The Lost Traveler: “Somewhere, must be kolaches. I’m in Prague.”*

*To the Tune of Over the Rainbow.

I think West Texas has been pulling our lariats.

Ever since God create the Jackalope, a sign advertising the “Czech Stop” has stood along I-35 outside the town of West, Texas.

Yes, the town is really named “West”, and in the 1850’s the I-35 corridor would have been on the border of Comancheria (Home of the Comanche Empire), so that was about as far inland as European settlements encroached until the Parker family tragically set up shop a bit too far west, but I digress.

The claim to fame for West is a “Czech” bakery  that promotes their Czech ancestry, and does a land office business in a delightful form of yeast bread filled with fruit jam, cream cheese, or sausage called a kolache (“ko-LACH-ee” in the local dialect). More on this later.

kolache

This year the Lost Traveler ventured to the homeland of the infamous kolache, the Czech Republic and its capital city Praha (aka Prague).

In all honesty, I was expecting another slog through the open sewer that most of Europe has become due to unchecked migration, social unrest, and general institutional decay. (For reference, see this post on the expedition to Greece.) I realize I could have stayed in the US, and seen exactly the same things in Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, L.A., San Francisco, on and on Ad Nausea, so don’t bother flaming me. You go somewhere new to get a break from the crap you live with every day. In this case, it worked.

Prague was a surrealistic shock. If Walt Disney had designed a prototypical western European city, this was it. I felt like I was suddenly back in 1983 when my best buddy and I spent two months on a drinking being’s tour of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and The Netherlands.

IMG_20190718_091347055_HDR

Crossing Charles’ Bridge in Prague

The city was like a “Euroland” theme park full of spring breakers. Most tourists were friendly and well behaved. Just folks having a good time without public drunkenness and hooliganism associated with spring breakers.

IMG_20190718_024916118

Old Town Square

20190717_130457

Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square

According to our guides, about 80% of the Czech economy is tourism, and based on the crowds, they are making some serious cash. The oddest thing we found was the inability to use credit cards except in hotels and some restaurants. Cash is definitely king, so plan accordingly.

Be wary of currency exchange offices that offer a 0% commission. By law, a currency exchange must provide a client with a receipt detailing the exchange rate and all fees related to the transaction. The client is supposed to sign the receipt at the time of the transaction, and the client has the right to return to the exchange within 3 hours and get their money back. The crooked places don’t follow these rules, and some of them will attempt to pass the client old Bulgarian currency in place of Czech, so make sure you know whose picture is supposed to be on the bank notes.

This four-day life experience began with the usual “Hop-on- Hop-off” bus ride  around the city. These bus tours are great. Plug in your ear buds and listen to a recorded audio track that talks about sights along the way. The main benefit of this type of tour is to orient yourself within the city as much as to help you find things/places you might want to visit. If something catches your attention, get off the bus, go see and do, then catch the next bus that comes along. Usually, there are multiple companies offering this service, so shop for the best deal. The company we chose included a 1-hour river tour that was more than worth the time.

Prague Castle holds several Guinness records for the largest occupied castle, and the longest seat of government among others.

IMG_20190718_044425894_HDR

Cathedral at Prague Castle

Entry to the castle grounds is free. Some of the art exhibits and other buildings cost money. The Hop-on company offered a “free” guided tour provided by a great guy named Vaclav (That’s pronounced Vass-lav.) who was very well prepared, and like most Czechs, spoke excellent English. Many Czechs also gladly speak Russian, German, and other languages, so finding someone to ask directions from is not a problem.

We took in some small local curiosities at the insistence of the Amazon that lives at my house.

Prague floods every 6-8 years. One of our tour guides suggested skipping Prague in 2024 unless you have fins. As a result of these recurring floods, the street levels of the city have been raised several times. Instead of bringing in tons of fill, the new streets were built on top of the old streets and buildings resulting in catacombs that tourists can visit. The Prague “Underground” takes you though some of the old medieval homes and streets left over from previous centuries. During the second World War, the Czech resistance used these chambers to spy on the Nazis and a number of Jews survived the occupation living beneath the very feet of the SS soldiers. Warning: Some of the tunnels and stairs are very rough. This is not a tour for folks with mobility issues.

Alchemy  is an offshoot on the Natural Philosophy movement of the Renaissance, and Prague was home to a large number of alchemists.

IMG_20190720_073506642

The Alchemy Museum provides a look into an actual alchemist’s workshop. More steep stairs and uneven surfaces on this tour, but a bit easier than the Underground tour.

