The Ballad of Don and Dean, or how pork sausage saved the world: part two

The afternoon slips into memory. Summer fades and the skies turn cold and gray. The breeze that whispered among the cornrows is now an icy wind rustling among dry yellow stalks. The oblong leaves of the maple are stained a rusty red, falling in great heaps to cover the yard and the two empty chairs beside the barn. It rained earlier, clearing the air so that everything appears fresh and new, the colors as crisp and precise as if from a painting. A pickup crests the far hill, barreling along the gravel road past the farm. Stones crackle loudly against the undercarriage.

Don and Dean stand on the porch looking out at the yard and the white gravel driveway, out past the tractor and the rusting green Oldsmobile that hasn’t run in years. The fields are plowed, mostly. The diverging lines of harvest rows run away in the distance. Banks of autumn trees are colored brown and gold. A thick carpet of clouds softens the world above with only glimpses of blue sky. The air smells mineral-cold like snow and holds the gingery bite of burning leaves.

Dean is dressed in his best brown suit, with a borrowed gold tie and a clean white shirt. Black would have been more appropriate, if only he had another suit to wear. His hands are buried deep in his pockets. His shoulders are heavy with the accumulated weight of life’s burden and ultimate sadness. Don is beside him wearing the same black suit he wore when he retired from teaching. The pant’s legs are hemmed a little too short. Don’s white socks can be seen below the neatly pressed cuffs.
Dean is thinking of Mary Lou. He recalls their first meeting at the high school sock hop, their first kiss and how she looked the first time they made love. He remembers the pea-green Buick and the Chuck Berry song that was playing when he asked for her hand in marriage. He remembers the birth of each of their children. His mind is a confusion of thoughts and tattered emotions. They are debris swirling in the storm of his mind, whipped by a single regret; that there wasn’t enough time. Somehow Mary Lou still feels close. Strange that a body can feel so far away, even when making love, but the soul is always close.

“Was a nice ceremony,” says Don, rocking on his heels.
“Yep.” Emotion hangs heavy in Dean’s chest.

“Mary Lou would have loved it.”

“Naw,” Dean frowns, “would have hated folks fussing and weeping over her.”

There is a long silence. The wind rustles through the dry corn. A crow caws from the field. Dean’s voice wavers. “Sure am gonna miss her.”

“In a better place than hangin’ around listening to a couple old coots like us.”

“Guess I‘m just selfish.”

“How’re the kids holding up?”

“Mostly. Grandkids’ll miss her the most. The old gal never missed a birthday. Knew every single one, which is why I never had to.”

“Same way with Joanne,” says Don. The comment unexpectedly enrages Dean. Though he knows what Don means, knows the comment was innocent enough, Dean wants to shout that it isn’t the same, and that he has no idea until his wife is gone too. The feeling scares the hell out of Dean.

“Is that right?” Dean manages.

“Woman thing.”

“Keep us civilized.”

“Sure,” Dean drags himself from the rage. “Sure, or we’d be hairy, unwashed barbarians; fat, smelly and thinkin’ we’re God’s gift.”

The rage leaves him, but in this barren land where grief and guilt are one in the same, it is a simple thing to stumble from one treacherous footfall to another. Dean is suddenly confronted with the endlessly cold abyss of forever. Don watches Dean’s brow collapse. Hopelessness and terror crystallize in Dean’s eyes. Don searches for a way to rescue his friend.

“Paint quite a picture there, Dean.” Don gives Dean’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze. Dean looks up and finds strength in caring and familiar eyes.

“Just call every so often to make sure I bathe once in a while.”

“It’s that hairy part that has me spooked,” Don smiles. “But we’ll take it a day at a time.”

Dean nods. “Well, that’s something then.”

“Come by now and again, make sure ya get a good meal or two.”

“Sure could use a bit of breakfast right now,” says Dean. “Ain’t had much to eat since yesterday.”

“Cook ya up a couple of eggs?”

“Strange thing to worry about with all this goin’ on?”

“Gotta eat.”

“Believe I could use a bit of breakfast.”

“That’s a trooper.”

“Somethin’ with a bit of noise. Up for a ride out to the Hog’s Breath?”

“Believe I could use a cup of their coffee.”

“Good coffee.”


“Got a taste for their pork sausage.”

“Got a good one, do they?” asks Don.

“Hear they make it fresh.”

“Is that right?”

“That’s what I hear.”

“Believe you just might be right.”

Autumn gives way to winter. It’s like an ending to some, a transition to others and to some a beginning. It depends on where they’re standing at that moment. The snow comes early, arriving sometime before the dawn. It lays quietly among the plowed fields, a white blanket torn by dark rows. The light is soft, accompanied by a silence broken only by the whisper of fluffy-white snowflakes. Out past the tractor, a quarter mile or so away, a pair of deer move among the fields. Their brown winter coats are full, snow collecting lightly upon their backs and shoulders.

