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The NFL kicks off today.  Well, Denver and Baltimore played Thursday nite.  But most of the teams start their season today.  Despite the concussive nature of the sport, I am still a fan.  I’ve quit chewing tobacco.  I’ve quit drinking to excess.  But I haven’t quit the internet and I haven’t quit football.  I have stopped watching boxing, but that is more of a function of who I hang out with.  My wife never had a thing for combat sports, but she does like football.

I grew up a Giants fan.  My dad was one.  When he was a kid, there was no Boston team and he never switched over to the Patriots.  I started following the team around the time that Herm Edwards scooped up a fumble when an exchange between Joe Pisarcik and Larry Csonka went awry.   I stayed with them for 30 years.  Saw some terrible ones,  but I also saw three Super Bowl champs.  Well, the middle one was when I was out of the country fighting Saddam and the Iraqis.

But when I got married, I switched over to the Patriots.  It wasn’t so much a switch as it was a change in emphasis.  I always sort of liked the Patriots.  It was easy to root for them while rooting for the Giants.  Then, this millenium, I came to admire Bill Bellichek’s coaching.  He’s supplanted Bill Walsh as the premier NFL coach in my lifetime.  The fact that he and my wife are both Wesleyan grads didn’t hurt.

Anyways, I’ve already been up for over an hour.  I’m like a kid on Christmas day.  Only the fat guy I am waiting for isn’t Santa.  It is Vince Willfork.


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Fahrenheit 32

Fire trucks fight fires. Why don’t ice cream trucks fight ice cream? I bet that’s Mayor Bloomberg’s dream; a whole cadre of converted ice cream trucks whizzing down Manhattan streets and those of the other borough; sirens playing off-key versions of Old MacDonald’ looking for desserts to seize.

We’ve got a bakery in progress at the corner of Lexington and 42nd.

That’s a four alarmer.

If this catches on, like smoking bans, small towns will have volunteer ice cream men. They’ll hang out at the gingerbread house and help old ladies by getting pies out of their trees. They’d be assisted by teen-aged dessert Explorers. Some of these teens will fight boredom by baking cakes; just so they can have a call to respond to.

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You’ve heard of helicopter parents? Always hovering over their children? My mom was the opposite. I told her I was joining the Army. “That’s nice. Don’t get shot. Come back in four years.”

Now my youngest cousin is in an aviation battalion in the National Guard. They got activated to go to Afghanistan. My aunt and another private’s mother went along with the unit. They rented a condo in Kandahar and pestered theirs kids’ platoon sergeant. “Why did Jones get promoted to spec 4 before my Peterson?”

They pestered the mess sergeant. “T-rats again? My boy deserves better.”

“Moooom.” Their sons would protest.

“We’re not just Army moms. We’re helicopter parents.”

“You don’t know how right you are.”

One of the Apache pilots gave serious thought to letting a stray missile hit their townhouse.

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More Ruxpin

Eddy Ruxpin admitted to selling secrets to the Russians.  He wanted to sell Alaska back to them.  He really did, in his mind.  But the reality is that he was one delusional young man.  I never thought I’d be writing this, but here is the whole story.  From the beginning.  Dead drops.  Tundra.  Cyanide. Taiga.  Secret codes. The Pipeline. Invisible ink.  Northern Lights. Microfilm.  Firing recoiless rifles at avalanches.

Alaska from the birth of the earth.  Gold, black gold, earthquakes and volcanoes.  Continental Drift.  Aurora Borealis.  Flora and fauna.

The land bridge.  Vitus Bering.  The Russians.  Expansion.  Exploration.  Industrial Revolution.  Capitalism and Socialism.  The Civil War.  Karl Marx.  William Seward.  John Wilkes Booth.  The Klondike.  Jack London.  Henry Ford.  World War II.  The Cold War.  Statehood. Lee Harvey Oswald.

