Short Story: Social Distancing

Tad was a wild and reckless kid. We’ve known each other since middle school, hanging out many afternoons when we cut classes: smoking pot, drinking, and picking up girls. They were good times until we’d get caught. Our parents reacted in different ways to the news. Tad’s father always physically hit him. There were times he came to school with visible bruises. When the teachers questioned him, he always said he got into a fight with some kids who he refused to name. My father never hit me. Instead, he’d sermonize. No, he’s no preacher, at least not in the traditional sense. Dad would sit me down and give me what he called a good talking to or a lecture: why cutting classes is wrong, why it is wrong to lie, why it is wrong to be friends with a kid like Tad. The talks were long, lasting close to an hour each time. By the end of his sermon, I prayed he would just hit me and get it over with.

As time passed, I became more responsible: graduated high school, went to college, and got a good job. I guess my father’s sermon’s sunk in; I did not want to jeopardize my future by having a bad reputation that would follow me through the years. Tad didn’t give a damn. He barely graduated from high school. Had one low-paying job after another, none of which lasted long. Through it all we remained best friends, though he thought I became a flaming pussy. Afraid to take chances I wasn’t, I just grew up and learned that many of those chances were not worth taking, like sleeping with your best friend’s wife. Technically, Jenny wasn’t my wife at the time; we were engaged. Tad later said that still made her available.

Jenny and I married. I didn’t know about their hooking up at the time. Neither of them ever mentioned it. After Jenny and I divorced ten years later, Tad assumed it was okay to tell me about it since Jenny and I no longer were husband and wife.

I never forgave him.

I finally understood what my father told me at the end of all those lengthy sermons which he always finished by saying, “Tad’s a jerk.” That he was. Still, we remained friends. Don’t ask me why? I don’t think I can explain why.

Jerks! There are plenty of jerks around these days. Stupid may be a better word, and unlike COVID19 when someday there will be a cure. There will never be a cure for stupid. After being caged up in his apartment for more than a month, Tad couldn’t take it any longer and decided he needed to get some beach time in now that the county reopened the beaches.

“Tad, I don’t think it’s a great idea, going to the beach,” I said. “There will be hundreds of people there and who knows who is carrying the virus.”

“Hey man, we live in Florida! The beach is what we live for, Sand and surf, watching women strolling along in bikinis, fishing, watching women hanging out in bikinis, what could be better?”

“It’s reckless!”

“All these years and you’re still a flaming pussy.”

“People are not going to social distance.”

“The sun and heat kill the germs.”

“Tad, there is no proof of that.”

“The President wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true.”

“Listen to the scientist and doctors. You’re better off.”

“You’re coming with me, my friend.”

“No, I’m not.”

Tad laughed. “Fine, I’ll go myself. Sit in your apartment all day, every day, doing whatever you do. I can’t take it anymore. No one in our lifetime has ever had to sacrifice like we’re doing now. This is America, man, we have rights, and we have the freedom to do what we want.”

“You make it sound like staying home is the biggest sacrifice ever. How about the people who went through the years of the Great Depression, World War

i and II? And what about Anne Frank and her family who hid from the Nazis for over two years? No sun, no rain, they couldn’t see the sky or the grass.  All we have to do is stay home and watch Netflix, and you can’t do it!”

“That’s all bullshit; this is not a war. And we have our rights.”

“Oh yes, it is a war, and we will lose it, or at least those of us who are reckless enough will lose it. Freedom doesn’t mean you can be reckless and get other people sick and die!”

Tad didn’t pay attention. He called me a drama queen and went to the beach.

That night on TV they showed the crowds on the newly opened beach, hundreds, if not thousands, of people. There was no room for social distancing, even if you wanted to observe it. Tad made it on the news that night. As the local news commentator spoke and the camera scanned the crowded beach, there stood Tad next to this beautiful blonde in a skimpy bikini. They were part of the crowd in the background cramped together with other beachgoers, Tad, the blonde and everyone waving at the camera attempting to get their one moment of TV fame. Less than a minute later, as the commentator wrapped up the segment, Tad and the blonde were hugging and kissing each other as the surrounding crowd egged them on, and giving each other hi-fives.

