.


ONE LAST TIME

by Alan A Sandercott

Short story collection (10)

110 pages. Perfect bound. 5" X 8".
Published in 2013
ISBN - 978-0-9866037-1-6

[Out of Print]


  • The Prospector
  • New Best Friend
  • When Leaves Turn To Gold
  • I Really Gotta Go
  • The Batchelor
  • The Retirement Party
  • Cabin Fever
  • Free Enterprise
  • In The Shadow Of Mountains


  • NOTE: This previously published work is covered by copyright.
    No printing, copying or use by any means without written permission from the author.


     
    NEW BEST FRIEND    by Alan A Sandercott


    The body of 'ol John Simpson broke the lake's rough surface at exactly 10:15 pm. I know that because I was one of the spectators standing shivering on the shore. It had been raining most of the evening and the accompanying winds persisted. Everyone in the area knew that 'ol John and I were best of friends so it was no surprise that I was one of the first to be called.

    The lifeless body bobbing in the waves lay face down. The life jacket John used as a seat cushion was probably still out there where he had been fishing. Ironically, several large treble fishing hooks held his body fast to the rusty steel pipe a few feet away, the same pipe that was attached by rope to the police boat. They had been dragging the lake back and forth for several hours, ever since a neighbour had reported John's boat washing up on shore in the wind. The boat was now tied to the shore, half submerged.

    A large dog that I recognized as John's was sniffing around the boat. From the way it was whining it was obviously confused and very worried about its master. There was a good chance that Shadow, as John called her, had been laying at the end of the dock when the accident happened. Years earlier Shadow always went out in the boat when John went fishing but, like us, she was getting older and rheumatism prevented her from getting around.

    It was after midnight before I got home that night. I lived just a few miles down the lake from John. We had been good friends for a long time, a couple of old bachelors burning off life's remaining years. I didn't sleep that night, just sat out on the front porch staring off across the moonlit lake. The mournful call of a loon only saddened me more. I was feeling all alone while trying to convince myself that my best friend was really gone.

    Around ten the next morning a police car pulled up to the cabin. A young cop got out and opened the car's rear door. I could see the end of a piece of rope in his hand, and then I saw what was tied to the other end; Shadow. John may have been my best friend but his dog certainly was not! I could never figure out what John saw in that animal. As far as I was concerned it was nothing but a pain in the ass. She was always hungry, always crapping around the yard and she smelled, especially when she was wet. She was always laying around the house, on the furniture, leaving hair all over the place. So what was the cop doing bringing the dog to my place?

    It tuned out John had often mentioned to his daughter that should anything ever happen to him he wanted Shadow given to me. He obviously didn't know how I felt about his faithful dog. I never told him because I didn't want to hurt his feelings. Well something happened and suddenly I had an unwelcome fifty pound furry guest. I kept hoping that if John was up there, he wouldn't be reading my thoughts right about then.

    I figured I'd lock the mutt in the woodshed for the night. It seemed like a good idea, until she started barking, howling and whining around two in the morning. I spent most of that night with my head buried under my pillow. A sleep starved neighbour reminded me that the dog was lonely for her master and that she needed someone to console her, not lock her up. The neighbour declined my offer so I had to go to plan 'B'.

    Weeks past and Shadow settled down. She started eating again, thanks to the big bag of her dog food the cop left. She seemed happier sleeping on the mat inside the cabin door. For the first week or so she spent hours laying at the end of the driveway waiting for John to come and get her. Then she slowly shifted her attention to me and I tried to adjust to being followed around all day. I kept putting off a call to John's daughter about taking Shadow. I figured she would be having a tough time adjusting to John's death, I know I was; I missed our daily phone calls checking up on each other.

    I'm not sure when it started but I began to notice myself talking to the dog, like she was a person. Stranger yet was the fact that she seemed to listen to me, like she understood what I was saying. Like it or not, we appeared to be bonding. I was becoming more and more aware of her presence. It was actually making me feel better, like I wasn't alone after all.

    The real test was our first winter together in the cabin. If she was still the smelly thing I remembered her to be, I wasn't noticing it. Her hair all over everything bothered me but regular brushing seemed to help. We walked every day and she enjoyed our ice fishing episodes. I tried to teach her to fetch in firewood, but that was in vain. On the bright side, nothing or no one approached the cabin without her warning barks. Turned out that was the first winter in many years that I didn't suffer from cabin fever.

    Spring came, then summer, and before long it was a year since John Simpson had drowned. Both Shadow and I had made the difficult transition. I've now come to know what John saw in her. Shadow has become my constant companion and I like to think of her as my new best friend.

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    THE BATCHELOR    by Alan A Sandercott


    I continued to watch as the plane nosed up and roared off into the distance. On board the jet was my wife starting the first leg of her two weeks vacation in Europe. I on the other hand was remaining behind to maintain the home fires so to speak. Strangely, in all the years that we have been married that was the first time that I had been home alone for any length of time. I had visions of those good bachelor things that I would be able to do in her absence. As the plane disappeared from sight and I nudged my vehicle back onto the road for home, my wife's final words lingered in my mind, "Are you going to be all right on your own?"
           I had passed her one of those looks that asked, 'Are you serious?'
           "I can cope you know!" I told her, "You just go and enjoy yourself and don't worry about me."

    My first realization that I was on my own came that next morning when I entered the kitchen to a cold and empty coffee pot. 'Not to worry' I thought, in future I would simply make up the coffee the night before, set the timer and fresh coffee would be waiting for me. It was Saturday, our regular day for pancakes, and just because my wife wasn't around to make them was no reason to change. I reasoned anyone can make pancakes. No problem, in went the pancake mix, milk, an egg, plus a piece of eggshell that I never did find. No sense mixing it by hand when you have power tools, right? Wrong! When those mixer blades, whizzing around at high speed, hit the stuff in the bowl, a great white cloud suddenly exploded from the bowl. I was quick to realize my mistake and promptly withdrew the mixer. Wrong again. I stood there dumfounded as the mixer sprayed a coating of pancake mix all over the place. By the time I fumbled around and turned the thing off, the kitchen and I had a splatter design that defies description.

