Sunday, December 26, 2021

Past Deeds - Chapter 01

Read Past Deeds – Chapter 02

Short Story

My little girl turned 16 years old last week, away from the nest and my loving arms. God, I miss her. Today could not have come soon enough.

Angie was furious when I flagged her as an unaccompanied minor with the airline. What did she think I would do, cut her loose and walk away? It took every argument she could think of just to get me to agree to this trip in the first place.

“I haven’t seen my East Coast family since before the pandemic.”

“Nanny is turning 80 years old over the holiday break. You can’t travel anymore, but I need to be there.”

“You taught me how to be safe and take care of myself.”

It was the last one that got me. My daughter was right. I trained her well and knew she would be okay. Bad memories still haunt me, though.

“Okay,” I said. “You can go, but I’m going to get your ticket as a minor.”

Angie put up a short fight. “Dad!”

“No arguments. Direct flights both ways. I will bring you to the gate, then be there when the trip is over. Your uncle will meet you in La Guardia.” I thought she was steamed, but the little trickster knew exactly how to play me. Giving me that one little win kept my bruised ego in check.

Angie had a blast back East. I’ve been a wreck the entire time. Hopefully, when I get to the airport and see her face, these fears will go back to my nightmares where they belong. They’re safer in my head. No one gets hurt there. Besides, I deserve the nightmares.

The airport over the holidays is enough to put anyone on edge. Way too many travelers, most of them have no clue what to do. The parking garage is full, from the ground floor to the whatever-level-is-up-at-the-top level. The available space sign will never flash FULL, though. That’s because every clown takes their oversized SUV to the airport, and they can’t cram those boats in between the painted lines. Not anymore, not since our City Council created more parking. Bureaucrats had the lines repainted, using the selling point “this measure will increase the Wewa Falls Airport’s parking by 17.65%.” They even had a pretty slide showing the math that got them to 17.65%. A couple of kids taking high school geometry got a hold of the slide and added reality. Reworked planning factors, written over the top in red, calculated a decrease of -11.77% availability. Double underline. Final answer. Great.

Even my handicapped pass was useless until the ninth level. Come Christmas time, everyone is a cripple.

Everything gets worse when the contents of those obscene wagons spill into the airport terminal. Obscene families stumble through check-in kiosks and security checkpoints, fucking up every step of the way.

“How can my bag be oversized? It was fine when I packed it this morning.”

“Why do I have to take my shoes off?”

“Can we get a free upgrade to first class? It’s a special trip.”

Amateurs. It’s been 15 years since I last flew, but even I still know the rules. I want to grab every one of those fucks by the throat and tell them, “Put the cookies back in your pocket, get your asshole kids under control, and follow the god damn rules. You are not going anywhere unless you follow the god damn rules. And, you are holding up everyone behind you. Now move!”

I want to, but I don’t talk like that. Not anymore.

Somehow, I made it through without popping any blood vessels. My escort pass gets me through security and to the gate with plenty of time to spare. I don’t mind sitting here for 45 minutes. I would rather be early than miss greeting Angie at the gate. I bet she’s wearing that sweatshirt Uncle Billy got her for Christmas. It’s his alma mater – her college in a couple of years, I hope. Since she was a kid, Angie has wanted to follow in Uncle Billy’s footsteps. I hope she does. Don’t be like your dad, darling. Go into business. Don’t make the choices I did – you won’t want to build the stomach for it.

Will Angie be hungry after the long flight? I doubt my girl ate anything since breakfast – probably slept the whole way. I was going to bring snacks from home, but I’m glad I changed my mind. All I can think of is that clown munching on his Christmas cookies, holding everyone up at security. We could grab something at the food court. No. I just want to get out of this godforsaken hellhole. Besides, we still have Christmas gifts to open at home.

I pass the time by scrolling through the contact list on my phone. Overdue “Happy Holidays” texts to buddies make me nostalgic for the old days. I wonder if they’re retired as well? If not, some must be pretty high up in the organization by now. We don’t keep in contact — no one stays connected once they’re out. It’s better that way. I won’t get any responses, but it felt good to send the notes and pretend I’m still in the shit.

It is a true Christmas miracle when her plane pulls into the gate 10 minutes early. I don’t think my heart could’ve waited until the scheduled arrival. Weary travelers start to pour through the door. These were not your going somewhere travelers. They were coming home from their holiday visits. Of all the things I despised when I was active, sleeping in a strange bed was the worst. Nothing beats crawling under your own sheets and falling asleep on your perfectly molded pillow. These fellows are all in for a treat tonight.

