Ghost in the Kitchen – Part 2

Click here to read Part 1

“I bought another book today.”

“Where, on eBay?”

“Yes.” Christian shifts in his seat to face her. “Could you please… slow down.”

She sucks air between her teeth, “Relax.”

Silence.

“I’m not speeding. And why waste money on books? No one reads like that anymore.”

“I do.” His hands betray his annoyance at her tone and he deliberately turns his head toward the oncoming lights. “Do you?”

“It’s old-fashioned.”

His jaw tightens. The tail lights of a tractor-trailer wink in and out of the darkness.

“Ten years ago, kitchens used real recipes to make food. Back then I used to cook – with real vegetables that still had dirt on them. I used a real knife and a cutting board and made salads with real lettuce and dressing.” His voice grows quiet as he utters the last syllable.

Unbidden, an image of him wearing a chef’s jacket surfaces. His next sentence comes out in a rush, “Now it’s just a matter of mixing one flavor strip with the next.”

She grips the steering wheel more tightly and the car speeds up.

Christian sighs and says, “Celia, let the GPS take us home.”

“No.”

“Why are you so stubborn? Let the computer do what it was programmed to do. He reaches out and strokes her cheek.  “I promise… promise to stop living in the past.”

Celia allows the tension to leave her shoulders. “It’s just that sometimes, I feel as if you’re trying to make the world leave you behind.”

He leans closer to her. “My love, let the GPS steer the car. I‘m in the mood.”

The words echo across the tiny interior of the car, in counterpoint to the rapid staccato of raindrops falling on the roof. Christian doesn’t wait for an answer. He wiggles out of his t-shirt and climbs between the seats and into the back. He pokes her in the side with a toe. Laughing, she presses the green neon button in the center of the steering wheel and a male voice chimes in and asks for a destination.

“Home,” she says, and the computer searches for the coordinates. After a few seconds, the metallic voice chimes in, “Your destination is 1-0-4, P-e-a-c-h, T-r-e-e   D-r-i-v-e, A-t-l-a-n-t-a, G-e-o-r-g-i-a.  The right indicator light flicks on, and the steering wheel turns silently to the right. The computer adjusts speed and guides the car behind a white Ford Explorer.

She disengages the safety harness and squeezes into the backseat on top of him.

“Ouch! Be gentle, Celia!”  They wiggle into a more comfortable position and his legs wrap hers as the landscape slips by, painted in jagged slashes of light and gloom. Moaning, Christian uses his hands to firmly clasp her buttocks and presses himself hard against her body. She responds to his advance by biting him on the ear. Their passion ends quickly, muted by the glaring headlights of cars passing.

He allows his thoughts to drift backwards to the first time they met. It’s one of his clearer memories: Celia kneeling over him, her hand shaking his shoulder, her voice asking him his name. The feel of old leaves wet with dew pricking him in his back. The smell of garbage, ripe, and overflowing from the bin close to his head.

The sound of traffic somewhere nearby.  The sting of mosquito bites on his face.  The crunch of shoes on the grass around him.

Flashing lights, red and white pinpricks as he drifts in and out of consciousness.

Her eyes, hazel, looking into his.

The antiseptic whiteness of the emergency room.

Losing consciousness.

Waking to see her speaking to a nurse by his bed.

Sleep, so restless.

Dreams of a book with a silver binding, its words and symbols spinning like a spider’s web at the edge of his sub-consciousness. The book! Taunting him. He cannot remember.

Panic, then the sound of her voice talking to him, asking him his name, asking questions.

Sleep.

Her visit to the hospital the next day to talk to him, and then the next.

He strokes her hair as they lay nestled together in the dim interior of the car. A big rig glides by, tires sluicing water onto the windshield. The white line on the road brightens as city lights hover over the highway. She sighs as he gropes around for her clothes and gives them to her. The left indicator light blinks on and the car overtakes the Ford Explorer.

“Shhhh, be quiet, my phone is ringing… Artichoke, look for it.”

“It’s on the floor underneath your seat, can’t you see the lights flashing?”

Celia leans forward and sticks her hand under the seat searching with her fingers.  Finally, she feels the slim outline of her still vibrating phone. Resting it on her lap, Celia touches the screen and a holographic image of Tony appears.

“Hey Celia, I need a cocktail waitress for a function tomorrow night… interested?”

“Oh yea, what about that bar mitzvah last week, Tony? I still haven’t got my money yet.”

Tony turns to face Christian.

“Hey, Christian; can you come in early tomorrow? Damn purchasing software has a glitch again. It forgot to place my order for macaroni and cheese flavor crystals for dinner service.”

“Gonna have to do it old school and cook some from the box, if we can find some. Should make you happy, eh?”

Celia uses her finger to poke Tony’s image in the stomach “Tony, what time is the function tomorrow?”

Distracted he looks away, as if listening to someone else, “Tell them I’ll be out in a minute,” he shouts to someone inside the kitchen.

“Damn roast chicken flavor strips, can’t any of the cooks get it right?” mumbling to himself.

“Sorry Celia” he laughs apologetically, “Chow time is at 7 p.m., but you gotta be there by 6:30 for set up.”

“Christian, come in at 1 p.m., and get with José; see if you can find some pots. God knows why I kept those things.” Tony says, chuckling. “There should be some in the storeroom somewhere.”

“Yes, Chef!”

“Ok, kids; gotta go – got things to do and people to see.”

“Hey, Tony!”

“What now, Celia?” sounding slightly annoyed.

“You’re a sleazebag; I want my money when I come in for work tomorrow.”

Laughing at the compliment, “Sure, sure, sure,” he terminates the call and disappears from view.

With a grimace Celia slips into the driver’s seat. She sits still for a moment, thinking about Christian. She never meant to take him home after he was released from the hospital. But he looked so lost and alone, her heart took a chance. Her mother always said she was like Florence Nightingale; there was Sam the turtledove with the broken wing and a whole litany of wounded pets through her teenage years. It helped that she volunteered at the animal center. Celia had a gentle, familiar touch with animals, and somehow they sensed it.

