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.