The First National Bank

Michael Gray sat with his boys on a soft patch of clover staring back at the newly-finished cabin. It was built on a fine spot below the Animas Mountains, surrounded by endless grasses, and only a day’s-ride to the lucrative silver mines out west. After years as a Texas Ranger, he was looking forward to a more relaxed life ranching and prospecting in the New Mexico Territory.

“Daddy,” his son Dixie asked, “you think more settlers will be coming?”

Michael slid his hand across the Colt in his belt. “I reckon," he mused, "once we push out the last redskin, like in Texas. I might imagine a little town growing here. The grocery and post office would fit in nicely by those oaks... maybe a schoolhouse down by the creek.

Dixie liked the idea of founding a new town. “We’ll need a proper bank, too,” he said, “to manage all the money we’ll be bringing in... won’t have to ride all the way to Tombstone anymore.”

Michael Gray wouldn’t be around to see his daydreams come to life. On August 23, 1881, nineteen-year-old Dixie was murdered by bandits on his way to Tombstone and soon after, Michael sold the ranch.

The reign of the western cattle barons would then begin at the Gray Ranch. The schools, post offices and grocery stores would come and go. After eighty years, with both the land and the cattle-companies bankrupt, Dixie Gray’s dream of a bank would come true too, though not quite in the way he envisioned.

Today’s Gray Ranch is itself a bank, a grass bank, the first of its kind. Through unique environmental agreements, it leases out its 500 square miles of pristine pastureland to independent ranchers, preserving a way of life by preventing grazing land from ever becoming exhausted again.


The Alexandrian Solution

“We’ve been here floundering around for weeks!”

Alexander was irate at his siege-engineers. He stood in the shallows off the coast and looked out upon the fortress a thousand yards out into the Mediterranean Sea.

On January 27, 332 BC, the thirty-thousand men on the island city of Tyre sat securely, confident that the latest invader-king would eventually have to sue for peace. Tyre was impenetrable. Because of the rocks surrounding the island, no ships could get close enough to use their rams against the fortifications. Even if they could somehow land, the walls were one-hundred and fifty feet high, and any attackers would immediately be annihilated from above.

Alcippus, who’d joined the army during the Phrygian campaign, was surprised that a solution had not yet presented itself. “My king,” he began, “I joined you after witnessing the favor with which the gods regard you. I’m certain that with just a little more time, it will become obvious...”

Alexander snapped, “Must I do everything myself?!”

He grabbed the surprised Alcippus by the hair and began to drag him out into the water, intending to drown him in front of the others as an example. After pulling him along in the water for almost fifty yards, he stopped and released him. He was still only knee-deep in the sea.

“How far do these shallows extend?”

“All the way to Tyre, my king, six feet at the deepest,” Alcippus stammered.

In the same fashion with which he solved the Gordian Knot, by cutting straight to the heart of the matter, Alexander recognized the obvious and he smiled.

By July, two enormous catapults had smashed Tyre’s walls to bits, brought within range along a causeway patiently built rock by rock from the coast. Alexander the Great’s Macedonian army literally walked onto the island.


The Raising of Lazarus

Anatole noticed the bruise on his arm on the day that Ceauşescu came to power. It was a dark red oval on his otherwise unblemished skin. It probably happened when the police came to break up the clandestine meeting he’d attended three days earlier. It didn’t hurt so he thought little of it; there were more important things for an anti-communist in Romania to think about at the time. But the bruise grew larger, and darker, over the ensuing months. As the purple spread towards his wrist, the hair caught in its path fell out which made the splotch much more noticeable.

Anatole noticed the numbness in his fingers on the day he was arrested on suspicion of anti-government activities. A secret informant tipped off the Securitate that he had been seen loitering around the vacant home of a dissident pamphleteer. He was released after a few days with the warning that he would be watched. Anatole assumed that the deadening in his fingers was from the handcuffs they’d kept him in. But the bald patch of steadily-blackening skin began to concern him and he kept his sleeves rolled down.

Anatole noticed the smell on the day he was ordered to undergo a mental evaluation for not having registered with the Party. The doctor noticed it too, as well as his blackened arm and clumsy curled fist. After that day, no one ever saw Anatole again. It was the beginning of a time of disappearing and nobody asked questions.

On Christmas day, 1989, eight years after a cure for leprosy, and after nine days of revolution, a transistor radio in the hidden leper colony of Tichilesti crackled that Nicolae Ceauşescu had been executed by firing squad.