Out on the porch the air is cold. It puts a sting to the cheeks and nose, but Don barely notices. The cold air is cleansing, giving a new perspective to difficult thoughts and concerns, like Dean’s slow and apparent wasting in the months since losing Mary Lou. The cold and quiet bring Don a clarity that he has sorely missed. He wonders where it will end. He recalls how his own father seemed to give up on life after his mother passed. The thought leads him to his own life. From the first day with Joanne the thought was there. Seemed like it would take him away from a love that needed to be loved in the present. In retrospect he is still undecided, and wonders if his father’s fate was inevitable, like a comet plunging to an unavoidable end in the sun. He wonders if there is some pressure that will nudge his own heart from that certain destruction.

The door is open behind him. A soft golden light from the lamp on the bureau falls through the dingy screen door. Coffee is brewing in the kitchen. The warm, bitter fragrance finds him. He feels like he is standing on the divide between two worlds. The scent of the coffee comes with the scent of a house that feels every bit as substantial and familiar as any member of the family. He glances back at Dean who is visiting for the weekend.

Dean looks frail and much older these days, his eyes like long abandoned wells. He is awake, sitting at the edge of the sofa bed with his back to the door. His toes are tucked into a pair of well-worn brown slippers. A black and orange blanket rests upon his shoulders. Don smiles at Dean’s tossled wispy white hair.

Dean is staring blankly at the cold fireplace. His eyes are fixed there, lost in some groggy half-thought. He feels a draft from the open door across his bare ankles and worries about his wife in that cold, cold ground.

“Heatin’ the outside?” he complains, clearing his throat. It takes some effort for Dean to stand. His slippers skid over the wood floor. At the door Dean’s brow furls and he draws the blanket tighter across his shoulders. The screen darkens the world, confirming his mood. Life feels like cold honey, and he is struggling against it.

“If it’d help get us a little closer to spring,” says Don. “Give ya a chill?”

“Not when I remember the long winters working in that stuff.”

Don nods in agreement. “Best argument I heard yet for being retired.”
“Got a whole lot more if you’re interested?”

“Six of one, half dozen of another I figure.” Don takes a deep breath. His brow furls too, though Dean cannot see. Don wonders if Dean feels the change, the distance that is growing between them.

“Ladies auxiliary’s havin’ a breakfast this morning,” says Don. “Figured we’d hit the early Mass and get the first run at that food.”
“Mind?” says Dean. “Just as soon not.”

“Cook ya up something here? Got some good pork sausage?”

Dean watches the deer move off, bringing tears to his eyes. He knows it would good to get back out among the world again, to hear the titter of the ladies of the auxiliary, but happiness is just too painful to endure. It feels like a betrayal of Mary Lou’s memory. Happiness feels like a distraction from the fading memories of her.

“If it’s all the same, I’d just as soon be getting home before the snow gets too bad.”

“Somethin’ for the road? Good breakfast’d fix ya right up?”

Dean thought to answer, something about not being hungry, and that such things didn’t concern him any longer. We wanted to tell Don just to let him be, but it felt too much like asking for sympathy.

“Coffee’d be nice.”

Neither man moves, but remain looking out at the snowy fields. The distance between them is immeasurable.

“Good sausage, ya say?” Dean asks finally.

“Morris Drew’s.”

Dean sighs. The cold air is waking him up nicely. He has a thought and can’t help himself. “Mary Lou sure liked pork sausage. Liked a lot of it!”

Don looks and sees a glimmer of the old Dean, the first time since… Don feels lifted.

“Healthy woman she was.”

“Healthy and a half,” says Dean.

“Sure was a good woman though.”

“Sure was.”

The kitchen is warm. Don is standing by the sink. Dean is sort of slouched at the table, running his fingers along the rim of his coffee cup. They never did make it to church, but did make it to the Hog’s Breath. The snow has stopped, but the clouds remain. Shafts of pale light find channels, falling upon distant farms, like snapshots of things demanding to be remembered, the inconsequential moments that make up a life and of things that will not come again.

To Don these things are an affirmation of the commodity of our lives. To Dean they are a confirmation of a God dispensing great sorrow masked in love and youth and hope. He refuses to be drawn into the vortex of that misery.

“Can’t recall when I had a better breakfast,” Don says.

“Good biscuits and gravy,” says Dean, holding up his cup as Don refills it. Don sees Dean’s eyes darken and knows that he is thinking of her.
“Got some of that pork sausage in there.”

