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Ice Pick

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Ice Pick ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

“Go get the ice,” Reggie Stole said, “and be quick about it. We’ll leave as soon as you get back.”

Reggie’s wife, Fur Stole, had been anxious and nervous all day, getting ready to go on the camping trip. She had to see to all the arrangements, prepare all the food, pack the clothes, make sure the tent didn’t have any holes, and the car had enough gas and oil to make the long trip. She had already taken three nerve pills and was planning on taking the fourth one just as soon as she could get a moment alone. She had also been taking nips of whiskey straight from the bottle, finding that whiskey comforted her even more than pills.

Fur’s son and daughter, Biffy Stole and Shultzie Stole, were excited at the prospect of living out in the woods beside a lake for four days. They jumped up and down and screamed, making Fur believe she could easily strangle them without guilt if only it would give her some peace. She corralled them into the back of the station wagon, along with the old blue ice chest, and set out for the ice house two miles away in a neighboring town.

Fur was relieved to see there wasn’t a line at the ice house. “Let’s make this quick,” she said. “You know how daddy hates being kept waiting.”

Biffy and Shultzie went to get the ice chest out of the back of the car while Fur stepped up to the place in the side of the old brick building where you put in coins, and a block of ice, roughly one foot square, comes out.

She put in two quarters, the going price for one block of ice, and waited to hear the rumble of the ice coming down the chute inside, but, alas, there was no rumble and no ice.

“What’s the matter with it?” Biffy asked, standing beside Fur with the ice chest.

“Maybe it’s just moving slow today,” Fur said.

“Maybe they’re out of ice,” Shultzie said.

“There’d be a sign,” Fur said, “so dumbbells like me wouldn’t keep putting quarters in.”

She banged her fist against the place where the money goes in and stamped her feet, but still nothing happened.

“Go around to the office and see if there’s anybody there,” Fur said to Biffy.

An old blue pickup truck pulled into the tiny lot and parked next to Fur’s car. When she saw a man getting out, she thought he was somebody who knew the ice wasn’t working and was there to fix it.

The man, a burly Dutchman with a flattop haircut, ignored Fur as he stepped up to the coin deposit and started to put in his money.

“It’s not working!” Fur said. “I put my money in and nothing happened. I sent my son Biffy around to the office to see if there’s anybody there.”

Still ignoring her, the burly Dutchman dropped in his quarters, and in  a few seconds he had his block of ice. He began to lift it with his fat fingers.

“That’s my ice!” Fur said. “Didn’t you just hear me tell you I put my money in and nothing happened?”

“What?” the burly Dutchman said.

“I said I just put in my money to get a block of ice and none came out, so that’s my block of ice.”

“I don’t think so!” he said. “I just paid for it. I think that makes it mine.”

“You don’t understand,” she said. “Before you came along, I put in two quarters to get a block of ice and nothing happened. That means you have the ice I paid for!”

“Where’s the ice I paid for, then?” he asked.

“It didn’t come out.”

Yours didn’t come out,” he said. “Mine did.”

“I’m not going to let you take my ice!” Fur said. “My husband is waiting!”

He held the ice against his stomach and said with a sort of sneer, “It’s a tough world, though, ain’t it, lady?”

He turned to walk away and she, realizing she held the ice pick in her right hand, stabbed him in the back. The ice pick went in several inches to the right of the backbone and stuck there.

The burly Dutchman gave a sort of roar, dropped the ice and whirled around. “You crazy bitch!” he said. “You ought to be locked up!

He was reaching around to try to pull the ice pick out of his back but, of course, couldn’t get his hands on it. When Fur saw the burly Dutchman go to his knees and saw how much blood was pouring out, she pulled Biffy and Shultzie to the car and shoved them in. Running around to the driver’s side, she started the engine and narrowly missed being hit by a beer truck as she pulled back out onto the road.

When she got home, Reggie was waiting on the back porch, smoking a cigarette and picking at his nails. “Thought maybe you had to wait while they made more ice,” he said.

“No ice,” she said.

“What?”

Biffy and Shultzie avoided looking at Reggie because they knew he wasn’t going to be happy.

“I wasn’t able to get any ice,” she said, “but we can get some on the way. We’ll also need to get a new ice pick.”

“What happened to the ice pick?” he asked. “You lost it?”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “We can get another one on the way. Right now we just need to all get into the car and get away as fast as we can!”

“I think you need to take another nerve pill,” Reggie said as he loaded the rest of his fishing tackle into the back of the car.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

Cab Fare

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Cab Fare ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

“That took longer than it was supposed to,” Celia said. “I don’t know why doctors always have to keep you waiting like that. They think their time is so precious, but your time means nothing!”

“I’m hungry,” Roland said. “Can we stop someplace and get a hamburger?”

“No!” Celia said. “It’s almost six o’clock! I’m late now!”

“Late for what?”

“I already told you! Richard is picking me up!”

“Richard can wait.”

“No, he can’t! We have dinner reservations and then we’re going to the theatre.”

“You mean a movie?”

“No, dumbbell! A movie is a movie. When you say theatre, you mean a play with real people on a stage.”

“Oh.”

“When mother told me I had to take you to the doctor, I didn’t imagine it would take all afternoon! I thought there’d be plenty of time.”

“Well, don’t get your panties all in a twist!” he said and laughed.

She looked across the seat at him. “What did you just say to me?”

“I said don’t get your panties in a twist.”

She let go of the steering wheel and slapped at his shoulder with her right hand. “Where do you hear language like that?”

“I don’t know!” he said. “I hear it all the time!”

“I’m going to tell mother what you said.”

“I don’t care.”

“You know she doesn’t allow you to use that kind of language.”

