Archive for February, 2014

As the world’s only Superpower, the United States is in full retreat under the Obama administration. As President Obama abdicates his role as leader of the free world in favor of enhancing his celebrity status, our safety is the price he is willing to pay for his foolhardiness. To ensure our demise, he has announced Draconian cuts in defense.

Ironically, he has also announced that the era of austerity is over, which must be good news to those he champions—drones over worker bees. Since he has increased our national indebtedness from 10.5 trillion to 17.3 trillion—a 61 percent increase—I wonder how much more debt he intends to put on the backs of the American people? Can this be stopped? Not as long as the Senate is being led by the Democrats, it can’t.

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People do not have the right to unregulated rights in this country—Al Sharpton

This statement by Rev. Al Sharpton epitomizes the difference between the beliefs of Progressives and those of us who recognize that inalienable rights are just that—inalienable. Like Sharpton, President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the Attorney General (Eric Holder) all believe they have a duty to infringe upon our rights. It’s their mission in life to do so.

Because these are core values to conservatives and libertarians, the conflicts between both sides have been caustic and vitriolic, creating a political cleavage in our nation that is significant. For most political differences throughout our history, we have learned to compromise—but not always.

Our Forefathers were wise in their choice of words, foreseeing what the future would be. They called our rights inalienable, and that’s exactly what they are. Consequently, those of us who choose to stand by our convictions—those of us who know what our inalienable rights encompass—we will never submit to the tyrannical beliefs of the Progressives. It’s just not going to happen and, because these rights were endowed to us by our Creator, we have Divine Providence to empower us in this struggle.

—Jack Watts

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There is a vast difference between what I believe is a scandal and what Progressives believe. In a recent interview, Bill Maher said that Benghazi wasn’t a real scandal. Apparently, it was just something concocted by the Republicans to embarrass President Obama and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. By the way Maher said it, to me it was obvious he believes what he said.

This didn’t anger me. Instead, it made me become more reflective. Out of my reflection came increased determination. Our job is to retake our nation from the Progressive Socialists, but it isn’t going to be easy. Nothing of great value in life ever is.

It does no good to lament where we are, bemoaning the way things used to be. Instead, we must become stronger in our convictions, while also becoming less strident, which is counterproductive. We can do this, but only through the strength of Holy Spirit of Almighty God. So, gird yourself for battle. This year, our goal is to retake the Senate, ending Harry Reid’s reign of injustice. In two years, it’s the White House.

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The FCC blinked. Clearly overstepping its bounds, this attempt by the Obama administration to have monitors placed in newsrooms to assess to “Critical Information Needs—CIN” of Americans, found stiff opposition, especially from FOX News, Drudge, and the social media. Reminiscent of how Senator Rand Paul had to filibuster to get Attorney General Holder to admit that the Obama administration had no right to target American in the United States with drones, the outcry of civil libertarians has been firm concerning potential spying on news agencies. The AP wiretapping case also comes to mind.

On this one, the liberals can thank the conservatives for standing up for their 1st Amendment rights. The Obama administration has systematically attacked 1st, 2nd, and 4th Amendment rights, looking for ways to infringe upon our liberties. By standing up to the bureaucratic bullies, we have won this round, but the fight will continue. Make no mistake about that.

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Copyright © 2014 by John T. (Jack) Watts

All rights reserved. Written permission must be secured from the publisher to use or reproduce any part of this book—except for brief quotations in critical reviews or articles.





Full Moon Frenzy





You know, I’ve always loved St. Patrick’s Day. It provides a perfect illustration for the values Irish kids like me developed growing up. The holiday honors the life of an extraordinary man of God by transforming his accomplishments into a bacchanalia where everybody gets knee walking drunk.

What other ethnic group has done something like this? If nothing else, it shows how creative the Irish are. In fact, the celebration makes the Irish so envied millions dress in green each March 17th and pretend to be one of us. It provides others with a perfect excuse to get wasted, which everybody knows is the favorite pastime of the Irish.

But St. Patrick’s Day isn’t the only occasion the Irish use to imbibe. Take the death of my father in 1977, for instance. He was the only one who didn’t get drunk at his wake, and that’s the God’s truth. Having grown up in an Irish-Catholic home in Boston, I learned at an early age drinking was an anticipated part of every social gathering, whether secular or sacred. Regardless of the occasion—be it a birthday party, Christmas dinner, or a child’s Confirmation—without exception, alcohol was present.

As a child, I used to take a sip out of my dad’s glass regularly, but drinking wasn’t all I learned from him. I also learned to tell stories. I listened with amazement to his lewd prevarications long before I developed the skill myself.

When he got going, people were mesmerized and laughed uproariously, especially when he delivered the punch line. Upon finishing, his audience would fill up their glasses and return for the next round, repeating the cycle late into the evening.

I loved this bawdy lifestyle and pursued it for a long time—that is, until it finally caught up with me. That’s when I finally admitted I was an alcoholic. When I stopped drinking, which was more than two decades ago, I not only gave up alcohol but most of its accompanying lifestyle. What I didn’t give up, however, was story telling. Like my dad, it has become part of my personality—something that came to me as naturally as breathing.

This brings me to the story I am about to tell. It’s about some folks I met in Alcoholics Anonymous several years ago. Although drinking was definitely part of their story, it isn’t the main focus of this narrative. You see, their story also involves a mystery. By the way, if you’re wondering if the story is true, let me just say this: being Irish, there’s a lot of “blarney” in me. Enough said.

Now, let’s get to it. The story begins on a Friday evening in the fall, when the moon was full, and Melissa Gordon walked out of her house, headed for work.


Everything Was in Order

Walking outside, she breathed in the evening air that had just a hint of coolness—a pleasant change after so many hot, sticky summer nights. It was the first Friday in October and, as Melissa Gordon looked up, she noticed the full moon, which dampened her enthusiasm a bit. It meant the evening would be very busy at Peachtree Medical’s emergency room, located in the heart of Buckhead—the most affluent section of Atlanta.

Hastening her pace, she walked across her well-manicured yard in Alpharetta and opened the door to her Cadillac Escalade. It was as immaculate as the day she bought it, nearly three years earlier. She loved her SUV and believed it retained its new-car smell. That always made her smile. As she backed out of the driveway, she stopped for a second to take a glance at her surroundings. Her two-story brick home was perfectly nestled in her elegant yard—a yard that was as green as it had been in late spring, thanks to all the rain Atlanta accumulated that summer. She was pleased by what she saw. Everything was in order—an order meticulously created and maintained by her.

She loved the life she had fashioned for herself, as well as for her son Joseph, and she was determined to preserve everything exactly the way she wanted it.

By any definition, Melissa Gordon was a formidable woman. She kept her staff in line easily, insisting they do precisely what was expected of them. As the charge nurse in Atlanta’s third largest triage center, she ran the show, and everybody knew it. Although retaining the refined and elegant mannerisms of a Southern lady, Melissa was no shrinking violet. She was a “steel magnolia,” and few were willing to cross her. Those who did paid a heavy price for their effrontery.

Now divorced for six years from her narcissistic, verbally abusive husband, she actually thought about Dwayne for a moment that evening, as she sped toward the hospital. She didn’t think of him often. Such thoughts were always a downer.

She married Dwayne at twenty, when she was still quite young and naïve, becoming a mother at twenty-four, which she quickly realized was a mixed blessing. She loved her son, who became the most important person in her life the instant she held him for the first time. She named him Joseph, after the patriarch Jacob’s favorite son. According to the biblical story, Joseph, along with his eleven brothers, became the twelve tribes of Israel. The name Melissa chose indicated the purpose and high expectations she held for her baby.

By having a child with Dwayne, she was forced to remain shackled to him for a decade longer than if had she been childless. It was a choice she made consciously. She stayed with Dwayne, despite his foul temper and scolding tongue, for the sake of her son and for fear of what people would say, especially people at church. Maintaining the appearance of having a perfect marriage was very important for Melissa, and she went to great lengths to maintain her carefully constructed facade. In her heart, she didn’t love Dwayne, despite trying to convince everybody that she did, including herself.

Although Melissa had become a woman of stature, she certainly didn’t begin that way. She was definitely a late bloomer. Somewhat shy and pudgy in high school and well on into her nursing school years at the University of Alabama, Melissa trimmed up nicely by the time Joseph became a toddler. Some women are just like that. By his eleventh birthday, when she was thirty-five, she had become a truly beautiful woman in every sense of the word, which also meant she had outgrown her husband. Dwayne loved that she was beautiful but bitterly resented other men noticing her. It was an affront to his insecure, jealous, and possessive nature—all of which fed into his abusiveness.

Now forty-one, when most of her peers were becoming flaccid and frumpy, Melissa still turned heads everywhere she went. Bright and well trained, she was far from one-dimensional. Her external beauty was augmented by a quiet, purposeful self-assurance that seemed to ooze out of every pore of her well-tanned, perfectly manicured body.

At 5’ 7”, she had an elegant ambiance that seemed perpetual. She always looked good, regardless of the occasion; despite how long or how hard she worked in stressful circumstances. She was always in control. With perfectly coifed light-brown shoulder-length hair—accented with blond hi-lights—her facial features were sharp and aristocratic, bestowing upon her a regal quality that was alluring and intriguing. Always in control, she often intimidated others, especially potential suitors.

Because she breast-fed Joseph until he was nearly a year old, she was flat chested, which was her one physical shortcoming. Within a month of her divorce, however, she underwent breast augmentation that perfected her figure and made her the envy of women many years her junior. Best of all, she used her ex-husband’s settlement money to pay for the enhancement. She knew this would infuriate him, but that’s precisely what she wanted. For once, she had allowed bitter, spiteful emotions to motivate her actions. With the added benefit he would never be allowed to touch them again, she had enacted perfect revenge toward Dwayne for his abuse and philandering. Just thinking about it brought a bitter, joyful smile to her face—one she would never permit another human to witness.

Part of her didn’t like harboring resentment. She knew it was wrong. Feeling guilty, she carefully camouflaged her feelings. Outwardly, she maintained the façade that she cared a great deal for her ex-husband and prayed for his restoration to the Lord daily, but she never did. It never even entered her mind. Like most hypocrites, she convinced nearly everybody of her altruistic motives.

