Saturday, November 26, 2016

Good Tidings



I'm thrilled to have published my novel MATTERS OF CONVENIENCE and cannot wait to hear what readers have to say about it. Reviews left at Amazon, or goodreads, or any other web site that caters to avid readers, or written at your blogs or spoken on your YouTube channels will be greatly appreciated. The price to purchase a copy of either the print or Kindle edition certainly isn't prohibitive, but I'll be hosting giveaways from time to time just because.  There happens to be one going on at goodreads right now, with a winner to be chosen 12/24/2016. Below you'll find a link to where you can enter the giveaway along with reviews of the last couple books I've read. 'Tis the season of too much to do and not enough time to do it in, so I'm keeping this post brief.  It's also the season of gift giving, and surely some of your favorite people are book lovers. If so, MATTERS OF CONVENIENCE is custom built to fit snugly in a Christmas stocking. And there's certainly no sin in self gifting.







Goodreads Book Giveaway

Matters of Convenience by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Matters of Convenience

by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Giveaway ends December 24, 2016.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway


YoungbloodYoungblood by Matt Gallagher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a fine book of place, if not plot which this novel is rather light on. Matt Gallagher effortlessly (which of course likely means he took great effort) pulls us into an Army unit in Iraq and gives us a taste of what modern warfare is like for members of an occupying force. It isn't a tale of heroism so much as of following orders and doing what it takes to make it from one day to the next, hopefully without abandoning too much of one's conscience along the way. There is a bit of detective story thrown into the narrative, a bit of star crossed love story too. There are threats to the narrator Jack Porter from within his own unit that are as ominous as bombs and bullets coming from the official enemy. There is sand and heat and scorpions and falafels and brokered deals and needless death and unhelpful remorse and the biding of time. I feel somewhat knowledgeable about the day-to-day existence of a 21st century soldier stationed in an ancient land after having read this book. But I'm wise enough to know that reading what it's like is one thing, living it as Mr. Gallagher did and admirably documented, quite another.

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Z: A Novel of Zelda FitzgeraldZ: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fine piece of literary historical fiction. I've always been fascinated by the Jazz Age and the artists who gave it its reputation. Especially the American writers who took a break from our shores to live in Paris and join the future icons from Europe in wine, cheese and debauchery. Therese Anne Fowler did an exemplary job of bringing familiar names and reputations from literature anthologies to life, skillfully transporting us to romanticized days. Reading this novel I felt like Owen Wilson's character in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, suddenly thrust into a world where each day was filled to the brim with an excess of genius, celebration, and elegant style. In the middle of this story we find Zelda Fitzgerald, a woman who on the one hand was perfectly emblematic of this time, yet on the other could not fit in the way she truly yearned to because she was a woman/wife/mother in a man's world. Zelda was a person of bursting talent and ambition that could not be fully exploited and showcased because of her role as Mrs. Fitzgerald. Fowler explores the great passion that brought and somehow held the Fitzgeralds together over the course of their tempestuous marriage. The reader knows before turning to the first page that greatness is in store for them, most especially for F. Scott, but Zelda is more of a mystery to us. As the pages are turned and the narrative unfolds, we learn that there is more to Zelda than her reputation. We watch her try to be a good wife as the time period defined this term to the man she loved, while also trying to be a woman ahead of her time who hoped to carve out her own place in the history books. We watch her desires nearly destroy her as her husband's vices wreak havoc on their roller coaster marriage and his health. Various famous names flit in and out of their lives. Ernest Hemingway plays a major role in expanding F. Scott Fitzgerald's insecurities and loosening the bonds of his devotion to Zelda. There is plenty of glamour and globetrotting and name dropping and a Great War and eventually another one. In the center of it all is a fun loving southern belle who decides to take a chance on a cocky northern soldier that her daddy does not approve of. She chooses to defy conventions and expectations, and tries to discover herself along the way rather than meekly accepting who society says she is supposed to be. F. Scott Fitzgerald casts a great shadow. Seeking light nearly destroyed Zelda, but she was a formidable woman who could withstand everything but the literal flames that consumed her on her final day. With able assistance from Therese Anne Fowler, Zelda has risen from the ashes and assumed her place as an icon from a magical time.

