The Departure


William was in trouble. His departure was not going as smoothly as he had expected. He stood facing the airline attendant in an absolute panic. Trying not to reveal any of that anxiety, he merely blinked twice and asked, “What do you mean you don’t have room on the plane?” He swallowed hard, his mind racing through potential solutions to this dilemma. Finding none, he blinked again.

“Unfortunately, Mr. Warner, the plane has been overbooked,” The attendant, who was half his age, spoke while typing feverishly into the computer and not noticing that William was beginning to sweat. “Wait, we may have something for you in first class.” William looked around, out of habit, to see who might be watching or listening to this exchange. “Yes we do. It looks like your lucky day. We can upgrade you free of charge. Unfortunately you will have to settle for an aisle seat,” she said with a well-rehearsed smile.

William did not feel lucky as she handed him his newly printed tickets and his other travelling papers. The plan was to blend. First class was not blending. Searching his brain for alternatives and finding none, he took the papers, made eye contact and managed his own fabricated grin. As he boarded the plane, William clutched his computer bag tight up against his chest. When he walked into the first class area, some of his anxiety lifted. Maybe he would enjoy this unexpected luxury. His current profession didn’t usually lend itself to such perks. He had been successful in his business by trying to look like everyone else.

William Warner was not like everyone else. He had changed his name countless times over the last thirteen years. He had worked for seven separate government agencies in three different countries. In many ways, he resembled a Russian nesting doll. He housed many different personas in various levels of disguises and when you peeled away one mask, another was revealed. While he did not often transform his outward appearance, the label of whom he pretended to be changed frequently. Today, he was William Warner, travelling from America to Amsterdam on business with a return ticket that he never intended to use. This flight was to be his swan song.

Pretending as though travelling first class was routine, he calmly walked over to his seat and kept this level of composure as he placed his bag on his lap. A giant portion of his work sat heavily on his knees. Inside the green, non-descript cloth bag was a computer that kept secrets not even William could keep track of. His life had become a giant entangled spider web, and the solution to all its intricacies was inside this very ordinary looking bag. The key to his pending departure from his convoluted life was all the information on this computer; information that could take down countless politicians and leaders and promised to provide him a healthy early retirement. William had spent his life gathering and selling secrets and he knew that his time left unexposed was numbered. He needed to disappear, before the world knew some of the mysteries he had managed to conceal for so long.

Glancing around to register his new surroundings, William did a double take when he looked at the seat next to him. The woman sitting in the seat by the window was stunning. She pretended not to look at him as he stared longer than he should have. Turning deliberately, she smiled and held out her hand with a confidence that at once rattled and disarmed him. “Hi, I’m Althea. It looks like we will be sitting together for the next seven hours.” He shook her hand and was surprised at her strength. So much so, that he almost forgot what his name was supposed to be.

“I’m…Bill. It is nice to meet you,” he replied, caught in her lively eyes. She was younger than him by about ten years and in remarkable shape. As his eyes quickly darted around her body, she released his hand and smiled.

“What do you do Bill?”

“I sell toys actually.”

“Toys? That’s interesting,” she said with a look that seemed to back up that statement.

“I’m just a kid at heart,” he replied trying to sound spontaneous even though he had repeated that line thousands of times before. “And you?”

“I’m an athlete actually, and a coach I guess.” Again, William’s eyes explored her impressive figure confirming her profession. “I don’t race as much as I used to, but I still keep in shape.” This last statement informed William that his roving eyes and thoughts had been discovered.

“You are a runner? I run a little myself,” confessed William, which took him by surprise. He didn’t often reveal real facts about himself. He was breaking his own rules.

“Yeah, what do you run Bill?” She inquired with a touch of sarcasm, this time using her eyes to explore his body.

“You know 5ks, the occasional 10k. I did a half marathon once.” He replied feeling embarrassed about his lack of commitment to his own physical well-being. He wasn’t out of shape, but was nowhere near her level of fitness. In an attempt to change the subject, he added quickly, “Are you a professional runner? You make your living off of races?”

“I do, or at least I used to. I was actually in the Olympics, twice. Since then I’ve been sort of living off of name recognition,” she responded with a sort of humble confidence.

“You were in the Olympics? Did you win any medals?” He spontaneously asked and then just as quickly added, “Oh, sorry to pry.”

“No worries Bill,” she replied with a tone that seemed to welcome any question. “I have one gold, one silver and three bronze medals.” She added with a smile that made him feel fourteen again, “not that I’m bragging.”

He felt like he was on a date, it was a feeling that unnerved him. As confident as he was as a dealer in government secrets, this woman seemed to have returned him to adolescence. He scoured his brain for a witty response, but was interrupted by a very perky flight attendant who announced the airplane’s pending takeoff. The flight procedures allowed William to regroup. He had let his guard down, which was something that in his business usually ended badly. One of his rules was never engage personally with anyone; always keep it on a business level. He reminded himself of this as he stole another lengthy look at the way Althea was stretching out her long, muscular legs.

Within 24 hours, he would be exposed as a double agent, selling American intelligence to two separate government agencies. Both agencies had also been manipulated by William as the information given, had already been leaked and wasn’t as useful as promised. His payments had already been received and the extra information that he held in his lap secured his future. He just had to be certain that this knowledge ended up in the right spot. There was enough evidence against William to convict him of treason in at least two countries, maybe three.

