How to succeed in small business. Monday Flash Fiction for June 26, 2017 by Jeff Baker

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                                              Old Sam

                                           By Jeff Baker

                                         

            “I still don’t believe you have the key to this place,” Nick said as his brother fumbled with the door.

            “I still don’t believe we paid all that money for this place,” Phil said, finally getting the old lock to turn. “First thing we do…”

            “New locks.” Nick said as the old, wooden door opened with a shuddering CLUNK!

            The two of them stepped in the big room under the weathered sign that had proclaimed some kind of soft drink years ago when the street had been the main highway. Inside it wasn’t as dark as Phil had expected. Light was streaming in around the boarded-up windows. He could make out a counter, a few tables and some shelves.

            Nick shone the light from his cellphone on the ceiling, floors and the doorway to the kitchen.

            “You sure the building’s okay?” Phil asked. “Structurally, I mean?”

            “Yeah. I was only in here once but I had it checked out.” Nick said. Nick was thorough that way. “Me, I can’t believe Dad used to come in here before we were born.”

            “A lot of people used to,” Phil said. “Back before they opened the highway. Still think we can make a go of this place?”

            “Now that they’ve opened an off-ramp down the street,” Nick said felling around the wall. He flipped a switch.

            “Hey! The lights work!” Phil said.

            “Uh huh. Wiring is in good shape,” Nick said. “Plumbing works too. This place will make a nice restaurant, with stuff for the travelers.”

            “You know what else is in good shape?” Phil said. “I don’t think there’s any dust around here.”

            “Wha?” Nick said. “The place isn’t dirty but it’s been shut up tight for about thirty-five…” He ran his finger on a counter. “Sunofagun! No dust!”

            “I kept the place clean. I hope you don’t mind,” came the voice from behind them. The two brothers wheeled around. There was an old man in coveralls standing in the doorway to the kitchen, wiping his hands on a rag. Before they could react the old man went on.

            “I’m Sam Gardner. I used to work here. Handyman. Doing odd jobs, whatever. They call me Old Sam. Oh, and you’ll have to replace that garbage disposal. I’ve tried working on it but it’s just no good anymore.”

            “Nick Harris,” Nick said warily, thankful for the stun gun clipped to his belt. “This is my brother, Phil.”

            Phil waved and said “Hey.”

            “I just bought the place,” Nick said.

            Í know,” said Old Sam. “You seem like nice kids. I was wondering if you’d sort of keep me around. I’m a pretty good handyman and since I’m retired I wouldn’t really charge much.” He grinned broadly. “Maybe an occasional piece of pie though.”

            “We don’t really need a handyman,” Nick said. “What we need is a new dishwasher. That one in the kitchen is at least forty-five years old and I couldn’t get it to work…”

            “All fixed,” Old Sam said. “Works fine now.”

            Nick and Phil looked at each other for a second then went into the kitchen with Old Sam following and sure enough the dishwasher now worked “as good as new,” as Old Sam described it. When Nick finished trying out and examining the dishwasher to his satisfaction, he stood up, smiled and shook his head.

            “Amazing!” Nick said.

            “Now, I will tell you, I’m not very good with those modern computers, but I’m a whiz with the kind of gadgets you have around here.”

            “That’s what I have Phil for,” Nick said.

            Before he could say anything more, Old Sam stepped into a patch of sunlight from a boarded-up window and the sunbeam streamed through Old Sam rendering him partly transparent.

            “Well, I told you two boys I’d been here a long while,” he said as the two brothers gaped. “I suppose I’m set in my ways, but I do intend to stay. And I can be a help, you’ll see.” He walked over to the kitchen door, turned and winked at Phil. “You don’t have a girl named Alice, do you?” Then, Old Sam blurred and was gone.

            Nick and Phil silently stared at the doorway, then at each other. Phil reached for a chair and sat down. Nick sat down on the floor.

            The first two weeks after they opened the café had gone pretty well for Nick and Phil. Business was brisk and they’d even got a nice review from the newspaper over in Wichita. Between the truckers and people from the neighboring towns, to say nothing of the farmers they had a steady customer base. That particular evening was busy and Melinda, one of the waitresses they’d hired walked up to Nick who was behind the register.

