An Interview with Steve Benson

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La Venganza, a new novel by Michael Steven Benson, is now available in both kindle and paperback format.


Congratulations! Please tell us a little about your book

The book is a crime novel called La Venganza.  I tried to avoid the hard-boiled, tough-as-nails characters that you see in a lot of crime fiction. There are some pretty tough characters, but my goal was to give them some balance in order to make them more real to the reader. In the story, the protagonist has done something stupid that gets him in a lot of trouble but also leads him to the most important thing that he has ever done in his life. It is primarily told from the point of view of Frank Millirons, a ranch hand, as well as the bad guys and several different branches of law enforcement. What I liked about writing it was being able to write several different stories that were related, which all came together by the end.


What was the impetus for writing it?

I wrote the first ten pages or so after just seeing it in my head. I had a pretty simple idea of a man on the run stopping in a small town. After some encouragement from friends, I just kept writing.


Did the book take any turns from where you thought it was going?

Absolutely. From the outset, I was determined to let the characters write the book. I had no real idea where the story was going until I was almost halfway through writing it. By then, I knew the characters well enough to work out a chapter by chapter outline including the ending. There was actually one character that I realized I needed in order to move the story forward. I wrote her in fairly far into the project, and she just kept pushing herself into more and more of the story. Now she’s one of my favorite characters, and I’ve actually already started another story with her as the main character. The great thing about the writing process is that characters can demand to be more a part of the story.


You have published the book as Michael Benson when everyone knows you as Steve Benson. Why is that?

My given name is Michael Steven Benson. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always been called by my middle name. I just thought it would be nice to use my first name for something other than signing mortgage papers and tax forms. It’s also a way to have a pen name that’s not really a pen name.


You seem to have an abundance of creativity. You’ve made two movies and produced (as a silent but necessary partner) two plays during your time in Merida. Tell us about these other projects.

The two plays were written and directed by my wife, Jill. They were both a lot of work but very rewarding. It amazes me when I think back on how talented the cast and crew of each play was. The talent pool here in Merida is really incredible.

The first movie we did (The Dead List) was a fun project.  It was a ten minute zombie movie that we managed to talk all of our friends into. It didn’t have a lot of dialogue, but when I look back at it now, it did have some good, scary atmosphere and great acting. Tom Kuhn’s close up was one of my favorite parts, by the way. He and Debi were two of our anchor zombies.  I was also thrilled that we were actually able to license two songs for the movie, one from Lars Frederiksen. Again, we could have never done it without the help of everyone involved.

Our second movie (The Reading) was a little more ambitious.  It was a half hour short with quite a bit of dialogue. Jill came up with the idea for the basic storyline, and we talked about it for a week or so, hammering out the details. I wrote the first five pages one night and then Jill wrote the next five.  We just passed it back and forth until it was finished. This film was much harder to shoot and edit, but we were very happy with the end result.  Also, this time we actually had a premiere of the movie. It was nice to see a crowd of people watching something that we created.


Do you think that living in Mexico as a US citizen has influenced your writing? If so, how?

There is something about living in Merida that has given Jill and I permission to be a little creative. I’m not sure we would have done this in the US. The community here, Yucateco and Expat, is very receptive to people expressing themselves in art, writing, acting, music etc.


What authors have inspired you along the way?

My all-time favorite is Stephen King.  People often times think of him as just a horror writer, but in my opinion, he has written some of the greatest American novels of the past forty years.

Elmore Leonard is another favorite of mine. He had a simple, no frills style of writing that was very effective. He could paint a picture in five words that would take other authors a paragraph to achieve.


Can you describe what a typical day in your life is like?

Sure, but I can guarantee that it will be the most boring thing in this interview. I get up fairly early most mornings to start my online job.  I go workout in the early afternoon.  Try to do some writing in the late afternoon. We throw some tennis balls to the dogs in the evening and then go to bed. I really need to slow down.


Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I was born in Corpus Christie, Texas into a Navy family. I’m the youngest of four kids. We then moved to Hawaii, then to California where my Dad left the service. From there we moved to Oklahoma, to Iowa and then Missouri. By the time we moved to Missouri, I was the only child still living at home.  I also joined the Navy when I was nineteen, serving four years in the Seabees. I met Jill in Springfield, Missouri, and we eventually moved to Kansas City together and married. Jill was also a military brat, so we lived very similar lives before we met.  Over the years, I’ve worked in printing and computer support. Several years ago, I managed to get a degree in history …better late than never.


What would you like to accomplish in your artistic endeavors?

Well, if at least half the people who see or read my work like it, then I would be happy. Seeing a project through from beginning to end and knowing I did my best is very rewarding, regardless of any perceived success or failure.

OK, OK…I’d like to see a book of mine on the NY Times Bestsellers List and then have it adapted into an Oscar winning movie!


What’s next? A new movie? A new book? Something else?

Jill and I have started a full-length movie script, but we set it aside while editing my novel. As I mentioned before, I am also four chapters into a second novel.  I’m in no rush with either project, whatever happens will happen. Jill has also started a novel. I would describe it as a police procedural with supernatural overtones.

One more thing I’d like to say. Every creative thing I’ve ever done, or tried to do, is a result of encouragement from my wife, Jill. It’s one thing to share a project together, you kind of encourage each other as you go. This novel though is different. It’s something I’ve done by myself and is much larger in scope than anything I’ve ever attempted to write. Every step of the way, I’ve relied not only on Jill’s encouragement, but her opinion and advice. She’s a pretty cool wife.


La Venganza on




Excerpt from La Venganza


Michael Steven Benson


Rufus, Wayne and the Ochoa brothers stood under a bank of trees that ran alongside a small creek.  They listened to the muted crying coming from the direction of Frank’s truck, parked thirty yards away near a large pond.  They had driven southwest of Pawhuska through an endless maze of dirt roads before finding a field with an open gate and no houses in sight.  The field was dry and the vegetation dead, so there were no tracks from the vehicles as they drove in.  It was a huge patch of land that allowed them to drive over three miles in before stopping.

Rufus smoked a cigarette while he watched Wayne fiddle with his phone.  He glanced over at the Ochoa brothers as they sat down on a small berm with their backs to the creek; they both fidgeted, obviously worried about the situation.

“Relax, kids,” said Wayne.  “I’m looking at the overhead views on my cell.  We’re several miles from the nearest house and over seven miles from the nearest town.  As long as we keep the vehicles out of sight, we’re safe.”

“How do you even get a signal out here?” asked Donny.  It was hot and humid; sweat flowed in small tributaries from Donny’s buzz cut.

“Satellite cell service,” replied Wayne as he held up his phone.  “Always pays to be prepared.  By the way, I know your burner phones probably don’t work out here, but I need to collect them up anyway.  We’re in some pretty desperate straits and the last thing I need is one of you calling your Great Aunt Florence to ask her to forward your mail to Bum Fuck Oklahoma.”

“Too bad we aren’t as prepared as you,” said Rufus as he handed over his phone.  Rufus chuckled slightly as he stood, stretched his back and then walked to the Impala where he sat in the driver’s seat.  He had never cared much for Wayne, not that Rufus cared much for anyone else since joining the group.  Wayne was different though; he seemed to always come out on the opposite side of what Rufus had in mind.  Wayne, who had been watching Rufus, spoke.

“You got a problem, Mr. Duran?”

“No I do not, Mr. Maggard.”

“Then what were you laughing at, if I may be so bold as to ask?”

“I just found your speech about always being prepared a little amusing.  Considering where we are and what’s happened.”

Rufus watched as Wayne placed his cell on the trunk of the car and walked to the open door on the driver’s side.  He wasn’t wearing his jacket and his gun was visible, strapped to his side.  “So you’re saying this is my fault?”

Rufus turned the ignition on and began dialing in the radio.  “There’s enough blame to go around, Mr. Maggard,” he replied, continuing to play with the radio.  Another loud sob came from the truck; Rufus looked up to see Inocente standing at the back of the truck.  His hands leaned on the tailgate, and his head hung low as he grieved his brother’s death.

Rufus looked up at Wayne who was still standing at the driver’s door.  “What’s the plan, boss?” he asked.  He had thrown in the “boss” to placate Wayne a little.  It seemed to work.  Wayne walked back to his phone, picked it up and spoke.

“Glad you asked.  The most important thing we’ve got to do is bring Inocente back to the realm of the living.  The quicker we get his mind off Tito’s death, the quicker we’ll get out of here.  That means we need to have a funeral for the dead, fat man in yonder truck.”

“Funeral?” Will asked.  “How are we going to bury him?  We’ve got no tools and this ground is as hard as cement.”

“Good question, grasshopper.  We don’t bury him in the ground.  We give him a burial at sea, or in this case a burial at pond.”  Wayne pointed to the pond next to the truck.

Donny shook his head and laughed as he looked at his brother.  “Grasshopper,” he chuckled.  Will hit him on the shoulder hard with a punch only a brother could deliver.

“Alright, stay focused Beavis and Butthead.”

“Yeah, stay focused, Butthead,” Will said to Donny.

“What we’ll do is weight down Tito’s body with rocks.  We’ll check the truck and the Impala for something to tie him up.  Jumper cables, rope, whatever we can find.  It won’t be easy, and we’ll get wet doing it, but it should work.”

“What will Ino think of us shoving his brother into a pond?” asked Rufus.

“I think he’ll appreciate our efforts in trying to find a semi-respectful way to dispose of the body.  He’s pragmatic.  He’ll think it’s a good idea.”  Will and Donny looked deep in thought; possibly trying to figure out what pragmatic meant.

“What do we do after getting rid of the body?” asked Rufus.  “Use your phone to call home for help?”

“Yes and no,” replied Wayne.  We call for help but not from home.  That would take way too long.  We’ll call some of the Ochoa brother’s co-workers.  They would be a lot closer than our people in Arizona, and a lot less likely to draw attention when they arrive.  They can deliver a car and a change of clothes for all of us.  Then we can find a hotel close by.  We’ll hole up there while I work out the details of getting back on Frank’s trail.”

“Frank?” Rufus asked.  “It’s too fucking hot to keep up that search!  We need to get to the nearest airport and fly home as soon as possible!”

Wayne put his hands on his thin hips and looked at Rufus.  “Are you going to be the one to tell Ino that we’re not going to find his brother’s killer?  If so, go ahead.”  Wayne motioned toward Inocente.  “Go tell him right now.  But first let me get the camera ready on my phone, so I can take a picture of him putting a bullet in your head.”

Rufus looked up at Wayne with his eyebrows raised.  “Good point,” he said.

Wayne ran both of his hands through his pompadour, trying to remember where he’d left off.  “OK, you three will meet the new car somewhere close but not too close.  I don’t want anyone knowing exactly where we are right now.  The three of you will change clothes before heading back.  I’ll have the delivery guys bring t-shirts and jeans for all of us, so we look different than we do now.  Then you three drive back here and pick up me and Ino.”

“What about the Impala and the truck?” asked Will.  “The Chevy was rented in my name.”

“We’ll park them both here and hope they don’t get found.  They can be traced back to the ranch though, so we can’t leave them forever.  We’ll send someone back in a week or so with the GPS coordinates and a couple enclosed trailers to pick them up.  Anyway, after you guys come back, we all go find a place to lay low for a day or so.  How’s that sound?”

Rufus hated to admit it, but Wayne’s idea impressed him.  It was simple but well thought out.  “Sounds fine, boss,” Rufus said.  “But I have one question.”

“OK, lay it on me,” replied Wayne.

“How the hell are we going to find Frank?  We can’t track him anymore because he’s not in the truck.  We have absolutely no idea which direction he went.  If he made it out of the county before the road blocks went up then he could be anywhere in the Midwest by now.”

“You leave that up to me.  I’ve got some ideas.  They may not pan out, but I’ll try my damnedest.”  Rufus didn’t say a word but wondered what Wayne’s ideas might be.

“Great.  Now I’m going to go talk to Ino about Tito’s body.  Will and Donny, you two start thinking about any dependable drivers who might be in the area.  When I get back, I’ll make some phone calls to track them down.  Rufus, I guess you can just sit there and look pretty.”

Rufus looked up at Wayne who had a slight smirk on his face.  He raised his middle finger to his forehead and saluted Wayne with it.  “Yes, sir, boss!”


work in progress

by Steve Benson





          “You full of shit, marshal.”

          “How’s that?”

          “Look, I know you got a job to do, but aint no way a U.S.  Deputy Marshal gonna put his life on the line for me.  Face it.  I’m just a punk to you; a worthless little fly on your shoulder.  If they put the moves on me, the first thing on your mind would be your wife and kids.  You got kids?”

