FOUNTAIN

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When I first met Dominic Behan, he was singing on Eel Pie Island. The last time I saw him, he was wrestling with police in the moat under one of the two fountains in Trafalgar Square.

Eel Pie Island sits in the middle of the Thames, connected to Twickenham via a narrow footbridge. Apart from a hotel and boathouse, most of the island was a bird sanctuary. I lived in the hotel, a former whorehouse for American airmen during WWII. According to the guide on a passing tourist boat, “Charles Dickens lived here on Eel Pie Island while he was writing the Pickwick Papers.” The tour guide did not explain whether the hotel was already a whorehouse when Dickens resided there.

Every Saturday evening, the bird sanctuary was disrupted by loud music from the hotel ballroom, mostly traditional jazz, with occasional folk music. Arthur Chisnall, owner and operator of the club, had recruited me as his doorman.

Dominic Behan was a fountain of creativity. Like his older brother, Brendan, he wrote plays, novels, short stories, poems and biographies. But unlike his brother, he also composed about 450 songs. In his Eel Pie Island concert, Dominic put on a one-man show, playing all of his most popular songs.

Arthur usually invited performers to dinner after their show. He must have had a premonition that ‘dinner’ with Behan would turn into an extended pub crawl–he gave me a handful of ten-pound notes and asked me to entertain the performer. I figured unless Dominic was a gourmet, I would come out ahead on that deal. I think I had a meat pie and a bag of potato crisps at the first pub, while Dominic ate nothing. He drank a lot of black-and-tans with Irish whiskey chasers, while I drank a lot of lager.

At closing time, I figured I was finally off the hook.

“Dominic, I’m going to head over to the Nucleus—a coffee shop where they have all-night jam sessions.”

“You do what you have to do. But you can drink round the clock in London. You drink with the newspaper men on Fleet Street, and then you hang out with the porters in Covent Garden. I usually drink until the coppers arrest me. “

“I’m ready to quit, but if you want to keep going, here’s some more of Arthur’s money.”

“Okay, it’s been a lot of fun. You’ll live longer than me, because you’re not such a wild child. Be sure to come see my play at the Irish Theatre, two weeks from now. Here’s a ticket for opening night, paid for with Arthur’s money. Tell all your friends about it. “

***

The Irish Theatre had a long bar inside the auditorium. It was probably a mistake to stage Dominic’s play in a theatre that allowed uninterrupted drinking.

His play, ‘Posterity Be Damned’, was a one-man show. Billed as a study of republican activity after the Irish civil war, it seemed more like a systematic attack on various political and religious groups. Progressively more violent audience reactions culminated in a brawl. The play ran for just a week—not because of a limited audience, but because each performance ended in a costly riot.

***

Every year on Guy Fawkes Night we went to Trafalgar Square to watch college students fight the police. The object of the game was to knock cop helmets into the fountain moats. The police were usually good-natured about the event.

That year, Dominic Behan was the star. He laid claim to three of a total of seven helmets under the fountain. Unfortunately, the police had started to become paranoid about IRA terrorism, so they brought in a riot squad. They arrested Dominic and hit him with some heavy charges—inciting a riot, assaulting police officers, resisting arrest, etc. So Dominic had to serve some real jail time instead of just sleeping overnight in a holding cell.

***

Dominic subsequently moved to Glasgow. His forecast that I would outlive him proved accurate. He died in 1989 at the age of 60, while in 2014 I’m still alive and kicking.

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Another Loser

I thought this story was one of my better efforts, but the voters in Writers Hangout did not agree.  It didn’t even make the top five (out of about a dozen entries). Guess members of the Tea Party objected to my implication that they might not be playing with a full deck. The assigned theme was “BUTTON(S)” So I wrote about the red pushbutton on the black box carried by the US President.

SECURING THE RED BUTTON

BigRedButton(3)

In 2017, the US had a newly elected President— a Tea Party President. Rick Walker had been Governor of one of the Red states. To achieve smaller government (except for defense spending) he wanted to eliminate six segments of the Federal Government, including Environmental Protection. Most of the country set record temperature lows on Election Day 2016. In the minds of voters, that supported his argument that “Global warming is bullshit.”

Walker’s biggest problem was alcoholism. That had been rumored during the election campaign, but the GOP leadership had managed to keep it concealed until after the election. They then built a sober Cabinet to control Walker. They brought back Condoleezza Rice to head the State Department, and they gave Walker a short list of candidates from which to choose a Defense Secretary. Walker selected Henry Goddard–not a career politician, but a vice president of Boeing.

Though the US and Russia had sealed disarmament agreements, the POTUS still carried a black box with a red pushbutton that could authorize a missile launch. Because of Walker’s alcoholism, the Defense Department redesigned the black box so that it now included an alcohol detector. Henry Goddard and a couple of technicians brought the new box to the White House so that it could be installed and tested.

Walker didn’t like it.

“What’s that stuff on top?” he asked.

