The Midnight Ride

Dr. Warren knew that the British were about to march on Concord. There was a store of arms there that was in jeopardy of being seized but what concerned him was that Adams and Hancock were in hiding in nearby Lexington. The redcoats would surely discover them. He had to send warning, before the soldiers prohibited all travel.

The rider barely made it out of Boston before the roads closed. At ten in the evening, under the bright full moon, he headed south across the narrow Boston Neck and slowly passed the guards who had become accustomed to seeing him. He rode through the forbidding wooden gate built into the earthenworks that funneled the road to a little tunnel and his heart skipped a beat when he saw the familiar gallows where so many were being executed in these days.

It was hard for him to not push his horse into a gallop. His adrenaline was pumping and he wanted to get away. Fast. But he kept his composure and stayed at a leisurely cantor until the gate disappeared behind him into the distance. Only then did he dig his heels into his Narragansett Pacer and begin his history-making seventeen mile ride through Roxbury, Brookline, Cambridge, Menotomy, and finally Lexington.

Back in Boston, two lanterns were on display in the tower at the Old North Church.

When the rider dismounted at the Clarke-Hancock house in Lexington shortly after midnight on April 19th, 1776, he found another horse already tied up. He recognized it at once, a little chestnut mare named Brown Betty. It seemed well rested.

William Dawes knocked at the back door of the house and in a moment the door cracked. Two blinking eyes peered out.

“Oh, it’s you,” said Paul Revere, “I’ve been here just thirty minutes.”


Second Class Ecstasy

“Look Father, there goes Noah! No smoking on his ark, either!” a man running by yelled and laughed hysterically.

“I’ll see you at confession, you … just wait for your penance! You won’t be so amused!” Father Finelli screamed back. But the man didn’t hear him, the sound of the rain crashing on the stones drowned out everything.

Rome’s streets were rivers. The rain had lasted through the night and showed no signs of abating. Every sensible person was inside. But across the street from the new church of Sant'Ambrogio e Carlo al Corso, beneath the arches of the Mausoleum of Augustus, two soaked priests were pushing themselves flat against the wall, trying to keep their pipes lit in the downpour.

“This is madness!” Father Finelli shouted, “Let’s go to the ambulatory, no one will be there to humiliate us. Besides, we’ll light some incense to cover it up!”

“And risk excommunication?! No, Father … You know, we could always quit …” Father Signetti remarked.

“What?! Really? Would you really quit the Church over this? Well … I don’t know … let me think about it, Father.”

“Father Finelli! No! I mean we could quit this smoking! Father, honestly!”

“Oh … of course,” Father Finelli said in a nasaly voice and let out a horrific sneeze.

“God bless you, Father. Would like to confess to me here?” Father Signetti said with a smirk.

“Very funny, Father.”

The two priests smacked their pipes against the wall, tucked them into their cassocks and ran out again into the rain, late for Matins.

It was December 8th, 1624, and Religious were still adjusting to Pope Urban VIII’s decree prohibiting the consumption of tobacco on Church property, enforced by threat of excommunication. The good pope equated the sneezing it caused with improper sexual ecstasy.


The First

On New Year’s Eve of 1891, the steamship Nevada slowly eased it’s way into New York Harbor as the last spindles of the setting winter sun broke across the faces of the people on it’s crowded decks. A swarm of tugs and barges buzzed around her hull, tossing lines and messages and packages back and forth like a queen bee being tended to by her drones.

“It looks closed,” Anthony said.

“Does that mean we have to go back to Cork?” asked his little brother Phillip, making a face as if about to cry.

“That’s right, pickaninny, we’re going to have to sell you to the dockrats in Queenstown just to survive. Sorry, but you’ll have to change your name to Oliver,” Anthony said to him with a scowl.

“Stop calling me that! And you’re a liar! Isn’t he Annie?”

Annie slapped Anthony on the back of his head, knocking his cap over the rail and into the water. “And you be nice to Phillip or I’ll tell them you have cholera or syphilis and they’ll never let you in.”

Anthony made a sour face at his sister and leaned over the rail to watch his cap float sternward in the grey foamy wake. He walked a few steps away following it.

“Does mummy know we’re here?” Phillip asked Annie.

“Of course, she does. And tomorrow morning she’ll be here with daddy to meet us. It’s the grand opening tomorrow.”

“It’s been a long time, Annie. What if they forgot us?” Phillip asked, beginning to work himself into tears again.

“We’ll be fine, love, we’ve made it this far, haven’t we?” Annie said, ruffling his dirty hair.

“Happy birthday,” Phillip said.

At 8 a.m. the next day, Annie Moore was the first in line at the newly opened Ellis Island.

A Very Heady Magazine

A torn copy of Blackwood’s Magazine sat on a chair at the surgeon’s office. Like most reading material found in a doctor’s waiting room, it was horribly out of date. This particular issue was over a year old and had seen better days. The doctor however, wasn’t keen on getting rid of it just yet. It had come in quite handy for one of his patients.

Although the writing was, as usual, sharp and biting, there was nothing especially notable in this magazine. Coleridge, Shelley, Conrad and Eliot, and many, many famous others had been or would be published in Blackwood’s. Not in this issue. There was no great literary work waiting to be found behind it’s stern cover.

It was thick, though. Plenty of material to keep a lonely man far from home occupied for days at a time. Now, as William, assistant surgeon for the Army of the British East India Company, lay on the operating table receiving stitches for the gash on his head, he was certain he’d gotten his full use out of it.

Just over a week before, William was among a contingent of British soldiers retreating from Kabul under what they thought to be safe passage. William stuffed his copy of Blackwood’s Magazine under his hat to help against the biting wind, and he and fifteen thousand other men, women and children departed in the winter cold for Jalalabad, 90 miles away. Over the next week, nearly every single one of them died at the hands of raiding Afghani tribesmen.

When the reaper came wielding a sword and hacked down upon the crown of William’s head, the secreted copy of Blackwood’s absorbed the blow.

On January 13th, 1842, William Brydon arrived, alone, alive, at the gates of Jalalabad. His horse fell dead beneath him.


The Last One

It was six o’clock and the barber shop was closing. Tuone Udaina put the broom away, wiped his hands on a crisp white towel, and stepped out into the warm Adriatic air of Veglia, his island home.

Deaf and toothless, the old man was usually grumpy. His friends, the few that remained, called him a goat. He wasn’t grumpy on this night though. He was thinking about another friend.

Maybe not a friend in the common usage of the word but a new companion nonetheless. His name was Matteo, and he and Tuone spent many hours at his barbershop talking about times gone by. About his life. About Dalmatia. Tuone liked him because he was genuinely interested. He felt important around Matteo.

As Tuone took his usual route home, up the hill and across the winding road, he thought about what he could tell Matteo at their next meeting. He laughed to himself remembering a little fight that his parents had when he was a child. They didn’t know that he was hiding in the closet, listening to every word. He would tell Matteo about that one. About the funny little word that his mother called his father that day.

Tuone crested the top of the hill and saw his path blocked. He forgot they were building a new road. He would either have to go back down the hill and take the long way through town or else wind his way around the heaps of broken stones and timbers until he reached the path. He chose the latter.

Unbeknownst to Tuone, a nameless anarchist had come across a discarded Ottoman land mine that day and decided to plant it amidst the rubble. Tuone stepped on it.

On June 10th, 1898, Tuone died and the Dalmatian language went with him.


God Given

On January 21st, 1941, Greek and British soldiers were involved in a desperate counteroffensive to keep Mussolini from occupying Greece. The struggle was taking place near Thessaloniki but in Athens, life still went on. There was an opera to be heard – Boccaccio.

Waiting in the wings to make her professional debut was a nineteen year old girl named Sophia. Her role as Beatrice was only a minor one but she was thrilled to be part of it all. She hoped she wouldn’t get stage-fright again. There were so many people. Slightly overweight and wearing extremely large glasses, she was quite a contrast to the glamorous sopranos giggling behind her.