Shortly after takeoff, William and Althea struck up another conversation. The topics ranged from movies that they both adored to role models they had. William was surprisingly candid and often found that he was speaking without thinking. Again, this was an activity that was dangerous for him. He even allowed himself a glass of gin, breaking yet another self-imposed rule. Drinking was forbidden as it put him at risk. Maybe it was the wider seat, maybe it was his pending retirement, but probably it was his beautiful companion seemingly soaking up every word that he was uttering that caused him to throw caution to the wind.

“What did you just say?” She asked with the attention of a hawk narrowing in on its prey. “Did you just imply you work for the government?”

“Did I?” he choked on his third gin and tonic. “That is not what I meant.”

“You are very interesting Mister…” She paused for his last name.

“Warner,” he replied. Then, with a wink, he blurted out, “at least that’s what it says on my passport.” He regretted that quip immediately. This woman was having an inexplicable effect on him and he was unable to keep himself guarded. Not knowing what else to do, he quickly excused himself to go to the bathroom in an attempt to pull himself together. As he got up, his computer bag fell to the floor. He picked it up and left it on the seat next to him. In the bathroom he splashed water on his face and engaged in a series of breathing exercise to calm his nerves. He looked at his watch. They would be landing in less than two hours.

When he returned to his seat with his composure regained, he was shocked to find Althea asleep. He took a moment to gaze at her before he sat down again. He watched a movie on the in-seat TV and tried to focus on his plans after the plane landed. Within an hour after touching down, he would be in a car further muddying his trail. He would then need to hide out in a small village for an undisclosed amount of time, as he would soon be garnering a lot of press. Maybe it was the alcohol or the spacious seating arrangement, but soon he was sleeping with his headphones on, movie playing, computer bag secured on his lap, yet another one of his many personal rules broken.

He awoke to Althea gently nudging his shoulder. “Wake up Bill. We are approaching Amsterdam!” She smiled at him and playfully added, “You look so sweet and innocent when you sleep.”

“I am sweet and innocent,” he lied, feeling a little more confident than he had earlier in their conversations. “Thank you for waking me. I need to travel a bit further after this and I need to be a little more alert. It has been quite a pleasure traveling with an Olympic athlete,” he added taking the opportunity to admire her physically once more before departing the plane.

“The pleasure was all mine,’’ she added leaving him with the impression that his gaze was welcome. “Have fun selling toys,” she said with a wink. He wasn’t sure what to think of that wink, but decided to ignore it. The flight attendant, who was now a lot less perky, interrupted again; this time for landing information. William who was fighting every impulse he had to give this woman some sort of contact information, was relieved for the intrusion.

After the plane landed without incident, Althea and William made their way out of the plane. As they were walking down the ramp, she handed him a small folded note.

“What’s this?” he asked with that feeling of an awkward schoolboy returning.

“For you. Maybe you can call me sometime. I will be in Amsterdam for the week. I might be looking for something fun to do and since you are a kid at heart, I thought maybe we could set up a play date or something,” she said her confidence brimming. “Put it in your pocket so you don’t lose it.” As his cheeks began to glow, William did as he was told.

“Will do,” he said as they stopped for a moment.

“Until then.” She walked backwards away from him holding his gaze for a moment before turning around with a small flourish. He watched the gracefulness and beauty of her form as Althea hastened her gait down the hallway. A smile spontaneously filled his face and he patted the note in his pocket. Suddenly, reality returned to his head like a flood of fluid to the brain. He looked at his watch and realized he was on a tight schedule. He needed to grab his luggage, empty a security box and make his getaway.

On the way to retrieve his bag, William began to feel uneasy. In his line of work it was always important to listen to his innermost voice. This time it was telling him that something was wrong. Using the sixth sense that had on many occasions saved him from less than favorable outcomes, he began to pay attention to his surroundings. William picked up the pace. He was keeping an eye on the people around him and there were at least four people watching him. He knew this airport well and knew where the closest exits were. As he began to walk faster, he pinpointed two gentlemen that were clearly following him. To be sure he moved over to the carousel and waited for his bag. They held back, clearly observing. Why wasn’t Althea here? Other passengers from the plane were waiting. Why wasn’t she? Why didn’t she have luggage? He reached into his pocket and removed the note. Staring at it, William began to sweat. He knew what he would find in inside. He knew what the note would say.

Instead of opening the note, William quickly dropped his shoulder down releasing his computer bag. Taking a deep breath, he unzipped the bag. Staring back at him, was a strange computer, not the one he had put in the bag. The beautiful woman sitting next to William had just stolen a wealth of information from him. He paused enough to blink twice and take a deep breath. Then he unfolded the paper. Inside was a quote that he recognized, “You may plainly perceive the traitor through his mask; he is well-known everywhere in his true colors; his rolling eyes and his honeyed tones impose only on those who do not know him.”

Grinning, William put the note back in his front shirt pocket. “Moliere. How cute,” he whispered to himself and then took another deep breath. He was trying to maintain composure. He had pulled it off. His computer, full of all sorts of information, was now going exactly where he wanted it to go. The CIA would soon be following a convoluted and calculated trail that would lead about as far away from him as possible. He laughed to himself and thought that sending a gorgeous gold medal winning Olympian had really been a valiant attempt. He was almost thrown off his game.

