Image from Free Images

He lurks
beneath the tranquil surface,
tracing slow circles, seeking
a sign of weakness, a
barely-visible tinge of
red signaling vulnerability.

Swift, the strike is subtle,
concealed in a whisper
touch no less lethal than
casual words that tear
the heart, shredding hope.

Sated, stuffed with conquest,
yesterday’s catch abandoned,
the quickening cloud of red
marking her surrender drifts
beneath the tranquil surface,
and he moves on.



image by Free Images Live

Brow furrowed, eyes piecing,
face darkened in growing rage,
malice swells her heart.

A bead on her target,
she bears down, inexorable,
wreaking havoc as she passes.

Not a woman to be toyed with,
her fury is swift and terrible,
her caress harsh and cruel.

Brace yourself, complacent denizen,
take cover and cower in dread.
Irene is coming, and she’s mad as hell.


The Last Game? (Part 6)

This the final part of a six-part story written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory.

The Last Game?  (Conclusion)

(Continued from Part 5)

Image from WikiMedia Commons

A tone in his ear brings Felix out of his trance. A guard is on the move.  Best he get on with business.

Once the pieces that were to travel in the exhibit had been announced, Abraham Leewes told Felix which he should steal. He has no intention of taking everything. In fact, he is only going to steal two pieces, but what pieces they are. And thanks to Leewes, Felix fervently hopes that no one will realize they are gone until he is well out of it.

He hurries over to the first of the cases he plans to open. It is a glass model of Buckingham Palace and inside, resting on a drape of deep blue velvet, is the unbelievable Imperial State Crown. As a bit of millinery, it’s almost comical. But as a carrier for the more than 3,000 gems adorning it, the crown is incredible. Most of the jewels are diamonds, with a scattering of emeralds, rubies and sapphires to set the diamonds off. Around the bottom is a ring of ermine. Most astonishing are the two gems on the front of the crown. One is the enormous Cullinan II diamond, which Felix knows weighs in at over 300 carats. Above it, the Black Prince’s Ruby almost pales by comparison, despite being about the size of a chicken egg itself.

Felix opens his bag and pulls out a steel contraption he’s designed for this job. Comprised of several eighteen-inch tubes, it fits fit together like something made of big Lincoln Logs. Once assembled, they create a brace. The glass palace is heavy, and not fastened down in any way.  Lowered over the crown, it’s held in place on the base by its own weight. Around the display, a red velvet rope keeps onlookers from getting too close. As Felix pushes the rope aside, he hears another tone from the ear bud. 

Leaning the brace against the stand for a moment, he lifts one edge of the case, praying that the pressure plate alarm beneath it is deactivated.  Silence reassures him that Leewes is a good as his word. When the glass palace is high enough to slip the crown out from beneath it, Felix positions the brace securely to support the tipped case.

He lifts the crown out, nearly blinded by the flash of light coming from the big diamond in the front. He’s surprised by the crown’s weight.  As he wraps the crown in a jeweler's cloth from his bag, he muses that, at thirty-nine ounces, it must be a bear to wear. He read somewhere that the queen wears the crown around her apartment off and on for several days before an official state event, just to re-accustom herself to its weight.

He sets the crown on the floor for a moment while he takes a large hat-box-like container from the bag and opens it. Inside lies the twin to the crown, delivered to his office last week by Leewes.  Amazing work, he thinks. They look identical. Leewes even made it to the exact weight of the real crown so the pressure plate wouldn’t sense a change. The cost of its construction was more than the price tag on many pieces in the Tiffany showroom. But Felix knows the replica is worth very little by comparison to the real deal. 

The imposter takes its place on the velvet platform and Felix removes the brace and lowers the palace back into place. A quick polish with another jeweler’s cloth, and he stands back to admire his work.  Perfect.

After putting the real crown in the case vacated by its twin and returning the box to his bag, Felix gathers everything up and hurries to the second case. He’s about to follow the same procedure on a glass replica of Windsor Castle when he’s startled by a voice in his ear.

“Hey, Mark, where are you?”

“I’m just clocking in at the Impressionist gallery.” As the voice speaks, the words are accompanied by another tone. “Why?”

“Williams is back from his dinner break. I’m making take a quick run up to the Tower of London. A visitor called this afternoon and said she’d lost a tennis bracelet when she was here to see the exhibit today. I’m gonna take a look.”

“Sure thing. I’ll be there in about 10 minutes. I’ll see you, if you haven’t left by then.”

Felix’s heart is suddenly in his throat. Gathering up his tools and bag, he looks around for some place to hide. He was prepared to conceal himself beneath an exhibit table skirt were a guard on rounds come by. But the guard coming now is looking for a dropped bracelet, and will likely turn on the lights, and look under and behind things.

Across the room, he spots a small ring in the cream-colored wall.  He walks to the wall as quickly as he can without rattling his tools, and pulls gently on the ring. The entire panel of the wall swings inward heavily, and Felix slips behind it, pulling the panel closed behind him. Before he touches the switch to turn off his headlamp, he sees that he’s in some sort of storage area.  He moves behind a tall case and turns off the light.

He gently sets the bag on the floor at his feet, and leans around the cabinet in time to see a line of light appear beneath the wall panel. From beyond it and through his ear bud, the guard can be heard whistling softly as he searches for the missing bracelet.  Felix’s heart is pounding so loudly, he’s surprised the guard can’t hear it through the wall panel.

Come on, come on, he thinks.

Several minutes later, the concert is interrupted. “Hey, you’re still here. Find anything?”

“Nah. If it was here before, it’s long gone now. Ha, imagine finding a diamond bracelet in this room. It’d be wonder that anyone would see it at all, what with the glare.”

The two guards laugh, and their voices fade as they leave the exhibit room.  After the light strip beneath the panel disappears, Felix waits a good ten minutes and three tones from the key stations before he dares to move. He turns on his light, picks up the gear, and goes back to the panel. Slowly easing the panel open an inch, he listens carefully. Nothing. It’s totally quiet. When he pushes the wall out far enough to shine the light through, he’s satisfied that he’s alone. Time to get out of here.

Felix quickly returns to Windsor Castle and liberates a jewel-encrusted scepter. He wraps it and sets it in a case that looks as though it should hold a clarinet. Before lowering the castle, he lays the paste scepter in the display. He stows the long box in the bag along with his now-disassembled brace, gives the case a quick polish, and hurries to the door. A quick scan of the exhibit assures him that everything looks exactly as it did before he began. As he turns to leave the Tower of London exhibit hall, his light catches a diorama depicting an axe at Anne Boleyn’s neck, her head in the bucket standing in front of her kneeling form. Ugh, grisly.

Shuddering, Felix leaves the hall and retraces his steps downstairs to the alley door. He slips out of the building, repeating the procedure with the remote as he goes, this time hitting the green button twice as instructed.

He presses the number that will call Greene, says “ten minutes,” and then drops the phone back in his pocket.  Before heading down the alley to the street, though, he applies his lock picks to the door again. When he leaves, everything is exactly the way it was before he got there.

Well, almost.



It’s dawn when I hear the key in the lock, and I almost collapse with relief.

“Hey, Babe.” When he walks into the living room, Felix is smiling like the Cheshire Cat.

I launch myself at him, nearly knocking him to the floor.  “Are you OK?”

“That’s the closest I’ve come to getting hurt all night. You ever consider a career in football?”

I don’t know when I’ve seen him happier. I’m guessing everything went according to plan.  “It was OK?”

“OK? OK, you ask? It was fucking perfection.”