IMG_20190720_071735537

If Fifty Shades of Grey was your thing, then the Museum of Torture Instruments should be on your list.  This museum shows what criminal justice really should be. The descriptions of use are fairly clinical, but no less frightening for their sterility. Be prepared to climb some stairs.

Two day-long bus tours took us to a pair of popular destinations outside of Prague.

If you are a fan of Bauhaus, you will love the “Bone Church” of Sedlec.

20190719_152658

This active Catholic church houses an ossuary containing the bones of thousands of people dating back to the Black Death. A tour of a beautiful cathedral dedicated to St. Barbara followed the ossuary.

Karlovy Vary otherwise known as Charles’ Baths is the town located atop 30+ hot springs. If you want the ultimate cleanse, check into one of the numerous spas for 90 days to get those impurities out of your system.

20190721_134255

This water is coming out at 74 degrees Centigrade. That’s 165 degrees Fahrenheit!

 

Another attraction in this city is the Moser glass factory.

20190721_123328

The factory floor was closed on the weekend, but we got to see the museum. Moser is all handcrafted glass and crystal artifacts. if you even think about looking at the price tag, you can’t afford it.

Speaking of the finer things, we come to the topic of “traditional Czech food” which seems to consist mostly of pork, sausage, root vegetables, dumplings,  bread, cabbage, and beer.

Goulash is a meat and vegetable stew most commonly associated with Hungary, but the Czechs make a fine version of their own.

My personal fave was the “pig knuckle”. It was like a ham shank turned on a spit until the skin is deliciously crispy. Prepare to have grease behind your ears by the time you get done with this dish.

I cannot say I am a fan of Czech dumplings. They are like a slice of heavy potato bread smothered in gravy. Tasty enough, but nothing to write home about.

Beer is mission critical to any pub crawl, and there are many ways to enjoy said elixir vitae including driving, or at least peddling while someone else drives.

Texas boast a number of regions settled predominantly by immigrants from specific countries. The Hill Country just north of Austin was primarily Germans hence the existence of the Schlitterbahn,  one of our more famous water parks. Shiner, Texas boasts of their Czech heritage, and the Shiner brewery makes a fine dark beer of Czech roots that tastes like most of the dark beer I drank on this excursion through the Czech Republic.

 

BUT!

 

What I failed to locate in the environs of Prague was a single solitary example of the kolache in its natural habitat. I studied the windows of every bakery and bread shop we passed as we toured the city. Zero, Zippo, Nada.

I asked the staff of the hotel where we stayed. I can get my face slapped in about five languages, but nobody would admit to knowing anything about a thing called a kolache regardless of how I asked the question, nor were any available on the pastry table of the breakfast buffet. After the hotel in Edinburgh had haggis and black pudding on the breakfast menu, was it unreasonable to expect something as universally beloved as a simple kolache to be excluded from the buffet in Prague? Apparently so.

Now that Texas dirt is back under my boots, I’ll just have to drive down to West and demand some answers.

Advertisements

A Cold One in Uptown

A short story by Michael Morgan

 

A galaxy of urine colored stars crawled across the drizzle-speckled windshield as the road curved beneath the bridge. The usual shower of urine filled plastic bottles, and other refuse was absent. The commuters on the train passing overhead must have kept the windows closed today. A welcome benefit of the cold and wet.

Oak Lawn Avenue became a hill, and the light at the cross street changed, stopping all progress. No need to hurry. By the time the call comes in from the cops, the victim is already past caring. Too early in the morning for this.

A right turn, and old apartment buildings and once elegant houses converted to galleries or office space now pass down the narrow street. Once the pariah of Dallas and the focus of crude jokes, the area now proudly proclaims itself the “Gayborhood”. Whatever. Makes no difference to the customer waiting at the end of the block. Blue and red strobes mark the destination.

A dark silhouette separates itsef from the group leaning against the squad. “Hey buddy! You can’t park here. It’s a crime scene.”

The flash of a gold shield stops the uniform. “What’s under the tarp?”

“You’re the Detective,” the uniform spun on his heel and started back to his car. “You figure it out.”

Detective’. Almost an epithet now. We used to be Detectives before Dallas outsourced everybody. Now we solve cases for minimum rage, no pension, and fewer prospects. Darkness floods in as the uniforms drive off leaving a light blue disposable tarp covering an unknown disposable person lying in the drizzle.