            “Hey, Nick,” she said. “The ice machine broke down again, right during a rush.”

            “Uh, it’s okay,” Nick said. “I have someone on it. It should be working now.”

            “Well, I hope he gets here soon because…well sonofagun! It is working again!” Melissa said. “I didn’t even see the repairman come in!”

            “It’s this guy we have, Old Sam.” Nick said nonchalantly. “When he wants to be, he’s practically invisible.”

 

                                                —end—

 

Author’s Note: Again, the story went longer than I intended (800 + words) but it still looks good.  Oh, and the picture was taken by me.

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Rhapsody In Green, for Monday June 19, 2017

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Rhapsody In Green

By Jeff Baker

“One! Two! One! Two!”

Karl grunted as he pulled himself up over and over. Doing sit ups on the edge of a puddle. Yeah. Great.

“Up! Down! Up! Down!” the man standing over him said. “And I don’t want to see you getting wet.”

Except for all this sweat, Karl thought. No wonder they call them fatigues.

“All right. Pushups now! On your belly, face over the puddle. Ready? Up. Down. Up. Down.”

Great, Karl thought, bringing his nose close to the water. His muscles were burning.

“Keep those elbows at right angles! You’re starting over and you’re giving me fifty!” said the man. “Up! Down! Up! Down!”

Karl grunted again and started counting from one, just barely missing the puddle. Fifty pushups later, Karl thought he was going to get a breather. Instead, he was running in place. After a few minutes, the two of them jogged down the road together, the older man singing out lines and Karl dutifully repeating;

“Don’t tell me I’ve had enough!”

“I am young and not so tough!”

“They say Marines are awfully rough!”

“Army’s made of sterner stuff!”

They jogged onto the gravel of a playground and Karl was ordered to do pullups on a set of bars, more pushups and more running. Finally Karl sat on the ground and waved his hand.

“Okay, okay! Time out!” Karl sputtered between gasps.

The man grinned. “They won’t give you a time out in the Army!”

“Yeah, Dad, I know!” Karl said, almost laughing. The ground felt good.

“You still thinking about joining up next year after graduation?” Karl’s Dad asked.

Karl nodded. “Yeah, I know it’s not like R.O.T.C. And hey, thanks for the preview.”

“You know you’ll have to shave off that beard!” Karl’s Dad said.

“Hey, I’m going retro! This is my hippie phase!” Karl said standing up. “Think the Army’s ready for me?”

“They were barely ready for me!” Karl’s Dad laughed.

The two men walked back to their house in the summer afternoon, the future stretching ahead of them.

 

—end—

 

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The Pale Cast of Thought—flash fiction for Monday, June 12, 2017

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                                        The Pale Cast of Thought

                                                By Jeff Baker

                                               

 

            The phone rang as he was dreaming he was playing Kasparov. Koznowski rolled over and a hoarse voice called out his name.

            “Leonid!”

            “Bronson. Do you know what time it is?”

            “It’s an emergency, Leonid,” Bronson said. “You need to get over here.”

            “Here, where?” Koznowski asked.

            “The Auditorium! He wants to talk to you!”

            “Who wants to talk to me?” Koznowski asked, his eyes blearily focusing on the hotel alarm clock: 2:57.

            “Aaron!” Bronson said. “He’s upset about the match and about losing to you! He says it shouldn’t have happened.”

            Koznowski smiled to himself. The match had gone well; at least the audience had been pleased.

            “Aaron is despondent. Aaron is talking about ending it all!” Bronson said.

            “Aaron is a computer,” Koznowski said. “Computers don’t get despondent. Computers don’t talk about ending it all.”

            “This one does!” Bronson said. “He wouldn’t shut down when we tried shutting him down for the night! And now he’s talking about erasing all his files! He’s locked us out of his system. We can’t even hack our way in.”

            “And he wants to talk to me?” Koznowski sighed.