          No reply.

          “Your wife then.  How long you been married?”

          “None of your business.  Now finish your breakfast.”

          “OK, I get that too.  The less that scum like me knows about you and your family, the better.  All I’m saying is that you have your priorities.  And I don’t blame you for that.”

          U.S. Deputy Marshal Joe DeMaio washed down his last bite of toast with a glass of orange juice.  He stood, walked across the hotel room and opened the door as far as the chain would allow.  Two Muskogee police officers looked back over their shoulders at him.  Joe nodded and shut the door.  He looked back at Leon Fix who was now standing in front of the mirror, wiping crumbs from his tie.   “Let’s go,” Joe said.

          “Gimme a minute to get presentable.” Leon replied.  He put on his suit coat and brushed at it the same way he did with the tie.  “I got to look good for the judge.”

          You’re gorgeous,” Joe said as he opened the door.  “Now let’s go.”

          Both officers turned and looked into the room.  “Stay behind Mr. Fix here and don’t be shy about keeping your hands on your weapons,” Joe said to the officers.

          The four of them walked down the hallway, Joe in the front, Leon in the middle and the officers bringing up the rear.  Leon strutted down the brightly colored carpet, seeming to enjoy the convoy of law enforcement that surrounded him.

          “It’s the same with these two cops here,” said Leon.  “Lucky if they making forty grand a year, and now their chief tell them to guard me with their lives.  With their mother fucking lives!  Aint gonna happen.”

          “You sound like you’re expecting trouble,” said Joe as he continued to walk toward the elevator.  “Anything I should know about.”

          “Naw, just talking.  That’s all.”

          Joe stopped and turned around.  “Then shut up and get serious,” he said.

          “I am serious marshal.  Just want to make sure you are.”

          Joe turned and continued on; the others followed.  He hoped that there would only be one day of testimony.  He’d had his fill of Leon Fix.



          The group arrived at the Muskogee County Courthouse and entered through a nondescript side entrance where they met Chief Bailiff Stewart.  Boxes of court records teetered halfway to the ceiling of the small musty room.  Stewart stood next to the only desk in the room; his face craggy and suspicious.  Joe had met with Stewart the day before so there were no security check points or metal detectors.  Stewart did a quick pat down of Leon and then signed off on the police officer’s escort papers so they could leave.

          “We’re going to leave through that door,” said Stewart as he pointed his meaty finger.  Joe noticed a dried splotch of shaving cream under Stewart’s left ear.  “We’ll make a right and two lefts.  We’ll enter the courtroom through a wooden swinging door with a small window in it.  Fix, you sit with your attorney and Deputy Marshal DeMaio will sit behind you in the gallery.  Any questions?”

          “Yeah, I got one,” said Fix.  “What a nigga gotta do to get a cup of coffee?”

          Stewart’s flat top haircut seemed to bristle at Fix’s question, like a dog whose fur had been stroked the wrong way.  He sighed, looked from Leon to Joe and spoke.  “He does know he’s white, right?”

          Joe couldn’t help but chuckle at Stewart’s question and the unexpressive way he’d asked it.  “I think they call it race confusion,” Joe replied.

          “Shit.  I know I’m white.  I’m just being who I am.  Ghetto aint got no color.”  Leon smiled wide revealing two gold plated canines.  “It’s all attitude.”



          A bailiff, a Deputy Marshal and a low level meth transporter walk into a courtroom.  As Joe looked through the small window on the side door to the courtroom, he thought of this joke setup but couldn’t pin down a good punch line.  The jurors were already out and sitting at the opposite end of the room.  To Joe’s right was the judge’s bench and to his left were the prosecution and defense tables with the gallery directly behind them.  Leon’s attorney sat with the prosecutor while the defendant and his attorney chatted back and forth at the other table.

          “Show time,” said Stewart.  He pushed the door open and held it as first Leon and then Joe walked in.

          Leon sat down next to his attorney.  Joe stood for a moment, looking at the people seated in the gallery.  The first row was filled with suits and stern faces.  He guessed DEA.  The others seemed to be a mix of media and curious members of the public.  One small group on the back row of the defense side of the room had him concerned.  He recognized them as relatives of Marco Trujillo, the defendant.  Two armed bailiffs stood behind them on either side of the main courtroom entrance, so Joe was somewhat reassured.  He walked to the first row of the gallery and stared at two men until they both scooted in opposite directions, opening up a spot directly behind Leon.  Joe sat down and noticed a strong odor of cologne on the men who sat on each side of him.  Yep, definitely DEA.

          “All rise,” said Bailiff Stewart from the front of the courtroom as the judge entered through the chamber door.  “The Honorable Judge Thomas Stoffers now presiding.”

          Joe noticed that Stewart’s eyes were darting around the courtroom as the judge made his way to the bench.  He hoped that the bailiffs at the back of the courtroom were as serious as Stewart.

          “You may be seated,” said Judge Stoffers as he sat down.  He placed his glasses on the end of his nose and began reading a file on his desk.

          From behind him, Joe could hear the beginnings of a commotion.  A male voice spoke in irritated tones.  “He was set up.  He didn’t do nothing.”

          The outburst was followed by a female voice shushing him.  Joe assumed it was members of Trujillo’s family.  Bailiff Stewart moved several steps toward the gallery.  His eyes were on whoever was making the disturbance.  Joe could again see the dried shaving cream under Stewart’s ear.  He smiled, realizing that Stewart was just too damned imposing for anyone to tell him about it.  The male voice at the back of the courtroom grew louder but Joe, unlike the DEA Agents who surrounded him, kept his head forward.  What happened behind him was the bailiff’s business.  His business was currently sitting in from of him wearing a mustard yellow suit and scratching the back of his shaved head.

          “Bailiffs, please escort that gentleman from the courtroom,” Stewart said.  Joe could hear the footsteps as the bailiffs did as they were told.

          “Get the fuck away from me.  I’m gonna be heard.  My brother didn’t do nothing!”  Stewart stepped forward even further, he was now standing between the defense and prosecution tables.

          “Bailiffs, get him under control!” he said.  Joe could now hear shuffling as the bailiffs grabbed at the man.  A woman began to cry and plead with the man to calm down but he continued.

          “Get offa me cops!  I can say what I want!”  One of the gallery benches scraped across the hardwood floor as the bailiffs wrestled with the man.  Stewart was now standing at the gate that separated the gallery from the front of the courtroom.  He opened the gate and stepped through to help the other two bailiffs.

          Just as the gate swung shut, Trujillo stood from his seat at the defense table.  Joe was the only law enforcement officer who saw him get up.  The bailiffs were still trying to get Trujillo’s family out of the courtroom and the rest of them were watching the show.

          Trujillo ran toward the front of the prosecution table, he was staring directly at Leon Fix.  Joe put his hand in his jacket and grabbed his gun.  There was something in Trujillo’s right hand but he was moving too fast for Joe to see what it was.  Trujillo came to a stop in front of the prosecution table.  The judge, who could also see what was happening, yelled for Stewart, but he was too far away to do anything.

          Joe leaned to his left and pulled his gun out.  He was practically laying on a DEA agents lap.  Trujillo pulled back his right arm, meaning to stab fix.  Joe could see it now, Trujillo was holding a pen.  Joe aimed at Trujillo’s chest and pulled the trigger.  The pen, which was halfway to its target, fell onto the table while Trujillo fell backward to the floor.  The Muskogee County Court emblem on the front of the judge’s bench was now coated with a layer of Trujillo’s blood.

          Joe could again hear a commotion behind him, this time much louder.  The thirty or so people in the gallery were now trying to run through the double door entrance to the courtroom at the same time while Trujillo’s family screamed and cried.  Joe jumped over the railing to the front of the courtroom, grabbed Fix by the back of his collar and pulled him to his feet.  They exited through the same side door that they had entered through earlier and didn’t stop until they were again in the room where Stewart had met them.  Joe pushed Fix into a chair in the corner of the room.

          “Sit down and keep your mouth shut.”  Joe pulled his cell phone out with his left hand while still pointing his gun at the door with his right.  He called the first Deputy he saw in his contact list, U.S. Deputy Chuck Miller.  Miller answered on the first ring.

          “What’s up DeMaio?” Miller said.

          “Miller, listen up.  There was an attempt on my witness’s life.  I’m currently in a storeroom in the Muskogee County Courthouse.  I need backup ASAP!  I shot the perp, it was the defendant.  Get someone here as soon as you can.  Bailiffs tend to get itchy trigger fingers when you shoot up one of their courtrooms.”

          Joe ended the call and looked down at Fix.  “Are you OK?  Any injuries?”

          “No,” said fix as he patted himself, looking for stab wounds or bullet holes.

          “Good, just sit tight.  The cavalry will be here soon.”

          “Hey marshal, thanks for proving me wrong,” said Fix.  “You still crazy for doing it, but thanks.”

          “Just my job Fix.  You’re court property and I’m protecting it.  Nothing more.”

          Fix slowly nodded his head.  Joe thought that it was the first time he’d seen anything close to a deep thought in his expression.

          “Still…thanks,” said Fix.



* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Steve Benson was born in Corpus Christi Texas and has lived most of his life in the American Midwest. He currently lives in Merida Mexico with his wife Jill. Steve has collaborated with Jill on writing and creating two short films. They are currently working together on a feature length script, a ghost story set in the 1870’s. Imagine Cabin in the Woods meets Little House on the Prairie. This is Steve’s second novel.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *


Remedy Diner by Sally Davies



by Steve Benson

(from a novel in progress)



Frank Millirons walked slowly across a dusty parking lot on the outskirts of Dewey Oklahoma.  The sun was high in the sky and no shadow protruded from his boots as he walked.  He instinctively looked from side to side without moving his head; checking to see if anyone was watching.  He stepped up onto the curb, opened the glass front door and walked inside.  The coolness he felt from the AC was something he was unaccustomed to and it made him wary.  The air inside the restaurant was filled with the smells of frying tortillas, chiles and the faint odor of the bleach water that had just been used to mop the tile floor.  There were no other customers in the restaurant and although Frank could hear a faint conversation in Spanish coming from the back, he didn’t see employees.  He walked past the ‘Please Wait To Be Seated’ sign and took a seat in a booth without a window.  A few minutes later a young Mexican waiter approached with a glass of water and a menu.  He set them both down and walked away without speaking.  Frank could tell by the look on the young mans face that he was afraid of him.  He wondered when he’d become the kind of person who people feared.  He guessed he’d been getting that look for about 18 months, since his diagnosis.  When a man learns his expiration date he’s less likely to try to please everyone and more likely to tell them the truth they don’t want to hear.  People seemed to sense his lack of concern for their egos.  He didn’t really like the looks that he was getting but it did give him a sense of confidence.  There was a time when someone staring at him would have made him extremely insecure but he now viewed it as a badge of honor.  It’s good to be feared, better than being dead. 

The waiter returned with a bowl of chips and salsa and then quickly left again.  As Frank lifted a chip to his mouth he saw his reflection in a mirrored Modelo beer sign hanging on the wall across from him.  Goddamn!  Frank barely recognized the skinny old man staring back at him.  His face was gaunt with deep lines running down each cheek.  Long graying hair curled out from under his straw cowboy hat and his mustache was so overdue for a trim that he couldn’t even see his upper lip.  Quite the soup strainer you’ve got there grandpa.  Frank pulled off his hat and ran his fingers through his tangled hair.  His hair pulled back revealing his left ear.  The ear had been missing its top half for going on three months now; the result of one of those unwanted truths that Frank had told to a man with a knife.  He touched his fingers to the injured ear and felt the newness of its shape, trying to get used to it.  He thought that his ear was a perfect symbol for the new him.  It was rough around the edges, didn’t work as well as it used to and when people saw it close up, it gave them the willies.  It seemed to Frank that just yesterday he was a young man with wide shoulders and thick hair; a future.  Out of habit, he began to ponder a wasted life but stopped himself.  He’d been bitching to himself about that for years and was through with it.  For maybe the first time in his life Frank was comfortable with who he was, and where he was going.

“Can I take your order sir?”

Frank turned his head to see the waiter standing next to his table holding a pad and a pencil, there was sweat forming on his brow despite the cool temperature inside the restaurant.  Frank ordered without looking at the menu.  “Si, dos enchiladas con queso y cebollas solo.  Tambien….arroz y frijoles refritos.  Tiene Jarritos?”

“Si, de que clase?” replied the waiter.


“Claro.  Ya regreso con su bebida, Señor.” The waiter seemed a little more at ease with Frank for speaking to him in Spanish; he managed an uncomfortable smile and then walked away.

