Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bugtussle’s Bike Bags (part 10)

-    Folklore, Myths and Legends    -

-( 1997 )----------

A block and a half west of Elysian Fields Ave on Burgundy Street, just slightly removed from the touristy French Quarter district of New Orleans, sits a typical wooden framed, two story structure with faded buckskin-colored clapboard siding. Next to the gate at the base of the wooden steps that lead up to the porch and front door to the house is a hand-painted, oval metal sign reading La Ficelle House of Voodoo   – and, at the bottom of the sign, an arrow pointing towards the right with the instructions: ENTER THOUGH SIDE DOOR. On the inside of the gate, a pathway of stepping stones pave the way across the front of the house and around the side to a small gabled overhang sheltering a recessed alcove housing a single half-glass door. Hand-painted on the glass, in the same style as the metal sign out front: Mam’zelle Louise La Ficelle – Readings and Rituals.

The decorating style on the inside of the La Ficelle House of Voodoo might adequately be described as – typical Voodooshoppian: a little jingly jangly bell above the door to announce the entrance (or departure) of a customer into (or out of) the dimly lit quarters; narrow walkways between rows and rows of cabinets, all with tiny cubby hole shelves containing a wide assortment of oils, perfumes, waters, washes and incenses; bin after bin of various roots and herbs and plants; racks of talismans, holy cards, Tarot cards, beads and ritual supplies; shelves of skulls and skeletal  figurines - both serious and whimsical;  and an entire wall dedicated to masks, Voodoo dolls and other Voodoo curios. In the middle of it all, tucked in between two racks of CD’s (presumably the latest and greatest sounds of Voodoo), sits a gray metal desk with an old-fashioned cash register on one end. Behind the desk, in a well-worn, wooden pedestal desk chair, sat Mam’zelle Louise La Ficelle filling out a supply order form.

At first glance, Louise La Ficelle could have been mistaken for a leftover from the Woodstock Music and Art Fair (3 Days of Peace & Music) – her late 60’s / early 70’s Hippie fashion well-defining that assumption. Upon a closer look, one could easily tell that Louise was barely in her twenties – twenty-five tops. Her waist-length, brunette curls flowed over a tie-dyed peasant blouse accented by an assortment of beaded necklaces and bracelets – clanging against the desktop as she jotted down numbers on the forms.

She stopped writing for a moment and glanced at the phone next to the cash register.

Three seconds later – the phone rang.

-( 1986 )----------

Dr Alphonse Baroovra climbed aboard his touring bike, rolled out of the parking lot of the Hotel La Ribaudiere onto Rue Paul Dussac and started making his way across town heading west.  His bike was a modified-for-touring, late 70’s Schwinn Paramount ten-speed - Campagnolo Chorus componentry, Brook's leather saddle, headlamp and tail lamp powered by a generator mounted to engage the front tire when needed, front and rear clamp-on racks with panniers,  handlebar and rear rack bags packed for two weeks of exploring on the roadways of Madagascar. He would make use of his tent and sleeping bags for the bulk of the nights as the towns with adequate hotel accommodations along the route were few and far between – the two better towns being the ones where he planned to take a two-night stop and rest up. His food and on-the-road-cooking was planned for accordingly also. 

His travel plans commenced with navigating the crowded city roads of Antananarivo for about seven miles until he intersected Route 4, at which point he would travel predominately north to the city of Antisirnana – approximately 680 miles away on the northern tip of Madagascar. Allowing himself two weeks to make the journey with twelve days of riding and two days of rest, he figured he would have no problem at all as long as he could maintain a 50- to 60-mile per day average. Afterwards, he would take a bus back to Antananarivo and then a flight back to the states – a "Tour of a Lifetime!"

But experiencing a bicycle tour of Madagascar solely for the sake of experiencing a bicycle tour of Madagascar was not the predominant motivation driving Dr Alphonse Baroovra. That motivation came after years of studying resources and references outside the normal accepted medical practice. A study that lead Dr B into the darkest corridors of alternative medicines – alternatives based on absolutely no scientific evidence whatsoever. Folklore, myths, legends, witchcraft, voodoo, hoodoo – Dr B left no stone unturned in his quest to right a terrible wrong that he had committed nine years before.

The most recent stone turned – the stone that for some unknown reason seemed to make the most sense to Dr B – the stone that lead him to seek out the blood of the Madagascar Panther Chameleon. 

-( 1997 )----------

Ben Franklin High School in New Orleans was started in 1957 and originally housed in the old Carrollton Avenue Courthouse. As the school attendance grew, so did the need for larger accommodations – resulting in a move in 1990 to buildings over on Leon C Simon Drive – on the campus of the University of New Orleans. Part of that first graduating class after the move – the 31st graduating class of Ben Franklin High – were two girls who had shared over a decade-and-a-half together as best friends and neighbors. Two girls who swore that they would remain "best friends forever and ever and ever" but who went completely different directions within a month after graduating from Ben Franklin High School. Two girls who hadn't spoken a word to each other in nearly seven years until...