    If there was a humorous side to it all, it was my cat who had taken up station on the counter to observe my efforts. Her fur had taken on a whitish tinge and bits of raw pancake batter dripped from her whiskers. Needless to say she was not amused as I stood there laughing at her. I had not intended to undertake a major cleaning of the kitchen within a day of my wife's departure, however, during that period of labour I realized why she had stocked the fridge with frozen waffles.

    One of the things I had been looking forward to was lazy evenings of TV with hot buttered microwave popcorn. That night I stuffed a bag into the microwave, set the timer for a few extra minutes to ensure all the kernels popped and retired to the TV, my ear tuned for the bell. Well, you can imagine my surprise when, after opening the end of the bag, this great black lump drops into the bowl. Perhaps there was a reason for the precise time they recommended. Not to be deterred, I returned to the TV as the pungent odor of burned popcorn filled the air and picked through the darkened kernels for what ever I could salvage. It was one of those rare evenings the cat didn't want to sleep on my lap.

    Being a firm believer in the old adage that all good things come in three's, I knew all my tribulations were now behind me. Time to get on with the fun experience of batching on my own. First thing I needed was an Angle Food cake, my all time favorite. A search of kitchen cupboards turned up a mix and as the label did say, No Cholesterol, I figured I had it made. What could be more simple, dump mix into bowl, add water, and mix. And what's more, the recipe called for an electric mixer, and I was experienced with a mixer. Being careful not to redecorate the kitchen walls I worked the batter to a consistency resembling that on the directions; it did however take considerably longer than the one minute in the instructions. I poured the batter into an Angel Food pan and stuffed it into the oven, set the timer, and grinned with satisfaction. It wasn't long before I was watching with fascination as the cake rose . . . and then rose . . . and rose! Soon there was as much batter on the bottom of the oven as there was in the pan. I learned later that I had used a Bunt pan, what ever that is, that was much shallower than a proper Angel Food pan.

    Right about then I should have realized the operation was doomed and quit, but as usual, I forged ahead. Next the cake wouldn't come out of the pan properly, and when forced out, the shape left something to be desired. My attempts at applying icing bordered on disaster as the icing was too thick and I virtually tore the cake apart. The anticipated mouth watering taste that drove me on never materialized. The Angel food cake, normally light and fluffy when made by my wife, turned out to be heavy and sort of sticky. While I swallowed my pride and ate it anyways, I knew any future cake would be store bought.

    As the days past I found my expertise in the kitchen extended to such delicacies as soups or macaroni and cheese, enhanced occasionally with frozen TV dinners and pizza. It wasn't long before my new menu required me to visit the super-market. My wife had left the weekly grocery budget money along with grocery flyers, circles drawn around the good value items. Well that was all fine but I knew what I wanted, and scooping up half the money, headed for the shopping mall.

    Wandering up and down the isles of the store I was amazed with all the variety. I couldn't understand how my wife had overlooked all the good stuff. Isle after isle I maneuvered the shopping cart around, whistling as I went. At the checkout counter I followed the lead of others and unloaded my cart onto the counter and patiently waited my turn. The smile on my face was soon replaced with shock when the check-out girl asked for $168.50. 'There must be some mistake' I thought and questioned the girl. She smiled and showed me the till tape. I quickly emptied the contents of my wallet, then my pockets, but alas, I was well short of the bill. I gave the girl a sheepish look and explained my plight, to which she suggested I remove some of the items. Well the idea was fine, but the moans and groans of the people in the line behind me did little to ease my embarrassment while I struggled with the decision of what to put back. No wonder my wife was always content to have me wait in the car while she shopped.

    The weekend rolled around with little problem and just when I was sure I was getting the hang of this bachelor living I started running out of dishes. Now I determined you didn't have to be a rocket scientist to run a dishwasher. Things had been going smoothly lately and a few dishes should pose no problem. I also determined that as long as I was going to run the dishwasher I might as well make it worth while by loading it with everything from the sink. That way I wouldn't have to wash anything by hand. I found a bottle of dish soap under the sink and filled the compartment in the door. Considering the state of some of the pots I had in there, I decided to add lots of soap. Door closed, I turned the switch and heard the swish of water inside and the rumble of the machine as it started. Proud of myself I retired to the living room and a spot of relaxation.

    It was a while before I wandered back into the kitchen, but when I did, I received quite a surprise. The kitchen floor was covered with soap suds oozing from the front of the dishwasher. I wasted no time wading through the foamy mess and turned it off. Then, with a great deal of caution I slowly opened the door, releasing more of the soapy lather that flowed to the floor like white molten lava. With the aid of a dust pan I scooped up soap and dumped it into the sink. It took two attempts before the dishwasher would run without oozing the white lather. The dishwasher never did flush all the soap out and I ended up having to remove the dishes from the machine, rinse them under the tap, and dry them by hand. So much for time saving! By the time I had the floor cleaned I couldn't help wondering if my wife spent as much time cleaning the kitchen as I had to this point.

    Towards the end of the second week my hopes of not having to use the clothes washer waned. I was still paranoid of soap after the dishwasher fiasco, but after a week without incident I was sure I could pull it off. I dumped in the clothes, added a cup of bleach, and carefully studied the instructions on the soap box. Cautiously I added the soap, closed the lid and turned the switch. The sounds of water filling the drum confirmed I must have done something right. To my delight things went smoothly. The washer went through its cycles and when it was done I transferred everything to the dryer. Needless to say I was rather proud of myself. Another hour and I was done. Then, as I was folding my still warm clothes I noticed a problem with my jeans. When I shook them out and held them up I could not believe my eyes. There were big white splotches all over them from the bleach. Two of my darker shirts showed the same unusual patterns. Murphy's Law had taken one last crack at me.

    The day prior to my wife's return I decided I'd better get the house back into shape, not that it was that bad, considering the number of times I had to clean up after disasters. However, the farther I got into it, the more I became convinced that this house cleaning stuff was not for me. At any rate by noon of the second day the house was spic and span. Now it remained only to get to the airport on time to meet my wife.

    After all the niceties of a welcome home, it came as no surprise to me when my wife asked, "Did everything go okay while I was gone? I hope you didn't leave a big mess for me to clean up."
           I gave her a bit of a sheepish look but then quickly replied, "No problem . . . I can cope you know!"

