Gary generally writes nonfiction, but now and then he dabbles in fiction. Here you will find a sampling of his short stories.
THE PASSION: A MAJOR BLAINE ROMANCE
IN FOUR PARTS
Part 1. All the Romance Anyone Needs
After years of a lifeless marriage, they had but one fantasy left. Making love on a secluded beach. Living in Iowa presented some obstacles, but they had time. Time was all they had left.
Clifford and Brenda grew up in Iowa. On the side of the state, that’s cold in the winter and hot and humid in the summer. The side just like the other side. The side was flat with nothing but feed corn and soybean fields as far as the eye could see. He was from Dubuque, she from Des Moines. Any closer, and they’d have been related. Clifford grew up tall for his age; then he settled into just being tall. His constitution was solid, and his nervous energy belied his ability to eat twenty or more Snickers bars in one sitting, a highlight of the county fair. Now in his early forties, his six foot four and carries his one hundred twenty-seven pounds like the weathervane planted in every Iowa yard.
And so, he in his world, her in hers. Alone, yet together. The Iowa winters can be cold. An Iowa home without love is like an unlit stove. Full of potential. But potential and the internet can’t keep the Iowa wind from blowing and chilling your bones.
Secretly and ever so slowly, their passion was building. Building like the foundation of an Amish barn. One brick, or dare I say it, one click at a time.
The winter came and went, and the crops were planted, then harvested. Once more, the cycle was completed. Knee-high by the fourth of July was the norm for Iowa corn, but the summer and autumn would see no growth in their love. Their secret passion lay dormant like hordes of buried cicadas. Maybe in seven years, maybe eleven, before the sticky wings of their love would emerge like thousands of pupae yearning to mate.
The plane ride was miserable. First, you have to drive to Dubuque, catch the shuttle to Des Moines, and then onward to Minneapolis. Minneapolis is where everyone from the Midwest goes flying out of the Midwest. Their ‘economy minus’ tickets offered five inches less legroom than that of the overhead bins, but heck, they already blew most of their savings on the charges for all that extra luggage. No self-respecting Iowan would ever take a trip in the winter, even to Jamacia, without two or three pairs of flannel underwear.
The lack of legroom forced Clifford to contort his six-foot-four frame into a fetal position. When the snacks came, there was no hope of lowering the tray. The four croutons and a half-ounce of squeeze cheese rested comfortably on his knees. He was miserable, but he’d promised himself to give their marriage one last chance. Passion will do that.
The budget resort, which looked promising in the online brochures, looked more like the Travel Lodge on I-80 than a Caribbean getaway. while available and plentiful, didn’t provide food. The brochure said, ‘Every room a suite!’ Upon inspection, it technically qualified as a suite because there was a half wall separating the toilet from the two twin beds.
Clifford and Brenda, now too tired to talk, found a different twin bed and fell fast asleep. Mornings come early in Iowa but not so much in Jamacia. Sleeping in slightly past seven, they had to wait until ten before the diner across from the motel opened for breakfast. The diner would be their eating place morning, noon, and night. The diner served chicken. Eggs for breakfast, chicken fried steak for lunch, and jerk chicken for dinner. To give it a homier feel, before they’re your food, the chickens become your friends. Chickens roam the streets, live in the motel lobby, and even share your beach umbrella. Clifford took to naming the chickens, which didn’t sit well with Brenda. “Maybe you should read their cards,” Clifford said. “The future doesn’t look bright,” Brenda replied. This was the first joke they’d shared in twenty years. “Why’d the chicken cross the road?” “Stop,” Brenda said.
THE BEAT: A MAJOR BLAINE MYSTER
IN THREE PARTS
Part 1. Baltimore
When I met him, he was a beat cop working in the toughest town. He worked alone. Alone, because no other cop wanted to ride with him. Getting shot was a frequent habit of Marlboro’s partners. Sergeant Philip Winston Marlboro rode the night shift, past the sleaziest bars, back alleys, and vacant lots of Baltimore. It was easy to find the crooks, backstabbers, and cheats. They were everywhere. They were everyone. Once he stopped his patrol car, the crackheads, pimps, and pickpockets would vanish into the damp mist blowing in off the Chesapeake.
If he wanted to make a few extra dollars, he could’ve taken their money. He never did. He was fair, though he didn’t make many arrests. Late at night, he chose his own form of justice. His nightstick served as judge and jury. Eventually, crime settled down when he was on the beat. Crime didn’t go away—it just sort of gave up—a case of give up or get beat up when Sergeant Marlboro was on patrol.
They shipped Phillip Winston Marlboro to France. The war was raging, and his number came up. He’d stayed in Baltimore, but someone or something bigger than him had a different plan. It wasn’t God’s plan. God doesn’t send men to war. God doesn’t welcome them home either. God just cries. Cries in the form of rain. God cried at night in Baltimore, where sirens and shootings sang all night. God cried in France, even if Paris was beautiful during the day. During the war, it rained every night. God cried, soaking the cold Paris streets.
He was Military Police, trading his Baltimore police blue for the olive drab of the Army. Sergeant Marlboro in Baltimore and now Sergeant Marlboro in France. They wanted him to fight crime. He knew crime. He fought crime with his nightstick, the only justice a crook, pimp, or pickpocket ever needed. Fought crime on the streets of Paris, just like he did in Baltimore. If they wanted him to fight in the war, they’d send him to Vietnam. The war was in Vietnam; he was in France.
Philip Marlboro no longer had a badge or a uniform. He was just another cold, hungry veteran thrown back into civilian life. The Baltimore police couldn’t hire him back and he was too old to retrain. Retrain to do what? Carry a nightstick, fight crime—these were the only things he knew. The only things he wanted to do. I suggested he start his own business. A business he could do. One that was right up his dark back alley. Welcome home, Marlboro. From now on, it would be Philip Marlboro, Private Eye.
Being a private dick came easy to Marlboro. Marlboro could handle it. He set up shop back at his old haunt above the Trailways bus terminal. A small apartment above the call girls, pimps, and winos who hung out waiting for the johns to arrive from Philadelphia. All the johns from Philly had money and were easy marks.