She concealed her contempt well and never allowed anyone to know the real reason for the divorce, especially her ex-husband. Everybody thought that after years of conflict, she had finally reached a point where she was unwilling to continue, but that wasn’t it at all. The real reason went much deeper.

Having quality values, she had remained faithful to Dwayne throughout their marriage, despite his consistent abusiveness, which was aimed at her but also impacted their son. Despite everything, she was committed to holding the marriage together. That all changed, however, when she went to see her gynecologist and was diagnosed with a nasty case of genital herpes—given to her by her profligate husband. That’s how she learned he had been unfaithful.

He had given her an incurable, lifelong STD, which proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. His offense was so egregious and her mortification so complete, she never allowed him to touch her again. Neither did she confront him about it. She just couldn’t. Verbalizing the situation, especially to him, would have made her far too vulnerable, so she chose to end their tumultuous marriage instead.

She refused to consider reconciliation, despite Dwayne’s broken-hearted pleas for her to do so. His whining and blubbering did nothing but embitter and alienate her further. Irreconcilable, she insisted upon a divorce, and that’s precisely what she received.

With Dwayne out of the picture, she restored order to her life quickly, pouring herself into her work, her home, and especially into her son. Although she dated occasionally, she refrained from being intimate—not from lack of desire but from her steadfast refusal to disclose to a potential lover that she was “damaged goods.” Despite not having someone special in her life, things were progressing smoothly—at least most things.

Joseph, who was the delight of her life, had been a model child. The divorce didn’t seem to impact him nearly as much as Melissa had feared it would. In fact, Joseph thrived in his father’s absence.

To Dwayne, Joseph had always seemed to be an unwanted nuisance, which was something his son sensed. Kids always do. Consequently, Joseph clung to his mother. With her, he was always assured of being important, and he became a proverbial “mama’s boy” in the process. He did everything she asked—just like any dutiful son would, which included embracing her legalistic faith. Now nearly eighteen, Joseph had grown to become a strong, muscular, and innocent young man. At 6’ 2” and blessed with his mother’s good looks and confidence, Joseph was a comely young man, which everybody seemed to notice except for him. He was much too controlled by Christian legalism to permit that.

His music was his only creative outlet, and he loved it with a passion. Like his father, Joseph had a musical ear and became a first-rate guitarist, playing regularly in the band with his church youth group. To please his mother, Joseph lived a life that was regimented, ordered, and virtuous, never deviating from the straight and narrow—not once. He never even considered it.

From the time of the divorce, which was about the time Joseph reached puberty, Melissa playfully repeated this rhyme to Joseph every day:

We don’t smoke, drink, cuss, or chew,

And we never go out with girls who do.

When she said this, she always laughed—so did Joseph—but that didn’t mean it was a joke. She meant every word of it, which he knew, internalizing its restricting message unquestioningly.

Based on external behavior, it was quite obvious Joseph was Melissa’s son and not Dwayne’s. Because of this, Joseph continued to be the most rewarding part of her life. So far, he had not shown any of the brutish, philandering tendencies of his father, which was a relief and supremely gratifying to Melissa.

Nevertheless, as she drove to work that Friday evening, Melissa had a nagging prescience her well-ordered world was not running as smoothly as it appeared. As disturbing as her thoughts were, she had to put them out of her mind. Work required her full, undivided attention, especially when there was a full moon, which always spelled trouble in the ER.

·   ·   ·

As Melissa turned into the parking lot reserved for ER staff, her countenance shrank appreciably. Grimacing, she counted five ambulances parked at the landing dock. Shaking her head in dismay at what awaited her, she parked hurriedly, sneaked a quick glance in the mirror to make certain her make-up was impeccable—which it always was—took a deep breath, and walked past the EMTs who were hustling back and forth, oblivious to her presence.

Swiping her security nametag at the entrance to the double doors, she left her tightly controlled private world and entered her work world. She wanted to control the ER as completely as she controlled her son, but she couldn’t. The emergency room was chaotic more often than not—a place where bedlam reigned, but it was also the most exciting place on earth. Melissa loved it, and she was good at being in charge. Everybody respected her, including the doctors.

Despite this—even after fifteen years of nursing—she still had a knot in her stomach every time she stepped out of her world into the unknown domain of the ER. Like always, she wondered, Will someone die tonight? Because it was a full moon, she knew the answer but, because of her dogmatic beliefs, she wouldn’t allow herself to accept that a monthly nocturnal phenomenon could bring out the crazies. Nevertheless, she couldn’t deny that was what happened every month—no matter what.


                                                                                                        Bit into a Quince

“Thank God you’re here,” Tanisha Brown said as Melissa walked up to the triage station.

Upon hearing this, Melissa smiled ever so slightly. Comments like these provided the validation she always desired from her husband but never received.

She liked Tanisha—a heavy-set African-American woman who Melissa considered to be more competent than most of her nurses. Having raised five kids and three grandchildren, Tanisha could tell the difference between chicken salad and chicken you-know-what, which was an essential quality for the nurse tasked to be the triage gatekeeper. Having heard every story in the book, she wasn’t easily fooled, which made her a master at determining the seriousness of a patient’s complaint. Being responsible for ensuring serious medical issues were treated before the less serious ones, Tanisha was definitely the nurse for the job.

Glancing at the waiting room, which was nearly full, Melissa looked back at Tanisha and asked, “Is it as bad as it looks out there?”

“Worse,” Tanisha snapped plaintively. “I’ll bet it’s already an hour wait or more. The rooms are full—patients in the hallway—with just Luke and Marla-Dean on tonight. Plus, we are two nurses short,” Tanisha added, holding up two fingers for dramatic effect. Shaking her head in dismay, Tanisha groaned, “What a mess.”

“Oh dear,” Melissa sighed in exasperation, as she surveyed the daunting task awaiting her. “I’m sure it will be a two hour wait pretty soon,” Melissa added, knowing that Dr. Luke Easton needed twice the time to attend patients than what was required by other doctors. Meticulously thorough, Luke loved to talk, providing detailed explanations about the care proposed for each of the people he treated.

Easton’s attentativeness may have made him a more thorough doctor than his peers—but not on a night like this. With a full moon, it was overkill, and Melissa wouldn’t stand for it. Knowing what awaited her staff, she made a mental decision to pull Luke aside and insist he speed things up. As she saw it, she had no choice. Neither did he. At the same time, she was always careful with him, having nearly lost him a year earlier to Emory Medical School. Because of his high standards, they wanted him to teach ethics, but the salary was not nearly where it needed to be—not with two teenage daughters to raise and a socially active wife.

As her adrenaline began to kick in, which never required long, Melissa asked, “Is Lynda in charge today?”

“Yep! Right now, she’s in Room 1 with Marla-Dean. It’s a Code, and they’ve been there awhile.”

Understanding exactly what this meant, Melissa knew she wouldn’t be getting a full report on the patients—not tonight. Damn that full moon, she thought.

She glanced at her staff list for the night—Doug, Holly, Tanisha, and Maggie—their ER tech, plus her. Then she skimmed the patient board quickly, reviewing the medical problems already posted. Like a scoreboard at a ball game, the patient board was a large flat computer screen on the wall near the nurse’s station, listing the last three letters of the patient’s name—which conformed with HIPAA requirements—room number, and the initials of the RN that was in charge of their care. It also had the patient’s problem listed, as well as the initials of the attending physician. Functioning like a scoreboard at a baseball game, it provided a snapshot of everything Melissa needed to know. Scanning down the list, she noticed flu symptoms, chest pain, and abdominal pain. She thought, Good, nothing major so far.

Next, she looked at where Marla-Dean was. It read—Cardiac Arrest, Female, Age 76. She mused; I guess God’s taking this one home tonight.

Finishing her review, Melissa walked over to the triage board and asked Tanisha, “What does the waiting room look like?”

“Mostly stupid stuff,” Tanisha responded matter-of-factly. “One idiot has nothing more than a paper cut on his thumb, but he thinks he’s going to bleed to death. What a moron.”

Motioning for her to continue, Tanisha said, “There’s a thirteen-year-old girl with abdominal pains, severe nausea and vomiting—kind of like flu symptoms.” With her eyes brightening, she added, “And get this. See that guy over there in the corner wearing the beige turtleneck?”

Glancing out of the corner of her eye, Melissa nodded ever so slightly.

“He’s here because he’s constipated,” Tanisha commented, dryly.

“What?” Melissa asked.

“Yeah, and get this,” Tanisha added. “He’s only been constipated for twelve hours. He says he’s like clockwork. He thinks he has a blockage and it’s probably cancer,” Tanisha chuckled. “I can’t believe people pay us to tell them there’s nothing wrong with them. Are they just stupid, or what?”

“Good question,” Melissa replied sarcastically.

Pausing for a moment, Tanisha concluded, “I guess you just can’t fix stupid!”

Melissa, smiling broadly, nodded her head in full agreement.

Tanisha, who was also smiling, said, “If that guy bangs on my window one more time, he won’t have to worry about his constipation. I’ll beat the crap out of him myself.”

In spite of her religious constraints and all of the work awaiting her, Melissa started to laugh. She couldn’t help herself. Tanisha brought the humor out of her but this time, Tanisha started to laugh as well. Their frivolity was cut short, however, when Melissa heard her name being called in a loud, insistent way, which made her humorous mood evaporate abruptly. Something significant was happening.

It was Luke’s voice, which she recognized immediately, and it was coming from Room 1. Trying to reconstruct the patient board in her mind, Melissa wondered, Who is in Room 1?

She wanted to take a look but knew she didn’t have time. Luke’s tone was crystal clear and insistent; “I need you in here, now! It can’t wait.”

“It can never wait,” mumbled Tanisha, as Melissa scurried from the triage desk. All the nurses knew about Dr. Easton. He barked at least ten orders at a time and expected each to be fulfilled in five minutes, which irritated every nurse who worked with him. As Melissa turned to leave, she heard Tanisha reassure the constipated man, “It shouldn’t be much longer, sir. We’re working as fast as we can to clear out a room for you.”

Less than ten seconds later, Easton reiterated, “Melissa, I’m waiting!”

Like always, this infuriated Melissa, but she refused to respond in kind, knowing she had to pick her fights with him.

As she approached, in a more thoughtful tone, Easton added, “On your way, grab the ring cutter. And grab some Lidocaine, too.”

