Monday, January 9, 2017

The Kraken by T.R.Hart (part 1 of the John Osborne adventure series)


The Kraken
by T.R.Hart

   My name is John Osborne. In my youth everyone called me " Jacky", and I do believe that I am still known by that name by the  few members of my close relatives who still survive. As my days on this Earth are numbered, I feel compelled to share the accounts of my adventurous life as I remember them. They occurred between the World Wars when I was at  the peak of my manhood. Since then I had settled down to a more conventional existence providing for my wife and family.

   I had the good fortune to be born (as it was drummed into me from my earliest memory) as member of the Philadelphia "aristocracy".  Association with others not of my rank in society was frowned upon. I  attended the finest private schools,  travelled abroad with my family and peers, and would even possess  as my birthright, membership to the exclusive Philadelphia Club located on Walnut Street, a mere stone's throw from the Philadelphia Stock Exchange,  in the heart of the city. It was assumed that I would take up the mantle of my family's business of investing and making money. My brothers Neil and Freddie were graduates of the famous Wharton School and like my brothers I graduated, with honors, from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in finance, ...but, unlike them, I was indifferent to the world of business.

   Perhaps it was my love of literature which stoked the fire in my brain to rebel against the provincial wishes of my Mother to find employment within her circle of influential friends. She considered me to be either a dreamer or a slacker. I can still remember her saying to me: " I fear that you have that Yankee blood of your father's ancestors bidding you to a life of destitution and a dissolute lifestyle!"  It is true that my Father was not the beneficiary of his own family's wealth, but of my Mother's.

   My Father was an ambitious man. He came from humble means, but recognized the importance of self-education, diligence in work, and calculating the conveyance to each promotion within the firm to which he was employed. He was a handsome man who had caught  my mother's eye despite the numerous  admirers  attracted by her beauty, and of course, my grandfather's wealth.

   My Grandfather was as shrewd as well as being tightfisted, but he was impressed by  my Father's frugality as well as his ability to invest in lucrative speculations. His son-in-law could "rub elbows" just as easily with the rich as  with the working man. My  father, it was said, had the "people's touch". He was often seen in his suit, complete with his bowler hat trading jests  with the dockworkers. As a younger man he had developed his fine physique laboring in New England's marinas to pay for his schooling. I had developed his love for the sea at an early age and was my father's steadfast companion whenever he would be called away to do business up and down the East Coast during summer vacation.
  
   My paternal lineage had been traced to the earliest settlers of the colony of Massachusetts colony. As he was unwilling to believe that an Osborne had actually signed the Mayflower Compact, my Father investigated the family claim. I remember the day that he approached his father with the irrefutable proof. My grandfather who been making quite merry that morning at the local "watering hole. Upon receiving this unwelcome news, my grandfather bent over and squeezed my cheek while offering me a toffee with his other hand. "Our ancestor may not have signed the Compact," he roared with laughter, "but he got them there on his ship!" 

I had fond memories of the Osborne clan, but I lost all contact with them when my Father passed away unexpectedly from a stroke at the age of forty-five.  It had affected me deeply, but I was expected to mourn his death publically with the quiet demeanor of a man of my position.

I Plot My Escape

   As I had previously mentioned, I had graduated with honors from the prestigious Ivy League school, the University of Pennsylvania. My Mother had already been casting her net for well-connected, well-bred, suitable ladies of marrying age despite my protestations. Neil and Freddie were married into prominent families whose mansions lined the wealthier streets in suburb of Merion, Pa. Every day,  meticulously dressed young husbands made their way to the Merion Station for their daily commute to the Reading Terminal. It was a few blocks from Philadelphia's business district where they would do battle in the perilous world of commerce. I was resolute to my plan and escape from this inevitable life of drudgery. Like Melville's  Ishmael I would seek my freedom on the seven seas.

   I was well known around the docks in Philadelphia. My Father was well-remembered by the men who worked there long after he had been forgotten by those whom he had helped to become and remain wealthy.  Much to my Mother's consternation I had began to frequent with "Papists" and Jews who offended her delicate Quaker sensibilities. She repeatedly warned me about associating with the thieving Italians and the back-stabbing Jews, but none of them could arouse the abject fear she held for the Irish. In her mind they were the worst of the lot. My propensity for alcoholism from my Father's family, according to my Mother, could only be encouraged by individuals born from this race of drunkards.

   I had been in contact with a Mr. Charles Murphy who would help me to find employment as an able seaman aboard a tramp steamer that had ferried Welsh Coal up and down the eastern coast of England and Scotland.  Upon my arrival in Liverpool I would then seek a Captain O. Van Kortlandt, skipper of the 'Kentbrook'. Mr. Murphy made him aware of my thoroughbred lineage, but explained that I was a hard-working, and an affable young man intent on learning maritime commerce from the ground up. The  Captain had assured Mr. Murphy that he would welcome an educated man amongst his crew having found the void of intelligent companionship during his voyages at sea lonely and sometimes maddening. The machinations of my plan had been set in motion.

    My Mother was informed of my decision to travel to England. I had invented the ruse that I would be seeking employment in the maritime trade in order to establish connections between American businessmen and the Welsh coal industry in the event that a coal strike would be fomented by the unscrupulous communist element within the coal miner's union. Although she was not initially convinced that my plan was entirely sound, she capitulated when I reminded her of the devastation to the stock market that sporadic coal strikes from 1919 to 1922 had caused. So, with my Mother's blessing, and some guilt, I boarded an ocean liner of the Inman Line en route to Liverpool.

I Begin My Life At Sea

   I arrived at Liverpool in just under two weeks. The voyage was uneventful and I enjoyed the company of the ship's Captain who had been acquainted with Captain Kortlandt for several years as he supplied coal to his company. His reputation was excellent, but his company had little demand for coal as the new efficient diesel powered ships had replaced the coal-powered liners of the past.  Luckily a ready market for coal still existed for heating homes and firing the factory furnaces throughout Great Britain.