Christian is singing slightly off key to a Sublime song floating through the speakers. She’s glad he’s distracted. His book is waiting for him, on top of the growing pile in the corner of her apartment. She felt strange holding it. She was glad to put it with the rest.

She thought about how she had first met Christian six months ago while jogging in the park. One minute she was alone on the pathway and the next moment he was there, right under her feet. She almost tripped over him.  He had no idea who he was or where he was. The only reason she knew his name was because it was on the nametag of the old chefs’ jacket he had on. She was so surprised she had run ahead a few hundred paces before curiosity got the better of her and she decided to go back.

The strange book had appeared at her doorstep in a similar manner. It seemed she had a way of collecting strays.  And yes, she had almost stepped on the damn book, too. It lay with the others. “Artichoke’s relics of the past,” she liked to call them, unopened, still in the thick brown envelope with his name stenciled across the front.

“Celia” he breaks her reverie.

“Yesss.”

“I love you, baby” he puts a hand on her leg.

“I know.”

Both car doors slide upwards and they run towards the protective alcove of their apartment building. Christian lets her go in front as they bolt up the stairs to their second-floor apartment.

“Hurry, Celia; I’m getting wet,” he jumps up and down as a pool of water forms around his sandals.  Celia peers into the sensor and a beam of light scans her iris. She blinks and it winks back as if acknowledging an old friend. Celia steps back, the light blinks green and the door slides open. Celia pushes Christian inside, then pushes past him as a crack of lightning stabs the darkness. She’s home: it’s tiny, but comfortable. It’s all she could afford on her salary. Cocktail waitresses were poorly paid even in the days of gas stoves and deep fat fryers. That hasn’t changed  – and veterinary school still isn’t cheap.

Her apartment is sparsely furnished, anchored by a cube that unfolds into a sectional sofa when pressed. A 40” Sony holograph TV on the wall, a collapsible dinette set that hangs on the wall as decoration. They hardly use it, preferring to eat their meals on the sofa watching television. Celia moves around in the small space and heads to the bathroom. It’s late, and she needs to get out of her damp clothes.

“Christian, I’ll be in the shower a while,” the sound of running water distorts her voice.

“Take your time, baby; I’ll be right here,” he answers and walks towards the stack of books in the corner. Sitting on the floor beside it, Artichoke gingerly takes hold of the package and holds it in his lap. For a minute he just sits there, alone in the semi-darkness. Pointing to the ceiling, he says the words, “reading light,” and a beam illuminates his hands as he slowly tears away the wrapping paper.

He slides a hand inside and drops the brown packaging paper on the floor. “Ghost in the Kitchen,” he mouths the words and a knot forms in his belly. His fingers feel so cold; he wants to get up, but can’t. He tries to look away, but the pale indistinct image on the cover holds him transfixed. He recognizes the face of the person on the cover.

His name is Christian Artichoke, and suddenly it all comes back to him in a rush of memories. The cover flips open as his vocal cords constrict and the face on the cover looks up at him and smiles. Suddenly, he remembers what he had left behind and he tries to force the book shut again. He tries to fight as his soul is pulled from his body with the slick sucking sounds of boots walking in mud.

He thinks about Celia and what his life could have been with her. What could have been – should have been. The face pulls him closer and it pulses and squirms as the grin widens and his face is swallowed. First his short brown hair, then his nose, then the scream from his lips.

Yearning to stay conscious, finally Christian gives into his past as he is pulled deeper into the book with a snap until there’s nothing left but silence.

“Christian, Christian! Are you ok? I thought I heard someone screaming.” Celia runs into the living room barefoot with a towel hastily wrapped around her body. “Christian, where are you?” She looks around the room growing more concerned. She walks over to the beam of light and notices the book sitting on the floor. Tears well in her eyes, and she knows she’s about to start crying. Christian! Something draws her eyes back to the book lying on the floor and for the first time she looks down at the cover.

A face stares back at her as if confined behind glass. She starts to scream, a sound so wrenching and terrible that it breaks her heart. Celia couldn’t hear the sound of her own screams; in fact, she couldn’t see anything beyond the book cover and the face staring back at her.

The Dance

The Dance

It’s called the line, and each night we dance:

Bend, twist, lift, swing –

A ghostly symphony that waits and plays by ear.

 

 An orchestra:

Pots, pans, oil sputters, the Garland burner roars,

Refrigerators hum, a freezer’s occasional chime.

 

Pivot right, turn left, the MICROS begins to sing,

The rhythm crests, pulses.

Entrees hot and salads cold.

 

We dance our dance, a performance never seen

Receives the standing ovation it deserves.

 

We know our parts, and wait expectantly.

The MICROS sings, the rush begins:

Focus, push – the line moves as one.

 

Cooks, shoulder-to-shoulder:

Adrenaline rush, purpose,

Entrees hot and salads cold.

 

We dance our dance, a performance never seen

Receives the standing ovation it deserves.

 

Foxtrot lively, brisk, quick,

Nicoise, Waldorf, Cobb, Caesar,

Salsa picante, moves meringue – sweat, pivot, timing.

 

Seared halibut, glazed spring vegetables,

Well-done rib eye, tempura onion rings, peppercorn,

Sweet symphony, graceful, finesse.

 

Tiramisu, sorbet, cobbler,

Macaroon, red velvet,

Entrees hot and salads cold.

 

 

We dance our dance, a performance never seen

Receives the standing ovation it deserves

 

We special few cook with hand, heart, and mind,

Converting more than recipes from books,

A mirepoix of memories and tradition.

 

 

The bounty of the earth:

So, night after night we gather –

Hot kitchen, cold kitchen.

 

 

Begin the dance.

The chorus sings:

Entrees hot and salads cold!