“I’m not a baby anymore!”

“I know, but you still act like one!”

“I do not!”

“You’re fourteen years old! It’s time you started acting like an adult!”

“Oh, what do you know?”

“I know plenty! When mother became pregnant with you, I was ten years old and I knew it was a mistake for her to have another baby at her age! I knew she’d live to regret it!”

“Oh, it wasn’t my fault,” he said. “I didn’t ask to be born.”

“You don’t know how embarrassing it is to be in high school and have a baby brother only in kindergarten! It makes people think your parents are some kind of perverts!”

“Well, they are and so are you!”

“You’d better watch what you say to me while I’m driving the car! I can always pull over to the curb and make you get out and walk home!”

“Oh, you don’t scare me!”

“Oh, now!” she said. “What is this?

Traffic slowed and then came to a halt. Celia began honking the horn because others were honking theirs.

“That won’t do any good!” Roland said.

After about ten minutes with the car moving hardly a half-block, Celia opened her coin purse and took out a handful of nickels, dimes and quarters and handed it to Roland.

“What’s this for?” he asked.

“Find a phone booth and call mother and tell her to come and get you. Even if this traffic breaks up in the next few minutes, I won’t have time to take you all the way home now.”

“She won’t like having to come all the way down here to get me!”

“That’s too bad! She should have thought of that before she insisted I take you to the doctor this afternoon!”

“What if I don’t want to?” he said.

“Suit yourself. You can walk home. It’s only six miles.”

“At least give me some money for cab fare if mother isn’t home.”

“No!”

“I’m not getting out of the car until you give me twenty dollars for a cab.”

“Oh, you big baby!” she said. “When are you ever going to grow up?”

“When you do, I guess,” he said.

She flung a twenty-dollar-bill at him and he got out. Before he closed the door, she said, “I’m going to be sure and tell mother how terrible you acted and how disrespectful you were to me after I went out of my way to take you to the doctor today!”

“Go ahead!” he said. “I don’t care!”

He walked several blocks looking for an available cab or a pay phone and, finding neither, went into a restaurant. He felt grown up as he sat at a small table and ordered from the menu and had the elderly waitress do his bidding.

After he finished eating, he paid the cashier out of the twenty dollars Celia gave him and went back out to the street. It was dark now and he was alone in the city for the first time in his life and not the least bit afraid. If Celia could see him now, she would have no reason to call him a baby.

He walked and walked. The streets were unfamiliar and he had no way of knowing where he was or where he was going, but it didn’t seem to matter. He was in no hurry to get home. He felt some satisfaction in knowing that mother and Celia would not know where he was and would be worried about him.

He turned down a side street and came to a place called Pinky’s Night Spot. With its pink-and-green neon lights and its music spilling out into the street, it seemed inviting somehow. It was a place like he had never seen before except in the movies. He hesitated for a minute and when the door opened as if by magic he went inside.

The place was crowded and smoky. Nobody noticed him or even looked at him. He drifted toward the back where there were pool tables. He watched a pool game for a few minutes and finally one of the players noticed him and stopped playing.

“Play you a game?” the player asked. He was about twenty with black hair and a tiny earring in one ear.

“No, thanks,” Roland said. “I was just on my way home.”

“Got any money?”

“Cab fare.”

“You can double your money if you’re a good player.”

“I don’t know how to play,” Roland said.

“I can teach you. It’s easy.”

“No, thanks. I was just on my way home.”

“My name is Gunner.”

He held out his hand and Roland shook it limply.

“Are you lost?” Gunner asked. “You look kind of lost.”

“No, I’m not lost.”

“You’re younger than you look. When I first spotted you, I would have taken you for twenty or twenty-one and now that I see you up close I see you’re a lot younger than that.”

“I have to be getting home.”

“Could I buy you a drink?”

“No, thanks.”

“I want you to meet my friends. This is Ellis and Janice.”

Janice had very blonde hair, almost white, and small eyes without color. Ellis had a round face and wore horn-rimmed glasses.

“Are you having a good time?” Janice asked. “You look like you need a drink.”

“I just offered to buy him one and he turned it down,” Gunner said.

“That’s no good!” Janice said. “Tell me what you want and I’ll go get it for you.”

“That’s okay,” Roland said. “I was just leaving.”

“Could I give you a lift someplace?” Janice asked. “I have my car outside.”

“No, thanks. I can walk.”

“You’re not very friendly, are you?”

“He’s just a little shy,” Gunner said. “Weren’t you shy when you were his age?”

“How old are you, honey?” she asked.

“Seventeen,” Roland said.

“Too young to have all the social graces yet,” she said.

“Hey, I know where there’s a party!” Ellis said. “Let’s all go to the party!”

Gunner took Roland by the arm and the four of them went outside. They found Janice’s car, an old Chrysler the color of an army tank, and they all got in, Gunner and Ellis in the front and Roland and Janice in the back.

“I thought this was your car,” Roland said.

“It is, but I’m too shit-faced to drive,” Janice said. “Gunner can drive. He’s a good driver.”

“Where to?” Gunner asked, starting the engine.

“It’s always nice to make a new friend,” Janice said. She leaned close to Roland in the back seat and put her arm around his shoulder and nuzzled her nose into his neck.

“I, uh, I should be getting home,” Roland said.

“Before this night is over…” Janice said. “Before this night is over…”

He waited for her to finish but she didn’t. She seemed for the moment to have fallen asleep.

“What’s the matter with her?” he asked Gunner, trying to keep the note of panic out of his voice.

Gunner and Ellis exchanged a look and laughed. Roland felt he had missed something and wished he might go back and redo the last few minutes and maybe he would better understand what was going on. He watched the passing lights, trying to think, and wishing all the time that Janice would wake up and move away from him.