   The 'Kentbrook' was typical of the three-island tramp steamers that plied their trade delivering coal and finished products throughout the ports that lined the North Sea.  We were known as the vagrants or "tramps" of the shipping trade as we did not follow a schedule or itinerary of ports-of-call. We, the trampers,  were also called the "workhorses" of the world transporting goods to all parts of the globe. I felt a freedom on the sea that I had never experienced before. I must confess that I had not anticipated the extent of the labor demanded by the work, but the strong physique and newly acquired darkened complexion resulting from my exposure to the elements would make any landlubber envious. I laughed  as I was confronted by the pirate's countenance staring back at me in the mirror when I washed my face. That man with jet black hair and full grown beard would have caused the young ladies of my society to faint! I loved my life at sea and dreaded the possibility of returning to my former life.

   Captain Kortlandt was the kind of man that I had hoped to become. He had a quiet demeanor, could converse on just about any subject, and was judicious in his management of his ship and crew. Safety was his main consideration while engaging in the business of transporting and delivering cargo. Drunkenness was not tolerated by the Captain. He chose his crewman wisely. Desperate men were easy to find on any wharf, but they tended to travel on merchant ships designated for the warmer climates of the Pacific Islands. These men had hopes of finding a life of leisure after disembarking from the ships. The crewman of the North Sea tended to be family men looking for better pay than working the docks, or building ships for the "His Royal Majesty".  They were accustomed to the solitude of the sea and enjoyed the camaraderie of their shipmates. The Sea could be a dangerous place to work, but the men who plied their trade in a sober manner minimized the risks.

   I had been invited to the bridge on several occasions by Captain Kortlandt. We had become fast friends in a short time. He began to instruct me in navigation and before long I was manning the helm. I relinquished control to an experienced pilot when navigating the ship close to port or through icy waters.  

   One day while I was on watch, scanning the horizon on a summer afternoon, I suddenly spotted an object bobbing in the water. It was a small white boat approximately 300 yards ahead to the starboard side. The Captain was keeping company with me on the bridge then and adjusted his spyglass to get a better view. "It's a man!" he shouted. "Cut engine and prepare to rescue!" 

  
The Demise Of The "Glenda"

   A boat was launched from our ship and within minutes the man was pulled to safety. Jonesy, the second in command and a poet at heart, would recount the story of the heroic rescue to anyone that would listen. The tale would always begin with "More dead than alive was he, when we found him adrift in the Northern Sea…"

   We were headed to port at Folkestone and hoped to arrive in two days. The rescued man was murmuring quietly in his sleep. He had been twisting and turning in bed before he was able to drink some water plied with brandy. This seemed to calm him and he slept soundly until morning.

   I was curious and was relieved from my watch after requesting to care for the man. I carefully spoon-fed some broth which revitalized  him. He was an old man with such a strong cockney accent that required some translation from my shipmates. I will not attempt to imitate his manner of speech as it would confuse the reader, but from what I had gathered, he was a ship's cook aboard a merchant ship called the "Glenda Marie, or Glenda Melissa or Glenda Melanie". As I am not certain of  which it was, I will suffice in calling it  the "Glenda", which means pure, clean, or good as it common among the Welsh for naming their ships.

   I did not recall the man's Christian name but as all cooks aboard ship are known as "Cookie", I will refer to him by that title. The "Glenda" was smaller and older than the "Kentwood" but she was seaworthy and like ourselves followed the same sea routes. Cookie was one of a crew of 18 men aboard ship and appeared to be the sole survivor. Captain Kortlandt could not verify the ship's loss because tramp steamers  did not follow a regular schedule like the ferries or ships of the passenger lines.

   Cookie took some bites of rye bread and a hardboiled egg. We plied him with some strong coffee and he seemed to rally. Each sip from his cup was followed by a phlegmy  cough and a violent shaking of his body as he sat on the edge of the extra bed left vacant by one of the sailors  who decided to stay on in Grimsby to rekindle a romance with a local girl that he had  met while at port. Our cargo was lighter on the return trip, so it was not uncommon to lose crewmembers on the return trip.

   Cookie took a pipe offered by Jonesy. We all were curious about the ship's fate and quietly asked him if they had met with an accident as no foul weather had been reported that month. His reply was met with gasps of horror from those present: "Nay, it weren't no accident…It was the Kraken!"

   The Kraken was purported to be a mythological beast of gigantic proportions chronicled in the Norse legends. The word "Kraken" is derived from the Norwegian or Swedish word "Krake" which signifies something twisted or evil. In fact, the word crook is also a derivation of Kraken.

   This animal had been described as being so large as to resemble a small island surrounded by sea birds. Fishermen avoided proximity to these sea monsters claiming that there would be no fish (or fishermen) to be found as everything in its path would be devoured to satiate the hunger of this 'Devilfish".

   Several accounts of ships being attacked by this creature go back to the 13th century, but scholars believed that earlier sightings by men who sailed the northern seas described the same animal or animals. They were considered incapable of reproduction and very old as they only inhabited the greatest depths of the ocean within the same location.

   Most of the claims of these giant octopuses attacking ships had been discounted. The most infamous was made by the French malacologist (one who studies mollusks which includes the octopus and squid) Pierre Dénys de Montfort. In 1802 he described ships being sunk by giant octopuses by Norwegian Sailors,  American Whalers and as even as  far back as the Roman Historian  Pliny the Elder. His proposal that a French ship of the line and 10 British Warships must have been attacked and sunk by a colossal Octopus in 1782 off the coast of Newfoundland led to his humiliation. A survivor of The Ville de Pairs verified the cause of the maritime disaster to be …a hurricane.

   An educated man would have been deemed foolish to believe such a  statement, but within this circle of believers only a foolish man would invite a sound beating by expressing his incredulity. Cookie turned his head slowly in both directions and began to recount his story in a loud whisper. 

   He had been cleaning the pantry after having cooked dinner for the crew. He was listening to the men's footsteps on the decks above him.  As there was no work to be done at the present, Cookie lit his pipe and joined the men who were enjoying the warmer summer weather. He determined that the breezes were still cool enough to require a thick sweater. As he was returning to his quarters to retrieve the sweater he felt a bump and a grinding noise that reverberated throughout the corridor.