 

We dance our dance, a performance never seen

Receives the standing ovation it deserves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CEDE the DEMON – Morlock Ends (part 3)

Better to not dwell on the past. Its 6 am, and the alarm shatters the quiet with an ear splitting beep that pulses louder in intensity and jolts Cede awake. Sleepily he gropes for the snooze button, but changes his mind and stumbles out of bed. Yawning, he pushes his door open and shuffles down the hallway towards the bathroom. In the kitchen, the coffee machine begins to gurgle as Cede steps into the tiny shower and turns on the water faucet. Lathering himself with soap, he watches indifferently as rivulets of soap run down his chest to collect in little puddles at his feet. The water is tepid and smells slightly of sulfur but Cede has grown accustomed to the odor.

It’s a part of this old Victorian house, the corroded iron pipes, the pine flooring, the narrow windows with their gingerbread fretwork. The few beams of sunlight brave enough to make it through, barely make a dent in the perpetual gloom. Humming, he continues to scrub his back with a rag. He turns the faucet off, grabs a threadbare towel and begins to dry his scrawny frame. Cede needed his morning coffee. Moving barefoot around the kitchen, he reached up to the top shelf of the pantry searching with his fingers until they brushed against his mom’s favorite instant oatmeal. Each morning like clockwork, Cede would make a bowl of Uncle Roy’s blueberry oatmeal, butter two pieces of toast and pour a glass of orange juice. Then he would climb the stairway and leave the tray outside her door.

“Whittlesnap”, Cede muttered as he brushed away the cobwebs that clung to his shirt. He hated going up those stairs, spiders had made this stairwell their home and despite his determined swipes with a broom and a tin or two of insect spray from the hardware store, he could not get rid of them. It seemed as if they had infested the wood and were watching and waiting for him to leave – intruder. He remembered dreaming that the webs were actually strands of his mothers’ hair outgrowing her room and creeping down the stairway.

He chuckled out loud, “I’m just being foolish.” Pitching his voice to carry through the door, “Mom I made your breakfast, be back in an hour, do you want anything while I’m out.” He paused expectantly, hoping for an answer. As usual the silence was oppressive; he could feel the menace emanating through the door, even the spiders dared come no further than the top of the stairway.  Stepping backwards and turning around, he spoke over his shoulder, “bye mom, I’ll be back for the tray in an hour”. Cedes’ arms were covered with goose bumps and he was eager to get out of the house.

Cede turns to the left and sets off down the sidewalk. He was a creature of habit, and as he passes the house next to his, he looks up at the right window on the second floor. Charlie Parker used to live here, his father was a railroad engineer, and his mother worked at the local grocery store. Charlie Palmer had been his best friend, a tad bit taller than Cede, with close cropped blond hair, nervous blue eyes and freckles that seemed to smile whenever he laughed too hard. Now the house was falling to ruin, the paint peeling and flaking like dandruff after a haircut.

Looking around, Cede felt the fingers of buried memories, brush the back of his neck. Shuddering, he continued down the empty street. He was glad Eve’s creeper vines covered everything; the streets were deserted as they had been for the past three years. Cars lined the middle of the street, there was Mrs. Allens blue chevy and the one behind it a Toyota corolla that was the pride and joy of Jessica Beelen. Cede had nurtured a secret crush on Jessica all through middle school, now her corpse was twisted by the pulsing roots and fluorescent green leaves milking her essence. Delicately, Cede ran his fingers over the bright purple blossoms covering her car. His fingernails were as coarse as charcoal as the spoor worked its way under his skin and into his bloodstream. “Eve 409” reacted with pleasure to his touch, crawling closer, as the deadly orange blooms, sent puffs of black spoor twirling around his hands and arms.  His veins stood out against his pale skin, over time they had become greener and more luminescent, until they glowed just like the plants  he loved so much. Eve was death to humans, but she needed a living host to survive past incubation. He was the chosen one.

                As far as Cede knew, Charlie Parker and his family had made it out alive, but he had seen Charlie’s father vomiting before climbing into the Land Rover jeep. Mrs. Parkers face was covered in sores, he knew she would be dead soon. Five miles outside of Morlock, her husband collapsed around the steering wheel. Charlie Parker was the last one to die, he was fortunate that the crash had rendered him unconscious. He never heard the sounds of his dad, wheezing as he gasped for breath. He was oblivious to his mom’s crying, before she joined her husband in the last spasms of death, hands beating against the windows like battered chickens.

Charlie’s last clear thought, was the sight of Cede pulling at the vines wrapped around the plastic bucket and the funny noise they made, as if they were being hurt. He had seen Cede’s fingertips as he tried to wash them in the drain. They had been stained black and the inky sap had spread further and further up his hand as he tried to wash them. Then, Charlie felt bile rise up his throat; he fought to breathe but the fight had already left him.

Cede could guess at the cause of his mother’s insanity. The sight of her husband’s shrunken corpse sitting in his armchair, or the sight of Cede staring at his dead papa with smug satisfaction. She had gone to her room and not come out since.  But Cede was getting tired of waiting. The voices were sending him on a journey, he needed to leave. For the past three years, he had been brushing a light fingertip across her food. Each day he would check to see if the food would stay uneaten. Whistling to himself Cede headed home. Whistling to himself Cede headed home. Maybe this evening I’ll double the dose; he smiled at the thought, as he saw the vines covering his house sway in greeting.

CEDE the Demon – Eve 409 (Part 2)

“And what if nature chose you to lead the attack?” Cede the Demon

With all the panic and worry about whose home, might be the next to go, the suicide rate jumped from zero to three in the first month. The local pharmacist Jim Belandy used his Ruger model 44 carbine to blow his brains out in the back his store, what with his wife and six kids to feed. The next day, his wife Molly, climbed over a concrete road divider and stepped in front of a semi-tractor trailer. As for the six kids, the county welfare agency bundled them up in the back of a Ford Explorer and no one has seen them since. The townsfolk in Morlock were accustomed to hardship; Reverend Judas knew this, he had lived here all his life. And as he preached in front of a packed congregation in the stifling July heat, he ended his Sunday sermon with the words, “living is as natural as dying, it is not for us to question the when or why.” His message was well received by Morlocks’ citizens and for the rest of that week, there was a sense of calm and hope as people went about their daily business.