A man in his twenties stared back at Archie as the tarp folded back. Slow steady rain washed streaks in the blood on his face. Nose broken. Bruise on left cheek. Puddled water flew as the tarp was pulled away completely. Torn shirt. Designer. Pockets turned out. The attacker or one of the uniforms? The flashlight chased away some of the dark and added shadows. No blood except on the victim. The light paused and went back. Watch is still here. Nice one at that. Not the uniforms. The light moved on. What happened to you buddy? Bad date? Dope? Glinting something on the concrete. The blue glove did not want to go on the damp fingers. Diamond stud. No back. One ear then the other. No piercings, at least none visible.

The phone rang forever, “Central, this is 819. One John Doe to pick up Brown and Hood Street.”

“Acknowledged. Brown and Hood. ETA fifteen.” The call disconnected leaving Archie standing in the early morning gloom.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

            The new email ping shook Archie out of his doze. He clicked and read, Cause of death: Blunt force trauma to the forehead causing swelling of the brain. Broken right humerous. Multiple severe abrasions on the hands and arms… The report rambled on without shedding any new light.

“Hey Arch, Got a sec?”

Archie looked up, Hoskins was standing next to a wild-eyed man in this thirties, “What is it Hoskins?”

Hoskins lead the man over, “This is Jerome Abernathy. His husband went missing last night, and you’ve got the only Doe.”

“Sit down sir,” Archie looked at Hoskins. “Get the man some coffee.”

“No thank you.” Jerome interjected. “I need to find Carl. I don’t care how much it costs.”

Archie made calming motions, “Slow down. What does Carl look like.”

“I have this,” Abernathy displayed a photo on his phone. “That was last week.”

A dead man stared out at Archie. “When was the last time you talked to Carl?”

“Yesterday about nine,” Jerome settled into the chair next to the desk. “He called right before he left work.”

Archie made a note. “What kind of car does Carl drive?”

“He doesn’t,” Jerome accepted his phone back. “I mean he does drive, but we don’t own a car.”

“How do you get around?”

“We walk mostly. Uber or DART if we need to go a long way.”

“It was raining last night,” Archie leafed through his notebook. “How was Carl planning to get home?”

Jerome shrugged, “He didn’t say. Just see you soon and I love you, like always.”

“Mr. Abernathy,” Archie took a slow breath, “I have some bad news.”

“Please tell me he’s alive…” Jerome’s voice faded at the look on Archie’s face. “How…?”

“We don’t know yet, but I intend to find out.” Archie leaned back, “Any chance you can track his phone?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

            The stained dome tent beneath the DART rail bridge reeked even in the cold drizzle. Archie swallowed trying not to think about what the inside might smell like, “Hey! Anyone home?” He tapped on the tent pole with his flashlight.

The zipper parted a few inches and an eye peeked out beneath a scraggly eyebrow, “What?”

“You picked up a lost phone recently?”

“You a cop?”

“Detective. I’m just trying to find the phone. You got it?”

“Why?”

Archie sighed in frustration, “A man lost his phone yesterday. It was tracked to this location.”

“I didn’t steal it. I found it in a trash can,” the end of a phone appeared and it clattered to the concrete before Archie could grab it. “

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

            “He rented a scooter,” Archie slid the phone into an envelope leaving Jerome’s hand hanging in the air.

“He wrecked out?”

“If he did, he wasn’t alone,” the envelope vanished into the desk. Archie sat back and picked up his stale coffee. “His pockets were turned out.”

“Then who?”

Archie shrugged, “Wish I knew. The ME says he died of blunt force trauma to the front of his skull. He also had a broken arm and lots of abrasions.”

Jerome shivered, “He wrecked out? Hit his head?”

“Possible, but…”

“His pockets,” Jerome sagged back into the chair.

“And the scooter…” Archie’s words faded.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

            “You were on duty in Uptown on the night of the 12th?” Archie was leaning against the side of the plain white pickup.

“Uh, yeah,” the young man with the dreadlocks and soul patch lifted a scooter from the curb. Setting it on the open tailgate, he plugged a wire into the battery pack. “That’s where I work. All night, every night. Chasing down these damned scooters and charging them up for our loyal ridership.” Another scooter joined the first, “You would NOT believe where I find these things. Some people are just messed up!”

Archie grunted noncommittally, “You make a pick up over at Brown and Hood?”

“I make pickups wherever the magic app tells me there is a scooter,” the juicer glanced at his watch. “What’s this about?”

“Notice anything odd when you picked up the scooter at that location?”

“You mean the stiff?” a cigarette was produced, and a lighter flared. “Yeah I saw him.”

Archie felt the stirrings of anger, “Why didn’t you call 911 and report it?”