Dean squints as he sips the hot coffee. “Pepper’s the key, though.”

“Did it just right, did they?”

“Just right.”

“Believe I’ll have to give that a try.”

“Won’t disappoint.’

The coffee kettle clangs on the stove as Don sets it down. Beside the barn he spots the big orange tomcat. There’s no mistaking that swollen belly, though. Don smiles realizing, after all these years, that the old Tom is really a girl!

“We’re havin’ a roast for supper, creamed carrots and potatoes, the way you like it. Joanne’s gonna make some of her famous buttermilk biscuits.”

“Temptin’,” says Dean, “but I should be gettin’ home. Been a big enough burden on Joanne already.”

“Believe she feels about the same as me,” says Don. “Grandkid’s will be here.”

The idea horrifies Dean. The laughter, the sound of life and love and togetherness will only remind him of all that he has lost. He manages to hold himself together long enough to pack his things and give Joanne the warmest hug he can muster. It takes all the courage he has, a feat that would impress any combat veteran. Out on the road, out of sight, he pulls to a stop and slumps heavily against the steering wheel.

There is another perspective on the world, an idea that the trials and battles of our lives are insignificant against the overwhelming expanse of sky. We are nothing without the light of those who love us. How perfect the world we cannot fathom. The sky turns the seasons like chapters to our lives. And so winter passes and everything seems to turn green in the blink of an eye. Trees fill with new leaves and birds singing, and marigolds erupt with color beside the house.

Don is sitting alone beside the barn. He turns as Dean climbs down the steps. Dean is using a cane now, for just a little extra support. He has a glass of brandy in his free hand. He likes it better than beer these days, says it keeps his blood flowing. Dean has a blush to his cheeks. This is his second glass.

“Sure is a nice day,” says Dean, taking his regular seat.

“Just about perfect.” Seems like forever to Don since he found Dean weeping in his car. It was as if sorrow was a poison that needed to be bled away, and bleed he did. It wasn’t that he had put Mary Lou behind him, but rather that he had come to some conclusion.

“Believe you were right about the biscuits and gravy up at the Hog’s Breath.”

“Didn’t I tell ya?”

“Shame about Morris Drew,” says Don.

“Sure am gonna miss that sausage,” says Dean.

“End of an era.”

“How long you figure we been sittin’ here?”

“A lifetime, I reckon.”

“What precisely did we accomplish?”

“Didn’t know we set out to accomplish anything.”

“No regrets?” Don asked.

“Not a one.”

“How long you figure we’re gonna keep having this conversation?”

“Why, ain’t getting tired are you?”


“I figure we’ll be at it a good while longer.”

Dean smiles and sets the brandy down on the grass. Delicate white blossoms fill the apple tree. Old Dean is content to sit there forever, and thinks that this is about as close to perfect as a body can come in this life.

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Oliver the Cat: Rough draft from my new novel featuring Sid Yiddish

FORWARD: The story is about a talking cat who sets out on a journey of self discovery

Having a voice is like, and I know this is crude, but it’s like pissing. If you never had to take a piss it wouldn’t matter, but once you do that pressure is going to build until it comes out. As satisfying as it is to relieve that pressure, it is arguable whether or not it has done anything for the rest of the world. Still, I was bursting. I longed for the philosophical conversations with Dave or in Maggie’s warm voice. In the cold dead of night, trying to divert my thoughts from the cold, I would blather away more or less coherently to Gray and White, though she hadn’t a clue nor really cared what I was talking about. Still, just to hear myself, like some sort of urban Robinson Carusoe, I’d talk politics, muse about nothing, recap events of the day or talk about the weather, anything to keep my mind active. I might have even improvised a poem or two, but it still wasn’t enough. I might as well have been on a desert island, talking to a soccer ball with a dirty palm print for a face!

One icy cold morning during a foray to the deli dumpster I noticed a curious character at the bus stop across the street. I should preface that. He was odd, not so much that he was strange looking, relatively speaking, but more that it was far too cold for anyone to spend much time in one place. And yet, the fellow was sort of slouched on the bench, like a rag doll someone had tossed there; a somewhat plump rag doll.

At his feet was a hopelessly worn black backpack with ancient anmd tattered airline tags still attached to one strap. His tennis shoes, stretched to the limits by layered sports stockings were so weathered and filthy that I thought he might be homeless. He was surrounded in a thick blue workman’s insulated coveralls and an even bulkier green ski jacket with a faux-fur lined hood that was bunched behind his head. The jacket was open. The zipper no longer worked.
A knit cap hid most of his brow. It was an oddly unnatural shade of light brown, and left only his scraggly grey beard and red nose exposed to the frigid morning air. I wasn’t immediately certain that shade of brown even existed in nature. His eyes were lost to the shadows beneath the hat. I was reminded of a forlorn and even brooding garden gnome fallen on hard times. There was a sympathetic air about him that drew me curiously to the edge of the street.