Stopping mid-stride in puzzlement, Melissa turned to retrieve the items Easton requested. With ring cutter in hand thirty seconds later, she entered, thinking she would be assisting him in cutting off someone’s wedding ring because of a broken finger, but that’s not what awaited her. Instead, when she saw the patient, she gasped, which is something a veteran charge nurse rarely does.

Staring up at her was an middle-aged man lying on the gurney—naked from the waist down—sporting a sizable erection.

Melissa froze, but just for an instant.

Without turning his head—but instinctively knowing what had just happened—Easton remarked, “Don’t even ask.” A moment later, he turned and looked at Melissa’s startled, blushing face.

Dr. Luke Easton—the poster boy for looking the part of a successful physician—was wearing starched blue scrubs that looked like a tailor had custom made them for him. His lab coat was pristine white—at least two shades whiter than any other doctor’s. Right above his heart, it proudly displayed, Luke Easton, M.D., in embroidered letters.

Image was important to Dr. Easton, which was clear to everybody, including casual observers. Trim and handsome, he was 6’ 1” with a full head of gently waving brown hair that made him look like he had been typecast for a doctor in a daytime soap opera. Being adopted at birth, he struggled with his identity, never knowing who he really was. Unable to find either of his birth parents, being a doctor provided him with many of the things kids from happy homes take for granted—but certainly not all of them.

In many ways, it was difficult to imagine Luke in a situation like this. It had a surreal quality to it. Although somewhat comical to the medical staff, it was no laughing matter to the patient, who was in tears.

The man’s swollen penis had three large metal key rings evenly spaced from just under the head of the penis all the way to the base. It was a sight neither Luke nor Melissa had ever seen before. That it was even possible to do something like this had never even entered their minds and, in the ER, they had seen it all. This was obvious by the look on Melissa’s face. She was speechless when she handed the ring cutter to Dr. Easton.

Luke took one look at the tool and then several looks at the key rings. Frustrated, he said, “This isn’t going to work, Melissa. We’re going to need major wire cutters,” emphasizing the word “major.”

“I’m sorry, Dr. Easton, we don’t have major wire cutters.”

Turning his head from the patient toward her, he made eye contact with Melissa, which told her everything she needed to know. By his look, he was sending her a non-verbal message that said: This guy is a whack job.

In a clear, verbal command he insisted; “Call down to maintenance and see what they have. While we’re waiting, he’s also going to need Dilaudid”—a narcotic used to treat moderate to severe pain.

“Start an IV immediately.” As he was walking out of the room, he ordered, “Give him 2.5mg IV.”

Melissa, who was rarely embarrassed by anything, especially by what happened in the ER, grabbed a sheet and carefully placed it over the man’s midsection, attempting to provide him with a measure of privacy, which the doctor was unwilling to do.

With this simple act of kindness, the man finally broke his self-imposed silence by saying, “I’m so embarrassed. I swear this is the first time I’ve ever tried this. At the store, they said it would enhance my . . . uh . . . you know?”

Melissa’s eyes widened as she tried to hide her revulsion, which she accomplished to some degree. Although horrified, she nodded her head compassionately, reassuring the man she understood his problem and sympathized with him completely. Heading for the door to retrieve the wire cutters from the maintenance department, she touched the man’s hand slightly, hoping it wasn’t the one he used to create the problem. As she did, she promised, “I’ll be right back.”

At the nurse’s station, she called maintenance, insisting they drop everything and bring her wire cutters immediately, which they did dutifully.

Two minutes later, a janitor, holding a pair of huge wire cutters, asked, “Is this what you’re looking for?”

“Yes, it is. Thank you, Cedric.”

“You’re welcome,” he replied, ambling off toward the cafeteria.

With wire cutters in hand, Melissa walked to the physician’s station, where Dr. Easton was laughing, telling Marla-Dean about “Ring Man.”

As Melissa was walking up, Marla-Dean looked at her with a mischievous smile and said, “I’m sure you’re delighted to be here tonight, aren’t you, Melissa?”

Replying, Melissa simply rolled her eyes, handing the “surgical instrument” to Dr. Easton. Holding them up, he quickly opened and closed the handles. Grimacing at how large they were, he let out a deep breath, turned to Melissa and said; “I think these will do.” He added, “Come with me immediately.”

Melissa turned to Marla-Dean, who smiled and returned the gesture of rolling her eyes, shaking her head at Easton’s lame attempt at humor. Melissa quickly turned and headed to Room 1, just a few steps behind the resolute doctor.

By the time Melissa entered the room, Easton had already removed the sheet, exposing the erect penis, which seemed to dominate the room. Working quickly, Easton cut off the ring at the base of the penis, followed quickly by the middle ring. The final ring, which was near the head of the penis, proved to be far more problematic. Easton had to get closer than he would have liked to cut the ring cleanly. With one quick jerk, however, he finally cut through the metal, instantly relieving the pressure.

When he did, all the seminal fluid that had built up in the man exploded right in Dr. Easton’s face. Jumping back instinctively, the doctor looked like he had just bit into a quince. Frantically, he grabbed a towel and began wiping the semen from his eyes, cheeks, and nose. He also tried to remove the stains from his lab coat, but they wouldn’t budge, ruining the garment. In fact, the lab coat had a stain in the exact spot that Monica Lewinsky had on the blue dress she wore, when she visited President Clinton in the Oval Office years earlier.

Finally, brushing his hand through his hair, one spot in the front stood up noticeably. It was as if he had put butch wax there, creating a place that stood as a memorial to this humiliating experience. Everybody noticed, but nobody pointed it out to the mortified doctor.

A few moments later, as Luke scampered past the triage desk on his way to his locker, Tanisha commented, “Eeeewww. What’s that all over you, Dr. Easton?”

Nonplussed, Easton didn’t stop, speak, or even break stride, as he sped forward, anxious to reach his locker. Arriving, he discarded his clothes and showered—scrubbing his embarrassment from his face, hair, and mind.

Melissa, who had followed him out of the room, was appalled by what had just happened, while being tickled at the same time. Walking up to Tanisha’s triage station, she said, “We probably should start calling Luke ‘Dr. Big Shot.’”

“I don’t get it,” Tanisha said with a puzzled expression.

“Let’s just say, he’s always wanted to be a big shot, and his last patient just made him one.”

That’s how Dr. Luke Easton—Atlanta’s “GQ doctor”—came to be called Dr. Big Shot. Although he was covered with semen for just a few seconds, his ridicule remained. It was just too good of a story to pass up and, like Lady Macbeth, in his mind Luke couldn’t clean the semen off completely. He continued to wipe his disgrace away for hours after he had showered. The staff, which should have shown compassion toward him, didn’t. Although healers by trade, medical personnel can be particularly sarcastic, and this was a perfect example of it. They continued to make jokes about the incident throughout the evening and well into the following week.

Two hours after the incident, Ring Man was discharged, along with his partner who had been treated at the ER as well. He had an “erection lasting more than four hours.” Nearly as foolish as his paramour, this buffoon took four 100 mg Viagra pills, when he should have only taken half a pill. To deflate his erection, his penis had to be lanced and drained of the accumulated blood, requiring a painful healing process.

Regardless of their negative experience, as they passed Tanisha’s triage station, they were already chatting about their next adventure. Stopping for a second, Ring Man asked if Tanisha could summon the doctor. He wanted to thank Dr. Easton and shake his hand.

Tanisha responded, “The doctor is busy with another patient right now.” She added, “Besides, don’t you think you’ve caused enough trouble for one evening?”



       Lucky to Have Her


Walking up to Marla-Dean, Melissa inquired, “I was so engrossed with Ring Man, I almost forgot to ask about the code in Room 5. Did the old lady make it?”

“No,” Marla-Dean answered with a hint of sadness. “There was really nothing we could do. By the time she arrived, the woman was pretty far gone.”

“That’s what I suspected,” Melissa replied. At the same time, she mused to herself, That’s our first full-moon fatality. I wonder how many more there will be?

Older “coded” patients rarely have positive results and, in the ER, doctors and staff are forced to take their deaths in stride, putting their passing behind them quickly. There is simply too much to do to spend time grieving, especially someone who is older.

Because of this, Melissa changed the subject abruptly, asking about another patient, which is precisely what Marla-Dean expected her to do. After nearly a decade of working together, they were in sync with each other’s mannerisms. Having a solid working relationship, they respected one another. From Melissa’s perspective, Marla-Dean was the best doctor in the ER, and Peachtree Medical was lucky to have her.

Marla-Dean grew up in a beautiful home on Peachtree Battle Avenue in Atlanta, having had a silver spoon in her mouth from day one. An only child from an affluent family, she went to Lovett School, graduating at the top of her class. Then, she attended the University of Georgia, where she was an Alpha Chi Omega—clearly the best sorority on campus. A high achiever, Marla-Dean graduated summa cum laude and was accepted into Emory Medical School in Atlanta.

A stellar student, she met her future husband, Grayson Bennington, during her last semester of med school. A graduate of Vanderbilt, Grayson was also nearing the end of his education, completing the last semester of his M.B.A. program at Emory’s Goizeta Business School.

Tall, athletic, and handsome, Grayson was bright, articulate, and gregarious, which made him highly sought after in the Atlanta business community. He had actually planned to move to New York upon graduation—where the real money was—but those plans evaporated the day he met Marla-Dean. For him, it was love at first sight. Everything changed for him the instant he saw her, which surprised Marla-Dean, but she welcomed it. Far more circumspect than he, it required three dates for her to fall in love with him.

Looking and acting the part of an emerging power couple, it seemed as if the two were a match made in Heaven. Grayson loved Marla-Dean for more than her brains and good looks, which she had in abundance. He loved her for her character qualities, especially her commitment to help the less fortunate. That being said, he couldn’t take his eyes off of her. She was a knock out.

At 5’5”, with short, dark-brown hair and matching eyes, Marla-Dean displayed a world-class smile, accented by cute dimples and perfectly straight, white teeth that had never required braces. With athletic legs and a perpetually tanned body, Marla-Dean looked like a billionaire’s trophy wife, but there wasn’t an ounce of pretentiousness to her. Nor did she have a materialistic bone in her body. She chose medicine—not because it was a lucrative occupation—but out of a deeply held desire to heal suffering people. Unlike many who entered her profession, Marla-Dean was the real deal—with a feisty personality and quick wit. Grayson immediately recognized her for who she was and knew this was the girl for him.

