beneath his feet.  He’d be all happy because he knew Grandpa’d get him a coke and a little bag of Tom’s peanuts if he behaved.  Grandpa showed him how to pour the peanuts down into the Coke bottle.  The salt and the Coke and the peanuts was the best thing Rory’d ever had in his life.

He flicked his cigarette butt out onto the blacktop and hoisted himself down off the tailgate.  He sure would love a Coke and some Tom’s peanuts right now.  That’d make everything better.

 

 

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