Tuesday, December 26, 2017

GoofBoy of Winter Breaks Past...

GoofBoy is now a teenager. I am teaching him to drive. I know teenagers can be awful, but I've got two of them and so far they are not. They have always been wonderful children, and continue to be.

They are so sweet and good-natured that I worry a bit about the cold harsh world. But they aren't fools, they know that most children don't have the comforts and opportunities that they enjoy.

Here is a little story about GoofBoy from a winter break several years ago.

We went to our neighborhood Dunkin' Donuts for coffee and donuts, because coffee and donuts are great on a winter day. (I like Starbucks, but for a simple cup of coffee, DD hits the spot.)

A group of guys (not so young) were hanging out chatting - weather was a big topic. I joined in, this and that. (GoofBoy enjoys seeing me interact with adults - maybe because I do it so rarely. I remember him choosing to join me as I caught up with an old friend on a trip to Boston. He enjoyed watching us reminisce. On our trips to LA, he would constantly ask when we would go see some of my friends out there.)

After a while, their conversation wound down. One of them however stuck around. He explained that he was a bus driver for the county schools, so he was off work for the week. His daughter worked at DD, so he could hang out with her (and presumably enjoy free coffee and donuts - hope GoofBoy got an idea...)

He asked me my thoughts on a recent county school policy. Since GoofBoy is a private school, I don't know much about these things, but we chatted about that for a bit. Then we headed out. As we walked back to the car GoofBoy observed: 

"Dad, that was really interesting."

"We were just chatting. Small talk," I answered.

"But it was interesting. And you know, I really appreciate the bus drivers and how hard they work to keep us safe. Whenever we go on a school trip, I make sure to thank the drivers."

I can't say don't ever change GoofBoy - because life is change. But don't lose that unaffected kindness.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

The Ballad of the Boy Who Never Wrote Home

GoofBoy was away for eight weeks this summer. He wrote to us once. I wrote to him regularly. When I didn't hear from him, I began to chide him in a literary way - turning, for the first time in decades, to poetry.

The Ballad of the Boy Who Never Wrote Home

All because the boy did not write
Momma frets: Was he eaten by a bear
Father scoffs: No need to take fright
My bet, he’s fallen for the girl with pink hair

Momma worries he was struck by lightning
Grown so tall, the bolt must strike
That much height would be frightening
Father scowls: he’s just out on an extra long hike

Momma rejoins: Then he must be lost
In the deep dark Berkshire wood
Father asks: how much does this camp cost?
Still, pick up a pen, he should…

And then Father too begins to worry
What if boy became Sasquatch
As he’d sit eating take-out Thai curry
With endless nature documentaries to watch

Mother says: He fell off a mountain
You know he’s afraid of heights
Can’t we just finish this episode of Downton
Father moans, one Thursday night

Then father reads about Cthulu’s comeback
And worries the boy’s soul was eaten
He secretly prepares his rescue pack
With potent spells to give demons a beaten

He doesn’t breathe a word to his wife
As he prepares for his secret mission
But deep under piles he grasps a knife
Of wrought silver made by magic fission

I’m going to a conference he tells Momma
She rolls her eyes, and doesn’t ask
From home he drives till he meets a llama
It says, I’ll be your guide but you must do a task

Oh great, father says, a must-do chore
Do you want to rescue boy
From the pit of Cthulu gore
The llama asked, being coy

Fine, fine, I’ll do it, whatever you need
Great, just install my back-top router
For I haven’t hands, then we can go with speed
The llama said excited, louder

The wires plugged, the passwords set
The duo took a trail to deep dark
Father scared reached out to pet
Llama roared: I’m no puppy at the park

Sorry, I’m frightened in all this gloom
Father confessed with shame
But I sense in facing Cthulu my doom
Llama snapped: Don’t speak his name

We aren’t getting along very well
Father said to his camelid guide
Perhaps if you were silent a spell
And so they trudged on, side-by-side

As they were schlepping a worry came to Momma
He’s been gone too long, I just know
He found on the trail that talking llama
Hey GoofGirl, we have to go

GoofGirl was pleased, she had go-bags ready
Loaded with rations, band-aids and ammo
Loading the car, that girl was steady
Before she left, she put on camo

Neither GPS nor Google Maps knew
The location they needed
Home of arch-demon Cthulu
Were greatest evil is seeded