For the next hour, we sit in the kitchen drinking coffee while Felix gives me a play-by-play recap of the last five hours, complete with color commentary. I’m amazed that he’s telling me anything at all, to be honest. I know it goes against the grain, especially since I’m a crime reporter.  But I’ve promised him that when the story breaks, I will be just another cop shop groupie scrounging for details. And that’s a promise I will keep.
“What about the jewels? You don’t still have them?” I suddenly form a mental image of cops bursting in and finding stolen goods – and not just any stolen goods, the crown fucking jewels for Pete’s sake! – in our hall closet.

Felix chuckles. “No, Charlie, I don’t still have them. They’re safely in Leewes’ hands. You know, the gem guy from Amsterdam.  Before I left the car at the bus station in Ft. Lee, I delivered them to him at the Doubletree. Broke my heart to hand them over, I’ll tell you.”

“So what happens next?” I say a little prayer that there isn’t any more cloak-and-dagger derring-do involved. I don’t think my heart could take it.

“He’s going to break the pieces down and…”

I can’t help myself. I give a little gasp. “Break them down?  Break the queen’s crown down? What does that even mean?”

“Yeah, I know. Seems a shame, doesn’t it? But they have lots of other crowns and scepters. And it’s only two pieces. We clearly can’t sell them as is. You know that. And I’m not in the business of building a private collection in my basement like that guy in the Eiger Sanction.  Hey, any of those croissants left?”

Felix get up and pulls open the empty breadbox. “Damn.”

“Well, I couldn’t help it. I always eat when I’m nervous. Have an English muffin.”

Felix looks downcast and sits back down. “That’s so not the same thing.”  I feel a little guilty, but not much.

“Anyway,” he goes on, “by ‘breaking down,’ I mean Leewes is going to remove all the gems. Normally, I’d have the gold melted down, but it’s too risky to do that here. Leewes will pack up the empty crown and scepter, along with the biggest stones – there are about twenty, I think – and ship them back to Amsterdam. The rest of the stones, he’ll send to me.  I should get them in a few days. They’re beautiful, but there’s nothing about them that screams ‘crown jewels.’  I can fence them much sooner. Those twenty stones are what it was all about.”

“What’s going to happen to them?”

“He’ll hang on to them, for years probably. Eventually, he’ll cut them down into smaller stones, set some in necklaces and such, and sell them. The guy’s a real artist.”

“Sorry I can’t see any of his work.”

“Well…” Felix gets to his feet.  “I’ll be right back.

I pour us both more coffee, then sit down just as he return to the kitchen, a broad smile on his face. He drops to one knee in front of me, makes my hand and says, “Charlie, I never thought I’d ever be on my knees at anyone’s feet, but then, I never thought I’d meet someone like you. Will you marry me?”

My eyes fill with tears and I throw all thoughts of caution to the wind. To be honest, what passes through my mind as I say “Yes, oh yes!” is that Ma will be so happy. Yeah, I know. But I promise you, she won’t be as happy as I am right now. Close, though.

Felix takes my left hand and slips the most beautiful ring I’ve ever seen on my finger. I’m about to hold it out in front of me, you know, like they do in the movies, when it hits me.

“Felix. I’m not wearing stolen goods, am I?”

Laughing, he stands and pulls me to my feet, where he wraps his arms around me. “No, sweetheart. This one is all yours. I had Leewes make it for me. He gave it to me this morning. Do you like it?”

“Oh, Felix, I love it.” I hold my hand out behind Felix’s back so I can admire the ring. I do love it. The setting is unlike any I’ve ever seen. That guy really is an artist.

Felix tightens his arms around me, and says in my ear, “Charlie, there’s more.”

More? I pull back and search his face, which looks serious now. “What more? You’re scaring me a little, Felix.”

His eyes never leaving mine, he says, “The last time, Charlie. This was the last time. No more jobs.”

Just then his cell phone, left on the hall table, rings. Giving me a quick kiss, he steps into the hall to take the call, leaving me to think about his last words.

Well, it’s a nice thought, but I’m not sure I believe it. I know Felix thinks that, with the theft of the crown jewels, he’s reached the pinnacle, that point in the game where the music plays as the screen says “Congratulations, you won!”  But I’m not so sure.



Felix is feeling on top of the world as he answers his cell phone. Charlie has agreed to marry him. Wow.

And he meant it when he told her that this was his last job. As hard as he’s tried, he can’t get the image of her face as he left last night out of his mind. It has haunted his thoughts ever since.

And besides, this was the one. He’s stolen the fucking Imperial State Crown from the crown jewel collection, and the crime was perfect. Anything else can only be an anticlimax.


He’s surprised to hear Leewes’ voice coming from the phone at his ear. They weren’t supposed to talk until next week.

“Felix. It wasn’t apples and oranges. It was apples and apples.” Then as quickly as Leewes was there, he is gone.

Felix pushes the end button and looks at the tiny screen for a moment, which says “call from unknown ended; 6 seconds.”  What the…

And then it hits him.



The break-in and theft from the Athenaeum are never reported.  After the collection had returned to London, and been reinstalled in the Tower of London, Felix gives old Nige a call.

Nigel is in good cheer. “Hello, there.  How’s my favorite yank? What’s this stuff I hear about you tying the knot? Until I hear it for myself from the horse’s mouth, I’m not having a bit of it.”

Felix laughs. “Believe it, Nigel. This old bachelor has met his match. Can’t wait for you to meet her. The wedding’s in June. You’re coming, right?”

“Wouldn’t miss it, old chap,” Nigel says. “I haven’t been across The Pond in too long.”

“So, what’s this stuff I hear about the ‘royals’ in the Tower of London exhibit being total posers?” Felix can’t help coloring his words with a light coating of sarcasm.

There’s a pause that lasts just a beat too long before Nigel responds.

 “Well, bloody hell, you didn’t think we were going to let the real ones leave the country, did you?”

The End

The Last Game? (Part 5)

This is the fifth part of a six-part story written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory.

The Last Game?  (Part 5)

(Continued from Part 4)

Image from WikiMedia Commons

“Right on time.” Dobbs greets him in a voice just above a whisper.

“Any problems?” If all has gone according to plan, Dobbs has made it possible for Felix to enter the Athenaeum without detection.

“No, everything is ready. Like I told you, we don’t want to shut the system down completely. That would be an alarm in and of itself. But every security system has a ‘standby’ setting, sort of a back door, for emergencies, you know? It doesn’t signal an interruption until it’s been off for more than ten minutes.”

Felix pulls on gloves as he listens to Dobbs describe what he’s done.

“Here, take this. I’ve got it on a lanyard, so just hang it around your neck. Don’t want you fumbling in a pocket and maybe dropping it.”

With gloved hands, he passes a small black box to Felix, who drops it over his head. It looks sort of like a garage door opener.

“I routed everything to a relay on the building-side of the back-up power. As far as the computer knows, the alarm is never off. Now, look at the remote. See those three buttons that look like a traffic light? The top button, the red one, shuts everything down. At that point, you’ve got ten minutes to get inside.

“But before you open the door, press the yellow middle button. That starts the loops on the video. As far as the monitoring system goes, it’ll all look normal. And that’s what the guards see at their station. Just remember that the guards make a physical check every 30 minutes during their rounds. You’ve got to be quick,”

Felix nods. He has every intention of being quick.

“When you get inside, press the bottom green button. That will rearm the perimeter alarms, but the alarms in the Tower of London exhibit hall will stay off. Capice?” Dobbs looks at Felix, eyebrows raised, and gets a nod in return.