    His first reaction was that the ship may have hit a whale, but before he could catch his balance he was thrown off his feet and thrust into a wall. Crawling on all fours he made his way to the mess hall and realized that he was climbing through the pantry door. The whole ship began to rock back and forth. 'This is no whale.' he thought. 'Something much larger and stronger has the ship in its grasp!' To his horror he witnessed a massive tentacled arm pulling on the ship's radio antenna through a porthole. 'My God!" he thought. "We are lost!" 

  Objects were being ripped from the superstructure of the ship while men shouted and ran for their lives like mice escaping a cat. He heard the dreadful snapping of a cargo winch and the ripping of a mast from the deck. Cookie peered out through the porthole again and saw the Bosun signaling for the deckhands to lower the lifeboats from their davits. One boat was being lowered against the side when the ship suddenly lurched backward scattering the men into its wake. Men screamed just as the boat was smashed beneath Glenda's hull. Smashing glass and the Captain's scream were heard as the bridge, located directly above the dining hall, was being twisted and pulled from the deck. In an instant Cookie looked up to where the ceiling had been. He stood in shock as he witnessed a large tentacle tossing the bridge into the water blackened with coal dust spilled from the guts of the ship's hold.

  The old man was finding new life in limbs that had atrophied with age or so he had believed.  He scurried about the deck strewn with the horrible spectacle of mangled bodies and twisted metal. He had been at the Battle of Jutland in the Great War but it had never been so close to the carnage that he was seeing. The most horrifying sight of all was that of one of a boilerman being fed into the beaked cavernous mouth of the Kraken. He felt himself screaming but heard nothing when one of the tentacles came groping close to his feet. He ran to the port side of the ship and looked over the side where he beheld an eye  so large that its diameter was wider than the tallest of the men. The eye was dull and lifeless. He paused for a moment. Was it shock or instinct that suspended his movement? He felt another jolt and in an instant he was thrown into the water.  He swam as far as he could from the sinking ship. The last moments of his beloved ship and crew were recorded into his memory as he watched the Glenda slip beneath the blackness to its watery grave.

   It was a miracle that he had survived. He didn't remember how he climbed aboard the remaining lifeboat. Had he been pulled to safety? He could not recollect any other survivors sharing the boat with him. Still he could not shake the fear that the monster who claimed the crew would seek him out to clam its final victim.

   Cookie started to behave strangely that night. He refused to eat the dinner that the cook prepared for him and shouted that it would be the "Dead Man's final meal". He begged Captain Kortlandt to set him adrift again in order to lure the Devil away from the 'Kentbrook'. The Kraken, he warned us, was seeking him out. Our crew was in peril as long as he remained aboard. Of course the Captain refused his demands and ordered the ship's Doctor (actuality a sailor with some medical training) to administer a sedative. Cookie twisted and turned and fought while the Captain, Doctor, and I struggled to hold him down. He must have been a pugilist in his younger days because he delivered a blow to the Doctor that sent him to the floor when he tried to stick the needle into his arm. Cookie coiled into himself and made a dash for the door. Realizing that he might throw himself overboard, I quickly blocked the door and received a devastating blow to my abdomen. The old man attempted a leap over my prone body, but I grabbed hold of his ankle and he fell into the hallway.

   Cookie was lying on his belly  and stretched out as if he were pulling away from an imaginary horror. He screamed out as if in a delirium, 'Ye'll never get me devil!' We heard him whimpering like a small child and then he became still. The Doctor ran over and checked his pulse. There was none. 'He's dead!'

    The disappearance of the "Glenda" is still a mystery. Had she met with a natural phenomenon such as a rogue wave, waterspout, or  perhaps a maelstrom? Was Cookie driven mad by during his ordeal on the lifeboat or was he indeed, the last victim of this Kraken? Could there really be such a creature? Perhaps someday we will know the answer.

   The Captain notified the owners of the ship who informed us that Cookie had no living relatives. On the following morning we paid tribute to him before committing his body to the sea.



The End

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Strange Disappearance of Mr. Walker - by T.R.Hart

The Strange Disappearance of Mr. Walker -by T.R.Hart

  He seemed to disappear without a trace. The detective scratched his head, looked around the room, but saw no sign of a forced entry, struggle, or a suicide note. The man's clothes were neatly folded and put on the top of his shoes. A small water glass that had been used was found on the night stand next to the bed which seemed to be untouched. No one saw the man leave the room all day. Sensing something was wrong, the housekeeper contacted the hotel desk clerk.
   
   Detective Mick Palumbo was assigned to the case. Unlike the hard-boiled gumshoe colleagues, he was a quiet and polite, and despite his wartime experiences fighting in the Pacific Theater, was still boyish in appearance. Mick was known for his ability to crack the toughest cases despite not being quite thirty, but this case was different.

   "Can you give me a description of your guest?" he enquired. The desk clerk, who was tall with an aristocratic in demeanor, responded: "Yes detective, this man, a Mr. Walker checked in on the 27th of July at 8:12 in the evening...he was a large man and I believe he mentioned that his occupation was that of a traveling salesman." Mick Palumbo was writing down the information on a small notebook that he always kept in his shirt pocket. He had put on his new glasses that gave him an academic look. Prompted by this action the clerk added: " Mr. Walker had very tired looking eyes, he squinted and had trouble finding the register line to sign on so I put a piece of paper underneath it...I noticed red marks around the bridge of his nose that made me aware that he indeed wore glasses...I also detected an accent even though he tried to hide it, but the way he held his cigarette was very continental...I am well acquainted with European mannerisms" Palumbo took the notes, wrote his number on a piece of notepaper, handed it to the man and thanked him. "If you recall any other information about Mr. Walker please call me." The clerk interjected:"I can't recall any other observations about him, but I sure could smell him!"

   Detective Palumbo and a couple of cops mulled over the crime scene. They were searching for anything that might leave some kind of a clue. "Hey Mick!" one of the cops shouted, "I think I've got something here.  ...a business card in the coat pocket" Palumbo trotted across the room, dodged a coffee table, and took the card by his thumb and forefinger and grinned... "Thanks Joe, I think we might have something here.
  
Part 2: The Deception

    A groggy detective sipped on his morning coffee and walked to 305 W. Oliver St, the address on the card. It was an unpretentious basement office with a stair well and no handrail. "The sign on the window read: Dr. Theodore Rommel, O.D.s with a pair of glasses painted next to it. It seems that this was an eye doctor of some sort. He had hoped that he would be able to get more information on his missing person. On the back of the card was the time 9:30 A.M. written in pencil, presumably by "Mr.Walker."