He identified his suitcase as it traveled around the conveyer belt. The two men were still lingering. Losing them would be easy. First he grabbed his suitcase, then sauntered over to some mid-level airport security and reported the pair as suspicious. As he was retrieving his other computer out of the lock box, he watched as his two “friends” tried to keep an eye on him while negotiating with the airport officers. He had less than a minute head start, but it was all he needed for his final departure.











Jack & The Big Bad Wolves

With the constant sound of soldiers outside his window, it was hard for Peter to concentrate on his studies. His tutor, Abram, seemed to be getting even more annoyed with his lack of focus. Peter didn’t understand why he needed a tutor when most of his friends didn’t have one. After his school was closed, his parents insisted he continue his education. Currently they were learning about fairy tales, which to Peter was a waste of time. Fairy tales were for little kids and he was almost ten. “Why are all the main characters named Jack?” Peter inquired, while doodling a stick figure battling a giant in his notebook.

“Only English ones have a Jack,” Abram answered rolling his eyes, as he knew this was meant as a distraction from their lesson. “German ones have a Hans or Hansel and Jewish tales use names from the Torah.”

“Jewish folk tales are boring,” Peter whined. “They all have morals and happy endings. I like the English ones with giants better.”

“German ones have monsters and children usually get eaten,” Abram replied, opening to a rather gruesome picture in his old leather-bound Grimm book.

“Monsters aren’t real,” Peter announced in a voice that didn’t seem thoroughly convinced.

“No, I guess not,” Abram declared matter-of-factly, while looking out the window at a soldier interrogating an older woman. He reached over and shut the shade.

“Well, I like the name Jack better than Hans anyway.”

“I can call you Jack,” Abram offered, trying to appease Peter and continue on with their lesson.

“No, I don’t think so. I don’t like pretend and make believe. That is for babies,” Peter replied after briefly considering the name change.

Abram, who was only seventeen, had been staying with Peter’s family since his parents disappeared earlier that month. He felt indebted to Peter’s parents and wanted them to feel that Peter was receiving a good education. Abram saw Peter as a little brother, since he himself was an only child. They shared a room and Abram usually told Peter stories before bed.

“Peter, wake up,” Abram whispered.

“It’s not morning, already?” Peter sleepily inquired. Men’s voices in the other room answered his question. “What’s going on?”

“We need to hide,” Abram ordered with a look of panic. Peter understood the urgency and grabbed Abram’s arm.

“I know just the place, the cubby under my bed. I used to pretend it was a cave.”

“Go, quickly.” Abram could hear Peter’s parents pleading. The men’s voices were getting more agitated. Peter climbed into the space under the bed. Abram started to crawl in. “I can’t fit.”

“Yes, you can. I can move over. You can, you can.” Peter was beginning to cry. Abram tenderly held the frightened nine year-old by the shoulders.

“I’ll hide in the closet, Peter. Listen to me. If anything happens, you need to be strong.”

“Nothing will happen,” Peter whimpered.

“You need to be strong. You need to be brave like Jack in the fairy tale. I know you can.” Abram closed the door as tears began to roll freely down Peter’s face.

Jack waited in the cave. He could hear the giants outside. From the sound of it, the giants were close, real close. It sounded like three, maybe four. They were so close that Jack could smell them. Jack waited. His cave was tiny and musty. Dust seemed to be gathering around Jack’s nose. If he sneezed, he would give away his location. Jack closed his eyes and tried to muster up courage. He worried about his family and what the giants might be doing to them. Jack knew he had to be brave.

For a long time, Jack’s kingdom had lived in peace. However, a big, bad wolf had recently invaded his peaceful village. The big, bad wolf had brought large numbers of wolves and giants with him. They had kidnapped the King and Queen and had taken over the castle. Unfortunately, they seemed determined to take over the whole town. They were too powerful and had been rounding up villagers and putting them in the castle tower. There had been terrible rumors of unspeakable things happening to the town folk. Jack winced as he thought about some of his relatives, who had already been captured.

It seemed like hours had gone by since he had heard the giants, but Jack needed to be sure they were gone. He slowly peered out of his cave. Sunlight flooded his view. As his eyes adjusted, Jack could tell that this part of the village had been ruined. His family’s belongings were in shambles. Where were his parents? Where was his teacher, who was like an older brother to Jack? Jack examined what was left of his house. He picked up a tattered old book. He glanced down at a stick figure fighting a giant. If only Jack was that brave? Jack sat on the ground and pushed his knees up into his chest. Giants and wolves were too scary.

Jack decided to leave his kingdom. Many villagers had been secretly leaving. Jack’s parents had been talking to some other people in town. He had heard whispers and plans when no one thought he was listening. One of the local butchers in the next village had met with Jack’s dad several times about a possible path out to a distant land where no giants or wolves were allowed. Jack needed to talk to that butcher. How could he leave his village without being seen? His teacher had taught him an invisibility spell, but Jack hadn’t quite made it work yet. Jack looked around the room and found his teacher’s knapsack, which had a book about monsters, a slingshot and some marbles. Before leaving, Jack tried to dress like some of the other villagers who were still allowed out and about in town. He even took off the flower that he was supposed to wear when travelling. He could get into trouble without it, but he was going to be invisible, so it didn’t matter.