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As always, HAPPY READING



Saturday, November 12, 2016

HOW DID WE GET HERE?











































MESSAGE TO TRUMP SUPPORTERS WHO ARE NOW ACTING SHOCKED AND DISMAYED THAT PEOPLE ARE UPSET AND HAVE CHOSEN TO PROTEST HIS ELECTION, NOT THAT PROTESTING IT WILL CHANGE THE ELECTION RESULT, BUT PERHAPS MR. TRUMP WILL RECOGNIZE THAT THE WIND HE HAS STIRRED UP DOES NOT BLOW IN ONLY ONE DIRECTION.

Why are there people upset at those who are upset that Trump was elected president? Those people have CLEARLY given their reasons - because of the many well documented abhorrent things Trump has said and done over the years. Even if you believe he's bluffing about deporting and wall building, or locker room bantering about stuff like groping women, there are still terrible things that are beyond dispute such as him belittling people verbally and profiling African Americans so they couldn't rent apartments in his building. Why be bothered by people who are angry and disrespectful towards a single person (no matter how important a job he now has, Trump's still just one very flawed man), but you were never upset about millions/billions of people that he apparently sees as lesser humans? This amounts to co-signing that you feel some people are inherently inferior to others. Can't you see that? If not, why not? For the love of God, the man's election is being celebrated by the Klu Klux Klan. How can you not understand why this would be upsetting to people? You are familiar with what the KKK represents, right? I'm not saying Trump's a member, but he barely bothered to disavow David Duke so if the hood fits. Why does this not bother YOU? Because Trump is soon to be THE PRESIDENT? If so then why weren't you upset when he falsely accused the sitting president of being a foreign born Muslim no matter how much evidence to the contrary was presented. Could it be that the office of president was no big deal to you for the past 8 years, but suddenly it's prestigious again now that Trump has been elected? I certainly don't co-sign outlandish statements such as calls to assassinate. Of course that's ridiculous. But why should protests and facebook statuses upset you? They're not about YOU. They're about this man who has been elected president of the entire United States of America who has been incredibly disrespectful towards a large % of its citizens. Or could it be that you're upset because you do co-sign his disrespect and superiority complex towards others of other races/religions/gender? Please tell me that isn't so. If it isn't, then respect the rights of others to be very bothered by Trump's election just as citizens of this nation have always used their freedom of speech to express dismay over various matters that have troubled them about this country. The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, Loving vs State of Virginia ruling was in 1967. Not exactly ancient history. So of course people have the right to be very worried that certain inalienable rights are suddenly very much in danger of being revoked as result of the 2016 elections. You don't have to be worried or upset yourself. I won't insist that you feel empathy. But you can at least understand why others are troubled. This country was founded on the concept of protest after all.


                         MATTERS OF CONVENIENCE








Goodreads Book Giveaway

Matters of Convenience by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Matters of Convenience

by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Giveaway ends December 24, 2016.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway


For a chance to win a copy of MATTERS OF CONVENIENCE from Amazon - GO HERE
Cost of book is on me. All I ask from you is a tweet.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

DECISIONS - A Short Story

                                          

                             DECISIONS


BY ROY L. PICKERING JR.