   It was not quite opening time at 9 A.M. and the sun was already heating up. He took off his jacket and slung it over his shoulder, and wiped his brow with his handkerchief. He heard a rattle at the door as a shadowy figure obscured by the blinds unlocked the door. Mick quickly put on his jacket, crushed the paper cup and put it into his pocket. "Dr. Rommel, the optometrist?" A small portly man with a brush mustache that reminded him of Hitler looked up and responded: "Yes, I am Dr. Rommel...but I am an ophthalmologist…a medical doctor and eye surgeons…are you my 9 A.M. appointment?" "No Sir", he responded like a military man and apologized for his ignorance, " My name is Detective Palumbo...I am investigating a missing person case and hope that you can help me...may I ask you some questions?” The man answered, "Sure if I can help, of course, I will help...come in." An old woman who was listening intently to the conversation said to the men. "Don't worry about my appointment, I have all day." "Please come in and have some coffee Mrs. Rosetti, I just brewed a pot", offered the doctor.

     All of the 9:30 A.M appointments were checked for the last three months. There was no patient named Mr. Theodore Walker. A physical description of the man was given to the doctor: a large man, with a detectable foreign accent, and that the man squinted and had red marks around the bridge of his nose presumably from wearing heavy lenses seemed to make something click with the doctor. "I know no Mr. Walker, but I have a patient who fits your description."He always chooses a 9:30 appointment because his bus drops him off at 9:25 right in front of the office... Let look at my book again...ah, I think I can help you." said Rommel. “I hope that the missing man that you speak of is not my good friend, because I have a feeling it is Dr. Julius Stern…he has an extreme case of myopia” The doctor explained that a long eyeball causes light to be focused in front of the retina. Persons with this condition “squint” in an attempt to focus an image. Dr. Stern had a bad case of myopia and sought a surgical solution as his eyes continually weakened.

   Myopia! The word myopia brought back a memory of Palumbo’s time on Guadalcanal. He was defending Henderson airbase when his division was attacked by Japanese soldiers. Their emperor-god Hirohito was severely “nearsighted”. It was debated by the royal family that the young emperor would not be considered “godlike” if he was seen wearing glasses. Logic prevailed, and Hirohito became the first emperor permitted to wear glasses for his condition. Many of the soldiers screaming “banzai” and charging his position wore eyeglasses as well. He could not believe that they could be such a formidable foe!

   It was during this three day three day battle that Palumbo witnessed incredible acts of heroism, but the indelible images in his memory of a young gunnery sergeant tirelessly manning and repairing machine guns for two days, and when there were only two left, went to other positions supplying gunners with the needed ammunition. He fired back at the enemy armed only with a .45 pistol and was unscathed by the bullets and shrapnel which surrounded him. He seemed superhuman! He had not eaten or slept for three days, urging the men on. Palumbo had witnessed the Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, John Basilone, earn his place in history. It had surprised him that a word could evoke these memories long ago. He resumed his questioning:   “Can you tell me about Dr. Stern?” Palumbo asked. “Why would he adopt an alias? Did he have a criminal past?” Dr. Rommel shook his head in denial, and responded “no, he is a good man…an eccentric genius, but since he lost his job he has been despondent, telling stories that he was on the verge of a great discovery that he had been working on for years.” “Do you know what that was?” replied the detective. “He has been quite delusional of late I fear...yes…please don’t laugh…invisibility! …you might want to talk to his colleague, Dr. Pestalozzi. Here's his address.

Part Three: The Invisibility Plan

   The address given to Detective Palumbo was in a South Philadelphia Italian neighborhood. Walking down the streets was olfactory pleasure. He could smell the gravy cooking from some houses or cookies baking in others. The strong aroma of aged cheeses permeated his nostrils when he passed by the delicatessens and butcher shops that seemed to be on every other corner. He made it a point to stop by the Italian Market on 9th Street to pick up some fruit. Bing Cherries were in season, and the prices were just right for a cop's salary. He drove to the 900 block of Federal Street where he found the Pestalozzi residence on the middle of the block. It was a small brick row home like the others but with a distinct cast iron balcony on the second floor and a small yard on the side of the house. He knocked at the front door, but a voice called out to come around to the yard. A small thin man in his sixties, dressed in white clothes and a straw hat beckoned him to come in. He detected an Italian accent. "Can I help you?" the man asked. "Yes, my name is Detective Michael Palumbo. I am looking for a Dr. Pestalozzi." The man smiled broadly and said:"Well, you've a found me...I hope I'm in a no trouble." Palumbo laughed and said "no Sir, I hope you can help me...or I'm the one who is going to be in trouble."

   Palumbo noticed that the Dr. Pestalozzi was an avid gardener who grew different varieties of fruits and vegetables. He offered some cherries but the Doctor politely refused. "Palumbo is an Italian name...you looka like an Irish with the red hair and blue eyes." Mick smiled and said "My Grandfather was from Abruzzi, but you got me...three quarters Irish!" The two men sat under a fig tree trying to escape the oppressive Philadelphia summer heat by drinking lemonade made by Mrs. Pestalozzi. Interviews could become long and tedious. Mick had learned Gregg shorthand, a form of Stenography in high school. This came in handy for jotting down information for his cases. It was also a good thing that he learned to type, because there was one drawback. He was the only one who could translate the notes down at the Police Headquarters. This was the information he had obtained about Pestalozzi's colleague, Dr. Julius Stern:
·         Stern was a Professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of Heidleberg.
·         He was a Jew who escaped the Nazis in 1938.
·         Stern worked with Pestalozzi in the Secret Weapons Projects department during the War.
·         He was an eccentric person, slovenly, opinionated, undiplomatic, but compassionate, generous, and a genius.
·         His plan of creating invisible assassins to kill Axis leaders is met with skepticism.
·         The Atomic Bomb is dropped. Secret weapons program loses interest in Stern
·         His sloppiness and declining eyesight jeopardize his job. 
       He is fired

   Pestalozzi told of the demonstration that got Stern hired to the weapons program. He had applied used a simple chemical reaction to attract the Army Chiefs of Staff to his plan. First, he poured two clear liquids together and created a colored liquid. When they argued that he made the invisible appear visible he told them to "watch one more moment". Stern had used another liquid and poured it into the colored liquid. It became transparent. Julius convinced them that he could make an agent disappear temporarily to assassinate Hitler, Mussolini, or Hirohito. They bought into it, but the Italians killed Mussolini, Hitler killed himself, and then America dropped the atomic bombs that ended the war. The Physicists won the battle that the chemical and biological scientists lost. Stern tried to convince them that Stalin could be done away with but he had become a joke around the scientific community.