Jack climbed down the tree outside his window. His movements were awkward and he awoke the old willow. “Where are you going Jack?” The ancient tree inquired.

“Away from here, Tree. Things are bad here,” Jack answered as he continued to climb downward branch by branch.

“Things are bad everywhere,” the tree responded. “I’m afraid the wolves and the giants have taken over for good. Our kingdom will never be the same.”

“Well, I’m off to see the butcher. I’m hoping he can help me find a way to rescue my parents and my teacher,” Jack said with an air of defiance in his voice.

“I’m afraid there is nothing you can do to save them Jack,” the tree replied as a tear rolled down its bark.
“You need to save yourself and make your way to the Land of Freedom.”

“I can still save them. I know I can,” Jack snapped back. “You’re just an old tree, what do you know?” Deep down Jack knew that the tree always told the truth. “The butcher will help me. I’m sure of it.”

“Good luck Jack,” the tree whispered. “You will need it.”

Before Jack leapt off of the final bough of the ancient tree, he muttered his invisibility spell. He had never been able to make it work with his teacher and it didn’t work this time, either. Immediately, Jack caught the attention of a wolf marching near his family’s village. The wolf turned abruptly and began to advance. “Hey, boy!” The wolf growled. Jack didn’t hesitate and immediately began to run. The wolf looked confused. Normally a wolf would have been able to outrun Jack, but this particular wolf was wearing a uniform weighed down with some sort of weapon. He raised it and yelled, “Stop, come back here boy!” Jack continued to run out of sight and the wolf, looking around to make sure nobody witnessed it, lowered his weapon and let the boy go.

Jack stayed near the edge of the main road and, whenever he heard someone coming, zipped into the woods. The butcher was an old friend of Jack’s father and was sure to help him. Jack worried that he was too late and that the butcher had been taken too. As he got closer, he realized that things were worse than he had feared. The butcher’s shop was well guarded by giants. Jack had his teacher’s slingshot and ten magic marbles to help him. He pulled back on the slingshot and let go. The marble hit a giant right in the temple. However, this only seemed to agitate the ten-foot man.

“Hey,” roared the giant, looking around wildly. Jack used this opportunity to sneak up to the butcher’s house. He hid in the bushes as the giant continued to search for whatever had attacked him. Jack snuck in through a window and collapsed in front of the surprised butcher.

“Jack, what are you doing here? Stay down. They might see you. Where are your parents? I’ve been hearing terrible things,” the butcher wiped his hands on his apron. “Are you hungry? You look terrible. Let me get you something to eat.” As the butcher prepared a sandwich for him, Jack explained what had happened to his family. The butcher, kept shaking his head, waiting until Jack who was still sitting on the floor eating his sandwich, was done talking and then slowly said, “I think I might be able to help you.” He wrote down an address. “You need to go here. I know some folks who may be able to help you.” The butcher wrote a note, and pulled some gold coins out of his pocket. “Take these, hand over the note and half the gold. Keep the rest and be careful.”

“Do you want to come with me? The tree says things are only going to get worse.”

“I can’t go anywhere Jack. This is my home,” the butcher replied gazing out the window at the Giants.

“How will I get out of here?” Jack asked, beginning to realize that he had quite a journey ahead.

“I’ll create a distraction. You go out the back.” The butcher waited until Jack was ready and then walked out the front door with a link of sausages. “Hey giants, are you hungry?”

Jack ran the whole time. The pain he felt in his chest, was nothing compared to the growing ache he felt in his heart. Jack had to hide several times to stay out of sight of the wolves who were patrolling the area thoroughly. He arrived at the address, which was a dock. He was surprised to see a pirate ship. He slowly approached a pirate who was sharpening his hook on a stone post. “Get lost ye liver-bellied wee nip,” the pirate snapped at him. Jack handed the pirate the note.

“I am not liver-bellied,” Jack muttered, mostly to himself. The pirate was elated to hear from the butcher who had once been a member of the crew. The captain was equally thrilled to take the gold and they quickly found a livable crevice for Jack to stow away in.

It was a long, difficult journey. The pirate ship was at sea for days upon days upon days. During that time, Jack learned the way of the pirates. Being the youngest member on board, Jack seemed to get the most tedious responsibilities, like swabbing the deck. He loved every minute of it, but, like the rest of the crew, truly looked forward to a new life in a new land. The pirates were surprisingly optimistic, although they still flew the Jolly Roger with pride.

“Jack, climb to the crow’s nest. Land Ho!” the captain’s first mate yelled. Jack climbed to the top and saw the most magnificent sight, The Land of Freedom.

He also saw a giant lady out in the ocean and panicked. “They have giants too?” Jack questioned.

“That be a statue Jack! She’s sayin’ welcome to yonder land,” The first mate replied. Jack waved at the green lady and was suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling of relief.

“I made it,” he whispered to himself.

The boat docked and the captain went ashore, while the crew and Jack stayed on the vessel. When the captain returned, his face was grim. “New laws be in place. We are not welcome,” the captain sadly declared. “We have to go elsewhere.”

“Argh, it’s because we’re pirates,” the first mate commented. The crew reluctantly returned to their duties and the boat began to slowly pull away.