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    RETIREMENT PARTY    by Alan A Sandercott


    No one should ever retire without a party. That was high on Larry's personal list of corporate obligations. Larry Sparzak was Sales Manager for Hughes Equipment, a small west coast distributor to the logging industry. They handled everything from flaging tape to saftey gear to power saws. The company's owner, Arne Hughes, was retiring after suffering a heart attack. Larry seized the moment and convinced the staff that a going away party was in order and, as usual, he neglected to touch base with his wife before volunteering their house for the big party.

    Susan Sparzak was less than impressed when Larry finally broke the news of the party to her over breakfast, a day in advance.
           "Well I hope you plan on doing all the work yourself," she told her inconsiderate husband. Larry had heard this response many times before.
           "Don't worry about it," he replied, "some of the staff are coming over to set things up."
           "And who's going to clean up the house?" Susan enquired.
           "I'll get Florence to come in the next morning to help." Florence was the janitor from the office who Larry felt sure he could sweet talk into helping.
           "I'm talking about before the party. The whole house needs a good cleaning before we can have a bunch of people in here."
           "Why?" Larry asked, shrugging his shoulders and following her out to the double garage. "The place looks fine. Besides, it'll just get dirty again."
           She didn't respond as she closed the door of her bright yellow corvette behind her. The look on her face was all the reply Larry needed. Later that morning Larry convened a meeting of office staff to plan for the big event.

    The next morning Susan left for work, but not before aquainting Larry with the vacuum cleaner and a list of things to do. Larry was no stranger to vacuuming, he once had to do all the housework for a week when Susan was sick in bed. He was very proud of himself at the time and could'nt understand why his wife's first task after getting back on her feet was to thoroughly clean the house. Anyway, he spent the morning vacuuming all the carpets on the main floor, dusted all the exposed surfaces and ran a damp yacht mop across the linoleum floors. By eleven he retired to the back patio with his well earned cold beer where the pool cleaner had just finished rolling the heavy plastic top across the swimming pool.
           "All done, Mr. Sparzak," the pimpley faced young man said. "It's super clorinated so you'll have to stay out of the pool for at least twenty-four hours."
           "No problem," Larry replied. "Want a beer?"
           The man thought for a moment, looked at his watch, then said, "No, I better not. The old man will go balistac if I get back to the shop smelling of beer."

    Shortly after lunch some office staff showed up at Larry's Bellevue, Washington home to set up for the party. By mid afternoon, under the supervision of Jennifer, Arne's secretary, the house was ready to party. Streamers and baloons spanned the room and the patio area and, as per Susan's instructions, breakables removed from harm's way. Francine, Larry's secretary, showed up with a ton of snack food and enough drink mixer to float a battleship. Dave, the company bookkeeper, had volunteered to make the booze run and wasted no time sampling his valuable cargo. Larry's best friend, Brice, showed up too late to help with the decorating but just in time to help Dave pack in the alchohol. All was in readiness.

    By the time Susan arrived home from work everyone, with the exception of a few, were heading home to get changed. Dave who was playing the part of a real gentleman for a change was busy mixing drinks and already too drunk to drive. Jennifer had made arrangements with her baby sitter to stay the night so she wasn't going anywhere. She helped Susan with last minute preparations before splitting a jug of margarettas on the patio.

    It wasn't long before the doorbell started ringing. Secretaries from the office section, dock workers, inventory and sales clerks, all with wives and husbands in tow. Being a BYOB event, most men arrived with a bottle that Dave quickly retrieved and added to the growing bar. One guy stood out from the crowd with an open six-pack of beer tucked under his arm. No one was really sure who he was but he wasted no time joining the festivities. Dave positioned himself behind the bar and commenced demonstrating his mixology talents.

    By the time Arne and his wife Phyllis arrived, there were twenty-seven people in all, more than Larry had bargained for when he offered to host the party. Even Louise, the cleaning lady showed up. Larry made a mental note to talk to her about the next morning's cleanup. The only one missing was Brice who, unknown to everyone, was sitting out front in his car with the newest love of his life steaming up the windows.

    The party had been in full swing for a good two hours or more. Bellevue is a quiet community compared to the hustle and bustle of Seattle, especially the area where Larry and Susan lived. Normally one could walk their cul-de-sac at night and almost hear a pin drop - not so that night! The dinn of music and chatter spread out onto the patio. A few of the men discovered a basketball and started shooting hoops until the ball ended up over the fence and into a neighbor's yard. Rather than going to get it, the six-pack man says, "Here, let's use this," and picked up a beach ball from the pool area and threw it over to Brice. It worked. They managed to make several baskets before ball got stuck in the net.
           "Let's find something to knock it down with?" Brice suggested.
           "Like what?" one of the men asked.
           "Not to worry," six-pack said, climbing up onto the fence and the pulling himself up the steel pole.
           "Be careful you don't fall," Brice warned.
           "Never fear, when I'm here."

    Minutes later a '911' phone rang at the Fire Department's station house. The firemen's nightly poker game was interupted by a laughing switchboard operator. The night shift had just reported for work and looked forward to another quiet routine shift. As always there was a poker game at the round table in the crew quarters upstairs. Four playing. On one of two couches a guy was reading the newspaper. All was quiet, quiet until the dispatcher came running up the stairs.
           "You're never going to believe this one. We just got a call about some guy who's stuck in a basket ball hoop."
           "Sure you did," came the reply from the poker table.
           "No. I'm serious. Apparently we got some guy stuck in a basketball hoop! Let's go, rescue's rolling!"
           "Oh sure, just when I finally get a decent hand," one of the men said, as he jumped up, took a last look at the cards in his hand, and then headed for the stairway.

    Normally, on a seemingly straightforward rescue call, only the rescue van would be dispatched. However, this one sounded so weird that one of the two fire trucks tagged along. Then the police, overhearing the '911' call and seeing both the rescue and fire trucks tearing down the street, joined the parade. Suddenly Bellevue's peaceful streets were alive with screaming sirens and flashing red and blue lights.

    When the rescue van pulled into Larry's driveway, followed by the fire truck and then two police cars, they were greeted by several of the would be basketball players, milling around the driveway just killing themselves laughing.
           "He's stuck up there," Larry said, as soon as the driver stepped from the van.
           "What's he doing up there?" the driver asked, fighting to hold back his laugh.
           "We were shooting a few baskets. Then someone threw a beach ball up and it got stuck in the hoop. So he volunteered to go up to get it down."
           "How did he get up there?"
           "Climbed up. But somehow he got his belt caught on the hoop and now he can't get down."
           "Why didn't someone just climb up and unhook him?"
           "No one wants to get underneath him. He keep saying he's going to get sick," Larry explained. "I know I'm not going up after him."
           "Couldn't you put your ladder up so he could simply climb down?" one of the police officers asked.
           "Can't, I loaned it to a neighbor and I've never seen it since."