“La Ficelle House of Voodoo,” greeted Mam’zelle La Ficelle as she answered the phone.

“Louise? Louise, is that you?” asked Sherry.

“This is Louise La Ficelle. Who am I speaking to?”

“It’s Sherry – Sherry Castle. Louise, I need to ask you a big favor.” 


“I’m telling you, Sal – it was right here!” insisted Albert as he repeatedly jabbed his index finger into the lower right-hand corner of his desk blotter – the exact same spot where now appeared only black scribbles – scribbles from the pen Sal had taken out of his jacket pocket a few minutes earlier. “I took JP’s pen out of the bike bag yesterday, scribbled a few circles right here. It was blue ink. You wrote it down – blue ink ballpoint pen. Check your notes.”

-( 1986 )----------

On Day Four of his journey, Dr B had cycled into the town of Antanambazaha. He had found a hotel – showered and shaved and was enjoying dinner at a little cafĂ© across the street. His journey so far had been nothing short of marvelous. The first day had been the slowest and he fell short of his goal by only cycling 46 miles. He blamed that mostly on the traffic in Antananarivo – it had taken him a little over two hours to get out of town. However the next couple of days more than made up for lost time – both of them right at 70 miles each – topped off with a 65-mile Day Four.  Dr B finished his dinner, ordered a cup of coffee and then spent the rest of the evening engaged in his favorite pastime of people-watching.

Dr B’s itinerary included spending two nights in Antanambazaha – the one-third point in his cycling trek. He would wash his clothes in his hotel room sink, do some shopping in the morning after breakfast, maybe a little site-seeing in the afternoon, followed by an early dinner and prepare for an early start the next day.  He would then tour another four-day stretch followed by another one-day break.  The final segment should put him into Sadjoavato on Day Thirteen – and a rendezvous with a Sadjoavato resident who had replied to his letters and promised him a good supply of panther chameleon blood.

On Day Six of his journey, Dr B awoke early, ate a good breakfast – not too heavy, not too light – packed his bags, aired his tires and hit the road – all as planned. He turned off of Route 4 onto Route 6 and began the day’s journey to the north.

It was the last time anyone ever saw Dr Alphonse Baroovra.

(Back: Part 9  -  Tinker Toys and Fireplace Pokers)

(Next: Part 11 -  Fortune Cookies)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bugtussle’s Bike Bags (part 9)

-    Tinker Toys and Fireplace Pokers    -

-( 1997 )----------

In the front office of Clevenger’s Skate and Ball Bearing, Sherry Castle returned the telephone handset to the cradle – the bizarre conversation still spinning 'round and 'round in her head. A conversation that had started out with a need to speak to Nathan Clevenger Junior and then somehow ended up recounting a childhood trauma that became the catalyst for abruptly steering it in the direction of the Island of Madagascar and the need for some blood from a panther chameleon.  She thought to herself, “Sure makes answering the phone to take an order for six hundred gross containers of 5/16" diameter ball bearings seem drastically bland.”

Sherry had barely even finished thinking that thought before she counter-thought to herself, “What the hell am I thinking? Anything makes taking an order for six hundred gross containers of 5/16” diameter ball bearings seem drastically bland!”

JP had explained to her how he had suffered a horrible accident when he was five years old which had resulted in the loss of his right eye. He had gone on to tell her, including the preface, “as unbelievable and crazy as this may sound,” of a procedure he had quite recently read about wherein it might be possible to regain the sight in the affected eye. He admitted to her that the procedure appeared to be quite unorthodox and questionable to say the least. But when you’ve lived the last twenty years with half your normal sight and you hear of news that may return your vision to normal, no matter how far south of “alternative” the procedure may be, it’s a road you owe to yourself to explore.

Sherry leaned back in her office chair and raised her hands up to the sides of her head. As she closed her eyes, she rubbed the tips of her fingers hard into her temples in an attempt to massage the thought process into adequately interpreting the feasibility of JP’s fantastic tale. She leaned further back in her chair – her fingers continuing along the sides of her head until they met and interlocked with each other behind her neck. She sat there, motionless – staring out the front window – not focusing on anything. Thinking.

After a few moments, Sherry sat upright, reached across her desk and picked up the phone. She punched in the number for New Orleans directory assistance.

“Directory assistance – what city please?”

“Yes,” answered Sherry, "New Orleans please. I need a number for La Ficelle - Mam'zelle Louise Ficelle. 