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The Spy Who Wasn’t

Let’s see what’s cookin’ in Oppenheimer’s bitchin’ kitchen. Let’s see what cookin’ in Oppenhiemer’s bitchin’ kitchen. It might be seafood. He was talking ‘bout fission. Watcha drinkin’, Lincoln? Is that a barium frappe or some other radioactive crap? I think I’ll have a Manhattan… Project. Whatcha thinkin’, Lincoln? Find these thoughts confining? Remember! Every mushroom cloud has a silver lining.

Eddy Ruxpin thinks he is a secret agent man; an ersatz Aldrich Ames selling secrets to Japan. But he is more like a real life Walter Mitty and the way this whole thing ends is a real pity.

JD Anaconda is a puzzling gent. He isn’t proud to be a Grenada vet. But he’s a hawk not a dove. When he hits the bottle, he dreams of ‘Nam and glorious guerilla battles. An electronic warrior, he used his head. Planned to get out and go back to school. But he met a Mystic gal instead. Wedding bells would soon toll. Now he writes word games for the New London Day. His cryptography training is starting to pay.

Why do some people deceive themselves? Is it good or is it bad or is it something else? Is reality not good enough that we have to bluff ourselves?

Ruxpin is a squid on a submarine. Decompresses by smoking Stroh’s and drinking pot. The drills they have at sea are frighteningly grim. They never know down there if the Cold War’s getting hot. They go through a launch sequence right to the end never knowing if the balloon went up or if it was just a drill. Locked down in a nuclear powered prison at the bottom of the sea. For Ruxpin it’s no thrill.

Drinking Boone’s Farm and watching Platoon, envelopes Anaconda within an ethanol cocoon. That isn’t Memorex in the VCR; those are memories. Oh yeah, those scenes are his. JD wasn’t infantry; he was a rear echelon guy. That’s not good for his mystique, he’d cry. Yet, he never fired a shot in anger. Truth was that he was a chairborne Ranger.

Why do some people disease themselves by pretending to be someone who they’re not? Reality bites; it may not be up to snuff. But it’s all we got.

Ruxpin screens the Falcon and The Snowman. Dreams that he was played by Timothy Hutton. Dead drops and disguises. Code Names, chalk marks on the street. Invisible ink revealed by applying heat. He writes a phony manual on acquiring a sonar fix on pages and pages of phony code. But it’s all smoke and dagger tricks. One day they inspect his bunk in the barracks. His CPO sees his handiwork. He starts to explode.

They call NCIS for an investigation. NCIS takes Ruxpin in for interrogation. Someone calls for JD, who isn’t in the navy. But he has the skills to decode. 48 hours in a soundproof basement cell two tins of Skoal were enough tell. Ruxpin’s notes are nothing to decipher, that’s Anaconda tells the navy lifer overseeing the case. Ruxpin breaks down; admits it was a hoax. His twisted mind plays sick jokes. He’s dishonorably discharged and sent home to upstate New York; somewhere near Rome.

Why do some people deceive themselves? Is it good or is it bad or is it something else? Is reality not good enough that we have to bluff ourselves?

Thus endeth the story except for a sad coda. Ruxpin wasn’t Ruxpin since I don’t know, nineteen eighty-four. He ends things by drinking Prestone and soda. The spy who wasn’t was no more.

Daydreams are all fine and good as long as you don’t cross over that invisible line, Anaconda would flash back to events that didn’t really happen, but he could always stop that 100 MPH tape. Ruxpin didn’t have that control and it put him in a deep hole. Try to hold on to reality or you might end up in a tragedy.

Why do some people disease themselves by pretending to be someone who they’re not? Reality bites; it may not be up to snuff. But it’s all we got.

Dicky Nixon thought he was Lincoln…

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Troopers Jhonny Diaz and Ed Hickey sat in a late model Crown Vic. They were GeneCrimes best. Today their job was to arrest fourteen-year old Ryan Rivers. Waiting outside of Ryan’s high school, Diaz and Hickey hoped that no one got to the kid first. They wanted the collar. It would turn out to be a good day.

