Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Miss the Old P.I. Serials? Episodes 1 & 2 Meet Greyson Sloane



The Wakeup Call

In my line of work, waking up before ten is an occupational hazard. My workday runs late. And at the end of the day I’m just like any other palooka. I end up in a gin mill drinkin’ bourbon and chasin’ dames.
I’m a shamus. Sloane’s the name. Greyson Sloane. And today started earlier than most days—before ten. I hears this ringing like. I thought it was a dream, but it’s the blower. I never invested in one o’ them fancy answerin’ gizmos. Not for this flop anyways. I dropped a bundle on one for the office. Sometimes Arlene is late too. But not today. I reaches over and grabs the phone.
“What’s shakin’, Kiddo?”
     “Get up Greyson. I just got a call.”
     “It’s ain’t one o’ my ex-wives, is it? I told you to say I was outta town.”
     “No, not your ex-wives. You’ve got a case.”
     “Aw c’mon on, Arlene. It ain’t even nine yet.”
     “Listen, dude. You haven’t paid me in three weeks and I got rent.”
     “I thought you’da got an inkling by now.”
“C’mon, Greyson. This sounds like real money. Up and at ‘em.”
Arlene was a great gal. A little bossy sometimes, but a good secretary. And she works cheap. A good thing in my business. When I found her she was a hoofer down at the corner joint. She had the gams for it and a great chassis to boot. But the joint was a dive. Served rotgut hooch. No place for a nice kid like her.
Arlene was right. I ain’t had a moneymaker for a month or so. And tailin’ gold-diggers and wayward wives ain’t payin’ the bills. So I crawls into the shower to sober up. An hour later, I walks into the office.

“Well it’s about time. You look like hell, Greyson,” she says.
I toss my fedora on the coat rack and loosen my tie. 
     “Everything’s copacetic. How about a cup of joe?” I says.
“Joe? … You mean coffee?”
“Yeah, you know. Java.”
Why do you talk like that?”
“Why do I talk like what?”
“Never mind. I think you read too many pulp mysteries when you were a kid.”
“So what’s so important you gotta get me up so early?”
      “You have an appointment in one hour. A Mister Wexler called. Seems he needs someone discrete. Why he called you, I’ll never know.”
      “Whaddaya kiddin’? I’m discrete. Usually. What’s it about?”
      “Dunno. He didn’t say. He just said if you want the job, be at this address by eleven o’clock. Says he’ll pay top dollar.”
      Top dollar. That sounds just about right. Arlene hands me a piece of paper. On it is an address. North Charles St. Baltimore.
      “I know where this is. Wexler, you say?”
      “Yeah. That’s right.”
      “Why does that sound familiar? Eh, it’ll come to me. Hey Arlene, lend me a couple o’ simoleans, will ya? I’m low on petrol.”

If I had any doubts about this new client, they took a hike when I steps in his office. I walks up to the receptionist. The bird was a real looker; long blonde hair, big blue eyes and nice bubs.
      “May I help you, sir?”
      I push my fedora back on my head. “Yeah, Doll. Name’s Sloane. Greyson Sloane. I got an appointment with Mister—”
      “Just a moment, Mister Sloane. Mister Wexler is expecting you.”
      That don’t happen much. I ain’t used to folks expectin’ me. The skirt picks up the blower and a minute later says, “Mister Wexler will see you now. If you’ll please follow me.”
      She sashays down the hall with me in tow and gives me a good gander. She stops at this big oak door, see? Then she turns and gives me the once over. She bats those baby-blues and holds the door open.
      “This way, Mis-ter Sloane.”
      “Thanks Doll.”
      “You’re welcome … Mis-ter Sloane. Why don’t you stop and see me on your way out.”
      She turns and heads back to her desk with a little extra sashay in her caboose.
I smiles to myself and walks into this office. At least I think it was an office. It was flashy, like one o’ them swanky houses you see in those high-hat magazines. Across the room there’s this new fangled Hi-Def big screen and all the gizmos that go with it. Satellite tuner, DVR … and these huge speakers you could hide a stiff in. To the left of that was a bar that was ten feet if it was an inch. There was more booze than I’d seen in a long time. I stops to look around, then I hears this voice.     
     “Mister Sloane. Thank you for coming.”
     I turns and sees this suit standin’ behind me. A real Joe Brooks.