Nafsika Galanou and Zozo Remoundou were the stars. And they weren’t very nice. Shortly before it was time for Sophia to take the stage, the two began to whisper. Not quite loud enough for Sophia to understand what was being said, but she knew they were talking about her. When she spun around to look, they stopped and pursed their lips. When she turned away, they laughed.

Sophia tried to ignore them and poked her head around the curtain to look at the audience. A mistake. She felt dizzy. Her fear was coming back. She’d never be able to sing with all those people staring down on her. The two pairs of jealous eyes to stage-right would only harass her.

And then the advice of her friend Galatea came back to her. “Just blur it out,” she would say, “pretend you’re the only one out there. Make it your own world.”

And that’s what she did. She blurred it out. Sophia, better known to the world as Maria Callas, removed her glasses and stepped out onto the stage, her severe myopia preventing her from seeing anything but shapes beyond her nose.


The Caulbearer

“It’s a boy!” the midwife shouted.

King Gustav celebrated. At last, he would have a son to replace him on the throne. But the celebration on this 18th of December, 1626, didn’t last long. One by one, the cheers of the royal court died down until Gustav was the last one singing.

A chill shot up his spine and he turned towards the door to see the midwife standing silently crying.

“My God ... Does the boy not breathe?” the King cautiously asked the old woman.

“No, your majesty, it’s not that ...” she replied, quivering.

Gustav erupted, “I can see it in your eyes! Don’t lie to me! I see your shaking hands, damn you!”

“Your majesty, the child came out in a caul ... and covered from head to toe with so much hair that we thought for sure ... we didn’t know ... we assumed ... even your astronomers said that ...”

From behind her could be heard a deep bellow which turned into a masculine cry.

Gustav’s eyebrows rose. “Out with it, damn you!”

“Your majesty ... I’m sorry ... It’s a girl,” the midwife finally revealed and she braced herself for a blow.

Gustav’s jaw slackened. “A girl! Is that it?”

The midwife peeked at the king. Seeing his anger subside, she said, “Yes, sire. But if you please, let us clean her before you see her.”

King Gustav roared with delight.

“Already, she’s made fools of us! A daughter! And clever! Perhaps it’s fitting if we continued her game and raised her as a boy then, eh?!” he mischievously remarked to his relieved group.

Christina of Sweden, the hairy little child born in a "victory jacket,” would continue to surprise the world, all the way up until her eventual burial in Saint Peter’s Basilica.


Looking for Work

On the morning of January 29th, 1920, Walter sat at his kitchen table flipping through the Kansas City Star looking for work. He had been laid off by Pesmen-Ruben almost two months ago and he was getting very nervous. Although he and his friend Ubbe had started their own “Laugh-o-Gram” business it wasn’t making money. And the temporary job at the post office hardly kept him in stale bread.

He didn’t want to have to move back to Chicago. His father would never let him live it down. He could already hear the “I told you so” speech.

“Jelly ... really. Jelly. What am I going to do? Go back and run the bottle-washer?” he said to himself, growing more frustrated at the thought of failing.

He lit his pipe and sat back in the chair with his hands behind his head. He had picked up the smoking habit from his father but really developed it while he was in France, driving for the Red Cross. If there was one thing an injured soldier wants, besides morphine, it’s a smoke. And Walter was always obliging with his tobacco. Somehow, he never seemed to run out. And somehow, he always seemed to have a few coins in his pocket too. He never had to worry about things like money, which is what made his predicament now all the more disconcerting.

He leaned back over the table and slid the newspaper towards him. And then there it was. Right there in black and white, under his nose. He didn’t notice it before.

“Hmmm ...”

WANTED: First Class Man for the Kansas City Slide Company, manufacturing and illustrating advertisement slides for motion picture houses. Serious enquiries should be directed to Mr. A. V. Cauger.

With that, Walt Disney began his career drawing cartoons.


Burdensome to the World

On December 26th, 210, Tertullian looked from his window out onto the crowded streets of Carthage. All that he saw was poverty, disease and vice. A servant knocked at his door and offered him a bowl of grapes. The rebel priest, recently excommunicated, dismissed him with a wave of his hand.

“Nature fails in affording us her usual sustenance,” he said. “I will continue my fast and so shall you. Give the fruit to the wretched knocking at the church’s doors.”

The servant nodded and departed to a side room where he promptly proceeded to stuff as many of the grapes into his tiny mouth as he could.

A small earthquake had just struck the North African city, not a catastrophic one, but combined with the famine, there was a panic. It had killed maybe thirty or forty. Numerous buildings collapsed, destroying the scant possessions of the throngs of poor. They had nowhere to go and were wandering around aimlessly calling for their missing loved ones.

“I’ve done as you asked, Father,” the servant said when he returned a few minutes later, his teeth and chin stained purple.

Tertullian stared mournfully at him for a few seconds and turned back to the window.

“When I look out onto the slum that was once Carthage, all my eyes see is our teeming population. Our numbers are burdensome to the world. In fact, pestilence, famine, wars, and earthquakes have to be regarded as a remedy, as the means of pruning the abundance of the human race.”

A few days later, life was back to normal. The world’s population was 190 million.

When the tsunami struck Southeast Asia on December 26th, 2004, it killed over 225, 000 people.

The surviving six and a half billion in the world continued on with their lives.


A Fish and Onion Lunch

On September 11th, 1636, a short fat sailor bobbed his way along the quay at the port of Amsterdam. He had just come from delivering news of the arrival of a valuable cargo to a very wealthy merchant and was rewarded with a nice herring to take for his lunch. The onion that he discovered sitting on the table with the silks and velvets was a bonus that would add nicely to his meal. He loved onions.

He found a thick coil of old mooring lines not far from the receiving house and reclined right in the middle. The sun was shining brightly and a light salty breeze made the afternoon supremely pleasant. He smiled as he unwrapped the fish and laid it across his lap. He loved herring.

He dug his finger into the side of the fish and pulled out a thick bony chunk and popped it into his mouth. It was delicious. It felt good to be home. He had been away at sea for almost three years. As he ripped another hunk of herring, he wondered if Maartje was still as beautiful as when he last saw her. He loved Maartje.

“Whoops! Can’t forget this!” he said aloud and reached into his pocket and produced the onion. It was fairly small but he bit it in half anyway. It had a unique taste that went well with the herring.

When the irate merchant arrived a few minutes later with a group of soldiers, the last of the priceless Semper Augustus tulip bulb was making it’s way down the sailor’s gullet.

Usually, truth is stranger than fiction. The ridiculous, sublime. Whether this tale is true or not, you can always count on human nature. And in this case, the nature of man was to fill his belly.


The Crunchy Kind

The blaze was a picture of hell. It was April 14th, 1975. Just after midnight. The gluttonous fire stretched it’s fingers high into the dark sky, reaching for more to consume, to devour. It’s hunger was unquenchable. But soon there was nothing more. By the time the catastrophe at the Medford campus was over, the cost was incalculable. Irreplaceable specimens, books, antiques, artwork, Americana – gone. Those reporting for work in the morning could still smell the smoky aroma of history in the air. And although no one had died, there was unfortunately still one body to count.

Phyllis Byrne was an administrative assistant at the University’s athletic department and that body was the first thing on her mind when she tearfully witnessed the scene at what was only the day before Barnum Hall. Frantic, she ran to her office and told everyone the news. George Wilson, a maintenance man at the university, was passing through and stopped in a corner to listen to what Phyllis was describing. She noticed him there and rushed over to him.

“You’ve got to save those ashes!” she pleaded.

“What?” a startled George responded.

“Yes ... This is important ... You’ve got to get those ashes!” Phyllis said again and began rushing around the office, looking on desks and opening cabinets. Finally she found what she was looking for and shoved it into George’s hands.

At first George just stood there, but as he looked into Phyllis’s eyes, he knew she was serious. He turned and hurried out, carrying a large empty jar of crunchy-style peanut butter under his arm.