He thought about mother at home. She would be pacing the floor at this moment at his unexplained absence. She might even call the police. She would be mad at Celia for the way she made Roland get out of the car that afternoon and get home on his own. Celia would think twice now before she called him a baby again.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

The Girl With a Face Like a Pekingnese

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The Girl With a Face Like a Pekingese ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

As the wheelchair bumped over the separations in the sidewalk where weeds were growing, Ouida gave a little grunt of pain or alarm, but Verlean kept pushing forward, ignoring Ouida’s discomfort as well as her own. About halfway to Miss Lyle’s house, Ouida wanted to stop and rest under the shade of a big sycamore, even though Verlean was doing all the work.

“Give me a Lucky, honey,” Ouida said.

Verlean lit the cigarette in her own mouth and drew on it a couple of times to get it going good and then handed it to Ouida.

“I can’t do much of anything else, but I can still smoke,” Ouida said.

Ouida was seventy-eight and her bones were falling apart. She could take a few baby steps when she had to, but mostly she stayed in the wheelchair or the bed, pulling herself with her arms from one to the other when it was called for.

Finally they arrived at Miss Lyle’s house. Verlean’s arms were so tired she thought they would drop off and droplets of sweat had formed on her brow. Miss Lyle had been watching for them and when she heard them coming she went out and helped Verlean pull the wheelchair up the two little steps and into the house.

Miss Lyle’s house was cool and dark and smelled like some unidentified herb. She watched as Verlean settled Ouida’s wheelchair in the corner of the room facing out with her back to the wall. Verlean sat on the old sofa, folded her arms, crossed her ankles, and hoped that she might go to sleep while Ouida and Miss Lyle “visited.”

Miss Lyle was famous for her hospitality and always served “refreshments.” She went to the kitchen and came back with cans of malt liquor for herself and Ouida and a bottle of ice-cold root beer for Verlean. Miss Lyle and Ouida tapped their cans together before they drank.

Ouida and Miss Lyle were the same age and had known each other since grammar school. Miss Lyle had had three husbands, all dead, and she was only four feet, seven inches tall. She made her own clothes and what she didn’t make she bought from the children’s department at the clothing store. When people called her half-pint or shortstop or midget, she pretended not to hear but was deeply offended, anyway.

Buster, hearing that company had arrived, yipped from the kitchen and came bounding into the room. He was an elderly Pekingese, Miss Lyle’s friend and companion. He sniffed at Ouida’s feet and then, deciding she was of no interest, ran to Verlean, kissing her ecstatically as she picked him up and held him on her lap.

“He’s just a little baby!” Miss Lyle said.

“Do you think he’s cute?” Verlean asked.

“Well, of course he’s cute!” Miss Lyle said. “I never saw anything cuter!”

Verlean had hoped that Ouida would answer the question herself because she was thinking of the time that Ouida remarked what an ugly face Buster had and how she, Verlean, had a face just like his.

“He’s the smartest thing in the world,” Miss Lyle said. “He knows what I’m thinking.”

“Do you know what he’s thinking?” Verlean asked.

“Sure I do! He’s thinking how happy he is and how lucky!”

“Why is he so lucky?”

“Because he is loved.”

“He doesn’t know anything,” Ouida said. “That’s what makes him happy.”

“When I die, I’m going to have him buried with me,” Miss Lyle said. “Keep me company.”

“What if you die before he does?”

“Well, we’ll figure that out when the time comes,” Miss Lyle said. “I’ve asked the Lord to let us both die on the same day, though.”

“It’ll be a neat trick if you can pull that one off,” Ouida said.

It was time for Ouida to smoke another Lucky and after Verlean had lighted it for her in her own mouth, she got up and went to the mantel and looked at herself in the cloudy mirror that hung there, trying to see if there was any similarity at all between her face and Buster’s. Her eyes drifted from her own image to the framed picture of Miss Lyle’s son when he was younger.

“Where is Turk now?” Verlean asked.

“Still on the run from the police,” Miss Lyle said.

“Doesn’t he ever call you or stop by and see you?”

“No, he knows the police are keeping an eye on me, expecting him to do that very thing. They been here a dozen times asking me questions. As long as I don’t know anything, I can’t tell them anything.”

“What did Turk do? Did he kill somebody?”

“No. Killing ain’t his style. He was involved in the rackets or something. I don’t know for sure and I don’t want to know.”

“What’s the rackets?” Verlean asked.

“It’s better for you not to know.”

As always, Verlean was charmed by any picture she ever saw of Turk Lyle. There was something about his dark eyes, looking serenely out at her, that stirred something inexplicable in her. If he wasn’t quite as handsome as Robert Taylor, Errol Flynn or Clark Gable, he was much more interesting. He had been places and done things.

“I’m going to marry him,” Verlean said.

“What did you say, honey?” Miss Lyle asked.

“I said I’m going to marry him.”

“Marry who?”

“Turk! I’m going to marry Turk!”

“You’ll have to catch him first.”

“Has Turk ever said anything about me?” Verlean asked.

“Why no, child! Why would he?”

“He’s never even noticed me or anything?”

“I think he’s got other things on his mind, now, honey.”

“When you see him, tell him I said ‘hello’.”

She sat down and drank the rest of her root beer and, while Ouida and Miss Lyle talked about things that didn’t interest her, she thought about Miss Lyle being dead and herself and Turk living together in that very house with its big rooms and antique furniture. She could fix it up so cute if she had the chance! And one day there might be a baby or two, but if there wasn’t she wouldn’t mind. If it was just her and Turk, that would be enough.