But then, the rats began to die. Lester, the town drunk claimed “they jus climbing out the drains, frittering and shaking, running all crazy like.” By noon that day, cars going up and down the streets of Morlock , had pulverized the rotting flesh into a dark red stain of rodent hair and bones. The stench was so strong; the mayor was forced to call a town hall meeting that night to quell the growing fear of its citizens. Lester swore they were killed by evil, but no one took him seriously, until he stumbled into the Dancing Nail, frothing from the mouth, covered in canker sores, and keeled over dead.

                Cede had wanted his mom and dad to leave too,  but his mother broke down and confessed while he was helping her clear the dinner table –  she had lost her lifesavings and her job as a ticket agent at the rail yard. His mother was a strong woman, but for the first time in his life, he saw tears run down her face.  He hated her, his father didn’t work, he collected a pension and his mom was penniless. Whittle snap!

                They were stuck in this dreary town forever, burying his anger; he finished clearing the table and started washing the dishes. Ever since his little encounter, soda had become his beverage of choice.  His mom swore, “Cede you’ll be as fat as your father if you continue sucking down all that sugar.” Well who’s laughing now? Somewhere deep inside Cede had wanted this to happen.  Maybe he was tired of his dad, beating on his mom and wanted to make it stop. Maybe if he stopped hitting her, he would stop hitting him too?

His mom had been in the kitchen when Cede had come home from the rail yard. He could still hear his father shouting “Cede bring my dinner and a glass of water, and tell your mother to put my boots upstairs in the closet. Cede! Did you hear me?” Without thought, he had taken a glass from the dish tray by the sink and poured water in it, and then brought it to his dad; along with dinner. He felt no sorrow when his father became ill. In fact, Cede had personally given him the glass of water that started it all. He had swirled his finger in the glass and watched the spoors gyrations until they dissolved in the liquid. He almost imagined, they winked at him before disappearing.

His reaction after drinking that glass was more pronounced than the other residents of Morlock. Such a large concentration of spoor collapsed his internal organs, causing him to gasp for air and clutch the sofa as his tongue lungs became purple and swollen. Lesions began to grow and boil all over his body. His bloated stomach stretched and tore the buttons of his corduroy shirt. Cede stood and watched. It took a good fifteen minutes for him to die as the spoor coursed through his veins. His mom had walked from the kitchen into the living room just as her husband’s body was beginning to stiffen from rigor mortis.

CEDE the DEMON – Davey Ray Lane (Part 1)

No one in the small town of Morlock was prepared when the recession hit. In fact, the government predicted it would be as short lived as a runny nose; but something worse than the recession festered in Morlock. It had taken root in the soil, nurtured by nature, bioengineered by scientists. It was designed to be the wonder food of the future. A seed – genetically modified to resist disease, pests, and drought; it could grow anywhere, under the most extreme conditions, mankind’s final answer to famine. As the recession spread across the United States and the hope of FDA approval dimmed, the projects’ investors lost interest and decided to ensconce their millions in Swiss bank accounts.  The recession had shut down the lab where it lived. Now it hid in the darkness, mutating and growing, waiting. It had no name. In the lab it was catalogued as “Eve 409.” Like proud fathers, the team of geneticists and plant biologists who created her, were sure “Eve 409,” would bring them international renown, save the world and billions in revenue. Eve had killed them first; sparing them the horror of watching her creep up on the houses in Davey Ray lane, death in disguise; quietly pulling the shutters of each house shut as she wiped out entire families in their sleep.

Cede was thirteen, when he first met Eve. He and his best friend Charlie Parker had been playing in the train yard, climbing in and out of the rail cars pretending to be cowboys, hooting and hollering. Today they were about to rob a train and were moving into position for the hold-up, when Charlie fell over something  buried under heavy tarp cloth,  busting his shin, and falling flat on his face. At first Cede thought it was funny, until Charlie started to writhe in agony on the floor and cry, his sobs coming out in tiny squeaks as if a mouse was stuck in his throat. Cede went over to help his friend and stuck out a hand, even as he was peering at the tarp with growing curiosity. “This is so cool; I bet there’s buried treasure under there. Dude, let’s see what’s under there?” Charlie, wiping his face with the corner of his shirt, “I really don’t care what’s under there, my knee hurts and I want to go home,” but Cede was already pulling at the tarp on the floor. Dust flew everywhere, covering the boys and causing a fit of sneezing that echoed and rebounded in the empty rail car.

When the dust settled, Cede had removed most of the tarp, to reveal a plastic bucket. Cede could see parts of it underneath the creeper plant that was entwined all around it. The vine had sunk tentacles deep into the bucket and along the floor of the rail car. In the gloom, the leaves appeared to glow, which was enough for Cede to notice the vine was festooned with bright purple flowers. “That’s it! A bucket! You made me stay and help you, to look for a lousy bucket! Cede, I’m leaving! This time I mean it! Charlie was upset, his face was red and he was beginning to stutter, a sure sign that he was about to cry again. In anger, he ran over to where the bucket stood and kicked it several times. Satisfied, he held on to the door and jumped out the rail car. Turning around, Charlie saw the bucket fly out the door, land on the ground with a thud and roll over into a drain. Cede jumped out and kneeled to inspect the bucket.

Charlie, pointing with eyes wide open, “Cede look at your fingertips dude, you’ve got some kind of black goo on them. You’re gonna get an ass whooping, if you don’t wash that off before dinner.” Cede is somewhat annoyed and a little worried “Whittlesnap! I know, I know, chill out dude” he says to Charlie.  Cede has no choice but to scrub his fingernails with the water flowing down the drain. “There, you can hardly see anything now” he holds his hands for Charlie to see. “Come on lets go, it’s getting late anyway,” Cede turns to leave and his friend follows behind, as they climb through a hole in the chain link fence and head home.