Frank sighed deeply and relaxed a little himself.  He gazed out a window on the other side of the restaurant and watched the traffic go by.  People living normal lives with normal problems.  It was a strange foreign world to Frank framed in a dirty window below a neon “Cerveza Fria” sign.  The people he saw amazed him in that their worries and goals were so different from his own.  As he watched the occasional car slowly drive by the window, he tried to imagine the story playing out in each one.  Each car was filled with hope, anxiety, satisfaction and disappointment.  As Frank watched the happenings through the window he saw a spotless new Honda Accord drive by the restaurant.  It parked at a Valero station down the street for a few seconds and then turned around and came back.  As it pulled into the parking lot Frank saw the silhouette of six male heads sitting in the car.  Too many guys in one car – and it looks like a rental.  The car parked next to his pickup and by the time the second man had stepped out, Frank was walking toward the back of the restaurant.  The waiter met him on the way smiling and holding the soda Frank had ordered.

“Sorry amigo, change of plans,” Frank said as he pulled a fifty out of his pocket and gave it to the waiter.  “Is there a back door to this restaurant?”  Frank hesitated a moment, unable to think of the correct translation for back door.  “Una otra puerta?”

“Si, in the cocina, kitchen.”  The waiter pointed to a door in the back of the restaurant next to the bathrooms.

“Muchas gracias amigo.” Frank took the soda from the waiter and walked to the kitchen.  As he entered he was greeted by the sounds of frying meat and the sharp smell of spices that penetrated his nasal cavity so deeply he could almost taste them.  Frank saw daylight coming from the backdoor and his eyes locked with the eyes of one of the cooks taking a smoke break just outside the door.  Frank walked up to him, took a swig of his soda and then turned sideways as he made his way past him.  “Con permiso,” said Frank.  The waiter tipped his head and moved to the side but didn’t say a word.  Frank dropped the bottle in the dumpster and quickly made his way across the back parking lot, through a drive-in burger joint and then across the street to a pharmacy.  As he walked inside he looked over his shoulder and saw four of the men from the Honda were following him from across the street.  I shoulda known better, should’ve kept driving.

Once inside the pharmacy Frank picked up a newspaper next to the checkout stand by the front door, smiled at the old lady running the register and then walked to the back aisles where he pulled  his Diamondback 38 from his boot.  He hid the pistol in the newspaper and started pacing the aisles, looking for a way out.  Along the way Frank saw only a couple patrons, a boy looking through the magazine section and a woman holding a toddler on her side.  The woman was looking for something in the cold and flu aisle, while her little girl eyed a display of brightly colored balls in a giant wire display cage.  As Frank worked his way to the back of the store; he heard the sound of cowboy boots running through the front door of the pharmacy.  The pharmacy was in an old building with wooden floors covered with cheap linoleum tile, giving each step a hollow echoing sound.  Frank listened as the sound of his pursuers boots spread out in all directions like the sound of low thunder rumbling through a valley.  He continued farther to the back until he found an aisle that dead-ended at a pharmacist’s window.  Next to the window on the back wall of the building was a steel door.  As he approached the door, the young lady in the window who was counting out pills saw him and smiled.

“Hi, how can I help you?”  Her voice was cheery but as Frank walked closer he could tell that she was taking in his appearance and not liking what she was seeing.

Frank pointed to the back door.  “I’m sorry to bother you, ma’am, but is this door an exit?”

“Um…no.  It goes outside but it’s locked from both sides.  Only the manager and the delivery guy have a key to it.  There is an exit at the front of the store though, you know, where you came in?”

“No back door then?” Frank replied.

“Well there’s a loading dock on the other side of the store but you’re not allowed in there.”

Frank was contemplating backtracking to the loading dock but before he could ask the lady in the window where it was, a voice boomed over the store PA. Frank turned to listen.

“Frank Millirons?  I know you can hear me.  There are seex of us and only one of you.  Just put down your gun and walk to the front of the farmacia, we don’t want to hurt you, or any of the other nice people here.”

Frank dropped the newspaper to the ground, revealing his gun.  He turned back toward the young lady in the window just as the aluminum sliding window came down.  He reached out to push it back up but heard her latch the lock before he could lay his hands on it.  Frank walked back down the aisle to the steel door to make sure it was locked, it was.  He backed up a few feet and knelt down with his gun pointed at the only way into the aisle.

“Please Frank…don’t make this dificile.”

Inocente you bastard, how’d you find me?  Frank listened as the thud of a heavy pair of boots grew closer to the corner of the aisle; he aimed his pistol at head level hoping to at least take out the first one.  After that he had no idea what to do.  As he knelt there waiting, listening and sweating – a calm came over him.  He’d felt it before and knew exactly what it was.  It was the calm of a man facing death who had nothing to lose.

“Come now Frank, don’t prolong the seetuation.”

“Your English is getting better Ino,” shouted Frank. 

Sounds like someone gave him a fucking English thesaurus for his birthday.  As Frank chuckled to himself he heard the jingle of keys and watched as the back door opened and a man in his early twenties stepped in.  Well, God closes a window but opens a door.  The young man was wearing jeans and a t-shirt so Frank assumed he wasn’t the manager but the delivery guy that the lady hiding behind the window had mentioned.  The young man looked at Frank and froze when he saw the gun.

There was a second, just a split second, that Frank started to smile at the young man.  Before the ends of Frank’s mustache could rise high enough to complete his smile, a shot rang out and a bullet ripped through the back of the driver’s head, exiting through his forehead.  Frank felt a wet gritty spray across his face and neck.  He instinctively shut his eyes to protect them from the blood and bits of skull.  An instant later Frank heard the second shot and felt an intense pain in his left side.  As he opened his eyes and lifted his gun to take aim, a third bullet whizzed by his ear and would have taken it off if half of it hadn’t already been missing.  Through the thick red haze that hung from his eyelashes, Frank could see the outline of a large man pointing a gun at him from thirty feet away.  Frank pulled the trigger twice before he even saw who he was shooting at.  Just before pulling the trigger for the third time, Frank blinked away the blood in his eyes and saw Inocente’s brother Tito smiling from behind his gun.  Frank squeezed the trigger on his pistol and watched as his bullet splintered Tito’s front teeth, sending  him stumbling backward into a display of adult diapers.

Frank wiped the driver’s blood from his face as he stood, it surprised him how weak his knees were.  He looked down at his side and saw a two inch section of rib sticking straight out from his side.  The bullet had ricocheted off of a rib leaving behind the bloody splinter.  Frank placed his hand around the wound to slow the bleeding, letting the rib bone stick out between his fingers.  He limped to the door with his pistol still aimed up the aisle.  The door was opened toward the back alley where the delivery driver’s car was still running.  Frank took one more look at the young man lying on the floor; he glanced at his left hand and saw a wedding band on his ring finger.  Frank sighed, staring at the ring for a few seconds.  He thought of a similar ring on a young girl’s finger and how that ring had led him to where he was now.  Frank backed into the alley, shut the door making sure it was locked, sat down in the driver’s car and slowly drove away.  The GPS unit mounted on the dash advised him in a cheery female voice that he was approaching North Wyandotte Avenue.  Frank ignored it and continued on.



            Inocente strutted down the jetway surrounded by his men.  To his left was his brother, Tito. Following behind were his logistics expert, Wayne Maggard and his head of security, Rufas Duran.  They were all dressed in suits with cowboy boots.  As they made their way toward concourse b of the Tulsa International Airport Rufas pulled out his phone; the phone all but disappeared in his large hand.  Rufas dialed and then spoke in a deep monotone.

“Donny!  We’re almost there.  Do you have a car?”

Inocente heard a prolonged silence from Rufas after the question was asked.  Rufas eventually spoke again.

“Ino won’t like that.  OK, OK.  See you.”

“What is the problem?” Inocente asked without looking back.

Rufas rolled the toothpick in his mouth from the right side to the left side and spoke.  “Donny and Will are waiting for us at the gate.  They got a fucking Honda.”

“A Honda is fine, we need to blen in anyway,” said Inocente.

As they reached the concourse, Inocente could see the Ochoa brothers waiting for them.  Both were wearing cowboy boots, jeans and dress shirts.  Inocente had told them to dress nice because he wanted them all to look like business men.  Will and Donny Ochoa didn’t quite look like business men but looked nicer than they did in their usual shorts and t-shirts.  Will’s normally bushy hair was neatly combed to one side and Donny’s buzz cut barely covered a tattoo of the name Jesus just above  his hairline.  The Ochoas were route drivers for the business.  They delivered Inocente’s product all over the mid-west and Inocente thought they would be a great asset for the current mission because they knew the countryside so well.  Inocente was worried about their lack of experience with this kind of project but he was willing to take a chance on them.

Inocente approached Donny and hugged him tightly.  Donny was both surprised and confused by the hug, but as Inocente spoke into his ear he understood.

“Did you get the guns Donny?” whispered Inocente.

“Yes, all that you asked for.  And the ammo too.  Everything is in the trunk of my car down the road.  We didn’t want to bring them anywhere near the airport,” replied Donny.

“Bueno, good job,” said Inocente as he backed away from Donny.  “Except ness time buy a fucking suit.  You two look like you are going to a God damned rodeo.”

Inocente turned and walked down the busy hall.  Donny and Will took their place at the back of the group.  Will raised his eyebrows at his brother as if to ask what was that all about?  Donny simply shrugged back and continued walking.

Within 45 minutes the group was on the road.  Each of them had a side arm and the trunk contained 6 shotguns and two rifles.  Rufas drove, with the Ochoa brothers next to him in the front seat.  Inocente sat behind Rufas, his brother Tito was next to him, and Wayne sat next to Tito with his cell phone in his hand.  The map on Wayne’s cell phone placed Frank’s truck about an hour and a half from  them.  Wayne leaned forward to speak to Rufas.

“Rufas, Frank is coming in from the west on highway 60 and is averaging about 50 miles an hour.  If we just stay on highway 75 at the speed limit, we should catch up to him somewhere around Bartlesville.  Unless he turns off somewhere.”

“I’m on it,” replied Rufas.

Wayne leaned back in his seat and concentrated on the map again.  Silently though he was thinking about the logic of the trip that they were on.  The entire upper echelon of Inocente’s operation were traveling in one vehicle and armed to the teeth with illegal and unregistered weapons.  With two unproven delivery boys at that.  Wayne was of the opinion that Ino’s drive for retaliation was blinding him to the danger of the situation they were now in.  In all actuality though, Inocente could have demanded to ride nude on the hood of the car, and Wayne knew that he was the only one who would have the balls to question him about it.  As he tracked Frank, Wayne was working out ways to approach Ino about the situation.  Ino wasn’t known for taking constructive criticism well but Wayne thought he knew him well enough that he could do it without ending up with a bullet in his head and lying in a ditch somewhere along highway 75, or at least he hoped.

Of all the men in the car, Wayne was the one who didn’t quite match his appearance.  Wayne was in his late forties and he wore glasses with thick lenses that he tried to hide with an extremely dark tint.  His hair was naturally light brown but he died it jet black and wore it in a 70’s Elvis style, mutton chops and all.  At first glance he appeared to be a nerdy Elvis impersonator, but a man doesn’t rise to the number three spot in an organized crime family by being timid.  In his younger days Wayne had proven himself time after time.  Now he was more of an organizer and adviser, but still respected by most of the younger members of his group.  One who he clashed with often was Rufas Duran who was currently driving the car.

Rufas was a bit of an enigma to Wayne.  He’d joined the group just two years before and in Wayne’s opinion had  moved up the ranks too quickly.  When Rufas joined he was already in his mid 30’s.  He had organized a couple high dollar trades early on but what had really sent him to the top of Inocente’s watch list was the hit on Teddy Meraz.  Teddy was a small competitor of Ino’s who was getting a little too big.  Rufas had personally taken down Meraz with a shotgun blast to the back of the  head.  From that point on Rufas was part of the inner sanctum of Ino’s organization.  Since Frank had killed Bob Tacket, Rufas was now the number four man.

The number two man in the car was Tito, Inocente’s brother.  He was a poster child for the absurdity of nepotism.  Had it not been for his family connections, Tito would have been lucky to have had a job cleaning up puke on a carnival ride.  He rarely spoke to anyone but Inocente; Wayne was convinced that this was an order from Inocente, so people wouldn’t realize how stupid Tito was.  Tito’s phone rang.  He put the bag of Corn Nuts he was eating into his jacket pocket and answered the phone.

“Bueno.  When?  OK, I will ask him and call you later.”  Tito put his phone away and pulled out his bag of Corn Nuts again.