    By that time the men from the fire trucks were milling around as well. "I'll get a ladder from our truck," one of them said. The police officers, then noting the varying states of sobriety in the crowd, asked Larry, "What have you got going on here?" "It's a retirement party for our boss," Larry explained. "We all work at Hughes Equipment in Seattle."
           "And who's that?" the officer asked, still fighting back laughter, and pointing to Melvynn hanging from the basket ball hoop, "Your entertainment director?"
           That brought out the laughter.
           "Not intentionally. Listen, can you get him down from there before he throws up all over the place?"
           "That's our job," a rescue worker said, steadying the ladder for his partner.

    A cheer went up and a round of applause followed as Melvynn was unhooked and assisted to the ground. He quickly beat a hasty retreat into the nearest shrubbery bush, making good on his threat of getting sick.
           "Try and keep it down to a dull roar tonight, okay?" the police asked.
           "No problem officer, it's all under control."
           Embarrassed, Larry herded his partygoers back to the house as the city's finest put their equipment away, releasing their pent-up laughter. The crowd of neighbors, who had gathered to watch the show, dispersed as well.

    Back inside, Dave returned at the bar, still on his feet, still mixing drinks. One of the last drinks he mixed was a Caesar for Jennifer. His earlier endeavors hadn't been too bad, but this one was something else. After pouring the glass over half full of Vodka, he dumped in Clamato mix, most of which ended up on the bar, and then added enough Tabasco Sauce to tickle the fancy of a Mexican soldier. For garnish he used a carrot stick from a vegetable platter because he couldn't find any more celery. Jennifer's first sip of the drink almost put her into orbit.

    Brice and his new girlfriend, Linda, had now moved inside, only he seemed to be showing more interest in the other women at the party. All Linda wanted to do was dance, and she didn't care with whom. Dave's stiff drinks had done her in as well. So had several others before Dave finally collapsed into a corner of the chesterfield.

    Harry, one of Brice's staff from the dock took over the bartending duties from Dave. At least he was a little more moderate. Clarice was looking after the music and her and her husband, Wilf, were dancing continuously. Melvynn was doing a fair amount of dancing as well, or trying to. He was mostly stepping on everyone's toes as he staggered around the room. When it finally got to the point no one would dance with him anymore, he called out, "Who wants to go for a swim?"
           Fortunately, Larry heard him. "You can't go swimming. I just had the pool super-chlorinated. No one can go in it for 48 hours." It was a lie, but he didn't want a bunch of drunks in his swimming pool.

    Then Melvynn moved outside to the patio, that's when he discovered the hot tub. Within minutes he had stripped off to his jockey shorts and was up to his neck in hot water. A few others were soon to follow.

    Then Lisa's boyfriend, Karl, - Lisa was one of the clerks at the office - took an interest in Larry's fish tank. There were two large brown Oscars that seemed to show a good deal of interest in the party, swimming back and forth along the front of the glass. Karl started looking around for something to feed the fish. He found a whole bag of pellet food in the cupboard under the tank. Each time he dropped a pellet, one of the Oscars would dash to the surface, grab the pellet, and return to the bottom. Soon he was feeding them by hand. This fascinated him, right to the point where Lisa jabbed him in the ribs. "You shouldn't be doing --"
           Right then one of the Oscars bit at Karl's finger. He instinctively yanked his arm back, "Yow!" he exclaimed, his other hand squeezing the bag of pellets, slitting the bag. Pellets spilled all over the place, a goodly portion ending up in the tank. Guilt shrouded Karl's face as he cautiously glanced over his shoulder. Fortunately for him no one saw the incident. He quickly stuffed what was left of the bag into the cupboard and headed into the kitchen for a beer, trying to look innocent. Larry wouldn't be any the wiser until the next morning, but by then his fish were overly well fed and the tank needed cleaning.

    Linda was standing at the bar, an empty glass in one hand and a beer in the other. Karl quickly offered to get her another drink. "The usual," she said.
           "What's that?"
           She stared at Karl for a second, and then a smile crossed her face. "Are you the new bartender?"
           "Sort of looks that way. What can I get you?"
           "Bourbon," she replied, flopping her glass down onto the bar.
           Karl filled her glass and handed it back.
           "You got a light?" she asked, stuffing a cigar into her mouth.
           "You should really remove the wrapper first," he said, taking the cigar from her. "May I?" He removed the cellophane and handed it back to her.
           She was having a little difficulty standing but managed to hold still long enough for Karl to strike a match and hold it for her. She puffed a few times, and as the smoke curled up over her face her eyes began to water.
           "You don't smoke much, do you?"
           "Oh sure, I smoke these all the time," she said. Then she turfed back the bourbon and followed it with a long pull on the beer. She had been taking bourbon shooters with beer chasers most of the night, but it was the cigar that did her in. A few more puffs and her face took on a green hue, and then she headed for the bathroom.

    Brice had witnessed her show and was waiting at the bathroom door when she reappeared. "Are you okay?" he asked.
           "What do you care? Why don't you go back to your other woman?"
           "I think you've had too much to drink."
           "You may just be right," she said, loosing her balance and falling into Brice's arms.
           "You want to go?"
           "Are you trying to get rid of me?"
           "No. I just think maybe it's time we went home."
           "Well I don't..." She suddenly felt sick and reached for the bathroom door again.
           From outside, Brice could her Linda throwing up, sicker than hell. When she finally came out she still refused to leave.
           "I just want to lay down for a few minutes," she said.
           So Larry helped her upstairs to the guest room and flopped her across the bed. She was asleep by the time he reached the door.