“I’m not leaving,” Jack said firmly.

“We’ll find another place Jack,” the captain assured him. “Full speed ahead,” he bellowed to the crew. Jack didn’t budge.

“No, this is where I need to be. I’ll swim if I have to,” commanded Jack with tears streaming down his face. The captain understood.

“Slow the boat! Jack here is going to walk the plank,” the captain said with a wink. Jack stepped up onto the plank like it was a diving board. He turned first and thanked the crew. “You are a brave lad, Jack! We’ll miss you!” the captain bellowed.

Jack wished them well and jumped. The coldness of the water overwhelmed him. Even though he was a fine swimmer, he began to sink. His legs kicked in a panic and his arms grasped out. Jack’s head was numb and he lost the ability to reason. He managed to come up once sputtering for air, and then he sank down again. He was convinced he was going to drown. Out of the deep blue, three angelic forms appeared. Jack thought he was dreaming. Three beautiful mermaids latched onto Jack and pulled him onto the shore. Quickly they returned to the sea, leaving Jack sprawled out, spitting water all over the place. He was wet and cold, but on land.

“Hey you, boy! How did you get here?” an immigration officer yelled to him. Peter was too tired to answer. He just lay there, freezing and soaked to the bone. “Did you jump off that boat?” Peter nodded. The man called over another officer for help, “Bring a blanket, this boy is freezing.”

“What happened to you?” the second officer asked.

Peter took a deep breath and began to explain, “Wolves took over my village. The ancient tree told me things would only get worse. I had to fight giants. The butcher sent me to the pirates. They brought me here.” The officers exchanged quizzical looks.

“That’s sounds like quite a tale,” mused the first officer.

“Let’s get you warmed up and find a place for you to stay. We’ll take good care of you,” the other officer promised. “What’s your name?”

“Jack Abram” he answered without hesitation and smiled. Jack hoped this was the beginning of his happily ever after.


The Dog Days of Summer

“Sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way, in order to come back a short distance correctly.” That line, from a play I saw once, certainly applies to what happened to me the summer after graduating college. I was a hapless, self-absorbed 22 year-old stud, ready to take life by the antlers and plant my seed. I had too many ambitions, but no real direction. I had been accepted into grad school, but had not yet decided if that path was for me. Rather than stay up north in Massachusetts, I opted to spend the summer with my relatively young Aunt Angie in Florida. My dad was strict, disciplined and thought life was systematic and planned. Like me, Angie was carefree and spontaneous. She lived right near South Beach and this seemed like my best tangible option. South Beach at the time equaled debauchery, long nights and living life to the fullest. I was ready.

Shortly after arriving, Angie hooked me up with a job working at one of the beach’s several kosher butcher shops. I knew nothing about cutting meat. When she mentioned it, I laughed at the prospect, but like everything else, I thought, ”Why the hell not?” And so, I started working for Pee Wee Slater, the butcher. Pee Wee was a hulk of a man. His muscles bulged through his white, always stained with God knows what, apron. He had a high voice, which made you instantly wonder if there was more than irony at work with his nickname.

Pee Wee and I hit it off famously. He had no kids of his own and lived life like a rock star. He was always drinking and making jokes with everyone who came into our shop. He did the actual butchering. I managed the crowd. And we had quite the crowd – lots of locals who adored our chickens and sausages. Pee Wee began to instill in me a certain reckless love and lust for life. One of the things he had not done yet and wanted to do was travel across the country. I quickly adopted this as my new lifetime goal. And I figured what better way to go than by motorcycle. The only problem, I didn’t know how to ride one.

Motorcycles and scooters were abundant in South Beach. There was a Rabbi, who often came into our shop, who had several different vintage bikes. We would often talk about religion (and my lack of it) when we were waiting on Pee Wee to fill his orders. Rabbi Jerry and I had deep talks about existentialism and other lofty topics. Then I would give him his lamb mutton and he would go on his way. I had been making a lot of money and finally decided to ask Rabbi Jerry about purchasing one of his motorcycles. He agreed to sell me one and teach me how to ride. I ended up with a sky blue 1965 Triumph Twin 650. It screamed coolness.

Pee Wee was ecstatic that I was taking this step and offered to go with me on Saturday morning for my first riding lesson. No one wore helmets then, but Pee Wee insisted that I wear some sort of protection and produced this promotional monstrosity he had received from one of his vendors. On one side it said, “Who says size doesn’t count” and on the other “XXL Pepperoni”. Lovely. We went down to the Spanish section of beach where it was relatively uninhabited in the early morning hours and Rabbi Jerry started teaching me the basics. I kept eating sand. It was no fun learning on a beach, especially a pristine white beach where you could blow the sand around with your mouth. It created quite the slippery surface. At first I was very frustrated. Quickly I started to understand the concepts, but I didn’t seem to have the dexterity or the motor skills for operating my ultra cool Triumph.

To make matters worse, these packs of wild dogs would come out of nowhere and start chasing me. I’m not sure they were actually wild as some of them had collars and looked relatively well groomed, but it felt like I was an antelope on the Serengeti being chased by lions. Also, because we were on the Spanish section of beach, the dogs didn’t speak English. They paid no mind when you yelled, “bad dog”. They at least looked up at you for a split second when you shouted the same command in Spanish. Rabbi Jerry and Pee Wee rolled over with laughter, spilling their drinks watching me get chased by the “perros malos”.