Mike stared at the ebony liquid which had formed the shape of the glass in his hands.  'Should I or shouldn't I?' was the quandary playing tennis in his head.  It had been over an hour since he first sat down and posed this question to himself. He had not moved an inch closer to resolution.
       "It's not a television, it's a drink.  It won't do nothing till you pour it down your throat."
       Mike turned towards the voice that had derailed his train of thought.  Its owner was a dapper looking man in his sixties.  Dapper wasn't a word utilized with great frequency in Mike's vocabulary, but in this case it seemed a perfect fit.  How else would a man in a tweed three piece suit, a bow tie encasing his neck, a derby upon his head, and a walking stick in hand be described?  All that was missing was the British accent.
       "I was just thinking," Mike said in explanation of his meditative pose.
       "That's what libraries are for.  Bars are for drinking, not thinking."
       "How about thinking about drinking?"
       "Are we composing a nursery rhyme?"
       "It looks that way."
       "The name's Dave."
       "Hello, Dave.  I'm Mike."
       Dave ordered himself a beer.  "What has you thinking so hard, Mike?  If you don't mind my asking."
       "I was supposed to be getting married tomorrow.  But now I'm not.  My girlfriend pulled out.  Out of the marriage, out of the relationship, out of my life.  One minute I'm all settled, everything mapped out nice and neat.  Next minute I'm here, wondering what happens next."
       "She give you a reason?"
       "Two.  She doesn't love me and she does love someone else."
       "Pretty good reasons."
       "They are," Mike admitted.  "I don't blame her.  Truth is, I don't think I'm in love with her either.  I'd been thinking about breaking things off for the longest time. But I was never able to convince myself totally that it was the wise thing to do.  So I kept waiting for some kind of sign."
       "Why get married then?  If you don't mind my asking."
       "We were together five years, lived together for the last two.  What else was left?  Our families, our friends, hell, people we hardly even knew kept asking us the same question over and over. When are you two getting married?  We got tired of answering it."
       "So you lost a woman you had already grown tired of?"
       "Something like that.  You get used to a person.  You get comfortable, like a child with his favorite blanket or his thumb in his mouth.  It's tough to let go of your security.  Don't believe me, just ask all the buck tooth people walking around." 
       "That's as good a reason to get loaded as any I've heard."  Dave lifted his glass to toast.  Mike didn't return the gesture.
       "I need to drink to get loaded and I'm not drinking.  I'm just thinking about it."
       "You're starting to lose me, Mike.  What's to think about?"
       "I'm an alcoholic.  Or I was.  Or I might have been.  It all depends on how you look at it."
       "You haven't found me yet, Mike."
       "I used to have a drinking problem.  Well, I don't know if it was a problem.  It didn't cause me any difficulties.  I functioned as well as the next guy.  It was just a habit of mine and when alcohol becomes a habit, society tends to see that as a problem."
       "Society holds many a warped view on many a subject that's none of its damn business."  Dave took a swig of his beer as exclamation point to the statement.
       "Anyway, I decided to quit one day, so that's what I did.  No AA meeting or any psychological mumbo jumbo.  Once I make a decision, I stick with it.  If I'd been an official drunk I wouldn't have been able to stop cold turkey like that."
       "Maybe.  If it makes sense to you, what else matters?  So what made you quit, if you don't mind ..."
       "I don't mind.  I got out of bed one morning, grabbed a brew from the fridge, and sat down to drink it.  About halfway through I realized there was something terribly wrong.  I couldn't recall when, or why, or how I had switched from Wheaties to a cold one.  What made me go from the breakfast of champions to the breakfast of bums?"
       "It sure sneaks up on you, don't it?"  Dave motioned to the bartender for a refill.
       "Actually, it landed on my head like a piano.  The moment I remembered the last person I'd seen having beer in the morning, I knew I would never touch the stuff again."
       "Who would that be?"
       "My dad.  No way I was turning into him.  Now he was a world class drunk.  And a world class jerk.  Not the footsteps I intended to follow."
       "Let me tell you something, Mike.  I've drunk some powerful concoctions in my time.  Once had me some hundred and eighty proof Tennessee moonshine that could have launched a space shuttle.  But I never had anything that could turn me into another person."
       "No need for the lecture.  I figured it out on my own.  I also found out that my dad had more valid reasons than thirst for his drinking."
       "Every reason is valid, Dave.  The second you start judging is the second you start playing God, and I believe that job is taken."
       Mike looked down into his glass, swirling its contents with a swizzle stick.  Some people may have seen it as completely not empty, others as entirely full.  But one fact remained undisputed.  He had yet to consume a drop.
       "I have another question for you, Mike.  If being an alcoholic isn't your problem, and turning into your father isn't the problem, then what is?"
       "He's got a brain in his head, that's all."
       The gravelly voice entering the conversation from Mike's immediate right belonged to another gentleman in his sixties.  The man’s face was covered with a three quarters salt, one quarter pepper beard.  His rumpled attire was considerably less formal than that of his counterpart.
       "Sorry, but I couldn't help overhearing your conversation," he continued.  "The name's Lou.  Mike, your reservations are well worth heeding.  You have explained away every reason for not drinking, yet you still haven't taken a sip.  Your gut is telling you that having a drink is a step you're not ready to take.  I'll take gut instinct over hedonistic intellectualizing any day."