    Brice got back downstairs just in time to answer the front door bell. There on the step was a pizza delivery boy with an armload of boxes.
           "Bring 'em in!" Brice said, and stood back with the door open.
           Neither Larry nor Susan were in sight at the time so he directed the kid right into the kitchen. Soon there's a half dozen pizza boxes scattered across the counter and lids are coming off, chunks of pizza being eaten.
           The kid reached into his pocket and produced the bill.
           "How much?" Brice asked, reaching for his wallet.
           "$93.90"
           "Holy shit! On second thought I'll find Larry. Wait here. Have a drink, ... or better yet, a piece of pizza."
           Brice found Larry busy emptying ashtrays. "There's someone here to see you."
           "Who?"
           "He's in the kitchen."

    When Larry walked into the kitchen he was confronted with the mess of partially empty pizza boxes, and a strange young man sitting at the table eating a piece.
           "You Larry?" the kid asked.
           "Yeah, who are you?"
           The delivery boy handed him the bill.
           "I never ordered any pizza."
           "Well, somebody here did," the boy said, "the call came in at 8:15 from your number and address."
           Then Susan showed up at Larry's side, also unaware of any pizza order.
           "What're you going to do?" she asked.
           "We'll have to pay it I guess."
           "How much is the bill?"
           "Don't ask --"
           "$93.90" the kid replied before Larry had a chance to finish.
           Susan almost choked, "I don't have that much money in my purse."
           Fortunately Arne walked in at that moment. "Let me get it," he said, handing the kid a hundred dollar bill. When the boy digs for some change Arne told him to keep it. "Thanks," the kid mumbled with his mouth full, and with a partially eaten slab of pizza in his hand he leaves with a big smile.
           "Thanks, Arne. We'll pay you back later," Larry said, fully intending to take up a collection.
           "Don't worry about it. I don't mind pitching in."
           "You already have," Larry told him. "We charged all the alcohol to you."
           "You what?"
           "Just kidding, boss. Just kidding." Then Larry turned and headed out into the other room. "Okay, who ordered all the pizza?"
           "I think it was Heather's husband," someone said.
           "Where the hell is he?"
           "Last time I saw him he was in the hot tub trying to talk Jennifer into taking off her top."

    Actually Melvynn was heading back into the kitchen, straight for the bar, his jockey shorts dripping water all over the floor. "Okay, where's the bartender," he called out, and Harry came running.
           Just then Heather came over and cornered Melvynn at the bar.
           "Did you order all this pizza?"
           "Pizza? Where's the pizza?" he asked. "I'm starved. There's nothing to eat around here."
           "There are plenty of snack trays around."
           "That's not food. I want real food ... pizza," he said, reaching for a slice.
           "I think you should slow down a bit, don't you?"
           "Hey, it's a party," he replied.
           "You're making an ass of yourself."
           "I'm having a good time."
           "Well cool it a bit. Look at the mess you're making of Susan's floors. Go on back outside."
           "Great idea," he said, grabbing his drink from Harry and heading back out to the tub. "Should be warm by now." He had cranked the heater on the tub as high as it would go.

    Almost midnight. A few people, including Arne and Phyllis have left. In the living room Dave had slowly toppled over on the chesterfield, sleeping. Everyone ignored him until his snoring got too loud. Try as they may, they couldn't wake him so they tried to get him to sit up straight. Big mistake. He was far too heavy to move and ended up falling over onto the floor. Even then he didn't wake up so they rolled him onto a throw rug and dragged him down a hallway out of hearing range to sleep it off.

    A while later Linda came back downstairs wanting to go home, claiming she woke up to find someone trying to undress her. Everyone looked at each other, mentally taking attendance. The only man unaccounted for was Melvynn; a point that didn't escape his wife. Rather than get upset, Brice simply offered to arrange for a ride home for Linda. He really didn't want to leave at the moment; he was having too good a time dancing with Jennifer, so he sent Linda home in a taxi.

    Along about 1:00 in the morning Heather finally managed to get Melvynn into the car and drove them home. Harry was determined to stay, the booze was pretty much cleaned up so his talents as a bar tender were no longer needed, but he too had discovered the hot tub. Joe, who hadn't said more than two words all night, must have left because no one had seen him for the last two hours.

    The house was a mess. Jennifer and Susan started cleaning up until Larry told her not to bother. "I gave Louise a key," he said. "She's going to come around tomorrow and clean up."
           "What about sleeping beauty?" Jennifer asked, referring to Dave, still sleeping in the hallway.
           "Leave him sleep. Harry said he'll drive him home."

    Then, for the first time all evening, Larry was able to sit down with his feet up and have a relaxing drink. The music played quietly in the background.
           "I hope you're not planning another party in the near future?" Susan asked.
           "If I do, shoot me."

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    FREE ENTERPRISE    by Alan A Sandercott


    The Free Enterprise System, the opportunity to venture forth and seek one's fortune and hopefully not the fame that usually goes along with success. This was the allure that attracted two brothers to Canada. Tales of riches to be made with little more than daring, determination, and the ability to evade the law, caught their imagination. Expectations ran high when they presented themselves as tourists after landing at Vancouver International Airport in the spring of 2010. "Enjoy the 2010 Winter Games," they told Canada Customs. They were very limited in the amount of English they knew and talked with heavy accents. Both short and stout, both balding, and both sporting gaudy coloured sport shirts and sun glasses, the looked the part of tourists. But the 2010 Winter Games were the furthest thing from their minds when they boarded the Canada Line rapid transit for downtown Vancouver.

    Right from the beginning the brothers had their minds set on the internationally famous British Columbia Marijuana Trade; BC Bud, Green Gold. Thanks to several illegal scams, a bit of extortion, and the sale of their mother's house without her knowledge they had amassed a considerable amount of money to finance their dreams. Earlier research on the internet had turned up several contacts and several suppliers of Grow-Op equipment. Experts abounded on the streets and within days the brothers were well on their way to starting their new enterprise. "Go north," they were advised, "things are too hot down here. Head up into the interior where no one gives a damn what you do."

    Kenny was a long time loser with a criminal record as long as his arm, but he had the silver tongue of a car salesman. He dressed to give a successful impression but his prison-pallor face gave him away. He soon zeroed in on the two gullible foreigners. He quickly gained their confidence and impressed them with his wealth of knowledge as it applied to the business of marijuana grow-ops. "I know all about growing pot," he told the brothers. "Cut me in and I'll teach you everything you ever wanted to know about running a grow-op." However, he neglected to tell the brothers that he had just been released from prison for being involved in a lower mainland marijuana grow-op, along with multiple possession charges including trafficking across the border into the US. It was true though, he did know what was required to set up a grow-op and he did have the contacts, providing the brothers had the money, which they did.