Their courtship was blissful, serene, and passionate. Less than a year later, they married at First Baptist Church in Atlanta, with Charles Stanley presiding. They held their sumptuous reception at the Swann House, honeymooned on the Greek Isle of Santorini, and moved into a luxurious condo on Peachtree Road in the heart of Buckhead.

Because her rank was so high in med school, Marla-Dean was accepted easily into Emory’s residency program. Working long hours at Grady Hospital to perfect her skills, she specialized in emergency medicine. Grayson went to work for Coca-Cola, which was just a couple of miles away from her. Although each was very busy, especially Marla-Dean, they began the charmed life of the rich and affluent.

When Marla-Dean finished her residency, she began working at Northside Hospital, which was just a ten-minute commute from her condo. Now board certified in emergency medicine, her long struggle to be accredited fully was complete. At Coke, Grayson had advanced nicely and was in a solid position to become one of the corporation’s key executives.

After five years of marriage, when Marla-Dean was thirty-one, she stopped taking her birth control pills—as planned—and tried to get pregnant, which proved to be more difficult than either she or her husband had anticipated. While on a “date night” six months later, they went to the movies to watch Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense at Phipps Plaza. In the middle of the movie, for no apparent reason, Grayson slumped over in his seat, clutched his chest, and fell to the ground, grimacing in pain.

Shocked, Marla-Dean fought fear and panic, as she began attending her husband, doing everything she could to keep him alive until the paramedics arrived. Despite her best efforts, nothing worked, and he was pronounced dead upon arrival at Northside Hospital—in the exact room where she had stitched a little boy’s chin less than twenty-four hours earlier.

A year younger than Marla-Dean, Grayson had just celebrated his thirtieth birthday. At the party celebrating the milestone, his friends mocked jokingly, referring to him as an “old man,” which after his sudden death seemed tasteless and ironic—but accurate.

Just like that, in the blink of an eye, Marla-Dean’s fairy tale life came to an abrupt end. The finality of it proved to be more than she could handle emotionally. One day, as she looked at their refrigerator door, there was still a birthday card picturing a tombstone for “the 30-year-OLD man.” Looking at it devastated and embittered her.

Purposeless and adrift, Marla-Dean blamed God for her loss, turning her back on Him completely. In her acrimony, she abandoned her values and convictions but, above all else, she discarded restraint. To numb the pain and fill the endless hours of despair, she started drinking wine. Because it worked much faster, she abandoned wine for vodka. Whenever she had a free evening, she went to Hal’s or the Tavern at Phipps—where all of the beautiful people mingled.

Because she was beautiful, desirable, and needy, several unscrupulous men took advantage of her situation. With her defenses down, feeling desperate and in need of attention, she discarded restraint for a period that seemed like an eternity but was actually less than a year. Having family and friends available didn’t seem to help. Nothing did. Week after week, her downward spiral escalated.

Her self-destructive behavior came to an abrupt end one Sunday a month before the first anniversary of Grayson’s death. That morning, Marla-Dean woke up beside a man she didn’t know and couldn’t remember meeting. She had blacked out. This terrified her and made her feel particularly worthless.

As a medical professional, she knew losing time was alcoholic behavior—no question about it. Consequently, she finally admitted she was in deep trouble because of her drinking and moral lapses. The following Tuesday evening, she went to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church on Moores Mill Rd. Walking forward, she picked up a white chip, which signaled her desire to stop drinking. For Marla-Dean, this act of submission was also her surrender to God. Within a few days, she brokenheartedly recommitted her life to Christ.

By establishing solid friendships with several women at AA, she was finally able to grieve the loss of her husband and get back on track with her life. She even found time to lead an exercise class at the local YMCA to help young mothers regain their figures. Now in her mid-thirties and exercising several times a week, Marla-Dean quickly got in the best shape of her life, making her more beautiful than ever.

This was something eligible men routinely noticed. Although not a prude, achieving sobriety allowed her to reestablish solid boundaries with the scores of men who desired her. From her perspective, the love of her life was gone, and nobody would ever replace him. Refusing to settle for second best, she chose to focus her attention entirely on her first calling—helping others medically.

Except for attending AA meetings twice a week and working out more often than that, her social life was limited, which didn’t seem to bother her. Her spiritual life, however, which had died with her husband, was rejuvenated. She developed a strong, authentic walk with God that was free and easy. She wasn’t vocal about her faith like Melissa. Instead, her walk was substantive rather than proud and legalistic.

This was why her patients loved her. When she walked into the room, they knew that she genuinely cared about them, which is rarely the case in the emergency rooms across America.

·   ·   ·

As Melissa and Marla-Dean pursued their conversation outside of Room 1, they were interrupted by a shout.

“Holy crap!” Tanisha shouted, with a voice that could be heard clearly throughout the triage unit. Continuing, she said, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

Hearing this, both Melissa and Marla-Dean looked at the triage nurse and walked briskly toward her. As they arrived, Tanisha was shaking her head in dismay.

“What is it?” Melissa demanded.

Turning to her, Tanisha said, “You remember the guy in the turtleneck who was constipated, right?”

“Yes,” Melissa answered sharply, as Marla-Dean remained silent but intrigued.

“Well,” Tanisha explained, “The man came to me a few minutes ago and said he thought he could have a bowel movement, so I let him go back to the bathroom across the hall. Ten minutes later, he came by the desk and said, ‘I’m much better now. You can cross my name off the list. I’m going home.’ So, that’s exactly what I did—scratched his name off the list.”

Confused, Melissa questioned, “I don’t understand. That’s good news, isn’t it?”

“It would be if he used the commode to shit in instead of the sink!”

“What,” exclaimed Melissa and Marla-Dean in unison?

“You heard me right. I don’t stutter,” Tanisha responded with an edge.

“This is unacceptable,” Melissa snapped, clearly vexed. “Where is he?”

“I don’t know. He’s long gone.”

“I don’t care if he is or not, Tanisha. Call security. Give them his contact information, and let’s schedule a psych evaluation for him—whether he likes it or not. Call housekeeping immediately and get them to clean up that mess. I want the bathroom spotless and operational in twenty minutes. Do you understand me, Tanisha?”

“I’ll take care of it immediately,” Tanisha responded—no longer speaking with an edge but clearly subdued. Tanisha and Marla-Dean could see that Melissa was infuriated, and the triage nurse didn’t want her boss on her case—neither did the doctor.

As Melissa was about to bark another order, the dispatch radio interrupted. Over the loudspeaker the three women heard, “We have a severe burn case—a male in his teens. We’re bringing him in. We’ve already called for a helicopter to take him to the burn center. They will arrive in less than twenty. You gotta keep him alive until then.”

With this information, all three women sprang to action—Tanisha directing the paramedics to Room 5, where Marla-Dean was already putting on surgical gloves, along with disposable mask and gown, while Melissa was preparing the necessary IVs.

Less than a minute later, the patient was rushed into Trauma 5. When Marla-Dean appraised his condition, she knew there was no chance he would survive. He was burned from the top of his head to the tip of his toes. His nose was gone; so were his lips, and his ears.

Hairless, his eyes, which had no lids, were wild and frightened. Worst of all, the young man’s pain was excruciating. He was screaming in agony, despite being heavily sedated with morphine. It was an awful sound, weakening the knees of everyone in the room. As Marla-Dean cut off what little remained of his clothes, she realized he was Caucasian—not an African-American—as she had mistakenly assumed. The mistake was understandable. The few parts of his body that weren’t charred were discolored and had become black from the intense heat of the flames.

Working franticly, Marla-Dean kept him alive until the helicopter arrived just a few minutes later, but the young man died en-route to the burn center, which was a blessing. With no chance of survival, he didn’t need to continue suffering needlessly.

Clearly shaken by the experience, the paramedics explained that the boy—who had been a straight A student and popular in high school—had been distraught because his girlfriend had just broken up with him. Not wanting to live without her, he went to his garage, doused his body with gasoline, and lit a match.

Two neighbors, who saw what was happening, rushed to his rescue, covering his body with packing blankets just a few seconds later. Despite their heroic efforts, the damage had already been done. In less than a few seconds, the boy had been consumed with flames.

As Tanisha, Melissa, and others listened intently to the story, each was shaken. This was the kind of tragedy that was difficult to handle, even for an experienced team in the ER.

Melissa was particularly taken aback. It made her think about her son, Joseph. Witnessing what had happened needlessly to this young man—all because of a girl, Melissa made an immediate decision to confront her son about what was troubling him. She wasn’t willing to allow her misgivings to slide any longer, hoping they would resolve without confrontation. She needed to become more involved, and she resolved to get to the bottom of what was troubling her son. When she was determined, she didn’t allow anything to get in her way.   



             The Head Near Her Navel

As it turned out, Melissa didn’t need to say a thing to Easton about speeding up his work. Normally gregarious, Dr. Big Shot was remarkably subdued after his humiliation—so much so that with taciturn efficiency he emptied the waiting room in record time. With Marla-Dean’s efforts squarely focused on keeping the young burn victim alive, Dr. Big Shot dealt with all of the remaining problems.

As Melissa surveyed the waiting room in amazement, all she could see was the thirteen-year-old girl with the backache and flu symptoms, along with a scattering of new patients. Shaking her head in amazement, she was more impressed with Dr. Big Shot than she had ever been, making a mental note to remind him about how efficient he could be, when he reverted to his old pattern, which she was certain he would.

Because her shift was long and because she needed a break after the burn case, Marla-Dean decided to get a little rest. Knowing it was not only a Friday night—which was always busy—but also a full moon, she was grateful Dr. Big Shot had been so resourceful. She also realized this might be her only opportunity to close her eyes. Retreating to the comfortable couch in the doctor’s lounge, she turned off the lights and tried to relax, quickly drifting off to sleep.

Since most of the patients didn’t require a doctor for anything more than a prescription, with Tanisha’s help, Melissa kept things moving along. Even the restroom—sporting a fresh antiseptic smell—was functional again. Things were looking up, and Melissa wondered if the remainder of the evening would be uneventful. Such a thought was too good to be true, however, and she knew it.