Halfway through offloading, and there she is! The poor kid looks exhausted while she scans the gate area for me. I wave my good arm and watch her breathe a sigh of relief. Of course I was going to be here, silly. With the brightest smile on both our faces, I crouch down on one knee as Angie runs into my arms. Tears begin to well up in my eyes. God, I missed her. She pulls me closer and whispers into my ear.

“Fat man to your 9 o’clock. Second is the redhead with a leather attaché case getting off the plane now.”

No, those two don’t fit in this crowd. I can see it clear as day, but what the fuck is she doing? As a thousand questions run through my head, instinct overrides my reaction. I start talking about dinner plans, all the while listening as she continues situation protocol.

“Skip baggage claim. Short-term parking, Charlie 09. There’s a Glock 22 in my backpack hideaway, 14 and 1.”

I wrestle my broken body to its feet and set the stage with a prompt. Angie will take lead. I’ll follow. That’s protocol. But, how does she know?

“I’m so glad you’re back, darling. Are you ready to get out of here?”

“Can you hold my stuff, please, Daddy? I have to go pee,” she declares, then shoves her backpack into my arms before running across the terminal to the woman’s restroom.”

“Hurry up,” I yell back. “I’ll wait right here.”

“Okay!” Her voice trails off.

The redhead follows my daughter while fat man pretends to make a call.

Shit! What the hell happened in New York? Why now?

It’s been 22 years…


If you enjoyed the story, please consider a donation to NEVER STOP NEVER QUIT.

100% of your donation will directly support our fight. We pay the cost of managing our foundation.

All donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. You will receive a receipt.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Absolutes, Uncertainties, and the Outer Edges of What Could Be

There should be a warning sticker on every computer and typewriter. If you start writing a letter, article, or blog any time after November 28, there is a banned list of phrases.

  • What a year it’s been!
  • Looking back on the past 12 months…
  • Any reference to The Highs and the Lows or How Far We’ve Come.

Attempts to use these should trigger a violent reaction. I suggest my creative writing professor’s response to a recent story I turned in: “If this were my movie, as soon as this guy says that, the woman next to him pulls out a wet mackerel and slaps him with it.”

I’ll try to avoid clichés here. All I have in my house are frozen salmon fillets. That would hurt.


I woke up this morning feeling content, at peace with my life. The word happy wasn’t my first reaction. It has been so long since I thought in terms of that simple word. But, today was my day to start thinking about simple declarations. Think of this as an update to my 14-part journey, “Reconstructing and Defining Kevin.” After the most emotional year I can recall, my focus will be the reflections and resolutions of a man in the final days before his 50th birthday.

Yeah, I’m happy. I reread my entry back in July, “Reconstructing and Defining Kevin Part 14: Uncharted Territory,” and realized I still shape my world every day with the help of Dr. Debbie Stoewen’s discussion on the Eight Dimensions of Wellness. More than two years have passed since I began my journey, over nine months since I began sharing my experience. Every day, I work to improve my body’s responses (every intentional, subconscious, and involuntary action) to life around me. Improving my capacity to monitor, and ultimately regulate in a positive fashion, those responses in each dimension of existence directly impacts my wellness.

So, yes, I’m happy.

My struggle now is to understand if I can be happy, content, and at peace with my life while still being scared to death about my future. Multiple sclerosis continues to destroy my body — exercise, rehabilitation, diet, and lifestyle changes only delay the inevitable physical decline I experience. MS will chip away at me, sometimes snagging large chunks along the way. The permanent damage from my fall this past January has left me in significant and permanent pain. My best guess is I have 2 to 5 years left while still living independently. One more fall could erase that timeline. My list of ailments and issues is significant. There is no cure. This will get worse.

Yes, I am happy. I live life to the fullest, within the constraints of my body. By framing my life within the Eight Dimensions of Wellness, I evaluate every intentional, subconscious, and involuntary response and their impact on my wellness. The changes I made, and they are significant, are not measured in terms of good or bad, better or worse. My body’s response is the only consideration.

This effort to Reconstruct and Define Kevin is successful, but it is far from over. My birthday/Christmas/New Year/wellness celebration is time to take center stage and shout, “I’m Happy!” Stories will be the how’s and why’s of my declaration.

You will see two different subjects posted on my blog site:

My Journey. Undertakings, successes, challenges, and the everyday direction of my life, all framed within the Eight Dimensions of Wellness. I will show you examples of how Dr. Stoewen’s article was a gateway into this concept of wellness, “a holistic integration of physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, fueling the body, engaging the mind, and nurturing the spirit” (1). I can’t say enough about her article’s impact on my outlook today and tomorrow. I encourage everyone to read her approach to the eight mutually interdependent dimensions: physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, vocational, financial, and environmental (1). I will refer to it often, but it is only the first step in an eye-opening world. Click here to read her on the NIH website.