  The Pestalozzi's gave Mick some cookies and fruit and invited him to stop by. Mrs. Pestalozzi said she needed to find a nice girl for him. As he was leaving, the Doctor stopped him for a moment and said: " I need to tell you one thing more Detective Palumbo...Julius told me that he made a mouse disappear." "We saw the mouse become more transparent like a fish that you can see the insides, but he must have lost the mouse...he couldn't prove it...but I believe him."

Part Four: The Ghost Robberies
   Stern had seemed to vanish for a month already. Sadly, having no income, he had become destitute. He was seen by those who knew him well, dressed in suits which had become stained and showed signs of wear.  This scientific genius, had spent lavishly in the past, and lived in a luxurious hotel, now rented rooms in the squalid parts of town.

   At about the time Stern disappeared, local criminal phenomenon began. During the oppressive month of July many of the local merchants were complaining of items being taken. Cash was lifted from registers, small merchandise and food were stolen, and in every case there were no suspects seen. Rumors were started by seemingly superstitious persons about a "Ghost Robber" who could steal at will. People started to report the stolen items wafting through the air. One baker even stated that he saw a bagel vanishing bit by bit. An old woman, sitting on her stoop shrieked when she saw a pair of eyeglasses coming down the street, stopped, turned in her direction for an instant, and then continued on its way. Testimonies from credible sources started to emerge that corroborated and contradicted each other. The Philadelphia papers seemed to fly off of the newsstands and kiosks as everyone wanted the latest "Ghost" robbery story.

     August was unbearably hot that year. The police are always complained that crooks were like "bugs". They move quicker when the weather is warmer. Murphy the cop, who always had a gripe or a quip always stated:" I like the Winter better... except for that damn cold Mummer's Parade...because the bugs always stay indoors during the cold weather". The stories and the crime wave continued. Not much was stolen but the Press had a field day. As summer wore down and September started the cool weather, fewer "Ghost" burglaries were reported. They had become fewer and fewer as the weather became cooler. Then on a Monday morning, September 19th, the First National bank was robbed... with no robber in sight. It was exactly 10:22 A.M.  when the Bank Manager reported the robbery. After an exhaustive summer of chasing phantoms, Mick Palumbo knew exactly who robbed the bank. He was sure that Dr. Julius Stern was not dead nor was he missing. He was invisible!

   The bank manager described the events that took place while onlookers peered through the windows trying to get a view of the crime scene. "It was incredible", he seemed to choke on his words, "We had opened the vault, the armed guards delivered the bags of cash, and just when we were going to close the door, one of the bags lifted into the air and began moving across the room at a rapid pace." He shouted out:" grab that bag!" while stunned patrons saw a bag of money and some saw a pair of eyeglasses floating across the floor. Out from nowhere a loud "whoooooo" was heard. Everyone stopped to look around, one brave lad grabbed for the bag but it was whisked away from him. In his attempt to grab the bag he knocked the glasses out of the air and they fell and broke on the bank's marble floor. The guards were impeded in their pursuit when money started flying in the air and many people ran frantically trying to grab some of it. The "Ghost Robber" eluded them. Palumbo closed his eyes for a second, rubbed the back of his neck and thanked the bank manager. How would he catch an "invisible man" he wondered?

   Part Five: Conclusion
   It was 9 A.M . the next day when Dr. Rommel opened his door to find an exhausted Mick Palumbo standing at his door wearing a boyish grin and holding a broken pair of thick wire framed glasses. Like most people in Philadelphia, the summer of 1949, the eye doctor was spellbound by the fantastic stories real or imagined, of the "Ghost" bank robbery. "Come in, Come in, Detective" He said. It didn't take long for Mick to get the confirmation he needed. The glasses were indeed those of Dr. Julius Stern. A new pair of lenses were made using the prescription he had on file. Dr. Rommel was thanked and would be reimbursed for his services.

   Those who owned television sets saw a thin man in a grey suit holding a pair of glasses in his hands avoiding many of the questions about the "Ghost" robberies put to him by reporters. This was his opportunity to reach Stern who may have been watching somewhere or perhaps listening on a radio program. The message was short and to the point. Anyone who had any information in regards to the whereabouts of the owner of the glasses should contact him at police headquarters.

   Two agonizing days passed without a word. Palumbo wondered if Stern would show up at all. Could he have met with some foul play by becoming visible? A check at the morgue did not turn up any new bodies. Mick had worked late into the night and watched the clock. Surely the Doctor did not intend to turn himself in. Who knows if he had been to headquarters? Mick knew that he had to make another plan his. He would lure Stern to his capture.

   On the third day, Palumbo would not work late. He made a "visible" exit in front of all the detectives declaring that the eyeglasses were in his office if anyone had information about them. Mick went to his car, pulled up a newspaper in front of him and waited. At about 9P.M. all of the others had gone home. The light in his office was still out. Hours ticked by. Was he wasting his time? He was so tired and was starting to doze in his car when suddenly he saw the light go on in his office near midnight. The guards were in front of the building shooting the breeze when he made his move. Using the key to the back door that most of the employees used, Mick entered secretly and quietly ascended to the second floor. Mick heard footsteps as the janitor made his way up the hallway. The lights in the office immediately went out again. The janitor passed by and went down the elevator carrying his cart of mops and brooms with him. A few minutes passed by and ...the lights went on again. He knew he had to move fast. Quickly he entered the room shutting the door quickly and locking it behind him. From nowhere he heard a gasp and a "whooooooo". "Dr. Stern. I presume?", said Mick holding the pair of glasses. He felt a weak tug at his arm and pulled the glasses down to his side. "No rough stuff Doc, I was a Marine...you're going to need these glasses to clean up the mess you made of my office."

