Category: Fiction


[Read part one and part two]

“Everyone be quiet and stay calm and no one will get hurt,” the gunman commanded. “The shot was an accident. No sudden noises.”

Antonio knew that if the police were not outside by now, they would be soon. He also knew the gunman was becoming more nervous by the minute and he did not want to get caught in the middle, which was now an increasingly likely situation.

“The police are going to be here soon, if they aren’t here now. I’d like to help you if I can,” Antonio said in the most calming voice he could muster with his nerves on overdrive.

“Why would you do that?

“Because I’m a preacher and it’s my job to help people with their problems.”

“So how can you help?”

“I have a cell phone with the number of the sheriff and he will listen to me.”

“Why would he do that?”

“I helped his family out. Like I said, it’s what I do.”

“Why should I trust you?”

“I’m a preacher, for God’s sake! I don’t have an ulterior motive.”

“A what?”

“A reason for lying to you. Just let me call him. If you don’t like what I say you can shoot me. And I wouldn’t give you a reason to do that. But I need to know why you’re doing this. Are you here to rob them?”

“I’m not here to rob the place. I’m not sure how things got this far. Make the call.”

Antonio could sense desperation in the man’s voice. He hadn’t always been a preacher and he knew the difference between an evil man and a desperate one. He pulled out his phone and called Sheriff Martinez.

“Hello, Antonio. I’m a little occupied at the moment.”

“No more than I, Oscar. I’m in the restaurant with the gunman’s arm around my chest.” He felt the gunman relax his hold a bit.

“Was anyone hurt by the shot?”

“No, someone dropped something in the kitchen which surprised him and he reacted. The bullet went into the counter after going through a chair.”

“What does he want?”

“That’s what we’re trying to ascertain. If you’ll let us get to the chapel, we’ll try to resolve the situation without involving the people in here. We’ll be coming out the main door.”

“You got a line on this nimrod?”

“So far anyway. But remember, he’s one of God’s people.”

“But not one of the chosen, Antonio. Call me when you’re in the chapel.”

“First chance I get.” Antonio hung up the phone and returned it to his pocket.

“What’s the chapel?” the gunman said in his ear, tightening the grip on his chest.

“The semitrailer in the parking lot. I’m surprised you missed it.”

“I wasn’t looking for a chapel.” He pushed Antonio toward the door between the two rooms.

“Point taken,” Antonio said as he reached out with his hand and unlocked the door.

The gunman put the pistol in his pocket and stayed behind Antonio. Antonio nodded slightly to Fred as they passed the cash register. The two men walked out the front door of the truck stop and headed for the trailer. Police cars were parked in front of the restaurant. A group of officers gathered behind the cars watching the two walk toward the chapel. .

As the two men walked up the steps of the trailer, Antonio glanced toward the restaurant. A couple of deputies were coming out of the door looking toward the chapel. The gunman  followed Antonio into the chapel and locked the door behind him. Antonio walked over to his desk, swiveled the chair around, and sat down facing the gunman.

“So now that we’re here alone, what do I call you?” Antonio asked him.

The gunman held the gun on Antonio and looked confused. He was trying to get straight in his head the significant turn his original, albeit on-the-fly, plan had taken.

“I’m Jason,” he said finally.

“Well, Jason, I’m Antonio. Brother Antonio. Sheriff Martinez is expecting me to call him shortly and have the answers to some questions. Why don’t you tell me your story and let’s figure out how to wrap this thing up, whatever it is. What brought you to the truck stop with a gun?”

“A flat tire, an escapee from jail, a woman, two barbeque sandwiches, and a few bad choices,” Jason said with a sigh and look of resignation.

[Peace be with you.]

[This is the Sunday post, but there was this game…] Read part one.

Immediately upon spotting the gun, Antonio felt the man’s left arm come around and clamp his chest under his chin, reclaiming his vise grip on Antonio’s right shoulder. Although he  had an urge to turn his head to see where the pistol was pointed, the preacher decided instantaneously that it would not be the wisest choice he could make. His heart was beating so fast that it seemed determined to fly out of his chest. At the same time his brain struggled between telling his eyes to close tightly to feel the barrel of the gun should it be pointed at his head, and telling them to remain open to eliminate the element of surprise.