Father and llama travelled long and far
Through deserts searing and swamps dank
And jungles like walls of green tar
Though the llama was fair, Father stank

As they travelled Father thought and thought
About his boy and his terrible fate
That DEMOM that DEMON must be fought
Oh hurry for we could be too late

An upside-down castle with walls of coal
Stood before them, grim
In they went, creeping they stole
In search of the boy, in search of him

Within a vast hall, a gleaming black
The demon was found, great
Tentacled, his maw a gaping crack
Father took his silver knife to meet his fate

Fighting demons takes practice and skill
Before he could move Father
Was grabbed and held until
Llama charged and spat, a surprising bother

Released, Father scampered to escape
But was blocked by demonic bulk
Llama nonplussed, simply changed shape
To a bat and flew off, leaving Father to sulk

Then his cell phone buzzed, alive with a text
But Father did not know what do next
He was busy looking for places to hide

Then Cthulu jumped and ran from the gate
And Father sprinted out free and clear
Passing GoofGirl who in a ready state
Nerf guns in each hand, eyes without fear

I shot its big butt, she cried, I think
Demon anatomy is kind of weird
It’s hot, here’s some water to drink
Father glugged it, drenching his beard

Can we go, Momma called, in a hurry
He’ll be back and furious
Then cook us in a hellish curry
Let’s leave now, don’t be curious

They got in the car and Momma said
You drive back, since we saved your butt
And Father drove home from the land of the dead

It wasn’t too bad, he knew a shortcut

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Leopard Detective: Predator or Prey, Chapter 4 - The Scarring Conclusion

“Where are you going now?” I asked.

“You know about shiva, Jewish mourning?” Detective Franklin answered.

“Of course. But isn’t the house still a crime scene?”

“Yes. Friends up the street are hosting. I’m going to go. I doubt there will be leads, but the family will appreciate it.”

“You can take me with you. I know a path back to the forest and we can talk about the case.”

It was true there was a path from their home to Rock Creek Park. But I wanted to visit the home myself.

On the drive we discussed the case. There was a strange shell company, no one could figure out what it was doing. The FBI has been brought in. But a secret about murder police, they don’t really care about why, they really just want to know who. They had produced a sketch based on my description and distributed to airports, police departments, and the intelligence community. With his distinctive scar, the suspect probably could not leave the country without being detected, although he could leave the area. But we knew nothing about him except that maybe he was Russian.

When we arrived, I slipped out of the car and carefully made my way among shadows, moving unseen. Scar man must do the same.

I arrived at crime scene. The entrances were blocked by police tape, but I climbed a tree and slipped in an open upstairs window. I wandered through the empty house. I smelled Goldman, his wife, each of the daughters. Downstairs, some others, frequent visitors. In Goldman’s office, his smell was very strong. The odors of his fear and blood were still strong. But there was another scent. I found the smell of a man, very different, but still a man. I could sense his pheromones too. He is a natural predator, like me. Nonetheless, at the moment of the kill the body releases strong scents. They were present. On a whim, I sniffed the file cabinet. It appeared undisturbed, but the man with the scar had looked into it. The scar-man’s scent was accompanied by something else. Something strange, but I had smelled it before.

I left the house and, still keeping to the shadows, made my way to Rock Creek Park. Scar-man also hides in shadows, never fully seen, even in plain sight. I didn’t have long to find him. Soon he would fade into the shadows completely. In the woods I found my tree and sat. Raccoons or some other scavenger had finished my deer. I was sated and had no time to hunt. I slept for a time and waited for nightfall.

Thanks for the image pixabay.com
I moved south and east, remembering where I’d encountered the smell before. I came out of the park on the east, north of the zoo. It was late. My instinct was guiding me, I can see the world in terms of space and smell. Then, someone walking nearby had the scent. It was dark so I could not see them, but from the sound of his walk I could sense he was wearing flowing robes – a priest. I smelled the odor faintly and followed it and found myself before a Russian Orthodox Church. So that was the distinct odor, the incense used in church services. What better shadow for scar-man to conceal himself?

The doors of the church are always open. I slipped silently through a side door. The church was dark and silent, but I could smell him. Great cats have the ability to make infrasound. That is noise below the range of human hearing. My phone is set to respond to commands at that frequency. I instructed texts be sent with my location to all of my contacts in the police department. They should arrive in a few moments.