Seventh & National was foreclosing on many of the houses, owned by the Davey Ray railroad corporation; around the dinner table, it was all his mom and dad could talk about. The railroad was the lifeblood of the town; most of its citizens either worked at the rail yard, or depended on it indirectly for a living. The shrill whistle of trains, filled with wheat midlings from the Midwest states of Ohio and Kansas on their way to port in Galveston, Texas, meant the Dancing Nail, would be filled with paying customers on a Friday night. The Jukebox would be loud and the servers even louder, as laughter and the sound of country music filled the night. As times got tougher, the supply of grain dwindled and so did the mighty diesel engines that hauled them.

To Catch a Cereal Killer – A Stayache Tataland Murder Mystery

Rat fink was dead and buried. Hannikah the shrew was in the great barnyard in the sky, and everyone else was scared shitless. The Holstein police were busy trying to guess the killer’s name, they had spent the last two days watching reruns of “The Price is Right”, but they forgot to buy a clue. After two days, their list had more vowels than alphabet soup. They looked at the list up close, then afar and finally upside down, and eventually became more confused than before.

Moo York’s mayor Cock-A-Doodle was in a foul mood in fact he was madder than a feather duster at a vacuum cleaner conference. The public was becoming antsy; they wanted the killer caught. This cereal killer debacle was a public relations nightmare that was beginning to spin out of control. This was an election year and the bumbling of the police department was hurting his campaign. At that moment, he was in his office putting the spur to the police chief’s backside. Cock-A-Doodle was a seasoned political campaigner; rumor was, he was more slippery than the fox in the henhouse. It was even said, that the fox was his drinking buddy and if the rumor is to be believed; also on his payroll, as an enforcer for the numerous illicit henhouses owned by Cock-A-Doodle. He was one bad ass rooster and Chief Cremo knew it. The mayor was threatening to fire the entire department, if some headway wasn’t made soon and pronto. This was indeed a fowl affair. Chief Cremo walked out of the meeting shaking in his boots, he could kiss his pension good-bye, he could already feel his neck resting on the chopping block. The Holstein police needed to solve this case and they needed to solve it with the quickness.

 On the other side of the Atlantic; Lupo was in Spain lounging with his cousin Benecio Del Toro. Reggae music was taking the country by storm and all the hip young bulls were learning the latest reggae dance moves. So far Lupo had learned this new style called the “gully creeper and the “nuh linga.” He had taken to wearing his hair in dreadlocks and had dyed the tip of his tail red, green and gold in true dancehall style. It was a sight to see Benicio, Lupo and the crew flashing lighters and gully creeping to the latest Elephant man songs.  

Back in Stayache Tataland, the barnyard had become a ghost town after dark. The fear in the air was so thick; a duck choked on his Ritz crackers and was admitted to the emergency room at Barnyard Holy Deliverance hospital. The Channel Five news hound report stated that “fear and quackers roasts duck in his own bedroom.” Luckily for this peeking duck, a nosy neighbor called 911 after hearing loud banging noises coming from the apartment. Everyone thought the cereal killer had struck again. There was a collective sigh of relief in Stayache Tataland when the news report stated that although in intensive care, Mr. Afflack was recovering from his ordeal.

Something had to be done and the Jersey swishes called a meeting to take matters in hoof. Swantina said the shrew kids were the killers and suggested that the cows wack them and be done with it. This caused an uproar among the girls because Aaah Shrew and Feng Shrew were only teenagers. Diamond reminded the girls that Jersey gangsta cows did not kill kids. They might shake them and ruff them up a bit, but only the unruly ones. This was street law and she was not about to listen to Swantina’s mule headed suggestion. The meeting came to an abrupt end when Mercedes announced she was pregnant. This was big news! Lupo was a daddy, and the girls agreed to call him that very minute.

Now the shrew kids, Feng and Aaah were screwed. Mr. Afflack worked for the insurance company, and he was out of the hospital.The investigation into the death of their mother had begun in earnest. This was a duck hunt and if Afflack had his way, the kids would be in the pen before the month was out. As far as that duck was concerned, the kids were guilty; all he had to do was find the evidence. They definitely had the motive; they stood to lose half of their inheritance to a rat fink. They had lived in the lap of luxury all their lives. Sharing their inheritance would mean less bullsheets for everyone. He was sure they had committed the crime and it was up to him to make them do the time. Tomorrow, he was planning to hold a huge press conference in conjunction with chief Cremo and the Holstein police department, to announce his findings and answer questions about the ongoing investigations. But someone else had other plans, plans more sinister and evil than anything that Stayache Tataland had ever seen before.

The barnyard tabloid was already hyping this as “The Great Cereal Hunt” and was doing their best to point hoofs, claws, and beaks at every one but themselves. Matters took a turn for the worst when Mr. Afflack was found dead as a doornail in a cheap motel room in Moo York City. He had been drinking heavily with an unknown female companion, whom he had reportedly picked up at a nearby bar. The Holstein police refused to release the results of the autopsy, but word on the streets said D-con. The barnyard Tabloid headlines the next day read “Cereal Killer Bags a Duck”.

There were rumors, there were whispers, some believed the killer was not done. Business was suffering and the Jersey swishes needed to put a stop to this. They were gangsta cows which meant they were outside the law, above the law, and udderly mafia. Swantina decided the first course of action was for Lexus to put an ear to the streets and talk to the stool pigeons, hustlers, pimps, fat cats and snakes that made up the criminal underworld. Someone would talk and she would be there to squeeze every bit of information out of them. Champagne would call the Jersey mafia’s political connections and let them know Lupo and his cows were on the case. Cock –A-Doodle was top of the list. The mayor and Lupo went way back. Politicians and gangsters have a lot in common; they both steal for a living, except politicians don’t go to jail when caught. Unlike Cock-A-Doodle, it was common knowledge that Lupo was mafia; at least everyone knew he was crooked.