·   ·   ·

Shortly after 10 p.m., Melissa’s cell phone vibrated. Because Joseph was out for the evening playing with the church band, she kept her phone on, which she rarely did when he was safe at home. Being a good parent, she made certain Joseph always had a way to contact her, even though he was nearly eighteen. Looking at the caller I.D. the instant it rang, she noticed it was Barbara Baird—a police captain in Etowah County, just north of the city. Once a sleepy rural farming community, in recent years Etowah had become the center for drug lords and other criminal elements in the Southeast.

Barbara and Melissa had become friends of a sort in the past two years. Although her first impulse was to disregard the call, for some reason she didn’t, answering it on the third vibration with a cheerful voice—just like it was a relaxing evening and she didn’t have a care in the world.

“Hi, Barbara,” she said. “How nice to hear from you.”

Not surprised Melissa hadn’t answered by simply saying hello, Barbara responded, “Melissa. I know you’re busy at the hospital, so I won’t take long.”

“That’s okay, Barbara,” Melissa replied. “It was hectic for a while, but there seems to be a lull in the action—at least for the moment. What’s up?”

“Well, the last time I talked to you, I thought you said Joseph was playing with the band tonight, but I guess I must have been mistaken?”

Instantly, Melissa’s attention became razor sharp. Although she didn’t respond, Barbara sensed her friend’s apprehension. Continuing, she said; “I’m at Joni P’s with a friend, and Joseph is sitting at the bar right now, talking to a very pretty woman. He’s not drinking, so you don’t have to worry about that,” Barbara added quickly, in an effort to assuage Melissa’s concern.

Barbara continued, “I wondered if the woman might be someone from church, but I don’t recognize her. She doesn’t look like someone we would know either. In fact, she seems quite a bit older than Joseph—and very worldly.”

With this added information, Melissa’s anxiety skyrocketed. No longer concerned about maintaining appearances, her protective and domineering maternal instincts consumed her. She acknowledged, “You’re right, Barbara, he is supposed to be playing in the band, and I have no idea who the woman sitting beside him might be. But I intend to find out.”

Certain something was amiss when she saw Joseph at the bar, Barbara couldn’t wait to call and inform her friend about what was happening. Being in law enforcement, her mind gravitated to the nefarious easily, which meant she had little reservation about making the call. Cops can always sniff out trouble.

“I called because I thought you should know; that’s all,” Barbara added with genuine sincerity—as sincere as she could be anyway. “If I had a son like Joseph, I’d watch him like a hawk—just like you do.”

“We’re on the same page about this, Barbara. Thanks for the call. I mean it.”

“You would do the same for me,” Barbara added with syrupy Christian charity. “Is there anything else I can do to help?” she asked, hoping there would be.

“Yes,” Melissa snapped. “Tell me what the woman looks like.”

Smiling ever so slightly because she anticipated Melissa would insist upon details, Barbara confided, “Well, when the woman went to the ladies’ room, I excused myself and followed her. Without her knowing—or even suspecting—I took a really good look at her.”

“And?” Melissa coaxed impatiently.

“To tell you the truth, Melissa, she’s beautiful—but not in the way you would expect.” Before Melissa could probe, Barbara continued, “Her hair is long—nearly down to her waist, and she’s wearing a top that exposes her slender waist, which is quite petite.” Hesitating for one tense second, Barbara added, “I know this will shock you Melissa, but she has breast implants—massive ones.”

“What!” Melissa exploded, realizing instantly this couldn’t be a teenager from Joseph’s high school.

“I know it’s shocking, Melissa, but that’s not all.”

“Oh my gosh, what else?”

The police captain continued, “What surprised me the most was her unusual tattoo.”

“Tattoo, she has a tattoo?”

“Yes, it’s a snake coming up out of her hip-huggers, with the head near her navel.”

“Holy shit!” Melissa exploded—far beyond any concern about being judged for using profanity.

“I know,” Barbara responded compassionately. “When I saw it, I was as shocked as you are. What kind of woman would do something like that? I’m sorry to be the bearer of such bad news,” Barbara confessed. “But it’s all true.”

Shaking nervously, all Melissa could do was breathe heavily. She was unable to either cry or scream, both of which she intended to do later—in private.

Barbara continued, “The woman has to be twenty-five and, although striking, she’s clearly trash, Melissa. There’s no doubt in my mind about it. Worst of all, Joseph seems really taken with her.”

Stunned, apprehensive, and infuriated, Melissa remained silent for a while. She required a moment to calm down and compose herself. When she did, she terminated the call by saying, “Thank you for calling Barbara. I appreciate it.”

Barbara was about to change the subject and ask about Dr. Easton, but Melissa had already disconnected.

Full of resolve, Melissa went to her locker to retrieve the keys to her white Escalade, leaving her purse behind. As she walked past Tanisha, she announced, “I’m going to get something, Tanisha. I’ll be right back.”

Not seeing a purse in her hand, Tanisha assumed her boss was headed to the cafeteria to grab a bite to eat, but that wasn’t Melissa’s intention. She had an entirely different destination in mind.


         A Ringside Seat for the Festivities

Joni P’s was a cavernous restaurant with two seating sections—both overlooking the spacious bar. It was a place where the beautiful people came to meet and mingle. It was also a first class restaurant, specializing in steaks, ribs, and killer salmon. Although a bit noisy, especially on weekends, it was definitely one of the “happening places” in Atlanta. Because of the way the restaurant was designed, those who were dining had a much better view of the people sitting at the bar than vice versa. This meant Barbara Baird had seen Joseph, while he had not seen her.

Barbara had plenty of time to look around because her dinner companion—a business associate—had left abruptly after his first drink, eating nothing more than a fistful of pretzels. His departure surprised Barbara, but she certainly wasn’t disappointed. It was a business dinner—strictly business—not a date. She had no romantic interest in him, even though he was younger than her, handsome, and edgy.

His name was “Pretty Boy” Sabarisi, but he wasn’t the kind of man to become involved with—not even for a casual fling. Barbara, who frequently enjoyed sporting romances, despite her church involvement, understood this. She didn’t know him well, but she knew him well enough to maintain a business-like boundary—not that he had ever shown any interest in her. He certainly hadn’t.

Pretty Boy was always confident, which women found intriguing and sexy, but there was a darkness about him that was unsettling. Because Barbara was in law enforcement, she wouldn’t allow him to see how much he intimidated her, but he did. He scared her. So, when he left abruptly, she was relieved, but he had stayed long enough for her not to feel alone on a Friday night. That was something she couldn’t stand.

Without knowing it, Pretty Boy had served a purpose. As Barbara sat there alone, having recently felt so much emptiness, she wondered what she would have done if he had put a move on her. In her heart, she worried that she might have done something impetuous and foolish—something she would live to regret.

Barbara met Pretty Boy for dinner occasionally. He had business in Atlanta but lived in New Orleans. When he came to town, it was usually to meet with her. He would fly in, rent a car at the airport, and they would have dinner while transacting their business. She had been meeting him like this routinely for quite some time.

Until recently, his personality had been reserved, bordering on morose, making their conversation awkward and disjointed, which was difficult for Barbara to handle. Realizing this, Pretty Boy occasionally apologized for being so quiet, attributing his sullenness to a bad break up.

Always a cop, Barbara checked out his situation in a clandestine way, discovering that Pretty Boy had had a live-in girlfriend who he had planned to marry. The problem was their relationship was routinely tempestuous and occasionally violent. Evidently, he assaulted the woman once too often. After belting him in the head with a frying pan, she left him in the middle of the night, having emptied his safe deposit box before leaving.

The following morning, when he discovered she had left for good—with all of his money—Pretty Boy didn’t go to the police. That wasn’t his way. Instead, he began his own search, which hadn’t gone well. She had planned her escape methodically, which both impressed and incensed him. He never saw her again—or his money.

Pretty Boy didn’t love her—not really—but leaving him wasn’t an option, not her option anyway. That she planned and executed her escape so perfectly infuriated him. Worst of all, it made him look like a fool to everybody, and that was a more serious affront to his narcissistic ego than taking his money. Despite his obsession with finding her, which had never made any progress, he was forced to live with the disappointment. Repressing his rage caused his dark, sullen personality to twist even further.

Although he never discussed the details of his dysfunctional love life with Barbara—much to her relief—she could tell Pretty Boy seemed to be getting over the woman. He even smiled and laughed occasionally.

Time does heal all wounds, Barbara thought.

Once Pretty Boy exited and she was sitting alone, Barbara was free to think about her favorite subject, Dr. Luke Easton. As she did, she wished Melissa had spent a minute talking about him, but Barbara certainly understood why she hadn’t. Despite the minor setback, as Barbara looked at Joseph and the little vixen sitting next to him, she smiled. She couldn’t wait for Melissa to arrive. Best of all, Barbara had a ringside seat for the festivities. She felt sorry for Joseph, but not for his little hussy—not one bit.

·   ·   ·

Although Barbara had spent her entire career in law enforcement, she certainly didn’t look the part. She seemed more like an aging Hollywood celebrity than anything else. Tall and trim, she was a woman who could have aged gracefully, but for her, aging at all wasn’t an option. Fighting desperately to maintain her youthfulness, Barbara was perfectly manicured, lavishly draped, professionally coifed, and surgically enhanced. To preserve her beauty, she spared no expense—literally. Although just one year short of fifty, she believed she looked fifteen years younger. People told her so all the time, and she believed them. That’s why she craved the attention of men nearing forty—men like Dr. Easton.

What she didn’t know—or was unwilling to admit—was all of her efforts were counterproductive. Like the woman in the Nat King Cole song, Barbara was just a “tainted, painted rose.” Nevertheless, she demanded the attention of a beauty, which she was not—and had not been for years. People placated her by telling her how good she looked because she was an important woman. Women like her receive deceitful validation routinely and, like most, she was foolish enough to believe them.

Interestingly, her importance in the community was a recent development. Born Barbara Mayfield, she was the second daughter of a TV repairman. A teenage beauty, she worked diligently in high school and went to Auburn, where she worked even harder. While there, she made excellent grades, which gained her acceptance into Mercer Law School in Macon Georgia. Although a decent law student, she never passed the bar exam, even though she sat for it repeatedly. Unwilling to admit her failure, she told people she had lost interest in practicing law because she thought it would be boring. She wanted more excitement for her life than filing motions and sitting behind a desk. Consequently, she applied to the Atlanta Police Department, where she was hired immediately.