“You Wexler?”
     “Yes, Mister Sloane. I am Abraham Wexler. Please … have a seat.” He motions to the bar. I didn’t see a desk anywhere.
     “Care for a drink, Mister Sloane?”
     My head was still poundin’ from last night. A little hair of the dog might help, but I think it better I don’t mix business and pleasure. Except maybe for the secretary.
     “Maybe another time.”
“Let me get straight to the point then,” he says. “I have a problem. And I don’t want the police involved.”
     “Well then,” I says. “That’s the rub, ain’t it?”
“Yes. That’s ‘the rub,’ as you say. Harris Hastings, my ex-partner, hired you a couple of years ago to handle a delicate situation. As I remember you did an excellent job.”
That’s when the lights came on. I remembered the Hastings case. He got spifficated one night and picked up a quiff for some quick nookie. She took him to some fleabag motel. He passed out and she hightailed it with his wallet. When she realized who he was she tried to blackmail him; said she’d tell his wife. She sent some small-time hood for the pick up. The bimbo knock Hastings around some for kicks. Hastings hired me to find her. Took me two days to locate her. She disappeared a week later. The cops found the hood facedown in the Patapsco. Fished him from the Inner Harbor near the USS Constellation.   
“Now I know you,” I says. “You own that food chain. H&W Groceries, right?”
“Yes, that’s right, Mister Sloane. Hasting disappeared last year under … suspicious circumstances, shall we say?”
Wexler takes off his cheaters, cleans ‘em with his hanky and put’s ‘em back on. After dabbin’ his receding hairline, he stuffs the mop back in his pocket. He sweat a lot for a man in an air-conditioned room.
“Now I own it all. And that brings me to the subject at hand.”
“I’m all ears, Mister Wexler.”
“Someone is out to destroy me.” 

Twenty minutes later, we pulls up to one o’ his stores. The parkin’ lot is empty and there’s no customers. The place is a ghost town. He unlocks the doors and I follows him to a food aisle. We turns the corner. There, on the floor, are Kix and Cheerios, Wheaties and Captain Crunch; crushed on the green and white linoleum tiles; their boxes torn to shreds. I picks up an empty Rice Krispies box by the top flap real careful like. I sees diagonal slashes made by a machete maybe. All the boxes have the same gashes; their contents spilled across the floor.
     “What gives?” I says.
     “That’s what I’ve hired you to find out, Mister Sloane.”
     I drops the box and reaches for the Winstons in my vest pocket. Flipping a butt from the pack, I strikes the Zippo. It ain’t got no fluid so I use a match. I look at Wexler and says, “You find anything else like this? Can goods? Produce? Frozen foods?” I shakes the match ‘til it goes out.
     “No. The rest of the store is untouched. The manager found it like this when he opened up this morning. And you know there’s a law against smoking indoors, Mister Sloane.”
     I push my fedora back, takes another drag and looks him in the eye. “Anybody got a beef with you, Mister Wexler?”
     “A what?”
     “A beef. You know. A problem? A disagreement?”
     “Ah, yes. Hastings said you had a colorful way of speaking. Everyone has enemies, Mister Sloane. But no, not to my knowledge.”
     “So why hire a private dick? Why not just call the cops?”
     “Let’s just say I’d prefer to handle it quietly.”
     I give Wexler the eye. He’s givin’ me the run-around and I know it. But about what? What could give this egg the heebie-jeebies? He’s got more dough then First National. I decides I gotta press him.
     “Okay Mister Wexler. But before I take this case, you gotta’ level with me. Other than costin’ you a couple o’ clams to replace the stock, how’s this hurt you?”
     Wexler started shiftin’ back and forth kinda jumpy like. He pulls his hanky and wipes his forehead again. “This happened in three other stores. This is the fourth. You’ve got to find the person responsible or I’ll be ruined. Customers will shop elsewhere out of fear. Suppliers will stop doing business with me before they too, become targets. If I involve the police, it’ll get out to the newspapers. Then everyone will know. I can’t risk it.”
     It suddenly dawns on me what he was sayin’. I’ve seen cases like this before, but this was gonna be a tough one. And dangerous. But I need the money. So in spite of the danger I take the case. My gut tells me there’s more to this than meets the eye. More than just some crushed Coco Krispies. And whoever this is … he ain’t your average cereal killer. 