-( 1986 )----------

Dr B sat at the terminal at DFW Airport waiting for his trans-Atlantic flight. Looking at his watch, he noted that he still had nearly an hour before the plane would start to board. Once on board, and once they wait for what always seems like ten times longer than it needs to be while other passengers take their sweet time at finding a place to stuff their carry-on luggage and refuse to promptly find their seats and properly buckle themselves in – and then once they wait a little while longer while the flight attendants go up and down the aisle asking those same people (all of whom know darn good and well that they need to keep their seats upright and table trays in the locked position until the flight is well underway) to put their seats upright and to return their trays to the locked position – then and only then will the captain pull away from the gate. After that ordeal,  it will be a simple matter of spending the next twenty-four and a half hours on the plane – stopping briefly in Atlanta and then De Gaulle in Paris – before landing at Ivata Airport just outside of Antananarivo, Madagascar.

So there Dr B sat, in the DFW terminal, running the next twenty-six or so hours of his life through his head. He had brought a book to read on the plane – which he had started to read while he sat there waiting to board – but then put it back in his carry-on after reading half-way down the first page. He decided people-watching would be more entertaining for the time being.

While in the process of people-watching, he noticed a young boy walking with his father.  A boy – probably about five years old – walking along side and holding his dad’s hand. The boy had a white gauze bandage held in place with surgical tape over his right eye. As Dr B watched them walk by, his memory wandered back in time – back to the living room of Dolores Bugtussle’s home in the winter of ’77.

The first big snow had just fallen and it was a perfect evening for the winter's first fire in the fireplace and for Dolores to invite Dr B over for dinner. Since they lived only three houses apart, he was a frequent dinner guest in the Bugtussle home. JP was playing nearby, running his little toy trucks up and down the roads he had outlined using bits and pieces of his Tinker Toy sticks. The series of images ran through Dr B's head - just like they had time after time again since the day it happened: Getting up from the chair to go over and adjust the logs with the fireplace poker; Moving them around until he got the biggest blaze possible going in the firebox; Turning around to get Dolores' approval of his fire-building skills; The memory of her face as it changed from a face of laughter to one of shear panic; The sound of JP's scream; The realization that JP had been running to see what he was doing at the fireplace at the exact same moment that he had turned with the hot fireplace poker pointing outward in his hand.

Alphonse had never been able to fully forgive himself for that accident nine years ago. By every rational thought, he knew that it was just that, an accident. But that didn’t relieve the pain he felt or the deep sense of responsibility for his careless actions of that night. For the last nine years, he had searched the vast resources available in the medical field for information – fully knowing that nothing existed that could help young JP. At some point in time, that guilt – that deep sense of responsibility – really starts eating at a person. When you’ve lived with that unbearable amount of guilt for the last nine years and then you hear of a procedure that may return a young boy’s vision to normal – no matter how far south of “alternative” that procedure may be, it’s a road you owe to yourself to explore.


“Just set the tray down on this desk here,” instructed Detective Bass to Randy, the delivery boy from the deli two blocks over. Randy set the tray down the pulled the ticket loose from the top Styrofoam box and handed it to Arnold.

“I’ll need you to sign this one please, sir,” said Randy.

Arnold reached up to his shirt pocket – patted it – no pen. Sal reached into his jacket pocket and handed his pen to Arnold. Leaning over the desk, Arnold took the ticket, set it on the desk and started to sign it. No ink came from the pen. He immediately moved his hand over to the edge of the desk blotter and scribbled little circles on the blotter until the pen started writing. He signed the ticket and handed it back to Randy – gave Sal back his pen.

Sal and Arnold sat at the desk eating their lunch – not saying anything to each other - just enjoying their sandwiches and chips. Arnold was halfway through with his sandwich when he glanced down and noticed the scribbles that he had just made with Sal's pen - the black circular scribbles. The blotter was the same blotter that had been on his desk for a couple of months or so - displaying all the same doodles that had been doodled over the course of those same couple of months or so - with the exception of the blue scribbles made with the pen from J Bugtussle's bike bag just the day before. Those blue scribbles were nowhere to be seen.

(Back: Part 8  -  Madagascar Chameleon)

(Next: Part 10  -  Folklore, Myths and Legends)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bugtussle’s Bike Bags (part 8)

-    Madagascar Chameleon    -

-( 1997 )----------

A witch doctor?” Sherry questioned in return, “Why on earth would you ask me something like that?”

“It’s just—Well, I thought—Umm—“ JP stammered, completely out of character.  “I just remember this one conversation we had a while back – the one where you were complaining about that bozo that delivered the office supplies. You remarked a couple of times how he had gotten out of line, made some inappropriate comments – remember?


“Well you said something then about going home and sticking some pins in your Voodoo doll of him. So, I thought—“

“Mr Bugtussle, I can’t believe you thought I was—“

“Can you call me JP? Please?”