As a cop, she made a name for herself quickly. During her first year on the force, she met her future husband, Jim Bob Baird—a Little Five Points restaurant owner. After a short romance, Jim Bob, who everybody called Bobby, proposed. Viewing marriage to him as a strategic advancement, she accepted, and they wedded soon thereafter.

Bobby—who was ten years her senior—was very successful. Everybody knew Bobby and liked him. Genuinely affable, he never met a stranger and was a first-rate storyteller. He could keep people in stitches for hours, and often did.

Bobby and Barbara had a pleasant marriage for several years, especially for him. Although childless, they were always on the go, which was exciting for the daughter of a TV repairman from L. A.—Lower Alabama.

Despite the fact she didn’t love Bobby, Barbara loved having a rich husband and an active social life. After nearly twenty years of marriage, however, Bobby’s fortunes turned, and so did his wife’s commitment. She wasn’t built to handle adversity, especially financial, so she spurned him as quickly as his creditors.

As her career escalated, his diminished. When she was offered the position of captain in the Etowah Police Department—in charge of the drug enforcement task force—she accepted eagerly, which proved to be the death knell for their marriage. She had achieved her own prominence, superseding his significantly. This meant she no longer needed him.

She didn’t throw Bobby out of the house though. She was much too civil for that, but she did abandon him emotionally and physically, crushing him in the process. Feeling like a failure, which Barbara’s disinterest assured him was true; Bobby spiraled into a deep depression and started drinking excessively. Barbara didn’t care; she secretly hoped it would kill him. Although she never told him how she felt, he knew. Feeling the pain of rejection, he drank a lot and often.

In the final two years of his life, he spent most of his time hanging out at Manuel’s Tavern in Virginia Highlands with all of the other losers. It was a place where Barbara would never consider going.

To find solitude and peace, Bobby started hiking as a recreational hobby. One Friday, in the early spring, he went for a three-day hike on the Appalachian Trail in North Georgia, taking a plentiful supply of Jack Daniels along for company. When he didn’t return as scheduled, Barbara filed a missing person’s report. Being well known, his disappearance became a news item in Atlanta and North Georgia.

After a long, fruitless search, his body was finally discovered by a cadaver-sniffing dog at the bottom of a ravine, one month after he went missing. Torrential rains had hampered the early recovery efforts. When he was finally located, there wasn’t much left of Bobby—thanks to the birds and coyotes. Although suicide was suspected, it couldn’t be proven. Thus, his death was ruled an accident—much to Barbara’s relief.

Thanks to a large insurance policy, which she had taken out on her husband several years earlier, she became a rich widow—a role she was born to play. With her newly acquired wealth, Barbara upgraded her home, moving into a spacious condominium on Peachtree Road. She bought a Jaguar and a second condo at Seaside on the Gulf Coast of Florida. She required such amenities to become everything she ever wanted to be.

Although she never initiated romance with her husband and faked orgasms for twenty years, when she became a widow, she lost all sense of restraint and became wantonly promiscuous. Her aggressiveness, which had previously never been an option, became her new norm. Making up for lost time, she bedded a string of men—each expecting a committed, long-term relationship, but exclusivity didn’t interest Barbara in the least.

Her attitude and behavior changed, however, nearly two years after Bobby’s death. She sustained some minor injuries while making an arrest and was treated at Peachtree Medical. That’s where she met Dr. Easton and became instantly smitten.

Because of his compassionate attentiveness, Barbara was certain Dr. Easton was hitting on her, which, if asked, was not the way he viewed it at all. Her interest piqued, Barbara acted on her version of reality, taking it upon herself to discover as much as she could about the youthful doctor. Although married, she discovered Dr. Easton fooled around occasionally, which was exactly what she had hoped. Armed with this information, her determination to possess him—body and soul—bordered on being obsessive.

Although Melissa didn’t realize it, her relationship with Dr. Easton was part of the reason Barbara sought her out. The police captain, a master at gaining information by stealth, used Melissa to learn about the doctor. Barbara’s regular conversations with Melissa, which she considered to be harmless chitchat, were far more than that. Barbara used them to glean as much information as she could about Melissa’s colleague.

Although Barbara had been thrilled with the ruling that her husband’s death was accidental, in her heart, she was certain everybody believed he had taken his own life. To counteract this, which would make her look bad, Barbara’s mourning was carried out in public rather than in private. To look the part of a grieving widow, she became a regular attendee at Haynes Bridge Baptist—Melissa’s church.

It’s where the two women first met. Sensing Barbara’s grief, Melissa reached out to her and the two became sociable. They were not friends—not in the traditional sense of being trusted confidants. Neither was willing to be that candid, but they were quite chatty with one another.

Barbara seemed genuine and sincere to Melissa, but she did realize the conversation often turned to Dr. Easton, which Melissa graciously allowed. To reciprocate, Barbara listened to endless tales of Joseph’s accomplishments, which is how Barbara knew the young man was supposed to be playing in the church band that evening.

Taking a quick glance at the bar, Barbara noticed the unsuspecting couple was still engrossed in conversation. What Barbara didn’t know was her waitress, Molly Sullivan, had attended high school with Joseph.

Molly had had a crush on Joseph during her senior year, even though he was just a sophomore. Now in her second year at Georgia State University, being interested in a high school student was no longer a consideration, but it’s why she paid attention to Barbara’s preoccupation with Joseph.

To Molly, the way Barbara looked at Joseph wasn’t normal, and she didn’t like it. Molly’s antenna was already on high alert because of the man who had been with Barbara earlier. To Molly, the guy was definitely a creep. She knew this for certain. Waitresses and hostesses always do. The way the guy looked at her made her want to take a shower. When he left after just one drink, she was relieved.

As Molly continued to serve Barbara, she wondered what in the world a woman who was old enough to be Joseph’s mother—maybe even his grandmother—was doing gawking at him. To Molly, it was not only inappropriate it was also offensive. Perhaps that’s why she thought about it frequently afterwards. There was something about it that bothered her—something she couldn’t shake.

Barbara, whose focus was on Joseph and his little vixen, had no idea Molly was watching her watch Joseph. It wasn’t in Barbara’s nature to pay attention to a waitress. To her, such people were unimportant.

But that’s not all Barbara missed. There was another person, sitting in a car outside, whose interest in the couple was even greater than hers.


                                                                                                     Old Money in Atlanta

Sitting in the parking lot adjacent to Joni P’s, in her new white Lexus RX400-h, was Patricia Wellington Easton—the wife of Dr. Luke Easton. Although she had not heard of his humiliation with Ring Man earlier in the evening, when she did, she used it sarcastically to make his life miserable, calling him Big Shot in a condescending tone frequently. Wives who disrespect their mates are good at this, and Patricia was an expert at diminishing the self-worth of men, especially her husband.

Despite her contempt, she spoke with Luke at least once or twice during each shift about the needs of their two daughters who were extremely active pre-teens at Pace Academy. That evening, she had not called even once, nor did she intend to—not while she was busy stalking his latest fling. She was far too focused with the task at hand to concern herself about her children.

Patricia, who had been a Kappa Kappa Gamma at OLE Miss, was petite, trim, and refined—the kind of woman OLE Miss turned out in abundance. Coming from old money in Atlanta, which her father had foolishly squandered, she was used to the best and insisted upon it. She was accustomed to buying whatever she pleased, which she considered to be her birthright. Doing without, regardless of the circumstances, was never a consideration for Patricia—not with all she had to offer.

When it came to choosing a mate, Patricia Wellington had been very discriminating, selecting Luke Easton because he excelled in all of the “deal breaking” categories—looks, intelligence, good breeding, and earning potential—especially earning potential. She wanted someone who would be successful and, because doctors were generally regarded as excellent providers, she set her sights on him, knowing she could land him without much effort.

For Patricia, love didn’t enter the matrimonial equation—security did. She planned for everything. Her life was scheduled, ordered, and drama free. She not only wanted it this way she also insisted upon it.

At 5’7”, with jet-black hair, green eyes, and an olive complexion—she captivated the attention of men easily. Because this came so easily to her, it didn’t interest her in the least. She was accustomed to scores of vapid men fawning over her. While in school, she used and discarded them as frequently as her copy of Cosmopolitan. Patricia wasn’t sensuous by nature—but by temperament. She used her sexuality to achieve other, more important goals. It was never an end in itself.

When she met Luke, she behaved as amorously as he, which delighted the young man. He believed he had found his soul mate, but that’s not what Patricia considered it to be—not at all. From her perspective, flaunting her sexuality was necessary to secure his affection and solidify their relationship. That’s all. Once her objective had been accomplished and they married, she cooled quickly. At first, this confused Luke; then it frustrated him. Finally, he became infuriated, confronting her, but all of his protestations fell on deaf ears. Patricia simply didn’t care.

Her needs were much less than his and, once they had been met, she became disinterested. She thought, Luke’s good with his hands; let him use one of them to take care of himself.

By the time they had been married for five years and produced two daughters, satisfying Luke’s needs had become quite low on Patricia’s list of daily priorities. Realizing this, Luke sank into despair—but not for long. Unwilling to live a semi-celibate life, his eyes and affections began to wander, as did other appendages. None of his philandering was ever serious—just recreational. For him, it was validating and kept him far from home and Patricia’s censorious scolding. None of his flings had ever been important—that is, not until now.

Luke had been completely taken by a young woman, nearly fifteen years his junior. He felt differently about her than he had with his other paramours, and he couldn’t get enough of her.

Luke had fallen in love, or at least, he believed he had.

Complicating the situation, the girl thought she might be pregnant. When Luke learned this and realized how much he had to lose, he came to his senses and backed off quickly. In essence, the woman’s announcement scared Luke straight, and he abandoned her.

Not knowing what else to do and unable to rectify the circumstances, he brought the situation to Patricia’s attention. Remorsefully, with hat in hand, he confessed the whole sordid affair. Patricia listened to her husband stoically, barely able to mask her contemptuous disdain for his whining and sniveling.

Shortly after their honeymoon, Patricia had come to realize how weak Luke actually was, but she learned to live with it. But now this! His admission made him look particularly pathetic, and she felt nothing but contempt for him. Nevertheless, she feigned compassion, which Luke interpreted as genuine forgiveness.