“Because I would have been detained for questioning,” the man’s features glowed red as he inhaled. “I ain’t got time for that crap. I gotta work.”

“How did you know he was dead?” the building rage faded into ennui. “You might have saved his life.”

“Didn’t care then,” another drag and slow exhale. “Don’t care now. He wasn’t using the scooter, so I picked it up, and took it to the rec center all nice and ready for the next rider.”

Archie leaned away from the truck, “You happen to take his wallet and phone along with the scooter?”

“Nah, he’d been rolled when I pulled up.” the cigarette arced into a puddle and hissed. “Look, we done here? I got to get these scooters relocated for our loyal riders, and go pick up some more.”

“Yeah, we’re done.” Archie stepped up onto the curb and watched as the juicer closed the tailgate and heading to the cab.

Once More Into The Breech

It is 2019, and we have has an astounding amount violence directed at religious gatherings:

April 27th, Poway CA, idiot with an agenda attacked a synagogue, and people suffered.

On March 15th a mosque in Christchurch NZ lost fifty members of the community killed and another fifty suffered wounds at the hands of another walking justification for involuntary organ harvesting.

 

Politicians and pundits rant and rave about bigotry and intolerance. Endless proposals flow forth from the halls of government about closing “loopholes”, background checks, gun control, knife control, ad nausea.

Yet, everyone is willfully ignoring the obvious truths:

  1. Any tool is a weapon if you hold it the right way, and have anger in your heart.
  2. Weapon free zones are magnets for the madmen among us.
  3. Groups of people are easy targets for a sociopath with an agenda and a large vehicle.

When the  person next to you decides today is a good day to self-destruct, you are on your own. If no law enforcement personnel is present when things go bad, none will arrive before the damage is done. Even Superman can’t be everywhere, and do w you want to take the chance that the law enforcement that does show up may be from the Broward County, FL training school?

The Poway shooter’s gun jammed, and the congregation attacked the shooter driving him out of the building. According to reports, an armed congregant handed a weapon to an off-duty Border Patrol agent who pursued the shooter. (Your humble correspondent will never understand 1. Why the Border Patrol agent was unarmed. 2. Why the armed congregant was not vigorously applying his weapon himself.)

Sutherland Springs TX, November 5, 2017, a waste of air murdered 26 leaving another 20 wounded before an armed citizen engaged and wounded the shooter ending the madness.

On July 25, 1993, Charl Van Wyk was sitting in St. James Anglican Church in South Africa  when four members of the Azanian People’s Liberation Army attacked the congregation murdering eleven and wounding fifty-eight.

Charl Van Wyk responded to the attack with his 5-shot .38 Special revolver causing the attackers to flee, and saving many lives. Wyk wrote of his experience, and his fundamental belief in the right of self-defense in his book “Shooting Back”.

Willfully refusing to go about armed at all times only empowers your murderer, but weapons are not magical amulets that keep evil at bay. They are useless without the knowledge and will to employ them.

A concealed weapon and the training to use it is a tool that provides an option Maybe you can talk the nutjob down, but what if you can’t, or the slaughter starts before you have time to try to de-escalate?

Political elitists will never face the gunman at the sanctuary door because they have armed guards to take care of unruly people on their behalf. They cannot imagine why you as a private citizen need to have the means to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Legal controls have never stopped anyone with a will to act, so quit deluding yourselves, and take steps to insure your fundamental right to life can never taken away.

“Weapons are instruments of fear; they are not a wise man’s tools.
He uses them only when he has no choice.
Peace and quiet are dear to his heart.
And victory no cause for rejoicing.” ~  Lao Tzu in Tao Te Ching Chapter 31

Death by Social Engineering

I am really bugged by the case of Samantha Josephson last week in South Carolina.

Several cases of assault have been filed against ride share drivers from Uber and Lyft over the years, but this one is different because the driver did not work for either company.

What bugs me is the way this story is being played in the media and the facts that are being released.

The short version:

  1. Ms. Josephson was going home in the wee hours of the morning.
  2. Ms. Josephson got into a car.
  3. According to media reports the driver engaged the child safety locks after she entered his vehicle.
  4. Ms. Josephson is dead and her blood and belongings were found in the car when the suspect was arrested.

I see two probable cases here:

The suspect just happened to be driving through a popular nightlife district and took advantage of the opportunity presented by Ms. Josephson’s mistaken belief that he was a ride share driver. (The police have not stated definitively that she called a ride share.)