Verlean excused herself to use the bathroom and when she came back, she picked up Miss Lyle’s issue of Vogue and began looking at the pictures. She pretended not to be listening to what Ouida and Miss Lyle were saying, but she was taking in every word.

“I wish she could find a husband,” Ouida said, “as long as it’s not Turk.”

“What’s the matter with Turk?” Miss Lyle asked.

“Well, he’s a criminal for one thing.”

“She could do a lot worse, criminal or not.”

“I’m all the family she’s got,” Ouida said. “I worry about what will happen to her when I die. She can’t take care of herself. She’s simple in the head.”

Verlean sighed but Ouida and Miss Lyle didn’t notice. It was as if she wasn’t even there.

“Who wants to marry a girl that’s simple in the head?” Miss Lyle said.

“Nobody!” Ouida said. “And when I die, she’ll end up a ward of the state.”

“They’ll put her on one of them work farms where they’ll make her dig potatoes all day long!” Miss Lyle said.

Ouida looked around to see where Verlean was, if she had come back from the bathroom. “Light me another Lucky, honey!” she said.

When Verlean and Ouida left Miss Lyle’s house to go back home, Verlean pushed the wheelchair silently over the bumpy sidewalks with her head down. She didn’t want Ouida to know that she was hurt by the things she and Miss Lyle had said about her not being right in the head and how she would never be able to find a husband and how she had a face like Buster’s and would end up living at the poor farm. She wasn’t going to let them get her down, though. She had a plan. She would have a husband and, if everything worked out the way she hoped it would, she knew exactly who he would be.

At suppertime, Verlean stirred one teaspoon of poison into Ouida’s soup. She didn’t know what one teaspoon of poison would do, but if nothing happened she would do the same thing tomorrow and the day after that. Over days, the poison should have a cumulative effect. When Ouida became ill and had to be taken to the hospital, the doctors would just think her bad heart and smoker’s lungs and the condition of her bones falling apart had finally got the best of her.

And then there was Miss Lyle. With Ouida gone, Verlean would go to work on Miss Lyle, or maybe try a different approach. Startle her into having an old-age heart attack or push her down the cellar stairs and make it look like an accident. Any number of ways it might be done.

Of course, with his mother out of the way, Turk would stop his wandering ways and return home, where Verlean and Buster would be waiting for him with open arms. And when that happened, Turk would see—the whole world would see—that Verlean wasn’t as soft in the head as everybody thought she was.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

If I Had a Heart

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If I Had a Heart ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

“I feel like firing somebody today,” Mr. Punsley said. “Who shall it be?”

“I don’t know,” Mr. Cundiff said. “Go down the list and pick somebody.”

“Well, now, let me see,” Mr. Punsley said, folding his hands and going down the list of names. “We have lots of suckers to choose from. Are there any standouts? Yes, there are many, many standouts. Anybody you’ve found especially offending lately?”

“Otis Nadler spends too much time in the men’s room,” Mr. Cundiff said.

“He has a chronic bowel disorder,” Mr. Punsley said, “so I don’t think we could get him for that. He might counter with a lawsuit.”

“How about Tenny Peterkin?” Mr. Cundiff asked. “I’ve noticed him staring off into space a couple of times lately when he ought to be working.”

“He just lost his wife to an automobile accident,” Mr. Punsley said. “We gave him three days’ bereavement leave, but I think it takes longer than that to get over the accidental loss of a wife. Sometimes it’s a good idea to have a heart, or at least pretend we do.”

“Yes, you’re right, of course,” Mr. Cundiff said. “As usual.”

“Always being right is what got me where I am today,” Mr. Punsley said.

“Well, now, let me see,” Mr. Cundiff said. “Judith Traherne comes to mind for some reason.”

“Can’t fire Judith,” Mr. Punsley said. “She makes the best coffee in the office and, anyway, her father is on the board at the country club. We don’t want to make him mad.”

“How about Florence Lawrence, then?” Mr. Cundiff said. “She’s put on a lot of weight lately. That means she’s not carrying her share of the load.”

“She’s carrying a load, all right,” Mr. Punsley said. “Haven’t you noticed she’s going to have a baby?”

“No! I just thought she had been eating too many donuts,” Mr. Cundiff said.

“You can’t fire an expectant mother, no matter how much you may want to,” Mr. Punsley said. “Pick somebody else.”

You pick somebody,” Mr. Cundiff said. “Somebody good. Just let me alone for a while. I feel one of my headaches coming on.”

Mr. Punsley and Mr. Cundiff managed the company, or at least they thought they did. In reality, they did practically nothing, having no idea of what needed to be done or how to do it. When there was any real work to be done, they put it off on one of their underlings and sat back and took the credit (and the profits), if there was any to be taken.

Mr. Cundiff locked himself in his office to be alone to try to make his headache go away, and Mr. Punsley continued looking down the list of company employees for prospective firees. When this task became tiresome, he called one of his current mistresses, one Mona Montclair, on the phone and chatted with her for close to an hour about sundry personal matters, including her two pet poodles and the lousy manicure she had from a manicurist who was obviously high on drugs. Then she told him about how she had been taxing her intellect looking at travel brochures, trying to decide on a vacation destination (the French Riviera or Paris?) and grew pouty when he told her he didn’t know when he would be able to get away to join her.

“You don’t know how difficult it is to run a large corporation with thousands of employees,” Mr. Punsley said.

“Have one of your little secretaries handle things while you’re gone,” she said. This was a reference to the dozens of female employees of Mr. Punsley’s of whom Mona Montclair was jealous.