Francis dropped the coffee pot, which shattered, sending hot coffee and shards of glass onto her shoes and legs. Her fear of the man holding Antonio and the gun offset the pain in her legs. That, and she was praying harder than she ever remembered praying. She wondered if it would matter to the gunman if he knew Antonio was a preacher.

The instant the coffee pot shattered, Fred Martinez, the owner of the truck stop who was still at the cash register, stepped on the floor alarm under the register that signaled the police. He always had unruly customers, but he had the alarm installed when a late night birthday party got  out of control. With the use of credit and debit cards, the truck stop never had enough cash that he thought someone would rob the place at gunpoint. Especially with all the glass and traffic.

“Pull down the shades, and turn the sign around!” the gunman demanded, pointing the gun at Francis – who fought hard against the fainting spell, which along with her fear, was turning her legs to jello.

Francis was not sure how her legs kept moving, but she moved toward the windows as quickly as she dared. As she reached up for the shade on the last window by the door, she spotted Steve Striden at the pump putting gas in his blue Ford F150. He looked around toward the restaurant. Francis tried to catch Steve’s eye as she pulled down the shade. She turned the open sign around in the window, glancing again toward the pump.

“Lock the door,” said the gunman, who had backed up against the wall dividing the restaurant from the store. “Now this one,” he said after she locked the front door, nodding to the door to his right.

The gunman still held Antonio in front of him. Antonio had said so many prayers they had turned into one long prayer. When the gunman had relocated – pulling Antonio with him – the preacher nearly lost his balance. He was sweating buckets and knew the gunman was, too.

Antonio was struggling to keep his bladder in check against the fear and coffee. But that did not keep him from noticing that the man with the gun and arm around his chest was getting nervous. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

Which was when someone dropped something in the kitchen, Antonio felt the gunman twitch as he pointed the gun toward the kitchen, the gun fired, and Antonio’s ears rang.

Mark-Twain-Tonight-006-240x300 Cyndy and I had tickets to see Hal Holbrook’s “Mark Twain Tonight” performance at Bass Hall in Fort Worth last night. Unfortunately, we had to miss J.D.’s last game in the Fall baseball tournament at the Ballfields at Craig Ranch in McKinney. He plays on the Stephen F. Austin State University Baseball Club Team. They won the game Friday afternoon, but lost the two games Saturday, so they did not advance. But, with the exception of the game they won, the scores had only a one or two run differential. I was able to see the Friday game. Cyndy, Cameron, and I went to the 2 p.m. game yesterday in which he played more than in the other two games.

The game went a little past the time it was “supposed” to end, so Cyndy and I did not have time to eat before getting to Fort Worth. We parked in the free (on weekends and for Bass Hall events during the week) parking garage next door. This was the first time we have been to Bass Hall. We went to see Brewer and Shipley in a smaller building run by Bass Hall. Which was why I received the email from them during the summer offering a pre-sale ticket price to see Hal Holbrook at something like half-price. With that deal, I figured, what the hell, “go for the gusto,” and I got seats in the orchestra pit. I knew we were close to the stage, but having never been there, I did not know how close.

I showed the woman at the door our tickets so she could scan them. We had a little time so we just wandered around. We came upon a bar and got a couple of beers. A lady came up to us and asked if we wanted to order and pay for our drinks for intermission then and have them waiting at intermission, bypassing the lines. Well, yeah!

When we finished our beers, it was about time to head on into the hall. I asked an usher in the hallway where our tickets were.

“Oh, you’re in the second row. Right down this way.”

We walked to an entrance of the hall and asked if we were in the right place.

“Yes, you’re on the second row. You’re on the other side and you might want to go through the seats where no one is sitting yet to get across.”

Which is what we did. We got to the other side and found that our seats were indeed in the second row. At which time I took a picture of the stage ( since pictures were forbidden during the performance). I posted to Facebook saying I was waiting for the show to start from the second row.

Before the show began, an usher walked up and asked if she could see my tickets. I said “sure” and showed them to her. Then I turned them right side up so she could actually read them.

“You’re in the wrong seats. You’re up here.”

We were in row BBB, seats one and two. According to the seats across the aisle, we were on the right row. But our section was lacking row AAA. Our seats were on the front row! Granted it was only a row difference, but I didn’t know we were that close anyway, and how often do you get to say you were on the front row? And that was not the best part!