“Well?  Who the f*** was it?” snapped Inocente.

“It was Huacho.  He say Bob Tacket’s wife was there looking for him.  He told her he has not seen him.  He wants to know what to do with the body and what we should tell his wife.”  Tito popped some corn nuts into his mouth crunching them loudly.

Inocente’s already wide mouth became wider as a look of rage took over his face.  “I can’t believe that Bob is gone.  I hate to lose him but if someone like Frank could kill him then he deserved it.  How could a scrub like Frank do so much damage?”

“And why”, replied Rufas from the front seat.

“I don’t care why,” said Inocente, “I just want to make sure it don’t happen again y Frank pays.  Pays slow.”

“However it goes down Ino, we need to be careful,” Wayne interjected.  “It needs to happen quick and clean and then we need to get out fast.”

“It may not happen quick y it may not happen clean but don worry Wayne, when it is over we will get out fast,” replied Inocente.  Wayne relaxed a little in his seat.  Ino’s answer wasn’t exactly what he wanted to hear but at least he had listened.

“And tell Huacho to bury that worthless son of a b**** Bob at the usual place.  Tell his wife that he’s on a business trip for now, we’ll figure out the details later.”




            A little over an hour into the drive, Inocente was deep in thought not only about what he was going to do to Frank, but how it even happened in the first place.  Frank was just a man hired to help run the ranch.  For years the ranch had been a perfect cover for the business.  None of the ranch hands had ever been interested in what went on at the south quarter.  All they knew is that they were making almost twice the going rate to work the ranch and keep their mouths shut.  Inocente assumed that Frank had done what he’d done for the money but it just didn’t seem right.  Inocente personally hired all of the ranch hands and weeded out any who were too aggressive.  His goal was to keep what happened with the ranch completely separate from the business and to do this he needed hands who were obedient.  Frank had been the perfect worker up until the night he attacked Bob, burned down the south quarter’s storage facility, stolen a little over one million dollars of Inocente’s money and also taken Wayne’s distribution files.  When they found Bob he was tied to a chair in the main office.  From the condition he was in it looked as if Frank had tortured him before stabbing him in the side with a knife.  After they rushed Bob to the ranch medic they were able to somewhat stabilize him.  He had lived just long enough to tell them that it was Frank and what he’d taken.  For Ino, losing the storage barn was nothing.  Losing Bob wouldn’t be that bad either.  The biggest issues were the money and even more so, the records.  The distribution records tied Ino and his organization to dozens of other rings around the country.  He could recover from the loss of the money, but the loss of those records would either get him arrested and sent to jail for the rest of his life or killed by the other organizations.

In retrospect Frank’s actions seemed well thought out.  Frank had waited until Bob was the only one at the facility when he did it.  His only mistake was using his company truck for his escape.  Inocente had placed tracking devices in all of his vehicles years ago.  He had never had to use them for the ranch vehicles but was glad now that he had installed them.

“Just entering Bartlesville Wayne,” said Rufas.  “Where’s Frank?”

Wayne studied his phone.  “He’s just leaving Bartlesville,  we should catch him outside of Dewey though.  We’ll get him somewhere between Dewey and Copan.”

“We’ll be in Dewey in no time”, said Donny.  “Bartlesville and Dewey are so close they’re almost the same town.”

Inocente leaned over and took the cell phone from Wayne.  He watched as the little green dot that represented Frank moved north on highway 75 just a couple miles ahead of them.  He placed his hand inside his jacket and touched his pistol, making sure it was still there.  As he watched the dot enter the city limits of Dewey, Inocente noticed it stopped moving.  At first he assumed it was a traffic light, but after a full minute of no movement he spoke.

“Frank has stopped, the stupid bastard has stopped!”  Inocente was smiling for the first time in 36 hours.  He handed the phone back to Wayne.  “Everyone start looking for the truck.  A white 96 Ford f-350, Arizona placas.”

Wayne barely got the phone back in his hands when he saw Franks truck.  “There it is, the restaurant parking lot!”  Rufas had already driven past the restaurant but pulled into a gas station down the street and parked.

“What now boss, want to wait here or go back?” asked Rufas.

“Why the f*** do I want to wait, lets go!”  Rufas pulled back onto business 75 and drove back to the restaurant.  Inocente noticed that Franks truck was the only vehicle in the front parking lot but there were two cars in the back of the restaurant.

“I think he is the only customer there,” said Inocente.  They pulled into the parking lot and parked next to the truck.  “Donnie y Will, you search the truck.  Everyone else go with me.”

Donnie and Will jumped out and began searching the truck while the others ran into the restaurant.  Will noticed that they drew their guns as they entered and was extremely happy that they’d been put on truck detail.  He and his brother had already decided to quit the business after this job.

When they entered the restaurant it was empty.  Rufas quickly ran through the seating area on the left looking for anyone hiding under the tables while the other three walked down a hall to the right that dead-ended at the bathrooms and kitchen.  A waiter was walking toward them looking at a fifty dollar bill and smiling.  His smile quickly faded when he saw the guns.

“Dónde está?  Dónde está el hombre que conducía el camioneta ?” demanded Inocente.  The waiter stood there looking like he wanted to speak but could not.

Wayne stepped forward and spoke.  “Amigo, calmate.  We aren’t here to hurt you.  Donde está él?” asked Wayne.  The waiter pointed to the kitchen but still didn’t speak.  No one was in the kitchen but they could see another employee through the back door pulling a bottle out of the dumpster.  He placed it in a rack of returnable bottles at the back door of the kitchen.  When he looked up and saw Inocente and his men he gave them the same frozen look that the waiter had just given them.  Without saying a word, he managed to point in the direction of a drive-inn next door.

“Gracias amigo,” said Inocente as he ran past.  “Guns in your jackets, only pull them out if you have to.”  By the time they reached the drive-inn they could see Frank crossing the street.  He disappeared into a pharmacy as they reached the street.

As Inocente walked into the front door he pointed his gun at an old lady behind the counter and spoke.  “Where is the ugly skeenny man who just came in here?”  The old lady pointed down aisle six.  Inocente turned the ‘open’ sign around on the front door so it now read closed.  He then stepped behind the counter with the old lady, still keeping the gun on her.

“All of you, go get that son of a b****.  If he don’t come easy then wound him, BUT DON’T KILL HIM!”  With that Tito, Wayne and Rufas spread out through the aisles to find Frank.  A lady with a toddler approached the checkout lane with a bottle of NyQuil in her hand.  She saw the four men with guns and stopped.  The plastic bottle slipped from her hand and bounced across the floor.  Inocente motioned for the woman to get down on the floor.  She did so quickly, shielding her child under her.  Inocente returned his attention to the old lady and spoke.

“So, how long have you work here?” he asked calmly.

The old lady swallowed hard before answering.  “Twenty three years sir,” she said in a shaky voice.

“Veintitres años,” replied Inocente as he nodded his head up and down.  “You are a very good employee.  Tell me miss employee of the month, how does thees work?”  Inocente motioned to the loudspeaker mic next to the register.

“Just flip the switch there and it will be on.”

Inocente looked at the mic, turned it on and spoke.  “Frank Millirons?  I know you can hear me.  There are seex of us and only one of you.  Just put down your gun and walk to the front of the farmacia, we don’t want to hurt you, or any of the other nice people here.”  Inocente waited about fifteen seconds and spoke again.

“Please Frank…don’t make thees dificile.”

Inocente turned the mic back off and spoke to the old lady again.  “He is a very stubborn man my amigo Frank.”  The old lady shook her head in agreement but still held a look of terror on her face.  Inocente turned the mic back on.

“Come now Frank, don’t prolong the seetuation.”  Inocente was about to speak to the old lady again when Frank yelled back.

“Your English is getting better Ino.”

Inocente smiled and shook his head.  “I have been taking classes,” he said to the old lady.  “I am a busy man but I have to find time for thees.  It is important that I know the language, si?”  Again the old lady shook her head in agreement.  Inocente reached down and picked up a package of gum from a display on the counter.  He unwrapped a piece and put it in his mouth.  He then offered a piece to the old lady who finally found the nerve to shake her head no.  As Inocente placed the package of gum back on the counter, a shot rang out and the old lady dropped to the floor crying.  The first shot was followed by two more and then a split second later there were three more from a lower caliber gun.  Inocente watched the aisles for signs of anyone returning but saw nothing.  He reached for the mic again.




            Wayne saw Tito’s body first.  Tito’s head was resting squarely on a package of Depends while a pool of blood slowly grew in a red circle around it.  Wayne had seen a lot since he’d been with Ino.  He’d seen things that would make most men cry in their hands or puke in their hats but this was different.  It was Tito.  As worthless as he was, Wayne knew that Tito’s death would definitely make a bad situation worse.

Wayne pulled himself together long enough to get down on all fours and peek around the corner of the aisle.  He looked just in time to see Frank close the back door.  He noticed that Frank had been covered in blood, probably from the dead civilian on the floor in front of the door.  But there was something else about Frank, the way he was moving.  Wayne almost made a mental note about what it was, but his head was still spinning from Tito’s death.  He looked back to Tito’s body and saw Rufas creeping down the aisle toward him with his gun drawn.  What Wayne had noticed about Frank was gone for the moment.

“He’s dead, Tito’s dead,” Wayne whispered.  He wasn’t whispering for fear of Frank, he knew Frank was gone.  He was whispering because he didn’t want Inocente to hear him.  Wayne and Rufas stood looking down at Tito’s body.

“Who’s going to tell him?” asked Wayne.

“Not me,” replied Rufas.

Inocente’s voice echoed through the PA again.  “What is happening?  Someone tell me.”

Wayne took a big breath.  “Rufas, go check the back door, that’s where Frank went.”  Wayne then turned and ran back to the front of the pharmacy.  When he got there Inocente was leaning casually against the checkout counter with his gun pointed at the checkout lady who was curled up in a ball on the floor.

“Ino, its Tito.  He’s been shot.”

“Is he alive?” replied Inocente calmly.

“No Ino, he’s dead.”  Wayne braced himself for Inocente’s reaction.  He figured if he was lucky he would get a gun butt to the side of the head.  Unlucky and he’d join Tito in the ever after.  Two vehicles came to a screeching halt outside the pharmacy; both Wayne and Ino instinctively pointed their guns in that direction, but saw that it was their rental car and the truck that Frank had been driving.  Will and Donny jumped from the vehicles and ran into the pharmacy.

“Couldn’t find the money,” said Donny.  “We figured we’d just bring the truck along with us and search it later in a safer place.”

Ino ignored Donny.  He turned back to Wayne and spoke.  “And Frank, where is he?”

“He got out the back door Ino, Rufas is still after him.”

Ino looked back at Donny.  “You and your brother go with Wayne and put Tito’s body in the back of the truck.”  Donny and Will were shocked but immediately followed Wayne to the back of the store.  When they got there, Rufas had already returned and was looking down at Tito’s body.

“Did you see Frank?” asked Wayne.

“Back door is locked, couldn’t follow him.”

“OK, lets pick up Tito.  We have to get out of here quick,” said Wayne.

All four of them lifted Tito’s ample frame and began to carry him to the front of the pharmacy.  They left a trail of blood and the occasional corn nut as they went.  Wayne noticed that Ino kept the same expressionless face as they turned the corner around the aisle and Ino saw his dead brother’s body.

“Frank?”, asked Inocente to Rufas.

“Gone boss,” replied Rufas in his deep deadpan voice.

Inocente hesitated for a moment before speaking.  “Put Tito in the truck, we will drive through the area to see if we can find him.”

After they loaded Tito’s body into the bed of the truck, Ino called Rufas back into the pharmacy.  Once inside, Ino whispered to Rufas.

“No witnesses.  I need you to do the women.  The kid is OK, she’s too young but the women have heard our names.”  Rufas looked over at the women, and then back to Ino.  He rolled his toothpick around in his mouth.

“I don’t think so Ino.  Not a good idea.”  Inocente’s face flushed red at Rufas’ reply.

“I don pay you to think!  I pay you to follow my orders.  Now do what I tell you!”  The piece of gum that Inocente had been chewing shot out of his mouth and landed on the floor between him and Rufas.

“Your brother already killed a guy at the back door.  That’s bad enough.  Bad enough for the entire county to come looking for us.  If I kill those women we’ll have the whole fucking state looking for us.  Entiendes?”

Ino released a heavy angry sigh and walked back outside, Rufas followed.  Ino paced back and forth several times before speaking.

“Wayne, you drive the Honda thees time.  Rufas, you drive the truck and follow us.  Donny y Will, you go with Rufas.”  As they all loaded up into the two vehicles faint sirens began to grow louder.