“Then when you’re done,’ he continues, “it’s the same sequence again. Red to shut it down. Yellow to return the video to live. Green to reset. But that time, press the green button twice, so it gets the Tower of London hall too.”

“Sounds awesome, Malcolm. I don’t know how you do it.” Felix is really impressed.

“Piece of cake, my boy, piece of cake. Computers. Everything is computers these days. Never even had to be in the building. I just hacked into their system. It’s all there. Oh, sure, they tried to obscure things with misdirection and some bogus labeling. As if.”

“Any footprints they can find?”

“Nah. At 4AM, everything I did goes poof in the night. There’ll be no trace left on the system. I’ve already dismantled the computer I used – which was in Trenton, by the way -- and junked the parts. It’s all good. And don’t forget. As soon as you’re away from here, gloves on, take the remote off the lanyard, and grind it under your foot. Scatter the pieces far away from each other.”

“Thanks, Malcolm. You’re a genius,”

“Yeah, I know. Now go. Get in and get out. Quickly.”

Dobbs turns to go, pauses, and adds, “Oh, one more thing. Here.” He hands Felix an ear bud. “With this, you’ll be able to hear any chatter on the guard frequency, as well as any telephone calls. You should have no surprises.

“Good luck, son. You’re on your own now.” And then he’s gone.

Oh, yeah, that he is. But there is no one Felix trusts more than himself. He draws a deep breath. It’s hard to believe he’s about to steal the crown jewels of England. He’s been training for this all his life.

Felix pulls a penlight headlamp from his bag. He centers the lamp on his forehead, then wraps the fastening strap around his forehead, and presses the Velcro closure firmly. A touch to the finger pad at his temple and the light springs to life, and Felix follows its beam to the doors.

And here’s where the value of all his research comes in. At the personnel door next to the large bay doors where exhibits move in and out of the museum, Felix opens the case holding his picks and turns his attention to the locks. When he’s ready to work, he presses the red button on the remote dangling from his neck, and checks his watch. Ten minutes.

With an eye on the point in the alley where Dobbs has rounded the turn to the street, Felix makes short work of the first lock, working by touch only. Practice makes perfect, he thinks. One of the services Dobbs was able to provide was a copy of all the building specs for the museum, which was rebuilt in its present location only ten years earlier. Heaven only knows what computer he broke into to get them.

Using the name of the security firm’s management team, he called the manufacturer of the locks used on the rear personnel door.  He asked for, and got,  one of each of the three locks there.  Though they are all good products, unbreakable and very secure, there is nothing exotic about them. Felix is good with the picks, and has rarely been beaten by a door lock. These are a bit more challenging, but he has been able to practice, opening them over and over. For good measure, he’s also taught himself how to relock them.  It’s his intention that no one will know anyone has broken into the Athenaeum, let alone how they got in.

He dispatches the second lock, and then attacks the third. It doesn’t surrender as quickly as the first two, but Felix has it unlocked with two minutes to spare. Before opening the door, he presses the yellow button to thwart the video camera that is sure to be directed at the door, as well as the others all over the museum, and then he’s in, relocking the door behind him.

Inside, he pauses to get his bearings, and the moves quickly toward the the stairs and Tower of London exhibit. He has studied the floor plans of the Athenaeum carefully. He knows exactly where the Tower of London exhibit is from a brochure he picked up in the lobby of the Marriott in Times Square, and he knows how to get there. And thanks to Dobbs, he knows where the guard key stations are located. Even better, as a guard checks in at each station, the system transmits a signal to the main guard station as well as logging it into the main security database. His ear bud will notify him each time that happens with a tone unique to the particular key station. Felix will be able to track the guard’s progress through the building by the tones he hears in his ear.

Following the layout he’s committed to memory, Felix is at the door to the exhibit hall in minutes.  The hall is large, and divided into sections featuring various displays. The crown jewels are the real stars of the show, and Felix knows they are in their own room at the back of the hall.  He wends his way through displays of royal armor and artifacts from the fusilier museum toward the rear gallery. When his penlight beam catches the gleam of a tiger’s eye and he turns to see the enormous beast, mouth pulled back in a snarl showing its truly lethal-looking teeth, Felix jumps. Realizing he’s been surprised by a stuffed animal, albeit a large, frightening one, he smiles at himself and wills his heartbeat to slow to its normal 62 beats a minute. 

And then he’s at the door of the “jewel house.” He comes to a stop in the doorway. This is it, what he’s dreamed of for much of his professional career as a jewel thief.  As he slowly swings his head and its attached beam left to right, the penlight is answered by the winks of gems determined to outshine it. They are mounted in crowns, on swords, scepters and orbs. Tiaras of all sizes sparkle with diamonds.  And in the middle of it all, there an actual throne, covered in diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires and heaven only knows what else.  Magnificent, it takes his breath away. Even though this is small sampling of the nearly 25,000-piece collection of jewels worn by British royalty, what is here is still unbelievable.  Felix is mesmerized.

Concluded in Part 6

The Last Game? (Part 4)

This is the fourth part of a six-part story written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory.

The Last Game?  (Part 4)

(Continued from Part 3)

Image from WikiMedia Commons

“You’re what? You’re going to do what???”

I can’t believe my ears. And here I’d thought he might have another girlfriend, or maybe a gambling problem. This is the absolutely last thing I ever expected him to say.

Felix’s trips out at night to “get some ice cream” or “visit a sick friend” had become too frequent to ignore. When he called just as I was starting dinner to tell me he’d be late – again -- because of a last minute interview, I decided to confront him. I’ve kept my apartment, and if this isn’t going to work out, best I find out now, and get out before I get in too deep. Even as I told myself that, I knew it was too late. I’m already in too deep. Not only was he good looking in an irresistibly boyish way, not to mention charming and successful, when I took him home at Easter to meet Ma, they’d taken to each other like bread and butter. We’ve actually been tiptoeing around the idea of marriage.

Ohhh, I think to myself, this is what I get for trusting enough to set aside my deep-seated fear of commitment and move in with someone.

But how could I resist? That box of chocolates on my desk back in February was the most romantic gesture anyone has ever made to me. And it wasn’t as though we didn’t know each other. We’d been dating for months. Ha, fine judge of character I am. I know him all right, all except for the fact that he’s a freaking jewel thief. A criminal, for heaven’s sake. Charlie Martin, intrepid crime reporter, cohabitating with a criminal. That’s rich.

“OK, I knew I was probably going to have to tell you eventually, Charlie. I love you, and I don’t want to keep secrets from you. Sit down. I’ll be right back. I think we’re both going to need a drink.”

I sat on the couch, where Sinbad took advantage of the available lap. Felix returned from the kitchen carrying two glasses and a bottle of chardonnay. He twisted off the cap, poured two generous glasses and handed one to me.

“See, it’s like this,” he began as he sat next to me. “I love a challenge…”



He’s been trying to work up the nerve to tell Charlie about the Athenaeum job for quite a while. As it turned out, she stepped in and made it impossible for him to keep the secret any longer. He really wants to be honest with her. He plans to ask her to marry him after the job is finished, presuming he’s not in jail, and he’s not about to let that happen.

To say she is shocked is the understatement of the year. But once she calmed down and he told her the whole story, she’s taking it surprisingly well. Felix knows she’s terrified he’ll get caught or worse.

“What if you get shot?” she cried, clutching the cat in her lap, who now wears the same wild-eyed look as his mistress.