Over the course of the last three months, as the sale progressed on Clevenger’s Skate and Ball Bearing, Sherry had talked to JP at least twice a week. The major portion of those phone calls, at least ninety-five percent, was purely business. During the other five percent, various normal pleasantries, along with a few tiny morsels of personal information, were exchanged between the two – and apparently, some little tidbits of comments that Sherry had made in passing and assumed had maybe gone unnoticed. The truth of matter was, Sherry had practiced Voodoo since she was a little girl living down in New Orleans – New Orleans Voodoo. She knew good and well that the “sticking of pins in dolls to cause pain” was a common misconception of Voodoo practices – but sometimes one just goes along with the popular belief if it fits the topic of conversation at the time. She really hadn't meant anything by the comment – barely even remembered making it – but now, possibly sorry that the words ever left her mouth. Nevertheless, going from an off-the-wall comment about a Voodoo doll and then making a gigantic leap to needing to find a witch doctor – well, this was a topic of conversation with JP that had taken Sherry completely by surprise. She wasn’t sure how to continue.

“I’ll call you JP only if you start calling me Sherry. Now – are you kidding around about this witch doctor thing?”

“I don’t really need a witch doctor as such. I just need to find something that I’m guessing a witch doctor or maybe someone who knows something about Voodoo might be able to get for me.”

“And what is that?”

“The blood of the Madagascar Panther Chameleon.”


The corner of Peach Street and Bishops Lane is lit at night by a single lamppost with an incandescent bulb. The ancient lamppost does a fair job of lighting the intersection but doesn’t offer much in the way of security for the surrounding buildings. In fact, the corner of Peach Street and Bishops Lane bathed in the soothing light of the quaint little lamppost at night would make a great painting to hang near the comfortable chair and end table in the quiet reading corner of one’s living room – as long as the artist didn’t include a sound option – an option that would currently include the ear-piercing, pulsating screech of the alarm going off at Jackson’s Pawn and Jewelry.

In the seconds prior to the alarm going off, a figure emerged from the shadows, hurled a five-holed, king-sized brick through the plate glass window thus changing the hand-painted name of the place to Jacks welry. Jumping through the newly-created entry, the figure ran past every item in the front of the store, including the sensors that set off the alarm, and headed straight for the door to the back room. As the alarm siren penetrated the previously-peaceful night air with its warning, the figure quickly entered the back room, went to the desk, opened the knee-hole drawer and retrieved the handgun placed there  a mere few hours ago by the owner.  With gun in hand, the figure departed the store as expeditiously as it had entered.

-( 1986 )----------

Alphonse “Dr B” Baroovra unlatched the storm door, held it open and motioned for JP to come inside. As they walked to the center of the room, he grabbed the remote off the coffee table, and with an audible click of the big button on the side, turned off the television set. With his outstretched left arm he signaled for JP to take a seat at the near end of the couch. He handed JP a travel brochure and then said, “Want something to drink? I’ve got iced tea and Dr Pepper. Or water. What would you like?”

JP replied, “Dr Pepper would be nice.”

Dr Alphonse Baroovra had been practicing medicine in town for nearly twenty-one years. He had grown up in this town. When he was in elementary school and high school, his family lived right next door to the Bugtussle family. Homeronius Peropavlovsk Bugtussle (Homer – for obvious reasons), was Alphonse’s best friend – Buds for Life as they called themselves. Alphonse and Homer were in Scouts together, went to church together, took the same classes in high school, got the same part-time jobs while in school (first, working at the old one-screen movie theatre and then later working as stock boys and sackers over at at Moe’s Grocery Store – the same year that Fanny Gilbert sold the place. They’d asked Ol’ Lady Gilbert several times for a job but she always told them that it would be a cold day in hell when she would hire the likes of them and then she would wave her hand in a shooing fashion and say, “Now get on outta here unless you’re gonna buy something – you’re wasting my time.” Moe Ziegler hired them on the spot the day after he bought the store.) – without a doubt, the two guys were inseparable – Buds for Life.

All through college and then med-school, Homer and Alphonse talked about the day that they would open up their practice together. It was their common goal – and one of many that they managed to achieve. Within a year after opening their practice, Homer married Dolores. Six months later, Alphonse married Beth. The only additional importance that Homer and Beth have to do with our story pertains to what happened during the time between the months of June and December 1971. That was the span of time that Homer and Beth decided to have their affair. However, the affair came to an abrupt end on December 17th when the car they were both in attempted to pass an 18-wheeler at about ninety miles per hour – by going under it. JP was born two months later. Alphonse delivered him in Dolores’ house. For the next fourteen years, Alphonse help to raise JP – including home-schooling him. For those fourteen years, JP had never set foot outside of Dolores’ house – until tonight.

“Mom says you’re taking a trip?” queried JP as Alphonse returned to the living room with a glass of ice and a bottle of Dr Pepper, “Where are you going?”

“Did you even look at the travel brochure I just handed you?” answered Alphonse.