At two on the dot, the final bell rand. Teenagers streamed out of the building. Diaz pointed at a lanky kid, “That him?”

“Yup,” said Hickey.

“Never forget 12-12-12!’

The pair of cops walked up to a school bus Rivers was waiting in line to enter. “Come here. We’d like to talk to you.”

The cops talked with their hands. First they frisked the kid, then cuffed and stuffed him into the back of their cruiser. His crime? A genetic deficiency.

Two mass murders in two years rattled the state. The people wanted the carnage stopped whatever the price. The Constitutional Public Safety Department dissected the shootings from every conceivable angle. The chief medical examiner called in Sanford Watts. Watts was a geneticist from the state university’s medical school. Geneticists had been used to solve crimes before. DNA evidence went mainstream years ago. But this was a step in an entirely new direction.

Guillaime Barbier delivered Budweiser. Sometimes he stole cases of the suds. Little Brother, the security cams at work caught him. The distributorship fired him and he went postal. Shot up the warehouse like he was in a Western. Then he turned the gun on himself.

Jared D’Orlando was a withdrawn loner with an apocalyptic mom. She had an arsenal. He liked FPS games. Had he been born twenty years earlier and played Mortal Kombat, he wouldn’t have had the balls to turn a local elementary school into a live action X Box game. But he went on a spree raining lead upon flesh and bones. The body count was more than a score. Most of his victims were little kids. Never forget 12-12-12!

Watts examined DNA samples from Barbier and D’Orlando as well as other massacrists like Colin Ferguson, James Huberty, William Calley, and Jared Holmes among others. 90% of them carried an extremely rare variant of the warrior gene that Watts dubbed the “commando gene.” A statistically significant percentage of those with the commando gene committed violent crimes against persons.

A decision was made behind closed doors. It was Executive Order 13-009. The public would have approved (never forget 12-12-12,) but the Constitution wouldn’t. So double-oh-nine was all hush hush. GeneCrimes was formed.

Rivers Ryan had the commando gene and a date with a holding cell. Diaz and Hickey had bagged their quarry and brought him into a sally port at One Public Safety Plaza in New Jerusalem. They were star so they didn’t have to do any paperwork. Junior troopers were stuck with that drudgery. They’d come up with some trumped up charge that would allow them to hold the kid. It was Miller Time. But before they could head out for a celebratory beer, Major Eckert corralled them. Eckert was in charge of GeneCrimes. “Boys, I need a favor.”

“Governor Ned’s in a tight primary race. Judge Horan’s opposition research folks have caught wind of double-oh-nine and our whole operation. Any word of this gets out and we’re in serious trouble. Never forget 12-12-12!”

That was GeneCrimes’ unofficial motto; the date of the D’Orlando shootings. Eckert went on. Apparently a bounty hunter named Chevy Burby found out about double-oh-nine and is feed info to Horan’s people. He needs to be silenced.” The major drew his index finger horizontally across his neck in a throat cutting gesture. “You Puerto Ricans are good with knives, Diaz. A Colombian necktie would send the right message.” Diaz was a cop wannabe since he was eight. And he got his dream job. Hickey couldn’t do anything with a soils science degree and joined the force soon after college. They both became loyal foot soldiers and were malleable by the higher ups. They knew their stuff, but they’d always follow orders.

GeneCrimes couldn’t just pull people off the street and test them for the commando gene. But they could test the inmates in the Constitutional Corrections Facilities. So they did. No one gave a shit about their rights. Carriers had paroles denied, time tacked on to sentences for phony infractions. “Inhumane!” some argued internally. But there was no cure for the commando gene. You had to keep these people off the streets. Never forget 12-12-12!