Tad told me the next day over the phone, since I refused now to see him in person, that her name was Sandy; they met that day. Like Tad, Sandy loved the beach.

That was the last time I spoke to Tad. His father called me a few weeks later; he was crying. Tad was dead from COVID 19.

Copyrighted 2020 by John Greco

You can find more of my short stories at Amazon.

She Took One Step Into The Bedroom…

She took one step into the bedroom framing herself by the open bathroom door. Jimmy stared at her.  Exactly as John Garfield first saw Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice, he thought: white shorts, halter top, and turban.   Only this time Margaret added one more accessory… – The Late Show and Other Tales of Celluloid Malice

 

Lana Potman

Favorite Books Read in 2019

Here’s a shortlist of some of my favorite books I read during 2019. Some were published in 2019, others are older works I finally caught up with.

Favorite Short Story Fiction 

The Sleep Tight Motel (Lisa Unger)

Sleep

Rides a Stranger (David Bell)

Rides

Payoff (Steve Brewer)

pay

Favorite Fiction Novels

The Bitterest Pill (Reed Farrel Coleman)

COleman

Prey for the Girl (Joseph Souza)

Pary

The James Deans (Reed Farrel Coleman)

Deans

The Outfit (Richard Stark)

Outfit

Beyond the Truth (Bruce Robert Coffin)

Beyond

 

 

Favorite Non-Fiction – Hollywood vs. the Author 

holly

 

Coming Soon! Make it Write

George Jensen made it to the top of the best seller’s list  with his novel, The Final Ending. He should be on top of the world, instead his world is spiraling out of control. He’s needs to Make it Write.

Make it Write is a bit different from my usual crime tales. My attempt here was to write something more along the lines of  Rod Serling than James. M Cain. You can be the judge.

 

Coming soon as an ebook on Amazon.

Make it Write - Final Cover-001

 

Devious Tales On Sale .99 Cents

For a limited time, the Kindle version of my short story collection, Devious Tales, is now available for only 99 cents. Twelve dark short stories about revenge, lust, love, money and murder with a twist.

Devious Tales Paperback Cover

Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer

Few authors get to portray their own lead character in a movie. Sure, Stephen King has had cameo roles in many films based on his work including Pet Sematary, Thinner, Sleepwalkers. Peter Benchley had a cameo as a TV reporter in the screen version of his best selling novel Jaws, and William Peter Blatty appeared early on in the role of a movie producer in the movie version of The Exorcist. Other authors have made brief appearances in film versions of their works, but none have ever portrayed their own iconic character in a leading role except for Mickey Spillane.

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Mickey Spillane as Mike Hammer and Shirley Eaton in “The Girl Hunters”

In 1963, Mickey Spillane played his legendary P.I., Mike Hammer in The Girl Hunters. The film is middle of the road, worth seeing, but Spillane’s lack of talent as an actor is evident. The novel, the seventh in the series, deals with an alcoholic Hammer whose binge drinking has been going on ever since his beloved Velda has gone missing and is presumed dead for the past seven years. He receives a second chance and inspiration when he learns there’s a chance Velda may still be alive.

While Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe worked on the outskirts of the law, Mike Hammer found the legalities of the system to be a hindrance to his own brand of righteousness. Hammer was a tough, no holds barred P.I., extreme in his use of violence even by today’s standards. A right-wing, anti-communist, Hammer would have made both Spade and Marlowe shake in their boots. You might call Hammer the father to Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, both are more vigilantes than  lawmen and both had little use for ethical boundaries of the law when pursuing a criminal. Hammer has no problem shooting a killer in the gut and while watching him die kick his teeth out, or maybe he’ll just put a cigarette out in the victim’s eye. In Dirty Harry, Harry Callahan shoots the suspected serial killer known as “Scorpio” in the leg, even though he surrendered and had his hands up in the air. Harry though isn’t finished yet, he wants to know where Scorpio’s kidnapped 14-year-old victim is buried alive. To encourage his victim to speak, Harry presses his foot on Scorpio’s wound harder and harder until he gives up the girl’s location. Mike Hammer would be proud.