The suspect was intentionally cruising through that area looking for a victim. The reported engagement of the child locks would imply this might be the case.

It certainly makes one wonder if Ms. Josephson was this suspects’ only victim, or whether this person could be headed for a Dateline near you as the next serial killer profiled.

My first experience with the ride share concept was many years ago, and long before St. Gore raised his hand and blessed us with the Internet. The Ex and I were staying with her relatives in NYC, and we needed a cab to the airport. the doorman waved and a guy pulled over. the doorman explained it was a “Manhattan Cab”, and it was “all right”.

That whole trip to the airport, I was sitting behind the driver thinking of how I could deal with him if he turned out to be a problem. It was not an experience I will EVER repeat.

Now that ride share has gone mainstream, and many of my associates use these services with minimal thought, it does not take much imagination to understand how a predator could easily snag his prey of choice without even printing the stupid little window signs that are supposed to ID them. Look for somebody on the curb engaged with their phone and pull up slowly. Maybe they get in. Maybe they don’t. If not, drive away slowly never having interacted with them. No creepy encounter to be reported to the police. Nothing on video. Just a driver slowing down to check directions in a pedestrian heavy location. Nothing to see here…

Stay safe out there.

Edit 4/3/19 – Sadly, we have another case

 

 

The Death of “Just As”

A new employee joined the department recently, and I finally had an opportunity to visit with the new kid, so I started with my favorite question, “What do you do in real life?”

This question gets a wide range of responses. Most people start out talking about their work, and I have to lead them to the topic of “real life”.  This young woman surprised me when she started out with her love of musical theater, and her desire to go back to finish her degree in philosophy before segueing into the fact that she had a couple of side hustles in addition to her nine to five.

When I inquired about her side hustle, she began her reply with one of the saddest phrases I think a person can utter. She said, “I’m just a…”.

I stopped her, “Why ‘Just a’? Nobody is ‘Just a’ anything. If you are earning your money honestly, you should be proud of it.” She considered for a moment, and agreed that “Just a” is “really demeaning”.

Somewhere in our Manual of Social Interaction, the concepts of humility and pride have become confused. A person working in agriculture is directly involved in feeding millions of people. To hear that person saying “I’m just a farmer” is ridiculous. “I’m a farmer” should be a source of pride. The occupation is mission critical! On the other hand,  a blowhard claiming “I’m the most best farmer in the country.” is equally ridiculous, unless they have the facts to back it up.

These institutionalized negative messages impact our children and how they perceive of themselves. This is compounded by “Participation” awards. Not allowing our children to feel good about doing something well removes the motivation to try new things, and apathy toward doing anything at all.

This is not how people should go through life.

This is not how innovators think.

This is not how heroes are born.

Let’s end this miscarriage of Just As.

The Chronicles of Dr. Orek Nebelwerfer – Parts 2 & 3

by Michael Morgan

© 2018 All Rights Reserved

This is a continuation of The Chronicles of Dr. Orek Nebelwerfer previously posted on this blog. Please let me know what you think.

— 2 —

            “Come in,” Roger turned as the door swung open. “What did you learn?”

Gordon’s carpetbag landed on the bed with a sad note of protest from the springs, “Not much. Nobody’s heard of the Doc or his elixir. You check the telegraph office?”

“Yup,” Roger nodded as he fussed with the knot holding his soogan closed. “No messages. I told ‘em we’d be here and offered the usual fifty-dollar reward.” The knot came free and the soogan was unrolled across the bed.

“Where do you think he went?” Gordon dropped his hat on the writing desk, and lowered himself into the straight-backed chair.

Roger shook his head, “Quien sabe? If he left ol’ Thurston Howell’s Traveling Wonders, he could be anywhere.”

“If he’s running, he can’t be mixin’ any more of his elixir.” Gordon scratched under his chin. “Means he has to find a place to lay low long enough to cook up a new batch.”

“Borrow your brush?” At Gordon’s nod, Roger opened the carpetbag and fished around coming up with a stiff clothes brush which he applied to the indigo suit the soogan had surrendered. “That place will have to be big enough for him to get supplies. “

“True enough,” the chair protested as Gordon leaned sideways reaching toward the windowsill and the skinny brown bottle supporting a mummified flower. He lifted the bottle by the neck and turned it. The sun bleached paper label protested the disturbance by falling away.

Roger looked up as Gordon searched beneath the desk, “Find somethin’ ?”

Gordon straightened and held up the brittle paper, “We need to go talk to the deskman.”

 

— 3 —

 

“No sir, I ain’t never seen a bottle like that,” the desk clerk studied the label on the counter.