       "Who died and made you his conscience?" asked Dave.
       "Who made you the serpent in the garden?" Lou asked in reply.
       "Relax guys," Mike refereed.  "What's the big deal?  I either get tanked or I don't.  The world keeps spinning either way."
       "It is a big deal," said Lou.  "You don't want to be a drunk. No matter how fancy he may dress himself up, a drunk is still nothing but a drunk."
       "And a self-important, holier than thou, propaganda spouting, weak willed nosy body is still nothing but a guy named Lou," Dave rebutted.
       Mike couldn't believe that his dilemma was serving as the catalyst for a senior citizen bar room brawl.  "If I do decide to drink, that won't make me an alcoholic," he said, hoping his logic would defuse the situation.  “Not if I have just the one.”
       "But you're not a hundred percent sure of that or else you'd be drunk already," said Lou.  "Gary, I'll have my usual," he said to the bartender.
       "Yeah, I guess you could say that," Mike had to admit.
       "Seltzer," Dave practically spat in disdain as Lou's drink arrived.  "Let me guess your line, old timer.  You're a former drunk.  Got saved by AA so now you want to return the favor by converting the world."
       "I haven't touched a drop of liquor in eight years.  But I'm not a former drunk, Dave.  I'm a drunk, same as you.  Only difference is I'm fighting the demon, you're succumbing to it."
       "A day at a time, right Lou?"
       "Damn straight."
       "Well I'm a former AA member too.  My wife told me to get sober or get out.  So I got sober.  Stayed that way for three years.  I was a die hard just like you, praying to the great dry God."
       "But you were weak and you failed.  That's your problem.  Helping to push this young man over the edge will just make one more ruined life you're responsible for."
       "Hey Lou, have a little respect.  This is my story, I'll tell it.  My wife and I got divorced anyway.  Not because I was drinking, but because it wasn't meant to be.  And the last three years were the worst because I was sober every day of them."
       "Is there a moral to this tale?" Dave asked.
       "Moral is you want to be sober, be sober.  You want to get drunk, drink up.  But a man needs to make that choice, not let that glass do it for him.  If Mike doesn't drink because he's not thirsty, or because he’s not in the mood to get a little light headed, then fine.  But if he doesn't drink because he's afraid, because he thinks the content of that glass is stronger than his free will, then that makes him prisoner to the booze just the same as any drunk on skid row suckling a flask like it was mother’s milk.  A sober prisoner is no better off than a drunk one, Lou.  He’s worse off, actually.  At least a drunk prisoner might be having a good time.  You probably wouldn’t know one of those if it walked up and bit you on the nose."
       Mike cleared his still dry throat.  "I have to admit, I'm afraid of what might happen if I start drinking again.  Maybe it won't be as easy to quit next time.  Maybe I'll screw up my life.  But is a screwed up life better than one lived in fear?"
       "Of course not," said Dave.
       "Hell yes," answered Lou simultaneously.  “Nothing wrong with a little fear.  Nothing wrong with humility.  You do know what excessive pride leads to, don’t you?”
       Mike picked up the glass.  "I miss Angela already.  It doesn't matter that we don't love each other anymore.  I got used to waking up and seeing her there beside me.  I guess I'm just a creature of habit."
       And with this toast said, Mike closed his eyes, brought the glass to his lips, tipped back his head and began pouring the liquid down his throat.  When he placed the now half empty glass down, Lou had already risen from his seat.
       "I'm a creature of habit too, Mike.  That's why I'm here.  Even after I stopped drinking, bars were the only place I ever felt comfortable.  So I'll probably be seeing you around.  Maybe I'll even see you sober again someday."  
       Lou walked away, disappointment registering in his every step.
       "I'd love to stay," said Dave, who had also risen from his seat.  "But I have an appointment to make.  Some other time perhaps.  Good meeting you, young fella."
"Same here."  Mike shook Dave's hand and then watched him walk out of the bar, every bit the sophisticated, gentlemanly drunk. 
Taking in a deep breath, Mike again lifted the glass to his lips and finished it off in one gulp.  He placed the glass on the bar and then walked to the pub's jukebox, removing quarters from his pocket.  He was good and ready to select some "my baby done me wrong" music to accompany his melancholy mood.  Problem was, there were so many top quality sorrowful tunes to choose from.  Whichever he selected would wipe away an equally good alternative, and he had neither enough time nor enough change to listen to all of them. 
That was the thing about choices.  The moment you made one, you also threw another one away.  Dave put the coins back into his pocket and returned to his seat at the bar.  
       "I'll have another one, please."
       "Pepsi, right?"
       "You got it."
       Mike held his newly filled glass before him, staring intently at the soda, wondering if he would eventually switch to something stronger.  If he did, would it be his downfall?  Would that make him just like his father?  If he refrained, did that make him any better off?  Or was abstinence synonymous with lack of belief in his powers of self-control?  He simply didn't know which scenario would make him more pathetic.
       Maybe Angela had a valid point when she said that the end of their relationship was ultimately caused by his ambivalence towards practically every aspect of life.  But what did she know?
       After all, he had firmly chosen Pepsi over Coke. 