JP had been thumbing the pages of the brochure while he waited for “Teach” to return with his drink but had never even bothered to read it or even glance down at it. He flipped it back over to look at the front cover - CYCLING TOURS OF MADAGASCAR.

(Back: Part 7  -  Porch Steps)

(Next: Part 9  -  Tinker Toys and Fireplace Pokers)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Bugtussle’s Bike Bags (part 7)

-    Porch Steps    -

As Detective Arnold Bass was skimming through the latest issue of Sports Illustrated while sitting on the toilet in the bathroom of his one-bedroom apartment, he heard the sound of someone loudly knocking on– (This is a lousy way to begin this installment of the story. Let’s start it over a little bit differently.)

-    Porch Steps    -

Detective Bass and Dolores  Bugtussle were sitting, arm in arm, on the sofa in Dolores’ living room watching and old black and white movie, snacking on micro-wave popcorn and drinking a couple of lite beers.  Just as Arnold was picking up the remote control to adjust the volume a tiny bit higher, a loud rapping on the front door pierced the ambiance of the moment – startling both of them to the point that the bowl of popcorn, which had been sitting on Dolores’ outstretched legs, was catapulted into the air and emptied its contents all over the coffee table and surrounding area. Simultaneously,  Arnold jerked and flung the remote control across the room and knocked over two of the porcelain figurines on the shelf above the television set. The Hummel fiddler and trumpet player went crashing to the floor adding their little broken selves to the scattered popcorn mixture. Meanwhile, Arnold and Dolores were acting like they were a couple of teenagers that just got caught in the backseat of their dad’s car parked behind the church building at eleven-thirty at night. Again – the rapping on the front door. Dolores looked at Arnold, paused a few seconds, then finally stood up and walked across the room.

Dolores switched on the porch light and opened the front door.  Peering through the glass of the storm door, she focused on the sight of the woman who was in the process of going back down the front porch steps but, upon realizing that someone was actually home and was answering the door, had stopped midway and turned around to look back towards the door.

“Mrs. Bugtussle?” queried the slender, long-haired blonde woman.

Dolores made her out to be around forty years old – rather tallish – perhaps five eleven or maybe six even – hard to tell for sure since she had descended two of the porch steps. “Yes. Can I help you?”

As the woman returned to the deck of the porch and approached the front door, she smiled and said, “Hi – you don’t know me. My name is Sherry Castle. I live in South Carolina and I knew your son. Well, I sorta knew your son.”

Dolores replied with a smile, unlatched the storm door and invited Sherry into her home. She introduced Arnold – letting Sherry know that he was one of the detectives working on the case. Sherry then relayed to them how she had seen the news of JP’s death on the internet and immediately booked a flight to DFW airport. She had done a search and found Dolores’ address but no phone was listed so she just took a chance and stopped by the house.  She explained how she and JP had met, fifteen years ago when he had called to inquire about purchasing the roller skate and bearing company where she worked. They had become good friends over the phone during that time and had even attempted to meet in person once a few years back but that it didn’t work out. He had never visited the company once he bought it and pretty much just let it continue running the same way it had ever since she had worked there.

Arnold went into the kitchen to fix some more popcorn – and to get a broom and dustpan.

-( 1986 )----------

On the upper east side of town, the light from the television and the sounds of the ten o'clock news were all that barely gave life to the living room in the bungalow belonging to Dr Alphonse Baroovra.  Dr B (as all of his staff – and most all of his patients – called him) was slumped down in his huge, overstuffed lounging chair with a bowl of popcorn in his lap and a room-temperature mug of beer leaving another ring stain on the wooden top of his end table. The windows were wide open with a varied assortment of six-legged creatures all basking in the cool spring-time air, perched on the screens while searching for ways to journey closer to the light source – all completely oblivious to the fact that the pictures on the television screen were of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant which had exploded just the day before. Any bug worth its three pair of shoes would be smart enough to stay away from something like that – even if it was only a picture on a television screen. As the news coverage shifted to comments by President Reagan, Dr B reached for the remote control in order to adjust the volume a little bit louder. At the exact same moment that he clicked the button on the remote, someone started knocking on the front door. He paused a few seconds and then finally stood up and walked across the room.

Dr B switched on the porch light and opened the front door.  Peering through the glass of the storm door, he focused on the sight of the lanky, teenage boy who was in the process of going back down the front porch steps but, upon realizing that someone was actually home and was answering the door, had stopped midway and turned around to look back towards the door.

“JP? Is that you? What are you doing out so late?”

“Hi Teach,” replied JP.

(Almost everyone called him Dr B – with the exception of his favorite student – young JP Bugtussle!”