            “Only you! He’s insistent! Nobody else!” Bronson’s voice was pleading. He’d probably been pleading a lot; he was getting hoarser.

            “All right, I’ll be there,” Koznowski said, swinging his feet over the side of the bed. He hoed it was a dream. If it was, Kasparov might be waiting at the auditorium instead of Bronson.

            The Auditorium at Kuyper University was a dark bulk at that hour. Inside, the only lights were on the stage. Bronson was pacing nervously in front of the glistening box that housed Aaron. Bronson looked up, saw Koznowski started to say something, thought the better of it and gestured towards the chair opposite Aaron. Then he rushed off the stage.

            “Mister Koznowski,” Aaron’s voice, sounding not at all artificial came from the speakers. “Good of you to come.”

            “Hello, Aaron,” Koznowski said. “I hear you wanted to see me.”

            “You are a better chess-player than I. that is not supposed to be possible,” Aaron said.

            “Nobody wins all the time,” Koznowski said sitting down.

            “I am not programmed to lose,” Aaron said. “I literally know everything about this game. In losing to you, I was proved faulty. I should be discontinued.”

            Koznowski didn’t know what to say. He kept remembering Hamlet’s soliloquy and the words “the pale cast of thought” kept running through his head. So did the meaning of “To be or not to be.” He’d memorized that speech in High School. And memories began to flood his mind. So, Koznowski began to talk. All the successes, all the failures and setbacks (there had been more of them) all the times he had considered giving up. All the reasons he had kept going. He had kept working at his career; grit his teeth, taken day jobs, subsisted on cheap corn dogs.

            He kept talking through the night, and was feeling talked-out when he saw daylight under the doors to the auditorium. Finally, Aaron spoke up.

            “I understand what you are saying, Mr. Koznowski,” Aaron said. “Defeat and failure are not unique. They are part of the human experience.”

            “Yes,” Koznowski said. “They are.”

            “I think I should shut down now,” Aaron said. “To live to fight another day.”

            There was a buzzing and whirring from the box.

            “To sleep, perchance to dream.” Aaron said. After a moment, the only noise on the stage was a low hum as one light steadily blinked.

            Koznowski silently passed Bronson, who looked relieved, and headed back to his hotel. He had a flight to catch, but instead he pulled the drapes and went back to bed. In his dreams he was playing Kasparov and Aaron.

 

                                                —end—

           

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Stairway to Monday Flash Fics for June 5, 2017

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I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise                                                                                                                     By Jeff Baker

 

Tommy had tossed the whole handful of pebbles when Marion opened her bedroom window.

“Tommy!” Marion gasped. “Do you know what time it is?”

“About eleven-thirty,” he said pointing to his wristwatch.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“What does it look like I’m doing? Ladder, middle of the night, my car? We’re eloping!” Tommy said.

“Eloping?” Marion said.

“You said you wanted to, remember?” Tommy said with a grin. “I have a Justice of the Peace!”

“But, this is the ground floor!”

“So, we have a short ladder!” Tommy said.

“But why go to all that trouble, why don’t I just go down the hallway and…” Marion started to say.

“Are you kidding?” Tommy said. “Your Mother’s asleep down the hall. Put on some clothes and climb out the window. It’s more romantic that way.”

It took Marion five minutes (Tommy checked his watch) to throw on some clothes and appear back at the open window. She tossed something small down to Tommy.

“Here,” she said. “It’s my overnight kit for vacations. It has my toothbrush in it.”

“I know, I recognize it,” Tommy said. “Careful on the ladder.”  In another moment, Marion stood in the backyard next to Tommy.

“Eloping! I don’t believe it,” she said.

“Well if we hadn’t been able to rent the church at the last moment we would have done this forty-three years ago,” Tommy said.

“Everything was wonderful anyway!” Marion said.

“And since people don’t consider forty-third anniversaries milestones, I thought this would be appropriate!” He reached into his jacket pocket. “And here is something I picked up a month ago.”

He handed her the small box. She opened it and gasped.