Now available at Amazon - MATTERS OF CONVENIENCE

PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST - AKA ME (by Bill Gallo)

Friday, October 14, 2016

For Indie Authors Seeking Reviews



BREAKING: NOW ACCEPTING REVIEW REQUESTS FROM INDIE AUTHORS  


I plan to review independently published novels (with perhaps a sprinkle of non-fiction thrown in) on a regular basis when the calendar turns to 2017. No genres barred (reading only one type/genre of book seems extremely dull to me), which is not to say that I will read everything that comes my way. I may take a pass on most queries for I intend to be picky, my selection criteria based strictly on what sounds like "my kind of book". DIVERSITY welcomed, PRINT my preferred format (I might read a PDF on screen in rare exceptions, but when it comes to reading I’m a non-Kindle owning huge fan of ink on paper). In addition to a synopsis I'll want to see a brief excerpt from your book to help me decide. For a taste of my reviewing style, type "book reviews" into the Search bar. Or you can peruse my collection of reviews at goodreads






The world of publishing is a brutal place no matter how you go about it, as I have learned in multiple ways. If you’ve written a masterpiece that literary agents and editors somehow failed to recognize the beauty of, perhaps I can assist in spreading positive word of mouth for it. You got into this after all to be a WRITER who would rather be writing than banging your head against the wall to self promote. I'm well aware that reaching the masses and getting them to give you a chance is no easy task. I’ve certainly appreciated those kind enough to publicly heap kind words upon my prose.



Whether it’s your book or somebody else’s, I’m going to be reading something regardless because I LOVE BOOKS.


Email review queries to mudhousebooks@gmail.com




Tuesday, September 20, 2016

FIRST DAY ON THE JOB




First day on the Job

Short Story by Roy L. Pickering, Jr.



Curtis took a discretely proud peek at his reflection in the tinted window of a lime green Mercedes. His muscled torso was accentuated by the snug fit of his brand new policeman's uniform. He struck an imposing figure as he patrolled streets that he had grown to manhood roaming. Surely no one would be foolish enough to break the law on his vigilant watch. But if criminal activity were to take place, he was well prepared for the task of maintaining order and safety for the citizens under his protection.


Despite enduring criticism upon announcement of his decision to become one of the city's finest, Curtis was positive that he had been born to do this. The way to combat the many legitimate accusations of brutality and racial profiling by the police force was not to cry out in impotent anger, but to become an active part of the solution.


He took off his hat for a moment and rubbed a hand over his cleanly shaved, chocolate brown skull. His friends asserted that brown and blue did not, and could not mix. Curtis looked forward to proving them wrong. More so, he was anxious to prove his worth and advance rapidly through the ranks. Once he made detective he would marry Denise, buy a house out in the suburbs, and get started on the family he had planned on being the head of for as far back as he could remember.


"Looks like I'm going to have a quiet first day on the job," said Curtis to his partner Steve.
"Don't get ahead of yourself rookie," advised Officer Steven Coley. "The sun is just beginning to set. Darkness gives people foolish ideas."


"Well, we'll be there to give those fools second thoughts, won't we?"


Instead of answering the question, Steve chuckled, his belly shaking under a uniform that seemed about to burst at the seams.


"Quite the eager beaver, aren't you? Believe it or not, I was once as primed to charge forth and do good as you are now."


"So what happened?" Curtis asked, examining the gray that had begun to invade his partner's curly blonde sideburns. "Have you seen too much to care anymore? Have you grown jaded?"


"Nope," replied Steve. "I've just grown up."


*   *   *   *   *


Leonard looked over the grocery store that was laid out before his vantage point behind the cashier's counter. He was not searching for anything in particular, simply admiring each object within view because it was all his very own to admire. Every can of soup, bag of potato chips, bottle of detergent, was his to sell and profit from. Years of hard work and frugality had paid off. As of today, Leonard was a business owner. He had earned his proverbial forty acres and a mule. The dream that always felt within reach, no matter how many setbacks and complications kept them away, was now firmly within his appreciative grasp.