My Stories. Some of the many random short stories running through my head at any given time. A few were previously published — most will be new to my readers. The reason I’m posting them here, for free, goes back to My Journey. I’ll talk more about that in the future, but I just need to get somebody’s out of my mind (and make room for more). They will be raw, unedited, and occasionally inappropriate for all audiences. I’d love to hear your thoughts or feedback at any time – don’t hesitate to reach out.

I will intermix the two on my blog. I don’t want to start tracking another site. I already have enough out there.

My takeaway for you today is simple: I’m happy, grateful for everyone in my life, and thankful for the chance to share my birthday/Christmas/New Year/wellness celebration with you.

Until next time.




I will never stop…

I will never quit…

This is my story

Please consider a donation to NEVER STOP NEVER QUIT.

100% of your donation will directly support our fight. We pay the cost of managing our foundation.

All donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. You will receive a receipt.


(1) Stoewen, Debbie L. “Dimensions of wellness: Change your habits, change your life.” The Canadian veterinary journal = La revue veterinaire canadienne, vol. 58, no. 8, 2017, pp. 861-862.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Sensations - Release Date 2022

Kevin’s New Novel Gets Release Date for 2022

It’s 2034.

Preceding Eleanor Nickerson’s Congressional testimony, the polished entrepreneur sits down for an unprecedented interview to share her development of Sensations, a technology that can record and replicate human emotion.

Once labeled the 21st century’s greatest gift, Sensations were a safe and reliable source of satisfaction in a world where social contact had become taboo. Twelve years in, a global crisis now pits her at wars between bureaucratic needs to control the Sensations experience and a deadly underworld that will stop at nothing to exploit the dark side of our need to feel.

In this thriller, Eleanor’s disciples, subjects, and demons all look on as her legacy is dissected. Beyond the wonder and brutality of her journey, Ellie must now face her truth when pressed for the vision of her creation:

“I am not a God.”

“But what if you were?”


Excerpt – Eleanor Nickerson’s Congressional testimony, April 28, 2034

“The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-2026 gave birth to a desire within our population to achieve intellectual and sensory stimulation with limited physical contact. My model for all forms of the sensory application collectively known as sensations was first granted an open-source patent in 2022. My vision was unrestricted access to a safe and socially beneficial outlet for human emotion.

“In the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration currently regulates all versions of the Sensation Capture and Release System, collectively known as SCARS, though there is no detectable interaction with the physiology of a body. For the past 12 years, product validation and registration costs have grown significantly through added regulatory oversight. Those dollars, however, pale in comparison to the revenue collected through sales/usage taxes. Government oversight is pushing prices up to the point only wealthy individuals can afford quality SCARS. Illicit sensations use is now the number one noted factor for crimes, both violent and “white-collar,” as well as death/long-term hospitalization in the United States.

“Nickerson Enterprises proposes a joint venture with the U.S. government to oversee SCARS certification, distribution, and ongoing quality control. The program shall be implemented on the condition of eliminating all ongoing administrative costs. This includes, but is not limited to, certification costs, licensing fees, and usage taxes.

“I believe we can return to her intended vision of sensations. However, if this is not possible or the FDA is unwilling to revise the current program implementation, I retain one proprietary and unregistered secret to the SCARS.”

Sensations is scheduled for release in September 2022. In the meantime, read more of Kevin stories at

If you enjoyed the story, please consider a donation to NEVER STOP NEVER QUIT.

100% of your donation will directly support our fight. We pay the cost of managing our foundation.

All donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. You will receive a receipt.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

A Thousand Words

Short Story

A Thousand Words

(Originally published February 2019, “Complete the Picture”)

What is this picture worth, you ask? Tattered and fringed edges assert its value, reminders of how it is always with me as a pocketed keepsake no matter where I go. I will never have a copy made. There is no way to replicate the affection I have for this print. The glossy finish is quite scratched, a consequence of countless times I have pulled it from my pocket to tell the story of our moment.

The timestamp, an imprint arousing elaborate visions of that day with you, is perhaps even more notable than the posed image itself. It was another early morning, long before either of our bodies were ready, yet we heartily welcomed the sunrise. We were both famished, more than any other time before. I remember how you watched me in silence, your eyes tracking as I scurried in all directions across the kitchen floor. First, I presented your nourishment. You remained still, however, until I prepared my meal and sat at the table. Then, hungrily, we scarfed down our food while reminiscing over the evening’s blissful slumber and weighing options for the day’s activities. I remember the anticipation I felt while making our plans. It was to be a day like no other, before or after. By all accounts, it was.