A well dressed woman sat beside him, briefly fishing for something from a handbag. The fellow seemed bothered by her presence, perhaps by the juxtaposition of their circumstance, or from something else. I watched with infinite delight as he leaned back to eye the woman up and down with obvious disapproval, but with a sense of innocence and whimsy, which the woman, momentarily taking note countered with a grimace that belied ultimate disgust.

Refusing to be condescended to he pulled out a can of sardines, picking out the oily canned fish without removing his mittens. He held it out, dangling it in the frigid air between them, thick droplets of yellow oil falling to the bench between them. He offered it to the woman, though through the tangle of beard and mustache it was impossible to make out his mouth. With a thoroughly horrified look, the woman stood fled from the bench. As he downed the sardine I saw him smile with supreme satisfaction.

I laughed, catching myself a bit should someone notice, and He was perfect. Not perfect, but the perfect person for my needs. I was desperate for some conversation and who would believe this character if he said he’d been chatting with a talking cat? By the looks of him most folks would believe he had frequent conversations with talking cats, not to mention stop signs, space aliens and aquarium fish!

Traffic was heavy and slow along Adams Street. I waited for the light and traffic to stop then sprang from behind a newspaper box, between the forest of legs along the sidewalk and into the street. Without breaking stride I cleared the street, past a taxi cab and beneath a newspaper delivery truck in barely six long leaps. I leapt onto the bench beside him and gave a long loud sigh. He looked down at me for a moment, then drew a sardine from the can and laid it down on the bench between us.

“Go ahead, little, fella,” he said. “You must be starved.”

“Actually, no, I began. “Well a bit. I actually came over to meet you.”

He downed another sardine as if it was a normal thing to hear a talking cat. “Okay, well that’s odd.”

“Don’t be alarmed,” I said quietly. I cleared my throat. “You’re not crazy; I really am a talking cat.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” he replied sort of deadpan.

“Well, not something I’m sure you run into everyday.”

“How do you know, we just met.”

I nodded and cocked my head to one side. I liked him instantly.

“Sorry. I shouldn’t assume,” I said.

“Besides, do I look that crazy?”

I didn’t know what to say to that. Niceties, I always thought were for people, not cats. Cats speak their mind.

“Seriously?” I replied.

“What does that mean?” he complained.

“Honestly, I picked you, you’re, well, sort of, you have to admit… you’re different.”

“Different?” he exclaimed, half mordantly. He raised both hands like a preacher and said aloud, “The talking cat says I’m different!”

“Sshh, hey,” I said urgently, “keep it down.”

“Relax, your secret is safe. I’m Sid, Sid Yiddish.”

“Yiddish. Like…?”

“I’m a Jew. You’re not one of those anti-Semite cats?”

I’m a cat. I’m not pro or anti-anything!”

“And you are?’

“I’m a cat!”

“No, what’s your name?” he frowned somewhere beneath that beard.

“Oh, gosh, I’m Oliver.”

He stood and slung the beat up and totally overstuffed backpack over one shoulder. “My bus is coming. I wish we had more time to talk.”

“Yeah, me too,” I said with a notable measure of disappointment.

“Where do you live,” asked Sid as the bus slowed to a stop. He set down the can of sardines beside me. “Maybe we could meet for a…for milk.”

“Um, uh, I’m just sort of a stray at the moment.”

The bus door opened with a hiss. The driver looked at Sid with some annoyance as he hesitated in the door.

“I’ll be here tomorrow, same time. Come earlier, we’ll chat.”

Sid climbed into the bus. The driver looked around trying to see who Sid was speaking with. Sid noted the man’s perplexed expression and motioned in my direction. “It’s okay, he’s my friend.”

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The Passenger in Cabin Seven: What would you do? A short story about the Ebola crisis by W.C. Turck

The storm lashed the great cruise ship from stem to stern. The storm had grown out of the mid-Atlantic almost unnoticed a few days before. For the twenty-two hundred and eighty one passengers and crew on board the “Song of the Caribbean” the storm was of little concern, except for the breathtaking sunrises the first week out to sea. That evening the waves were up. The crew watched the storm turn, growing to a category one Hurricane and knew they couldn’t outrun it, but at better than fourteen hundred feet in length and a dead weight tonnage of two hundred thousand pounds the storm was of less concern than the passenger in cabin seven.

“We’ll make for port at Port de Paix,” Captain Arneaux’s white bearded face was lit by the radar screen before him.