Electronics make sounds at a frequency to high for the human ear. I heard one and began skulking towards it. I wanted to come close and take him when I heard the police close by. To kill him would have been easy, but it would not have served justice, nor would it have brought satisfaction to Goldman’s family. And Franklin would not be able to pay me without an arrest. I did need the money, I wanted to visit my home soon.

Predators are deadly prey. I moved soundlessly, but somehow the man with the scar knew I was there. No human would have heard him slide his gun from his coat pocket. But I heard it.

“Show yourself, and you may live,” he called out. His voice wicked thunder in the silent, empty church.

His gun was out and he was facing me. I gave an infrasonic roar. Inaudible to humans, it can stun prey. But scar man was no prey. I heard the safety go off on his pistol. I roared. But I threw my roar so bouncing off of the wall, it sounded like it came from his right.

As he turned, my muscles tensed and I leapt. I landed on him with my full force. He went down hard on his right side. The gun hand slamming hard on the stone floor, but not letting go. I placed my paw over his hand and unsheathed my claws. I would not kill him, but I would not hesitate to draw blood. He struggled, and he was very strong. But I weigh nearly as much as a man and he could not move. Of course, to kill him would have been easy – a nip of my jaw on his soft throat - and I had to fight myself not to do it.

I heard a car pull up and stop. Light footsteps outside, Detective Nguyen. The door opened and then the beam of a flashlight.

“Over here,” I called softly. In a minute scar man was handcuffed. On encountering me for the first time, people are generally paralyzed with fear and confusion. Scar-man was not.

Another car outside.

“Here comes Franklin,” Nguyen said, laughing a bit to herself.

“I must go,” I said abruptly. Franklin would ask how I knew where to look, I did not wish to tell him. To Nguyen I continued, “Check the file cabinet, even the inside, in Goldman’s office for prints. I expect you will find them.”

Then I slipped into the night and through the silent streets that were, for
now, almost home.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Leopard Detective: Predator or Prey, Chapter 3

I write my kids stories while they are away at camp. I've written about sushi eating contests to save the world and a super-secret Coast Guard nuclear submarine icebreaker. This summer, I wrote to them about a talking leopard that solves mysteries. If you are just joining us, you should really start here.

After my investigation the police released the corpse to the family, who, in the tradition of their faith, sought to have the body buried the next day. Detectives usually attend the funerals of murder victims. The murderer often makes an appearance. I doubted this would be the case. Scar-man was too canny for that. He was not a typical killer. So many murderers are the product of weakness and miscalculation. Not scar-man, he was careful, plotting killer. In a sense, perhaps he was like me.

Detective Franklin allowed me to sleep in the back of his car; carefully covered. He made inquiries related to the investigation. He also picked up a pair of steaks, which I devoured in the back seat of his car. Then we drove to the cemetery. I did not expect to gather evidence. But, after my “investigation” the person, the victim, the deceased, is in my head. They haunt me, and will do so for the rest of my life. The funeral brings me some relief and comfort.

When we arrived, I discretely slipped out of his car. I have been to most cemeteries around Washington now, and knew a route where I would not be spotted. As I made my way, slowly and silently to a tree from which I could hear the proceedings, I was surprised. A little girl was wedged in my path sobbing. I should have smelled and heard her from a great distance, but my own senses were confused, with the deceased’s essence still strong within me.

She sensed me and looked up, her red, wet eyes suddenly huge and alarmed. It was the youngest daughter, my heart swelled with sadness and love. I did something I rarely did, I spoke to someone I did not know well.

“Little one. You should be with your family. They need you and you need them.”

“What…” she began. This could not go on for long. They would come looking for her and she would come to her senses. I thought fast.

“Your father sent me to look after you. I know how must feel. I know that you are sad and miss him. Let me give you gift, something very few people have received. It will give you strength, but you must promise not to speak of this ever.”

“Will you eat me?” she asked in a tiny frightened voice.

Pictures courtesy of pixabay.com
I laughed, “Little one, if I were going to eat, the deed would have already been done. Fear not. Put your arms around my neck.”

She moved tentatively and embraced me. I began to purr. Great cats purr for many reasons, one is to calm prey within their clutches. It helps them meet their fate. It had the intended effect. I felt her arms soften, but her back became straighter.

“Now, little one. You must hurry back to your family. They have lost one beloved and are beginning to worry about you. Do not bring them greater worry; bring them strength. Whenever you need it, you can borrow strength from me.”

She released me, stepped back, and asked, "Are you Aslan?"