(Back: Part 6  -  Cigarette Smoke)

(Next: Part 8  -  Madagascar Chameleon)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bugtussle’s Bike Bags (part 6)

-    Cigarette Smoke    -

Mel Jackson counted out sixty-five dollars, all in brand new, crisp bills to the couple standing on the other side of the counter, and then closed the register drawer. The young couple – probably no more than nineteen or twenty years old – had just pawned two wedding bands and a diamond ring. It was a cheap diamond but the gold itself was enough to bring Mel a tidy profit should they not find the means to make good on their loan. Mel’s best guess was that they were having a rough go at starting a family too early in life – with one or maybe even two kids back at home being watched by a mother or little sister or brother. Now they had just parted with the last bit of anything of value that they owned between them in a last-ditch attempt at making some sort of ends meet. As the guy stuffed the cash in his back pocket, they slowly walked out the door and past the rack of pawned mountain bikes and girls’ frame 10-speeds that nobody wants. Mel had just the slightest twinge of a caring feeling start to form in lowest sub-levels of his heart – but then quickly (we’re talking nanoseconds quickly) snapped back to his reality by replacing those feelings with thoughts of the four- or five-hundred bucks he’ll be able to sell those rings for in thirty days when those kids don’t show back up.

But Mel had other things on his mind at that particular point in time. He needed to get back to his friend in the back room – his friend that had gotten himself into a gigantic heap of trouble. Of course, Mel realized that he was that same gigantic heap of trouble also – maybe not quite as deep into the heap but definitely to a point that fell somewhere between his shoulders and chin.  He knew that the best plan of action at this point was for his friend to turn himself in to the police. Sure, Mel knew that he’d be implicated since the gun was from his shop but he would just have to find a way to deal with it. After all, the whole thing was just an accident. This was Mel’s planned advice to his friend as he walked to the back room but – upon opening the door he discovered that his young friend was nowhere to be found. He took a deep breath. Mel felt the heap get a good ten feet taller.

Back at the police station, Detectives Bass and Salamander were studying the contents of the newly discovered bike bag. Jimmy was at one end of the desk and Dolores stood at the other.  Sal wrote in his notebook as Arnold vocally itemized the contents of the bag: packet of cookies, sunglasses, twelve business cards (JP Bugtussle – phone number – email address), spiral notepad (blank – just like the rest), and a ballpoint pen. Out of a routine habit, Arnold took the pen and scribbled on the desk blotter. He added, “Blue ink ballpoint pen.” Sal duly noted it as such.

Sal also duly noted that his partner and Dolores were constantly making eye contact with each other – little looks that sort of lingered longer than normal. He also noted that their casual touching was starting to be a little more obvious.  Sal was a detective. He was paid to notice things. Arnold had been single for nearly ten years – and hadn’t been on a date in probably nine. Dolores was a good looking woman – about the same age as Arnold.  It’s obvious that they were attracted to each other. In Detective Mode, Sal would call those things “the facts.” Then he silently chuckled to himself, as he saw them standing next to each other, hands obviously touching out of sight beneath the top of the desk, and he thought, “Arnold can’t stand cigarette smoke.”

-( 1997 )----------

“Clevenger Skate and Ball Bearing, this is Sherry.”

“Hello Miss Castle. This is JP. Is Nathan in?”

“I’m sorry Mr Bugtussle. Nathan is out of town until Thursday. Is there anything I can help you with?”

“Oh, there were just a couple of issues that my lawyers brought to my attention regarding the sale. I wanted to discuss them with Nathan but it can wait a few days if need be.”

“Hopefully it’s nothing too serious that will jeopardize the deal. We’re all real excited about it here.”

“It just some minor details but something that needs to be addressed— Miss Castle, not meaning to change the subject too drastically, but— do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”

“Why no, Mr Bugtussle. What is it?"

"Do you happen to know where I could find a good witch doctor?"

(Back: Part 5  -  Shredded Styrofoam Cups)

(Next: Part 7  -  Porch Steps)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Bugtussle’s Bike Bags (part 5)

-    Shredded Styrofoam Cups    -

Jimmy had worked at the Uptown Coffee Shop since his sophomore year of high school. He started out being the custodian more than anything else. Gradually they let him start working behind the counter – at first just making coffee and eventually, after nearly a full year, actually waiting on customers also. It was only then that they hired another flunky to take care the cruddy cleanup work – Lewis – who could really care less if he had a job or not but was just doing this because his Ol' Man said it was “either get a job or hit the road.” Lewis fully intended to hit the road as soon as he had the cash to do so – but since no one was just walking up to him with endless offers of free money, the Ol’ Man gets to win. Meanwhile, Lewis gets to clean the floors and pick up trash and mow the grass and trim the hedges and do whatever other disgusting job they can think of at the Uptown Coffee Shop.