Male blood relatives of carriers in the prison system were put on a list. First, the ones who had visiting privileges. Then, officials asked inmates for names of family members. These were prioritized by age and other factors. For example, Joel Ryan’s son, Rivers was young and lived in an old Swamp Yankee mill town with terrible schools and less t look forward to after that. He was a high-risk carrier. Five teams of two agents roamed the state checking off names from the list.

Diaz & Hickey were the stars, but the duo of Rob Aselton and Philip Decker weren’t far behind. They had only one less collar on the big whiteboard in GeneCrimes’ basement HQ. Law enforcement was in Decker’s blood. His dad worked homicide for years. His mom’s dad drove a paddy wagon almost a century ago. Peter, his older brother was Border Patrol. Paul, his younger brother, was a correction’s officer. Philip was close to Paul. They lived nearby and their kids were close in age. They’d grill together and watch roller ball on Paul’s HD big screen. After several beers one night, Philip mentioned his new assignment in passing. Paul didn’t pry. Philip didn’t let slip all the details. Nevertheless, Paul got the gist. Carriers of the commando gene were singled out for special treatment. Never forget 12-12-12!

Paul Decker patrolled Cellblock C at Constitutional Max. One of the inmates was Omar Foreman. Hired muscle on the outside, he’d done good time and was up for parole. It was denied. He did not know why. Decker and Foreman were friendly, well, as friendly as Cos and inmates can be. Foreman tells Decker his woes. Decker offers a possible explanation as t why the parole board shitcanned his request. Never forget 12-12-12!

Two weeks later, there was a jailbreak. Foreman was a free man, fugitive, on the run. There was a price on his head; $250,000. It was a different world from the one he left 14 years earlier. Smart phones. Barely any pay phones. Smoking bans. Homeland Security. Chevy Burby.
Burby was literally a human bloodhound. A bounty hunter, he was able to track his prey by scent. A strange cocktail of Angel dust, meth, and coke heightened his sense of smell. Foreman was able to elude the authorities, but he could only escape the nose of Shane Burby for so long. The bounty hunter caught up with him trying to board a Chinatown bus at Union Station. He hauled him into his Monte Carlo SS. 454 cubic inches of power were under the hood. They hauled balls through surface streets and onto I-95.

“Shit, man. I ain’t going back into the system. They’ll never let me out alive.”

“Tough shit, Omar. I’d bring in my mother for 250K. That’s the price on your head.”

“Dead or alive?”

“Dead or alive.”

“Then kill me. I’m dead anyways. Might as well make it official.”
“No can do. I’d lose my license. “
“Awwwww, let me tell you my story. You wouldn’t believe the crazy shit going down. A few months back, they bring in some docs to test us. They won’t tell us what for. Then I got to my parole hearing. I served good time! But they denied me. I was talking to one of the guards and he said they was lookin’ for some commando gene and if you have it, they ain’t letting you out. ‘Whaaat?’ I says. He says some mad scientist located some gene that says whether or not you a threat to go postal. Shit! I remember some preacher who visited us at the Hotel Graybar. He said that either you a saint or a sinner and you can’t change that no matter what you do. Only a cracker would think that you don’t have, whatchoocallit, free will. He should go to the hood. Tell some of the mofuckers I grew up wit’ they can’t do what they want.”
Burby was listening to the rant. “This is all very interesting, Omar. But I’m trying to figure out how to spend $250,000.”
“It’s not just inmates, man. They starting to pick cats up off the street. It’s un Constitutional. If I was a lawyer, I’d sue Ned Dumont for this shit. Make enough to buy an island, too.”
“Dumont, huh? Normally he’s a bleeding heart. Makes it hard for my biz. I’ve been wanting a piece of him.”
Thus, a plan was hatched. Burby turned Foreman in and collected a quarter of a million. He promised Omar that he could get him out again and soon. Meanwhile he planned to blow the lid off this scandal. He also got his hands on The List somehow and started smuggling some dudes on the list over the border into New Moscow. (That’s what they called New York after Russian Gangsters became the de facto rulers and the elected officials became puppets.)
Alas, Eckert was right. Burby was burly, but Diaz was quick with a knife. It was easy to hunt down the bounty hunter. His particular drug regimen was well known in certain circles and few pushers had the inventory to allow him to one stop shop. A big dude was hard to put down, but Trooper Jhonny prevailed and gave him a Colombian necktie; just like the major ordered. Never forget 12-12-12!
Two days after Diaz and Hickey picked up Ryan Rivers, his mother went to the local PD to report him missing. The desk officer entered his name into the computer and it said to contact the Constitutional Public Safety Department. Soon after, two men in black arrived to talk to Mrs. Ryan. Never forget 12-12-12!
About the same time, Diaz and Hickey were at GeneCrimes HQ to get a new name off the list. Never forget 12-12-12!