“I’m not going to get shot, Charlie. I promise. For one thing, I never carry a weapon. The last thing I want is for anyone to get hurt, and that includes me above all. That’s why I’m so careful.”

“Yes, but…”

Felix hadn’t intended to reveal anything but his plans for the crown jewels – as if that weren’t enough – but he decides that telling her everything about his past might allay some of her fears about his safety.

“Remember that robbery you covered last year? Marguerite Morgan’s jewelry?”

Impossibly, Charlie’s eyes go even wider “That was you? They said it was gang of professional thieves. That’s what I wrote. You told me it was a good story.”

“It was a good story.” Felix flexes his fingers in front of his face, forming quotations marks in the air as he says the word story. “And it was partially true. The job was pulled off by a professional. But just one. No gang.”

“Felix, the cops said the only way the thieves… thief could have gotten in was coming around the ledge from the pool deck. The Morgan apartment is on the 12th floor. You didn’t…”

Sinbad gives a little yowl and leaps down, heading for safer ground.

“No ledge, Charlie. The apartment directly above Morgan’s is one of those corporate places, empty as often as it’s occupied. Getting in was easy. Then I just dropped a line from the balcony down to the Morgan balcony. The slider was unlocked. When I was done, I walked out the front door.”

“But what about the alarm? And the safe? Are you a safecracker, too? Oh, my God, Felix, what if they’d been home?”

“They weren’t home. I knew exactly where they were. That was the night of the Christmas charity ball for the Museum of Natural History. Marguerite was the chair, so she was sure to be there. The Morgans were dancing the night away in the Grand Hall at the museum while I was dancing away with the family jewels.” Felix pauses to pour them both more wine.

“As for the rest, people on a high floor feel safe. They think nothing of leaving the alarm off, with valuables out and slider doors unlocked. Yes, it was a calculated risk that she’d lock the jewelry up after she picked out the pieces she planned to wear to the ball, but not much of one. And even if she had, I’d have left empty-handed and chalked it up to bad luck. I’m not always successful, Charlie.”

“Geez, Felix, you’re like a character out of some mystery novel.”

Felix hears a tinge of admiration in Charlie’s voice, and breathes a sigh of relief. He’s glad he came clean. Maybe he can get some sleep tonight.



I’m going out of my mind. I begged Felix to let me go along tonight, promising I’d stay out of the way, but I knew he’d say no. The last thing he needs is someone tagging along, especially when that someone is a reporter. I even said I’d wait in the car, but he wasn’t having any of it.

“I’m not putting you at risk, Charlie.”

“I thought you said there wasn’t any risk.” I hated the touch of whine in my voice, but I couldn’t help it.

Yes, he’d said there wasn’t any risk, but how could there not be? He was going to steal the most important jewels in the world.

“Charlie.” His tone and expression said there would be no arguing. I kissed him goodbye, and watched him walk out the door. He looked just like he always did, a handsome guy headed out to go to the 24-hour store up on the corner or something. I knew he kept some clothes and his “tools of the trade” somewhere else.

That was hours ago. I’m beside myself with worry, and have paced a groove into the Berber carpet in the living room. What if…


He knew it wouldn’t be easy, but leaving the house and Charlie was harder than Felix had anticipated. In the end, she’d kissed him goodbye and wished him luck, and he knew he couldn’t ask for much more than that. Still, he can’t help but feel guilty.

No time for that tonight, he decides, and puts it out of his mind.

Washington Square Park is a little more than a mile from his town house, and Felix covers it in twenty minutes. As he crosses Waverly Place, a small non-descript brown panel van slides to the curb. Felix yanks open the passenger door and climb in, the van barely pausing.

“Your bag is in the back. Everything else all set?” Greene asks as he pulls away from the curb. Traffic is relatively light, but not so light that they’ll stand out as they head uptown.

“Yes. The cars in place?”

“Yep. You ready for this, man?”

As they talk, Felix moves into the back of the van and opens the gym bag. He’d met Greene at Grand Central earlier in the week, and given him the key to a locker on the lower concourse. His tools and clothes for the job were stashed in the locker inside a bag Felix has used to carry his gear for many years.

He tosses the stocking cap he’ll use to cover his light hair onto the passenger seat, and then pulls on the black pants he packed for the occasion. With the black turtleneck he wore when he left home, he’ll be all but invisible if he stays in the shadows outside into the Athenaeum.

After rolling his khakis and dropping them into the bag, Felix makes a quick check of his tools and then climbs back into the front seat.

“I am now. After you drop me, Wheels, take off. Keep your phone on and I’ll call you when I’m done.” Felix, Greene and Dobbs all carry throwaway phones that will be crushed and gone by morning.

Felix pulls on his stocking cap as the van pulls over two blocks from the Athenaeum. The he grabs his bag and gets out.

“Good luck, man.”

Felix has a thought that luck is not what it takes to pull off something like this, but he knows he’s fooling himself. He does need luck, and a shitload of it. Anything can happen.

“Thanks. If you don’t hear from me in two hours, get the hell out of town.”

He slips the strap of his bag over his shoulder and walks down the street at an easy pace, looking like he might have just left the all-night gym a few blocks away. The Athenaeum is on the edge of a residential neighborhood, and at close to midnight, the streets are empty and relatively dark.

Turning a corner, Felix sees the dark mass of the Athenaeum on a corner two blocks ahead. He turns left one block before, and then right again, entering the alley that he knows leads around behind the buildings and to the Athenaeum’s delivery entrance. It’s black as pitch. Everything on the alley has a blank wall, with no windows overlooking the area below. Dobbs stands in the shadows waiting for him.

Continued in Part 5

The Last Game? (Part 3)

This is the third part of a six-part story written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory.

The Last Game?  (Part 3)

(Continued from Part 2)

Image from WikiMedia Commons


Sitting at the desk in his office working his way through a plan to hit the Athenaeum, Felix remembers a course he had at NYU on project planning. Nearly everyone in the class hated it, but he enjoyed it. Schedules, time lines, critical paths and contingencies: what others saw as tedious, he saw as more puzzles to be solved.

A stack of sheets torn from a yellow legal pad grows on the corner of the desk beneath a framed photo of a pretty brunette. Each page is covered with lists, written in Felix’ precise hand. Despite the amount of detail he has captured, he knows that in the coming months, he’ll add to it.

He’s run through the job step by step, from the moment the Tower of London exhibit arrives in New York until the jewels have been liberated from antiquity and set securely in modern times, and he is safely back in the life of a law-abiding citizen. As he knew from the get-go, the gaps in his knowledge are enormous. He doesn’t know more than he knows.

Time to call in the reserves.

A huge antique, multi-compartmented apothecary cabinet stretches along the wall opposite Felix’s desk. Its 57 small drawers are labeled with ingredients used by a pharmacist back in the late 1800s. Felix pulls out the drawer labeled “elder flower” and lifts the false bottom. Secreted beneath is the disposable phone he purchased that morning.

With the cell phone, a list of people he hopes to recruit for the job and his lists in hand, Felix heads for the large Cooper Hotel in Times Square. He knows he can find an enclosed phone booth off the lobby there, one of few remaining in Manhattan. It’s the perfect place to make his calls.



The big heart-shaped box of chocolates sits right in the middle of my desk blotter when I walk in. Even though the “crime desk,” a small cluster of desks around the scanner, is on the other side of the newsroom, the spot of red floating in a grey sea of office furniture is impossible to miss. It’s the first thing I see as I push through the glass doors from the hallway. Huh.