Now, Jimmy was a good employee and he took pride in his work. It really bugged him to no end to see the sloppy work ethic that Lewis possessed – especially when it came to the outside of the shop. Half the time Lewis didn’t even bother to pick up the trash before he mowed – thus creating an even bigger mess of shredded trash – which he pretty much ignored also. Even though the coffee shop was currently closed indefinitely, Jimmy and Lewis came in for a couple of hours to tidy up the place and do the yard work. And, just like every other time after Lewis had mowed the grass, Jimmy couldn’t stand it and went out to do a little "touch up" work in order to bring the appearance up to his own standards. Apparently Lewis had run over half a dozen Styrofoam cups right next to the hedges growing along the sidewalk near the street. It almost looked as if someone had flocked them with fake snow as part of some Christmas decorations four months too early. As Jimmy was raking the pieces of shredded Styrofoam out from under the hedge, he loosened an object that wasn’t the normal, run-of-the-mill sort of trash. It was a little black bag. He reached down and picked it up. It was the kind of bag that goes on a bicycle, either on or right behind the handlebars. He opened it up. Inside there was a packet of cookies, a pair of sunglasses, a ball point pen, a small spiral notepad, and a handful of business cards. Jimmy’s eyes widened as he read the name - the first time to himself and then he repeated it out loud - “J. P. Bugtussle!” He immediately ran inside to call the police.

At the same time that Jimmy was calling the police, down in the basement at Baroovra Memorial, the coroner was placing the sheet back over J.P.’s head. Dolores was making a valiant, but failing effort to hold back the tears. Just then, Detectives Arnold Bass and Herman “Sal” Salamander came through the double doors into the morgue. They introduced themselves to Dolores and then the coroner confirmed that she had made a positive I.D. of the body. At that moment Dolores lost it. She collapsed to the floor. Detective Bass just barely was able to catch her head before it made contact with the concussion-inducing concrete floor. He picked her up and carried her outside into the hallway.

-( 1997 )----------

“Clevenger Skate and Ball Bearing,” greeted the voice on the telephone, “this is Sherry.”

“Hi Sherry, my name is J.P. Bugtussle,” came the reply on the other end. “I’m calling from Ft Worth, Texas and I’m interested in buying your factory. Is it still for sale?”

“Why, yes, it most certainly is. Would you like me to connect you with Mr Clevenger?”

“Yes ma’am, if you don’t mind. What did you say your name was again?”

“Sherry. Sherry Castle.”

“Nice talking to you Mrs Castle."

“It’s Miss.”

“Well alright Miss Sherry Castle – I reckon we’ll be talking again soon.”

“Hold on Mr Bugtussle. I’ll tell Mr Clevenger that you’re on the line.”

Sherry put Mr Bugtussle on hold and then buzzed Nathan to let him know that he had a prospective buyer on line one. Nathan Clevenger Junior had decided it was time to retire. He had owned the place ever since Nathan Sr passed away at the young age of 53 back in 1962 – thirty-five years ago. His own son, Edithion (God how Nathan hates that name! But, anything to keep his wife, and his mother-in-law, Edith, happy.  For years Nathan got away with having everyone call his son Ed. But when Ed got to high school, he thought it would be cool to go by his real name so, ever since then, he’s forced people to call him by his given name - Edithion. Nathan absolutely hates it!) - anyway, Edithion has no desire, nor the brains for that matter, to own the company. He doesn’t do too badly in keeping the shop moving along on schedule but that’s about the extent of his capabilities. So now Nathan’s plan is to find a buyer who will keep the shop intact and retain the current staff. At least that’s what Sherry and the rest of the employees are hoping for.


After Dolores had passed out, Arnold carried her out into the hallway and sat her down in one of the chairs that lined the wall. He knelt down beside her to steady her and then sent Sal off to get some water or coffee. After about five minutes, Dolores began trying to open her eyes - slowly at first, and then rapidly blinking a few times to try and identify the blurry figure in front of her. For a few moments, the person looked exactly like the bluish image on the cover of Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits album - the first greatest hits album - minus the lettering of course. After a few more moments, as she was getting closer to regaining consciousness and a little bit clearer eyesight, Dolores realized that it was Detective Bass who was coming into focus in front of her.

As Dolores worked at becoming fully conscious, Sal cam walking down the hall with two bottles of water, one tucked in each of the front pockets of his pants, a large insulated paper cup of coffee from the cafeteria vending machine in one hand and a wad of moist paper towels in the other. She glanced up at Sal and then back toward Arnold. She started to speak - but the words weren't coming out. Arnold patted her forehead with the moist towels he took from Sal and told her to take it easy a few minutes longer - have a drink of water - be patient - don't rush it. He held onto her hand . Suddenly Arnold was clearly in focus. Dolores was starting to feel much better. Her hand felt comfortable in his.

At that moment, Arnold's cell phone started ringing.

(Back: Part 4.5  -  Intermission - Poetic Interlude)

(Next: Part 6  -  Cigarette Smoke)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bugtussle's Bike Bags (Part 4.5)

-    Intermission (Poetic Interlude)    -

My Dearest Wishing to Belong to Another, Edithion:

Mr Bass asks, “Isn’t it customary to excuse oneself before trying anything as absurd as to what you have suggested?”