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More About Street Furniture

One of my goals in life is to write a mystery story. I think I may have succeeded once. But most of my efforts have petered out. I’m torn between writing something with hard-boiled realism and trying something out with a Great Detective. Last week I mentioned street furniture. A couple of years back, I started a story with a Clavenesque postman as a detective. It mentions street furniture. I don’t think I’ll return to this particular story, so I might as well post what I have. Enjoy!

Mister Zip

Richter’s was a New Haven institution and Charles Bacon was a Richter’s institution. The retiring and retired professor would while away his time quaffing Guinness and reading. Yes, he would bring a small reading light into that pit and peruse tomes on the Civil War. Shelby Foote, Bruce Catton, he thoroughly devoured both of these authors and was tearing through their primary sources. Anytime he could lay his hands on a collection of letters or a diary, he would.

One day, he wasn’t feeling himself. He often muttered quietly, but this time he was loud. He started rending his garments and ran out half-naked onto College Street… where he met his demise under a conversion van. It was the topic of conversation for a week or so at the Calabash Shoppe.

I was in the mood for a nice torpedo one afternoon soon after that unpleasantness, so I stopped by the tobacconist. Mister Zip and some of the other regulars were already there and laughing like hyenas.

“Joe, listen to this story.” Zip said.

Snarky Mark regaled us with his tale for my benefit. “A couple of weeks ago, I was heading over here. On the way, a distinguished looking chap stopped me. He said that he was a director and was working on aa stage adaptation of “The Big Lebowski.” He thought that I looked like a perfect Walter Sobchak.

If you could squint you could see it, I suppose. A vivid imagination might help, too.

“I went to the casting call and I won the part! We’ve been rehearsing in the basement of Saint Rita’s. But I went there today and the church was locked. There was a note on the door saying that the production was canceled. I would have been a great Walter. That wasn’t one of you guys pulling an elaborate prank on me, was it?”

I laughed and he other guys laughed again. A lazy afternoon at the Calabash Shoppe is one of the best things in life. On the way out, I ran into an old Navy buddy on the street.


“Eric Airey! What brings you to the Elm City?”

“Business. Spying is my business and business is good.”

“What sort of international intrigue is going on in our sleepy little college town?”

“You SIGINT weenies are all the same. I find industrial espionage more lucrative.”
We chatted for a little while longer, but it was getting cold, so I went home. Airey was a sneaky SOB; the kind of guy you’d want on your side in a fight even if it left a weird taste in your mouth.

Later that evening, we were back at the pad watching Syracuse play UConn. Before the game, Zip predicted an easy victory for the Orangemen. “the Huskies have no outside game this year and Boeheim’s 2-3 won’t allow them to bang inside.” With five minutes to go, UConn was up comfortably by 20. This allowed us to focus on other matters; like Snarky Mark’s stage career.

“A play,” Zip chortled, “what an appeal to vanity. No wonder he fell for it.”

“You think it was a prank?”


“Who do you suspect? Panama Bill?”

“Could be any one of the guys.”