We have seen Hal Holbrook’s performance on television and I have wanted to see the show for years. As a writer, humorist, and songwriter myself, he and Mark Twain were two of my mentors, so to speak. Although to be honest, I don’t think either one of them ever wrote a song, but you get my point. Hal Holbrook is also a terrific actor – I like every role I have seen him play (maybe not the character he played, but the way he acted the part).

He did not disappoint us, even though we were not expecting him to. Holbrook’s performance was precisely as good as I was expecting. Being on the front row really, really helped. There were only a very few times when we could not understand a word or two – which was another bonus. I do not know about the people in the back of the hall.

This is the actor’s 60th year doing Mark Twain. I am here to tell you that he puts as much into his performance and loves being Mark Twain as much as he has since he conceived of the idea in 1954. At 89 years old this year, he added three new “numbers,” adding another hour to the repertoire of material. It said in the program that Holbrook will not tell a venue what numbers he will do because he does not want to be limited. He often decides what is next during the performance.

Holbrook made eye contact with us – and others on the front few rows. I have been told that I am a good audience. As a performer myself, I try to watch everyone I see perform as I would want them to watch me. I rarely look away and I look intently – did I say I was a writer?

Cyndy and I popped up when they turned the lights on for intermission. We went to the east side of the building and, sure enough, our beers were waiting for us. The second half of the show was as excellent as the first. When he came out during the applause, he made eye contact with us again. Which I must say was not only thrilling, but the perfect end to a fine performance and a pleasant, intimate evening. And we finally got to eat when we got home.

Peace be with you.

20131103_132007 I hope I’m not the only writer with this problem, but I find it difficult to switch from writing prose to writing poetry or to songwriting. Not that I can’t, I just find it difficult at times. In younger days, when I was writing songs and playing music all the time, the ideas came continuously from everywhere, whether it be a verse a line or two, or a chorus. It’s a mindset. I looked at everything in hooks, lines, rhymes – or not – and musical themes

Writing prose is another mindset altogether. I think in terms of paragraphs, short stories, ideas that can be stretched into posts, articles, essays, or books. There is not the “instant” (in comparison) gratification as in a song that you have just written. The song will go through changes, but having the framework is the hardest part.

So, having written books, articles, and so on for the past twelve years, and having written few songs, getting back into the rhythm – as it were – of writing songs as well as other writing has been a little tough. One idea would be to write prose works on alternate days from songwriting. Or spend a half of each day on each. Which would be good ideas if I didn’t have a myriad of family obligations.

I watch re-runs on tv when I’m writing because it’s background garbage. If I listen to music while I’m writing prose, I quit writing and get into the music and begin to switch to the songwriting mindset. If I listen to music while I’m writing songs, I end up with pieces of songs that sound like everyone but me. And not necessarily in a good way.

How do you juggle writing duties – whatever that may entail?

Peace be with you.

[Note: Follow the links for part one and part two.]

“Everyone be quiet and stay calm and no one will get hurt,” the gunman commanded. “The shot was an accident. No sudden noises.”

Antonio knew that if the police were not outside by now, they would be soon. He also knew the gunman was becoming more nervous by the minute and he did not want to get caught in the middle, which was now an increasingly likely situation.

“The police are going to be here soon, if they aren’t here now. I’d like to help you if I can,” Antonio said in the most calming voice he could muster with his nerves on overdrive.

“Why would you do that?

“Because I’m a preacher and it’s my job to help people with their problems.”

“So how can you help?”

“I have a cell phone with the number of the sheriff and he will listen to me.”

“Why would he do that?”

“I helped his family out. Like I said, it’s what I do.”

“Why should I trust you?”

“I’m a preacher, for God’s sake! I don’t have an ulterior motive.”

“A what?”

“A reason for lying to you. Just let me call him. If you don’t like what I say you can shoot me. And I wouldn’t give you a reason to do that. But I need to know why you’re doing this. Are you here to rob them?”

“I’m not here to rob the place. I’m not sure how things got this far. Make the call.”

Antonio could sense desperation in the man’s voice. He hadn’t always been a preacher and he knew the difference between an evil man and a desperate one. He pulled out his phone and called Sheriff Martinez.