First officer Peters, a capable Norwegian who’d cut his sea teeth as skipper of a NATO Frigate before running freighters through the pirate infested waters off Somalia, was at his shoulder. He’d worked beside Arneaux for the better part of 10 years aboard Song, the two of them closer than many married couples.

“If the Haitian’s give us permission.”

“Any word from the line?”

“They’re trying?’ said Peters. “The storm’s turn caught everyone off guard. Warnings are up and the government’s priority will be on preparations.”

Arneaux nodded thoughtfully and sighed. It was weighted by worries about the passenger in cabin 7. The ship had already been refused entry into two ports, despite repeated guarantees that the passenger had been quarantined and confined to her cabin. Arneaux looked up at Peters, finding his piercing green eyes. Peters’ brow was bent with mounting tension.

“They won’t make us face a cat one storm in the open ocean,” said Arneaux. “I won’t allow it either.”

But the Haitians did refuse their port, followed by island nation after island nation. Three days earlier Mexico and Belize had denied them port. Meanwhile the storm grew stronger, seeming to chase after the ship. It added to the mounting tensions of both crew and passenger; all that tension and worry embodied in the passenger in cabin seven. The specter of contamination to the other passengers and beyond took on monumental proportions. Governments, fearing that the disease might spread to their shores banned the ship from docking. The Cubans sent a pair of gunships to shadow the cruise ship for simply passing close to its shoes.

By midnight the storm was now a category five storm, with winds howling near the center at better than one hundred and twenty miles per hour. Arneaux knew for certain that they’d not make it home to port in Florida. Simply the attempt would put them into open ocean and fully at the storm’s mercy. He closed the decks and asked that passengers remain in their cabins. Passing west of Pas de Paix, Arneaux knew he could not turn back. He had another plan; one he hoped would protect the ship and her precious cargo.

Rain Squalls and howling winds buffeted the ship with ever increasing intensity. Even the crew was forbidden on deck except for emergency operations. It was simply too dangerous. Massive waves hammered the Song. By midday the storm had grown to a bludgeoning power the likes of which Arneaux could not recall in his five decades at sea. They pummeled the ship with such force that Arneaux feared losing control to the storm at every moment. The Song of the Caribbean was fighting for its life now.

The sea was a monster. The waves rose and fell like mountains, carrying the ship up one mountain only to plunge it downward a moment later with such force that Arneaux and the exhausted crew on the bridge felt certain they would dive headlong beneath the waves and drive straight for the bottom of the sea. The heat rose in the wheelhouse with the fevered sweat of men and women engaged in mortal combat with sea and storm. Evidence of that effort fogged the windows and painted the faces of that stalwart crew.

Arneaux watched with horror as the churning gray sky disappeared as the ship slid fast and steep into one of these monstrous waves. He caught his breath, his heart interrupted a moment from its maddening rhythm. He nearly crossed himself, certain the ship was doomed, but just at that moment a young sailor, sharing that same terror, looked to him. Arneaux, hoping to rally the young woman’s faltering spirits gave a reassuring nod. This was the worst of the storm, at least for the Song. The eye of the hurricane and the deadliest winds ground across the Caribbean one hundred and eleven miles northeast, but even here, Arneaux understood, it was far more than the ship was designed to sustain for very long.

At that moment the whole ship seemed to rise as if lifted. For just an instant it was suspended between two waves. Everyone aboard felt the ship fall before it was hammered sideways by a punishing wave. The impact tossed Arneaux, First Mate Peters and the rest of the crew around the bridge like rag dolls.

Shaken but unhurt, they climbed back to their stations, but Peters and Arneaux knew instantly. Their eyes met from across the bridge. A moment later the helmsman turned and announced that he’d lost all control of the ship. The Song was helpless. When word came minutes later that the ship was taking on water Arneaux pondered the order that every Captain dreads. The damage was far too great. He gave the Song of the Caribbean no more than seven hours before would she sink beneath the waves forever.

“I’ve no choice, Mister Peters,” he announced. “No one can help us in this weather.”

The lifeboats were enclosed and could be put to sea to give the passengers their best opportunity at survival. Though the storm was beginning to wane, it was much too late for the ship. There was just one last consideration. Arneaux could feel himself aging for it already. What was to be done with the passenger in cabin seven?

“I’ll remain on the bridge until the last person is off,” he said grimly. “I’ve got an assignment for you, if you are able.”

“Cabin Seven?” Peters replied knowingly, his gut tightening. He knew what the captain was about to ask of him. “Is there no other way?”

“Tell me now if you cannot carry out the order,” said Arneaux, “but I cannot risk the lives of any other passengers.”

“We don’t even know for certain that she is infected. The incubation period…”

“Can you afford to take such a chance?”

“There is no other choice?”