Hat and gloves shoved into the pockets, I park my coat on an empty hook of the coat tree, and head over.

“Hey, Charlie, seems you have an admirer.” Lois, our take on Dear Abby, is grinning from ear to ear.

“I see that. Where’d it come from?”

“It was delivered about 15 minutes ago. Happy Valentine’s Day.”

Cellophane wrapping stripped off, the lid lifts off easily. I pick up the small white card resting on top of the white quilted heart  covering the candy.

“Live with me. - F.”

Oh.My.God. I can feel my face flush to a red matching the box lid I’ve just set aside.



Felix has boiled the Athenaeum job down to its components: getting in, stealing the jewels, getting away, keeping the authorities of his trail, and eventually selling the take. When he pulled together his team, he focused on those elements, and brought together what he considered to be the best in each area.

He’d expected the hardest part would be getting agreement from them to wait longer than is typical for a jewelry heist to fence to spoils. That’s another of his personal rules of survival. Haste is often a ticket on the express train to prison.

While it’s not quite as bad as selling easily identifiable artwork, really high-end jewelry is often custom. To those in the business, such a piece is as unique as a fingerprint of its owner, and therefore traceable. Felix has no doubt that the police have experts on board as consultants quite capable of taking a look at a piece of jewelry and knowing who made it and who bought it. And we’re talking the British crown jewels here. One need only go to the local Barnes and Noble and grab a magazine marketed to royalty watchers like Majesty World or Queen, and pictures of pieces from the collection abound. The catalog for the Tower of London would be enough, but for even better shots, Google is at your command.

Fortunately, the three “experts” who joined him in this little adventure are almost as cautious as Felix. While the last guy who tried to steal the crown jewels was pardoned in return for a pledge of allegiance to the king, they all were quite sure they would enjoy no such consideration. Besides, it was the challenge that enticed them, not the ultimate payback, though they all agree that will be pretty damn gratifying. It’s their plan to break down the pieces into their saleable components, and then tuck them way for several years. While not worth as much as it would be as a crown or scepter, each stone in one of those pieces is a glorious representative of its kind, and will bring a pretty nice price, even after the fence gets his cut.

The four team members set aside their thoughts of what they would do with the money, and focus on planning and research.

Security is the bailiwick of Malcolm Dobbs. After years in the business of computers and high-tech security systems, there is little Dobbs doesn’t know about them. Even better, he has never before applied that knowledge to crime, so he’s not in the system. But he’s been retired for a few years, and basically, he’s bored.

Over the years, Dobbs watched thieves bumble their way into so-called secure sites, and was convinced he could do a better job of it. He was happy to share his thoughts on it with Felix during an interview about the successful hit on the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum back in the nineties. Felix never published the article, but Dobbs’ name became part of the rolodex.

The movies love to show thieves descending from ceilings and dodging invisible beams to lift an item from its pressure-sensitive pedestal. Bunk. The only way to remove a piece from a museum display is to make sure security systems are disabled before you ever go in.

Dobbs told Felix that during the day, museum security is by necessity a little lax compared to what’s in place after hours.

“The whole idea is to let visitors see the stuff up close, right? Not that I’m suggesting going in during the day, you understand. But that’s the time to make sure that when I was ready to go in, I could create an open window, if you will, and then close it on my way out. They’d never know what hit ‘em.”

Getting away successfully is a function of transportation. Felix recruited Mike “Wheels” Greene to handle that part. After serving as the driver for several major hits on the West Coast, Greene spent some time advancing his education in San Quentin. After probation ended five years ago, he moved to Philly, and has kept his nose clean, as far as Felix knows.

Getting away in a car driven by the likes of him is what got Greene caught, and he knows it. In “the Arena,” as the prison was known to its inmates, he learned a lot about the finer points of escape. The driver is the least of it. A complicated system of vehicle exchange is far more likely to transport both the doers and their take to obscurity, which is another word for safety, in Greene’s mind.

Greene is the team member that makes Felix the most nervous. For one thing, the moniker is worrisome. That and the fact that, though it sounds good, the transportation plan he has in mind is based on what he learned from "experts" behind bars. Felix plans to give Greene a very short leash.

The last member of the team is one Felix considers to be the most important and the most qualified. Abraham Leewes is a master cutter. Though there is nothing about diamond cutting he doesn’t know, his real value is his knowledge about gems in general. He has enjoyed a legitimate career in Amsterdam. He relishes the opportunity to handle really world-class stones, something that doesn’t happen all that often. And like Felix, he enjoys the occasional challenge. He’s moonlighted as a resource for some of the most famous jewel thieves in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Felix first heard about Leewes when he interviewed Jack Murphy, known in the press as Murph the Surf. He added Leewes to his rolodex even though he’d never met the man and, at the time, couldn’t imagine ever needing his services.  But, hey, you never know.

When Felix visited Leewes at his home above a small shop on Wagenstraat in Amsterdam, he discovered that Leewes knew of him too, though not by name, of course. Many of Felix’s heists had made the press simply by virtue of the fact that the mark was newsworthy.

“I always wondered about the thieves skilled enough to rob them and get away with it,” he told Felix. “And it was just you, one man?”

It didn’t take much convincing to bring Leewes into the fold.

All in all, a good team, Felix thinks, and as the date of the job draws closer, he’s pleased with the way it’s all coming together. He plans to do the actual deed himself. Even though he has broken a cardinal rule by involving others in the job, years of working alone make it impossible for him to rely on anyone but himself when it comes to stealing the jewels.

The one person that Felix never expected to be involved was Charlie, but it just couldn’t be helped. He’d finally taken the leap and asked her to move in with him. She and Sinbad, her Tonkinese cat, moved into his townhouse off Gramercy Square four months ago, just after Valentine’s Day. It was a risk, given that he was right in the middle of planning the biggest job of his career. Oh yeah, that and the fact that she’s a crime reporter for the Observer. But, damn, he loves her. She’s gorgeous, funny and smart enough to keep him on his toes. He’d decided it was a risk worth taking

And of course, it only took her a few weeks to be onto the fact that he has a little something going on the side.

Continued in Part 4

The Last Game? (Part 2)

The is the second part of a six-part story written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory.

The Last Game?  (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1)

Image from WikiMedia Commons

The people in his life know Felix as a successful businessman. And that he is. His publishing company puts out a monthly magazine, The City, that enjoys worldwide circulation. Like most of the people living in his Gramercy Park neighborhood, Felix gets up every morning, showers, shaves and heads out to work.

But unlike his neighbors, Felix has a rather unorthodox, not to mention highly illegal, hobby, one completely unknown to those in his life. Though many know of his escapades, thanks to the media, no one knows who he is. He’s only been caught once, his first time out. Ever since then, he’s always worked alone, and tells no one about his unusual avocation. He hasn’t even told his girlfriend, though that may change, because things are heating up on that front. He’s been considering asking her to live with him, and it wouldn’t be long before she began to wonder what he’s doing during his absences.

Simply put, Felix steals things. Expensive things from rich people. And no, your first thought would be wrong. He doesn’t do it to give the spoils to the poor.

If he talked about it, Felix would tell you, “Hel-lo, I steal from the rich because they’re the ones who have stuff worth stealing. Plus they’re insured to the hilt. Besides, they don’t need it. They’re rich, after all.” And he never takes it all, cleaning anyone out. That goes against his sense of ethics.

But the real reason he’s a thief is not as simple as that. If someone asked him to explain it, he’s not sure he could.