Today, whenever Tufts University sports teams take the field, they still stop to rub the jar for luck. Inside, along with who-knows-what-else, are the powdery remains of P. T. Barnum’s wonderful donation – Jumbo the elephant.


Bridging the Gap

When Johann Pachelbel died in 1706, his contributions to the music world were thought to be complete. The organ tradition, the choral prelude, the fugue – all were triumphantly advanced by the baroque genius, heavily influencing future greats such as Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. However, neither Pachelbel, nor any musician, composer, or student of music history could have guessed that he would help to make one final contribution to our culture – almost 300 years later.

On December 20th, 2005, someone by the nom de plume of “guitar90” found an interesting musical video and uploaded it to a new internet database. In the video, a black screen opens with the words “Canon, composed by Johann Pachelbel. Arranged by JerryC. Played by funtwo.” The familiar cello and violin opening of Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major begins. The blackness then opens to reveal a mysterious figure with a ball cap pulled down over his eyes. He is sitting on a bed, holding a guitar.

And then he begins.

For the next five minutes, “funtwo” engages in a spectacular display of guitar mastery, adapting Pachelbel’s opus to a modern standard. During the entire performance, the unknown musician never raises his head, never gives a hint of his identity. The only clue to unmasking the virtuoso is his pinky finger. While most guitarists can’t help but use it to support the guitar during frenetic riffs, “funtwo” lets his pinky float, undulating, conducting, almost dancing. This little clue was to help sift through the many imposters.

Tens of millions of fans soon marveled at the ability of Jeong-Hyun Lim, a 23-year-old from South Korea, as he and Pachelbel bridged the gap between past and present and ushered in a new era of communication. They both helped launch the popularity of a new start-up video-sharing website called Youtube.


A Joyful Ending

On May 7th, 1824, the Imperial and Royal Court Theater of Vienna was a tinderbox ready to explode. The air was both stifling and deafening but those fortunate enough to be in the audience were on the edge of their seats holding their breath. Their hearts were racing, pounding in their throats. White hankies and black hats danced and spouted into the air like foam from waves breaking hard on a rocky shore.

On stage amidst the frenzy were two of the most promising and well-known operatic voices of their time, contralto Caroline Unger and soprano Henriette Sontag. But they were not the reason for all the excitement in the air. Directing the orchestra was the Kapellmeister, Michael Umlauf, also celebrated in Vienna as a genius composer. But he wasn’t the focus of the mania either. As a matter of fact, even the orchestra was ignoring him.

The object drawing the attention of the audience, not to mention the orchestra, was an aging white-haired man standing in the front row. He was completely deaf and dying the slow death of lead. But he certainly was not dead yet. His eyes were closed tight and sweat shot from his hair as he flung his head to and fro in accompaniment to the music. His arms were like snakes, coiling and stretching this way and that as if he himself was playing every instrument in his mind. He was in another world.

When the orchestra reached their final note, the anxious crowd sprang to it’s feet in a stupendous roar. But Ludwig van Beethoven was still in the throes of conducting his Ninth Symphony, several measures behind the exhausted musicians. Caroline Unger gently took Beethoven in her arms and turned him around to see the adoring mass. He cried tears of joy.


Three Dollars

This Saturday was no different than any other Saturday in Hollywood, Florida. A refreshing breeze blew in from the Atlantic on the hungry tourists out looking for a good seafood dinner and a night of jazz. In one particular oyster pub on Harrison Street though, there was a little trouble. It was nothing serious, just another case of one-too-many, perhaps.

Screwdrivers and Rum and Cokes had been flowing for a few hours for three men at the bar. When it had come time to settle up their bill though, an argument started. The bartender couldn’t quite decipher what they were arguing about but they were obviously wasted. She kept an eye on them and busied herself with her regulars while the trio sorted it out. She motioned for the manager to stand by and a minute later she turned to the men and asked if there was any problem.

The clean-shaven man with the penetrating eyes, his voice slurred and scornful, said “No, there is no problem. I am a pilot. I have plenty of money.” He then got to his feet and pulled a thick wad of bills from his pocket, fifties and hundreds, and tossed a few onto the bar. The bartender bit her lip and made their change.

When the men left, the bartender returned to where they had made their little scene. She found three wet dollar bills soaking in a circle of condensation.

And that’s what happened at Shuckum’s on the evening of September 8th. Except, none of this really happened. It could have happened. Maybe it did. Just not on this night. A lot of stories spread after the attacks.

But the day before this story supposedly occurred, Mohammad Atta and his coconspirators were already in Maryland, making final preparations for their fatal mission.


Such a Thing

On January 25th, 1504, city officials of the Signoria and representatives of the artist community were at an emergency meeting in Florence. All thirty of them had just come from a viewing of the commission and all were equally concerned. Things had only begun to calm after twelve years of intrigue and turmoil in Italy. The famines and plagues were abating and Florence, Milan, and Rome were at a temporary peace. Tensions were still high, though, and a symbol of defiance might not be prudent. The question was: Where to put it then?

Botticelli argued for it to be placed at the Cathedral. But da Vinci pointed out that exposure to the elements would exacerbate the structural flaws in the marble. Besides, it was a nude. Flagrantly so. It was beyond the sensibilities of the average church-goer in these prudish times.

Di Cosimo and Lippi suggested it be placed at the Palazzo Vecchio. This idea quickly gained acceptance among the group.

A goldsmith, Andreas “Il Riccio,” heard the last suggestion and shuddered. He was thinking of the menace he felt when he saw it. “This thing is going to elicit reaction, there is no question,” he thought. The tenseness in the neck. The coursing, enlarged veins. The horrible stare. Ready for battle. It was beautiful.

“At least let us confine it to the courtyard,” he pleaded. “It will be covered there and we will be able to regard it privately. It is not for such a thing to go towards the passerby!”

When Michelangelo’s David was uncovered six months later at the entrance of the City Council, it was facing south – towards Rome. The Florentines who saw it’s view from the west, saw only the softer side of the shepherd-warrior, his genitalia and “divine flanks” covered with a copper girdle.


There and Back Again

The case before the Supreme Court in Stockholm was open and shut. How it even came to that level only spoke to the popularity of the man being charged. Ola Mansson was a powerful member of the Farmer Estate in the Riksdag.

“Mister Mansson, I don’t understand your argument. This letter, signed by you, clearly shows involvement. You’ve accepted interest on state loans.” said the prosecutor.

“What I do on my own time is my own personal business; what I did was for the common man, whom people like you have forgotten,” Mansson said defiantly.

“That’s fine, sir, but you’ve used your public position for private benefit,” the prosecutor retorted. “Your signature on official State Bank letterhead is proof. This is embezzlement!”

“Let me see that paper!” Mansson demanded.

The prosecutor confidently crossed the floor of the grand hall in the Bonde Palace, holding the damning paper in the air so all of the Councilors of Justice could see it. He handed it to Mansson.

Mansson looked at the document for a moment and then gave the prosecutor a hard stare.

“This is what I think of your evidence ...” he said.

Before an astonished audience, he calmly tore the paper into two pieces, bent over and wiped them on his bottom. The court went into recess.

Before the verdict was reached, Mansson was already on the run with his mistress, heading across the ocean, far away from Sweden. He didn’t stop running until June 4th, 1859, when he reached Minnesota.

His flight from justice across the ocean was quickly forgotten. Conversely, the flight that his grandson made across the Atlantic Ocean sixty-eight years later would be remembered forever. And innocently, while piloting over Sweden in 1933, Charles A. Lindbergh commented, “I wonder why my folks ever left this place!”


Lord Haw Haw

Six million radios across England and Ireland crackled to life each night with “Jairmany calling! Jairmany calling!” A nasally voice echoed, “The Luftwaffe is on its way … better scurry into your holes like rats!” For almost 6 years, Lord Haw Haw’s nightly “Views on the News” broadcasts threatened the imminent destruction of the British Empire, often airing demoralizing recordings from British prisoners of war. His voice was terror.