By lunchtime Mr. Cundiff’s headache was better and Mr. Punsley had had enough of the office for one morning, so the two of them left to have a steak-lobster-martini lunch at the most exclusive restaurant in the city.

They made it a rule never to discuss office matters while lunching, so Mr. Cundiff didn’t ask Mr. Punsley who, if anyone, he had chosen to fire. Mr. Cundiff trusted Mr. Punsley’s judgment and he knew that Mr. Punsley would pick somebody who would be absolutely crushed at losing his job and would probably cry or maybe become violent and have to be bodily ejected by the security staff. It would certainly spice up the afternoon.

Mr. Cundiff had a dull, dowdy wife in the suburbs and four miniature Cundiffs, so he was always eager to hear about Mr. Punsley’s exploits with the opposite sex. Mr. Punsley had never been married, had always steered away from it, in fact, because, as he said, he would lose too much in a divorce settlement. He would lead women on, though, and make them think he was going to marry them, and then, pull the rug out from under them, in a manner of speaking, just as they believed they were on their way to the altar.

After two hours of excellent food and drink—and after Mr. Punsley had ogled all the women in the place from seventeen to seventy—Mr. Cundiff and Mr. Punsley paid their tab and left.

Once back at the office, Mr. Cundiff retired for a little siesta, while Mr. Punsley again sat down at his desk with the list. Now that his mind was clear after a good lunch and six martinis, he settled on the name of a person to fire: Nelson Dunwoody. When Mr. Cundiff emerged from his period of rest refreshed, Mr. Punsley greeted him with the news.

“Which one is Nelson Dunwoody?” Mr. Cundiff asked.

“He doesn’t talk much,” Mr. Punsley said. “He didn’t get drunk at the office Christmas party the way everybody else did. In fact, he wasn’t even there.”

“I still don’t know who he is,” Mr. Cundiff said.

“He always keeps his head down and doesn’t try to flirt with any of the ladies,” Mr. Punsley said.

“You’ll have to give a reason to fire him,” Mr. Cundiff said.

“Well, somebody told me he uses a lot of soap and paper towels when he’s washing his hands in the men’s room,” Mr. Punsley said.

“He must be very clean,” Mr. Cundiff said.

“And that he has arrived for work five minutes late two times in the last year,” Mr. Punsley said.

“Well, that was the commuter strike and the snowstorm, I’m sure,” Mr. Cundiff said. “Everybody was late those days!”

“Somebody else told me they saw him put a packet of sugar in his shirt pocket, obviously to take home with him,” Mr. Punsley said. “Now, when employees begin stealing sugar from the company, you know it’s time to take some action!”

“Truer words were never spoken!” Mr. Cundiff said.

“And, if all that wasn’t enough, there’s simply something about the fellow I don’t like,” Mr. Punsley said. “I think it’s the way he carries himself when he walks. He seems just a little too sure of himself.”

“He’s cocky,” Mr. Cundiff said.

“Yes, that’s it exactly!” Mr. Punsley said. “I can always rely on you to find the right words.”

“Have your secretary show the man in, then, and we’ll get right to it!” Mr. Cundiff said.

Mr. Punsley and Mr. Cundiff both greeted Nelson Dunwoody with enthusiastic smiles, shaking his hand and patting his shoulder.

“Take a chair, please, sir,” Mr. Punsley said.

Nelson Dunwoody sat in the large leather chair in front of Mr. Punsley’s desk, crossed his legs and folded his hands in his lap. Even now, Mr. Punsley thought, when he’s obviously in trouble, this Nelson Dunwoody person is entirely too sure of himself.

“What can I do for you gentlemen today?” Nelson Dunwoody asked.

“You’ve been with the company now for about—what is it?—sixteen months?” Mr. Punsley said. He was nervous and seemed to be having trouble getting the words out.

“Yes,” Nelson Dunwoody said.

“And how do you like it here?” Mr. Cundiff said.

“Well, I have to say I’ve found it very enlightening,” Nelson Dunwoody said.

“In what way?” Mr. Cundiff asked.

“I’ve accomplished everything I’ve wanted to accomplish and more,” Nelson Dunwoody said, smiling confidently.

“That’s fine!” Mr. Punsley said. “The reason we asked you to come in and chat with us today is…”

“Well, I’m afraid whatever it is, it won’t matter much now,” Nelson Dunwoody said. “I was just typing my letter of resignation when the secretary came and said you wanted to see me.”

“Oh? You’re leaving us?” Mr. Cundiff asked.

“Yes. I didn’t think it would be necessary to give you the usual two weeks’ notice since my work here is completed,” Nelson Dunwoody said, taking a folded letter out of his pocket and placing it on the desk in front of Mr. Punsley.

“No, of course not!” Mr. Punsley said, not wanting to admit that he didn’t know what work Nelson Dunwoody was talking about because he didn’t know what Nelson Dunwoody’s job was.

“I’ve already removed my personal effects from my desk and said goodbye to my co-workers,” Nelson Dunwoody said, “so I guess there’s nothing more to be said.”

He stood up and shook Mr. Punsley’s hand briskly and then Mr. Cundiff’s hand and went out the door, leaving Mr. Punsley and Mr. Cundiff at a loss for words.

“Well, I never!” Mr. Cundiff said.

“That’s very disappointing!” Mr. Punsley said. “I thought we would at least see a temper tantrum from the fellow and have to call security.”

“You just never know about people!” Mr. Cundiff said, shaking his head.

“Did you ever see anybody with more gall?” Mr. Punsley said. “He wouldn’t even let me fire him!”

“It takes all kinds,” Mr. Cundiff said.

“I wasn’t even able to make him feel humiliated,” Mr. Punsley said, “and I’ve always been so good at that!”