juryHammer first appeared back in 1947 in Spillane’s first and still the best-known novel, I, The Jury. The Great War had just ended, and anti-communism was on the rise, the House on Un-American Activities, established in 1938, was gaining power, the rise of Joe McCarthy, and the Hollywood Blacklist were all in full swing. The Cold War was building, and many Americans wondered if nuclear destruction was not far away. This is the world that shaped Mickey Spillane and that of his hero Mike Hammer. Spillane decided not to sugar coat the world in his books. It was a rough and violent world, and he would not play it politely. I, The Jury shocked readers. While a lot of the dialogue today may seem dated, the ending is still shocking.

I, The Jury became a pop culture phenomena; the book is mentioned in Larry McMurtry’s novel The Last Picture Show as a paperback the town’s local drug store could not keep in stock. In Peter Bogdanovich’s screen version we see the book passed from one high school kid to another in a classroom. On TV, in the first episode of Happy Days, Potsie Weber gives Richie Cunningham a copy of the Spillane’s torrid book to study after he gets a date with Mary Lou Wiggins, a girl with an easy reputation. In an episode of M.A.S.H., Major Charles Winchester, indebted to Klinger for saving his life, reads from I, The Jury while the Major unappreciative listens.

In addition to Spillane’s depiction in The Girl Hunters, Mike Hammer has been portrayed by many actors over the years in films:  Biff Eliot (I, The Jury–1953), Armand Assante (I, The Jury–1982), Robert Bray (My Gun is Quick–1957) and Ralph Meeker (Kiss Me, Deadly–1955). Made for TV movies featured Stacy Keach in a series of films: Murder Me, Murder You (1983), the pilot of the TV series, More Than Murder (1984), The Return of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (1986), Mike Hammer’s Murder Takes All (1989). Keach also played Hammer in The New Mike Hammer TV series that ran for four seasons (1984-1987). In 1997, the show was brought back with Keach under the name Mike Hammer, Private Eye. Kevin Dobson played Hammer in a 1981 TV film, Margin for Murder. Things deteriorated for Spillane’s tough guy when in 1994 another TV film called Come Die With Me: A Mickey Spillane Mike Hammer Mystery appeared starring Rob Estes with Pam Anderson as Velda. The best of the movies is Robert Aldrich’s, Kiss Me, Deadly with Ralph Meeker making for a perfect Mike Hammer. The film was in synch with the paranoia and fear of a nuclear war prevalent at the time.

The earliest attempt at a TV series came in 1954 when Blake Edwards (The Pink Panther) wrote and directed a pilot for a series called Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer with Brian Keith as the tough P.I. The pilot was considered too violent for the times and did not get picked up by the networks. Edwards would have better luck in TV detectives a few years later with the smoother and cooler Peter Gunn. In the late 1950s, Spillane’s P.I. did make it to the small screen with Darren McGavin portraying Hammer in Mike Hammer.

Since Spillane’s death in 2006, the prolific author Max Allan Collins, a friend of Spillane’s was given the blessing of completing various unfinished manuscripts and to this day continues to put out Mike Hammer novels.

Mistletoe and Mayhem: Christmas Crime Time

Mysterious

It’s the time of the season where I like to indulge myself in a little holiday criminal activity… on the written page only of course. Over the past few years, I’ve read one or two mysteries set during the Christmas season. This year’s top choice is Christmas at The Mysterious Bookshop.