“Anything strange happen to anyone in that room?” Roger started to flip a page in the guest register.

The clerk closed the register, “IF you please sir.” The book vanished beneath the counter. “Yes, one gentleman who stayed in that room got drunk, and had to be arrested.”

“How long ago was that?” Gordon picked up the label.

“A good solid month or so,” the clerk stared at the ceiling. “He was a mean drunk. Started hollerin’ in the middle of the night. Woke the whole house. I went to his room, and heard him smashing the furniture, so I run for the town Marshal.”

“How did the Marshal deal with him?” Gordon slipped the label into his vest pocket.

“It was quite a row,” the clerk’s hands twitched with the memory. “The Marshal, me, and another fella stayin’ at the hotel had to pile on top of him long enough for my Missus to put the handcuffs on ‘im. He like to whipped all of us.”

Roger glanced at Gordon, “You sure he was only drunk?”

“Who knows?” the clerk raised exasperated hands. “He stank of whiskey to high Heaven, but I never knowed a drunk to fight the way this one did. He waved a dismissive hand, “I’ve had a few wild ones put a bullet or two through a window, and one knocked over a kerosene lamp and like to burned the place down, but this one was like some kind of lunatic. Bitin’ and clawin’ and screamin’ the way he did.”

“Sounds horrible,” Gordon nodded sympathetically.

The clerk leaned on the counter, “And the strangest thing was he didn’t have a stitch of clothing on.” At Gordon’s raised eyebrow, the clerk raised his right hand, “I swear that man was naked as the day he was born when the three of us drug him down to the jail. And him carryin’ on the whole way down Main Street. Lucky it was the middle o’ the night, or what a show we’d a made!”

“What brand did he drink?”

Gordon’s question interrupted the clerk’s glee at having a new audience for his heroics. “Brand?”

“Of whiskey.”

“Oh, I don’t recall,” the clerk pinched his chin in puzzlement.

Roger picked up the question, “You didn’t find a whiskey bottle in the room?”

“The Deputy Marshal came and collected that fella’s goods the next day. If there was a bottle, he might have took it.”

Gordon stepped back in, “Who cleans the rooms?”

The clerk knew the answer to that one, “That would be Gabby, Er, Gabriella. She’s been workin’ for us since her husband died.”

“How long is that?” Roger leaned an elbow on the counter.

“Oh, call it five years or so.”

“Is she around?” Roger straightened.

“You gents seem to be asking a lot of questions,” the clerk’s eyes narrowed. “You some kind of law?”

“Ex-law, you might say,” Gordon’s face was grim. “I was Sheriff of a little town in Bandera County a year ago. One day a medicine show pulls in. Next day half the town is dead and most of the rest were too badly injured to make it. The show pulled out during the night, and I was too busy trying to save the town to give chase.” Gordon eyes went far away, “Once we got the fires out and the dead buried, I started trying to pick up the trail. The one thing every dead person had in common was a little brown bottle wearing the label we just showed you.”

The clerk looked from one man to the other, “What happened to those folks? Was it poison?”

Gordon’s eyes sharpened, “It was like what happened upstairs.”

The Chronicles of Dr. Orek Nebelwerfer

by Michael Morgan © 2018 All Rights Reserved

This is the first chapter of a Cattlepunk/Steampunk story I have been playing with. Hopefully, I can flesh this out into a series, and maybe a book. Quien sabe?

— 1 —

 

A screech-lurch and the tempo of the iron wheels clacking over rail joints changed. Roger shifted position in the angle of bench seat and wall as the sway of the second-class passenger car lulled him back to sleep beneath the heavy felt hat being crushed out of shape against the window.

“Clarksville next!” called the conductor as the door at the end of the car slammed open. “All out for Clarksville!” Another screech-lurch shook the car as the conductor stopped next to Roger’s seat. “Hey mister. Clarksville next.” At Roger’s feeble wave, the conductor shrugged and yanked open the door spilling the sulfurous reek of sooty coal smoke through the car.

The slamming door brought Roger fully awake. Pinching the crown of his hat, he straightened in the seat before settling the hat back on his head. The scrubby second growth trees crowded the window threatening to overrun and take back the land cleared by the Texas & Pacific through Fannin County, Texas.

Cleared fields broke out on either side of the car leaving the no obstacle to the westering sun as the tempo of the wheels slowed again and the engine’s wailing cry signaled arrival. A quick glance confirmed his soogan and the fringed rifle scabbard sporting Comanche beadwork still lay in the overhead rack.