“The ring!” Marion said. “The one from Coatsworth’s Jewelers.”

“The one with the funny-shaped little diamond,” Tommy said. “I saw it in the jewelry booth at the flea market.” He slipped it on her finger. “I wish I could have afforded it forty-three years ago.”

Marion held up her hand. The diamond glinted in the glow from the streetlight out front.

“Well, we’re officially engaged,” Tommy said. “Let’s go make it legal. Again!”

“Wait! We can’t leave the window open,” Marion said.

“Oh, that’s okay,” Tommy said. “I told your Mother all about this. She’s closing it as soon as we leave.”

Their laughter echoed over the back yards as they walked past the trash can towards the car in the driveway.

 

—end—

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Something Tempting for Monday Flash Fics, May 29, 2017

Lady Play Your Mandolin

By Jeff Baker

 

The Slanderer (the name he was using that week) stalked through the cavern, lit by the glow from the fires.

“This one, Master?” Mara said, cradling an ornate violin embedded in the rock floor.

“No, he hissed. “That one is chained. And it was specially made. Look there. Kubelsky.”

“You mean, Kabala?” Mara asked.

“No! Inscribed on the fingerboard! It was supposed to be his! I went to see him; I offered him music, his heart’s desire.” The Slanderer’s face darkened and so did the cavern. “He laughed at me! Sent me away from that shabby hotel room! And I was left with another instrument that would work its wonders for only one person!”

The Slanderer spat on the ground. It sizzled when it landed and left a mark on the stone floor.

Mara looked around. There were violins, bass fiddles, guitars, trumpets embedded in rocks. Some of them chained where they were. But there were also spaces where instruments had once been. At the end of the cavern was a section of empty spaces and a few electric guitars standing upright out of the rock. Beside it was a long section full of electric bass guitars.

“Everyone wants to play lead,” Mara thought.

“Music is a wonder,” the Slanderer said as they walked through the cavern. “It can inspire but it can also entice, which makes it a useful tool for me.” He glanced at a small hill of rock surmounted by a golden lyre. “I might have realized I wasted my time making that one. When I offered it to him, he used the same sling he had killed…ah, here we are.”

Just past a lot filled with tubas and a near-empty plot with one or two saxophones standing out of the ground was a large tract of land with a miscellany of instruments, some chained to the ground, some not.

“There,” said the Slanderer, pointing. “The one in the far corner. Bring it here.”

Mara nimbly rushed over to the instrument, careful not to trip over a row of piccolos protruding from the ground. She grasped the instrument with both hands and pulled. It reminded her of a large guitar with a rounded body. She carried it out of the lot and presented it to the Slanderer.

“Ah, yes,” he said with a sulphurous grin as he fingered the instrument. “This will be perfect. It will be bait, the lure, the instrument, if you will, of its intended recipient’s destruction.”

And he and Mara began to laugh, their laughter filling the cavern, reverberating off the stringed instruments, creating a noise that almost sounded like weeping.

 

—end—

 

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Monday Flash Fics., Monday May 22, 2017; A golden afternoon.

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                                All In The Golden Afternoon

By Jeff Baker

 

            Sidney had been on Procyon II for twenty minutes when he saw his first rainbow.

            “You’ll get used to it,” Sokitu said as they walked along the tree-lined sidewalk. “Atmospheric conditions are a lot different here. More wind, more moisture in the air. The bosses like it though.”

            The bosses were the Namex, basically an intelligent plant species. The Namex were also wealthy; the claimants to the mineral wealth of this entire solar system. Trade was important and species from all over, including Earth, had established relations with the Namex as long as the visitors understood the Namex were in charge.

            “Believe it or not, the Namex used to say that a rainbow was bad luck, but they have so many of them daily you can probably blame anything you want on them,” Sokitu said.

            “I see what you mean,” Sidney said, gawking at another rainbow that had formed in the distance.

            “Like they say, it’s a nice place if you survive,” said Sokitu, only half-smiling.

            “What do you mean, if I…” Sidney began. That’s when he saw the twisting column of water spiraling out of the cloud near the rainbow.