Once in the Honda Wayne spoke.  “The cops are coming Jefe, still want to search for Frank?”

“No, Just find someplace quiet, y solo back roads!” replied Ino.  Wayne looked in the rear view mirror as he pulled away.  Tears were streaming down Ino’s face.





            Frank’s new car was parked on a dirt road that dead ended in a circle at the Verdigris River.  The car was a very low to the ground silver Mitsubishi Eclipse that would have been hard for Frank to get in and out of under normal circumstances, but with a rib splinter poking out of his side it was a time consuming chore.  After exiting the car, he walked down a worn path that led to the river bank, he wanted to get as cleaned up as possible before hitting the road.  Frank realized that driving around with brain and blood splattered all over you tended to draw attention.  Stopping at a gas station was out of he question, so when he saw the river access sign he decided to take advantage of it.  By the time he made it to the river bank, his breathing was short and the pain had become so intense that tears were forming in his eyes.

The river was calm and brown, it smelled of fish and mud and honeysuckle.  It was covered with a thin layer of cottonwood seeds disturbed only by the occasional rolling of a carp.  Frank tossed his blood soaked cowboy hat into the river and watched it slowly sink, it was too far gone to clean.  A whippoorwill called out as he removed his outer shirt and t-shirt to get a better look at the wound, it was quite a sight.  Looking closer, Frank could see the other half of the split bone still in place in his side.  It was white and stood out quite well inside the three inch rip in his skin created by the bullet.  Well ain’t this some fucked up s***.  He couldn’t tell for sure but wondered if any of the rib bone had punctured his lung.  The way that the pain increased with each breath told him that this might be the case.  Frank knelt by the river and spent several minutes cleaning his face and arms, luckily his jeans didn’t have too much blood on them.

After getting cleaned up Frank slowly stood and put his t-shirt back on, making sure to carefully stick the rib through the hole that the bullet had made.  The t-shirt was black and hid any blood well enough but his outer shirt was as bad as his hat, he tossed it in the river too.  Frank walked back up the path to the car, this time much slower then when he’d come down.  Kneeling at the river had aggravated the wound and now he could only breathe in short halted breaths.

Frank sat down in the driver’s seat of the car and listened to more whippoorwills calling to each other from the river.  The smells and sounds of the river had tapped Frank’s memory of easier times; fishing with his father on a small pond on the farm he grew up on, camping with an old girlfriend at the lake when he was just a teenager.  For a few moments the nightmare of the last hour and the loneliness of the past few years faded away, only to be brought back when the sound of a jet passed overhead.

Frank looked around the car, on the passenger seat sat a clipboard with the receipts from deliveries that the pharmacy driver had made that morning.  As Frank flipped through them he saw that most were patient addresses but two near the bottom were for doctors.  The address for the first doctor was a clinic in Bartlesville.  Too far away and too many people.  The second doctor was located in Delaware, a town Frank had driven past before stopping at the river.  The address looked like a residence which was a huge plus compared to a clinic.  Frank sat his head back in the seat and thought for a moment.  He figured that if he left now he could get away before the road blocks went up.  On the other hand he might not make it because of the pain, so getting patched up by a doctor first might be the way to go.

Frank put the car in gear and this act alone brought so much pain that his head swam and bobbed slightly forward before he caught it, forcing himself to stay conscious.  OK then, the Doctor it is.  He looked back down at the receipt and read the Doctors name again.  Dr. Chris Bacon.  He started to enter the doctor’s address into the GPS unit on the dash.  He only entered the first few numbers when the device populated the rest by itself.  Ah, of course.  The driver has been there before.  A map popped up on the unit’s window and the same calm female voice advised him that he was 4.75 miles from his destination.  Frank pressed down on the gas pedal and moved forward slowly.  Within fifteen minutes he was there.

Frank’s assumption about the office was right, it was at a residence.  The house was located on a country road just outside of Delaware.  He pulled into the long driveway and parked under the canopy provided by overhanging oak branches.  The house was a medium size stone ranch with a detached building at the end of the drive that served as the doctor’s office.  Frank sat in the car for a few minutes, not only to size up the place but to catch his breath after the bumpy drive.  He opened the door, eased his way out of the car again and slowly walked toward the office, his boots crunching acorns as he went.  The house looked cozy and comfortable to Frank.  He thought how nice it would be to live in safe place without worrying about anyone chasing you.  He knew that his immediate chances for the future were either death or prison and this made him long for the security of a real home.

Frank reached the office but the door was locked.  He rang the bell.  He waited for several minutes, rang it again, but there was no response.  Well, so much for plan A.  Frank turned and limped halfway back to the car when he heard the door open.  He turned to see a woman wearing scrubs and a lab coat standing in the doorway.

“Ma’am,” he said as he reached up to tip the hat that was no longer on his head.

“You’re in a lot of pain aren’t you,” said the woman.

“That I am.  I think I’ve busted a rib.”  The tears started to well up in Franks eyes again, he wasn’t sure if it was from the pain or from the relief of having someone standing in front of him who seemed to care.  He walked back toward the woman and could see that she was looking at his wound.

“I’d say you’ve done a lot more than busted a rib.  I’m surprised that you’re able to walk.”

“Well I’ve been described as a stubborn SOB, a man can do a lot with that trait.”

The woman opened the door and waved him inside.  “Come in and walk your stubborn self back to the exam room.”

“Is the Dr. in?” said Frank as he walked through the door.

“Yes I am,” replied the woman as she shut the door and followed Frank.


            Dr. Bacon helped her patient to lie down on the stainless steel exam table.  As he sat on the pale green padding, it released a woosh of air from a small rip on its side.  Laying down flat made it hard for the man to breath so Dr. Bacon raised the incline of the table and then turned around to wash her hands.  As she scrubbed her nails, Dr. Bacon thought about the situation she was in.  Now that she had the patient in the exam room and had done a cursory check of the wound, she was almost certain that the wound was caused by a bullet.  The man seemed safe enough but someone who had been shot and then lied about it was not to be trusted.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to assume you weren’t the doctor.  I saw the name Chris and thought you were a man.”  Dr. Bacon did not reply to Frank.  She dried her hands, put on a pair of rubber gloves and stepped to the exam table.  Outwardly she was fine but inwardly her mind was racing.  The man had mentioned her first name, Chris.  Her first name wasn’t on the sign on the door of the office, it wasn’t on her mailbox and wasn’t even in her yellow pages ad.

“I’m going to have to lift this shirt up to get a better look OK?” she said.

“Do what you have to,” he replied.

Dr. Bacon lifted the shirt up from around the protruding bone and pushed it all the way up to the man’s armpits.  She noticed an abundance of old scars on his body.  She looked at his wound silently for several minutes, occasionally poking at the area around the  bone.  She then asked her patient to be as quiet as possible and to breath normally while she listened closely to the area around the wound with a stethoscope.  After a few minutes of this she stood straight, pulled off her gloves and looked the man in the eyes.

“So, what do you want first, the good news or the bad news.”

“I’ve always been partial to hearing the bad news first.”

Even though Dr. Bacon was unsure of the man, she did like his slow drawl and the honest way he spoke.  “The bad news is that the pain is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.  I’ve never seen a rib bone fracture like this before.  Not only is the bone protruding, but there are a lot of nasty little flakes of bone in the wound that will have to be cleaned out.  Also, an open bone fracture like this is extremely prone to infection and can turn bad quick.  We’ll need to get you on antibiotics as soon as possible.”

“When you say it can turn bad, what do you mean?” asked the man.

“Well I mean that you could get a bone infection.  That would mean weeks if not months of antibiotics.  Some bone infections can be so bad that a limb has to be removed.  And, since this wound isn’t on a limb, we’d be pretty much screwed if it got that far.  Not trying to scare you, I just want you to take this seriously.”

“Well you’ve definitely got my attention Doc, but please, give me that good news you were talking about.”

“Sure, the good news is that I don’t think the rib punctured the lung, at least it doesn’t sound like it.  You’ll need an X-ray to be sure though.”

“Alright then,” replied Frank.  “Lets get started on all this.  The quicker we start the quicker its done.”

Dr. Bacon laughed lightly and shook her head.  “Sorry Mr…., I’m sorry, I was in such a hurry to get you in here that I didn’t ask your name.”

“It’s Frank Millirons.”

“Nice to meet you Mr. Millirons.  I thought I knew everyone in town, are you new here?”

“Don’t live here, just doing some fishing down at the river.  I fell down the river bank and here I am,” Frank replied.

Dr. Bacon knew that any fall bad enough to do this to a rib bone would have left the rest of Frank’s body broken and torn too.  He was obviously lying, but she did her best to hide her concern.

“I’m sorry this happened to you Mr. Millirons.  But as far as your treatment goes, I can’t really do much for you here.  I can clean the wound out, but everything else should really be done at a hospital.  There are several hospitals in Bartlesville where this could be done.  Your choices are for me to call someone to come and pick you up, or to call an ambulance.  Which would you like?”

“Neither Doc.  It’s got to be done here, I’m kind of pressed for time.”

Doctor Bacon began to shake her head again before Frank even finished speaking.  She was torn between giving her patient all the information he needed and getting a potentially dangerous man our of her office.  “Mr. Millirons, didn’t you hear me?  If this wound isn’t handled properly you could die of infection.  And if I’m wrong and the bone has punctured the lung then that could kill you too.  Look around, this isn’t exactly the Mayo Clinic.  I do diagnosis here.  The flu, cuts and scrapes, or the occasional teenager with the clap are about all I’m setup to treat.  If anything big comes my way like a mangled hand from a farm accident, I just stabilize the patient and call the hospital.  Even if I could do more, you are going to need around the clock care.  Within an hour or so you’re not going to be able to get off of that table without help, and you’ll more than likely be down for a few days minimum.”

Dr. Bacon could see Frank contemplating his options before he spoke.  “Alright, how about this then?  Go ahead and clean the wound as best you can.  Give me a prescription for antibiotics and I’ll be on my way.”

Dr. Bacon thought about doing this just to get Frank out of the office but she knew he’d have a small chance of survival if she did.  “No, absolutely not.  That would basically be suicide and I’m not going to have anything to do with it.”  Dr. Bacon walked around to the other side of the exam table toward a desk.  “I’m going to call the ambulance and let you argue with them.  This is out of my hands.”

“Please don’t do that Doc.”  Doctor Bacon ignored Frank, and with her back to him, she picked up the phone.  As she pressed the first number, she heard a slight grunt of pain from Frank and then the unmistakable sound of a gun’s hammer being cocked back.

“I was right,” Dr. Bacon said out loud.  “It is a bullet wound isn’t it.”  She slowly placed the phone back onto the charger and turned around.


            Frank watched as Dr. Bacon turned.  Although he had cocked the gun to get her attention, he wasn’t pointing it directly at her.  She was looking at him with a mixture of intense hatred and fear.  This was one time in recent memory that Frank thought he could have done without that look.  He slowly moved the hammer back to the un-cocked position.

“Look Doc, you have no idea how much I hate to do this but I need you to clean my wound, give me some antibiotics and then I’ll be on my way.  I’m not a bad man but the men who did this to me are.  If you call an ambulance, or even the police, they’ll find me and kill me.”

“Well I’ve had men tell me they weren’t bad before,” replied Dr. Bacon.  “But I’ve never had one say it while holding a gun on me.  You do see the irony in that don’t you Mr. Millirons?”

Frank sighed.  He wanted to explain everything but didn’t have the time or the energy.  “Lets just make this as quick and safe as possible,” Frank said.  “First, remove the phone wire from the phone and the wall, and then hand it to me.”

Dr. Bacon glared at Frank for a moment before turning and unplugging the base unit.  “I can’t reach the wall end without moving the desk.  Is that OK?”

“Yes it is, as a matter of fact go ahead and move the desk over in front of the door.  I don’t want it to be too easy for you to leave.”  Frank could feel the venom in her look as she began scooting the desk in front of the door.  She then unplugged the wire from the wall and handed it to him.

“OK, that was easy wasn’t it?” Frank rolled up the phone wire and placed it in his pants pocket.  Dr. Bacon didn’t reply, she just stood and stared back at him.

“Go ahead and get whatever equipment you need to clean the wound and get started.  Move slow and explain to me everything that you are doing.”

Dr. Bacon walked to a cabinet and began pulling down supplies. After stacking everything on the counter top she spoke.  “This is is a sterile saline solution, I’ll use this to flush out the wound as I clean it.  This is alcohol, I’ll use it for the same thing after I’ve removed all of the little pieces of bone and dirt.  The rest is self explanatory, gauze, scissors and various instruments for cleaning.  This is a local anesthetic.  I need to inject it around the wound to kill the pain.  If I start cleaning without it you’ll wish that bullet had killed you outright.”