    The three formed a bonding friendship as they planned for their future business partnership. The brother's took on the role of regular entrepreneurs, although with their new wardrobes complete with sun shades they presented the picture of a couple aspiring criminals. They did, however, get some exposure to the 2010 Winter Games, usually on wide-screen TV in one pub or another.

    Spring was well underway when the two brothers, along with their new partner, Kenny, were winding their way north along Highway 97 into the Cariboo Country. In Quesnel BC., Kenny eased the well used truck into the parking lot of a real estate office. "We're looking to buy an old farm," Kenny explained to the agent who quickly smiled at the prospect. "We want to be away from the rat race," Kenny added. The agent then identified the perfect location for them. "It's and old 100 acre homestead out in the Blackwater," the agent told them, showing them the location on a big wall map. "The previous owners farmed the place 'till last fall. They're getting too old so they want to sell. I'm sure if you make a reasonable offer they'd probably take it. They live here in town. I could get you an answer today."

    Outside by the truck the three men discussed the matter and an offer was agreed on by the brothers, seeing as how they were putting up all the money. The agent wrote up the offer and went to see the owners. Sure as hell, they accepted the offer and the deal was finalized at a lawyer's office that same afternoon. After picking up some take-out meals and a couple cases of beer the three retired to a local motel for the evening.

    Next morning they bought provisions, gassed up the truck, bought a map, and at the insistence of the brothers they bought two AK47 Semi-Automatic rifles with enough ammunition to last years. "I suppose those are for hunting squirrels?" Kenny joked. The brothers just grinned. Soon they crossed the bridge over the Fraser River and headed west on the Blackwater Road. The brother were city types and the miles and miles of pot-holed dusty gravel road with nothing but trees and more trees was very strange to them. They constantly checked the map trying to reassure themselves that they weren't lost.

    Following directions given them by the real estate agent, they crossed a rickety old bridge and found the narrow road that branched off and sloped down towards a bit of a valley. Two miles later after dodging deep water filled ruts they emerged from the trees to the old farm. It was perfect! No one around for miles. A bid chunk of the farm had been plowed the previous fall and was ready for planting. A creek flowed along side the field in case they need extra water. It was the beginning of May and if they planted right away, and Mother Nature cooperated with enough sun and rain they could have a bountiful marijuana harvest. Then they could pack the old truck full and head back to the coast. By the end of their first year in Canada the two brothers would be rich beyond their wildest dreams.

    Almost immediately they started to work following Kenny's directions in setting up a large temporary greenhouse to give their marijuana plants a head start. For the lumber they needed they dismantled a couple old farm buildings. Kenny made several trips to town for material and supplies, always taking one of the brothers along to pay the bills. One special item was a good sized gas power plant to supply special lighting night & day to the greenhouse. Within three weeks they had close to five thousand tiny marijuana plants

    flourishing. The weather was dull & dreary when they started moving the seedlings out into the rich earth of the field. Kenny explained the conditions were important so the plants wouldn't suffer undue stress from the move. The brothers complained the hours were too long and the work too tedious. Kenny kept reminding them of all the money they were going to make when they took their harvest south.

    Their field of dreams exploded with growth, and so did the work tending the crop. As the summer progressed the rains diminished and the heat of the sun increased. They found themselves packing water from the creek in buckets for the plants. Kenny finally had to make a special trip into Quesnel to buy a water pump along with rolls and rolls of hose, but gone was the bucket brigade. They all had time to sit back and make plans of what they would do with all the money. Kenny talked long and hard to the two brothers trying to convince them that they would get a far better price for their pot by smuggling it across the border into the states. Higher prices meant more money in the pockets of the two brothers so they bought into the idea.

    By the middle of August the temperatures were soaring and with no rain they were watering night & day. The portable radio they had reported lots of forest fires were burning in the province; several in their area. They had seen smoke a few times and there were a lot of planes flying over. Some were obviously water bombers identified by the colour and the markings. A few helicopters seemed to be patrolling the area. The brothers worried one of them may spot their marijuana crop from the air but Kenny assured them the fields would look like corn from the air and not to worry so much.

    Unknown to the three temporary pot farmers their field had caught the eye of one of the pilots. He had reported it to the RCMP in Quesnel, who in turn passed the information on the RCMP Drug Section in Prince George to the north. A couple days later one of the choppers patrolling the area had a special passenger onboard; a drug officer who knew what marijuana looked like from the sky and took several revealing photographs.

    The following week a special team gathered at the Quesnel RCMP Detachment comprising officers from the Drug Section in Prince George and Vancouver along with regular RCMP officers from Quesnel. They discussed strategies for the pending raid on the remote marijuana grow-op. Several blown-up photographs of the farm were spread on a large table along with road maps of the area. "There was a time," the lead officer explained, "that we would have to find our way into an illegal operation the hard way. Now, the 'copter goes out and radios back and we know exactly where to go if necessary."

    The plan consisted of two helicopters, one to fly back and forth like it's patrolling a fire but close enough to monitor movements on the farm. Several vehicles would approach from the ground in a surprise attack. The second chopper would join in to drop down unexpectedly to make the arrests. The first chopper would remain aloft to aid in tracking the farm's operators should they try and make a break for it.

    The last thing Kenny and the brothers expected when they awoke that last day on the farm was to find themselves in jail by nightfall, but it happened. The peaceful tranquility of the remote farm setting was shattered when a helicopter suddenly appeared over the trees and swooped down on the surprised men enjoying breakfast. Four uniformed RCMP jumped from the chopper as it touched down in the clearing by the truck, blocking it from moving. They immediately approached the old farm house, two with handguns drawn, and the other two brandishing rifles. One of the brothers appeared in the doorway and as soon as the officers started yelling commands at him he retreated back inside. Then Kenny appeared in the doorway with one of the AK47's in his hands. The officers began yelling commands at him to drop the rifle. Instead, Kenny slowly raised the rifle in a threatening manner. Big mistake! The police officers opened fire. Following a hail of bullets, the rifle dropped from Kenny's hands, he pitched forward and then crumpled to the ground.