“Hello, Antonio. I’m a little occupied at the moment.”

“No more than I, Oscar. I’m in the restaurant with the gunman’s arm around my chest.” He felt the gunman relax his hold a bit.

“Was anyone hurt by the shot?”

“No, someone dropped something in the kitchen which surprised him and he reacted. The bullet went into the counter after going through a chair.”

“What does he want?”

“That’s what we’re trying to ascertain. If you’ll let us get to the chapel, we’ll try to resolve the situation without involving the people in here. We’ll be coming out the main door.”

“You got a line on this nimrod?”

“So far anyway. But remember, he’s one of God’s people.”

“But not one of the chosen, Antonio. Call me when you’re in the chapel.”

“First chance I get.” Antonio hung up the phone and returned it to his pocket.

“What’s the chapel?” the gunman said in his ear, tightening the grip on his chest.

“The semitrailer in the parking lot. I’m surprised you missed it.”

“I wasn’t looking for a chapel.” He pushed Antonio toward the door between the two rooms.

“Point taken,” Antonio said as he reached out with his hand and unlocked the door.

The gunman put the pistol in his pocket and stayed behind Antonio. Antonio nodded slightly to Fred as they passed the cash register. The two men walked out the front door of the truck stop and headed for the trailer. Police cars were parked in front of the restaurant. A group of officers gathered behind the cars watching the two walk toward the chapel. .

As the two men walked up the steps of the trailer, Antonio glanced toward the restaurant. A couple of deputies were coming out of the door looking toward the chapel. The gunman,  followed Antonio into the chapel and locked the door behind him. Antonio walked over to his desk, swiveled the chair around, and sat down facing the gunman.

“So now that we’re here alone, what do I call you?” Antonio asked him.

The gunman held the gun on Antonio and looked confused. He was trying to get straight in his head the significant turn his original, albeit on-the-fly, plan had taken.

“I’m Jason,” he said finally.

“Well, Jason, I’m Antonio. Brother Antonio. Sheriff Martinez is expecting me to call him shortly and have the answers to some questions. Why don’t you tell me your story and let’s figure out how to wrap this thing up, whatever it is. What brought you to the truck stop with a gun?”

“A flat tire, an escapee from jail, a woman, two barbeque sandwiches, and a few bad choices.”

[Find part one here.]

Immediately upon spotting the gun, Antonio felt the man’s left arm come around and clamp his chest under his chin, reclaiming his vise grip on Antonio’s right shoulder. Although he  had an urge to turn his head to see where the pistol was pointed, the preacher decided instantaneously that it would not be the wisest choice he could make. His heart was beating so fast that it seemed determined to fly out of his chest. At the same time his brain struggled between telling his eyes to close tightly to feel the barrel of the gun should it be pointed at his head, and telling them to remain open to eliminate the element of surprise.

Francis dropped the coffee pot, which shattered, sending hot coffee and shards of glass onto her shoes and legs. Her fear of the man holding Antonio and the gun offset the pain in her legs. That, and she was praying harder than she ever remembered praying. She wondered if it would matter to the gunman if he knew Antonio was a preacher.

The instant the coffee pot shattered, Fred Martinez, the owner of the truck stop who was still at the cash register, stepped on the floor alarm under the register that signaled the police. He always had unruly customers, but he had the alarm installed when a late night birthday party got  out of control. With the use of credit and debit cards, the truck stop never had enough cash that he thought someone would rob the place at gunpoint. Especially with all the glass and traffic.

“Pull down the shades, and turn the sign around!” the gunman demanded, pointing the gun at Francis – who fought hard against the fainting spell, which along with her fear, was turning her legs to jello.

Francis was not sure how her legs kept moving, but she moved toward the windows as quickly as she dared. As she reached up for the shade on the last window by the door, she spotted Steve Striden at the pump putting gas in his blue Ford F150. He looked around toward the restaurant. Francis tried to catch Steve’s eye as she pulled down the shade. She turned the open sign around in the window, glancing again toward the pump.

“Lock the door,” said the gunman, who had backed up against the wall dividing the restaurant from the store. “Now this one,” he said after she locked the front door, nodding to the door to his right.