Frank smiled and held his hand out, motioning for her to hand him the anesthetic.  She handed it over and Frank tried to read the bottle but the writing was too small.

“Here,” said Dr. Bacon as she handed him a pair of glasses she’d pulled out of her lab coat.  “I’m starting to get to that age too.”

Frank put the glasses on and read the anesthesia bottle.  Satisfied that it was OK, he handed it back to the Doctor.  “Have at it Doc.”

Dr. Bacon loaded a syringe with the anesthesia and injected small amounts at various places around the wound.  After finishing, she sat the syringe down and spoke.

“We have about five or ten minutes before it takes affect so I want to talk to you about something.  If I clean this wound and give you a supply of antibiotics, it will all be worthless if I let you leave here with that rib bone looking the way it does.  In order to keep infection from setting in, it needs to be not only cleaned but set back into place and dressed properly.  If I don’t do it, you won’t make it far.”

“I thought you said you couldn’t do that here?”

“I can’t do it the way it needs to be done, but I can give you a better chance of making it.”

“How long we talking here Doc?”

“Maybe an extra couple hours, no more than three hours total.”

Frank considered Dr. Bacon’s offer.  Not only the offer itself but the Doctor’s attitude toward him.  He sensed that it was softening a bit, or was that her way of trying to put the man with a gun at ease?

“Sounds good,” he replied.  “Oh, also wanted to let you know that I am going to pay you for all of this.  I’m a lot of things but I’m not a thief.”   Dr. Bacon chuckled at this.

“What’s so funny?”

“You are basically holding me hostage at gunpoint and you’re worried that I’ll think you’re a thief.  I find that very funny.  Scary but also funny.”

Frank sighed and shook his head.  “Like I told you Doc, this isn’t me.  I don’t pull guns on people, but a lot has happened the past couple days.  I’ve got things that I need to do, and getting caught by either the law or the men who did this isn’t one of them”

Dr. Bacon put another pair of gloves on and tapped at Frank’s wound.  She asked him if he could feel it.  When he replied no she pinched the outer skin.  Frank jumped, he could feel that.

“Looks like we have a few more minutes before I can get started.”  She leaned against the counter.  Her sandy red hair was pulled back in a simple pony tail and her arms were folded across her chest.  “Since we’ve got some time, maybe you could tell me how all this happened?”  As she spoke, Dr. Bacon motioned toward the wound on Frank’s side.

“You know how it happened, I was shot.”

Dr. Bacon laid a towel on the exam table and began arranging the instruments and supplies on it.  “Not just the wound, but what led up to it,” she said.

Now Frank chuckled.  “It’s a long story.  It’ll take more than a few minutes to tell.”

“OK, no problem,” Dr. Bacon said as she pulled the seal from a bottle of saline.  “But we do have actually three hours or so.  We can spend it in silence or you can tell me a little about yourself.  Makes no difference to me.”

Frank smiled as Dr. Bacon started  pinching the skin around his wound again.  He thought about his story and knew it started long before the events of two days ago.  He watched as Dr. Bacon placed a drain pan under his side and began squirting saline into the wound.  He felt nothing.  By the time she started to clean out the flakes of bone from the wound, he had found a starting place and began to speak.




Steve Benson has spent most of his adult life living in the Midwest, but now lives in Merida Mexico with his wife Jill and an ever growing amount of adopted street dogs. Steve has worked as a Seabee in the U.S. Navy, a printer and a computer technician. At the age of forty he returned to college and received a bachelor’s degree in history. Steve has written for the fun of it for the past twenty years, but this is the first time he has been published.


Photo by Eleanor Leonne Bennett


Hotel Saint John’s

by Steve Benson


The Walk

The cold wind turned Marty Tenant’s face bright pink. Invisible hands had been slapping him in the face since he had turned the corner from Commercial Street to National Avenue. He kept his head down as much as he could but still, the occasional snowflake would rush in and hit his already stinging face. The Hotel Saint John’s was Marty’s destination. He imagined that a sign at the Hotel Saint John’s would read “A warm room and complimentary lingering death for every guest.” He meant this as a humorous thought but instead it turned an already somber day just a little darker.

Marty wore two coats. The one on the outside was a ripped and worn Carhart coat that the shelter had given him. The one underneath was a light leather jacket; it was this one that he was planning on wearing to the job interview the next morning. Slung over Marty’s shoulder was an overstuffed back pack. Inside it was a pair of dress shoes and the best outfit he owned, recently purchased for seven dollars from the Salvation Army.

The rest of Marty’s belongings were in a locker back at the shelter. Not much though, just a beat up suitcase with a few changes of clothing and a small photo album. At one time he had more belongings in a storage locker but being homeless didn’t pay well. The storage facility auctioned off those belongings months ago for nonpayment. When Marty was feeling especially down because of his current circumstances, he would take out his suitcase and thumb through the photos. He had looked at it for half an hour before leaving the shelter that cold Sunday evening.

Marty had a job interview on the south side of town at 8am Monday morning. It was rare to get an interview this close to Christmas so Marty was doing everything he could to make sure he arrived on time and looking fresh. The last thing he wanted to do was to leave the shelter at 6am and show up at the interview looking cold, tired and wet from the weather. Instead he had decided to use what he called one of his free hotels.

Marty was an expert at finding places in Springfield where he could get a good comfortable night’s sleep for free. There had been many times in the past year that these free hotels saved him from being too hot, too cold or drenched from the rain. The bus station was a tried and true option but in this case the station wouldn’t work because it was on the opposite side of town from the interview. The mall was another option. There were back hallways that connected all of the shops and one of them had an upper storage area that he could get to by climbing a row of electric meters. Since it was Christmas Marty decided not to go to the mall, more people increased his chances of being caught. Marty had actually settled on a new idea for tonight’s free hotel, The Hotel Saint John’s.

Saint John’s Hospital was about three miles away at the moment but Marty was sure it was the perfect spot. He came up with the idea several months earlier. He had been working in the shelter’s kitchen all day and was taking a break on his bunk in the open area mens’ quarters. He was again looking through his photo album, concentrating mainly on the few photos he had of his wife. Seeing them reminded him of the last week before she died. She spent that week on the eighth floor of St. Johns hospital dying of ovarian cancer. Prior to that she spent a lot of time in the oncology day ward but lack of positive results had ended those visits. Marty spent all of that last week by her side but occasionally he would retreat to one of the waiting rooms at either end of the floor to get a couple hours of uninterrupted sleep. The waiting rooms were all but abandoned after 7pm, so he was confident that his plan would work. After coming up with the idea, he tucked it away in his mind and stumbled across it again after the interview was scheduled. Marty realized the irony that a memory of one of the factors that caused him to become homeless in the first place, might actually help him get off the street.

After Mindy’s death, a combination of medical bills and a bad economy left him with no money and no job. He sold anything of value that he owned in order to make his house payments but eventually his small two bedroom house on the north side of town went back to the bank. Neither Marty nor Mindy had family in town so his only alternative was the street with occasional stretches spent at the shelter. The shelter only allowed two week stays for single men in order to make room for people with children. Marty was such a hard worker though that they usually let him stay a month or more but he would still eventually have to leave for awhile before being allowed to rotate back in.

When he lost the house, Marty almost called his sister in Topeka for help but decided against it. He had never really had a stable family life. His mother moved them from town to town when they were young. His sister Nora moved out when she was sixteen and three years later Marty joined the Army at the age of eighteen. By the time his enlistment was up, his mother had died of a drug overdose. After that, neither Marty nor Nora seemed interested in staying in touch. Holding onto bad memories can sometimes fracture a family worse than the actual events.

As bad off as he was, Marty always managed to get by on his wits. Tonight, as he walked through the three inches of freshly fallen snow, he was actually proud of his idea of sleeping in one of the hospital waiting rooms. He knew that he’d wake up refreshed and only two blocks from his interview. After a quick sink shower and changing into his good clothes, he was confident that he would look just fine. This job meant a lot to Marty, not only because it could get him back on the right path, but also because he wasn’t sure how long he could mentally take living this way. The pressure of constantly scrounging for a place to stay or a meal was turning him into someone he did not always recognize.

The job itself was nothing to brag about. Before his wife’s death, Marty worked as phone tech support. While he was on medical leave for Mindy’s illness, his employer shipped his job off to India. Years before that, he had been a printer at a small shop on the north side of town. Monday’s interview was for a job as a printer’s assistant. It had been while since he’d done this kind of work but he was hopeful that his experience would get him the job. It did not pay much but Marty figured that after a couple months he would be able to afford a small studio apartment. From there, he would start saving until he could afford a car. Marty remembered doing all of these things fifteen years ago, after he’d left the Army. He wasn’t happy about having to do it all over again in his late thirties, but at this point was glad to have a working plan.

Twenty minutes later, Marty had worked his way up to Missouri State University. By then the snow was floating down in huge flakes. The smell of burning wood floated through the air as some of the houses in the surrounding neighborhood lit their fireplaces not so much for the warmth but for the nostalgia. The campus itself looked like a post card; untouched snow blanketed usually busy walkways and parking lots. As Marty passed the row of rental houses that lined National Street, he saw young college kids packing their cars; the last few stragglers on their way home for the Christmas break. They looked happy and excited. A girl who looked like she was maybe eighteen or nineteen was busy making a snow angel in the front yard of one of the houses while several of her girlfriends laughed from the covered porch. Next door a group of young men were having a snowball fight. Marty enjoyed watching them but at the same time it put the spotlight on his loneliness. He hadn’t known joy or friendship for a long time now. Friends from his previous life had disappeared since he’d fallen on hard times and the few acquaintances he’d made at the shelter were just that, acquaintances. It seemed to Marty that he had just been going through the motions. Taking care of his basic needs but not really living a life.

By the time Marty made it to Sunshine Street, the snow was another inch deeper and the gray sky was darkening. He waited at the crosswalk for the traffic light to turn green while the remainder of the light slowly faded from the sky. As he waited there, the Christmas decorations that lined Sunshine Street flickered on. The decorations reminded Marty of his childhood Christmases. Most of Marty’s childhood was rough, but his mother always managed to pull off a halfway decent Christmas. The best memories he had of the holidays were when his mother’s half brother, Uncle Rusty would visit.

Uncle Rusty showed up every year or two while Marty was growing up. He would mostly visit around Christmas or Thanksgiving. Rusty was a little on the short side, had wavy red hair (hence the nickname Rusty) and always had a smile on his face and a quarter in his pocket for Marty and Nora. Marty still remembered the year he showed up with a giant toy fire truck for him. The truck was eventually left behind during one of his families late night moves to avoid paying past due rent. Marty’s mother hastily planned and executed these moves which meant they left a lot of things behind.

As Marty starred at the candy cane and Christmas bulb shaped decorations that hung from each street light, he remembered how Uncle Rusty would load everyone up in his car and drive to the nicer area of whatever town they were living in to look at the Christmas lights. Uncle Rusty was like a child in an adult’s body; he seemed to be seeing everything for the first time. That excitement for life was what made Marty like him so much. Unfortunately Uncle Rusty, much like Marty’s mother, was never able to settle down. The last time Marty saw him was when he came to visit for Marty’s 16th birthday. He didn’t even come to the funeral when Marty’s mother died. Marty thought of the relationship he had with his own sister and knew that they had inherited this same distance.

The light turned green and Marty crossed as quickly as he could, considering the depth of the snow. He was now walking alongside the employee parking lot of Saint John’s; he noticed that the hospital had undergone a lot of construction since he’d been here with Mindy. Old parking lots were now new wings of the hospital and square blocks of housing were now new parking lots.

Marty walked another half block before finding himself standing at the main entrance to Saint John’s Hospital. The tall lights that lined each side of the entrance joined forces with the blowing snow to create the illusion of a white swirling tunnel that ended at the front doors of the hospital. Marty walked forward into this passageway and placed his hands on the cold brass handle.
The Rest

Marty shut the door behind him and turned to see an empty welcome desk. He quickly walked past the desk on the outside chance someone would return and get suspicious. The layout of the front entrance had changed a lot since he’d last been there. What was once faded linoleum floor tile was now shiny marble with oak and brushed steel accents. Marty thought times must be good at The Hotel Saint John’s. He imagined the hospital as a living being that took in death and suffering, turning them into stone sconce lighting and etched glass walls. He bounced around the maze of an entrance for a few minutes before he was able to find a restroom in an older narrow hallway.