“Well, pick somebody else from the list,” Mr. Cundiff said.

“I’m afraid it’s going to have to wait until Monday,” Mr. Punsley said. “That fellow gave me a headache.”

“I’m going to take a little lie-down in my office,” Mr. Cundiff said.

At four o’clock, with one hour left to go before time to go home, Mr. Punsley was relaxing in his big chair in front of the window, thinking about where he was going to have dinner and with whom, when he heard a commotion in the outer office. Before he had a chance to go and see what it was, three men, with several others behind them, burst into his office.

“Mr. Cornelius Punsley?” the tall man in front asked.

“Yes!” Mr. Punsley said, showing his indignant side. “And just who the hell are you?

“We have a warrant for your arrest, sir!” the tall man said.

What?” Mr. Punsley said. “I believe there’s been some mistake!”

Mr. Cundiff, also hearing the commotion, emerged from his office.

“Are you Mr. Alonzo Cundiff?” the tall man asked.

“Well, uh…” Mr. Cundiff said, unable to go any farther.

“I’m afraid you’re both under arrest, sir!” the tall man said.

“What is this all about?” Mr. Punsley asked.

“You’ll have plenty of time to ask questions later,” the tall man said. “All we’re doing now is taking you in.”

“In where?” Mr. Cundiff asked.

As a diversionary tactic, Mr. Punsley began grabbing articles and papers from his desk and throwing them about the room. While the tall man and the others were distracted, Mr. Punsley grabbed Mr. Cundiff by the arm and they ran out the side door into the hallway.

“What now?” Mr. Cundiff said.

“I’m not going to jail!” Mr. Punsley said.

“Me, either!” Mr. Cundiff said.

“To the roof, then!” Mr. Punsley said.

They ran up to the roof before anybody spotted them and, joining hands, jumped to their deaths, thirty-three stories to the street. They created a monumental traffic jam in all directions and were the top story on the evening news.

While Mr. Punsley and Mr. Cundiff were sitting in Satan’s outer office, waiting to be admitted to hell, Mr. Punsley said. “Maybe we should have treated people a little better than we did. Showed a little more humility.”

“I think it’s too late for that now,” Mr. Cundiff said.

“You don’t think they’ll let us go if we apologize?” Mr. Punsley asked.

“I don’t think it’ll do any good now,” Mr. Cundiff said.

“Who would have ever guessed that Nelson Dunwoody was a federal investigator?” Mr. Punsley said.

“There’s no way we could have known,” Mr. Cundiff said.

“Who hired the fellow in the first place?” Mr. Punsley asked.

“It was you!” Mr. Cundiff said.

“No, it wasn’t me!” Mr. Punsley said. “I remember now! It was you!

“What does it matter now?” Mr. Cundiff said. “I do hope, though, that I get a nice room with a private bath and a view.”

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

Less Time to Spend With Hermaphrodites

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Less Time to Spend With Hermaphrodites image

Less Time to Spend With Hermaphrodites ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Chick came home at seven in the morning, quietly letting himself in at the back door. Mother was waiting for him in the kitchen.

“Where the hell have you been?” she said loudly, startling him.

“I thought you’d still be asleep!” Chick said.

“Well, I’m not! I want to know where you’ve been!”

“I told you I was spending the night at Squeamy’s house. You said it was all right.”

“I called Squeamy’s mother and she said you weren’t there.”

“Well, I wasn’t in the house. That’s what she meant. We slept out in Squeamy’s tent in the back yard.”

“Who did?”

“Me and Squeamy.”

“Who else?”

“Vic Barker and Arden Halton.”

“So there were four of you?”

“Yes.”

“Isn’t Vic Barker the one with the harelip?”

“Yes, but what’s that got to do with anything? He’s going to have surgery in August.”

“And Arden Halton,” she said, leaning her backside against the range. “Where have I heard that name before?”

“How should I know?”

“Isn’t he the one that…”

“He doesn’t go to regular school. He goes to special school.”

“Why? Is he retarded?”

“No! He doesn’t go to regular school because people there are too mean to him.”

“I know now!” she said. “He’s the one that…”

Before Chick knew what was happening, she was on him, slapping at him with both hands. He raised his arms to protect his face.

“What’s the matter with you?” he said. “I didn’t do anything!”

“You’re thirteen years old! What do you mean by spending the night with a freak?”

“He’s not a freak!”

“So, it’s a ‘he,’ is it? How do you know tomorrow ‘he’ won’t be a ‘she’?”

“What difference does it make?”

“You come from a respectable family! You know you should not be spending the night with people like that!”

“We didn’t do anything!”

“Everybody in the neighborhood will know you spent the night together.”

“It wasn’t the way you make it sound!”

“What do you do in the tent all night with a hermaphrodite, if that’s what you even call them?”

“There were four of us! We didn’t do anything!”

“I’m going to call the law! Freak kids should be locked up and should not be allowed to associate with normal kids!”

“Please don’t do that!” he said. “You embarrasses me!”

I embarrass you? You’re the one spending the night with freaks!”

“He’s not a freak! I like him! We all like him!”

“Well, that says a lot about you, then, doesn’t it?”

“He’s smart and funny. He’s been to Washington, D.C. and New York City. He’s seen ghosts and he’s been inside the embalming room at a funeral home.”

“I want you to promise me that you won’t ever associate with him again and you will, above all, not be seen with him in public!”

“No!” he said.

“No what?

“I won’t promise that I won’t see him again!”

“You little shit!” she said, slapping at him again. “When you’re thirteen years old, you do as you’re told!  I’ll tell you who you can go around with!”

“I’m going to invite him over so you can see he’s not as bad as you think!”

“And do I address him as ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’?”