His last broadcast was a taped recording originating in Hamburg as Berlin was under siege by the Red Army. He was noticeably drunk, and unrepentant. “Germany will live because the people of Germany have within them the secret of life: endurance, will and purpose. Ich liebe Deutschland. Heil Hitler and farewell,” he slurred. On this same day two hundred and fifty kilometers away in Berlin, the Führer bit into a cyanide capsule, placed his gun to his temple and pulled the trigger.

Four weeks later near the Dutch border, Lord Haw Haw was living as Wilhelm Hansen when he encountered two officers from the Royal Armoured Corps collecting kindling for a fire. Boldly, he approached and spoke to them first in French and then in English, “there are a few more pieces over here.” The officers immediately recognized his terrible voice. There was a gunshot and Lord Haw Haw fell to the ground, bleeding from the hip.

At 9 a.m. on January 3rd, 1946, Albert Pierrepoint, the Hangman at Wandsworth Prison, pulled the operating lever to the gallows. The trap door opened, and the rope fell the ten feet towards “the pit” and its shiny varnished floors. It stopped abruptly, snapping the neck of William Joyce as it did. Born American, raised Irish, naturalized German, and found guilty of treason as a British citizen, Lord Haw Haw’s voice was silenced forever.



“Baboso,” the young lieutenant-in-charge snarled through his teeth as he sped towards the plane that was taxiing to the end of the runway. In order to make a show of his anger, he purposely slammed the brakes, squealing the tires, when he reached it.

The twin-prop now sitting at the end of the Spanish military airfield on the evening of July 11th, 1936, had just made an unauthorized landing after a harrowing 10 hour journey from England. It had found its way to Espinho by road maps, nearly icing-up over the Pyrenees. Lieutenant Rojo didn’t care though, what story the pilot was going to spin for him. He had every intention of seizing the plane and arresting everyone aboard. This was no time for foolishness in his country. He started into a tirade of curses even before the door was opened.

The pilot stepped down from the plane first and got the worst of the tongue-lashing. It continued as four more men came behind him. The voice went silent though when two young, smiling women poked their heads through the opening. They giggled as they hopped onto the tarmac and Lieutenant Rojo removed his hat and gave a toothy grin.

After a few minutes of exaggerated graciousness and a lot of understanding nods, Lieutenant Rojo offered to escort the lost tourists to dinner at a hidden little restaurant in Porto, as long as they promised to depart quietly first thing in the morning.

The plane and its crew of “tourists” did depart the next morning, quietly. The de Havilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide made several more unscheduled stops over the next eight days, ending in the Spanish Moroccan city of Tetuan, where General Francisco Franco hopped down and took command of the uprising against the new and vengeful republican government.



A week after the arrests, November 23, Senora Maria Valdes stood among a group of reporters with her back against a fence near an open window at the police headquarters where the priest had been taken. The priest's sister had also come and stood by Senora Valdes. She listened to shouted arguing coming from within.

"But surely you won't do this without a trial and official charges! He's a priest, these stupid people won't have it! Give me a few more days to draw up some paperwork!

"I don’t want paper! I want the deed! Do it now!"

Senora Valdes knew who spoke those words and what they meant. It didn't matter that there was no evidence of involvement in the plot. The priest was to be executed along with his brother and two others by order of the President.

"Oh, Cocol!" the priest's sister sobbed as she fell into the arms of Senora Valdes.

A commotion began as crowds started to gather around the police station. There were hundreds. Guards appeared at the fence, pushing back the people trying to get a glimpse of the condemned. A truck pulled up and five soldiers, rifles in hand, were ushered inside. Groups of people knelt to pray. Some shouted invectives at the guards, some at the priest. The noise became deafening.

Suddenly the roar of the crowd hushed and over the wall, from the courtyard of the police headquarters could be heard a man's voice, speaking loudly, almost happily. The crowd went still and listened.

"Viva Cristo Rey!" echoed clearly.

A volley of rifle shots rang out and then silence. Senora Valdes and Father Miguel Pro’s sister stood staring at each other, tears rolling down their cheeks. Another shot was heard, this one from a pistol, and the crowd erupted again.



Bernard-René de Launay was already severely beaten but it continued as he shouted, “Enough! Let me die!” De Launay and 114 grenadiers had traded volleys with the attackers for four hours before it became apparent that resistance was useless. He opened the gates of the Bastille and was immediately set upon. The Royal Army contingent stationed nearby turned their heads as the 1,000 strong force of rioters stormed the medieval fortress.

De Launay was being knocked senseless by the flurry of fists and clubs as they connected with his head and neck. He tried to keep his footing as he was pulled and jerked outside. Someone smashed the butt of a rifle into his temple and he fell sideways, slamming onto the hard stone walk. He blacked out and was dragged to the Hôtel de Ville. There, outside of the beautiful City Hall, as the mob argued violently over what to do with him, de Launay came to. Blood streamed from his nose and ears but he was thankful that the beating had stopped for the moment. He opened a swollen eye.

A pastry-baker by the name of Desnot noticed the prisoner stirring and straddled over him. From a near-toothless mouth he spat a thick wad of phlegm into de Launay’s face. Instinctively, de Launay shot his knee into the air and landed a solid blow against Desnot’s groin. His eyes rolled backwards and he collapsed with a squeak. Within seconds, a dozen knives plunged into the soft belly of de Launay. His head was viciously sawed off, stuck on a pike, and paraded through Paris.

On the evening of July 14th, 1789, six months before his execution at the guillotine, King Louis XVI returned from a day of hunting and ironically penned in his diary: “Rien” – “Nothing happened.”


An Ironic Ending

The card game being played in the dirty La Amapola bar on the 31st of January, 1976 was technically a violation of Ernesto’s parole and he kept glancing nervously at the door. He wasn’t going back to prison again. He emptied his beer, pulled a few dollars from the little pile of change on the bar and slid it to the bartender.

“Hey, vato, that’s not your money,” said one of the players, a very short Mexican with a tattoo of the Virgin of Guadalupe on his arm.

“Ay cállate,” Ernesto replied, “don’t be a sore loser.”

“You better put that money back, hijo. That’s my money,” the little man said again.

Ernesto turned on his stool as the man stood up and moved up to him. A second player also rose and shielded himself behind the first, looking over his shoulder. That man hadn’t said a word all evening and Ernesto was surprised to see him whisper something into the short man’s ear. He didn’t notice as that man pulled a six inch knife from his pants and slid it into the hand of the short one.

“Hold on, amigos, that money is …” Ernesto began, but was cut short when the quiet one said audibly, “¡Mátelo!”

And that he did. Two quick thrusts, once in the belly and once in the chest. Ernesto collapsed to the floor and the two men fled.

At the same time that Ernesto Miranda was pronounced dead at the hospital, a Phoenix police officer was chasing one of the suspects down an alley. Not the murderer, but his accomplice. It wasn’t long before he had him secured in the back of his patrol car and was reading to him from a little white rectangular card.

You have the right to remain silent …”


A Case of Natural Selection

Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise had been using the hulked ship as a station to monitor smuggling operations along the Essex coast. A little community of seven Coast Guard officers and their families called it home. Few of the residents however, knew anything about their home beyond the fact that it was one of the “Coffin Brigs” that were infamous for disappearing at sea. It wasn’t even recognizable from its former self; all of its original accoutrements had been removed, including its guns and masts.

None of the oystermen on the River Roach knew anything about the ship’s history either. All they knew was that it was in their way, and they wanted it moved. So, in 1851, “Watch Station Number Seven” was unceremoniously dragged onto the marshy beach where it sat for almost 20 more years.

None of the workmen for Murray and Trainer Scrapworks knew the history of the boat as they stripped its forecastle, wheelhouse, and decks of the still-solid timber that was to be used to build a farmhouse on the north bank.