Though more inconspicuous than those frazzled edges and that fated moment in time captured by the stamp, its picture quality is a startling reminder of just how long ago everything happened. With grainy imperfections and an overexposed center, your slightly blurred silhouette has the dented look photographs developed back then. God, it was so long ago! I was young and vibrant, ready to take my monumental next step with you, yet scared of everything I knew those actions would set into motion.

The location was once considered a significant landmark by travelers from across the globe. Yet, only a select few are privileged to know how you and I are etched into its legacy. The bridge was built well before you were born, even before I came into this world. The water once below it was gone, but surely the span will remain standing long after our dust has scattered to the four corners of this earth. My only hope is that no one else tries to replicate our moment in that photograph, on that bridge. To do so would only mark their effort as a flawed, failed attempt.

What the details of this grainy photo do not show is just how warm it was on that timestamped instant on an irrelevant bridge over an arid waterway. Only you, wearing an elegant summer dress down to your ankles but open at the shoulders, tell that tale. Through the distortions of the faded and scratched image, I can see the sweat that formed on your brow. The August sun was already blistering that day.

Others are visible on the periphery of our frame. As they walked about on the bridge, in that heat, I did not observe one worry. After I brought you there, while waiting until you posed for the perfect shot, the surroundings appeared almost blasé, if I may use their word. Even today, I am lifted by the effect we had on their boring lives. In an instant, you and I were the focus of all attention. Later that day, or the one after, they would return to from wherever it was they came, their lives once again becoming blasé. It was that next moment, the one immediately following our photo, that shall be forever etched in their minds. “She looked so beautiful,” and “He startled her with that,” and “What an odd thing to do in such an inelegant place,” will be speckled in their tales for years to come. On the quiet streets where they lived their everyday lives, they would never again witness an adventure like ours.

The back of our nostalgic photograph is still blank. For quite some time, I wanted to write a final message on it to you. I hoped to explain my attraction the first time we met – my enchantment on that bridge so many years ago, my pride and delight every moment of every day since. I once yearned to record those truths, but there is no need; the picture already conveys everything. On that bridge, at that moment, in that heat, among those insignificant travelers, you quickly fade past the background and through the paper, leaving the only impression possible on the back of our photograph. The lone vision that matters is you. Your innocent pose. Your angelic face, wrinkling the slightest smile. Your glistening brow and glowing skin. They all echo a reminder to the world: Absolute beauty has indeed existed.

Your eyes tell a story far more exhilarating than my words ever can. There was a young girl, the epitome of grace and innocence, standing alone. In time, she could have faced the harsh, arid world on her own. She stood with the assuredness that, if forced to, she would exploit her grace and mar her innocence so that nothing would ever take her away. Yes, she could do that, but there was no need. If you look closely, in the fainted reflection of her eyes and the shimmer from a passing automobile, a hint of my action struggles to take form. She does not know what my life holds in store for her, but she loves enough to trust my direction. She says nothing. After the picture is taken, by simply forming two words, she could complete my world. Before she spoke, however, it was captured on her face by the image better than it ever could be revealed through an inscription on its back.

I often wonder what story the photograph will tell when I am gone. If the strangers I have shown my picture and shared our story should see it again, will they remember what I did? Will anyone know that right after I took that photograph, I…

If you enjoyed the story, please consider a donation to NEVER STOP NEVER QUIT.

100% of your donation will directly support our fight. We pay the cost of managing our foundation.

All donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. You will receive a receipt.

Friday, December 17, 2021

I just want to tell stories!


I decided to start putting my short stories up for everyone to read at their leisure. So enjoy the random mix of thoughts running through my brain! 

Let’s start with these six, which are already out there. I’ll add more from time to time.

If you enjoy them, please consider a donation to NEVER STOP NEVER QUIT. 100% of your donation will directly support our fight. We pay the cost of managing our foundation.

All donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. You will receive a receipt.

Jimmy the Kid

Short Story

Jimmy the Kid

(Originally published in The Ramblings of a Condemned Man, NEVER STOP NEVER QUIT, 2018)

He was just a kid.

I wonder if I looked that young when I made my first kill. Must’ve been…how many years ago? God, I can’t believe it’s been so long. It still feels like yesterday.

The old coot could barely move, just sitting around all day in his Barcalounger, waiting for someone to come drag him to bed when it was time to go to sleep. I just remember being so scared, slinking around the nursing home, sure I’d get caught. But I finally found his room.

He jumped as soon as he saw me barrel through the door, one ring on the end of a wire saw hanging over each index finger. I got to him before he could get up, but he still put up one hell of a fight—until I got that wire around his neck. That always slows ‘em down. It took me over three minutes to cut all the way through. I almost had to stop a couple of times; the sight was making me sick, but I remembered the instructions my teacher gave me: “Make it gruesome. Send a message.”