The Setup

Before we leave the store, I decides to do some snoopin’. I sees security cameras. I ask Wexler for the film to keep him busy. While he’s gone, I walks around, see? I do that to think things out. Ain’t nothin’ else in the store been touched. Just the cereal. If somebody’s tryin’ to put him outta business, they’da torched the whole place and been done with it. Why just the cereal?   
     Wexler catches up to me in the seafood section. “Mister Sloane,” he says. “Here are the security tapes you wanted.”
     “Thanks,” I says. I picks up one o’ them store fliers from the rack and opens it. I take the films and wraps ‘em in the paper so I don’t get my prints on ’em. Wexler’s expression ain’t what it oughta be. He ain’t askin’ no questions, like if I think the film’ll be any use. Like he already knows. Wexler ain’t levelin’ with me. That excuse he gave me for not callin’ the cops is baloney. I know a line when I hear one. Somethin’s fishy, and it ain’t the Halibut.

I ain’t never been in a limo much. Counting the trips to and from the crime scene, this makes two. We goes up to Wexler’s office to seal the deal. I’da taken a handshake, but I wanted my usual week-in-advance. Three-hundred a day plus expenses. Cash on the barrel. I steps into the elevator and press the Lobby button. Half-hour later I walks into my office.
     “Hi, Doll. Ain’t it past your quittin’ time?”
     “I was waiting for you. And would you please stop calling me ‘Doll.’”
     “Okay … okay. When you turn into such a Deb anyway? Look, here’s some dough. Go pay your rent.”
     “Thanks. So, what’s this about?”
     “The damnedest thing I ever saw, Arlene. Somebody’s breakin’ into Wexler’s stores and tearin’ up the cereal. Slashin’ boxes with a shiv. I can’t figure it.”
     “Maybe they’re looking for the free prize.”
     “Very funny. Listen, I gotta go and look at this film.”
“Video tapes, Greyson. They’re called video tapes.”
     “Yeah, yeah. Listen, I need you back tomorrow early, okay?”
     “You mean like, before ten early?”

Arlene heads home and I spends the night lookin’ at these “tapes.” Nothin’ moves. Then all of a sudden like, cereal’s all over the floor. Then I sees this gap in the time display between three-forty-five and four-thirty. That means somebody turned off the camera—but more ‘n that—they turned it back on again. And the film coverin’ the entrance is blank. I ain’t talking erased here. I’m talkin’ brand new … unused. I decides to see Wexler in the morning. I need some answers.

Wasn’t much sense goin’ home, so I sleeps on the couch. The next mornin’, the door creakin’ wakes me up.
     “Hey, Arlene.”
“Have you been here all night?”
“Ab-so-lute-ly. Listen, Doll. Take that film to O’Riley. Get her to dust ‘em for prints.”
“Why do you only go to her? You have a lot of buddies at the precinct.”
“So what’s the big deal?”
“It’s pretty obvious she has a thing for you.”
     “A what?”
     “A thing. You know … an infatuation?—oh, a crush … for God’s sake.”  
     “It ain’t like that with me an’ her, see? She’s a flatfoot. I’m a dick.”
     “You can say that again.”
     “Hey! … Whaddaya mean by that?”
     “Nothing, Greyson. But did it ever occur to you—”
     “I ain’t got time for this, Arlene. Go ahead, scram. I got work to do.”

I’m almost out the door when the phone rings. It’s Beulah, Wexler’s secretary.
     “Good morning, Mis-ter Sloane.”
     “Hey, Doll. What can I do for you?”
     “Plenty, I’m sure. But we can talk about that another time. Mister Wexler wants to speak to you. Just a minute, please.”
Wexler comes on the line and tells me another store was hit. He wants me to meet him there.