“Don’t address him as anything! Just be nice to him!”

Hah-hah-hah!” she said, lighting a cigarette and throwing the match in the sink. “You’re just a punk kid and you don’t know shit!

“We’re all going roller skating together on Saturday night!”

“I don’t think so! You are as of this minute permanently grounded! If you don’t know what that means, just ask your sister!”

When father came home, mother went outside to meet him as he got out of the car. Chick was watching from the upstairs window. He knew exactly what she was saying as she stood there in her ugly gray housedress that looked like a prison matron’s uniform.

Father didn’t rant and excoriate the way mother did, but he was judge and jury. At the dinner table, he looked solemnly at Chick and said, “I hear you’ve been keeping some inappropriate company.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Chick said, looking down at his plate.

“Starting tomorrow you can scrape the old paint off the garage and give it a fresh coat. Also you can take over the cutting of the grass for the rest of the summer. That should keep you busy right up until time for school to take up again.”

“Why don’t you just take me out in the back yard and hang me from the tallest tree?”

“We could also do that,” father said.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

Immoral Purposes

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Immoral Purposes

Immoral Purposes ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

“When was the last time you saw your granddaughter?”

“Saturday night,” Mrs. Cassin said.

“What did she say to you the last time you saw her?”

“She said ‘goodbye’.”

“That’s all?”

“I was watching TV. If she said anything more than that, I didn’t hear it.”

The big man shifted uncomfortably on the brocade sofa and cleared his throat. Mrs. Cassin looked at him in anticipation of the next question and smiled vacantly.

“Now, she had been dating this boy, this Eddie Weems, for how long?”

“If that was really the son-of-a-bitch’s name!” Mrs. Cassin said.

“How long had she been dating the boy you knew as Eddie Weems?”

“About a month that I know of, but I guess it was going on even longer than that.”

“And you disapproved?”

“You damn right I disapproved!”

“And why did you disapprove of Eddie Weems?”

“He was too old for her!”

“Was that your only objection?”

“No! He was trash! And a hellion!”

“Why do you say that?”

“He wore overalls. He drove a car that made a roaring sound and he didn’t care who saw him smoking cigarettes.”

“So these are the reasons you didn’t like him and didn’t want your granddaughter associating with him?”

Peachy Faraday, the next-door neighbor sitting beside Mrs. Cassin on the red velvet settee facing the brocade sofa, made sympathetic clucking sounds and patted Mrs. Cassin on the hand. “Anybody with eyes in their head could see that Eddie Weems just wasn’t the right kind of boy for Toppy to be going around with,” she said.

“Maybe it would be best if I speak to Mrs. Cassin alone,” the big man said.

“She stays!” Mrs. Cassin said. “I want somebody here on my side to hear the questions you’re asking me.”

“All right,” he said, “but there’s no need for it.”

Peachy was now emboldened to speak: “I heard some awful things about Eddie Weems in church. One of the ladies in my Sunday school class who knows the family says he preys on young girls.”

“Preys on young girls how?”

“How many ways are there?”

“Sounds like gossip to me,” he said. “Gossip is of no use.”

“I’ll have you know I never gossip!”

“Mrs. Cassin, what was your granddaughter wearing the last time you saw her?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “I guess I didn’t pay much attention.”

“I know what she was wearing!” Peachy said.

“You were here when she left?”

“I was just coming onto the porch as she was leaving. She was wearing black slacks, a red sweater and an old mink jacket.”

“Mink jacket?”

“Yes. And she had a red hair ribbon in her hair.”

“Did you speak to her?”

“I asked her where she was going but she didn’t answer. Then she ran to the car that was waiting for her and got in and the car sped away.”

“Did you see who was in the car? Who was driving?”

“Well, no, it was too dark to see who was driving, but I know it was the car belonging to Eddie Weems.”

“You were familiar with his car?”

“Everybody in the neighborhood knew his car because it was so loud. You could hear it from two or three blocks away.”

“Is it possible that it was some other car?”

“I don’t think so!”

“She lied to me!” Mrs. Cassin said. “She said she was going to the movies with a girlfriend who had her own car.”

“So it couldn’t have been that car you saw?” the big man asked. “The car of the girl Toppy was going to the movies with?”

“I’m absolutely certain it was the car of Eddie Weems I saw!” Peachy said.

“Now, Mrs. Cassin, did you notice any change in Toppy’s behavior in the days before her disappearance?”

“Like what?”

“Did she seem worried about anything or fearful?”

“No.”

“Did she receive any mysterious phone calls or have any mysterious visitors?”

“Of course not! Don’t you think I would have known if there was anything like that going on?”

“How long had Toppy lived with you?”

“I took her in and raised her as my own little girl from the time she was eight years old. Eight years ago.”

“Her father was your son?”

Is my son! He’s still alive as far as I know!”

“And where is he now, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Prison. No parole.”

“And the mother? Your son’s wife?”

“She’s a no-good tramp! If she’s not dead, she should be!”

“Does Toppy speak to her mother or know where she is?”

Mrs. Cassin raised both her feet and brought them down on the floor with impatience. “There’s no good in asking all these questions!” she said. “You find that asshole Eddie Weems and there you will also find my granddaughter!”

“Are you sure of that?” the big man asked.

“I’ve never been so sure of anything in my entire life!”

“Well, I have to tell you,” he said. “The family of Eddie Weems has also reported him missing.”

“I knew it!” Mrs. Cassin said.

“He probably took her to another state,” Peachy said. “There’s a name for that. Immoral purposes.”

“Could they have gone off someplace and got married?” the big man asked.

“If they did, I’ll kill that bastard Eddie Weems!” Mrs. Cassin said.