Felix loves a good challenge. Growing up on the leading edge of the video game phenomenon, he got his first Atari as a teenager. Once he’d connected it to the TV and entered the world of DragonFire, he never looked back. He and the world of gaming came of age joined at the hip.

As the games grew more sophisticated, Felix grew more excited by the challenges they presented, and more skilled at meeting those challenges. And that love of a challenge, coupled, perhaps, with a somewhat retarded sense of self-preservation, is what draws him to the “impossible” robbery and makes pulling it off so satisfying.

Bottom line, Felix doesn’t steal because he wants to be rich. He steals because he really likes it. Pressed, he might even admit he is addicted to it. Luckily -- or not, depending on which side of the heist you’re on -- it’s an addiction that’s not hard to feed. Not in a city filled with the ostentatiously wealthy, the operative word here being “ostentatiously.” Like neon signs saying “me, choose me,” diamonds, emeralds and rubies flash on the necks of those clinging to the upper-most rungs of New York’s social ladder.

A bachelor, the tall sandy-haired publisher is in demand. Society’s grand dames consider Felix an asset at charity functions, and he has more invitations to hob-nob with New York’s elite than he can handle. Not only do the potential marks hang the goods out for display, they notify the press of their social calendar well in advance, making it easy for Felix to know when he’s apt to find an empty town house or apartment.

Finding a target is a no-brainer. But once he’s decided to relieve someone of their baubles, he doesn’t just rush in and shout “stick ‘em up!” Those are the guys who make mistakes, mistakes that ensure a short career as a thief.

Felix is a strategizer, a skill he developed through gaming. It’s one of the things that has kept him on the right side of the bars. He spends months watching, researching, making notes, and working out every detail meticulously. Only when he’s satisfied that he has covered all contingencies does he go in. Once it’s done and he’s slipped back into the role of magazine publisher, the thrill of knowing he’s met the challenge successfully is incomparable. It’s a thrill that keeps him returning to the wrong side of the law after pulling off that heist that’s “going to be the last one.” He can’t help chasing the bigger challenge, much like moving to the next level in a game.

Could there be any challenge greater than stealing the British crown jewels? Maybe, but this one is too good to pass up. There’s only one hitch. Felix is daring, but he’s not stupid. He knows that pulling something like this off will require information and skills he doesn’t immediately have. Were there more time, he’s sure he could get both, but the Tower of London exhibit will be at the Athenaeum in September. That’s just over nine months away. Not enough time.

Felix hates to admit it, but he needs help, and just the thought of that gives him the willies. He has always flown solo. Well, except for that once.

His first trip over to the dark side was at the age of fifteen when he and a buddy broke into a house and boosted a bunch of electronics. They never even got out of the neighborhood. Dumb ass kids. Because they were kids, they got six months in juvie and six months community service. But he has to admit that his little vacation at the “reform resort,” as the kids called it, had the desired effect. Without question, it reformed him. Sort of. Six months in that hellhole – shit, six days would have done it – showed him that he never wanted to spend another minute as a guest of the state. Relying only on his own cunning and considerable skills is the best way he can think of to keep himself below the legal system's radar. That, and keeping his mouth shut.

But there it is: this time he can’t do it alone. Time to consult the “rolodex,” a virtual Who’s Who in the world of thievery that he has carefully constructed over the years and kept secreted in a safe deposit box. Not everyone is as closed-mouthed about their successes as Felix. When approached by a magazine publisher considering a feature article, they are usually eager to tell all. Felix even runs an article about one of them on occasion, names withheld to protect his sources, of course. But published or not, he always adds their CV to the rolodex. Like Daddy always told him, it pays to network. The day has come to make that networking pay off.



I easily snag a cab. It’s early afternoon and it’s not snowing. Getting downtown is not so easy. The trip would normally take less than 15 minutes, but a jam up at the Port Authority brings traffic to a halt. While I wait for the cabbie to find his way out of the mess and onto an alternate route, I pick up the Times someone left in the cab. Never hurts to see what the competition is up to.

A quick scan of the front section reassures me that I know everything my colleagues across town do. I relax and rummage through the pile for Arts, my favorite section. Maybe a movie this weekend…

The Arts section is my greatest resource for weekend entertainment. There’s always something going on, much of it free or inexpensive, high on my list of prerequisites. Like about half of the people in the city, I’m single, something my mother claims is ruining her life. “When are you going to give me grandchildren, Charlie? I’m not getting any younger, you know.” You can hear the tone, right?

“What’s wrong with you? You’re in New York. So many fishes in such a big sea. Why can’t you catch one like everybody else?”

As if it were that easy. It’s a big city with lots of singles, sure. But in a way, that’s the problem. Besides, there’s a lot of damaged goods out there. After making a bad choice and finding myself in a difficult relationship way too many times, I’m cautious.

“Chill, Ma,” I tell her. “I’m only 36. There’s plenty of time. I’ll find someone soon enough. Give me a break here.”

“Oh, sure, easy for you to say. You're not the one who's staring into the abyss of lonely old age.” My ma, aging drama queen. “You should come home, Charlie. Dayton has lots of nice young people.”

Yeah, I know, you feel my pain. Actually, though, I’m not suffering any. I like my job, I have lots of friends and I don’t mind spending time alone. I’m pretty good company. But truth be told, I am seeing someone. I’m not telling Ma that, though. She’d be making out guest lists and probably buying baby clothes, for Pete’s sake. We’ve been dating for a few months, and I think it might be getting serious. Neither of us seems ready to rush into a permanent commitment, though. For one thing, I’m pretty set in my ways. If I want to eat crackers in bed, I eat crackers in bed, if you know what I mean. It’s way premature to be thinking marriage and children. A movie I can handle.

A column headline on the first page of Arts catches my eye. The crown jewels coming to New York… Huh. That’s a first. I make a mental note to catch the Tower of London exhibit next fall. I’ve always wanted to see what royal bling looks like up-close and personal.

The cab finally breaks free of the mess at Penn Station and within minutes, we pull up near a non-descript red brick building on Thompson Street. Ahead is a light show performed by several police cars and two ambulances sitting in front blocking the street.

“Can’t get no closer,” the cabbie announces. He hits the meter. “Fifteen dollars.” I hand him some bills, and push open the door. I’m hit with a blast of frigid air as I get to my feet and head toward the clump of official vehicles.

“Took you long enough.” Clark, one of my counterparts at the Times, steps from the shelter of an alley as I pass and tosses his cigarette into the gutter, where it sputters in the slush.

Actually, I’ve been thinking the same thing myself lately. I need a scoop, something to propel me out to the front of the pack. It’ll never come over the scanner, that’s for sure. I need to cultivate some sources. I don’t need to hear it from a competitor, though.

“Don’t start. What’re you doing out here? Story’s inside.”

“Yep, but they won’t let us in.” Clark gestures toward a small cluster of familiar faces atop bundled up bodies. Vapor puffs from their mouths like cartoon speech balloons.

I head over to join the rest of the Looky Lous waiting to hear something. Clark walks along, filling me in.

“Cops say someone will be out in about fifteen with an update. You probably know what I do. Guy comes home unexpectedly, finds the missus doing the horizontal tango with a neighbor in the marital bed. Before they can gather their wits and clothes about them, he grabs a gun from the dresser and shoots them both, then shoots himself. Old lady next door called the cops when she heard the gunshots. The wife will probably make it. They had her at Bellevue before I got here. The guys are dead.”

See? Sex, blood, guts. Gotta love the crime desk.

Continued in Part 3

The Last Game? ( Part 1)

This is the first of a six-part story written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory.