The shrew kids had disappeared. The cows suspected they were hiding out with the Indian beaver family who were close friends of Hannikah. Sapphire volunteered to pay the family a friendly visit and talk to the kids; hearing their side of the story might provide some perspective on this whole situation as well as provide clues. Paradise volunteered to go with her, and went looking for her blue D&G sunglasses to match the blue diamond studded Roca Wear sweat suit she had on. Even in desperate times a girl had to be color coordinated. On their way out, they gave Mercedes a huge hug and promised to bring back some Hershey chocolate kisses for her. The beaver family lived way out in the country on their own private estate called Dam Nation. For such a long trip only the Bentley Mulsanne would do, and with another round of good-bys and hugs they were gone. 

Lupo was well aware of the situation in Stayache Tataland, his girls sent daily updates by BB messenger. He had hoped the police would have been able to take care of this somehow. He wasn’t too keen about going home, for all he knew, he was still a suspect. It was early in the morning and Lupo let all these thoughts run through his mind as he lay by the pool sipping on a gin and tonic. It was so peaceful here, in Spain, no one knew his name, in the eyes of the public, he was just another rich young bull, with lots of bullsheets to spend. And then, there was Conchita his “mamacita”. In the middle of this reverie his phone rang. It was an unfamiliar number, but he decided to answer it anyway. It was Police chief Cremo. Lupo listened intently for thirty minutes then hung up the phone. As he got up and walked inside the villa, his movements seemed more purposeful, with each step up the stairway, the playboy persona was receding inwards. Lupo the Jersey cow mafia boss was back. Stayache Tataland needed a hero and he would arrive at 2am Sunday morning on the British Airways red eye from Spain.

No one dared say a word to Lupo as he walked through customs, picked up his bags and left the airport. Sitting in the back seat of the Rolls Royce Silver Phantom, his arrival and imminent departure was noticed by no one. That’s the way he liked it, and that’s the way it would be. All the girls were up. They were dressed in full black as he was and eager to complete their mission. The adrenaline in the paddock was palpable and Swantina released some of the tension by slowly honing her throwing knives back and forth till they all had a razors edge. It was 3am and the  ground was covered in mist, it hugged the ground and wrapped the Black Cadillac escalade in a shroud as if it knew what Lupo and his Jersey swishes were about to do.

They were heading into Moo York city to pay a visit to a killer. As the van flew by dead leaves fluttered in their wake then fell silent, shushed to stillness and silence by the mist and the grim intentions of the vans’ occupants. A stool pigeon had told Lexus the name of a bar where Mr. Affleck was a regular patron. It was to this address that Lupo and his gang were heading. In Lupo’s world of crime everyone had deep dark secrets to hide.  Lupo was one of the few privileged to be part of a small circle of confidants that knew Hannikah the shrew, beyond her public persona. Hannikah was a closet alcoholic. In fact, it was he who provided her with the name of a location, where she would be able to imbibe to her heart’s content, without fear of exposure. He had discreetly introduced Hannikah to the owner and as a result solidified a business relationship that would last a lifetime.

Now Hannikah was dead and Lupo was about to settle the score once and for all. He knew that Rat Fink’s death had been intentional. In grief Hannikah would turn to drink. She would never have suspected it was to be her last, poured by the hands of a friend, who watched dispassionately as the poison coursed through her body. What were her last thoughts as death took away her last breath? The streetlights were flashing by in an electric arc that blurred with Lupo’s tears as his grip on the steering wheel tightened. The insurance investigator Mr. Affleck must have been getting too close to the truth. On a hunch, he had gone to confirm a suspicion that had been dangling in the back of his mind, like a worm on a hook. If he had known what Lupo now knew, Mr. Affleck should have gone in with an entire FLY SWAT team, guns blazing. Maybe he would still be alive today.

The escalade slowed in speed a block away from their target. This was a black ops mission and all the lights were turned off. Slowly, Lupo drove the rest of the way covered in shadow, from the willow trees that lined the avenue. He slowed to a halt in the alley at the back of the building and waited in silence, to make sure everyone in the neighbourhood was asleep. Looking into the rear view mirror, he gave the all clear and the side door slid open. On the first floor of the building was a neighborhood bar, but they were not here for drinks.  Champagne used her sets of lock picks to jimmy the back door and quietly they entered the building. Like wraiths moving in shadow, they padded up the stairway to the entrance above, once again Champagne did her magic and the crew waited for Lupo to lead them in. In the darkness of the loft they activated their night vision goggles and the entire room was bathed in green phosphorescence. Treading silently, the goggles cast an eerie sheen on the furniture around them. Through the living room and small kitchen to the bedroom the cows went. Seven figures dressed in full black standing over a figure that lay supine and snoring softly on the bed. Hooves extended, they surrounded the bed and with one accord, seven deadly muzzle flashes of light spat flame and death. The deed was done and the gang left as silently as they had come, locking the door behind them.

An anonymous call to the Holstein Police the following morning, led to the discovery of a bullet riddled body. The police confirmed that the body of an unidentified female was found at 8 in the morning. They also found several pounds of D-Con hidden in the bar storeroom below the loft. A check on her credit card purchases revealed that the victim had bought several pounds of this dangerous poison consistently over a one month period. The press conference was set for tomorrow, but everyone already knew the Stayache Tataland Cereal Killer was no more. Business could continue as usual, already the days had already begun to look sunnier and brighter.Tomorrow the world would know that the cereal killer was the owner of the bar below her loft – Trix the Silly Rabbit. She had been secretly blackmailing Hannikah for years. Things began to unravel when Hannikah threatened to come clean and tell the police everything. This was the seed for a diabolical plot, that would see Trix, resorting to murder to keep herself out of jail. Not so silly after all. The plan would have worked perfectly, except that Hannikah had mafia connections, which meant Lupo. And no one crossed Lupo and lived to talk about it.