“That’s a set of new biometric sensors for improved security.”

“Why the mouthpiece?”

“You blow into it to be tested for alcohol—like a Breathalyzer test for an automobile driver.”

“I don’t want that. It will make people think I’m an alcoholic.”

“Nobody will know you’re taking the test unless you tell them. We’ll just send out a press release saying we’ve upgraded the security in several ways, but the details are classified”
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***

A couple of months later, an international crisis erupted. Iran had developed an atomic weapon. Israel’s Netanyahu said if the US did not immediately destroy the Iranian weapons plant, Israel would go it alone. Russia’s Putin said that both Iran and Israel must leave the Middle East nuclear free. If Israel attacked Iran, then Russia might have to attack Israel.

Unexpected activity in Russia’s Siberian missile launch sites triggered a conference in the White House Situation Room. Attendees included Rice and Goddard, but not Walker. He was partying after a country music concert in the East Ballroom. The Siberian activity was puzzling. If the Russians were attacking Israel, they would use one of their Western missile sites. Rice called Vladimir Putin, and told the office manager to get Walker sobered up.

“Mr. Putin, this is Condoleezza Rice, US Secretary of State. We have reason to believe you may be readying a missile attack on the US. “

“Where’s Walker? I don’t negotiate with female functionaries.“

“Our President had earlier commitments but he will be here in a few minutes. Meanwhile, perhaps you’d like to discuss your military posture with our Defense Secretary, Henry Goddard.”

“We are not readying an attack against the US. Apparently, your military intelligence is just as pathetic as it was when I headed the KGB. “

Goddard quickly put Putin on hold. “The Russians just launched their missiles while the lying SOB was talking to us. The only puzzling part is that they’re headed South instead of East. Where is Walker? We urgently need to respond.”

“Sorry, they still haven’t been able to get him sobered up.”

“Cancel everything,” shouted Goddard. “We just got a clearer satellite picture. The activity we saw was the migration of a flock of large birds. The flashing lights were the Aurora Borealis.”

Goddard slumped forward with his head on the table. “Thank God for our drunk POTUS. We almost triggered World War III.”

Winners and Losers

As expected, Project XMF wasn’t a winner in Writers Hangout. But the story below did win first place in one of the contests last year.  The assigned theme was “Comfort,” so I made that the title as well. The story is written in “first-dog,” or first person from a dog’s point of view. It is a short autobiography of my dog Cassie. Only Cassie can tell you how much of the story is fact and how much is fiction. Her ghost writer could only deduce so much from dog tags and adoption papers.

COMFORT

148Mike, the old man I live with, gave me the name Cassie—the fourth name I’ve had during my short life. When he’s lying on his bed reading, or watching TV, I like to lie beside him and cuddle up as I did with my mom. Mike says I’m a comfort to him, because he has lived alone since his wife died. And he’s certainly a comfort to me, as I really miss my mom.

Officially, I’m a “Redbone Coonhound”—Redbone was the name of the guy who developed the breed. But Mike calls me a “redneck coonhound.” I came from the south—and Mike says that’s where the rednecks live. On a farm in Virginia, my mom had me and three other puppies. Then my mom disappeared. The rednecks said she had been shot in a hunting accident–because she looked like a deer. Mike says morons like that shouldn’t be allowed to have guns, and people shouldn’t be allowed to hunt. But I was bred as a hunting dog, and if people can’t hunt they won’t need hunting dogs.

After my mom disappeared, I started exploring the edge of the farm. Then the rednecks rounded up the other three puppies and said they were going to try selling them. But I thought they would kill them like they killed my mom. So I ran into the woods and just kept running and running until I couldn’t run anymore. I started to get very thirsty. Eventually, I arrived at a place where there were streets and houses and people. They later told me I was in Siler City, North Carolina. A kind woman gave me some water, but then she called the dog catcher who took me to the county dog pound.

At the dog pound, they called me Tallulah, or Lola for short. They said coonhounds were a dime a dozen in North Carolina and nobody would want to adopt me. “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,” they said. Fortunately, they called a rescue agency that specializes in taking coonhounds for adoption in the Northeast, where we are seen as more valuable. Guess I got lucky because some wealthy guy in New York wanted a coonhound. Next day, they put me in a crate and drove me to Park Ave. and 72nd St., in Manhattan.

The guy who adopted me was a Jewish hedge-fund manager who had married a blue-eyed blonde from North Carolina. His friends said she was his “shiksa.” He thought his bride would be happy to get a puppy from her home state. However, she had evolved from a southern farm girl into a Jewish princess. She would have preferred one of those rat-sized dogs like the one Paris Hilton carries around in her purse. And, for Park Ave., that might have been a more practical choice.

They changed my name to Pippi. That was before I peed on their carpet, so I don’t know where they got the name. All the traffic scared me—especially the yellow cabs. I barked at the cabs, and tried to chase them away, but they just kept coming. Central Park was nice, but we had to cross a big street to get to it. My owner finally conceded that midtown Manhattan wasn’t the best environment for a hunting dog, so he had the agency take me back.