The gunman still held Antonio in front of him. Antonio had said so many prayers they had turned into one long prayer. When the gunman had relocated – pulling Antonio with him – the preacher nearly lost his balance. He was sweating buckets and knew the gunman was, too.

Antonio was struggling to keep his bladder in check against the fear and coffee. But that did not keep him from noticing that the man with the gun and arm around his chest was getting nervous. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

Which was when someone dropped something in the kitchen, Antonio felt the gunman twitch as he pointed the gun toward the kitchen, the gun fired, and Antonio’s ears rang.

Brother Antonio opened the chapel – a 52-foot semitrailer in the parking lot of the Traveler’s Treasure Truck Stop – at 6 a.m., as he did on most mornings. He liked to have himself and the chapel available for the truckers who were getting an early start and wanted to pray before heading out. As he walked up the stairs and unlocked the door in the wooden wall that replaced the metal doors of the trailer, Antonio recalled the pain of opening the original doors which would swing around and bang against the side of the trailer, knocking a few pictures off of the wall.

Leaving the door open, he flipped on the two window air conditioning units installed on the left wall. The units were a welcome benefit of the redesigned entrance. Taylor Perkins, a long hauler for a lumber company, donated a batch of leftover lumber to the chapel that the company did not want to pay him to haul back. Fred Mullins, the truck stop owner, paid his handyman, Jeff Purvis, to build the steps, the rear wall with the door, and add supports under the trailer.

Purvis, a deacon at the Community Christian Church, painted “The Church of the Necessarily Significant” on both sides of the trailer as a favor to Brother Antonio. He also was a handyman for the Restful Traveler Hotel across the road from the truck stop. The hotel had upgraded from window unit air conditioners in the past year and the owners were happy to donate two of the units to the chapel. Jeff Purvis attended Brother Antonio’s Thursday night Bible study.

The Mothers of Miracles group at the Community Christian Church sewed blue tarps together to cover the underside of the trailer. The women added crosses alternating with the words Jesus, Forgiveness, Redemption, Faith, and Love. Mavis Monahan, secretary of the group, was the evening shift manager/waitress at the diner in the truck stop.  The Mothers of Miracles met at the chapel on Tuesday evenings to crochet prayer shawls for the sick, the infirm, and babies when they were baptised.

Antonio walked out and closed the door behind him. He straightened the sign hung on a nail in the center of the top of the door. “I’m in the restaurant, 406-224-5893 (ask for Brother Antonio) or stop in.” When he was in the restaurant the waitresses would call him to the phone. It gave the drivers who wanted privacy the chance to pray alone in the chapel. We walked across the parking lot and  entered the truck stop through the main entrance – saying “hello” to Fred at the cash register – and turned left toward the restaurant.

“Good morning, Antonio.” Francis smiled brightly as she served his coffee – one sugar, one cream – while he settled into his usual corner booth.

“Good morning, Francis.”

“Do you want the usual on this beautiful morning?” She went ahead and wrote special on her order pad anyway. He had only been in town for four months, but the order had not changed.

“Yes, thank you. It is a good day that the Lord has made, isn’t it?”

“Better than yesterday.”

“Nature has a mind of her own, so to speak.”

Francis smiled, topped off Antonio’s coffee, and headed to the kitchen to turn in his order, stopping along the way to refill the coffee cups of other patrons. Antonio glanced around the restaurant, smiling at everyone who caught his eye, and nodding to the regulars. He pulled out his phone and checked the Church of the Necessarily Significant’s Facebook page. It was not a church, per se, although that was Antonio’s goal. The church had begun…

“Here you are, Antonio. Two eggs over easy, bacon, toast, and grits.” Francis slid the plate in front of him as he raised his hands to give her room. She filled his coffee, smiled, and walked to another customer.

Antonio bowed his head and said a quiet prayer. He added butter, salt, and pepper to the grits, stirred them, and tasted a spoonful. Then he cut a piece of an egg, broke off a piece of bacon, and put them on the corner of a piece of toast and took a bite. As he was preparing his second bite, Antonio felt the rush of air as the door to the restaurant opened behind him. He was chewing the second bite when he was suddenly jerked out of the booth and to his feet by a vise grip on his shoulder. The piece of toast went flying. Then he saw the gun.

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