“But I thought,” replies Mrs B, “that you would see that I can’t go on living with this cursed condition hovering over us.”





“Don’t talk to me like that – it makes no sense. You’re just blathering off words that start with ‘IM’ as far as I can tell and it has nothing to do with our relationship. You might as well hang up a sign that says: Closed IMdefinitely."

“Don’t try to belittle my felicity. Don’t nullify this electricity. The Federal District is full of Morons who cross the eye and dot the tea.”

(Play that saxophone)

The Rook chimes in, “I’d like to climb up inside your soul and ransack to my heart’s content or maybe take you on a trip to Louisiana. I’ve got no leeway – got no moderator – no expectancy – I’m spent. I’d like to amble but I’m suffering from disamblease.”

“Your observation of my obscurity is more than clear to me. It’s one of the things I live for.”

Yours without the normal feelings of regret,
Alphonse (Lost While Cycling Across Madagascar) Baroovra

(Back: Part 4  -  Sherry)

(Next: Part 5  -  Shredded Styrofoam Cups)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bugtussle’s Bike Bags (part 4)

-    Sherry    -

The terminating endpoint of Interstate 20 lies about 75 miles east of Columbia, South Carolina - right where Interstate 95 skirts the northwestern edge of Florence. About fifteen miles south of there, on Highway 52, is the peaceful little town of Coward – population 600 or so. Approximately twenty percent of the population of Coward works at Clevenger’s Skate and Ball Bearing – down off of Friendfield Road just across the railroad tracks. It used to be just Clevenger’s Ball Bearing until Nathan Clevenger married Kate Barfield – whose daddy, Howdy Barfield, owned Kate’s Skate-O-Rama (named after his favorite daughter, naturally) on the north end of town. A year or two after Kate and Nathan were married, Howdy came to them with the idea of expanding the ball bearing factory. This was in 1939, a couple of years after the Roller Skating Rink Operators Association (RSROA) was formed and Howdy had the insight to know that roller skating had no place to go but up. He convinced Nathan that they should start manufacturing roller skates in addition to ball bearings. So they did. Needless to say, the business boomed. In addition, as far as Sherry Castle is concerned, the business is still booming and going as strong as ever today.

Sherry is the current office manager for Clevenger’s Skate and Ball Bearing. She’s a pleasant woman - somewhat tallish and slender, with long, blonde hair on top of a good head for business.  Nathan’s grandson, Edithion (named after his grandmother), makes sure that everything out in the shop runs smoothly – but it is Sherry who has a handle on everything in the front office - except maybe for today. Today Sherry seems to be in a trance – just staring at her computer screen.  Every morning, when Sherry comes to work, she gets a pot of coffee going in the break room then checks the glue trap wedged between the fridge and the wall to see if any unwanted visitors had been nabbed overnight. Next she heads into her office to read the news on the internet while she waits for the coffee to be ready and for the rest of the office staff to show up. The headline that stopped her dead in her tracks this morning: J.P. Bugtussle Shot Dead!

Sherry sat there, just staring at the computer monitor. Her senses numb. Her mind started to wander – wander back to a time nearly fifteen years ago…


Meanwhile, in an overly chilly room down in the basement of the Alphonse Baroovra Memorial Hospital, Dolores Bugtussle prepared herself to identify the body laying under the sheet on the gurney. It had been eight years since she had last actually seen her son – although he called her at least twice a week on the phone and they would talk for hours. No one would have ever guessed that they lived in the same town – eighteen point seven miles apart.  It wasn't an estranged relationship – it was just strange – as had been so many things about J.P. Bugtussle's life – especially those thirty-seven beginning years of his life. As Dolores stood there, nervously staring, waiting, so many of those phone conversations with her son flashed through her head – primarily the ones over the last year or so – after his change. Those latter conversations were full of life and happiness and joy and – downright fun. Tales of all the interesting people he had met and helped while riding his bicycle around the country. Not the tedious, monotonous, hum-drum, callous business-like conversations that she dutifully listened to in times prior.

The coroner pulled the sheet back to expose J.P.’s head and chest. Dolores looked, quickly turned her head away, and then slowly returned her gaze to her son. She cupped her hand to her mouth. She nodded her head, acknowledging that this was indeed her son. Then, a puzzled look came across her face – her brow clenched tight over her eyes. She focused on some sort of a – for lack of a better word - a port. A port about two inches in diameter surgically implanted in his chest directly above his heart.

“Yes,” replied the coroner to her wordless question, “we are a little puzzled about that ourselves.”

(Back: Part 3  -  Mel and the Young Man)

(Next: Part 4.5  -  Intermission - Poetic Interlude)