Feeling relieved and absolved, Luke hugged Patricia, knowing she would figure out what to do about the mess he had created. She always did. Like a little boy whose mother had forgiven his slight, Luke felt a tremendous burden had been lifted from his shoulders. As he put on freshly pressed scrubs and a starched lab coat, looking the part of a sage physician, fully in charge of every situation, he headed to work, knowing the evening would be busy. When the moon was full, his shifts were always chaotic.

From her perspective, Patricia knew something had been going on for several months. Women usually do. Although she didn’t like it, she learned to turn her head, smile, and pretend everything was perfect—just the way she wanted it to be. She knew Luke had cheated on her before. It hurt badly the first time but, over the years, she became accustomed to it. She didn’t like it, but she had also come to terms with it. That’s what women who put on a front that their lives are perfect do.

His dalliances had little affect on her life, but this was different. This situation had the capability to destroy her marriage, her children, her security, and the image of perfection she had cultivated so carefully. Although she would never have admitted it to Luke, when he told her, her first thought was about the reaction everybody would have to the scandal at the Piedmont Driving Club. Her fall from perfection would be juicy gossip for the insipid “Stepford Wives” she cherished as friends. It would make her the laughing stock of the tennis team, especially if Luke’s paramour was as unsophisticated as she suspected.

Luke had been right to tell her though. She would handle the situation. She always had before, regardless of what it was. As she looked at the full moon through her skylight, waiting to confront Luke’s whore, she wasn’t certain what she was going to do, but she intended to do something. She had to. Her entire existence depended on it, and she wouldn’t allow anyone to rip her life away from her, especially some tramp with a snake tattoo. Patricia wished the woman was dead and didn’t feel remorseful for having such thoughts.

Without having formulated a firm plan, Patricia intended to confront the woman when she came out of Joni P’s. Because Luke had told Patricia where his paramour lived, Patricia had staked out the woman’s apartment complex, following her to the restaurant when she appeared earlier in the evening. It wasn’t hard to spot her—not with the serpent rising out of her hip-hugger jeans. When Patricia saw this, she laughed derisively, mocking its tastelessness. No Kappa would ever do something this trashy. At the same time, she realized this was just the kind of thing that would enamor a simpleton like her husband. Shaking her head, Patricia realized Luke was incapable of thinking with the brain above his waist.

Once this little tryst was terminated, Patricia planned to take Luke to a counselor. He had a problem, and she was going to get it fixed—no question about it. She was tired of living a life of uncertainty, ruled by Luke’s erections.

She thought, What’s wrong with him anyway? Why wasn’t he satisfied with getting it at home once or twice a week? That was more than most of her friends permitted.

None of Patricia’s friends liked having sex with their husbands—not one of them—and she knew this for a fact. Why couldn’t men understand this, she wondered? Continuing with her spiteful ruminations, she thought, And he wants more! Well, that’s not going to happen—no way—especially that disgusting, kinky stuff he’s been hinting at. With this episode, that’s definitely off the table—thank God.

In spite of the seriousness of the situation, she had to laugh at the thought of how frustrated Luke would be when she told him, which he richly deserved. With nobody but herself to hear, she said out loud, “Men are sick, and I’ve got one of the sickest.”

Her stomach was sour, as she waited impatiently for the woman to reappear. She wondered, Where is that tattooed whore?

Tapping the steering wheel impatiently, she looked at her French manicure and her elegant diamond tennis bracelet. Both accentuated her well-tanned hands perfectly. She insisted on looking good, even for a stake out.


Headed for the Slaughterhouse

As Barbara Baird continued to wait for Melissa—unaware that Patricia was outside—she noticed someone else for the first time. It was Patrick Sean Kincannon. Nursing his bourbon, while sitting at the far end of the bar, Sean had been effectively hidden from her sight. Having seen him earlier in the day, she wasn’t surprised he needed a drink.

Because Barbara’s late husband had such a serious drinking problem, she could tell when someone else did, and Sean definitely had one. Her colleague seemed to need alcohol quite a bit lately.

As she viewed him from her semi-secluded position, she realized Sean shouldn’t be driving—not as inebriated as he appeared to be. She couldn’t confront him though. Taking his keys and calling him a cab wasn’t an option. To do that, she would have to give away her position, and Joseph might realize what was about to happen, spoiling all of her fun.

If she had really been doing her job, she would have called the Atlanta Police Department to have them pick up Sean for drunk driving the moment he started his engine. She knew he drove a black Nissan Murano SL. There weren’t too many black SUVs like that on the road, so he wouldn’t be difficult to spot, especially weaving, which Barbara was certain he would be doing, if he drove off.

She should have reported him; but she didn’t. In this instance, her cattiness trumped being a good cop. She didn’t want to get involved in Sean’s drama—not with Melissa’s impending scene with Joseph looming. Just thinking about it made her smile. For many, life’s greatest satisfaction comes from witnessing the misfortune of others, and Barbara was definitely that type of person. It’s why so many called her Bitch Baird behind her back—a sobriquet she richly deserved.

·   ·   ·

When Joynetta Fortune asked to go to the ladies’ room, she didn’t do so to relieve her bladder. It was because she needed a break from her young suitor, Joseph Gordon. His persistent entreaties were driving her crazy, and she needed to get away from him—even if it was for just for a short time. She wished she had never become involved with him in the first place, but that couldn’t be helped now.

She had run into Joseph one afternoon at Starbucks on West Paces Ferry—the one closest to his school. He was having a frappuccino, sipping it occasionally while strumming his guitar. To her, he seemed to be practicing at a table outside the coffee house, but he was actually composing a song and was totally engrossed in the task. Completely oblivious to everything else, he didn’t even notice her.

Joynetta, who everyone called Joy, went to Starbucks because she was frustrated her lover had cancelled their rendezvous without notice or an acceptable excuse. Pissed at his effrontery, she thought, Who the hell does he think he is? Nobody stands me up—not even Dr. Luke Easton.

Paying for her skinny latte, she brought it outside and sat at a table far away from the strumming teenager. As she sipped her beverage and enjoyed his music, she noticed how virile and innocent the young man was, which she found enticing.

After playing for a few minutes, he looked up, caught her eye, and missed a note badly. Realizing how funny this was, both of them laughed simultaneously. With that, Joy rose and walked over to Joseph’s table. As she did, he noticed the snake tattoo, which made him miss another note. Quickly putting his guitar down, he stood to greet her—just as his mother had trained him to do.

The two talked amiably for quite a while. With nothing better to do for the remainder of the afternoon, Joy decided to seduce the young man, which was hardly a challenge. She knew it wouldn’t be. Just like his father would have done, Joseph followed Joy like a lamb headed for the slaughterhouse.

That he was young and innocent made his seduction wickedly delicious for Joy. She had intended to make love that afternoon anyway, just with someone else, that’s all. Because she hadn’t planned the encounter, however, she hasn’t adequately prepared.

Joseph, who obviously had been a virgin, was very brief the first time, but that’s the value of youth. He was ready for round two within a few minutes, which delighted Joy’s voracious appetite. Luke, by way of contrast, was one and done every time, which often frustrated the neediness of his younger paramour.

Much later, as Joseph left to meet his mother for dinner, he had been enamored by the afternoon delight and was eager for more, which wasn’t what Joy had envisioned. When she shut the door, giving Joseph a warm kiss goodbye, she thought that would be the end of it, but she was mistaken. From that point forward, Joseph hounded her for sex, and she simply could not resist, especially since her times of intimacy with Luke were so sporadic and unfulfilling.

Consequently, Joseph and Joy consummated their passion several times a week for a couple of months. Although she enjoyed it, making love was much more important for Joseph, as one would expect, since it was his first experience. For him, it was life altering but, since he was still seventeen, he was emotionally unprepared for a full-fledged affair with a woman of the world. Nearly eight years his senior, Joy was an experienced lover—unlike her high school novitiate. For her, it was a physical release—that’s all, nothing else. She realized there was no future for their relationship, but that wasn’t Joseph’s perception. He had fallen for her, which was something she neither wanted nor knew how to manage.

Besides, she still had her sights on Dr. Easton, who she considered to be a far more desirable partner. Easton was capable of supporting her, which she definitely desired. In fact, that was her number one priority.

As she worked diligently to juggle the sexual demands of two men, which had an intriguing, lascivious appeal, another problem surfaced. She missed her period, which was something she had never done before. She was like clockwork.

This terrified her, especially since she used her diaphragm religiously, except for the first afternoon with Joseph. Although fairly certain of the result, she bought a pregnancy kit to make certain. When she tested positive, her heart sank.

Honestly, she didn’t know which of her two lovers might have impregnated her. She wanted it to be Luke, obviously, but she had a sneaking suspicion it might have been Joseph.

Panicked, she told Luke about her situation, stating flatly he was the father. But that’s not all she did. She foolishly confessed the entire situation to Joseph, including her ongoing affair with Luke. She was confident the young man would understand her predicament and back out gracefully. Since he was still a teen, she thought he would run, which was what most kids his age would have done—grateful to be spared the consequences of his actions.

But that’s not what happened. He did the exact opposite, insisting on marrying her and raising the child, which flabbergasted Joy. She realized that was completely foolish, emphasizing it repeatedly to Joseph, adding that she wasn’t even certain the child was his. She hoped this would dissuade him, but it didn’t.

Changing tactics, she announced she wanted them to part ways amiably, but she didn’t want to see him again. She was so adamant about her decision, she actually shouted at him.

This infuriated Joseph who threatened to expose the entire situation by telling his mother everything. Joy had not anticipated this response, which she definitely didn’t want. The implications of being exposed terrified her.

Instantly, she retreated from her hard line, hoping to calm down her young lover. She did everything she could think of to pacify him, but his threat made her keenly aware of just how vulnerable she actually was. Nervous his threat wasn’t idle, she was concerned she would lose control of the situation.

Shaking her head at her foolishness, she realized her little fling might prove to be her undoing, and that was something she had to avoid at all costs. Seducing a minor was newsworthy, and she required anonymity above all else. If Joseph blew the whistle, it could be the end of her and she knew it. Her wantonness might even land her in jail. She knew she had to keep him quiet, regardless of what it required from her to do so.

That’s the reason why she asked him to meet her at Joni P’s. She intended to plead with him to simply go away and allow her to handle the situation by herself. She didn’t know what else to do.