After checkin’ out the store, we heads back to Wexler’s office. I figure it’s the best place to get some answers. This new breakin’s got the same MO. Wexler gets me the security film, but I’m thinkin’ it’s the same like before. I decides to shake him down.
     “Tell me, Mister Wexler, who’s got access to the films?”
     “Only me. Why do you ask?”
     “Because one’s blank. The one pointin’ at the entrance. And there’s a new label on it. Not smudged up like the others. Can you explain that?”
     “I’m sorry, I can’t.”
     “Can’t? Or won’t.”
     “Mister Sloane, I don’t think I like your tone—”     
“Are you tellin’ me you spent a bundle on a security system only you control, but you can’t tell me why there’s a forty-five minute hole in the film that shows who this thug is?”
“No. I can’t. Now it you’re quite finis—”
     “You got alarm systems, right?”
     “Who monitors the stores?”

On the way out, Beulah stops me at the door.
     “I overheard your conversation with Mister Wexler. You don’t suspect him, do you? … Mis-ter Sloane?”
     I don’t get a chance to answer. She grabs my mitt, see? She puts a piece of paper in it, folded real pretty like. It smells like her. She closes my fingers so I don’t drop it. Then she gets an eyelash away from me and locks on those baby-blues.
“You know, Mis-ter Sloane. I’m not busy tonight.”

I gets back to the office and I’m thinkin’ about takin’ a little time for myself tonight. Arlene’s waitin’. I tell her Ace Security is e-mailin’ her the entry logs. I don’t know from nothin’ ‘bout computers. I leaves that to Arlene. She knows her onions. I tell her to keep an eye out.
     “So, what O’Riley say?”
     “She said she hasn’t heard from you in a while.” Arlene’s got this kinda grudge in her voice.
     “Not that. About the prints.”
     “There’s only one set.”
     “And I’d bet six-two-and-even they’re Wexler’s.”
     A couple o’ hours later, Arlene says she’s got the alarm logs. I looks ‘em over. There are three codes recorded: the day manager’s, the night manager’s, and Wexler’s. Except Wexler’s entries are in the middle of the night. Is it possible he don’t know about the entry logs? Or is he settin’ me up? I decides to get the inside scoop on Wexler. I picks up the blower.
     “Beulah? Hi, Doll. It’s Sloane. What time should I pick you up? Eight? Yeah. That’ll be swell.”

Later, I’m lookin’ over the second set o’ tapes and the phones rings. It’s Beulah.
     “Greyson, I’m still at work. I had to finish some last minute things. Can you pick me up here?”
     When I gets there, it’s about eight-ten. The whole buildin’s empty. I knocks on the door. Beulah opens it lookin’ like a million bucks. She leans in and gives me a peck on the cheek.
     “Come in, Greyson. I’m just finishing up. Can I make you a drink?”
     “Yeah, sure. You alone?”
     “Yes. Mister Wexler’s left for the evening. He and his wife are attending a charity dinner tonight. So, what do you like?”
     "Scotch’ll do.”
     She gives me a smile and says, “Follow me.”
We walks into Wexler’s office. I heads for the bar.
     “Oh, no Greyson,” she says. She’s got this little giggle in her voice, like she knows somethin’ I don’t. “That’s for suppliers. The good stuff is in here.”
     We walks through a door labeled “Private.” Then we steps into a small office. It’s got a couch, a big oak desk with a computer, and a full sized filing cabinet. She moves to a small bar and motions me over.
“What’ll it be?”
     “The malt looks good.”
     “On the rocks?”
     She pours me a drink, see? Then she cuddles real close like. “Make yourself comfortable, Greyson. I have to powder my nose.”
     I start nosin’ around a little. Figure I’d take the opportunity. I walks to the desk to see what I can see. The drawers are locked … except the top left. In it I finds insurance claims, police reports and deposit slips for millions to a numbered account in the Caymans; all signed by Wexler.
     Police reports? He said no police. What’s he tryin’ to pull? I hear Beulah comin’ back. I closes the drawer and hurries my keister to the sofa. She walks in wear nothin’ but big hoopy earrings and a smile. She pours herself a drink while I picks my jaw off the floor. Then she opens a door near the bar. Inside is the biggest bed I ever saw.
     “So,” she says, “what would you like to do tonight?”

Tomorrow - 
Episode 3 
The Warning

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Thank You to Our Veterans

What is a Veteran?