Mr. Kim seemed like a good man and had sold him the store at a fair price, now that he was ready to retire and move back to Korea. Leonard wished him well. Still, he felt that justice had been served by the passing of this store from the Korean man's hands into his own. In order for money to replenish and revitalize this neighborhood it needed to circulate throughout the black community, not flow out into the hands of outsiders. Leonard had been born and raised less than twenty blocks from the establishment he came to acquire. But although the distance traveled was physically short, several decades of strenuously worked muscles and judicious application of his studies were needed to complete the journey.


Leonard had big plans. He would not be content merely to make a good living supplying his neighbors with bare necessities. Little by little he would expand the inventory until his store stood out from nearby competitors. People would walk a few extra blocks to obtain what he alone could offer them. He intended to give the store an Afrocentric flavor, to make it a source not only of personal, but also of neighborhood pride.


He may have been starting small, but felt confident customer loyalty would eventually enable him to branch out into other areas of interest. Leonard was determined to become not only a successful businessman, but also a leader, a pillar of his community. He had always believed that most limitations were self-imposed, that all goals were attainable through hard work and commitment to a vision. No less than the world had been imagined for himself, and this store was to be just the first chunk of it.


A young man in his early twenties or late teens walked through the door. He was greeted with a nod and slight grin that Leonard could not suppress. Although numerous people had been in and out to make purchases throughout the day, the feeling of euphoric unreality had not quite evaporated yet. Leonard had only been more proud on one other occasion, the birth of his son. Julian was now assured of a mighty inheritance, an empire that would be built one happy customer at a time.


*   *   *   *   *


Marshall prayed that his apprehension was masked, for if not, his intentions would be apparent. He was ashamed of his actions in advance of their undertaking, but had been left with little choice in the matter. His mother was sick, real sick, and the only think keeping agony at bay was her medication. The medicine was not free, now that insurance was no longer part of the equation, and it was not cheap, not by a long shot. Somebody had to take care of Mama, and the list of applicants consisted of Marshall alone.


He noticed a poster of Malcolm X in contemplation on the wall and took this to be a sign of support for his cause. After all, Malcolm had made the words "by any means necessary" a legendary battle cry. Marshall had no shortage of necessity. As for means, this was it, his lone option. His mother required her medication, and those who supplied it required to be paid. This meant that Marshall needed money, plenty of it, quick. There was not enough time to earn it honestly, so he had set out in search of someplace and someone to take it from. His feet led him to this grocery store, and instinct made him stop and decide this was as good a place and time as any.


Marshall felt his nervousness slowly giving way to resolution that was spiced with anger. It was unfair that he was forced to stoop so low. He had never stolen from anyone before, never hurt anybody. This wasn't the type of person he had ever intended to be. He was an honor roll student, known and even teased for his clean cut lifestyle. Living otherwise had not really been an alternative. His mother raised him from day one to always do right. She had done this on her own, having long ago been abandoned by Marshall's father, and no one could have done a better job. Marshall did not want to let his mother down. But this wish was crushed under the weight of his desire to ease her suffering.


He grabbed a bag of something that he didn't bother to take notice of and headed towards the grocer. The longer he hesitated, the greater the chance that his nerve would be lost. Marshall experienced one last quiver of doubt when he realized that his crime would be against one of his own. He could have sworn a Korean man ran this store. But it was too late for such a thing to be consequential. An unstoppable surge of momentum was pushing Marshall towards his destiny.


*   *   *   *   *


"I'm going to run across the street to get a pack of cigarettes. This is my last pack and then I'm quitting for good. It's my one vice and we cops can't afford bad habits, ain't that right?"


Officer Coley suspected that the remark was a dig at his increasingly prominent beer gut. Then again, he may have become oversensitive to the issue since Erma had gone on an exercise kick and started harassing him about his physical condition.


"You going on the patch, rookie?"


"Nah," answered Curtis. "Cold turkey. Once I make a decision, I stick to it. I don't need any outside help."


"Whatever you say. I'll wait out here."


"You want me to get you anything?"


"No, I'm fine."