   "I am not a criminal" came a weak voice from a corner of the room. Palumbo was still shaken to hear a voice but saw no one. "I am a poor man who tried to do great things, but no one would believe me", said the voice. " I am so cold and sick...could you give me something to cover me?" An old overcoat left by one of the detectives was quickly offered. "Thank You" the voice responded. As Stern put the coat, he appeared just like the movie portrayed the invisible man. The coat sat in a chair and slumped forward, motions of breathing could be seen on the coat. "May I have my glasses?" Mick handed the Doctor his glasses and could feel cold clammy fingers touch his own. "Oh the discovery was fun at first", related Stern. " When I first started my injections I became transparent. I could see the organs in my body and was a bit taken back when my skull disappeared revealing a terrifying sight of my eyes floating in front of a brain in the mirror. As the injections wore off I began to increase the dosages. It made me silly and my work suffered. I needed to document my work and verify my findings. My reward for the greatest discovery of all time was to be fired from my job by the same people who lauded my ideas until the Atomic Bomb ruined me. I needed money to live so I stole... It was easy at first but then it was too cold to walk around naked..My eyes were growing weaker. I had hoped Dr. Rommel would be able to correct my vision surgically, but all hopes were dashed when I failed to become visible again.  No surgeon, no matter how skilled, can operate on an invisible patient"

   Stern asked for something to drink and Palumbo stood in amazement as the water flowed from the paper cup like a waterfall into the cavity of the overcoat. Stern's breathing became heavier. The cup fell to the floor, followed by the overcoat. All was silent. Mick, thinking that Stern was playing a trick, cautiously approached the coat. Around the collar he could feel cold, sweaty skin. No movement...Stern was dead!

   Mick noticed that moving Stern’s body was becoming easier. He gripped the overcoat and found it getting lighter in his hands. He felt around the collar and there was no detection of a body. Within a minute he was holding the overcoat. The glasses lay on the floor. It seemed that Stern’s body had gone to nothing. He stood dumbfounded.   Who would believe his story? There was no body visible or invisible. Palumbo had an overcoat and glasses that was all. What would he do? What would you do?

END

  