I am proud to be able to say that I am a Veteran. I served in the US Navy Reserves for nearly twelve years, flying aboard a P-3 Orion hunting down Russian subs during the Cold War. But no one was shooting at me like they are the Reserves and National Guard of today. Those folks are in the thick of it over there, so I place an asterisk beside the word “Veteran” when I associate it with my service.

To me, a real Veteran is someone who strapped on a helmet, grabbed an automatic weapon, and stood between my family and all those who would harm them.  Some real Veterans aren't even Veterans yet, as they continue to this day to stand vigil and protect us from some seriously evil bastards.

… and I thank God for them.

I remember a time in this country when, in a fit of national mass insanity, people spit on those in uniform. They jeered them and mocked them, and went out of their way to spew their venom. Criminals were treated better. I never understood why the very people our military folks protected would do such vile and heinous things. As soldiers, they were simply doing their duty, following their orders, and honoring their vow to “… defend The Constitution against all enemies….”

Fast-forward forty-five years. 9/11 changed all that. Men and women enlisted as they did in 1941. Sneak attacks on America really piss us off. They unite us, solidify us, and make us one. I am heartened to see that those shameful behaviors of the Viet Nam era are no more, replaced now by sincere standing ovations in airports and handshakes on the streets and choruses of “Thank You” in stores and restaurants and taverns. Veterans are revered now as they should be. The nod of a head, a wink, a smile, a simple wave from a stranger says so much more to those in uniform than the act itself, and it’s the Veteran whose heart smiles because of it.  

A few years back I read a piece written by a gal named Linda Ellis, a renowned poet. I didn’t know her at the time, but as Fate would have it, she and my wife Maggie were best friends in school. I met Linda this past summer, and on this Veteran’s Day her poem came back to me. It brought me to tears when I read it then, so I asked her if I might use it here, on this Veteran’s Day, to honor those Vets and Vets-to-be on a day when all should pay homage.

 I think this says it best.

Mommy, What is a Veteran?

"Mommy, what is a veteran?"
my child asked in an innocent way
"and could you please explain to me
why we have a Veteran's Day?"

My mind searched for the adjectives
that might help me clarify
those people, who for their country
have looked death in the eye.

I quickly grabbed the dictionary
to see what Webster may have used
but "one who served in the armed forces"
were not the words that I would choose.

But, how do you describe a veteran —
soldiers you have never met,
those you'll never know the names of
and yet ... never will forget?

How do you describe a veteran?
How do you convey a definition
for those who brought this country's dreams
to their ultimate fruition?

How do you describe a veteran —
strangers who fought for you,
men and women who risked their lives
for people they never knew?

How do you describe a veteran 
and the sacrifices they made
so that you and your children's children
could live free ... and unafraid?

How do you describe a veteran
for a child's sake?
You say "a veteran is a person to whom
we owe every breath we take."

If you’re lucky enough to encounter a Veteran or active duty military member, tell them Thank You!
… Then buy ‘em a beer.
They, above all, have earned it.

With great reverence, Happy Veteran’s Day to all who fought, and all who fight.

Stay safe.

Mommy, What is a Veteran? Copyright 1998 by Linda Ellis
Reprinted here with consent of author.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014


Maggie thought I should post this because its a through-provoking Halloween story I wrote a couple years ago.

Let me know if you enjoy it, or if it scares the living shit out of you.