All too often, he had to correct me and clean up after my mistakes.

“Not enough blood.”

“You left a fingerprint.”

“Never draw attention to yourself.”

The normal five-kill training cycle wasn’t enough for me. I needed eight to become certified and cleared to work on my own. With Jimmy, I would’ve signed him off after his first kill and sent him on his way, if only to get some distance between us.

The kid scares me.

They assigned him to me five weeks ago, when he was fresh out of Phase 2: Screening and Aptitude. They figured I was a good fit for him because we already knew each other from before Phase 1. How the hell they usually pick ‘em is beyond me. It’s not like there’s a “Contract Killer” section in the classifieds. They sure don’t have their own booth on career day. I was born into the trade myself; a legacy. Like father, like son.

Not with Jimmy though: he tracked them down. Well, tracked me down, that is. Right after I did the Gatling job in July, this guy—Jimmy, as I later found out—walked up to me on Morris Street. I didn’t know him, and he didn’t know me, at least I thought he didn’t. He was holding a newspaper in his hand, and just as I was getting out of my car, he stuck the front page right under my nose. “Hey!” he said. “Did you see today’s paper?”

I’m sure the grainy black-and-white photograph of a bloodstained sheet covering Gatling’s body sent the proper message. They probably spent a long time looking for the rest of her. That was a fun job. I just turned away from the kid.

Then, right down the street, Jimmy just blurted out, “How much did they pay you for this?” The kid blew my mind.

I mumbled something like, “Get the hell outta here with that,” and went on my way. Jimmy didn’t follow. He just stood there and yelled out, “Tell them I want in!” I kept walking, didn’t even acknowledge he was still yelling at me. How the hell did he know?

Of course, I had to report the incident. I told them absolutely everything I knew—which was nothing. No one was around when I went into Gatling’s shop that night. There was no way this kid, or anyone, could have followed me. No way at all.

They picked up Jimmy later that week for Phase 1: Identification. That’s when they dig in deep to find out who you really are and how willing you are to get your hands dirty. This line of work isn’t for everybody. Actually, it’s not for anyone decent.

Before putting you in the program, they walk you through some gruesome past jobs, some of the messiest ones we’ve done, with photos and all, just to see if you can handle it. If you pass Phase 1, they set you up with a couple of mock scenarios. That’s Phase 2. Usually, it’s just an animal or some random homeless guy who won’t be missed. They test and grade you on your strength, technique, and staying power—your ability to stomach the sight and smell. If you pass, you move on to live training exercises. If you fail, you disappear. Jimmy passed with flying colors.

He must have told them how my cover was blown, but they never mentioned it to me. I knew better than to ask Jimmy. Besides, once he’s up and running, I’m retired.

His first kill was much like my own: a nobody, a random target who was of no interest to our foundation. It was just a practice kill, to see if you could execute when the rubber met the road. The objective was to stage it like a real job, and to make it gruesome, send a message.

He picked a seventy-six-year-old widow with no immediate family (closest was her niece, a fourth-grade schoolteacher). Jimmy was quiet when he broke into her home and slipped an ice pick through the base of her skull as she slept in the rocking chair. That was smart. Making it gruesome doesn’t mean you have to make it difficult. Man, if I had known that on my first kill, life would’ve been so much easier. You can always add gruesome—after they’re dead. Jimmy wasted no time proving he had both the stomach and the creativity for the job. He actually positioned Aunt Wendy’s body parts on the floor to spell out the words “U DID THIS,” as a message for whoever stepped foot into the blood-soaked living room.

His next test was a moving hit. Jimmy waited for me to radio in the target from his hide site, seven hundred feet from the freeway. “Motorcycle. Red helmet. Southbound. Go.” I timed my call so he would have about ten seconds before the mark passed from his field of view.

Jimmy did it in four. I wasn’t sure how to take it when I heard him say, “Watch the hands.” Well, not until I saw the pigeon careen back, sending both him and his bike sprawling across the road at sixty-five miles an hour. Jimmy hit the bastard on his right hand. If the shot didn’t kill him, the spectacular crash would. Of course, the freight truck jackknifing over the top of the poor bastard was just icing on the cake. Figuring he had earned a bit of praise, I radioed, “Good one, kid. Where’d you learn to shoot like that?”

“I’m not a kid,” was his only reply. Asshole. He was probably an arcade nerd growing up. Shoot-em-up games, that’s my guess.

The third test was multiple targets. I gave Jimmy the names: Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Vines of Oakdale Retirement Community. The rest was up to him, but he had to complete the assignment by nine o’clock that night, and it was five thirty in the afternoon when the clock started. The Vines lived in a secure high-rise apartment forty-five minutes away.