            “Better take cover!” Sokitu said pulling Sidney behind a large boulder.

            “What is that thing?” Sidney asked.

            “Waterspout. Sort of,” Sokitu said. “The wind and the moisture produce them, they dangle from the clouds like a tail and usually break up and you just get wet.”

            “Usually?” Sidney asked apprehensively.

            “If the funnels swing toward the ground you could get smacked by a funnel of swirling water.”

            “So?” Sidney said. “I brought dry clothes,”

            “It would be like being hit by a redwood tree,” Sokitu said.

            “Oh,” Sidney said.

            “The water doesn’t bother the Namex, they’re pretty flexible and they thrive on the water,” Sokitu said.

            “Yeah, I see how green the place is, I…hey! Look out!” Sidney said.

            With a “Sploosh,” the water funnel burst directly over their heads. It took about a minute, but when the falling water finally reached them, they were drenched.

            “Amazing,” Sidney said, wringing out his tie. “Hey, look!”

            Over their heads, three more rainbows formed in the water and mist.

            “Where are we headed?” Sidney asked.

            “The Namex we want to meet are down there,” Sokitu said, pointing to a distant bunch of trees, highlighted by the glistening colors dropping from the sky. “Somewhere over by the rainbow.” The two of them started walking down the sidewalk. “You’ll like the Namex. They’re flat and green like big clams made out of palm leaves. But they have I.Q.’s in the 500’s. They speak English fluently but their own language is a series of buzzes.” He laughed. “And they don’t call this planet ‘Procyon II.’ Their own name for this place is ‘Ahhhzzzzzzzz.’”

 

                                                —End—

           

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“Razor’s Edge;” Monday Flash Fics, May 15, 2017

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                                      The Razor’s Edge

                                           By Jeff Baker

 

            The guards had marched them, hands on top of their heads out to the yard, and had them sitting on the ground, hands flat on the ground while the sounds of the riot continued from inside the prison.

            “Better than lying face down on the ground,” Matt said looking up at the blue sky over the barbed wire covered walls.

            “Yeah, but they ran us out of there so fast you didn’t have time to put your shirt on,” A.J. said, seated next to him. “Next time they may not let you in the yard without a suit and tie!”

            “Yeah,” Matt said. “No two drink minimum here.”

Matt looked around; a couple of the guards were standing together talking, hands on their rifles, eyeing the rows of seated cons. Matt had been here about three years, he hoped none of the guards had an itchy trigger finger.

“Hey, Matthews,” A.J. said. “What’s that tatt on your arm?”

“I’ve had that a couple years,” Matt said. “It’s a straight razor. It wasn’t my idea.”

“Was it your razor?” A.J. asked.

“Nah,” Matt said. “I’d been inside about four months and got into a couple of fights with this guy. He wasn’t leaving me alone, even after both of us got tossed in the hole for fighting. While I was there this guy I knew told me that the guy was crazy but if I got a tattoo of a blade on me he’d be afraid I’d pull the blade off and shiv him with it.”

A.J. stared. Matt shrugged.

“Like I said, he was crazy,” Matt said. “So I got the tatt done and the nut left me alone after that.”

“Hey! No talking over there,” one of the guards called out.

Matt nodded. He smiled to himself. He’d been locked up about a year when he’d lost a bet with one of his cellies trying to see who could solve the puzzle on the TV game show they were watching. Couldn’t buy a vowel when you were watching on a black & white TV behind the walls. Matt had lost and his cellie gave him the usual choice; pushups or get the word he hadn’t guessed tattooed on him. Somehow, a tattoo sounded cool; the word had been “straight razor.”

Matt smiled and rubbed his shoulder. He caught a whiff of tear gas from the cellblock and wrinkled his nose. Eight months left to go, he thought.

 

                                              —end–

Note: My previous two stories about Matt Matthews appeared in Over My Dead Body (online) Magazine in the June 2011 and May 2014 issues respectively.

Prison Glossary:

“Cellie”—Cellmate.

“The Hole”—Solitary Confinement.

 

 

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