Tony DeNelli had nothing against Halloween—for the little ones. He enjoyed seeing the neighborhood kids in their costumes and chatting with the neighbors over a beer. But when his only teenage daughter, Heather, announced that she and her friends intended to Trick-or-Treat again this year, Tony got a minor case of the ass.
“You ain’t no kid no more. You and your friends are too old for Trick-or-Treat and all you’re gonna do is get in trouble.”
But his objection was overruled by Heather’s mother, so Tony conceded the outing but little else. Two days later, when Halloween rolled around, Tony treated it like any other night. He was one to catch a couple hours sleep before going in on the evening shift, so that’s what he did Halloween evening.
When he awoke, he felt restless, anxious, and stepping into the kitchen, found Heather dressed in her costume.
Tony did not like what he saw.
            His wife Connie spoke first, knowing the signs. “How’d you sleep?”
            “Not worth a shit.” Then he gestured to Heather’s costume with a dark look. “What the hell is this?”
“This is my costume, Daddy,” Heather beamed. “Like it?”
“A little too grown up for a fourteen-year-old girl, don’t you think?”                                              
The sparkle in Heather’s eyes dimmed with her smile. “I’m old enough,” she resisted.
Anyone who knew Tony, knew what was coming next.
“You’re old enough when I say you’re old enough, which you ain’t yet. Go change.
I'll let you go out, but you ain’t goin’ out dressed like that.”
Heather’s faced stretched as her eyes widened and her jaw dropped.    
Wha—? Why? Why not?
“Because I said so, that’s why not.”         
“But Daddy…”                  
“Tony, it’s just a costume.”                                 
“She looks like a slut, Connie, and she ain’t goin’ out lookin’ like that.”                     
“But Daddy, all my friends—”     
“I don’t care what your friends do. Now, if you wanna to go trick or treatin’, change into something more presentable for a fourteen year-old girl or you can’t go. You will not leave this house lookin’ like that.”
Heather stormed out making all the disgruntled noises that teenage girls make when they can’t get their way and stomped up the stairs to her room.
“Tony, really.” Connie said. “Don’t you think you’re going just a little overboard? I mean she’s growing up. She just wants to be like everybody else her age. Jennifer is going as a sexy nurse. It’s no big deal.”
“What the hells-a-matter with you, Connie? Did you see that costume? She looks like a freaking hooker! Wearing a skirt up to her crotch with her ass cheeks hanging out.”                     
“She has short-shorts on underneath, Tony. Nothing showed.”
“Jesus Christ, Connie! I don’t care! That top was too low-cut for a girl built like her. Half of her was bulgin’ out. She’s fourteen, for Christ’s sake, not twenty-four. Do you know what dressing like that says to boys? To men?”
Connie’s tone hardened. “No, Tony, I don’t! Why don't you fill me in?”
“It says that she can be hadthat’s what it says.”        
“Oh for God’s sake. You’re such a Neanderthal. That kind of archaic thinking went out a long time ago.”
“You believe that, huh? What fucking planet did you come from? I don’t give a shit what them PC feminist bitches say. Men are men. Period! And if they see a woman—or a girl—dressed like her? You better believe they’re going to think she puts out!”
“I just think you’re being too strict.”
“Too strict? She wants to look like those half-naked women on those damn music videos. They all look like tramps! The revealing clothes and the grinding against each other, damn near havin’ sex right in front of everybody! I let her dye her hair blonde, didn’t I? She looks cheap, but I let her do it anyway … just to keep the peace.”
“I’m a blonde. You think I look cheap?”
“You’re a full-grown woman, capable of making good decisions. She’s a teenager who ain’t.”
Connie gave him a cross look. “Yeah … Well I’m beginning to wonder about that.”
“Don’t get wise. She ain’t goin’ out looking like no whore and that’s it.”
“Well?” Heather said, interrupting her parents as she ambled into the kitchen. “Is this okay?”
She had slipped into dark gray sweatpants and a light gray sweatshirt stained with “blood,” and painted trickles of blood at the corners of her mouth. She performed a pirouette, mocking her father’s overbearing and uninformed attitude. He let it slide.
“That’s better. Be home by nine-thirty.”
“Nine-thirty? But all my friends…”
“It’s a school night.”        
Jesus, Dad! Why can’t I just this once—”
“Do you want me to make it nine, young lady? Just keep arguing with me.”
Heather unleashed an exaggerated eye-roll expressing her displeasure with her father and turned on her heel. “Fine!” she snapped, and set off on the three-block walk to Jennifer’s house. “You always ruin my fun!” The door slammed behind her as she stormed out in a huff.
Tony glared through the door for a moment, debating whether he should drag her back considering her display of blatant disrespect. But he decided that would just make things worse. He let it go and turned to his wife.
“Look, Connie, I know you mean well, and it’s not her I don’t trust. She’s a great kid, except for the occasional backtalk.” He offered a withering smile. “It’s just that every time I turn on the TV or the radio, I hear about another young woman who disappeared, only to be found days later … dead. Some of those girls are in their twenties. What the hell does a fourteen-year-old know? Nothing! That’s what! She thinks life’s one big social event. She ain’t got the street smarts to avoid danger.”
“She just wants to have a little fun.”
“She can have all the fun she wants without drawing that kind of attention to herself. Most guys are civilized enough to let it go when they hear the word, ‘no.’ They ain’t the ones I worry about. There are animals out there that don’t bother to ask. They just take what they want. I ain’t havin’ my only daughter beaten and raped—or worse—‘cause of the way she’s dressed. And you know damn well I’m right.”
Okay! Okay! You’ve made you point! Can we just drop it?”    
“Yeah … sure.”                            
Connie’s expression softened. She stepped toward her husband, threw her arms around his thick neck, and gave him a hug. “I know you want to protect her, but she can’t live in a bubble. She has to experience life on her own terms. We did. She’ll be fine, ok? Now, since you didn’t sleep well, why don’t you lie down and take a nap before you go in. You’re grouchier than usual.”