"No," I chuckled. "Aslan is a lion. I am covered in spots. Aslan is from Narnia, while I am from India." I could not lie to her and tell her that I am real and Aslan is not, for I am not certain of this. And I could not tell her that Aslan is a god and that I am not, because here too, I am not certain.

She turned away and walked back to the funeral, not skipping, but with a new confidence.

I made my way to my secluded spot and listened. It was about what would be expected.

Detective Franklin waited until everyone was gone so that I could make my way back to his car. As we drove I asked how the investigation was progressing, had they identified the man with the scar?

“That’s the amazing thing Spots,” Franklin said. “Everyone in the meeting you told me about remembers the man with the scar. But no one knows who he is. Everyone told me to ask someone else.”

Monday, July 24, 2017

Leopard Detective: Predator or Prey, Chapter 2

Today I present part 2 of Leopard Detective, the story I wrote the little Goofs while they were away at summer camp. You can read part one here!

Alone in the morgue with the fresh corpse of David Goldman, I knew what I had to do. But I hesitated. Mohammed had prepared the body as necessary. My “procedures” made quite a mess. Mohammed had mastered the art of both preparing the body for me and, when necessary, making it presentable after I was finished.

I read the search results on my phone. Goldman was typical in some ways, different in others. He had held jobs in the government and was an international trade lawyer. Happily married with three daughters, he did a fair bit of pro bono legal work. He had an autistic brother and volunteered to work with autistic children. A remarkable life in many ways: but not even a hint as to why he would be murdered.

I went close to the corpse and nuzzled, smelling deeply. There was the acrid smell of gunpowder, the metallic dried blood, and his own pheromones of fear and shock. I smelled people, several women – not strong, but present – the wife and daughters, and there was another person, very faintly.

There was nothing for it. I could delay no more. People see what I do as horrible and disgusting. The physical act, for me, is normal. I am a predator, devouring
the edible part of my prey is what I do. My hesitation comes from the aftermath. As I lifted my head from Goldman’s skull his entire life flashed before my eyes. There was his wife in a swimsuit at a beach, her hair wet, laughing, and slowly fusing with Botticelli’s Venus. Then his daughters were mobbing him on the couch and tickling him. Then his brother, as a teenager, smiled, pointed, and said, “My brother!”

I stumbled a bit, but landed on my feet. I am a great cat. Then I lay on the floor and let the life of David Goldman pass through me. Moments of great joy: his wedding and his children. And there were also moments of tremendous sadness, the recent death of his parents – and of his brother years ago. It is this that I cannot bear, why I hate what I must do. But it also moves me, for I now know this life and want to punish whoever ended it.

A life does not flow before me in any sort of order. But I caught a glimpse of the end and let it wash over me. He was at his desk. The family was away. A man came in, he was startled, but recognized him – barely. The man had a scar on his right cheek, somehow it fascinated and froze him – an evil eye. Goldman was surprised, could not move. The man asked, a pronounced Russian accent, “The shell corporation? You can overlook this?”

Goldman, stammered, “No, I really cannot.”

The man with the scar said, “You are an ethical man?”

Goldman, frozen and focused on the scar, nodded.

“I’m sorry,” the man said. Then the gun appeared. There was a blast, a sharp pain, and then darkness.

I was not done. I turned the memory around. He recognized the man with the scar. A big meeting a few days before at his law firm. He had called it, an anomaly, something was wrong. There was some sort of shell company that should not be there. From his memories I could not grasp the ins and outs. It was a Norwegian fishing conglomerate. He knew most of the people in the room, some well, others only a bit. He reported the finding and everyone agreed it was unacceptable and would have to be addressed before the deal could proceed. The man with the scar sat in the back, saying nothing. He wore the same things in both memories, a Navy blue suit and a light gray shirt, no tie. Goldman only noted that he seemed different from everyone else, apart. He meant to ask secretary to find out who he was, but he forgot. His eyes kept wandering to the scar.

That was everything. I sat, maybe for a few minutes, maybe for hours. Memories move outside of time, as I digested his life. I cannot shed tears, but I wished that I could.

Finally, when I was ready, I spoke to my phone, “Text Detective-Sergeant: You may come in.”

When they returned, Mohammed went to the body and began to prepare it for the funeral – restoring Goldman to the man his friends and family loved. I told Franklin and Nguyen everything I had learned. I did not mention the scent.