The town rolled slowly past the filthy windows. People going about their normal business was no comfort. Roger’s toe gently tapped the sole of the boot worn by the man sleeping on the facing seat, “Up you get Gordon. We’re in Clarksville.”

“Yeah, I heard the man.” A gloved thumb pushed back the brim of the tan felt hat exposing an exceptional walrus moustache that had once been a luxuriant black before the silver took over, and friendly green eyes looking out past the crow’s feet in their corners. Gordon fished in his pocket and thumbed open the cover on his watch, “Damn. Stopped again.” He held it up to his hear and shook it gently before taking the finger of a glove in his teeth and tugging his hand free before winding the stem and returning the watch to his pocket.

Roger swayed on his feet as the train lurched to a stop along the station platform. He threw the bulky soogan over one shoulder, and held the cased Winchester at the balance. “I’ll circle and come in from the west. Meet you at the hotel.” At Gordon’s nod, he joined the other passengers headed for the front door of the car.

That kid is always in a rush, Gordon levered himself off the bench, and grasped the handle of the ratty carpetbag that had been lying on the seat like an old hound napping. Gordon tipped his hat to a passing woman and stepped in behind the last of the departing passengers headed for the rear exit. Just hope the folks hereabout are none too lively.

Roger turned right as he stepped onto the platform and began hurrying through the crowd ignoring the occasional complaint as he glanced rapidly left and right. Coming to the end of the platform, he took the wooden steps two at a time and stretched to jump the foul puddle at the bottom.

“Hey Mister!” The caller suddenly blocking Gordon’s path was a skinny younger fellow wearing a miserable excuse for a moustache and a dark green suit with brown velvet lapels. Weak-seeming gray eyes looked into Gordon’s, “May I have your name sir? For the Clarksville Times. That’s the paper I work for…” The man’s voice stumbled to a stop at Gordon’s noncommittal gaze. “Uh, We like to report on important folks coming into town…”

“Orek Nebelwerfer,” Gordon spoke the name slowly. “He come through town?”

“I-I don’t rightly know, sir.” The reporter glanced at the rapidly thinning crowd of passengers from the train, “If you’ll excuse me!”

Gordon watched the reporter hurry up to his next victim before turning left and heading for the stair at the end of the platform. Everybody in a hurry these days.

Roger turned between two buildings and found himself on what looked like the main street through town. The boardwalk along the shop fronts thumped a brisk rhythm of passersby.  Nodding to a matronly woman who shot a glance in his direction, Roger stepped up on the walk and proceeded to take in the town with a purposeful stride. Everyone he passed looked to be going about the business of the day in an unhurried pace. Any sound of raised voices was easily explained as necessary to the task at hand. When the commercial buildings faded into houses, he crossed the street and headed back.

Gordon reached the edge of town and stood quietly looking at the east Texas pines jutting above horizon on the far side of the cleared acreage. A few wagons and mounted riders were visible, but not the wagon they sought. “You lost mister?” The boy looked to be seven or eight. Sun-bleached hair, nut-brown skin, and dirty bare feet looked up at Gordon.

“No sir, I’m not lost,” Gordon’s smile spread his moustache like eagle wings. “Just wonderin’ if a friend of mine had come through town. You hear tell of a revival or medicine show comin’ through recently?”

“Naw. Nothin’ like that,” the boy pinched his chin in the manner of an old man thinking. “If there was a Revival Meetin’ around, Ma would have made me wash and put on my Sundays.”

“Thank ye kindly,” Gordon turned and started back into town.

“If I see ‘em should I tell ‘em you’re looking fer ‘em?”

Gordon looked back over his shoulder, “No need. Just stay away from those medicine shows. What they sell is poison.” He left the boy standing in the road as his attention turned back to the town.

 

A Chance to Succeed

“I want to, but…” is a recurring theme I hear from people I talk to. The “what” of their stated desire is irrelevant to their more important message that says, “I’m afraid to fail.” I hear this same theme expressed by the amazon that lives at my house regarding her schoolwork, and it vexes me regardless of who the speaker is.

To combat these expressions of negative thinking, I have stopped using the phrase “Take a chance”, replacing it with “Give yourself the opportunity to succeed.”

To my mind, this is a far more useful and affirmative way of looking at the things we might like to try.

If you “Give yourself an opportunity”, you are granting yourself permission to attempt to do something new that might be uncomfortable at first. More importantly, you are removing the negative connotations of failure if things do not work out. After all, you had permission.