Anatole, blind and without a nose, raised himself up and smiled a toothless smile.



If Janina still had her watch, she might have known it was her thirty-second birthday, April 22, 1940.

It had been a trying seven months in Soviet captivity. No matter. Janina kept her spirits for her strength was her stubbornness. Nobody but her God, and sometimes her father, was allowed to set limits upon her. That’s how she had become a pilot and even a parachutist, unheard of for a woman. It’s how she’d earned the rank of Lieutenant in the Polish Army. She never let her situation define her and wasn’t about to acquiesce now. So when the NKVD officer appeared that morning to transfer more of her fellow officers to yet another unknown prison, she demanded not to be separated from them.

At first, the young soldier assigned to transport her revealed a hint of decency and was somewhat gentler on Janina as he secured her wrists behind her back. But when she slipped her hand through the knot and waved it in his face, he grew red and became extra-rough in his second attempt. The rope now tore into her skin and he threw a sack over her head before shoving her into the back of a Black Maria.

The car rumbled away from Smolensk for a short time and then it took a sharp right into the forest. It stopped at a place called Goat Hill and Janina was dragged by three waiting soldiers for about 50 yards before halting. They yanked off her hood.

The first and last thing Janina Lewandowska saw in the next three seconds was a pit. Twelve feet deep and a hundred feet wide. It was full of bodies.

The Katyn massacre signaled the extermination of nearly 25,000 of Poland’s best and brightest, including almost half of its officer corps.


An Attack on Liberty

Quartermaster third class Jackson climbed the signal bridge shortly after 0400 on June 8, 1967. He liked the mid-watch. It was quiet, with most of the crew asleep there was rarely any excitement. Just him, the helmsman, the lookout, and the Officer of the Deck. The weather was pleasant and they’d passed their four hours together playing trivia games: name that tune, history, sports. Upon his relief, he spent a few more minutes staring up at the stars.

As he finished his Marlboro and tossed it into the slow-moving bow-wake some eighty feet below, he noticed that the lanyard securing the ensign had slipped loose. Sailing at five knots against a thirteen knot wind, the flag had worked itself free and was flying loose. Quickly, he reached out and grabbed the flailing line and rewrapped it around the empty cleat. Feeling a sense of pride, he descended the ladder and headed to his rack.

Jackson raised the colors again some twelve hours later beneath the bright Mediterranean sun. It was the holiday flag, twice the size of the shredded one that lay smoldering at his feet. He looked down from the signal bridge at the chaos that now consumed his ship. Napalm and white phosphorous fires covered the decks and the charred bodies of sailors lay strewn about. Bombers flew overhead and torpedo boats strafed the empty lifeboats hanging over the side.

Somehow, this weakly-armed listening ship survived three hellish hours of this attack without assistance from the nearby Sixth Fleet. It limped to port filled with thousands of holes, including a 40’ opening in her starboard beam.

The 200 casualties of the USS Liberty and their survivors have yet to receive a satisfactory explanation of why Israel conducted this attack and why the Secretary of Defense disregarded their SOS.


Fulk Nerra

The two servants rushed into Fulk’s chambers. He was still screaming incoherently.

By torchlight, they saw him standing atop his mattress, desperately trying to climb the wall at its headboard. His fingertipss were bloodied; the nails had broken off against the stone. When they called out to him, his mad scrambling stopped and slowly he turned his anguished face toward them. He stared past them with dilated eyes and whispered in an exhausted faraway voice.

“They won’t leave me alone...”

The servants said nothing, as this scene had become familiar in recent months, but only gave their hands to help him back down under his blankets.

When he was settled back into bed, one of the servants pulled up a chair next to the old man’s sweaty gray head.

“Who was it this time, master?”

Count Fulk had spent his lifetime consolidating the House of Anjou in Western France. He was extremely successful. His territory had grown incredibly and was marked with new towns, abbies, fortresses and castles. His neighbors at least feared his hard-gained power if they didn’t respect him, for Fulk’s success lay in the fact that he knew no boundaries. He was called a plunderer, a murderer, a robber, and a swearer of false oaths. He was truly a terrifying character of fiendish cruelty.

“It was all of them... even my wife...” he said shakily, “Make arrangements to travel immediately. I only pray I have time...”

On April 6, 1040, Easter Sunday, the trio approached the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Fulk was naked and being dragged along by one of his servants while the other followed behind, whipping his bare back with a stick. Severe in his lust for power, Fulk Nerra was just as severe in his penance.

He died on his return from the pilgrimage.