I started flipping through the Register. “Hey, there’s a Francis Bacon exhibit starting next week at the British Gallery.”

The postman was silent for an unusually long time. When he opened his mouth he said, “Let’s take a walk.”

I met Mister Zip after I came home from the war. The Admiral introduced me to the gentlemanly pleasures of the Calabash Shoppe and Zip was part of the regular crowd there. I forget what happened. It was so long ago. Either his girlfriend kicked him out or mine gave me the heave-ho. One of us needed a place to stay. So we became roomies.

They called him Mister Zip for two reasons. One: he was a mailman (or letter carrier, as he insisted on being called) and the sobriquet was a play on the old Postal Service mascot. Also, it was an ironic jab at his phlegmatic nature and mannerisms.

The guy never took his uniform off Once, there was a fire in the laundry room of our building at 3:30 in the morning. Klaxons were going off like it was Doomsday and the Russkies were dropping the big one. Fire trucks blared down the street so we all woke up and went outside. I hurried and put on some sweats, but when I went outside, Zip was in his blue-gray jacket and pants and was helping direct traffic away from our street. He was also so gung ho USPS that when he parked his car or POV (Privately Owned Vehicle to you civilians), he would put a wheel chock behind his passenger side rear tire as per the Hartford-area regulations for mail trucks. Oh, if you’re ever around him forget ever saying that someone or something is “in a ZIP code.” You’ll get a lecture.

“It’s like this, big guy. ZIP may be an acronym for Zonal Improvement Plan, but that’s a misnomer. A number, like 90210, is a collection of points. It isn’t a zone or a polygon. This is more noticable in exurban areas, but a five digit number stands for roughly 1,000 delivery points, not some section of the map that you can shade.”

He had a walrus mustache and salt-and-pepper hair. Other than a weakness for gargantuan cigars, he had only one vice. Zip was the kind of guy you find anywhere were large groups of men congregate; the know-it-all. But he was atypical of the species. He was quite knowledgeable on a number of topics.

Don’t tell anyone this, but he was the best detective in town. He was better than anyone on NHPD, any of the Yale police or any of the private eyes in the city. I heard that he once delivered one of the Unabomber’s letters to a Yale math department bigwig. That prof was maimed; a quadriplegic for the rest of his life. Scuttlebutt was that this sparked Zip’s interest in crime, but who knows? Zip had rabbit ears, an elephant’s memory, and great powers of observation. Plus, he was invisible. Along with the traffic signals, newspaper boxes, parking meters, and fire hydrants, he’s part of the furniture of the street. No one notices a mailman. But this particular one notices all.

Soon after I first met him, he cleared two guys who were charged with the murder of a bodega owner and we’ve been on numerous adventures since then.

Mister Zip and I strolled down to Richters. “I have this theory,” Zip said, “about that night. You said that toxicology tests indicated that Professor Bacon had enough LSD in his system to turn on the whole crowd in that bar.”

“That’s right.”

“Bacon was a stodgy, tweedy type. He was from the Chicago School. Those mossbacks wouldn’t likely take acid trips and, acid? That’s so groovy. Didn’t that go out with the waterbed?”

“They still took it when I was in the service. Wouldn’t show up on a urine test.”

“Anyways, it doesn’t add up. Which leads me to believe that Bacon was drugged, but why?”

“Maybe someone really hates the Civil War.”

“Or maybe he picked up the wrong glass. He’d been there for hours, he could have been under the influence a bit. Did the lab have a BAC?”

This is another arrow in Zip’s quiver. I date a detective and she sometimes brings her work home. “.17.”

“Yeah. My theory is that that acid was for someone else. Who? I have no clue. But you did introduce me to a suspect.”

“I did?”

“Your friend Airey. Says he’s still in the biz. Wears a CIA tie clasp. They’ve been known to use chemical interrogation methods. The death was accidental. He’s no murder; at least this time. I’d like to know what he’s after.”

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