The dogs didn’t actually maul me when they caught me, but they would knock over the bike, start licking my face and pretend to bite me. Some of the more aggressive dogs would dry hump my leg. Tourists found it hilarious and small crowds would often gather. Pee Wee came up with a solution that was brilliant. He put aside meat scraps from the shop. I carried them in a plastic bag. As I started to get better riding the Triumph across the sand, I would throw the meat at the dogs as they approached. It was perfect. I could accelerate without the fear of running over a dog, crashing over the handlebars, or getting some unwelcome “perro” love.

After several Saturdays, I finally got it. My balance was better. I was worried that I would be as bad at riding a motorcycle as I was at driving a car. When my dad was teaching me on the family station wagon, I ran over the mailbox, not once but twice. Now, I was definitely getting the hang of the bike and having fun riding with the wild packs. Getting my motorcycle license was the easy part. Rabbi Jerry was my sponsor. He wore his wide brimmed Rabbi hat and his full decorative dress, so no one ever thought of failing me. All I had to do was show up. Pee Wee and Aunt Angie threw me a huge raucous party in full South Beach tradition.

Two days later, all my fun and debauchery came to a grinding halt. My father, upon hearing of my plan to drive across the country to California had boarded a plane and was on his way to sunny Florida. Angie called me at the shop and Pee Wee let me out a little early so I could help her make our place respectable enough for my dad. No matter how much we tried to tidy up the place, he still walked through the door with a serious scowl on his face, a look that I had spent most of my life trying to avoid.

He laid down the law. He told me in concrete language that I was not allowed to travel across country, and that the only choice that currently made sense for me was graduate school, which he was willing at this point to pay for, but not if I decided to throw away my future and ride a motorcycle across the country. I never really understood my dad. He actually knew how to drive a motorcycle, so you think he would have, at least, appreciated my plan. I had never seen my dad have fun. I could only remember him working and looking serious. He was fifteen when my Aunt was born, so she didn’t have a recollection of him ever enjoying himself either.

My dad instantly despised Pee Wee, but seemed to respect Rabbi Jerry enough to at least listen to him. They worked on softening my father over meals and touristy outings. Aunt Angie enjoyed showing her older brother around and my dad was impressed with Rabbi Jerry’s collection of motorcycles. And as he grew fond of a 1970 Harley Sportster, an idea began to form in the heads of the conniving Pee Wee and the cunning Rabbi. The first step was to let my dad actually ride the Harley that he had been almost drooling over. The next step was to use his arrogance against him and challenge him to a duel or, in this case, a race – a motorcycle race. This was Pee Wee’s ridiculous idea. My dad and I would race and if I won, it would show that I was independent enough to handle myself on the road. If I lost, then at the end of the summer I would report to grad school as part of my father’s twelve step plan to make me a productive member of society and my dad would get to keep the motorcycle. I nearly choked on my margarita when my dad agreed.

The race was set to be on Saturday morning and the butchery hyped it up with banners and pamphlets. All of our clientele had been very supportive of my upcoming trip and had been offering advice of where to visit. So, on race day, they showed up in droves. We agreed to race on a one-mile stretch of beach and my father was given some practice time to revive his motorcycling skills. We did have one secret weapon: the roaming Spanish dogs. When my dad practiced on the beach, I stayed on another part of the beach and fed the dogs scraps so they would leave him alone. That way he would not expect them on the day of the race. Also, just to be sure the dogs chased him, Pee Wee rubbed animal entrails all over my dad’s prized bike early Saturday morning. Minutes before the race, my dad sniffed at his motorcycle with a disgusted look on his face and Rabbi Jerry assured him that it was just new motorcycle grease giving off the odor. We then all warned my dad about the dogs and gave him a bag of scraps, just in case. Unbeknownst to him, there were several holes in his bag, which would make it fall apart when he grabbed it.

We had our own official drag queen to start the race. She stood in the middle of us and dropped her feather boa. We were off. It was a dead heat. Suddenly the dogs appeared. This time they looked to be foaming at the mouth. They didn’t know which one of us to chase, so they split into two packs. I threw some meat and my dad watching me, reached for his bag as well. His bag fell apart and about seven dogs tackled my dad and his motorcycle. He fell into a heap of fur, chrome and meat. The crowd roared as I finished the race. I quickly rode back to check on my father, who was being unexpectedly humped by Sloppy José (our name for one of the more lusty dogs). Surprisingly my dad was laughing and smiling as he was trying to fight off the dogs that were licking his face and smothering him with love.

This was a turning point in my relationship with my father. Things between us were much better after the race. Rabbi Jerry gave my dad the bike anyway and he drove it back to Massachusetts with Sloppy José in a sidecar. Pee Wee and Aunt Angie told me that they would miss me terribly and that I was always welcome on South Beach. And for the first three miles of my trip to California, I had a pack of wild dogs following steadily behind. Eventually I did get to grad school, settled back in Massachusetts and had a couple kids of my own, which brings me back to the Edward Albee quote, “Sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way, in order to come back a short distance correctly.”