None of the children of Burnham-on-Crouch knew anything about the half-submerged hull as they played Buccaneers of the Spanish Main on its remaining planks.

But there was one man living not so far away in Kent that knew a lot about the Cherokee class, 10-gun, brig-sloop. He knew that it was the first ship to pass under the new London Bridge in 1820 during the coronation of King George IV. He knew that it had traveled around the world three times, surveying the coasts of Australia, New Zealand, and South America on the way.

Charles Darwin knew the HMS Beagle inside and out. He even wrote about it in his little book that was to cause quite a stir on November 24th, 1859.


Change in the Weather

Only five more miles. Martin had already walked forty and his legs were aching. He was hoping to find a nice place to stop and eat the bread his mother packed for him back in Mansfeld. It had threatened rain all day but it wasn’t until he was on the edge of the little village of Stotternheim that the skies finally opened up. A long and rolling growl of thunder echoed across the field and the rain came down like a waterfall.

He was drenched but his first concern was for the schoolbooks in his satchel – Aristotle, William of Ockham, and Gabriel Biel. He couldn’t afford to replace them if they were ruined. Off to the southwest, Martin spotted a small stand of trees and began to run for them. That’s when the first lightning bolt hit. Behind him, close enough to smell it, followed by a clap of thunder that rang in his ears like church-bells.

Martin had always been afraid of lightning, helpless against it. As a child, he would hide under his bed and pray for the saints to deliver him from the supernatural evil. Now, as he ran terrified through the mud and knee-high grass, he felt like a little child again, fleeing from the devil at his heels. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as a second bolt struck even nearer.

Martin reached the sheltering trees and fell into a ball at the base of the biggest one. He was crying now, thinking about death, judgment, heaven, and hell.

“Help!” he cried, “Saint Anna! I will become a monk!”

On July 17th, 1505, Martin Luther told his friends at the College of St. George at Erfurt University, “This day you see me, and then, not ever again.”

Not quite so.


Pulling a Brodie

There was no other way to put it: Steve was pie-eyed. His pant-leg was caught on the fence and he hopped comically trying to free himself. He was flapping his arms like a goony-bird in an effort to keep his balance. Finally, his pants ripped and he reeled and fell flat on his back. Passersby gave him a wide birth as he lay there groaning, legs akimbo. His partner-in-crime stood over him, hands in his pockets, shaking his head.

“Forget it, Steve. Let’s just go have another drink. Call it even.”

But Steve wasn’t having it, a bet was a bet.

“Not a chance …”

Steve slowly rolled over to his side, pulled his knee under him, and grabbed hold of the wrought iron railing. He stayed in that position, swaying back and forth like a praying mantis, for a full minute before he staggered to his feet.

“Two hundred dollars,” he said to his friend and began to climb again.

This time he made it. He was on the other side now.

He stood there with his back against the fence, eyes closed, his hands in a death-grip around the railing. The color had drained from his face and he was perspiring.

His friend, seeing that he might actually go through with it, said “Hey, you don’t look so good … come on, you’ve proved your point.”

Steve turned his head and shot one bloodshot eye toward his pal, “You meet me back at the pub with my two hundred dollars,” he said, and took one giant step forward.

So it was on July 23rd, 1886, that Steve Brodie, an unknown bookie from the Bowery, made his claim to fame by living to collect his winnings after jumping from the Brooklyn Bridge, 135 feet down into the East River.


The Merger

“There will be changes when I return,” were his parting words on the 29th of October and Miltiades knew exactly they meant. The past two days had been a whirlwind for the old arthritic. The miracle at Milvian Bridge was still fresh in his thoughts. He lay down on a soft bed in his new home and closed his eyes. It felt so sweet compared to the hard board he slept on the night before but his mind still wouldn’t rest. “Is this really what He wants?” he asked himself over and over. It was all very tempting. Property would be restored … no more hiding … no more pain. He was so tired. They all were, after more than two centuries of waiting and hoping.

After several restless minutes, he turned and let his knotted legs slide over the edge of the cushions until his dirty bare feet hit the floor. In a pouch hanging from the cord around his waist was a large and misshapen iron nail. He reached inside and pushed a finger against the bent point. It hurt. He pushed harder. “No!” he said aloud, “this is not how it will be. These gifts are one thing, but I’ll never accept what will inevitably come after he returns … We must get our house in order before the persecutions begin again. This is not how it will be!”

When Constantine finally did return sixteen months later, Miltiades, the Bishop of Rome was already at peace in the catacombs beneath the city. A new court was convened and Constantine gave his approval for a much younger man named Silvester to serve as successor to Peter. Where Miltiades saw danger, Silvester saw opportunity and followed it. For the first time, the Pope would be crowned as a Prince.


Wet Foot, Dry Foot

One thousand three hundred and seventy three men and women were a very long way from Portsmouth. All eleven ships were in the harbor now, the last two just rounding the southern point. Every passenger leaned over the rails and eyed the sparkling dunes that gently rose into thick forest, broken only by a rocky stream of fresh water that spilled carelessly into the cove. The sight was stunning. Paradise. Fifteen thousand miles were behind them and all that was left was the short trip to the welcoming beach. The HMS Supply was lowering her small boats as she was the first in and had already been at anchor for a few hours.

In the first launch, the ranking officer was directing the crew as to their duties. “Mr. Alt, I think you already know you’ll be setting up your first survey at the mouth of the stream. Bloodworth, you carry these bins – and no lip – I want it done orderly. And you … James is it? Get yourself up to the bow here and give a hand.”

As the water became shallow and the keel lurched across bars of sand, the oars were raised and James followed orders and slipped over the side. The water was about knee-deep and little fish tickled his ankles as his toes sunk into the soft bottom. It didn’t take long before 165 pounds of cargo was secured on his back and he was duck-walking his way to shore.

Right before the convict James Ruse’s feet hit dry land, he dropped to his knees. He wasn’t giving thanks for having made the arduous journey; he was letting the man off of his back. Lieutenant George Johnston hopped down, became the first officer ashore and claimed Australia for King George III on January 26th, 1788.


Burley Tobacco

A light in the window above the stairwell advertised that the Tudor-style cottage at the end of Turl Street had not been completely vacated for the holidays. The window was slightly ajar, and every now and again a puff of smoke was seen wafting over the sill and mixing with foggy mist outside. Muffled laughs and shouts dispersed into the chill night.

“If it’s January 4th, 1913 here at Exeter College,” asked Ronald, “what time is it in Kentucky?”

“Yer sloshed, Ronald,” said Allen.

“Aaaah, tell it to the Jzzhermans …” Ronald slurred.

“Tell ‘em yerself … I reckon you’ll have the chance before long,” Allen replied but immediately regretted stating what was by now becoming horrifically obvious.

“Well, you certainly know how to crash a party, Yank.”

Ronald stood up and walked to the fireplace. He fished out a splinter of wood that still had a flicker of flame on its end and he held it to his pipe. “How ‘bout you tellin’ me ‘bout those neighbors of yours again? I can never get enough of it. Solid English names!”

“Who? The Maggots? The Boffins? The Proudfoots? Or is it Proud “feet” when there’s more than one? I can’t remember … The Tooks? The Brandybucks?”

“Noooo, the other ones … the ones with the big tobacco barns … with the boys who refused to wear shoes … went everywhere barefoot … with the funny name.”

“You’ve just described my whole town, Ronald …” Allen said dryly.

“… the old fellow … who invented that grand new number. What was it now? Aye! Yes! Eleven-teen!” Ronald yelled out.

“Oh! That’s Mr. Frodo you’re speaking of then!” and Allen Barrett once again spent the rest of the evening regaling his friend J. R. R. Tolkien with his tales from Shelbyville, Kentucky.