“To risk the lives of hundreds or thousands? There is no time.”

“What if , if she…”

Peters was silent for a dreadfully long moment. The weight of this eclipsed the storm still raging around the ship. Peters nodded once. Arneaux laid a hand on the man’s shoulder.

“She cannot leave the ship, but we cannot leave her to drown. I take all responsibility. In my cabin you will find a pistol. Go quickly and find a place on one of the lifeboats.”
“I’ll return here and remain on the bridge with you, captain.”

“That’s an order, Mister Peters.” His tone was firm, but softened. “The passengers will need you during the rescue operation.”

Later Peters would recall being thrown from side to side in the passageways of the dying ship as the storm maintained its unrelenting assault. But at that moment, cast as executioner, he felt pulled, as if by great chains to the captain’s quarters. There, in a small safe and within a small wooden box he found an antique Colt pistol. There were six bullets under the box. He loaded them one at a time into the chamber and pushed it closed until it locked into place. Wrapping it in a towel, as to not attract any attention, Peters closed the door and started back through the ship towards cabin seven.

By now the order had been given to abandon ship. The passageway quickly filled with passengers wearing life jackets. Peters could feel passengers reaching out to him, desperate for information; comfort. He ignored them and pressed against this somber tide and continued to cabin seven. When at last he reached the cabin the passage was empty. A single crewman was standing at the door. He handed Peters the key to the cabin and left at once to join the evacuation.

Peters waited a moment to be certain this part of the ship was fully evacuated then slipped the key into the lock. He stood back and pushed the door open. There, at the edge of a neatly made bed, clad in Capri jeans, clean white tennis shoes and a big orange lifejacket sat a small middle aged woman. Her soft brown eyes rose to meet Peters, looking as if she’d at long last been rescued. Peters stepped inside and, averting his gaze from the woman, closed the door behind him.

“Are we going to the boats?’ she asked simply.

Peters crossed the room and set the pistol down on dresser. It was still wrapped in the towel. In the mirror he could see her eyes go to it, her gaze betraying a sudden realization. Peters looked at the towel. He spoke softly, clearing his throat first.

“There are not enough boats.”

The woman’s eyes darted, her head cocked as if trying to organize a thousand conflicting thoughts. “I’m feeling fine. No fever. Please.”

“You cannot understand how difficult this is.”

“Please, Mister Peters!” she pleaded, standing and stepping towards him. Peters backed away from her, keeping his hand on the towel.

“We can’t risk the other passengers,” he said, “and we cannot leave you aboard the ship.”
She should have fought him. He would have fought, and he fully expected her to resist. Instead, much to his horror, he turned and slowly removed the lifejacket. He wanted her to fight, to resist, to do something that would make her less sympathetic. Instead the woman placed it on the chair beside her bed and turned to him. She turned and lifted her arms out to her sides in a sort of surrender.

“What will you tell my children?” she asked. Tears fell across her cheeks. She wiped them quickly away and somehow managed a chuckled that somehow bespoke the absurdity.

Peters replied the only way he could, bowing his head as he slowly began to unwrap the gun. “I don’t know.”

“Tell them…” she began. “Tell them…”

The pistol lay bare on the dresser for a moment, beside the woman’s Nivea night crème, a hair curler and a postcard from the ship.

“I need one thing,” she said, pulling a picture of her children from a pocket. “Just let me look at them one last time, and then I ask that you see it gets to them.”

Peters nodded and lifted the pistol. Weighing it in his hands he thought that he should know something of this disease. What he knew was from the news, and nothing more than that. That the disease was the scourge of Africa, killing thousands there and creating a panic back at home in America was merely background at the moment. Peters felt himself on the frontline of that war. He couldn’t know if she carried the disease or not. She had cared for a man who had died of the disease, and several of her colleagues had come down with the disease. It was just as likely she was not infected, but how could he know for sure? What if she began the epidemic that caused the deaths of hundreds or thousands? Nor could he leave her on the ship to drown.

“I’ll see to it,” he said. The woman closed her eyes and held out the picture. Peters lifted the gun in one hand and took the photo with the other. Without looking at it, he slipped it into his shirt pocket.

He had never taken another person’s life. Throughout his military career he had pondered the question, but it always carried an abstract quality. Murder is always abstract until it happens. Now at this moment Peters still could not be certain he was capable. The pistol hung by his side, a seemingly impossible weight. It was part of him, as if the long black barrel, the cold pistol grip, the smooth trigger beneath his index finger and the polished lead bullets were part of his DNA.

A thousand permutations ravaged his mind. Was he a murderer or savior? He loathed the thought of bringing her pain, and prayed for a steady hand that it would be over quickly and mercifully for her. How he would accomplish that was suddenly an insurmountable problem. What if her blood or tissue found him somehow? Would a shot to the heart or to…Peters raised the pistol.