The kid didn’t even blink an eye; he just walked out the door.

At 8:35 p.m., Jimmy came strolling back in. His pants were ripped at the knee and up the side. “Mission accomplished?” I asked.

“Mission accomplished,” he snickered.

“How did you get in the building?”

“Easy,” he said. “I tore my jeans, then told some old lady I crashed my bike and had somehow lost my keys. She bought it and let me in. No questions asked other than, ‘Are you okay, Sonny?’” I complimented him on the trick, but Jimmy just dismissed my words.

“And how did you get into the target’s apartment?”

Jimmy smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “I just told them I couldn’t find the family I was looking for. People always want to help a stranger in need, I guess. I can look pretty sappy if I have to.”

I shuddered as I asked the next question. “Did you make it gruesome?” The kid didn’t say a word and just handed me a plastic bag. Inside were three fingers, an ear, and four little bloodied disks. “What are these?” They almost looked like seashells.

“Kneecaps!” he boasted with a haunting smile. “It’ll have the cops racking their brains for weeks trying to figure out the motive for this one.” The kid really scares me. I mean, who the hell thinks of that shit, especially someone so new to this kind of work?

To join the organization, you have to prove your willingness to sacrifice anything. Number four was a test of Jimmy’s dedication. “How long have you lived in Bakers?” I asked, easing into the task.

“All my life,” Jimmy replied with an air of indifference. “In fact, I live just a few miles from the house I was born in. There’s not much here, but what the hell. I figured I’d stay until a better opportunity comes along. One boring place is as good as another, I guess.”

I followed up with, “Do you have any close relationships?” He looked down, squirming uncomfortably as he rubbed a pattern on the rug with his foot.

“Not really. I tend to keep to myself. Sure, I’m friendly with the people I’m around. It seems like every year or so, I drift away and hook up with new mates. I never really break up with the old ones…they just go away and spend their time with other guys.” I could see Jimmy’s discomfort. His social life was a strain; it’s probably what brought him to us in the first place. Sometimes, a man finds living a barbarian’s life in the shadows is preferred to blending in to normalcy alongside every other cog.

Then I sharpened my focus. “What’s your longest relationship?” Jimmy’s eyes lit up like the lifeless wooden doll who had just taken his first breath, infused with the spirit of a fairy princess.

“Sue Ellen Kapict,” he cooed. “I’ve had a crush on her forever. We met way back in the first grade and have been friends ever since.” Jimmy closed his eyes and appeared to drift off, maybe reminiscing about moments in the past or dreaming of wonderment yet to come. “I always tried to push for more,” he sighed. “She hasn’t given in yet; says she’s worried about losing the family she has now—losing what we have as ‘friends’ over some short-lived fling. I’ve always told myself, ‘Someday, you’re going to show Sue Ellen you’re the one for her. You’re the one for her…and she’s the one for you!’” I could feel Jimmy straining to share just a bit of his long-ago-buried bliss with me.

Sometimes I really hate my job. I act on someone else’s arbitrary decisions—someone I don’t know and will probably never meet. The contracts are filtered down to me for execution, sometimes relayed through a contact I trust, or maybe in a note secured for my eyes only. I have no knowledge of the circumstances leading to my orders, nor do I know what the aftermath will be—except that the decision will end a life and ruin countless others.

I used to wonder why my boss never dealt with me in person. Meeting face-to-face would help me get a better feel for the impact of my work, and it would give them the opportunity to relish in the masterpieces I create for them.

Now I know why. They don’t want any part of what Jimmy and I do.

“She’s your target.”

I can’t begin to imagine the mountain of emotions and questions pouring through Jimmy’s mind. Maybe I didn’t want to know because I didn’t want to think about how I would react if I were in his shoes.


“Can’t we pick someone else?”

“What if I can’t do this?”


But, Jimmy showed none of those reactions, no emotion at all. His only tell was the change in his eyes. With a renewed lifeless stare, he asked one question only.

“By when?”

I gave him until noon the next day. He tracked down Sue Ellen Kapict early. Apparently, she loved quiet time in her garden and spent every Saturday morning, from eight to eleven o’clock, caring for her plants and flowers.

For our after-action review, I chose to go without details. All I needed to know was asked and answered in one question. “Was it gruesome?” Jimmy’s eyes lit up once more as his smile spread from ear to ear.

“Oh, yeah,” he cooed, “and I definitely sent a message.”