    Almost at the same time the strike force's ground vehicles roared into the yard in a great cloud of dust. Armed officers poured out and the farmhouse was quickly surrounded. The two brothers understood very little English but there was little doubt as to what was expected of them. One of the brothers who had picked up the other AK47 rifle now dropped it to the floor. They stood staring wide-eyed at each other for a few seconds fearing they would be next to be shot.

    It was another hot sunny afternoon when the two brothers stepped out of the stuffy police van. The chains attaching their shackles rattled on the hot pavement as they made their way into the Quesnel RCMP Detachment, ending in the cellblock. It was the start of many days and nights staring through bars. Ahead of them lay months of legal trials in Vancouver courts for numerous violations of Canadian and British Columbia law. Everything they had acquired since arriving in Canada was confiscated so they had no choice but to helplessly rely on court appointed attorneys to aid in their defense.

    In mid December, 2010 the two brothers arrived at the departures level at Vancouver International Airport under escort of Canadian Immigration officials. They were handcuffed together. The excitement they felt eleven month earlier when they landed in Canada now a distant memory. Four months behind bars in Canadian jails had dulled their sense of adventure. They were flat broke and had nothing to show for their visit to Canada but a crumpled copy of the Deportation Order stuffed in their pockets. On the bright side they qualified for pre-boarding of the plane that was to return them to their own country and an uncertain future.

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    I REALLY GOTTA GO!    by Alan A Sandercott


    Emerson Pharmaceuticals had a new boardroom. The last of the contractors had cleared out their tools and leftover materials the day before. All Friday morning the cleaning staff cleaned and polished. They were followed by the staff of a catering service that adorned the room with party regalia in readiness for a corporate bash that was intended to baptize the new boardroom. Cocktails at 6:00 pm, the office memo read, but there are always those that start early.

    "Wow," Larry commented immediately on entering the boardroom. "This is nice." He walked to the middle of the large room, pausing to look around, and then ventured out onto the balcony. The location presented a spectacular view overlooking Seattle's harbor with its lines of piers. Beyond the viaduct, and on out into Elliot Bay, the water was dotted with pleasure sailboats. In the distance he could see a ferry on its return run from Bainbridge Island, skirting around several freighters anchored in the harbor. Larry Parsons was Field Manager of Sales, responsible for sales for the entire west coast, and he was an alcoholic in denial.

    Dave Privy, one of several corporate lawyers retained by the company, was already in the room and busily ordering himself a drink from the large selection of booze the caterers had hauled up in the service elevator. The hired bartender, outfitted in a tight white waist jacket and bow-tie, expertly passed a glass through the ice cube tray and tipped a bottle of expensive scotch. "What are you having?" Dave asked Larry. "Howie's buying." He was referring to Howard Price the company President and CEO, Howard hated the nickname 'Howie' and Dave knew it.
           "Just a beer," Larry replied. "I promised the wife I would be home early today. It's her birthday and she's made plans." In truth he had spent most of the afternoon in a nearby tavern with a couple of client's and had downed enough beer to finance a small brewery.
           "You can't fly on one wing. You of all people should know that."
           "No, a beer's fine," he confirmed, accepting the open bottle and a glass from the bartender. "First one today, always the best," Larry said, and took a long drink.

    Dave chooses a comfortable looking easy chair and settled on in, wiggling his butt for the perfect fit. He needed a big chair; he must have weighed close to three-hundred pounds. Where others walked; Dave waddled. His face always looked like he was about to have a heart attack. "I need one of these in my office," Dave commented.
           "I agree," Larry said, having settled into one of the new posh highly padded chairs. "Maybe now I'll attend a few more meetings," he added with a grin.

    "So what are your plans? You planning on buying a house or...?" Larry asked. Dave had only joined the company a few weeks earlier having come from a similar position in Chicago. "House probably. I'd be happy in an apartment, but my wife, she's determined to have a house."
           "So you're married?" Larry inquired.
           "Second time round. She's still back east, trying to get her act together. She'll be flying out this weekend to look at houses with me, but I doubt I'll be moving her out here any time soon."
           "Any idea where you might want to buy?" Larry asked, standing up to get himself another beer.
           "Well I don't dare make a decision until after the wife has been out here, but I saw some nice homes last night. A real estate agent took me out to ... Mercer Island, I think it was."
           "Mercer Island," Larry remarked. "That's a prestigious part of the city. I know. I drive by there on my way home everyday. A lot of mucky-mucks live there, but there are some beautiful homes on the island."
           "Expensive, too," Dave added.

    Suddenly the big oak boardroom door opened and Brice, the company's Human Resources Manager, filled the doorway. "Evening all," he said, a big grin on his face. "This sweet young thing with me is Vickie, the love of my life," he advised, stepping aside to make room for a very attractive young lady. "I hope you don't mind? Her car is broke down and I've been driving her back and forth to work. I talked her into stopping by here for awhile and meeting everyone."
           "Perfect," Dave said, "Always nice to meet a pretty new face. What can I get you to drink?"

    Larry immediately arose from his chair to admire this newest of Brice's conquests, a roguish smile on his face. Vickie was absolutely stunning. Tall, perhaps even taller than Brice, given the four-inch heels she was wearing. Flowing auburn hair; one of those hair styles that made her look like she'd just been caught in the wind; long enough to require her to regularly sweep it from her well featured face. But what really caught his eye was her hourglass figure that attracted stares like a magnet.

    "This here's Larry," Brice said. "Larry's a very good friend. We do everything together."
           "Everything?" Vickie asked, with a girlish smile, her beautiful gray eyes melting into Larry's.
           Larry couldn't help himself, his eyes ranging freely up and down her body. Vickie noticed, and began a knowing blush. He wasn't sure if he should shake or kiss the hand she extended - he chose the former. Then like a love-struck teenager he stood and stared, soaking in her aroma that quickly permeated the room.
           "That's enough," Brice interrupted, breaking the spell. "He's not that good a friend. And this here is Dave. He's a lawyer, so he doesn't count."

    Dave let Brice's comment slide for the moment. He too was taken by Vickie's beauty. He handed her a glass of champagne and then downed the one he'd brought for Brice. He then returned to the bar for another scotch before reclaiming the padded chair. He then leaned over towards Larry and said, "Brice sure knows how to pick 'em."