MOVING ON – Heat 20 (Suspense, Wedding, Chef)

Peter Lansky was on the verge of making the worst decision of his life. He had been perseverating all week and now, as he stood in the bathroom of the Stone Bluff Country Club in Gloucester, Massachusetts, it was almost time to decide. There was no right answer. His heart dictated one solution and logic told him another. This decision didn’t just affect Peter. Someone else’s life hung in the balance as well; a person he knew from 30 years ago, and fatefully ran into a few days earlier.

Peter had recognized him immediately. The man’s face had been forever scorched into Peter’s memory. He had grown older, but the cruel young doctor from Peter’s youth was still there. The doctor who operated on Peter without any sort of anesthetic and smiled while doing it, was still apparent through the aged mask the man seemed to be wearing. The doctor who diligently wrote down observations on a clipboard as Peter’s body nearly went into shock and his cells screamed out of his skin and pores, was still alive.  The doctor that pulled out Peter’s tooth because it was partially gold and laughed when Peter began to beg for medicine after the procedure, had somehow regained entry into Peter’s closely guarded life.

Now he was staring at himself in the mirror, studying his own image. The invisible and visible scars of a complicated life stared back at him. His face was complex and layered and hinted at a hard, tragic past. But the mirror didn’t tell all Peter’s story. The tattooed number on his forearm told much more. The permanent mark was given to him on the same day he said goodbye to his mother and his sisters without even knowing he was saying goodbye, a goodbye that was merely an empty stare between fear filled bodies. Peter, his father and his uncle were prodded one way and his mother and two sisters were forced to go the other. As he recalled the memory, his heart began to pound in his chest and the bathroom walls began to close in. Peter splashed water on his face, wiped his hands on his stained white apron, took a deep breath and headed back to work.

Peter only needed to see him for a few moments to know that this was the same person. This man, who had apparently started a new life in America, was the same cruel monster who had helped rob Peter of all that was precious to him as a young man. The doctor had a loving family, while Peter did not. The doctor had two beautiful daughters, one of whom had been married to a handsome young man just moments earlier, while Peter did not have a family. The doctor managed to move forward with his life. Peter merely managed to crawl sideways like a scavenger holding onto scraps of a life he had once dreamed possible. The doctor had found success. Peter had been in and out of a bottle, clinging only to a career in the kitchen, a career that barely kept alive a memory of his father. Being a chef was the only thing left that remotely connected him to his father.

Now he was in the kitchen preparing an elaborate wedding dinner as he had done hundreds of times. This time was different. A cruel or splendid twist of fate had presented this opportunity before him. The father of the bride, the man who organized this wedding for his daughter, who clearly loved and adored his family, was not at all who he appeared to be. And Peter knew this to be true. There was not a shred of doubt in his mind that this was the same man. Peter’s head had been spinning since he met the man one week ago as they went through the final prep for the wedding dinner.  As soon as he heard the man’s voice and looked at the man’s face, he had been unable to think straight and was struggling to breathe. At first he felt like a cornered animal, but gradually a feeling of power began to take over Peter. He had a responsibility to expose this man as the cruel doctor he was. But merely exposing him didn’t seem good enough and besides what proof did he have? Who would believe a 50 year-old drifter, who had been in and out of rehabs and institutions?

The transition to America had taken its toll on Peter. He was 19 and barely a hundred pounds when he left Buchenwald. Part of him never really left the camp.  He was plucked from it 31 years earlier in April of 1945, and the stench of Buchenwald had somehow always remained with Peter. Before coming to America on a visa, he had searched Poland and Germany for any surviving family members. He knew his uncle and father were dead. He had seen both of them take their last breaths, but he was unsure of the fate of his mother and sisters. From what he knew, he had assumed that his younger sister had probably been murdered quickly, but the rest was never confirmed. He was alone and never really fit in. He took cooking jobs where he could, seeking out other refugees to help him find work and places to live. He traveled around for a while, before settling along the coast of Massachusetts. He had been here for almost nine years and had been sober for seven of those years. Gloucester was the closest thing Peter had to a home and it was all about to change.

He had to kill the doctor. There was no other option. Peter’s shattered heart and splintered life demanded it. Nothing else seemed to fit the man’s crimes. After deliberating for a long time on the doctor’s fate, Peter had decided to poison him.  The poison, which was expensive and difficult to obtain, would make his death look like a heart attack. Then, Peter would do what he was best at, drift away in the wind and reinvent himself.  Even if he was found and apprehended, no jail cell could compare to what he endured in his youth. It would be difficult to leave, as he was starting to grow roots here, but Peter had been preparing over the last few days. He had loaded a duffle bag with all his cash and most of his belongings. He would be leaving very little behind. From the bustle of the wait staff and the noises in the reception area, Peter could tell that the moment of truth had arrived. He could feel the doctor’s presence in the next room. For the first time in seven years, Peter poured himself a drink, but didn’t drink it yet. The tall bourbon sat, waiting to be consumed like a rich dessert after a rather expensive meal. This meal of fateful vengeance was about to cost Peter everything he had.