Sue Ellen’s death hit that quaint town hard, more so than the other recent murders. Of course, there was talk of a connection between the killings. Residents were afraid to walk the streets alone. Police had no leads. They couldn’t even come up with a motive. Finally, the town rose up. It was if they all screamed in unison, “Enough!” To help fade the stain of yet another gruesome murder in Bakers, Todd Kapict organized Bakers Township Community Day, with a parade, a genuine county fair, and capped off by a sweetheart dance in the evening. The event was scheduled for the nineteenth, a mere three weeks after Sue Ellen was murdered. Three weeks was pretty quick considering everything Todd had to accomplish: bury his love, start a new life alone, and plan this event.

Twenty-one days was hardly enough time.

For Jimmy, twenty-one days was an eternity. He marveled at his accomplishments during the previous seven, eyes sparkling with the recollection of every blade strike…every inch of skin peeled from the bitch who had rejected him so many times. Now, as he prepared to celebrate his retribution, he worked side by side with Todd to ensure everything was just right. Todd was indebted to Jimmy for rounding up Sue Ellen’s old friends and encouraging them to participate in the day’s festivities.

“You were always good to her, Jimmy,” Todd softly sobbed. “Thank you.”

Jimmy smiled. “I just want to continue to be a big part of this.”

The night before the festivities, I sat down with Jimmy and asked him, “Are you ready for this?”

“Ready for what?” Jimmy squared his jaw, taking a deep breath of the stale country air. “Community Day? I fucking love it. I’m going to enjoy watching these people fake happiness through their bloodshot eyes, welled up with tears.” He struck a mock pose of monumental sorrow hiding under a whisper-thin veil of cheer. I figured that was going to be his look for Community Day.

Everything was set up perfectly for the plan, if I do say so myself. The time had come to rattle Jimmy’s cage. Payback for being such an asshole, for being so good at this job. “Tomorrow’s the date.”

With his head cocked to the side, like that RCA dog staring at the phonograph, he asked, “Date for what?”

“Kill number five. In a public place. The dance.” The kid was cold. He had no reaction, no flinch of surprise or look of concern.

Again, he had just one question. “Who’s the target?”

My instructions were simple. I told him, “Your pick, Jimmy. The only requirement is it’s gotta be at the sweetheart dance. Everything else is up to you. Just brief me on the details when the job is done.” The corner of Jimmy’s mouth turned up into a smirk as his eyes closed softly. Slowly rocking his head, he seemed to be in full agreement with the plan he was unfolding. I could tell the kid already had his pigeon in mind.

The need to justify my existence, to at least pretend I was teaching my pupil something, forced me to keep talking. “You’ll need a woman, you know. Can’t really go to a sweetheart dance on your own now, can you?”

“I already got one.” Of course he did. “Might as well go with the obvious choice,” he affirmed.

“She doesn’t know anything about your training, right?” I just couldn’t stop talking.

“She’s dumb as a box of rocks. That’s probably why her first husband left her a few years back.”

Jimmy and I parted, set to meet a week after the kill. If all went according to plan, Bakers Township would be a hornet’s nest of activity. It was not exactly a good place or time to be a stranger walking around town, especially one with so many accomplishments under his belt. No matter how perfectly you covered your tracks, after so many jobs, inevitably a pattern would begin to emerge—they’d find that one piece and everything would fall into place. I needed to be long gone before someone had a chance to find mine. I left town immediately. Jimmy would disappear at some point after the hit.

I figured if Jimmy met me today, his plan had worked out. He disappeared, just another victim of the Bakers Township’s killer, never to be seen again—as he started a storied career with the foundation. If it hadn’t gone well, I’d move on. There’s always another trainee waiting in the wings.

But, all went well.

From my booth in Diorgio’s Coffee Shop, I had a clear view of the parking lot as well as the street feeding customers in. It was the perfect place to meet. Diorgio’s has the best bagels and lox in this part of the country. Plus, it’s a little over two hundred miles away from Bakers Township, well outside of the search area they had set up.

If it weren’t for that dopey walk of his, I wouldn’t have even recognized Jimmy when he turned the corner and shot a straight line for the door. He was empty-handed and dressed for a casual Saturday afternoon in town. A curly mop top, dark with just a hint of tangerine, covered up his blond buzz cut. The winter had been unseasonably cold, yet Jimmy’s bronzed tan gave the impression that he lived in or had just returned from the islands. I just looked the same as before.

Jimmy asked the waitress for a cup of coffee—black, no sugar—as he slid into the booth across from me. “So, what’s it now?” I asked. “James? Jim?” I offered alternatives in a playful tone. “Peter? Antonio?” His only response was that lopsided smirk. Our waitress served him his coffee; he wrapped his hands around the mug.

“Fuck, it’s cold out,” was his opener. “I think I’ll stick with Jimmy.”

Gently tapping my near-empty cup, I whispered an announcement to the coffee shop’s patrons, “Well, here’s to the coronation of Jimmy the Kid!” Jimmy blushed, sheepishly lowering his eyes to the table. That humble gesture was one of the rare times I saw anything other than the devil himself in the kid. Satan returned, however, the instant I started his debrief.