The Minstrel Knight

Ivo sang of Charlemagne as he pressed his heels into the sides of his mount and slowly trotted the base of the hill at Santlache. He drew a sword from its sheath and twirled it in his hand as he rode. The bright morning sun shimmered against the virginity of the spinning blade and made it look like a rod of fire. Ivo noticed the effect and was enamored with it. He twirled faster and urged his horse into a canter.

Now Ivo was singing of Olivier and he was directing himself zig-zag up the hill. Ivo was still spinning his sword and began tossing it lightly into the air as he did. He could hear voices below starting to sing along with him, which caused him to amplify his performance even more. He tossed his sword high into the air and it flipped end over end two times before he caught it flat in his open palm. Cheers came from behind him and Ivo moved into a slow gallop, edging more into a straight line towards the peak of the hill.

At the top of his lungs, Ivo sang of Roland. Eight thousand voices joined in and pushed at his back as his steed snorted and dug into the escalating ground. At full gallop, Ivo held his arm straight out to the side and balanced his blade by the quillon, supporting it on just one finger.

At the third hour, Ivo Taillefer rode into the mass of infantry. He flipped the sword into his grip and raised it into attack position. The last word that the English soldiers heard was “Durendal!” before the air moaned with the flights of two thousand Norman arrows.

It was October 14th, 1066, the last time that England would ever fall to foreign invasion.


with Signs Following

The sixth of July, 1909 was a hot one in the Grasshopper Valley of Tennessee and George sweat profusely as he purposefully stepped his way to the top of White Oak Mountain. He didn’t notice the heat though; his mind was spinning with the Holy Spirit. “And they shall take up serpents ...” he intoned to himself in a trance. “And they shall take up serpents …”

As the slope of his path diminished and he neared the top, a great rock loomed before him, cleft on the side as if split by the wrath of an angry God. It sparkled red and blue and green under the rays of light fingering through the boughs overhead. George fell to his knees and clasped his hands above his head. “Jeeeezus! Jeeeezus!” he implored, raising his eyes towards the heavens. “Anoint me with the Holy Spirit! Take my fears from my heart, Jeeeezus! Give me a sign! Behold, give unto me the power to tread on serpents and nothing shall by any means hurt me!”

George rose and moved quickly towards the chasm in the rock. The bone-chilling warning of a Timber rattler echoed from the walls of its enclosure. In the blink of an eye, George had the snake in his grasp, four fingers under the jaw and his thumb pressing down upon the back of it’s head. At first, the serpent writhed and coiled wildly around George’s arms but it soon became calm and George relaxed his grip. He felt the spirit moving in him now. “Signs and wonders!” he shouted at the top of his lungs. “Praize Jeeeezus! Amen! Signs and wonders!”

He inhaled a deep breath of fresh mountain air and started back the ten miles towards his Church of God. “Signs will follow”, George Hensley said quietly.


A Bigger Boat

Seagulls bobbed and weaved above the children on the beach, waiting for a stray french fry to hit the sand. A light comfortable breeze blew in from the Atlantic and mussed the hair of the young lifeguard on duty nearby. It was another quiet day for him. That made five quiet days in a row. He didn’t even have to go into the water.

He took a long look down the coast and at the pockets of people dotting the shoreline. There were a few less than normal for such a splendid summer day. Most of them were tourists, parked beneath the big striped umbrellas that the old Italian guy on the boardwalk would rent for $3 a day. There were several children building sandcastles. One was flying a kite. One was burying her father with the sticky golden sand, carrying a little pink pail back and forth to the edge of the water. “Not too close,” he yelled as her feet disappeared under the lapping tide.

But for the fifth quiet day in a row, almost no one was actually in the water. There were scores of people in up to their knees. But that was as far as they would venture. They were just standing there, staring, their eyes fixed on arbitrary little points of the blue expanse. It was very quiet.

The lifeguard checked his watch and hopped down from his station. “Good enough time for a break.” He trudged up the beach, across the boardwalk, and towards Main Street; the soda shop was only a few blocks down. Along the way, he passed the Bijou theatre and glanced up at the scrolling marquis: “July 25, 1975 Now Showing: JAWS …” He laughed to himself as he remembered his favorite line, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

The Death of Jesus Christ

Eighty-three year old William stood out in stark contrast against the crowd of dreary onlookers in the village of Lantrisant in South Wales. Not just because he was towering over them from atop a steep pile of coal. Not just because he was draped in a tunic and had a fox perched on his head. And it wasn’t just because he was shouting out incantations in a strange Druidic tongue. He stood out because he was about to set fire to the body of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ was William’s five month old son who had died of a dental infection a few days before. What William was about to do on January 18th, 1884 was technically not illegal, but no one was quite sure since it hadn’t even been considered for a very long time. But William was adamant that he not waste good land and pollute his mother earth with the flesh of man.

With a burning torch raised towards the sky, William’s voice thundered out into the chilly wet morning, “Gods and Goddesses of the Tuatha De Dannan, with the flames of your spirits I light this sacred fire!” The torch fell from his hand and onto the resin-soaked kindling that swaddled the dead child. The flames had just started to rise when someone in the crowd rushed the hill, shoved William aside and snatched the body from the embers. The fox fell from his head as two policemen roughly ushered William from the scene.

By the end of the next month, Victorian custom had been turned on its head by the crazy old man. William Price was found to have broken no laws. The precedent was set and cremation became common practice. William went on to father a second “Jesus Christ” at the age of ninety.


Enter the Man in Black

“Who’s there, Harry?” his wife inquired from the kitchen.

“It’s nothing, dear. Just a man seeing about my boat. I’ll be back again after breakfast,” he called back.

“But you just came back! Where are you going now?” she protested but Harold had closed the door and was already stepping into a 1947 Buick that was sitting in his drive, shiny and black.
Harold studied the man from the corner of his eye as they drove in silence to a nearby diner. He’d take a quick peek every few seconds and make an observation. Black suit covering a crisp white shirt. Very thin material, shiny but not silk. His hat was still on, black also. Skinny, and kind of pale. His eyes were little dark almonds. Hairless; maybe a little under his hat but his face was smooth.

“Do you love your family, Mr. Dahl?” the stranger asked as he suddenly met Harold’s glance.

The abrupt question startled Harold and it took him a few seconds to answer, “Of, of course.”

“Splendid,” the stranger said robotically.

They arrived at the diner and went to a corner booth where Harold ordered coffee.

“Let me get down to brass tacks, Mr. Dahl,” the man in black began. “Yesterday was June 21st. I know what happened. To you, to your son, to your poor dog. I know about the craft and the debris. I know you were out taking pictures this morning.” The man spoke like an automaton for five more minutes, shocking Harold with details of the incident that he had told to no one.

“Forget it,” he concluded, “If you love your family, June 21st never happened. It never happened.”

Harold was speechless. He just nodded his head.

“Splendid then, let me take you home to your lovely family, Mr. Dahl.”


Stopping a Killer

One of the most prolific killers that the world had ever seen was on the run. Three men - Banting, Best and Collip - had devoted their lives to stopping the carnage. They had followed every clue and chased every lead in their relentless pursuit of this monster and their journey led them now to a large open ward in Toronto General Hospital. The room was filled with children, pale and emaciated from their starvation diets. Three quarters of them were comatose. It was January 23rd and if the trio didn’t act quickly, a dozen more victims could be added to the list by day’s end.

Banting, Best and Collip entered the ward with some nervousness and apprehension. There was a buzz in the air. They had been here just twelve days before and confronted the killer face to face. The enemy was left wounded after the scuffle but no arrest was made. The three men learned from their experience though and weren’t about to give up. Not when they were so close. They gave each other quick nods and walked side by side by side towards the first bed where 14 year old Leonard Thompson saw them approaching and allowed a smile. He was propped up and waiting for them, the sleeve of his gown rolled up and ready for another injection of those mysterious little crystals.

Within minutes, it was apparent to the doctors that Leonard’s diabetic symptoms were fading. They quickly began going from bed to bed administering miracles to each child, pardoning their death sentences one by one. Before they reached the last row of children, the first ones were already coming out of their comas.