Peter breathed in deeply and took out the small paper packet containing the poison and stared at it.  He held it in his hands for several slow seconds. He could hear disco playing in the other room. There was a steady bustle in the kitchen and a stream of servers coming and going. Finally, Peter added the poison and after he put the finishing touches on the doctor’s otherwise delectable lobster tail dinner, he explained to the waiter that he would personally deliver the meal. It was highly unusual for the head chef to bring out a meal, but no one questioned it. Peter opened the door to the reception hall. It was a beautiful, lively celebration that Peter was walking into. He couldn’t feel any of the joy that was alive in the room. He was wrapped in a self-absorbed, task driven blanket. Peter knew this was wrong. He was about to rob a family of all that was precious to them. It went against his whole nature, yet it somehow made perfect sense. This man was part of the machine that had taken away his family. And, how was it even remotely fair for this man to be surrounded by loving family and friends when all of those things had been denied to Peter. As his heart pounded in his chest, and as sweat began dripping out of every pore in his body, Peter forced himself to walk toward the bridal party.

As he approached the doctor’s table, the rest of the wait staff was also bringing plates over. The timing was impeccable. Peter’s throat seized up, and he was barely able to breathe as he witnessed the doctor laughing and talking with his wife. As he gingerly placed the plate in front of the doctor, a shrill buzzing took over his brain, canceling out the pulsing dance music that had previously filled his ears. As Peter looked up from the table, he made direct eye contact with the doctor. He had planned and hoped for this connection, but it was unlike anything he had expected. He did not see the cold, ruthless eyes of a killer. He saw something else in there; a bond, maybe a realization. It caught Peter by surprise and though they only looked at each other for a split second, their eyes had a conversation that seemed to fill up the last 30 years.

Peter headed back to the kitchen. Somehow he was able to nod to the wait staff as he walked back. He did not feel the sense of relief he thought delivering the doctor’s final meal would give him. Instead he was unnerved by the look in the doctor’s eyes. Had he done the right thing? Was it too late to take back the doctor’s dinner? Regret ran him over like a freight train. He walked over to his prep area and reached for the drink. He stared at the bourbon for a minute. He had thought about this as well. Sobriety had worked for him for seven years, but he had just delivered a fatal meal and surely this was a time to have a drink. As he put his hand around the glass, he heard the doctor’s unmistakable voice behind him. “We know each other.” It was not a question, but a statement. Peter dropped the glass of whiskey and pieces of glass exploded all over the floor, but he didn’t turn around.

“I saw the look in your eyes,” the doctor continued, “You recognized me.” Peter looked down and saw his kitchen knife sitting on the counter. Thinking completely by themselves, his fingers crept over and gripped the handle. At the same time, the doctor grabbed a dishrag that was nearby and bent down to clean up the spilled bourbon. The doctor finished wiping up the brown booze and began picking up shards of glass in his hand as he quietly spoke. “It has been a long time. There is nothing I can say to erase any memories you have of the past. There is also nothing I can say to excuse my behavior. What I was part of was an atrocity, an absolute atrocity. I was young like you. I was caught up like a lot of other people in the insanity of what was happening. What I did to you, and countless other people, constantly haunts my nightmares, as I’m sure it haunts yours. I am sorry. I am a thousand times sorry. I wish there was something I could do to erase the past. There isn’t. Instead I have focused on doing good today, on giving back, on being better. It is all that I can do now.” The doctor carefully stood up, his eyes fixed on the shattered glass in his hand. “If there is anything I can do to make this better, I will.”

Peter, his heart pounding in his chest, turned around to face the doctor. He was still holding the kitchen knife in his hand. Tears were streaming down the doctor’s face. Peter was dazed. “Are you going to kill me?” the doctor asked. Peter looked down and realized he was holding the knife. “I wouldn’t blame you for wanting to do it. I’ll give you my life if you think that would ease your pain.” Peter didn’t know what to say. He saw the doctor’s eyes again. They locked together. Peter felt like a boy again. The first time he met this doctor he wanted to trust him. And now, as he stood there in front of him, he wanted to trust him again. Peter dropped the knife. The doctor didn’t move. Peter had to search for his voice. He wasn’t sure what he would say, but his mouth finally functioned. Although noises were going on all around these two, it seemed to both of them that they were completely alone.

“Would you turn yourself in?” Peter asked meekly.

“Do you think that would solve anything? I can do more good helping people than I could in jail.” The doctor pleaded with Peter. “But, if you think that will help, if you think turning myself in will help you and help others, I will do it.” The doctor put the glass shards he had been holding on the counter. His hand was bleeding a little. “Let me get through my daughter’s wedding and we can talk about this. If you want me to turn myself after all this is done, I will.” The doctor looked earnestly at Peter awaiting some sort of affirmation.

“You asked if I was going to kill you.” Peter stammered, “The answer is yes. I was going to kill you. I had every intention until now. I poisoned your meal. That is why I delivered it to you personally. If you didn’t come in here, you would be dead right now.”  The doctor’s face drained of all its color and his expression contorted into panic and distress.

“Jesus Christ. I gave my daughter my plate.” He turned and burst out of the kitchen.

At that moment, the sounds and sights and smells all came back to Peter. He heard panic and confusion coming from the function hall. The sounds of disco had been replaced with sobs and chaos. Peter’s survival skills kicked in. He came to life and looked around quickly. No one seemed to notice him. He reached under the counter, grabbed his duffle bag and, without looking back, left more pieces of his life behind.