Once inside he removed his Carhart coat and unbuttoned his leather jacket revealing a fairly nice looking black button up shirt underneath. He ran the faucet until warm water came out and then splashed it on his numb face before running his dripping hands through his hair and shaping it into a less windblown look. He then cupped his red ears with his warm hands to try to bring them back to life. Marty backed up and looked at himself in the mirror. Since becoming homeless he’d checked himself out like this many times. It was a test he had developed to see if he actually looked homeless. He decided that he looked fine and left the restroom.

Marty continued down the narrow hallway that he knew ended at the elevators. Once there, he pushed the up button and as he waited for the doors to open, he wondered to which floor he should go. He had no idea what was on each floor other than eight which was Mindy’s old floor. When the doors finally opened, he walked into the empty elevator and arbitrarily pressed seven. As the elevator rose, he glanced down at button number eight and decided that no matter what happened, he wouldn’t go to that floor. He’d spent enough time there to last a lifetime.

The seventh floor turned out to be exactly what he was looking for. It was quiet but there was still enough activity for him to blend in. There were two parallel hallways on the floor connected at the center by a large nurse’s station and again at each end where the waiting rooms were. He took a right turn as he left the elevator and as he walked, he used his peripheral vision to look at the patient rooms on his right. The first few rooms were vacant, staring back at him with closed doors and empty Plexiglas chart holders. The next one had several family members standing in front looking solemn while the next four rooms were too close to the nurse’s station. He continued walking until he found an open door devoid of people. He glanced inside and saw an old man lying in the bed with an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose. He made note of the room number and the patient’s name on the chart hanging on the door. Room number 739 and the patients name was Stanley Burke.

Marty continued on to the end of the hallway and turned left. Halfway between each of the two hallways was a waiting room. He entered the darkened room and turned the light on. There were no people in the room but evidence of them was everywhere. Magazines and empty soda cans littered the coffee table. On the floor in front of a small plastic bin was an assortment of toys that a sticky fingered child had been playing with earlier in the day. Padded chairs lined the walls of the room but in one corner sat a green recliner. Marty recognized it as the same type they had often wheeled into his wife’s room when he would spend the night with her. He sat his backpack and extra coat on the floor and sat in the recliner, it was as comfortable as he remembered. Marty stood back up, walked to the doorway where he turned out the light and then returned to the recliner, this time he pulled the stainless steel handle on the side of the recliner and stretched out. It was still rather early but he figured there would be less questions asked of a man who appeared to be sleeping so he just laid there with his extra coat covering himself like a blanket. The long walk he’d just made and the hum from the heater vent relaxed him and before long he drifted off to sleep.

In his dream, Marty was still lying in the green recliner. This time though, it was back in his wife’s room on the eighth floor.

“Honey, wake up. I need you.”

Marty instantly recognized the voice and jumped out of the recliner. He rushed to her side and pushed strands of brown hair from her sweaty forehead. “I’m here Mindy. What do you need?”

“I just need you,” she replied. “I’m afraid.”

“What are you afraid of?” asked Marty.

“Of death. I don’t want to die. I want to stay here with you.”

Marty’s heart broke at her words. He knew she couldn’t live. He knew she didn’t live, but how did he know. Was she already dead? He knew this had all happened before but was unable to grasp that it was a dream.

“You will always be with me Mindy.” She nodded her head in agreement and gave him a frightened smile. The lights in the room began to brighten. Marty looked up and saw the room begin to fade in an intense white glow.

“I love you Marty,” said Mindy as the world turned blank.

When the light to the waiting room turned on, Marty startled awake and saw a nurse standing in the doorway.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I didn’t know anyone was in here.” She reached down toward the coffee table and picked up a Red Book magazine.

“It’s going to be a long slow shift so I thought I’d grab something to read.”

“Not a problem,” replied Marty. “I was just trying to get a little sleep. I’m here to see my…” Marty hesitated for a moment, covering the awkward pause with a fake yawn. He hadn’t worked out who this patient was supposed to be to him and the dream he had just awoken from wasn’t helping. “My uncle,” Marty said finally. ‘I’m here to see my uncle but he’s asleep.”

“Really? Which patient is he?”

Again, the dream kept Marty’s brain from functioning and for a split second he couldn’t remember the name on the door that he’d seen when he came in. Just as he was about to give up, Marty found the name and blurted it out. “Stanley Burke.”

“Oh, he’s so sweet. I’m glad he has someone here with him. He’s been so sick and no one has come to see him yet. Why don’t you get back to sleep, you look like you could use it.”

Marty smiled and shook his head as the nurse turned the light back out and left the room. Now that he knew how sick the old man was, he felt terrible for using him. Not so terrible to leave though. He’d committed himself to getting the job and wasn’t about to do anything to mess it up now. He laid back down in the recliner but didn’t fall asleep nearly as fast as the first time. Images from the dream kept sleep away for nearly an hour but eventually he drifted off again.



The Old Man

“Hello sir?”

Marty awoke to the sound of the nurse’s voice. This time she’d left the light out to save him the eye strain. She was patting him on the shoulder and sounded pretty insistent.

“Sir, it’s your uncle. I need you to wake up.”

“I’m sorry!” Marty said automatically as he stood and began picking up his things.

“No no, it’s ok. Your uncle is asking for you. We told him you were here and he wants to see you now.”

Marty could see a smile on the nurse’s face from the light filtering in from the hallway. He wasn’t completely awake yet but he understood what she was saying. Unfortunately he couldn’t think of a good response. Before he could dig one up, the nurse placed her hand on his shoulder and guided him to the old man’s room. “Just come with me. He seems to be doing much better. He hasn’t been this active since he arrived,” said the nurse.

Marty walked around the corner with the nurse but hesitated at the open door. Inside was a man Marty didn’t know who was excited to see him. He thought about the alternatives. He could run but he didn’t know where the stairs were and didn’t want to run away only to have to wait for the elevator. As Marty thought out his options, another nurse was exiting the room with a chart in her hand.

“You must be the nephew,” she said. This nurse didn’t smile but instead looked Marty up and down, examining him. “Come on in, he’s waiting.”

Marty felt a nudge from the nurse behind him and he stepped forward. He wondered what the hell he was doing as he walked into the room and saw the old man now sitting up in bed with his oxygen mask off. His hair was almost completely white and was standing straight up on top. The smiling nurse led him to a chair sitting next to Stanley Burke’s bed and motioned for him to sit.

“Mr. Burke, your nephew is here.” The nurse spoke with the loud care givers voice reserved for older patients. Mr. Burke looked in Marty’s direction. Marty saw milky blue eyes staring back at him.

“Oh my God, it is you,” said Mr. Burke in a barely audible and raspy voice. “How long has it been?”

Marty was frantic on the inside but somehow managed to keep calm on the outside. He simply shrugged his response.

“Probably almost twenty years,” said Mr. Burke, answering his own question. “Please, sit down.

Marty sat. He felt slightly more at ease knowing that the old man still thought he recognized him but felt terrible for fooling him. The nurse with the clip board had already left but the smiling nurse was checking Mr. Burke’s IV tube. Marty told himself that as soon as she left he would excuse himself, calmly walk down the hall, go down to the first floor and leave the hospital. He was already thinking of a good place to spend the next several hours before the interview.

“How have you been?” asked the old man. “The last I heard you were married.”

Marty thought again of Mindy and the dream he’d had earlier. Mr. Burke’s room looked exactly like hers.

“My wife passed away last year,” replied Marty. He didn’t know why he said this but it felt good to say it to someone who seemed to care. Mr. Burke furrowed his brow, looking devastated at Marty’s news.

“Oh I’m so sorry to hear that Marty. How did she die?”

“It was cancer,” replied Marty but as soon as he answered, he wondered if he’d heard the old man correctly. Did he just say my name?

“It’s a terrible thing when someone so young dies.” Mr. Burke hesitated for a moment as if he was struggling to find the right words. “And speaking of that, I wanted to apologize for not coming to your mother’s funeral all those years ago. I guess I’ve never handled death very well. I spoke with Nora not long ago and apologized to her too. It must have been so hard on both of you.”

Marty sat in the chair; he didn’t move or blink and barely breathed. He told himself that there was no way that this could be happening. The chances were too high. But the old man knew his name, he knew his sister’s name and he knew about his mother. Marty slowly turned and looked at the name on the door again. Stanley Burke. He wondered if he’d ever really known his real name. He turned back to the old man, looking for the face he remembered. Under the pale and wrinkled skin, under the age spots and under that bush of white hair Marty could finally see him. “Uncle Rusty?”

The old man smiled and nodded his head. “I haven’t been called Rusty for years. At least not since all of this turned from red to white,” he said as he patted the hair on his head. “Remember how your mother used to rub my head for good luck?”

Tears began to form in Marty’s eyes as any doubt who was lying in front of him was lost. He reached out and took his Uncle Rusty’s hand as the wells beneath his eyes began to drip down his face. The nurse picked up a box of tissues and handed them to Marty as she left the room.

“So you’ve spoken to Nora?” asked Marty as he dried his eyes with a tissue.

“Yes, just a few weeks ago. I tracked her down in Topeka; she lives there with her son Danny. I asked her about you and she said she thought you were living in Springfield, that’s why I’m here. I was looking for you when my emphysema got the best of me. The only address I could track down for you was an empty house. It was like you dropped off the planet.”

“Well I’ve been kind of hard to find. After Mindy died I lost my job and the house. I’ve been living at a shelter on and off for awhile now.”

“Marty why didn’t you call your sister? She would have helped.”

“We haven’t spoken in years and I didn’t want to bother her. We shared some pretty bad memories growing up and I think we both kept our distance on purpose.”

“Yes, it seems to be our family’s way doesn’t it,” replied Uncle Rusty. “We think it’s easier to not depend on each other. Let me tell you from a lifetime of experience, it’s not true. You should be with Nora right now.

“Maybe I’ll go see her after the first of the year. I have a job interview in the morning. If I get the job I’ll save up some money for a visit.”

“Let’s try to make it a little sooner than that,” replied Uncle Rusty. He pointed to a closet on the other side of the room. “Go over there and look on the top shelf. My wallet is there. Bring it to me.”

“Uncle Rusty, I don’t need any money.”

“Just get it for me,” he insisted.

Marty walked to the closet, removed the wallet from the shelf and handed it to Rusty who fumbled through it with arthritic hands. He pulled something out of the wallet and handed it to Marty. It was a photo of Marty and Nora as children. They were standing in front of a Christmas tree and Uncle Rusty was kneeling between them.

“Turn it over and look on the back. That’s Nora’s information.” Marty turned it over and saw the names Nora and Danny scribbled on the back. Six years old was in parentheses under Danny’s name and at the bottom was a phone number.

“Call her as soon as you can and reconnect with her. There is no reason to wait. Right now more than ever you need to know that your family is there for you. Go to the job interview, but don’t use it as an excuse to wait a single moment longer.”

Marty looked at the photo again. He remembered exactly when and where his mother took the photo. At the time he and his family lived in a drafty house in Lebanon Missouri and Uncle Rusty’s visit was the only time it really felt like a home. He looked back to Uncle Rusty and saw him holding out a folded stack of bills to him.

“Take this too. It’s not much but it will help.”

“Uncle Rusty I can’t do that.”

“You can and will,” he insisted. Marty took the money and put it in his pocket.

“Thank you,” he said feeling ashamed for being glad Rusty had offered it to him.

“Now, sit back down and let’s catch up on the past twenty years.”

The two of them talked for another hour. They reminisced about the visits Uncle Rusty used to make. Marty reminded him about the fire truck Rusty had brought him for Christmas. Rusty managed to bring up some fond memories of Marty’s mother too; memories that Marty had long forgotten. Marty also spent a lot of time telling Uncle Rusty about Mindy. He hadn’t talked about her for months and it felt good. Eventually Uncle Rusty began to look tired.

“Maybe you could come back tomorrow after I’m rested up a little?”

“Of course,” Marty replied.

“And when you leave, could you ask the nurse to come in for me?”

“Sure thing Uncle Rusty.” Marty thought about hugging his uncle goodbye but decided against it. Uncle Rusty looked so frail lying there that he was afraid he would break him. Instead he said good night, asked the nurse to check in on his uncle and then he returned to the waiting room. He again drifted off to sleep feeling better than he’d felt since long before Mindy’s death.

Marty woke up to the beeping of the alarm on his Casio watch and quickly grabbed his things and went into the restroom next to the waiting room to get cleaned up and changed for the :interview. By the time he was ready, it was 7:15 which left more than enough time to get to his interview by 8. Marty packed his dirty clothing into his backpack and left the restroom. He decided to check on Uncle Rusty before he left.