Curtis headed towards the grocery store, crossing at the crosswalk after looking both ways for traffic like any law abiding citizen should. He recalled with amusement Denise's remark that he had developed a new stride, a cop walk, as he walked around their apartment in his new uniform, his polished badge gleaming, the weapon in his holster and nightstick by his side granting him officially licensed power. As a six foot three African American male with a chiseled frame that may as well have been armor, Curtis was used to being considered intimidating. But in his new wardrobe, in his new professional capacity, with his new "cop walk", a layer of respect had been applied to the apprehension he naturally evoked. And Curtis was reveling in it.


*   *   *   *   *


Leonard took a glance at his watch. It was just closing time. The young man headed towards him held a bag of cashews that would be the final sale of Leonard's first day as an entrepreneur. A dollar bill, the first one earned, was taped to the wall behind him. He intended to bring in a picture frame for it tomorrow.


The approaching customer had tightly braided hair, like Latrell Spreewell of the New York Knicks. Now that he was on the short track to affluence, Leonard was considering whether to loosen his purse strings for the opportunity to become a season ticket holder. It would be a well-deserved reward for a life-time of industriousness.


"Will that be all, young man?"

*   *   *   *   *

"No sir," answered Marshall in a near whisper. He cleared his throat to properly enunciate his demand. "I also want you to hand over all of your money."


"What?" Not wishing to confuse, Marshall removed the gun in his waistband and pointed its barrel towards the grocer. From this point on he was certain that his intentions would be perfectly clear, questions unnecessary.


"I see," said the man behind the counter in a voice that taunted with its calmness. Although Marshall was the one calling the shots, the one in possession of the deadly weapon, he had never been more frightened in his life.


"Take it easy, son. I'll give you whatever you want. Just take a deep breath and gather yourself. There's no reason for anybody to get hurt."


Marshal looked down and saw what the grocer had seen, that his hand was shaking uncontrollably, not a good sign when one of its fingers was on a trigger. He felt a trickle of sweat sliding down his temple, even though it was comfortably cool in the grocery store. This show of fear shamed him. He half expected the grocer to laugh at his amateurish behavior. If he did, it would be his final act, for Marshall would not tolerate being ridiculed. He had entered this store with the intention of committing a neat and efficient armed robbery that would solve all of his problems. Now he just wanted this terrifying ordeal to be over with, one way or another.


"May I ask you something?" asked Leonard as he gathered together the bills in his cash register. "I don't wish to offend, but don't you want to do something meaningful with your life? Don't you want to contribute to society instead of leeching off of it? Because the truth is, all you're doing is digging a hole with bad choices to bury yourself in. Is that what you want?"


"I just want some medicine for my mom," Marshall said, desperate to resume command of a situation that seemed to have a mind of its own, to accomplish the goal he had set for himself, to stem the blinding tears that the grocer's questions had unleashed, and to convey to this man that he was not a bad person, appearances to the contrary, that his trembling hand had been forced by events beyond his control. "I can't afford to worry about that other stuff right now. I can't afford nothing but that medicine, and with the money in your register, I can get it. I didn't dig this hole. I was born in it. Now I'm trying to climb out, cause my mom can't survive in a hole much longer. Do you understand?"


"Yes, I think I do."


*   *   *   *   *


Officer Curtis Mason, hotshot rookie cop eagerly anticipating his first opportunity to combat evil in any form he saw it perpetrated, strode through the door of a neighborhood grocery store. There he came across an unexpected sight that caused him to hesitate, but only for the briefest of moments. As an officer of the law, Curtis was trained to react swiftly and decisively, even when taken by surprise, especially then. His hand whipped instinctively towards his holster, like a cat stretching forth its claws as a mouse ran by.
A boy was hunched over the counter, his braided head cradled in his arms, shaking and sniffling in a manner that suggested he was crying. One of his hands was clenching a large wad of cash, which in of itself was suspicious. On the opposite side of the counter, the store's proprietor was reaching behind his back, putting an object into his pants pocket, out of sight. Perhaps a wallet. Perhaps not.


"Everything okay in here?" Curtis asked.


"Put your money away, son," the merchant said. "Our transaction is concluded. We've both gotten through the day. We can both start over tomorrow."


Curtis lowered his empty gun hand back to a relaxed position, placated by the voice of the grocer who simultaneously answered the police officer's question and reassured the young man who was leaving the store with a look of wonderment in his eyes.



"Everything is just fine."

                                THE END


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