By focusing on the positive outcome of successfully accomplishing an objective, the fear of failure whether self-condemnation or even public embarrassment is removed.

When I started writing, I had several choices. I could keep a private journal, make my work public online, and hope someone noticed, or I could give myself the opportunity to succeed by taking the big step of trying to make money from my work. I held my breath and began approaching publishers. Eventually, I made friends with fellow author Eric Bradley who writes awesome collector’s guides to a wide range of amazing things. He was kind enough to offer some advice that helped me connect with a publisher, and The Handbook of Modern Percussion Revolvers was published.

Has my book been a huge success and financial windfall?

  • The book sold out the original printing.
  • It is still available as an e-book on Amazon.com and other places.
  • Readers in several countries have given the book good reviews.

 

Since I still get up and drive to work every day, I cannot say the financial rewards have been great, but this little success has encouraged me to continue writing. As announced in previous posts, I have won several awards in regional writing contests, and I have completed my latest novel Ladies, Fish, & Gentlemen.  Every little success build my confident to take the next step. Now I just have to find an agent.

 

When feeling uncertain, try giving yourself the opportunity to succeed. You might surprise you.

Betrayal of Trust

Many young people solve the problem of affordable housing with roommates, but this did not work out well for Harvard graduate Leyla Pirnie who is now facing eviction from her apartment because of her legally owned firearms.

“The Washington Free Beacon reports that Pirnie’s roommates allegedly rummaged through her belongings while she was away from the apartment, discovered her guns, and emailed the landlord to complain. One of the roommates told the landlord: “We discussed with Leyla that all of us are uncomfortable with having firearms in the house, and that their presence causes anxiety and deprives us of the quiet enjoyment of the premise to which we are entitled.”

This situation hits my hot buttons on several levels.

(I know this happened in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, but my training is in Texas Law, so I will refer to the Texas Penal Code for definitions.)

Texas Penal Code section 1.07 (39) Possession means actual care, custody, control, or management.

Ms. Pirnie failed to maintain control of her firearm(s). If the roomies were able to locate the guns by searching her room, those weapons were not correctly secured. Before the hate mail starts to flow, I am not taking about mandatory storage standards as defined by law. I am talking about the responsibility every gun owner has to insure his firearms cannot be accessed by children, criminals (especially criminals), and the terminally stupid like Ms. Pirnie’s roommates.

In my home, all firearms are stored in a safe with the sole exception being the handgun that is always either on my person, or within immediate arms reach. Had Ms. Pirnie followed the simple practice of securing her firearms in a safe, there would have been nothing for her roommates to find, and this would have been a non-event.

Texas Penal Code section 6.03 (c) “Reckless” A person acts recklessly, or is reckless, with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he is aware of but consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur.  The risk must be of such a nature and degree that its disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.

Texas Penal Code section 6.03 (d) “Negligence” A person acts with criminal negligence, or is criminally negligent, with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur.  The risk must be of such a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.

I’m on the fence about whether Ms. Pirnie’s situation falls into the “Reckless” or “Negligent” category.

Q: Was it reasonable for her to believe that her room was safe and that her privacy would be respected by her roommates?

A: Maybe. But even if the roommates were top notch people who would never step into another person’s room to borrow something, what about their guests and significant others?

Personally, I would leave my door locked at all times. Plenty of theft occurs by house guests. A lot of it is prescription medications, but cash, or an unsecured handgun, would be equally vulnerable. Sexual assaults are most commonly perpetrated by persons known to the victim. You can never be sure a roomie’s boyfriend might not drop by unexpectedly to do more than say hello. If you have roommates, KEEP YOUR DOOR LOCKED. Just sayin’.

Some folks are going to chastise me for blaming the victim, but I am not doing that. I merely hold this up as an example of simple things that could have  been done to protect oneself from the terminally stupid among us. These steps would also reduce the number of accidents involving children and the number of firearms stolen every year, and thse would be good things.

Ms. Pirnie had every reasonable expectation that her room and her possessions were to be respected. In a reasonable world, they would have been, and this would not be news.

But we no longer live in a “reasonable” world do we?

The roommates were the bad actors in this case. They broke a critical trust, and created a bad situation that injured an innocent person just because they drank the kool-aid and checked their brains at the college door.  (On the way in.)

I have to wonder: What were they planning to tell Ms. Pirnie if they had found nothing but a MAGA hat?

I hope Ms. Pirnie learns from this situation, and finds some more like-minded roomies in the future. (I suggest putting up an ad at the local gun ranges that offer Ladies’ Night.)