As Marty walked into Uncle Rusty’s room, he saw two new nurses and a doctor surrounding his uncle’s bed. They all three looked up at Marty.

“Do you know the patient?” asked one of the nurses.

“Yes, he’s my uncle.”

“I’m sorry sir but your uncle passed away a few minutes ago.” Marty stared back at the nurse as if he didn’t understand what she’d said. For the first time in over a year Marty felt happy about his life. That happiness was because of Uncle Rusty. And now, just a few hours after reuniting with him, the nurse was telling him that he was dead. The doctor approached Marty and said something about Uncle Rusty having a stroke in his sleep but Marty had a hard time concentrating on what he said.

“We’ll give you a few minutes alone with your uncle,” said the doctor as he and the nurses left the room. Marty sat down in the chair he had sat in the night before and looked at his uncle’s body. Memories of the visits Rusty made during his childhood returned. The excitement that he and Nora felt and the way his mother seemed to change and become, well, a mother.

When the nurse returned, she advised Marty that his Uncle Rusty had already provided them with instructions in case of his death. After the autopsy, a funeral home would pick up the body, and then schedule the burial at the VA cemetery on the outskirts of Springfield. The word burial seemed to echo in Marty’s head, bouncing through his synapses and creating images of cold hard earth and a gravesite with no mourners.

“How will I know when he will be buried?” asked Marty in a voice so shaky it surprised himself.

“Just leave me your phone number and we’ll pass it along to the funeral home,” replied the nurse.

Marty had no phone. He had no real address either. He had known this for almost a year but now, standing in front of a nurse and his dead uncle’s body, the fact cut through his heart making his soul bleed. His eyes, which had been simply damp before, suddenly began to flow with tears. Marty tried to hold back the sobs building in his throat but this only made them sound sadder when they finally escaped. Later, Marty would wonder if this crying fit was for Uncle Rusty or for himself. After a few minutes of recovery and nose blowing, Marty gave the nurse the number to the shelter and then left the hospital.
The Interview

The cold morning air was a shock after spending the last thirteen hours in the warmth of the hospital. Marty walked east on Sunshine toward his interview. He would much rather have been somewhere else grieving, but missing the interview was not an option. When he arrived at the print shop, a smiling secretary advised him to have a seat while she let Mr. Black know he was there. Marty stared at the small Christmas tree on her desk while he waited. Along the front of her desk under the Christmas tree, hung a banner that read Merry Christmas. He watched the lights on the tree blink on and off, wondering if he would ever have a merry Christmas again.

The secretary returned and led Marty to an office where a man with a very disingenuous smile was sitting behind a desk. Marty had been looking forward to his interview all week but after it finally started he couldn’t wait for it to end. Immediately after shaking his hand, Mr. Black asked Marty how long he’d been living at the shelter. Marty knew that the print shop had called him at the shelter to set up the interview but had hoped they would not mention his current circumstances. He was uncomfortable with the question but answered it anyway.

“I’ve been at the shelter on and off for almost a year now,” he replied. “I do have a job there though; I work in the kitchen helping to prepare the meals.”

Mr. Black busied himself reading Marty’s application, seemingly ignoring his answer. The next thing the man said convinced Marty that he would not get the job. “I must confess that I have some apprehensions about hiring someone who doesn’t have a permanent home Mr. Tenant.”

Marty ended up spending the rest of the interview assuring Mr. Black that it wouldn’t be an issue. They spent very little time discussing his qualifications and later as Marty left the office, he saw a group of young men waiting to be interviewed for the same position. He was sure that all of the competition had homes.



The Call

Marty walked three more terribly cold blocks to a diner on Glenstone Avenue and sat alone in a booth. The snow that was caked to his dress shoes melted, leaving his feet wet and cold. A waitress brought him a hot cup of coffee and as he sat there trying to warm up, he pulled out the photo that Uncle Rusty had given him. Marty looked at the back of the photo and saw Nora’s number. He also looked at his sister’s son’s name, Danny. It occurred to him that even though Uncle Rusty had died, he still had two relatives.

Country western music filtered in from a cheap radio playing in the diner’s kitchen. Marty did not recognize the song but noted that it sounded sad. The waitress returned and took Marty’s order. It felt good to splurge like this. Marty could not remember the last time he had ordered food in a restaurant.

“I need some change for the pay phone,” Marty said to the waitress as she started to leave with his order.

“Cashier,” replied the waitress as she pointed with her thumb. Marty walked to the cashier who was wearing a Santa Claus hat and purchased a roll of quarters from her. He then made his way to the pay phone in the diner’s vestibule to make a call. A chilling wind whistled through the space between the front doors as Marty pressed the numbers on the phone. Nora answered on the second ring. Her voice sounded harried as dishes clanked in the background.


Marty hesitated for a moment and then spoke. “Nora it’s me, Marty.” There was a noticeable silence as the dishes stopped clanking. Marty assumed that Nora was trying to figure out what to say.

“Oh my God Marty. I can’t believe it’s you.”

“Yeah, it’s me,” Marty replied. “I’m calling about Uncle Rusty. I wanted to tell you that he’s died. I just came from Saint John’s here in Springfield.” The phone went silent again for several seconds followed by the sounds of sniffling. Marty waited for his sister to speak when she was ready.

“I spoke with him about a month ago,” she said. “He tracked me down and we talked for over an hour. He asked about you. I told him that I thought you were in Springfield but wasn’t sure. I guess he found you?”

“Well, we kind of found each other.” Marty waited a moment while Nora blew her nose.

“I talked to Uncle Rusty for awhile before he died,” said Marty. “He told me that I’m an uncle.”

“Yes you are,” replied Nora. “His name is Danny and he’s in the first grade. He’s right here finishing up his breakfast.”

“That’s fantastic. I’d love to meet him sometime.”

“Sure,” said Nora in a noncommittal tone. “I’m sure Danny would like that.”

There was no real invitation from Nora for getting together with them so Marty took that as a sign that the uncomfortable relationship he shared with her would continue. They spoke for another ten minutes. Marty learned that Nora was divorced and that Danny’s father lived in Iowa. He paid her a small monthly amount for child support but other than that he was out of the picture. Nora worked as a receptionist at a dentist’s office and lived in a two bedroom house on the east side of Topeka. Marty told Nora about the death of his wife but he left out the events of the past ten months, he wasn’t sure why. Nora said that she wished she and Danny could come to Springfield for Uncle Rusty’s funeral but money was too tight and the weather was too bad. He replied that it was OK and that he would bring flowers for both of them. Nora asked for Marty’s phone number and he explained that he was in between cell companies at the moment and would call her with his new number next week. They ended the conversation with both of them agreeing that they had to keep in touch.

Marty hung up and then returned to his booth to find his breakfast waiting on him and only slightly cold. After finishing it, he sat in the booth thinking about the conversations with both Nora and Uncle Rusty. In the past several hours he had reunited with two long lost family members but now each conversation left him feeling sad and guilty. He began to think that maybe the distance he had with them was justified. Marty looked at the photo one last time before paying his bill and walking back into the snow covered streets of Springfield.



The Funeral

By Tuesday morning Marty still had not heard from the printing company so he used the phone in the director’s office to call them. He recognized the voice of the same cheery secretary when she asked him to please hold and have a Merry Christmas. A minute later Mr. Black picked up his line and told Marty that the job had gone to a more experienced applicant. Marty thanked him and hung up the phone. It was exactly what he expected but it still stung.

After the breakfast service, Marty started going through his clothes to find something nice to wear to the funeral the next day. He settled on the pants he wore to the interview and a black button up shirt. He took his things to the laundry room where he carefully ironed and then hung them from a plastic hanger. Clothing left out in the men’s bay usually disappeared so he took them to the director’s office. Carolyn, the director of the shelter sat at her desk typing on the computer.

“Carolyn, is it OK if I hang these in here?” asked Marty as he held up his clothes.

“Sure Marty, and have a seat. I need to speak with you.” Marty hung his freshly ironed outfit from the coat rack and then sat at Carolyn’s desk.

“Marty, we just received a call from the police station about a family of six who needs a place to stay for the holidays. We’re over capacity as it is and will have to ask some of the single male residents to leave so we will have enough bedding for the family. I’m sorry to do this so close to Christmas Marty but it looks like you’ll have to leave for at least a couple weeks. I know you have a funeral in the morning so please stay tonight and then tomorrow after the funeral you can leave.”

Marty sighed but shook his head to show he understood. He tried to hide his disappointment from Carolyn but wasn’t sure he had succeeded. “No problem, my uncle left me a small amount of money so I should be able to stay at one of the weekly hotels on Kearney Street until things free up here.”

“Marty, again I’m sorry. Come and see me tomorrow after the funeral. I’ll give you a ride to the hotel.” Marty left the office and went back to the kitchen to prepare for his last lunch service.

Wednesday morning Marty used a small part of the few hundred dollars that Rusty gave him and took a taxi to the south side of town to go to his graveside funeral. Other than the Chaplin and the honor guard, Marty was the only one in attendance. The snow that blanketed the city so beautifully a few days before was now stacked in piles along each side of the roads that wound through the graveyard. Soot and mud had turned these piles of snow a dirty gray color, intensifying Marty’s already despondent mood.

After the Chaplin read a few kind words and a description of Uncle Rusty’s service to the military, all seven members of the honor guard fired three simultaneous rounds into the overcast sky, sending Rusty off with a twenty one gun salute. Two members of the honor guard removed the flag from the coffin and began folding it while four other members lowered the casket into the ground among the hundreds of other snow covered white crosses. Marty was proud of his uncle and being a soldier himself, he was moved by the ceremony.

The Chaplin read the Lord’s Prayer. Marty withdrew into himself, thinking again about the chance reunion he had with his uncle. When it first happened, the phrase Christmas miracle had entered his thoughts but that idea quickly faded when Rusty died. There had been no real miracles since then either. He had had an uncomfortable conversation with his sister, failed to get the printing job and was told that he would have to leave the shelter soon. Not a miracle in the bunch. Marty tried to concentrate on the funeral but found it difficult as the weight of his problems bore down on him.

As he stood there waiting to receive the flag, a hand touched his shoulder. He turned to see a face that was familiar yet different considering how many years since he had last seen it. The face had a few new wrinkles and a little extra weight but there was no doubt who it was.


“Hi Marty,” she said as she leaned in and hugged her brother firmly. Marty returned her embrace, breaking a fifteen year dry spell of family hugs. Danny stood at Nora’s side holding her hand and silently looking up at his uncle.

“What are you doing here?” asked Marty.

“I had to come,” replied Nora. “I couldn’t miss Uncle Rusty’s funeral. And besides, I knew you needed me.”

“Why would you think that?”

“I got a letter in the mail yesterday, it was from a nurse at Saint John’s Hospital. She said that she was writing it on Uncle Rusty’s behalf. It looked like she wrote it the night he died. She said that Uncle Rusty wanted me to know about you, she told me all about the shelter.”

“Nora, I’m so sorry. I….”

“No, I’m sorry,” Nora replied. “I’m sorry for not staying in touch with you. I’m sorry if it seemed like I didn’t care, because I do. I shouldn’t have let the past get in the way of our relationship.” Tears streaked down Nora’s face as she spoke.

“I’m just as guilty,” replied Marty. “I could have done a lot of things different.”

“It’s OK Marty. We’ll talk about it later, on the ride back to Topeka. Right now let’s say goodbye to Uncle Rusty.”

Marty embraced his sister again while a member of the honor guard played taps on a bugle. As Marty hugged his sister, he looked over her shoulder and saw Danny looking up at him with wide eyes and a bright red stocking cap on his head. Marty smiled down at him and wondered if he liked fire trucks.


Steve Benson is currently writing this bio in third person.  Prior to this, he spent a fun six weeks filming a short movie with his wife Jill and many of their friends.  The end result will hopefully be finished before Christmas.  Steve would also like to apologize to everyone he was snippy with during the shoot.  He inherited his mother’s temperament and his father’s hindsight.  Steve has recently finished a novel named Venganza.  An early version of the first chapter of Venganza was published in In Other Words: Merida a year and a half ago.  Steve lives in Merida Mexico with his wife Jill and their dogs Molly, Vince, Chata and Ruby.  Steve would like to stop writing in third person now and I would like to encourage everyone to stop buying dogs.  There are millions of great dogs in the shelters or on the street who would make a loving addition to your family.  If you can’t adopt, please support the shelters.  We spent tens of thousands of years making dogs dependent on us so let’s not turn our backs on them now.  Thanks for reading my story and or my bio!



Artist Samuel Barrera