One Man's Treasure By T.R.Hart


One Man's Treasure
By T.R.Hart
Characters:
Wilbur Hess - School Librarian and avid collector who lives with his mother.
Mrs. Hess - Wilbur's widowed mother.
Maureen - Mo' - Wilbur's wife
George -Former student at Wilbur's school who became mentally disabled from an accident.
Mrs. Bernstein - Miserable woman who runs GW
Ricky - Punk son of Mrs. Bernstein
One Man's Treasure
   He hated to admit it, but he knew that she was right. His wife Maureen used to refer to the foot locker he was sitting on as "Wilbur's Treasure Chest".  A lifetime's collection of baseball cards, comic books, assorted articles, and other memorabilia were neatly packed inside. This was not the only "treasure chest" in the attic.  In fact, there were rows of stacked boxes separated by neatly spaced aisles so that all of these precious artifacts could be easily found, and, easily added to.  He hated to admit it, not to only his wife, but to himself; Wilbur Hess was a hoarder...but, he was a neat hoarder.
   Of course, Wilbur never referred to himself as a hoarder. He was a "collector", and if a person was going to be a collector, it only made sense that the collection, or collections, as in his case, should be tidy, efficiently catalogued, and accumulates value with the passage of time. Anyone who ever visited James Buchanan High could attest to Wilbur Hess' excellent management of the school's Library.
   Teachers and administrators alike knew that the educational resource that lay within the walls of their institution contained the finest collection of books, abstracts, and reference materials. If a student needed help in completing an assignment, he or she could be assured that Mr. Hess would be available to assist them in finding the necessary information. He was a storehouse of knowledge, and had accumulated that knowledge through years of reading, or as some would say, by devouring books since his boyhood.
   It was difficult to be extremely tall and lacking athletic ability in a town that prided itself in its production of championship worthy teams.  He had been noticed by, and approached by every coach to try out for their team.  Their initial encouragement quickly turned to frustration and disbelief, as Wilbur could not run, throw, or hit a ball. He almost drowned his rescuers when he tried out for the swim team and immediately began to sink to the bottom. In his panic to remain above water he batted a couple of them in the face, nearly knocking one unconscious. His last attempt to achieve some sort of athletic prowess as a basketball player ended with the humiliating realization that he couldn't even dribble the ball.  Wilbur was no athlete, but Wilbur was a scholar.
   Wilbur met his wife Maureen, whom everyone called Mo’, while working at Buchanan. It was no secret that she had her eye on him, but the confirmed bachelor was content to live at home with his widowed mother.  Many men would be uncomfortable living in this situation, but Wilbur enjoyed being doted on. His meals were always ready for him at breakfast and dinner time, and he was always immaculately dressed. Unburdened by the responsibilities of providing for a family enabled Mr. Hess to indulge his passion for collecting just about anything that he had a momentary interest in. The genetic component inherited from his mother's DNA was made apparent by her collections of all things related to Christmas. Initially, the house in which they lived in was large enough to accommodate their passions. Wilbur was happy to take the attic while mother’s inventory was located in the spare room next to the living room. 
   Of course, both being hoarders, this arrangement soon overflowed into other areas of the house. Mrs. Hess felt that the other rooms were looking drab and needed to be brightened up by a little “Christmas cheer”. It didn’t seem odd to Wilbur that the window candles would have different colored bulbs throughout the year, or that mistletoe hung from the portals of each room. Visitors to the residence were greeted with hot cider and gingerbread cookies even during the summer months. No conversation would pass without the mention of the dear departed Mr. Hess although he had passed away more than 10 years ago. Disparaging remarks by the meaner spirited members of the community attributed Mr. Hess’ decease to his burial somewhere within the plethora of boxes.
Wilbur Takes A Wife
   Mo’, as mentioned before, had a secret desire to capture the attention of the tall red-haired bachelor. She made it her business to befriend the increasingly eccentric Mrs. Hess whom she would “bump into” at the local Goodwill Store. Pretending to share her obsession with everything that had to do with Christmas turned out to be more of an arduous task than she had bargained for, especially during the summer months when looking for rare tree ornaments became a quest. But the approach of middle age seemed to strengthen Mo's resolve. She was determined to "get her man".
   Wilbur noticed that her mother's friend became more of a frequent visitor.  He supposed the "adopted" Miss Fahey seemed more like a daughter, and perhaps Mo', who had cared for her sick mother, sought out Mrs. Hess as a surrogate of sorts for her own departed mother. At the time Wilbur had begun to collect army helmets, adding to his growing collection of war memorabilia. He was surprised at the interest shown in his collection by this cheerful little woman whom he had never noticed before working in the school cafeteria.
   Not wishing to depart this world before finding a suitable wife for her son, Mrs. Hess encouraged Wilbur to spend more time with Miss Fahey.  It wasn't long before the two of them became an "item" around town. They were seen at several flea markets searching for "treasures" to add to Wilbur's newest collection. These were happy times for the middle aged couple who seemed to enjoy the dating ritual that had eluded them before they met.
   Mrs. Hess' health began to decline shortly after her son's courtship. One night in late September, while they were all sitting by the Christmas tree, Mrs. Hess laid back on her chair and began to breathe heavily. Wilbur and Mo' rushed to her side.  She said that knew that she was dying and begged Mo' to take care of her son. Wilbur made a solemn promise to his mother's pleading that he and Mo' would marry soon.  Suddenly her breathing became normal again and she seemed to rally. Despite Mo's strict Catholicism, the couple agreed to be married in the Lutheran Church where Mrs. Hess was an active member in the congregation. It would be a lovely little affair set for the week before Christmas. The reception Hall was decked in boughs of holly.
   That was the last Christmas that Mrs. Hess spent with her new daughter.  They had spent the week after Christmas buying all of the decorations that they could find at discount prices. One day of shopping proved to be too much for the old woman.  She complained about being "extremely tired" that night and went to bed early. She never woke up.
   Wilbur and Mo' were a childless couple. He was more like a grown child than a husband, but he was intelligent, good natured and kind to his wife. Mo' was the practical one. She was thrifty, but generous, and was better inclined to stem the flowing tide of Wilbur's "treasures" into the attic than his mother had been. Their house had quickly become more normal in appearance due to Wilbur's lack of interest in Christmas ornamentation and Mo's ability to discard unwanted items. The Goodwill Store which had originally been the benefactor of the elder Mrs. Hess' obsession now became the benefactor of the younger Mrs. Hess' donations.
Occasionally Mo' had been successful in persuading her husband to donate some of his collections to museums, organizations, or the annual Christmas Bazaar at  St. Matthew's Catholic Church where they both attended each Sunday morning. Wilbur was forbidden to go to the flea markets to sell his collectibles as he would usually return with more items than he set off with.
   Wilbur's obsessive collecting had begun to take hold again after he retired from his Librarian position. Mo' convinced him to volunteer at the local library thinking that if he was kept busy he would have less time to buy junk, but he usually met up with some  well-meaning patron who would give gifts  to him unaware of Wilbur's propensity for  hoarding.  The old Ford Pickup was now a common fixture seen in town filled with objects of every shape and size driven by a very contented retired school librarian.
   Mo's retirement could not come soon enough. She had dreaded her husband's secret excursions while she was still working at the school lunch room. On occasion she would hear some smart aleck kid make a rude remark about her husband prompting her to reprimand the offender with a threat to contact their parents. She knew that her husband had a problem, but how could she fix it?
  Josephine, commonly known as Jo, was a good friend of Maureen, commonly known as Mo'. After raising their children, and finding the house too big for just two people, Jo and her husband decided to move to a retirement village. They were very happy there and had the social life that Mo' would crave upon retiring as Wilbur was a solitary creature by nature. Jo had also reasoned that if Mo' could persuade her Wilbur to "downsize" then he would be unable to keep all of his stuff. This only seemed reasonable...
   Determining that an early retirement was indeed possible, Mo' quickly made her decision. Since Wilbur had retired she had no desire to remain employed at the school. The kid's taunts became worse than ever and the administration's conciliatory mode of discipline only encouraged their disrespectful attitudes. She had had enough!
