Gwendolyn the Gorgeous Bag Lady
Spreading her bounty in a corner out of the wind, Gwendolyn the Gorgeous Bag Lady selects an almost untouched sirloin and a large kaiser roll. As she eats, she wraps the rest in plastic and stows it away in her bag. She has found three half full bottles of beer to wash down her breakfast and has taken a couple of empties in case one of the many thieving neighborhood dogs ventures within range. God, she hates those thieving neighborhood dogs. If you’re not careful they’ll rip open your bag and tear up all your stuff while you’re not looking, just out of plain damned meanness. The bastards!
Reverend Oral Dogoodly . . .
. . . has ducked down behind the hood of a snow bird Chevrolet. He is not sure if he has been spotted, but he believes that his best course is to remain still and out of sight. There is, as yet, no sound from Gwendolyn. She will be wondering if she has actually seen him or only imagined it. And now he hears the low warble of the tumbling bottle. The snow erupts before his face and the bottle strikes him soundly on his nose.
Guilt is the thorn on the rose – that petty nagging pain that prevents our fully appreciating the fragrance, and keeps us from enjoying the proceeds of our misbehavior. And, though few men are born with the ability to ignore such pain, the talent can be cultivated. Long ago Tokay Red had discovered the secret of proper cultivation – the stuff that, liberally applied, will anesthetize the careless gardener from the pain of thorn pricks. And so, with bottle in hand, he turned a gardener’s back on his cohorts and resolved to enjoy his prize to the fullest. It was not the first time he had ignored the pangs of conscience, and he knew from experience that, as the level in the bottle receded, so too would his guilt recede.
There is a certain satisfaction in doing a thing well that is denied to those who are expert in many things. This special satisfaction is reserved for those fortunate few whose abilities are severely limited, and for whom a job well done is a rare experience. Little Ernie did only one thing well. He sang. And he sang at every conceivable opportunity. He took a quiet pride in the clarity of his voice and the fidelity of his tone, and he happily endured the adulation of his companions. But his greatest pleasure was the simple satisfaction of hearing those sweet melodies issuing from his own snooze- bespittled lips – such pure music emanating from the depths of his tarnished soul.
Wise Henry the Geek
It was not without reason folks called him Wise Henry the Geek. Having traveled extensively with carnivals in his youth working as a fortune teller and barker among other things, he had learned to size up a mark – or, as in this present case, a marquette – by the way she walked, the way she dressed and the way she carried her head. This early training had prepared him well for the ordeals and challenges of life among America’s bastard children here along Snoose Boulevard.
She sounded a lot like Josie; that was for damned sure. He sat back on his haunches to take a better look at her. The eyes were the same – mean as hell – though they looked more tired than he remembered ever having seen them. Otherwise she bore no resemblance to the fiery sister who had tormented him throughout his formative years. This shapeless body could not possibly contain the slender physique he remembered. And that tarnished Brillo Pad, bits of which poked out here and there from beneath her hat couldn’t possibly be Josie’s burnished copper hair – that bright banner of the defiant child – which she had worn unbound and unbraided and waving in the breeze. The face before him betrayed no hint of the firm line of Josie’s jaw, which she had always held at such a jaunty angle, as though daring someone to take a poke at her. Mostly with him she had been – taunting him and daring him to swing at her so she could kick the crap out of him and then say he had started it. This could not possibly be his sister. And yet, undeniably, it was.
Dee . . .
. . . had pictured himself riding along through the warm breezes of Virginia, sitting in that boxcar playing the music he would make up himself. And, in every town he went through, folks would stop whatever they were doing to listen to the sweet sounds he was making for them on his violin – music they’d never heard before, because he’d just be making it up as he rode along. He’d always wanted to make up his own music, but you can’t do that in drafty old Jersey City. You need warm weather to make up songs. That’s why all the good songs are about Virginia and Alabama and New Orleans.
Lieutenant 12:15 A.M.
Fortunately, Lieutenant 12:15 A.M. did not suffer the same handicap that had betrayed his agents. His mind had not clouded over from many years of intensive training. He could look at the problem from a clear perspective, without preconceptions, with fresh insight. A good undercover agent doesn’t need all that training anyway, if he is born with real talent for the job. The Lieutenant had seen the James Bond movies, and he could do all that stuff.
Einar . . .
. . . ascended the throne of his woodland realm during the summer he was five years old – on the day he first turned his back on the sunlit field and ventured out into the shadowed world of the forest creatures. He did not go boldly, sustained and soothed by an unfaltering trust, into this great unknown; he was truly terrified. He knew there were great gnarling bears out there, and prowling wolves and screaming lynxes, and an endless array of goblins and savages lay in ambush within the foreboding darkness – creatures that dwelt nowhere but in the fantasies of a five year old, and in the woods behind his house. But he was driven by a more imminent and certain danger. Knute was after him.
Consider Haskell Yngren − newly adolesced. Slight of build, with mouse-brown hair and hazel eyes, he stands barely five-feet tall – pathetically short for his fifteen years. He has come to the river alone, and he skates the periphery of the shoveled rink with the easy stride and feigned preoccupation of a boy used to solitary skating.
Leilani Lindgren . . .
. . . at thirteen, has outgrown the giggle phase of early adolescence, and is now in the seventh grade – just two years behind Haskell, upon whom it has not been entirely lost that the hard and ungainly edges of her pre-pubescence have begun to soften into the delicate and alluring arabesque of young womanhood.