Who Killed Rat Fink? – A Stayache Tataland Mystery

 Business was churning as smooth as butter in Stayache Tataland. The Heard, were now silent partners with Vin Weasel in the doggie cookie business.  The success of the Oreo cookie marketing campaign had become a cash cow for Lupo and his gang. Plus, they still had their hooves in an extortion ring that controlled production from Stayache Tataland to Moo York and parts of Filly. These days it was all about C.R.E.A.M, hundred dollar bills y’all.

As the head of an organized crime family, Lupo was extremely business savvy and read The Wall Street Journal. He never kept all his cheese in one basket. He had Filly cream cheese, American cheese, stinky Tellagio cheese in France, and his favorite – Swiss cheese. He called his investment banker, Hannikah the Shrew and told her to transfer a million bullsheets from his Jersey Shore account to Switzerland. Swiss bankers like the Oyster Rockerfellas, were as tight lipped as clams and never questioned how their clients made their money. They were accustomed to dealing with gangsters and other members of the criminal underworld. Lupo was tired, it had been a busy day and after checking his various accounts on his Apple IPad , he decided to go home early.

Even gangsters need a break and Lupo felt it was time, to take a well deserved vacation. Lupo had been thinking about flying to Europe to visit his cousin, Benicio del Toro. His cousin was a famous Spanish actor. Each time they spoke, he would tell Lupo that the grass tasted better in Europe. His cousin had a point, Stayache Tataland was going through a weed epidemic, maybe it was time to take Benicio up on his offer. Tomorrow he would call his travel agent and begin planning his European vacation. Ahhh, “living la vida loca,” Lupo started to daydream about the sexy “vacas” and “mamacitas,” he would meet in Spain.

While Lupo was frolicking with “Conchita” in his daydreams, the girls were making plans of their own. The Jersey Heard swishes, Mercedes, Lexus, Sapphire, Paradise, Champagne, and Swantina were having a cow’s night out.  It was Swantina’s birthday and the girls had spent the day in Moo York on a wild spending spree. These Jersey heifers were gangsta fashionistas with a taste for Jimmy Choos, Prada and Coco Chanel.  Tonight the girls were ready to party like rockstars at the bling bling Golden Corral; the hottest club in Stayache Tataland. Every Saturday night, Dj Hot Doggie would blaze the latest hip hop tracks to a hype crowd of partygoers.   

Lupo was happy; he had the pasture all to himself. He had just bought a Sony 52” flat screen T.V. with digital surround sound and was planning to chill on his bed of hay and watch the Chicago Bears getting roasted  by the Miami Dolphins on  the  Animal Sports Network . Forget Flipper, the Dolphins were a bunch of ex-navy seals, meaner than piranhas fighting over a chicken bone. This would be no easy fishing trip for the Bears, who were a bunch of cowardly Yogi’s.  Things were looking grizzly for the Chicago team, especially with their star quarterback Smokey sidelined with a swollen face. The Barnyard Tabloid was abuzz; yesterday’s headline ran “Smokey’s Weakness for Sweetness.” Rumor was, Smokey had a thing for the honeys. This time, he had been caught with his snout in another bears’ honey pot, poor Smokey had to jump through a window followed by a swarm of angry killer bees. The Barnyard Tabloid had turned Smokey’s exploits into a circus event and the news hounds were making a fortune from tickets sales.

The game had turned into a real fish fry. It was the third quarter and the Dolphins had swallowed the bait Bears – hook, line and sinker. Suddenly his Blackberry phone started vibrating. It was a text message from Vin Weasel, it read, “Lupo one of your skunks is a rat. He’s been singing like a canary to the Holstein police Watch your back.” Lupo was fuming; he couldn’t believe what he had just heard. A member of his crew was a skunk of a snitch.  He was in a pickle, which made him even madder, because he hated swimming in brine. He knew what he had to do. His swishes were out partying, so he would take care of this problem himself.  

Ratfink was living on borrowed time.  He was holed up under a bushel of corn on the outskirts of Stayache Tataland. This corn hole was a safe house for witnesses waiting to testify in court. It was guarded around the clock by the Holstein police and a team of corn dogs. Informants never survived for long in Stayache Tataland, but ratfink had no choice. He had a terrible secret and the police had him between a rat and a hard place. This was the only way he could make amends, for all the bad things he had done in the past.  He was eating a bowl of cocoa puffs when suddenly his chest convulsed and he fell to the floor shaking and kicking – he was having a rat attack. His guards told Oscar Meyer Weiner to get an ambulance while they stayed and tried to resuscitate the fink.

Minutes later, an ambulance rounded the corner sirens blaring and lights flashing. The guards hustled Ratfink in the back and the ambulance dashed off into the night.  The ambulance never made it to the hospital. It was found the next morning on a deserted back road, upside down in a ditch. The police were in trouble, they had a dead snitch in the morgue and no idea who killed him. The autopsy report said that he had been poisoned with a lethal dose of D-con. Once again the case against Lupo had run into a brick wall. Sources informed them, that Lupo apparently had an airtight alibi – at the time of the murder he was on a plane crossing the Atlantic to Spain. They could cross the Jersey swishes off the list too; they had been spotted at club Golden Corral, partying all night. The big question on everyone’s lips was – “who else would have wanted Ratfink dead and why”?

While Lupo was at the airport, he made two phone calls. He called Swantina and told her his plans. She would be in charge while he was out of the country. Five minutes before boarding he made another call to an unlisted number in Moo York. He spoke a few words into the phone, and then boarded the Stayache Tata Airlines bound for Spain.