The restaurant, where they planned to meet, was just around the corner from where she lived—within walking distance. When she made the offer, Joseph agreed immediately, even though it meant he would incur his mother’s wrath for missing the church concert, but he no longer cared what his mom thought. Taking care of Joy had become his sole focus, which he realized as he drove to their restaurant rendezvous.

When Joy arrived shortly after Joseph, she asked if they could sit at the bar. With all that was on her mind, she needed a drink badly. Thinking only of herself, she was indifferent to the adverse effect alcohol might have on her baby.

As she focused her attention on Joseph, she tried to explain why their continued relationship would be foolhardy, but he refused to listen. She pleaded, but he was immovable. Exasperated, with no recourse other than being blunt, she finally announced, “This is the end of it, Joseph. Right here, right now. There’s not going to be any more sex. There’s not going to be a ‘you and me,’ so get over it. I want you to go right now, and I never want to see you again. Will you do this for me, please?”

Stunned and wounded, Joseph sat in silence. He had been sure he could convince her to marry him, but he had been mistaken.

Incensed he remained so obtuse, she threw caution to the wind by adding coldly, “And one more thing: I don’t love you. I never did. Now, is that clear enough for you?”

“How can you say that?” Joseph whined, close to tears. “I love you so much.”

“No, you don’t, Joseph,” she stated flatly. “You just think you do.”

“That’s not true.”

Becoming compassionate, she added soothingly, “You’ll get over me in no time.” As she spoke, she shook her head reproachfully, scolding herself for seducing him in the first place.

“No, I won’t. I never will,” he whined tearfully.

Frustrated at having made so little progress, she announced, “I have to go to the restroom. I’ll be back in a minute.” With that, she stood, turned her back to him, and headed to the ladies’ room.

She thought this would be a peaceful reprieve, but it wasn’t. While looking into the mirror, trying to compose herself, she noticed another woman checking her out. The woman wasn’t looking at her appreciatively or condescendingly, which Joy was used to. This was different and Joy recognized it immediately.

The woman was a cop. Joy was certain of it. Although nearly paralyzed with fear that her past had finally caught up with her, Joy kept her composure, finished refreshing her make-up, fussed with her hair, and smoothed out her clothes. When done, she nonchalantly returned to Joseph, who had been waiting patiently.

Joseph continued talking—or more accurately whining—but Joy no longer paid the least bit of attention. The problem of her pregnancy, which had been all consuming just a few minutes earlier, hardly mattered now. Her life was at stake, and she knew it, making her every move critical. She needed to leave immediately, but she had to do so with such stealth that nobody would grasp what she was actually doing, especially the woman cop.


                                                                                     Darling, I’ll Be Right Back

At 8:30 p.m., a patrol car from the Atlanta Police Department approached the Twin Oaks Apartments to pick up Terrance Bruce. Earlier in the evening, Terrence had used the sink rather than the toilet to defecate at Peachtree Medical, and the hospital registered a complaint, indicating that Terrence was probably a mental patient off his meds. Normally, a petty grievance like this would be considered low priority for the police, but when it originated from the ER at Peachtree Medical, they put the request at the top of the list rather than at the bottom. Because medical teams from the triage units around the city were essential to the police, they did everything they could, within reason, to accommodate them. Picking up Terrance was something easy to oblige, so the dispatcher made it an immediate priority.

Besides, this one was fun. As the two police officers exited their patrol car to pick up “The Shitter,” they were laughing and made light of the situation, which wasn’t surprising.

To Terrance, however, there was nothing comical about it. That’s why he had been sitting in the dark, vigilantly watching the street from his front window. He had been expecting the cops, and he knew what they intended to do. They were going to confine him and force him to take the medicine that made him sleepy and docile—just like they did to Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory.

Like Mel, he wouldn’t allow that to happen—not this time or ever again. He had to remain free. The fate of the United States depended on Terrance, and he couldn’t let his country down, regardless of the consequences. Mel hadn’t, and neither could Terrance. Not with what he knew—not with what he had discovered.

Filled with resolve, Terrance instantly sprang to action, exiting the back door of his third-story apartment, walking down the stairs quickly and quietly. As stealthily as a Ninja, he hid behind the garage of the adjacent apartment, where it was nearly pitch black, despite the full moon shining. As he peeked around the corner with one eye to see what was happening, he noticed one of the officers had scurried around back—just as Terrance had anticipated.

If he hadn’t been so vigilant, he would already be in custody. Having outwitted them, he smiled derisively. Terrance hated the cops—and for good reason. In times gone by, you could trust policemen—but no longer. They were in on it with the President and the Illuminati. It was the President who called the cops on him. Terrance was sure of it. He hated the President. He was a traitor to the American way of life, and Terrance had the evidence to prove it.

“That turncoat is being paid off by OPEC,” Terrence told anybody who would listen. According to Terrance, nearly everybody important was part of the crime or the cover up—everybody except for Megyn Kelly at Fox News, that is.

She knew what was happening. She was on his side, but she had to be careful, lest she blow her cover. That’s why she sent him clandestine messages on her program, The Kelly File. She was smarter than all of them put together—the treasonous conspirators who wanted to let the Muslims take over America. She had a special message for him that night. Terrance was certain of it.

It was all coming down, and he would be vindicated—by one and by all. Everybody in America would owe him a debt of gratitude for saving the nation. Just thinking about it made his heart swell with pride. They will probably erect a statue to me, he thought—maybe even name a street after me.

He looked forward to what was about to happen—even with the cops knocking on his door, as well as everybody else’s door in the apartment building. Let them look, he thought. They’ll never find me.

He had a plan, but it all hinged on getting to his friend’s house before The Kelly File began at 9 p.m. He couldn’t miss what Megyn had to say. Everything depended on it. He had to listen to her. Every word she said had meaning, even her facial ticks had special significance for Terrance.

That’s why he had been prepared for the cops. They knew what he was up to, and they were determined to stop him. To outsmart them, Terrance had put on his black, hooded sweat suit and running shoes, which made a pretty good cover. He would have been practically invisible if the moon hadn’t been so bright.

Carefully avoiding the light, he crept along until he was two streets away from his apartment building. Then, he stood up and started to jog. He knew the best way to hide was in plain sight, and jogging was a great way to blend into the background.

By following his carefully planned route, which passed by Joni P’s, he would arrive at his friend’s house just in time to watch Megyn’s program. Even the name of the show, The Kelly File, had a meaning for Terrance, providing him with his mission in life—to document every “file” and put it on the record.

·   ·   ·

Sean knew he had had too much to drink, but he didn’t care—not after what had just happened anyway. It had been awful. As the prosecuting attorney for Georgia—the person in charge of the Drug Prevention Unit—his job was to aid in ferreting out pushers. Once they were arrested, his mission was to prosecute them relentlessly, putting as many of them behind bars as possible.

By sheer numbers, his efforts had been a success. He had imprisoned numerous felons. When it came to small-time pushers, his record was impressive; but when it came to drug kingpins, which was his most important responsibility, he had been a monumental disaster. He had failed—not once—but three times in a row.

Feeling frustrated and forlorn, he sat at the end of the bar at Joni P’s, right next to the potted fica tree, which he believed had more value than he did. Having already downed five double vodkas and ready to order a sixth, he noticed Bitch Baird sitting alone in the dining area overlooking the bar. She was watching someone sitting at the other end of the bar intently. He couldn’t figure out who it was and he didn’t care—not really.

Running into her, however, was the last thing he wanted to do. So, instead of ordering another drink, which he didn’t need, he paid his tab and headed for his black Nissan Murano SL.

Being certain to look straight ahead, he walked out quickly—determined to avoid making eye contact with the police captain. He didn’t want a scolding from her for screwing up the case against Amiglio Sabata, and she could do that easily enough. All she had to do was bestow on him a furtive glance of contempt. Some women can cut off a guy’s balls with that kind of look, and Bitch Baird was definitely one of them.

Sean had the entire weekend to lick his wounds before hearing from her, and he planned to use it wisely—drinking himself into oblivion. Smiling derisively, he congratulated himself for being off to a great start.

As he reached his car, he started the engine but, before putting the car into gear, he decided to close his eyes. They were burning, and he wanted to give them a rest before driving home. He just needed a second. That’s all. Then, he would be fine to drive home. He was sure of it.

As he closed his eyes, less than three miles away, Melissa was speeding forward toward Joni P’s, determined to confront Joseph and his tattooed companion.

·   ·   ·

At the bar, Joy asked Joseph if he wanted another Coke, as she ordered a second glass of wine for herself.

He indicated that he didn’t by shaking his head, while continuing his relentless quest to convince Joy they really did have a future together. As she listened, she seemed to be paying better attention than before. In fact, she appeared to be changing her mind, as her resolute position mellowed, which surprised Joseph. Encouraged by her change of heart, Joseph pressed the issue even harder, hoping to close the deal.

From Joy’s perspective, her feigned acquiescence was all a ruse. Her position hadn’t changed at all, but she needed Joseph to think he was making progress with her. If he thought she was going to get up and walk out, there was no telling what he might do. Boys could be so unpredictable. To execute her plan required placating Joseph, and that was precisely what she intended to do.

Upon ordering her second glass of wine, which she had no intention of drinking, Joy looked thoughtfully at Joseph. With an exasperated tone, she said, “I can’t believe it. I left my lip-gloss in the ladies’ room. Watch my purse for me, darling. I’ll be right back.”

When he heard this, Joseph’s heart leapt with joy and hope. For the first time, she had called him darling. He was winning her over; he was certain of it. With a smile as broad as the Chattahoochee River, he nodded affirmatively that he would.

With that, Joy slid from her bar stool, squeezed his hand, and headed back to the ladies’ room.

·   ·   ·

From her seat in the balcony overlooking the bar, Barbara watched Joy get up, which was surprising. Barbara wondered what was happening, but when she saw the woman’s purse sitting next to Joseph, her apprehension diminished. When the bartender brought the woman’s second glass of wine, Barbara smiled, thinking the woman would never finish her beverage in peace.

Melissa was certain to show up momentarily, and when she did, all hell would break loose. In joyful anticipation of the drama that was about to unfold, Barbara ordered herself another drink as well.

She thought; This is going to be fun.

Jack Watts










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