    The next hour passed with mixtures of business and miscellaneous conversations. More company executives showed up, some with wives, others straight from their desks. Along with Dave and Larry, a couple other guys had all pulled their chairs around in a sort of semi-circle, not surprisingly around Vicki. She didn't complain and seemed to enjoy being the center of men's attention. Brice, who should have been paying more attention to her, instead preferred talking on his favorite topic; stock cars and racing. What ever money Brice didn't spend on women he spent at the race track. Between the two he was always broke.

    Vickie spent most of her time making eye contact with Larry. Her seductive, secretive smile flustered Larry making him lose his concentration. Either she hadn't picked up on the fact that Larry was married or she didn't care. She was sitting next to Brice, but she acted like he didn't exist, with good reason, she had other things on her mind.

    Brice was describing the thrill of roaring down the racetrack, all the time unaware Vickie was hitting on his best friend. Every time Larry glanced over at her, she would be gently nibbling her bottom lip, or giving him her seductive smile, a hint of tongue tracing the inner curve of her sensual lips. He caught her doing it several times and it caused him such distraction that he had to get up from his seat and walk to the bar for another beer. There were no doubts as to the signals she was sending.

    At some point Larry found himself out on the balcony with several others. A discussion was taking place about how computers were making everyone's life so much easier. A group that had gathered around the bar were watching a basketball game in progress. Brice was still running on about race cars and Vickie was still sitting at his side, bored stiff.

    The beers were taking a toll on Larry as he finally excused himself and headed into the bathroom. A second later he was surprised when the door opened.
           "Don't you lock doors?" Vickie asked, a mischievous smile on her face.
           "Didn't think I had to."
           "I'm glad you didn't," she said, reaching behind her to lock the door.
           "I don't think this is a very good idea," Larry said.
           "Why's that?"
           "Well for one thing, Brice must have seen you come in here."
           "I doubt it, he's too wrapped up in his stupid cars.
           "Brice is my best friend. I wouldn't feel--"
           "No one needs to know anything," she said, stepping up to Larry, now backed against the counter.
           "No I can't," he said. The fact was he could and wanted to, but it was the wrong time, wrong place.
           "What's' wrong? Don't you find me attractive?" she asked, her finger running up and down the edge of Larry's tie.
           "Sure. I think you're very attractive, it's just --"
           "The ring on your finger says you're married. I also see the way you look at me. But I'm not out to steal you away from your wife, just borrow you for a while. Maybe one afternoon...?" She pressed herself against him, the heat from her body rushing into his.
           'This is crazy,' Larry thought to himself. 'Does she just want to hop up on the counter and go for it?'
           When he felt his own body beginning to stir, he snapped to reality. "I'm sorry." He twisted away and quickly unlocked the door and escaped.

    Back in the boardroom Larry grabbed another beer and headed out onto the balcony and fresh air. He was kicking himself, already regretting passing up such a clandestine moment with a beautiful women. He glanced back at Vicky once again sitting beside Brice, but she deliberately turned her look away.
           'Damn,' he swore to himself. He chugged back the rest of the beer and announced, "Okay, it's getting late. I better head out. I don't want Susan sending the dogs after me."
           "You sure?" Brice asked, suddenly shifting his attention away from those 'stupid cars', as Vicky had referred to Brice's hobby. "You don't want to break up the party, do you?"
           "No choice. I've got a long way to go."
           "Yeah I know. And a short time to get there," Brice added. "You sound like a take off from 'Smokey and the Bandit'. Just watch that 'peddle to the metal' shit though, eh?'"
           "You're not driving, are you?" Dave asked.
           "Yeah?" Larry answered, taking it as a strange question.
           "You sure? I could call you a taxi if you like. You could always pick your car up tomorrow, you know?"
           "I can drive okay," Larry replied. There was no doubt in Larry's mind that he could control his drinking.
           "Maybe you better take one of my business cards," Dave said, "you'll need my services if the cops stop you."
           "No, I'm okay. All I've been drinking is beer." He knew damned well he would be pushing his luck driving, but if he came home without his car Susan would kill him. Plus it would mean she would have to drive him to the office in the morning, in her Corvette, in the city traffic!
           "I've seen him drive in a lot worse shape," Brice added, getting to his feet.
           "Are you leaving too?" Dave asked.
           "Nope. Just going to the little boy's room. Have to make room for another drink."
           "Let me go first," Larry said, having missed on his first trip.
           "Too late," Brice said, already heading out the door.
           "I'm gone then," Larry added impatiently. He was already a couple hours late.

    To get home, Larry usually drove out on the 'I90' highway, across Mercer Island and then on into Bellevue. That night, of all nights, traffic on the floating bridge to Mercer Island ground to a crawl. Vehicles backed up for miles, bad news for Larry who hadn't waited to use the bathroom. Now he was somewhere near the middle of the bridge, and he had to take a leak, bad. He should have known better, drinking beer all night, but who would have expected running into a traffic jam at night.

    Music helped some to get Larry's mind off his pressing need. He cranked up the volume, stared at other drivers, and cursed at what ever was causing the holdup. All he could do was sit there, wiggling his legs back and forth, praying traffic would start moving again. But the cars were bumper to bumper, barely moving, but moving enough that he couldn't get out. And even if he could, there was nowhere to go; he was in the middle of the bridge.

    Agonizing minutes worn on. The pain in Larry's bladder was about to explode. He leaned over and glanced at himself in his mirror, half expecting to see his eyes turning yellow. He leaned back in his seat; twisting, his legs crossed, conscious that the female driver in the vehicle beside him probably knew what was going on. He couldn't help wondering if the woman felt sorry for him, or if she was on the verge of laughing. He didn't care, that was far from his immediate concern. Out of desperation he tried to think of something in the car he might use, a tin can, in the trunk perhaps? Then his eyes settled on the ashtray. He pulled it out and stared at it for a moment, wondering if he dared. He did.

    There are few words to describe his feeling of relief, as time and time again, while trying his best to mask his actions from the sight of others, he filled that ashtray, and ever so cautiously open his door a crack and spilled the contents onto the pavement.

    There was a touch of sweat on his brow and a dampness down his pant leg as he leaned back and relaxed. The ashtray lay on the floormat between his legs and a look of contentment crossed his face. The car with the woman driver had fallen behind a bit. Larry adjusted his rearview mirror; there was no mistaking the contemptible look on her face. He quickly deduced she probably lived on Mercer Island.

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