Banting, Best and Collip then sold their patent on insulin to Toronto General Hospital for the princely sum of $1.


Beautiful Pigeons

The child was stillborn. He emerged from his mother’s womb cold and limp. The midwife wrapped the tiny body in a towel and gently abandoned him on a corner table in the adjoining room. The health of the mother was the first concern now so they all turned their backs on the little corpse and rushed to console the mother and father. Salvador gripped his brothers shoulders firmly and told him “Lo siento, hermano, lo siento.”

As mournful sounds of loss filled the room, Salvador slipped away to take one last look at what would have been his first nephew. He peeled the towel from around the infant’s face and stared at what might have been. As he did, the thought came to him that the boy’s color was not as off as it should have been, considering he had been dead now for at least 15 minutes. Salvador took a long drag on his cigar and blew a thick cloud of oily smoke straight into the baby’s nostrils. It suddenly opened its eyes in a nasty scowl and emitted such a sharp and angry groan that it knocked Salvador off his feet.

On November 10th in the Santiago Church, Don José and Maria held their little miracle over the font as the priest recited the sacrament, “I baptize thee in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” Along with his parent’s names, he was to be known as Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Maria de los Remedios Cipriano Santísima Trinidad.

Thirteen years later, Don José caught his son painting over a sketch of pigeons that he had left out. “Pablo Picasso!” he shouted and was about to scold him but instead, tears came to his eyes. José vowed to never paint again.



Morayma took her husband’s hand and pressed it to her cheek. Atop a peak 2,800 feet above Granada, they both looked down at their beloved Qal’at al-hambra. It’s thirteen vermillion towers, whitewashed here and there, starkly rose hundreds of feet above the river Darro. The endless fountains and pools within reflected the sun and blinked like a thousand little stars. And just over the walls, they could make out the Generalife, their garden of paradise where Morayma would walk in happier days with her husband among the jasmine and azahar and bougainvillea. She had only just composed herself after hours of ceaseless crying when she began to sob heavily again. It was January 2nd, 1492. After nearly eight hundred years al-Andalus was gone, Granada the last of the great cities to fall under the conquering cross. Expelled, she cried for their paradise lost.

Her husband, the king, could no longer contain himself either. In anguish, he dropped to his knees and groaned. “Allah Achbar! But when did such misfortune equal mine?!” He wrapped his arms around Morayma, and they both wept bitterly.

From a smooth outcropping of dolomite along the southern trail, the king’s mother heard his crying and stormed over to reproach him. “You weep now like a woman over what you could not defend as a man!” The scorn in her voice stabbed at Muhammad’s soul. He took one more doleful look at the banners of Ferdinand and Isabella flying over the fortress and rose and lifted his wife to her feet. Servants and guards rushed over to help them mount their horses and like a funeral procession, they continued their sorrowful journey into the towering snow-capped mountains of the south to their exile in the valley of Purchena. This would come to be the “Moor’s Last Sigh.”


Dreaming Again

Gene was having the dream again - the morphine gave him plenty of opportunities for it - a cold and rainy New Year’s Day, just twenty five days after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Cities on the west coast were still in fear of a second attack, but Gene was in Durham and he was playing football.

Mud was caked between his fingers and he slid them down his soaked jersey to clear them. It didn’t do the job so he bent down to one knee and swished his numbed hands vigorously in the inch-deep puddle where he was lined up along the 32 yard line. The coldness of the water stung at the little cuts on his palms and he slapped them together several times to bring some life back to them. Open, close. Open, close. His knuckles cracked as he shook them out.

The next thing Gene knew, the ball had been snapped and he was streaking across the field, his arms stretched out before him, reaching for the wobbling slick leather ball. He caught it with his fingertips and sucked it in and under his arm. Twenty eight yards later, he was in the end-zone, hugging his drenched teammates, slapping their filthy backs and shaking their crusted hands. His touchdown was the deciding score in the 1942 Rose Bowl. He was the Most Valuable Player. He raised his arms and pumped his fists into the air.

Gene Gray awoke then, moaning in pain. The glory of his dream was quickly gone, replaced by flashing memories of his jet. Of flaming out. Of being consumed by a fireball in the jungle. His body was now burnt like steak, his skin cracked and weeping. He tried to stretch his arms out again, but he couldn’t – they were gone.

A Young Detective

The papers would not make any mention of it and outside of a small group of acquaintances, no one else would ever know about it. But on November 25, 1949 a murder was committed at Tudor Mansion in Hampshire. Doctor Lawrence Black, an eminent anthropologist and widely considered a “man of letters,” was found bludgeoned in his kitchen. A cursory inspection of the estate quickly turned up two bottles of very expensive champagne in the sink, empty of their contents. A blood-stained shillelagh was soon found in the dining room across from the kitchen. Black had used the shillelagh to help himself down the steep stairs ever since his supposed “accident.”

Suspicion immediately fell upon Blanche, his cook, because she was the only one with a key to the kitchen which was regularly locked at 11:00 p.m. each night. It was assumed that Black had gotten up in the middle of the night, hungry for a snack. That he had made his way downstairs with his stick and surprised Blanche dipping into his private reserves. It was likely that Black dismissed her from his home, whereupon the inebriated Blanche, overwhelmed at the prospect of losing yet another job, took matters into her own hands and turned upon her employer. This theory was universally accepted, that is until a 12 year old boy put forth his own observations.

The boy didn’t think that Blanche White had anything to do with the murder at all. Sure, she may have been stealing a nip or two from Black’s wine vault, but he knew that she wasn’t in on the murder. She was sleeping off her binge in the study when the murder occurred.

“It was Reverend Jonathan Green,” the boy said.

“… in the Conservatory.”

And, opening the envelope, “… with the candlestick.”

Madman on the Roof

“Police! Police! Look there!” The crowd which had been spending a leisurely sunny afternoon on the River Seine was now in a panic, gesturing wildly towards the roof of the morgue. “He’s mad!” Gendarmes jumped from their slumber behind Notre Dame when they heard the commotion and ran towards the scene. A mysterious black car sped away across the bridge with two men inside who minutes before had roughly handcuffed the lunatic and wrapped his arms with rope.

The four panting policemen arrived at the base of the building and looked up at the curious sight. The small man was wearing only his underwear and was now pacing nervously back and forth, raising his bound arms into the air. Every few seconds he approached the edge, curling his toes over the granite lip, and looked down into the murky water below. “He’s going to jump!” one of the officers shouted.

And then he did. His head-first suicidal dive etched into the minds of those who witnessed it. “He’s a goner, for sure.”

A small boat launched from the opposite shore and sped to the splash-site. Two of the onlookers and one of the policemen dove into the river, hoping to rescue the poor victim when he bobbed up. The body surfaced – but its arms were no longer bound; they were propelling the little man towards the boat. He was lifted in and ferried to the shoreline where the black car was waiting. He dove into an open door and was hastily spirited away.

The evening edition of April 1, 1913 carried news of the day’s events. It described the shock and confusion of the incident and mentioned that the police had filed papers for the prosecution of Harry Houdini under the laws of indecent exposure and swimming during restricted hours.


This is No Time for Business

Back in Italy, business was proceeding as usual. Several men were locked in a spacious upper apartment hammering out the details of their projected monthly expenditures. Michael Ghislieri, who was in charge of the meeting, deplored the minutiae of these financial concerns but tried his best to listen intently to each and every detail because he knew that money was short. Every coin had to be stretched to its maximum benefit.

Several hours into the meeting however, right around 5 o’clock, Michael became distracted. The others didn’t notice as he gingerly rose from his seat and moved trance-like to the window on the opposite side of the room. He stopped there and gazed intently upon the eastern horizon.