The woman breathed heavily. It was a stuttering breath. She whimpered slightly. How would history judge him, he wondered. Did he have any right? What of god and his own conscience? There was nothing now; no storm or stars no world beyond that tiny room. The heat seemed to rise as well. It stifled his breath and sent cold sweat slithering down his spine. Each second felt like an eternity and each felt terribly cruel to the doomed woman before him. Peters raised the pistol and aimed it at the woman, wondering if he was saving the world or dooming himself. He wondered if he was saving the lives of untold victims or playing the part of murderer. His finger tightened on the trigger and he begged god’s forgiveness…

Learn more about how the State Policy Network aids ALEC and spins disinformation in the states.

The Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) is a conservative think tank with offices in Chicago and Springfield, Illinois, and member of the State Policy Network. IPI is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as of 2011. IPI is also a member of ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task Force and Education Task Force. Senior Budget and Tax Policy Analyst, Amanda Griffin-Johnson, presented model legislation (the “State Employee Health Savings Account Act”) to the HHS task force at ALEC’s 2011 annual meeting.[4] Collin Hitt, Director of Education Policy, is a private sector member of the Education Task Force representing IPI. He sponsored the “Local Government Transparency Act” at the ALEC 2011 States and Nation Policy Summit. In its 2006 annual report the Cato Institute states that it made a grant of $50,000 to the Illinois Policy Institute. The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank founded by Charles G. Koch and funded by the Koch brothers.

CAM00236WC Turck is an author, artist, playwright and talk radio host in Chicago. He has been called the most dangerous voice on the Left. He is currently working on a new book “Shoot Down: An unflinching look at the events leading up to the shooting down of Malaysia Air Flight 17.” His first novel, “Broken” was recommended by NAMI for its treatment of PTSD. In 2006 he published “Everything for Love,” a memoir of his experiences during the siege of Sarajevo. He wrote and produced two critically acclaimed plays, “Occupy my Heart” and “The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden.” He works with the homeless and foreclosure victims in Chicago. He partners in a weekly radio show dedicated to issues, society and politics with cohost, activist and artist Brian Murray For more information, past shows, videos and articles, visit

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fLIGHT pLAN pART 3: A Revolution and Beer Novella

A heavy March snow blanketed Washington DC, slowing traffic along East Capitol Street Avenue and obscuring the Washington Monument. The urgent whisper of the snow softened the hum of the city and roar of morning traffic to something more reverent. There was a weight to the snow, not only literally, but in what had proved a seemingly unending and brutal winter.

John Byars paused on the snow wetted marble steps to looked up over his shoulder at the towering pillars to the great dome of the neoclassical capitol building. A passionate servant to the nation he loved for better than four decades, Byars was ceaselessly awed by that auspicious and great building. He lit a cigarette before starting down the steps towards two black Chevy Suburbans waiting at the curb. Two security specialists, smart and a bit ominous in long black coats followed closely.

After 2 combat tours in Vietnam, and thirty-five years serving the agency in damn near ever war imaginable-and a few that weren’t-lesser men would have long ago retired. But Byars had settled comfortably into his new post as Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. There were those old yearnings for the life and excitement of the field, but that was the domain of younger men and a new generation of operatives.

He still held the athletic intensity of that inexperienced kid who stepped off an LCT at Cam Ranh Bay in 1968. The innocence of that boy was gone from the first round that cracked the air near his head in the A Shau valley. Despite the years he now held a position in which his biggest complaint was not the threat of imminent death, but whether the air temperature in his office was comfortable. He still cut a powerful and compact figure, and still maintained that familiar and dutiful army haircut.

Sam Harper stepped from the lead vehicle as Byars approached. He was an intense man in his mid-40s, a handpicked deputy to John Byars who’d seen duty as a Navy seal in practically every dirt hole on the planet. A veteran of Mogadishu back in ’94 Harper had distinguished himself in conflicts no one would ever hear about, just as Byars had done. Sam Harper had been deployed as part of the embassy security team in Libya after the fall of Muamar Gaddafi. Harper had stepped into the post seamlessly, easier than a pleased Byars might have thought. Though neither man mentioned it, the post was both a hiding place and a reward for Ben Ghazi and the Libyan war for Harper.

With a smart nod to Byars Harper held the door to the Suburban open.

“Director,” he said.

Byars smiled matter of fact, “I’m a glutton for punishment, Sam.”

“Comes with the job, sir.”

“How are we looking today, pal?” As Byars climbed into the vehicle.