The Last Game? ( Part 1)

Image from WikiMedia Commons

Felix Lechat almost chokes on the slab of coffee cake standing in for a late lunch when he spots the headline on the third page of the Arts section: “Tower of London Exhibit to Bring British Crown Jewels to New York.”

A quick gulp of his almost-cold coffee stops the coughing, but not before he’s sprayed bits of cake all over the front of his black sweater and drawn the eyes of the Starbucks patrons sitting nearby. Grinning sheepishly, he wipes his face with a napkin and returns his eyes to the newspaper.

The crown jewels coming to New York? Get out. Felix knows that British law prohibits the regalia from leaving England. In fact, the only time one of the pieces in the collection ever leaves its secure home in the Jewel House at the Tower of London is for an official State occasion. If you want to see the crowns, orbs, scepters and other trappings of royalty that have adorned the kings and queens of England for the centuries, you pay your £18 and stand in line with the rest of the guidebook-toting visitors. He can’t imagine the royal family allowing the gem-encrusted collection to wander the globe, even if the law did allow it.

Felix is a thief, and a rather good one, if he does say so himself. And there isn’t a jewel thief in the world who wouldn’t want to pull off the mother of all heists, the one everyone knows is impossible. Felix is no different, but he prides himself on knowing when to play and when to stay, so to speak. The only thing anyone arrogant – or just plain stupid -- enough to try a robbery at the Tower of London would score was a long prison sentence. Like every other self-respecting professional, he’d scoped it out and realized that it was the stuff of dreams and nothing more.

Despite the fact that the whole Tower of London experience smacks more of a Museum of the Macabre attraction than a serious bit of British history, its Jewel House is heavily guarded. The elite Coldstream Guards are deterrent enough. The L85 rifles they carry are purely ceremonial, but the guards are divisional army and quite capable of kicking butt. The real protection comes from the Beefeaters, though.

Beefeaters may look like fops in their funny hats and gilt-adorned scarlet tunics, but Felix knows they rank among the fiercest police forces in the world. Rumor has it that Mossad takes lessons at their feet, a rumor Felix knows to be true. Their duty as "guides” at the Tower of London is a perk, one each Yeoman Warder of the Beefeaters works hard to earn. They take turns at the Tower of London when they aren’t about the real business of protecting the Commonwealth, which they do transparently, without failure or fanfare. Even the so-called secret but well-known British spy agencies – the dashing James Bondian MI this-and-that guys of Hollywood films -- don’t know the extent of the Beefeaters’ duties.

And the only reason that Felix knows any of this is thanks to his second cousin and friend Nigel, a Beefeater himself. Ha, Felix loves the irony of that. If old Nige only knew what his yank cousin was really up to… Hmm, might be time to give Nigel a jingle. Just to catch up, you know?

After he finishes reading the article, Felix sets the Times aside and washes the last morsel of cake down with cold coffee. He swipes his hand over the crumbs powdering most of the front of his six-foot frame, and leaves the coffee shop, pulling on his leather jacket as he makes his way though the line at the counter to the front door. Out on a sidewalk crowded with holiday shoppers, a glance at the Breuget on his wrist and quick calculation tell him it’s “tea time” in the UK, but what the heck? Nigel won’t mind having his dinner interrupted by his American cousin. Felix pulls out his BlackBerry, brings up Nigel’s number and presses the green call button.

After a proper hail-fellow-well-met exchange of pleasantries – Nigel is a Brit, after all – Felix cautiously picks his brain. According to Nigel, who is nearly beside himself over the “innate stupidity of politicians,” a much-needed reinforcement of the older bits and bobs of the Tower of London has collided with a much-needed reinforcement of bits and bobs of the empire’s public image. Despite advice “from everyone with a brain,” Parliament issued a temporary visa, as it were, allowing a selection of treasures from the crown jewel collection to make an international goodwill tour. The jewels will become a part of the much-publicized Tower of London exhibit due to travel the globe during the coming year.

“And how does the royal family feel about this?” Felix wonders aloud. “Surely they aren’t supporting it?”

“You’re not paying attention, bloke. I said ‘everyone with a brain,’ didn’t I? Not sure about this, but I rather think it was their idea, and a bloody bad one at that. I’d say they’ve all made quite the dog’s breakfast of it.”

“You or any of the other guards traveling with the exhibit?”

“That’s the worst of it, Mate. The whole thing is traveling in an armored container, and the firm doing the carting is secure enough. But at stops along the way? They’re relying on the security at each museum. Fucking crazy, if you ask me. It’s not like no one’s ever hit a museum, you know?”

“True, but it doesn’t happen very often. What, maybe a handful of times?” Felix offers in a reassuring tone.

“Still don’t like it.”

The cousins chat a bit longer about the family and their respective holiday plans, then Felix wishes him a jolly good evening, and “rings off.” His head is reeling with what he learned. The planets must be in alignment.

And Felix’s mind is off and running.



Whenever I talk about my job at The Independent Observer, I often find myself speaking in extremes. You know, things like feast or famine, sink or swim, good news and bad news. I never set out to be a cop-shop groupie, as a crime reporter is sometimes called in disparagement, but the job seems to be the requisite jumping-off point for reporters on metropolitan newspapers. I couldn’t avoid putting in my time on the police desk, and hey, it beats the society scene. As it turned out, I’m good at the job, and I’ve stuck with it longer than most.

Maybe I’ve read too many police procedurals, but I think there’s a certain gritty glamour to it. Yeah, I know. So sue me. Spend a little time with guys like O’Malley, the Observer’s grozzled veteran crime reporter, though, and you’ll see what I mean. The police beat’s got it all: mystery and mayhem, scoundrels and heroes, blood and guts, greed, passion and, of course, sex. And O’Malley’s got a story illustrating every one of them.

O’Malley’s retired now, but like the old fire horse, he still hangs around the newsroom. You can often find him slouched in whatever chair is empty at the moment with his feet up on the nearest desk, his beat-up fedora pushed back on his head and an unlit cigarette behind his ear. He regales us “cubs” with tales of what it was like back when he was on the job. According to O’Malley, the job was always better, tougher, more intense – you pick -- “back in my day” than it is now. He and his cronies were real news hounds. But there’s one thing even O’Malley admits is an improvement, and that’s the portable police scanner.

“Back in my day, we were pretty much chained to the scanner here at the police desk until we picked up a call that might lead to a story.” O’Malley’s voice carries an odd mix of scorn and envy. “You kids got it soft. You just clip that gizmo to your belt, pop in the earpiece, and away you go. ”

And that’s just what I’m doing now, as I ride the elevator downstairs to grab a bialy from Pete’s Coffee Wagon, a sidewalk fixture outside the Observer’s front door. No sane person would drink the brown swill they call coffee in the newsroom. I think Fiorello La Guardia was mayor the last time that pot saw soap and water.

I pull on a hat and shrug into my coat before stepping out into the unseasonably cold air. Outside the double doors, I follow my nose around a bell-ringing Santa to the source of the inviting aromas riding the piercing cold.

“Hey, Pete. You keeping warm? It’s way too cold for December. Can I get a coffee and a bialy with cream cheese, please?”

I stand jiggling up and down, rubbing my hands together for warmth, as Pete pulls a warm roll from a compartment on his cart.

“Here you go,” he says as he hands me the oniony bialy-with-a-schmear in exchange for the ten in my hand. “Joe’s comin’ right up, Winchell.” I’m pretty sure Pete calls every Observer word slinger Winchell.