“Walk me through it.”

Jimmy looked straight through me. With no inflection in his voice, no emotion, he detailed Community Day. “I chose Todd Kapict because he was definitely the highest-profile target at the time. I figured no better way to send the message than by striking at the heart of our fair community. Besides, he had nothing left. I honestly felt sorry for the poor bastard, probably did him a favor.”

“You’re a saint,” I joked. You’re the devil made flesh, I thought. But Jimmy was in a trance. My sarcasm was lost on him. He needed to tell his story, to relive his glory.

“With Gina as my puppet, we were the perfect combination. Blending in like we did, no one thought we were there for any reason other than to celebrate Community Day. We also stuck out just enough, with Gina’s knockout body and her sad story. She acted like she was crazy about me. Everyone will remember our genuine love for each other. One of us actually believing that ruse made it look so much better.”

Jimmy described how he worked the room, solidifying his fictional account and clouding the timeline so his momentary absence during the dance went unnoticed. Later, when the police interviewed witnesses, Christine remembered that she talked to Jimmy and he had told her about how sad Mike was. Mike had talked about Jimmy consoling Christine right after he had been joking with Bobby. Bobby remembered…

Witness statements, especially concerning violent crimes, tend to have a lot of holes. He was just a kid. It took me years to develop a knack for pre-staging a crime scene like that. Jimmy was already putting me to shame.

He told me how Todd was in a world of his own, attending to every little detail and ensuring the guests were having a great time. Did they like the food? Did they need more to drink? What song did they want to hear next?

“I followed Todd,” Jimmy continued, “out the back of the building. He was hauling another one of those big trash bags. You know, the one where you stick four or five garbage-can-sized bags into one? Anyway, we got to talking about Sue Ellen. I opened up about the love I’d felt for her all these years. I talked about my desire to be with her, to give everything to her and take all that she had. The poor sap, he didn’t even get offended by my talk of carnal desire for his girl. He just felt my pain.”

Jimmy’s eyes lit up again.

“Todd leaned in to console me. That’s when I struck!” he said, wrapping his left arm around an imaginary neck while he thrust his right fist up through an imaginary middle. “I used my trusty pick again, right to the back of his skull. Instant. No mess. I still wanted gruesome, although I had to be careful not to get anything on me. Going back to the dance with Todd’s blood all over my suit would not be a smart move now, would it?”

“No,” I confirmed, “it would not.”

“So, anyway, I’m guessing you saw the pictures.”

“I did, Jimmy. Great job. They’re disgusting,” I said, full of praise. You’re disgusting, I thought, detesting him.

“Thanks,” he beamed, deaf to my inner words, though I’m sure he would savor my disgust so much more than any praise I could offer.

“So, you made it back to Gina, no problem?”

“Well…I did get caught going back in.”

“What?” Jimmy’s confession caught me off guard for sure. “What the hell happened?”

“I was back in the building, walking down the hallway, when that old jackass, Mr. Stynes, ran into me.”

Before I could ask him more questions, he started to laugh uncontrollably.

“He’s the facilities manager…the janitor! He was just picking up the few remnants Todd overlooked when he was cleaning. Anyway, Stynes wanted to know what I was doing away from the party.”

“‘I was just going to the bathroom, Mr. Stynes,’ I told him. I was fully prepared to use my ice pick again.”

“Did you have to?” I tried to recall reading anything about a second killing.

“No,” Jimmy snorted in between a full-blown case of the giggles. “He just said, ‘Well, you just get back in the auditorium. I know your mother, and she would not be happy to find you roaming the hallways. Now, get!’” Jimmy could barely finish a sentence, let alone string two of them together. He was finding comedic undertones everywhere. “I was laughing so hard when I went back in, Mom kept asking me, ‘What’s so funny? What’s so funny?’ I just told her I was dead tired and wanted to go home. I was almost in control of myself by the time we left the building.” He paused, raising one finger before finishing his thought. “Then, I looked at the banner Todd had me paint.” The kid could barely gasp enough air. “You remember the one, right?” The nonsensical images had taken complete control of Jimmy.

“Yeah, I remember the banner.”


Parent-Student Sweetheart Dance

Open your heart to your kids and they will open theirs for you

Jimmy damn near fell out of the booth as he pounded his hand flat on the table again and again. “Get it?”

I got it, Jimmy.

He leaned in close to let me in on the punch line, figuring grown-ups just don’t get the real funny stuff. “Get it? He opened his heart to Sue Ellen!”

I got it, Jimmy.

“Just like she did!”

He was just a kid.

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