Three hours later, Tony climbed from bed, washed his face, and decided he should have a little more faith in his daughter. He trotted downstairs feeling every bit the overbearing parent Connie thought he was. He walked into the kitchen and looked around, but didn't see his daughter.
“Where is she?” he said to Connie, suppressing a newfound anxiety. “It’s ten-thirty….”
“Oh, I’m sure she’s at Jen’s rooting through all their goodies. She should be home soon.”
Now Tony felt overbearing had its place. “Call her cell and tell her to get her ass home. She’s in big trouble.”
“Jesus, Tony.…”
Connie huffed a bit more, but this time, Tony didn’t budge. She picked up the wall phone in the kitchen and dialed a number. A few seconds later she hung up and dialed again.”
“What’s wrong?”
“It’s going directly to her voicemail. I told her not to turn off her—”
“Call Jennifer’s house.”                                                   
Connie, now teetering on the edge of panic, offered no argument. She dialed a new number.
“Hi, Sandy. This is Connie. Is Heather still there?”        
… A long pause.
“No, she’s not here. I… No. What time? Nine fifteen? And Heather wasn’t with her? Oh my God! No, no, Sandy. That’s. … No. Look, I’m sorry, I have to go.”
As Tony listened to his wife’s conversation with Jennifer’s mother, every muscle in his body tensed as if the weight of the world had just descended upon him. Connie hung up the phone, her face ashen. She looked up at Tony—the sudden fear in her eyes unmistakable. With her heart in her throat, she managed to force out the words.
“I think we better call the police.”

Two uniformed officers spent an hour questioning Tony and Connie as to Heather’s description, her dress, her plans, and her state of mind when she left. The officers glanced at one another when they found Tony and his daughter had argued before she left the house. Finishing their interview with Heather's folks, the two officers made a beeline to Jennifer’s house, and her parents.
They arrived to find a hysterical teenager, sitting on a kitchen chair in the middle of the living room, being interrogated by anxious red-faced parents on the edge. It was a scene right out of a noir novel. All that was missing was a glaring overhead bulb. The cops separated Jennifer from her worked-up parents, calming the scene. Then they took Jennifer aside.
“Tell us what happened, Miss.”
Jennifer settled herself enough to talk to the officers, now that her parents had deferred to the two cops. “She made me promise not to tell. She was mad at her father. She told me she would be home in time. We met these guys.…”
What guys?” her father bellowed.
“Please, Mr. Browning. Let us ask the questions, sir. Jennifer. Tell us about the guys you met.”
Jennifer bit a quivering lower lip. “We had just left my house … ten minutes, maybe. A car pulled up next to us and these guys asked us if we wanted to go to a party. Heather wanted to go, but I told her I didn’t think it was a good idea, but she said she was going with or without me and her father couldn’t tell her what to do anymore. I didn’t think she would really go without me, but she got in the car and they pulled off.”
Jennifer fell into hysterics as she continued to detail as much as she could remember about the guys and the car. When the cops got all they were going to get from her, they went back to Heather’s house to talk to her parents.