“Well, sir,” said Harper, entering behind his boss, “we’re watching a new Russian build up along Ukraine’s eastern border…”

“I’m a bit nervous about what’s coming out of the State Department. Putin knows we won’t go to war in Ukraine.”

“Home court for the Russians.”

“What else?” asked Byars. Even with a capitol police escort, the Suburbans were making little progress through the snow and morning traffic.

“Nothing of immediate…uh, a jetliner out of Kuala Lumpur is reported missing as of about ninety minutes ago.”

“Any indications it’s something we should be concerned about?”

“Out of that region?” Harper replied. “There is always a concern. Oh, and you have a two o’clock with Senators Washburn and Peele.”

“When did that come up?”

“Just came up this morning while you were briefing the Intelligence committee. There wasn’t anything in your calendar. I can reschedule, although they let on that there was a certain urgency.”

“That’s fine.”

Byars leaned back and rubbed his eyes. It was already becoming a long day. He dreaded the meeting. Washburn and Peele were hawks of the worst kind. Neither had served in the military. Their strategies and fears of foreign and domestic enemies had far less to do with true national priorities and had more to do with skewed, limited and ignorant intentions.

There was hardly a war that Byars had not become entangled with from Vietnam to Syria over the last half century. He understood and believed in the necessity of a robust military with the ability to compel intransigent world actors when diplomacy failed or wasn’t an option. Byars also understood that between nations that was a long and complex calculus. More than that, war was only too real to John Byars, bringing to mind men and women who’d died, at times in his own arms for abstracts that war hawks postured abstractly over. That simple understanding put him squarely at odds with men like Washburn and Peele.

Something had changed in American politics. Theater had become open warfare. Even as a soldier by trade Byars was keenly aware that a new generation of statists rather than statesmen had arisen to change the character of the national discourse. They turned political dialogue and respectable, even adamant debate from spirited disagreement to outright civil war. These ideologues and partisans, such as Senator’s Peele and Washburn , twisted by advocacy, corporatized and lawyered by media salesmen, turned opinion and perspective into bludgeons. And certainly that was nothing new. The collapse of faith and trust in sovereigns, empires and ideologies had marked the bloody upheavals throughout history. But America was supposed to be, as it was put so long ago, “the last best hope for mankind.” Instead it was proving itself deeply flawed and infinitely fallible. Byars could feel it. He could see it, and there wasn’t a damned thing he could do about it.

It was still snowing outside when Byars took a late morning conference call and briefing for security issues for the day. With his feet up on the desk and looking out at the snow he cradled a luke warm cup of coffee; a touch of cream and three sugars. There was a note pad and pencil on the desk, but the page was almost empty, with only the date and the word “briefing” scribbled at the top and underlined.

Much of it was the same. There was increased chatter by Al Qaeda affiliates in Iraq, which coincided with a wave of recent violence. Just ahead of the upcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan, a flimsy campaign had begun by the Taliban to affected the voting. More alarming was a sudden surge in acid attacks against women and girls, particularly in and around Kabul. Israeli and Palestinian security forces were in their usual tit for tat reprisals. Within that seemed an effort by the Israelis to draw in Iranian-backed Hezbollah from neighboring Lebanon as a means of exposing their networks. From the Asian desk, there were growing tensions between North and South Korea over a disputed island. As for the missing passenger jet out of Malaysia, there wasn’t any news, no claims of responsibility and no indication it was anything more than a tragic accident.

The biggest concern was a growing belligerence backed by Russia regarding the Ukrainian protests, which had taken on the imagery of the French Revolution in barricades and battles across the capitol, Kiev.

“We believe that Putin wants the Crimea,” said the woman who ran the Russian desk.

Byars scoffed. “He’s got a lease on the Sevastopol base. The Russians can come and go as they please. What does Moscow have to gain from a move that will clearly piss off the West and NATO?”

“The population there is predominantly Russian. I wouldn’t discount the abstract power of naked nationalism.”

“Recommendation?” asked Byars, taking a sip of his coffee.

“Well, we can’t not say something,” she replied. “If Russia takes Crimea that gives us leverage in several different directions.”

Byars thought for a moment and breathed heavily, “And the risk of civil war?”

“Letting Putin have Crimea lessons that possibility, but obviously there are quite a few wild cards here.”

“Yeah,” Byars nodded with a note of concern.

Wild cards indeed, but the world was about to take a serious turn for the wild. Indeed, it was about to take a turn for the bizarre, revealing a terrifying a hint at a future that endangered and threaten to bring down the very nation had fought, bled for and pledged his life to defend. It would lead him to the other side of the planet facing an enemy far more deadly, far more ruthless than any he’d ever encountered. Worst of all, unwittingly, it was an enemy he’d helped come to power.

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