“Getting married is not a crime, Mrs. Cassin,” he said.

“He’s taking advantage of my little girl. She’s a minor and he is not. Isn’t that enough to put him behind bars for the next thirty years?”

“Try to keep calm,” he said. “These things usually work themselves out.”

“I want you to find them and bring them back!”

“We’ll do our best to locate them,” he said. “It might take a few days.”

“When I get my hands on that Eddie Weems, I’ll make him wish he had never been born! And, as for Toppy, it’s convent time for her!”

“She’ll make a pretty little nun,” Peachy said.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

Clown Voodoo

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Clown Voodoo

Clown Voodoo ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

It was autumn and the back yard was littered with walnuts. Mother had husked some and some still remained in the tight green outer husk, drying in the sun. If you’re not careful, you’ll get that stuff on your hands and it’s the very devil to get it off. You don’t want to go to school with brown hands, do you?

Ian was seven. His father died when he was a baby and his mother married a man named Devin when Ian was five. Devin was Ian’s stepfather. There was an unspoken thing hanging in the air between Ian and Devin: They didn’t like each other. All Devin had to do was walk into a room for Ian to want to leave it.

On more than one occasion Ian spoke to his mother about it. “Devin doesn’t like me, mother,” he would say. He didn’t even have to ask her if she thought it was true because he already knew it was. He also didn’t mention that the dislike was mutual.

“Of course he likes you,” she said. “He’s just a little distant.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means we have to give him some time. He’s not used to children.”

“Why did you marry him?”

“I guess I got tired of being alone.”

“Would you be sad if he died?”

“Of course, I’d be sad! He’s my husband. We’re a family now. You shouldn’t even think such things.”

“Devin doesn’t like me, mother. I think he’ll try to kill me one day and try to make it look like an accident.”

“Don’t be silly!” mother said. “Go and find something to do and stop having such morbid thoughts.”

“Devin doesn’t like me, mother.”

When Ian and mother were alone in the house without Devin, they were happy. They watched TV together, played monopoly or scrabble, and baked cookies or brownies. As soon as Devin walked through the door, though, Ian saw the change that came over mother. She stopped laughing and became uneasy. Devin jerked things out of her hand and cut her off when she was talking. Several times he threw a sandwich or a cup of coffee or a beer bottle at her, barely missing her head. Then he would storm out of the house and she would have to get down on her hands and knees and clean up the mess he had made.

Devin made Ian go to bed every night at nine o’clock, even on  weekends. Then in the morning he would stand over him and force him to make his own bed “military style.” He wouldn’t let him eat more than one cookie at a time or drink more than two sodas a week. When they had liver and onions or Brussels sprouts, which Ian hated, Devin made him eat every bite before he could leave the table.

At times Devin made Ian work in the yard, hoeing the flower beds or raking leaves, while Devin sat in the shade and watched. If Ian made a mistake or missed some leaves or weeds, Devin called him a “little turd” or a “worthless piece of shit.” Ian began to have antagonistic feelings toward mother for not standing up for him, but he knew she was afraid of making Devin mad.

Ian saw a story on TV about voodoo. An old woman had an “effigy,” a small likeness, of a person who was supposed to be her enemy. She said magic words and stuck pins in the back and through the neck of the effigy, which was supposed to inflict pain and suffering on the enemy.

Ian found an old clown doll in the trash. He cleaned it up and sprinkled it with Devin’s aftershave and hid it in his room. At night after everybody had gone to bed, he took the effigy out of its hiding place and, saying his own magic words, stuck pins in its stomach or through the eyes, drove a nail into its head. He fashioned a hangman’s noose out of a shoelace and hung the effigy in the back of the closet where mother wouldn’t see it and ask him what it was.

On the last Sunday in October, Devin was working in the back yard on an old Cadillac he was restoring. The car was jacked up in the back, all four tires removed. He was underneath the car, only his legs sticking out from the knees.

Ian went out the back door and saw at once the thin arm of metal that was holding the car up. He knew Devin was there, underneath the car; he wanted to escape Devin’s attention before he put him to work picking up walnuts or raking leaves. He had a library book, so he crept quietly all the way to the far edge of the back yard, all the way by the back fence that separated one yard from another, intending to sit underneath the trees and read.

On the ground near the fence was an old slingshot he had never seen before. He picked it up and looked at it. He thought it must belong to the neighbor kids and was going to throw it over the fence into their yard when he decided he’d like to give it a try first. He picked up one of the walnuts off the ground and put it in the slingshot and pulled the heavy piece of rubber back as far as he could and let go.

He wasn’t aiming at anything in particular. With amazing velocity and uncanny accuracy, the walnut struck the jack, knocked it over, and brought the car down on top of Devin. He saw Devin’s legs jerks, the big feel sticking out comically as in a cartoon. Scared at what he had done and not knowing what else to do, Ian ran into the neighboring yard to the alley and all the way to the Methodist church and on past that to the cemetery.

He hid out in the cemetery for what must have been more than an hour and when he decided to go home, the neighbor woman from across the street was waiting to corral him into her house.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“Your mother had to leave in a hurry and she asked me to take you to my house until she gets back,” the neighbor woman said.

She gave him a big plate of spaghetti and a piece of cherry pie and when he was finished eating she told him to sit quietly and watch TV until mother came for him.

When finally he saw mother, well after dark, he saw she had been crying. “Where have you been?” he asked. “Did something happen?”

“There was an accident,” she said.

When she told him what had happened, he pretended to be sad while feeling nothing, not even fear that he might be blamed.

“It’ll be all right, mother,” he said, turning his face away so she wouldn’t see his smile. “I’ll look after you.”

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

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