“Apparently, Mr. DeNelli, Heather accepted an invitation from several young men to go to a party. She wanted Jennifer to go, but Jennifer knew her father wouldn’t approve. So, Heather went by herself. Jennifer said Heather was angry with you. Did something happen here that we need to know about?”          
Two hours later, after Tony filled them in, the police left. Night turned into day. The police began combing the surrounding area at dawn, waiting only that long to begin the search in the expectation that the angry teenager would show up at home by then. Day turned to night, and back into day with no results. Several days passed before a knock came at the door.  
“Mr. and Mrs. DeNelli, I am Detective Burns. May I have a minute of your time?”
At the urging of the distressed parents, Burns stepped into the house and showed them a picture of a nearly naked young blonde woman, found just after sunup that morning. Her skimpy costume dress was gathered around her waist and her top lay in shreds beside her body. She had been raped and beaten beyond recognition, and dried blood ran down her neck from where her throat had been slit.
“I was hoping that you might be able to help us out. This costume…. Can you tell me if this is what your daughter wore that evening?”
Tony’s eyes devoured the photo. “No,” he said, denial weighing heavy in his answer. “She was wearing sweats. Not a costume like that. I would never let her go out wearing something like that.”
"We found sweat pants and a sweatshirt nearby."
Pain registered on Tony’s face as his heart leapt into his throat. He looked again, and recognized the costume he made Heather change out of. And as he conceded the similarity of this woman to his daughter, horror took him. He pulled the color 8 x 10 photo against his chest and began to sob.
“Couldn’t you at least have covered her up with something?” Tony cried. “Allowed her some dignity?”           
Detective Burns began to laugh, and enormous teeth lined a half-moon grin that distorted his face like a funhouse clown.
“Dignity? The way she’s dressed? Dignity? She looks like a whore! Just like you said she did! She got what she was asking for, and it’s your fault!
The cop began to shake Tony with all his strength, as if to shake some sense into him. “What kind of father are you?” He screamed, launching spittle from his mouth in flyaway strings. “What kind of father are you…. What kind of father—”
Then from somewhere distant, Connie’s voice floated in, layered atop the chaos.
“Honey? Honey? Are you okay?” she called, shaking her husband, trying to wake him.
Tony bolted upright, wide-eyed as his wife shook him. The sheets were soaked with his sweat and he was trembling. Dazed, he looked around, uncertain of where he was or what was happening.
“Tony? You all right, honey?”
“I … I ain’t sure.”
“You were having night terrors … calling out. And you were crying.”
       Tony wiped the tears from his face and swung his legs out of bed. Stumbling into the bathroom, he drenched his face in cold water. Then, he stared at the mirror and saw a terrified man. Slowly he began to realize it had all been a dream. He walked back into the bedroom and told his wife what little he could remember of his fading nightmare.
       “It was about Heather. Something … bad happened.”
"Honey, she's fine. She's in her room. Go see for yourself."
Tony peeked into Heather’s room to see his only daughter sound asleep, her teddy bear curled up tight in her arms.
He began to weep.

“Heather’s going out with Jennifer tonight, Tony.”        
“I don’t want her out too late.”
“She’ll be home on time. She’s a good kid.” Connie grinned at her husband. “Much better than you were at her age.”
At that moment, Heather popped into the kitchen. “I’m ready. I’m heading over to Jen’s.”
Tony took one look.
“You ain’t goin’ out dressed like that.”
“But Daddy…”
“No ‘buts’.”
“Tony, it’s just a costume.”
“She looks like a slut Connie and I ain’t lettin’ her go out like that.”                                          
“But Daddy, all my friends…”
“I don’t care what your friends do. Now, if you wanna to go trick or treatin’, change into something more presentable for a fourteen year-old girl or you can’t go. You ain’t leavin’ this house lookin’ like that.”
Heather stormed out making all the disgruntled noises that teenage girls make when they can’t get their way. She returned a few minutes later in gray sweats.
“Well?” Heather said as she reentered the kitchen. “Is this okay?”
“That’s much better. Be home by nine-thirty.”
“Nine-thirty? But everybody else…”
Something twisted Tony’s stomach, wringing it out like an old dishtowel, and foreboding cut him to his core. He looked at his wife, and the terror she saw in her husband’s eyes frightened her.

“On second thought,” he whispered, “I think I’m going with her.”

Treat or Treat,

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