As a way to give back to his customers for their support and loyalty, The owner of The Mysterious Bookshop,  Otto Penzler, commissioned an original short story from a top-notch crime writer each year that he would give away to his devoted customers. Penzler gave the authors three rules: first the story had to be a mystery, second it had to be set during the Christmas season, and finally The Mysterious Bookshop had to be included in some way. Over the years, writers have included Lawrence Block, Anne Perry, Mary Higgins Clark, Ed McBain, Donald E. Westlake, and  Meagan Abbott among others.  In all, 17 stories were written. 

In 2010, Penzler published the complete collection of short fiction under the title Christmas at The Mysterious Bookshop.  Recently, I purchased a copy and am ready to sit down by the fireplace with a hot chocolate and dive in. Okay, I live in Florida and I don’t have a fireplace! It will be more like turning on the air conditioning and a cold drink, but a fireplace and hot chocolate sounds more cozy and seasonal.

There are plenty of Christmas crime tales to keep you busy for many seasons to come, especially if you read cozy’s. I rarely do, but admittedly I have indulged on occasion. Lea Wait’s Shadows on a Maine Christmas is a favorite.

I have listed below a partial list of Christmas themed mysteries I’ve read in past years.  I am always looking for suggestions for the future.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (aka A Murder for Christmas & A Holiday for Murder) – Agatha Christie

The Spy Who Came for Christmas – David Morrell

A Christmas Tragedy (short story) – Agatha Christie 

Silent Night (Spenser) Robert B. Parker and Helen Brann

The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries – Otto Penzler (editor)

Visions of Sugar Plums – Janet Evanovich

Deck the Halls – Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark

Merry Christmas, Alex Cross – James Patterson

Shadows on a Maine Christmas – Lea Wait

Sanity Clause – Steve Brewer

King’s Christmas (short story) – Richard  Neer

Wreck the Halls – Sarah Graves

 

 

Recent Read: Big Driver – Stephen King

driver

Stephen King’s novella, Big Driver, originally part of King’s Full Night, Dark Stars collection is a tale of not so sweet revenge in line with the film I Spit on Your Grave.  Tess Thorne, an author of cozy mysteries, is attacked, brutally raped repeatedly and left for dead, on an empty back road while she is on her way back home from a speaking and book signing engagement at a library. Afraid to tell anyone about her rape she seeks revenge on those responsible, two brothers and their mother (the mother it turns out is the library’s event planner and recommended the shortcut to Tess). With the help of her inner voice and a GPS named Tom, The author’s perpetrators get their bloody revenge.

The horror in this King tale is more grounded in reality, or as close to reality as King can get, along the lines of Dolores Claiborne and one of my favorite of King works, Misery (another story about a writer).

 

Recent Read: Colorblind

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Colorblind is Reed Farrel Coleman’s fifth book since taking over Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone series. It’s his best. Coleman has taken Stone, and while preserving Parker’s essence, made him his own. It’s a winning combination.

After a few months in rehab, Jesse  gets a second chance as police chief in the small Massachusetts town of Paradise. He is still struggling, both emotionally and mentally, to recover from the death of his murdered love, Diana.

When Jesse first became police chief of Paradise, years ago, it was a small town with not much happening. A far cry from his days with the L.A. Police. But like so much of America, Paradise has grown and changed. Barely able to settle back in to his job, there‘s a rape and death of  a young African-American, Felicity Wileford, who was jogging alone on the beach.  A few nights later, a burning cross is planted on the property of Dr. Ron Patel and his wife. The home was previously owned by Jesse. What the incidents have in common is Felicity was in a relationship with a white man and Dr. Patel, an Indian, has a wife who is white. Not long after these incidents, flyers are found on many parked cars placed there during the night. They are credited to an extremist right-wing group called  “The Saviors of Society.” A few nights later, the group targets Jesse’s deputy, Alisha, the first black woman ever hired as a police officer in Paradise, framing her for a bad shooting.

In this book, Coleman brings to the forefront a series of timely issues turning this story into a much darker version than earlier books in the series. Like the rest of America, Paradise is dealing with issues that have divided us. Don’t let that discourage you, just think about it the same way as if you’re watching a movie franchise and different artists have taken over from the originals. It’s different, but the same.