   When a wife wants something she will not stop until she gets her way. Mo's persistence was fueled by her frustration at being unable to stop Wilbur from filling up the house with junk and the anger she harbored against the kids who would yell 'Here comes the trashman!' when they drove by in the truck. The stubbornness which is well known among those well acquainted with Irish genealogy would serve her well in her struggle to be free of the clutter in her home.
   Wilbur had started to notice that his collection was not as large as it had been. He suspected that items were being stolen from his uncovered truck bed. Mo' was quick to agree that he was probably right, but she knew that as soon as Wilbur would go off on another quest, she would be filling the trunk of her car destined for the Goodwill Store. It was impossible for her to keep up with her husband. The first fight of their marriage ended with the 5'2'' wife victorious over her Lincoln-esque spouse. As soon as it had been cleared of Wilbur's collections, they would be moving to Pleasant Valley Homes immediately after the sale of their house.
"Ricky The Punk"
   Wilbur had made the smart decision to abide by his wife's ultimatum. He knew that he was a beaten man and wanted peace in the home. Mo' made two lists: Things that could remain and Things that had to go. Wilbur mused that the first list was much shorter than the second but dared not mention it to Mo'. He loaded up the truck with boxes that were stacked so high that it looked like he was moving a house. The engine groaned under the weight of its load. Unable to see behind him due to the boxes obscuring the vision of the rear view mirror, Wilbur was forced to use his side view mirrors instead.
   As he pulled toward the loading dock, he saw George, a friendly young man whom he had befriended while he was a student at Buchanan High. George was a quiet and polite farmer's son who had intentions of going to college to pursue an agricultural degree when he met with an unfortunate accident while driving a tractor at the farm. It was possible that the tractor had been going too fast when it hit a hole or dip in the field sending the boy flying toward the ground. He hit his head hard as he fell, and despite a lengthy stay in the hospital George had recovered well enough to return to school, although his mental capacity had been significantly diminished.
   George was unloading donations and recognized his old school librarian. He was still friendly and gracious as ever as he shook hands with everyone he came across. He was a hard worker and it seemed that he was the only one there until a young man smoking a cigarette on the other side of the dock was spotted. Wilbur couldn't believe who it was..."Ricky the Punk"! 
   Of course his real name was not Ricky the Punk, but Wilbur was quick to mutter it under his breath every time he saw Ricky Bernstein waltzing into his library. Whenever Ricky and his goofy friend Louis wandered in to do an assignment something would always happen. A loud slap of a book on a table and an imitation of Mr. Ed braying his name "Wilbur!" usually preceded some mischief that ended in the Librarian's humiliation. He had endured Ricky's escapades (the worst being the trash can set on fire) for four years and would only be glad to see him graduate so he would be rid of him forever. He would be his mother's problem from then on.
   Ricky's mother...he would never forget that woman. No matter what her little angel was accused of, her defense was immediate. There was always a "did you see him do it?" to which the reply was a "no" as Ricky was a sneaky punk. Louis ''the loser", as Wilbur called Ricky's partner in crime, was a willing participant in the bullying conducted on a daily basis. It especially infuriated Wilbur to see the popular basketball standout picking on George and calling him a "retard".  He had wanted to knock his block off but knew that Ricky could beat him to a pulp, and he would probably lose his job as well.
   He couldn't understand how "the punk" could have gotten a job at Goodwill. He had been George's tormentor in High School and now he seemed to be his boss on the loading dock.  Wilbur had asked Ricky for a receipt for his donations, but got a grunt for a response while he walked into his little office. Enraged at being treated so disrespectfully, he decided to go inside to report Ricky. He quickly understood why a punk like Ricky could have been hired at Goodwill. There, seated in her office, was the reason: Mrs. Bernstein was the Store Manager.
   It wasn't long before another altercation with Mrs. Bernstein ensued. She snapped at Wilbur's accusation while defending her son, and thrust a receipt in his face. He reminded her that his donations helped keep her job. Not to be outdone she viciously replied: "one man's treasure is another man's junk!'
   Wilbur was infuriated to find his things thrown into the dumpster when he returned to the dock. Ricky was gone and so was his Truck. When he went to return to the store he noticed it was locked up. He banged on the window only to hear someone that sounded like Ricky laughing in the back of the store saying "We close at eight, we open tomorrow at eight!"
   It was a good thing that Wilbur finally figured out how to use his cell phone. Mo' had always told him that it was useful in an emergency. He dialed up his wife and within ten minutes she was there to pick him up. The couple went straight to the police station to report the stolen truck. As they walked through the door they found George and his parents sitting on a bench.  George had been crying. His parents apologized to Wilbur and Mo' as they recounted what had happened:
   George had been getting ready to go home when Ricky came up to him and told him to take his truck home. Of course George had a permit to drive but no license so he was afraid to drive it. Ricky then told him that Wilbur had gotten sick and left his keys in the truck so that it was okay to take the truck home and that Mr. Hess would pick it up later. George believed that he was doing a favor for his old friend and started toward the farm. On the way home a dog ran in front of the truck. George swerved the vehicle to avoid hitting the pooch but hit a pole on the passenger side. Of course they would pay for the damages.
   Wilbur put his arm around George and told him not to worry. He told him that it was his fault for leaving the keys in the truck anyway. They all went over to look at the truck and saw that the damage on the right fender was minimal. Wilbur breathed a sigh of relief and said: 'They sure don't make trucks the way they used to!'
   Wilbur had decided to confront Ricky when he heard that George had been fired. He went the next day to the Goodwill store unable to find him. Instead he saw Louis "the loser" taking the donations in a deliberately slow pace. Louis told him to come back later. Ricky was taking a ride on his new "Harley" that he had ordered a year ago. "I'll bet his mommy bought it for him", he thought, and was so angered that he decided to wait as long as it took to see him. It was starting to get dark and Louis disappeared for a while to take a few swigs of his pint bottle.  A motorcycle roar that was heard in the distance became louder as Ricky drove his bike back to his office.
   Wilbur stood near the office door as Ricky swaggered his way toward him smoking a cigarette. "What do you want, old man?" Ricky laughed. "I know it was you that told George to take the truck and you got your mother to fire him so that you could hire Louis!" Wilbur could hardly believe that he had the courage to confront Ricky.  "So what if I did? I got tired of having that retard working for me!" he replied. Something wild took hold of Wilbur at that moment. Just as Ricky was about to flick his cigarette into Wilbur's face, he took his clenched fist and struck Ricky on the left side of his face with a devastating overhand right hook that he never knew he had! Ricky spun in a circle and hit the deck of the loading dock.  Wilbur's elation at being vindicated turned to abject fear as he realized what he had done. He bent over to check Ricky and found that he was just knocked silly, but before Ricky could regain his senses Wilbur sensibly moved those long legs of his in a hurry towards the truck. He turned the key and prayed that it would start, shifted gears, and sped out of the lot.
   Mo' was the only other person besides Ricky who knew what had happened.  Perhaps Ricky was too embarrassed to press charges against the old librarian. Wilbur couldn't be sure but he never went back to the Goodwill Store again. Louis was the recipient of his friend's wrath before he got fired. It seems that one night Louis was off drinking when Ricky called him to bring the trash truck up to the dock. Louis was so drunk that he came roaring around the lot in reverse and smashed into the dock after demolishing Ricky's brand new Harley motorcycle. The brutal beating that followed this incident deprived Louis of his front teeth making him look more like an idiot than he actually was. It was a blessing in disguise. He quit drinking and started thinking. Louis needed...a wakeup call.
   George and Wilbur spent a lot of time together after the accident. They repaired the fender together and developed a friendship that was mutually beneficial to both men.  Wilbur taught George how to drive his truck, and he did pass his driver's test, but they decided it would be better if he would limit driving the truck around the farm.  Wilbur's treasures found a new home in the spacious upper level of the barn. George's mother and father were elated to have such an educated man mentoring their son in the small roadside business that they opened selling collectibles and memorabilia. The sign that greeted the passing motorists read:  George and Wilbur's "Treasures".
END