Meanwhile, Bartolomeo Busotti, the treasurer of the group, came upon a slight irregularity in the math he had been proofing and verbalized his concern to Michael. Receiving no acknowledgment of his words, he raised his eyes from his papers and saw the now-empty chair, “Oh …”

He spun around and saw Michael standing in the window. He watched him silently for several minutes. When the old man’s shoulders began to ever so slightly convulse, he tapped the arms of the others to alert them that it might be time to break for dinner.

“Your Holiness …” Busotti spoke softly.

Pope Pius V turned from the bright window, tears streaming down his cheeks, "This is no time for business. Go and thank God. Our fleet has just won."

At the very same moment on October 7th, 1571, about 600 miles to the east, Don John of Austria and his crew were hauling down the colors on the Turkish commander’s flagship. Up went the standard of the Holy League. The Battle of Lepanto was ended. Christendom and the West were safe again. For now.

Happy to be Aboard

George wasn’t making any headway. After three exhausting hours of frantic paddling, he was sure of it now. The current was too strong. He was being pushed towards the island. His head was pounding from the gash that opened when it slammed against the tail of his plane. He couldn’t stop vomiting up the sea water he had swallowed and he cried when he saw the small boats pushing off from the northeastern shore. The image of that poor Australian officer kept flashing in his mind.

When the little black spot in the vast expanse ahead of him suddenly morphed into a periscope, George thought his fate was sealed. He stopped paddling and slumped over in his raft. It wasn’t until the life-lines began splashing in the waves around him that he heard the shouts – in English. Within minutes, he was welcomed aboard the USS Finback. “Happy to be aboard,” was his quiet response.

On September 2nd, 1944, Japan was reeling. They had awakened the “sleeping giant” and its resolve was fearsome. But they had no option but to keep fighting. The Emperor, a god, had decreed it. How do you refuse a god? Guam, Tinian, and Saipan had already fallen and American air power was working its way up the chain towards Tokyo. Chichijima was the new target. Twenty year old George was supposed to hit the radio towers. George did his job. Two thousand pounds of explosives slammed into the island, but during his dive, George’s plane was hit.

George lived to become the 41st president of his country. The other eight airmen that survived being shot down over “No Man’s Land” weren’t as fortunate. All eight were executed. Four of them were eaten.

“Why me?” George asked for the rest of his life, “Why did I survive?”

Another Fool

Southeast of Red Square, beneath the Kremlin’s Spasskaya Tower, is an ornate onion-domed Cathedral named for Saint Basil, the Holy Fool. Shortly before 7:30 p.m. on May 28, 1987, worshippers leaving the evening Liturgy services were stunned to see a little white airplane taxiing slowly across the bridge out front. The Cessna displayed a German flag on its tail as it rolled past the Cathedral and came to a stop about 100 yards from Red Square. The propeller ground down and choked with a loud smoky pop and the pilot-side door swung open. A very young looking man with a mat of thick black hair and wearing tear-shaped glasses hopped out onto the cobblestones. He stood with his hand on the door looking around strangely.

At first, passersby just stopped and stared for a few seconds before hurrying away. It was an uncertain time in the paranoid state and it was probably none of their business. But eventually, one by one, they began to approach. The pilot spoke a little Russian and chatted some with the interested onlookers. Someone soon called the police and within no time, the entire area had been cordoned off. Crowds lined the barricades to get a glimpse of the skinny little chastnik who was causing such a ruckus. Agents from the Ninth Directorate of the KGB arrived and had the now-terrified youth spirited away. “Heads are going to roll for this …” they whispered to each other.

Instantaneously, the story of the foolish diplomatic stunt of the foolish Mathias Rust was making its way through intelligence circles across the globe. Worse for the vaunted Soviet Air Defense though, was that they looked the bigger fools. The smooth-faced teenager had delivered something more explosive than a bomb quite literally on the doorstep of the Kremlin – humiliation.

706 Union Street

From the window near the reception desk, Marion Keisker amusedly watched the young man step out of an old Lincoln Zephyr, pull a beat up guitar from the rear seat and sling it over his shoulder. He bent forward and looked into the side mirror, rubbing a wet finger across his eyebrow. It was a busy Saturday inside so Marion couldn’t watch any longer and returned to her work in the back.

When she came out of the studio, she noticed the young man patiently sitting in the waiting room, guitar on his lap, foot tapping to some tune in his head. The first thing that struck her about him was his hair – jet black and long, raised up in a pompadour. It was accented by thick sideburns and filled with enough gunk and oil that she was afraid to smoke near him. The collar on his flashy pink shirt was turned up. He looked like he had walked out of the display window at Lansky Brothers on Beale Street. He snapped to his feet when he saw her.

They small-talked as the young man followed Marion to her desk. He wanted to make a record to surprise his mother. Sweet boy, Marion thought.

“So, you’re a singer then?” she asked him, of course already knowing the answer.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said shyly.

“Who do you sound like?” By his looks, she was guessing he would say Dean Martin, Vic Damone, or even Tony Bennett.

“Well … I don’t sound like nobody,” he said thoughtfully and confidently.

When the young man had finished his recording, paid the $3.98, and was gone, Marion kept a tape of his session and sealed it in an envelope. On the outside, she scribbled “Sam, listen to this - July 18, 1953 - Elvis Presley.”

Bimbashi Joyce

On a bright June 27th, in 1920, A. C. sat hunched over his desk with a magnifying glass looking at the astounding pictures. They were already three years old but he had only recently been made aware of their existence. All of the experts and authorities he showed them to said that they were fakes. But they had to be real. They had to. His close friend Edward had personally gone to Cottingley to interview the photographers and their family and found them completely credible. It was he who had examined the original plates and reprinted the “epoch-making” images that A. C. was now holding in his hands.

Among other things, A. C. was a writer and he laboriously collected all sorts of interesting tomes that inspired him. On the massive bookshelf behind him was an impressive display of the world’s literature. The collection told the story of an extremely intelligent and successful person, well-traveled and well-versed in the doings of man. He was already past the age of 60 and had lived an exciting and decorated life.

One section of his library was devoted to his own works. These books, once written, A. C. never really glanced at again. The publisher would deliver him a copy and he would slide it into his shelf and forget about it. One book in particular, A. C. had apparently never even opened. Just below the volumes of Sherlock Holmes adventures, was a little collection of children’s stories and poems, for which he had written a tale called “Bimbashi Joyce.” If Arthur Conan Doyle had ever opened the book and flipped through its shiny pages, he may have noticed that the beautiful illustrations inside were the very models for the fairies that were posing in the photographs of the two girls from Cottingley.

Saint Vitus Day

An angry Gavril sat at a small street-side table along the open façade of Moritz Schiller's café in Sarajevo and picked at his ham sandwich. He coughed an unproductive tubercular cough and used his sleeve to wipe the spittle from his lips. Looking across Franz Joseph Street and the Miljacka River, he could see the little park where, the night before, his girlfriend Jelena denied herself to him. He told her that he was going to die.

It was June 28th, Saint Vitus’ Day. To Gavril though, it was Vidovdan, the day when Prince Lazar gave his life defending Kosovo against the Ottomans in 1389; the day when the Sultan felt the cold steel of the great Serb Knight, Miloš Obilić. It was supposed to have been the day of another Serb triumph but it had all gone terribly wrong.

Gavril’s eyes rose at the sound of tires screeching on the street before him. A deep red touring car ground its gears as it tried to reverse itself. It stalled. Gavril calmly rose, reached into his pocket and produced a Browning 1910. He raised it at the surprised passengers in the rear seat, a couple dressed in formal attire. He looked at the woman and hesitated. She was pregnant. He nearly turned away to run but five and a half centuries of pride stayed him.

Gavril Princip closed his eyes in a long blink and jerked the trigger. The woman loosed a glottal yelp. He squeezed again and the man’s jugular burst open. Franz Ferdinand and his wife bled out as the car sped away.

Scratched onto the wall of Gavril’s prison cell was “Our shadows will be walking through Vienna, strolling through the court, frightening lords." He was right, but it was more frightening than even he ever imagined.