The agency wanted to keep me in the Northeast where I had a better chance of getting adopted. They persuaded a lady named Leslie to be my foster mother until I could get adopted again. She lived in a nice house in New Rochelle. It had a large fenced yard and I could play all day with my foster brother–a black-and-tan coonhound, adopted from the same agency. They changed my name to Krissy. I wished I could live there forever. But a husband, two toddlers, and two dogs were too much of a burden for Leslie. She made a video of me playing ball, and her godfather, Mike, saw it and decided to adopt me.

That’s how I wound up living with Mike in Connecticut. He changed my name to Cassie, and figured the two names sounded similar enough that I wouldn’t get confused. I’ve lived with him for over a year now—and that’s much longer than I lived anywhere else. Now we can comfort each other until one of us dies.

My First Post

This story is the latest one I wrote for the Writer’s Hangout of LinkedIn. Every week, we have to write a 4000-character story based on an assigned theme or first line. Then the forum members critique and vote on the submitted stories. For this week’s story, the topic was “glasses.”  I wrote a technically feasible science-fiction piece about multiple purpose surveillance glasses for law enforcement and military applications.  The group hasn’t voted yet, but I don’t think this story will win any prizes. A couple of the other writers in the group said my story lacked emotion and a feeling of jeopardy. That’s because I had to cut it to the bare bones to fit the tight character limit.

PROJECT XMF

It was early afternoon on a sunny spring day in Manhattan.  Across the street from the UN building, two gay guys exited a side door of the office building that housed the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. They were holding hands and were headed for a romantic lunch. Or so it appeared!

In fact, the two guys were special agent Frank Harris of the FBI, and field agent Mark Leeds of the CIA. They were testing the prototype of a new surveillance device—eXtended Multiple Function glasses. It merged the imaging functions of Google Glass, night-vision goggles and digital binoculars. Later, it would include Microsoft’s 3D hologram technology. The existing version was bulky. The glasses looked like the aviator sunglasses worn by some police officers. The controller was an Android tablet computer–but with special-purpose apps.

Anyone wearing the glasses would look like a cop, so the guys testing the unit were forced into a gay charade as a front. Harris wore the glasses and had the controller in his pants pocket. Leeds handled voice communications. The Android controller had encrypted data interfaces so that images could be uploaded to face-recognition databases. For today’s tests, they were using the FBI database. With their gay attire, Frank and Mark could not wear body armor or carry weapons.

Harris took various pictures around the UN building and uploaded them to the FBI. Most of the subjects were typical tourists, so there were no early hits. Then Harris saw a swarthy guy with a beard who was checking the entrance ramp for the underground garage. Leeds pretended to take pictures of Harris with his cell phone so that Harris could move around and get shots facing the suspect. Soon after Harris uploaded the shots, Leeds got a call from FBI manager Stan Abrams on the cell phone.

“Bingo! You identified a guy on the “Most Wanted” list. He has several aliases, but we call him Abu Ibrahim. We didn’t know he was in the US.”

“So you want us to arrest him,” asked Harris, “then you’ll give us the reward?”

“You wish! No, just keep a tail on him. We want to stop whatever he has planned, and identify any co-conspirators.“

“The battery is flat on the XMF system, and we’re not armed.”

“Just communicate by phone.  When the suspect stops, give us the location and we’ll send relief.”

The “gays” followed Ibrahim until he entered a building on Second Ave. They didn’t follow him into the building, but stood outside the Palm restaurant, called Abrams and gave him the location.

“Okay, I’m sending more guys.

Ibrahim left the building with a teenage boy. The agents followed them to an apartment in Tudor City, then Frank and Mark returned to base.

“A probable target is Israel’s Prime Minister, who is visiting the UN tomorrow,” said Abrams.

***

Early next morning, Harris joined the other agents at Tudor City. He looked more like a cop this time. He was wearing a bullet-proof vest and carried a Glock 40 in a shoulder holster. And he wore the XMF glasses–in case he needed the digital binoculars.

Shortly, Ibrahim left the apartment and drove out of the parking lot. Harris grabbed the FBI car and brought one of the two agents to give chase. With the other agent driving, Harris called Abrams and told him what was happening.

When Ibrahim pulled into a rest stop in Syracuse, Harris called Abrams again.

“Did we get this all wrong? Ibrahim is nowhere near the UN.”

“No we were right on target. The kid was a suicide bomber. He went to the UN building wearing a bomb under his coat. We already had men stationed on the ramp. We told the kid to raise his hands, but he refused. Instead, he ripped open his jacket, and yelled ‘Allahu Akbar’. Our marksmen shot him in the head, and the bomb squad defused the bomb.”

“So all’s well that ends well?”

“Yes. Arrest Ibrahim and that will wrap things up at our end.