Hours before Ratfinks wild wild ride in the ambulance, he was in the bathroom shedding crocodile tears. He had been writing a letter to Hannikah the Shrew, explaining his current predicament and begging for her forgiveness. It was a closely guarded secret, Ratfink was a shrewish rat. This meant that he was half rat and half shrew.  Hannikah had fallen in love with a handsome army rat and they had a hot and steamy rodent affair. A month later Ratfink was born.  He never knew his parents. He had grown up as an orphan, living a life of crime, in the mean streets of Moo York city.  Hannikah always regretted what she had done, and after years of searching had found her baby. Now she was a rich old shrew and wanted to make amends with her son before she kicked the bucket. She had changed her will, and Ratfink was now listed as the beneficiary of her estate along with her other two children- Aaah Shrew and Feng Shrew.

Ratfinks’ letter never made it to Hannikah. She had died quietly in her sleep the night before. With Hannikah and Ratfink sleeping with the fishes, the children looked set to inherit all those millions. No one suspected fowl play until the autopsy showed traces of D-con in her body. Slowly a rumor began to spread throughout Stayache Tataland. It started as a whisper, in bars and on street corners and spread like wildfire from wing to hoof to paw. No one knew what to make of it. The police were clueless, murder was walking the streets and everyone was scared. Trix the Silly Rabbit was in her bar telling  customers that a cereal killer was on the loose. Everyone was pointing fingers in the dark, but only one person knew the whole truth and how to end this story; and my friend that would be you.

Welcome to Stayache Tataland – A Beasty Fear Tail

In Stayache Tataland there lived a Jersey Heard of cows whose calves were all slender and shapely, well suited for supporting plump bovine figures. Each day, Mercedes, Lexus, Sapphire, Paradise, Champagne, and Swantina worked out on the pole to keep the hump in their rumps. These were young heifers and for them it was all about cows gone wild and partying.

Mercedes, Lexus, Sapphire, Paradise, Champagne, and Swantina were all Jersey cows. They wanted to separate themselves from other wannabe heifers in Stayache Tataland. After much cud chewing around the Versace salt lick they agreed to call themselves the Jersey Heard. The name stuck and whenever Lupo gave orders the cows would say hhheard. The girls loved to use cow slang and thought the word moo to be so 80’s barnyard. In their opinion a Heard bull sounded more sinister than a Moo bull and that was that.

The entire barnyard knew, that the Jersey Heard were udderly mafia, and had weaves and braids in their tails for gangsta swishing. The Jersey Heard operated outside the law, so they were constantly checking each other for bugs and low life insects like the cow fly. Cow flies were well known snitches: and divided their time equally between dumpster diving and spying on Lupo, the Jersey Heard bull.

However their days as paid informants for the Holstein police were numbered.  They ratted out Lupo to the cops. The media were all news hounds and turned his arrest into a circus event and sold tickets to the show. Lupo, was facing a 10 year bid in the cattle pen as the reputed head and horns of an organized crime family and had to shell out a huge pile of bull sheets to post bail. The Holstein police with hundreds of witnesses, figured they had an airtight pillow case against Lupo.  This made him as mad as a bull in a china shop and he ordered a hit on all the cow flies in Stayache Tataland.

It  was time  for some wet work and the  Jersey cows, with their gangsta swishes, wacked so many cow flies, that the few who were left had to be relocated under the GNAT witness protection program. They were moved in the dead of night by a Fly SWAT team and given new identities like horse fly, blow fly, and fruit fly. Some were so scared, they left Stayache Tataland altogether and moved to Africa using forged passports. They called themselves the Tsetse flies in honor of their new homeland.

Lupo was acquitted of all charges and his Jersey Heard bought him a platinum nose ring as a welcome home present. Platinum, was the most expensive ring that bull sheet could buy and all the cows loved Lupo’s new bling bling look.

Now as we all know, the Jersey Heard cows were udderly mafia and heavily involved in organized crime. They specialized in the milk business and had their hooves in an extortion ring that controlled milk production from Stayache Tataland to Moo York and parts of Filly.

They sold their milk at exorbitant prices to the doggie cookie manufacturers. The manufactures were all weasels and knew the Jersey Heard was running a milk and cookie rip-off. They tried to weasel out of paying up, but Lupo ordered a couple of skunks to do a drive-by one night. The press raised a big stink about the whole affair and the next day’s newspaper headlines read “Moo York Gripped by Fear as Drive-By Claims Another Weasel”. At the crime scene the Holstein police found chocolate chip spent shells everywhere. After that, the bull sheets flowed like melted butter and turned Lupo and the Jersey Heard into cash money millionaires.

The weasels had no choice; doggie cookies were popular puppy snacks, with one major drawback. They were as hard as nails. Pooches everywhere were losing teeth which is embarrassing because they looked like gummi bears.  Sales took a nose dive. In 2008 the R& D department came up with a solution. They put a surgeon general’s warning  on the package which made it illegal for puppies to buy them without I.D.  This didn’t work, some Siberian Huskies started a smuggling operation from Canada in what the newspapers dubbed the underground cookie trail.

The industry had run out of ideas. To solve the problem the weasels hired some of Stayache Tataland’s brightest minds to find a solution. They watched episodes of Jackass for inspiration, (yes they were all donkeys). They were under tremendous pressure and after the 28th episode a fight broke out. To this day no knows how the fight started, but a horsefly claims that Foo Donkey kicked Bo Donkey in the head and turned him into a Zebra. Bo Donkey was clocked cold turkey and woke up the next day, calling himself cookies and cream. Word of the fight spread and Bo Donkey now Cookies and Cream became the butt of every Hee Haw joke in Stayache Tataland.  This was a public relations nightmare for the entire cookie industry and once again the news hounds, turned the entire debacle into a circus event and sold tickets to the show.

Cookies and cream ended up on Youtube and became an instant celebrity. The weasels knew a good thing when they saw it and Bo donkey was paid a lot of bull sheets to become the industry spokesperson. A new cookie line and marketing campaign was created. Oreo cookies became a best seller and the cookies with milk marketing campaign turned puppies everywhere into lap dogs.