As he turns to pour my coffee and make change, I pick out a likely call from the dispatcher chatter in my ear.

“Hold the coffee, Pete. and keep the change. Gotta run.” I’ve already got my hand in the air to flag a cab as I speak. Time to get to work.

Continued in Part 2


The American Dream

Somehow, he never expected life to be so hard.  He really wanted to get the family out of the city and into the fresh country air, but he just couldn’t afford it.  Making a living is so darned tough these days. What’s a guy to do?

Then a friend told him about the deconstruction industry. 

(picture from chain e-mail, source unknown)


Written for Friday Flash 55, hosted by G-Man here.


Wednesday, Part 2

This is the conclusion of Wednesday, Part 1.

Thon Ngoi, Quang Nam, South Vietnam 

After Joe finishes the last of the “spaghetti,” he pulls the dessert can out of old sock next to him, not bothering with the tiger piss they call coffee.  Like every other member of Little Gull, he stacks his rations in the sock to keep the cans from rattling while they are on patrol.  Peaches.  OK, not bad, he thinks, grateful it’s not fruitcake.  He pulls the chain with his dog tags and the John Wayne over his head again, peels off the bit of tape and parks it on the butt of his rifle.  Just as he begins to work the John Wayne into the rim of the can, the PRC-25 beside O’Malley crackles to life.

“Little Gull, Little Gull.  Incoming!”

All thoughts of dinner gone in an instant, Joe and the other members of his team scramble for their gear.  Joe jams his tinpot onto his head and grabs Sophia.  The high-pitched whistle he hears as he hits the deck is followed closely by an explosion several hundred feet forward of their position.  Then, in quick succession, there is the suggestion of a whistle, then the “thud” Joe has heard about but never experienced himself.  There's a rush of air and an explosion very close by, too close. 

The sounds change to a series of explosions nearby, and Joe thinks, Shit on a stick, that’s mortar.

Images of Anna fill Joe’s mind as the sounds of war fill his ears.  Jackson screams, “I’m hit, I’m hit.”  Next to him, Beaumarie is praying.


Prince Street, Boston, Massachusetts

Mama washes and Anna dries.  The telephone rings just as Anna is putting away the last dish.  She quickly dries her hands on the dishtowel and hangs it from the oven handle.  She turns toward the hall, but her father calls, “I’ve got it.”

As Anna wipes off the kitchen table and puts the bowl of fruit she moved earlier back in its center, she thinks, maybe I’ll watch TV tonight.  The thought makes her feel faintly guilty, kind of like she’s contemplating playing hookey.  Normally, her evenings are spent writing a letter to Joe.  But he’s so close to coming home, she knows a letter wouldn’t reach him in time.

She casts a critical glance around the kitchen to make sure she hasn’t missed anything,  then flicks off the light and follows Mama into the living room.  She steps over Anthony, who’s stretched out on the floor, eyes glued to the television.  Daktari, not her favorite show.   Anna grabs the latest issue of Life Magazine and heads for the faded chintz chair in the corner.

She’s just opened the magazine to the cover story on the Beatles when Papa reappears in the doorway from the hall.


She looks up, and sees her father standing in the doorway to the hall, white as a sheet. 

“Papa, what’s wrong?”

Oh, Anna.”

She jumps to her feet, fear flooding her.  “Papa, tell me!”  Is it Joe?  Is he… all right?”  Her eyes fill as she says the words.

Papa takes her arms and eases her back into the chair.  He kneels in front of her and grabs both of her hands in his.

“Anna, I’m so sorry.  That was Louie DeLuca.  Joe’s squad was dug in outside of Da Nang.  Their position took a direct mortar hit.”

Sobbing now, she asks, “Is he…”

“Dear God, yes, I think so.  There were no survivors.”

“No, no, no, no,” Anna sobs. “No.”   Everyone is crying now, even Anthony, who is folded in Mama’s substantial arms.

‘No. No. I don’t believe it.  It isn’t true.  Are they sure?  How can they be sure?”  Anna demands, swinging her red eyes frantically from Papa to Mama and back.  “No.  No, no, no.  It can’t be true.  Besides, his tour is almost done!  Aren’t they supposed to keep someone about to leave out of the line of fire?”

“Honey, I think they try, but it doesn’t always work like that.  You listen to the news every night.  You know what’s been happening in Da Nang and Khe Sanh.  The North Vietnamese and VC are…”

“Papa, I know.  But Joe wasn’t supposed to be there.  No. They have to be wrong.”

“They have his dog tags, Anna.”

Anna jumps up, and starts toward the phone.  “I’m going to call the DeLucas.  It’s a mistake.  I know it is.  It has to be.”

“Sit, cara.  You can’t call Joe’s parents.”  Papa stops Anna before she gets to the hall and leads her back to the chair.  “They are in pretty bad shape.  Wait.  Wait until tomorrow, at least.” 

In the days to come, Anna swings between disbelief, despair, and outright denial.  Visiting Joe’s parents had been little help and had in fact provided grist for Anna’s busy nightmare mill.

The DeLucas told Anna a Marine officer and a Navy Chaplain visited them late Wednesday afternoon, just before dinner.  The officer said that though they hadn’t identified his body, they were sure that Joe had died in action.  No one could have survived such a direct attack.  They found his dog tags, along with the tags of the rest of his squad in a foxhole in the countryside outside of Da Nang. 

It was only after Anna pressed that Louie DeLuca had told her that the bodies in the foxhole were just a collection of scorched and unidentifiable remains.  Anna was struck by the cruel irony of it.  Joe had written about finding napalmed Viet Cong.  He’d called them “crispy critters.”   

She knew he never expected to be one himself.


1st Medical Marine Hospital, Da Nang, South Vietnam

The two corpsmen stand in the ward, talking quietly.

“He was picked up in a dust-off last night.  He was dressed in Vietnamese-made clothes, but he’s clearly not Viet.  He was unconscious when Search and Rescue found him during a sweep of the boonies near Khe Sanh and brought him in.”

“The chart says ‘Doe.’  No name?”

“Nope.  He wasn’t wearing dog tags or any other identifiable military gear.  Don’t even know his nationality.  A little further down the chart, you’ll see a note about amnesia.  He’s also having hearing issues, so talking to him is difficult.”

“You saying he doesn’t know who he is?”

“Seems like.   ‘Course, he could be faking, but I doubt it.  Anyway, Doc West says it’s probably temporary.  The hearing loss too.  But judging from the burns he’s got, the poor guy saw some bad stuff.  He’s being shipped to the hospital at Pearl tonight.  If he’s American, he’s on his way home, di di mau.”


Prince Street, Boston, Massachusetts

Anna takes her seat at the table.  Dinner sits in front of her, but she has no appetite, even though it’s fried cod, a favorite.  It’s been nearly four weeks since the news about Joe changed her life.  The big red circle on the calendar came, and is now gone.  Along with Anna’s appetite.

At the sound of the telephone ringing, Anna gets up.  “I’ll get it.  It's probably for me anyway."   Many friends have called Anna with their condolences during the past three weeks.


There is crackling on the line, and then a woman voice.  “Anna Polcari?”


“One moment, please, for long distance.”

A wave of dizziness passes through Anna, and she sinks to the chair beside the telephone table, holding her breath.

There is a series of clicks, then,  “Anna? Anna, cara?”

Anna releases her breath in a rush.  “Joe?  Her voice is just a whisper, and she says, louder, “Oh, Joe!  Is that you?”

“I’ll be home Wednesday, Hon.  Spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, OK?”