Short Stories


June 16, 2015


Turtle stump


Lon Kirby thumbed through his wall calendar, the one he got from one of the guards at the beginning of the year. He had marked down his eighty-eighth birthday, one day from now, a milestone for any person, Lon fascinated by the double eights as he had been with the double sevens, double sixes and the double fives and so on. In his case there was no cause for excessive celebration since it fell five years short of a tentative release from prison, definitely a ‘cell’ in his celebration. Five more years meant that he would be ninety-three and free, assuming he’d live that long.

The liberal lawyer seeking his release had managed to convince members of the state parole board that Lon was no longer a threat to society and should never have been put in prison to begin with. Being an election year, certain politicians moved to postpone release until a reasonable date following the elections. The hardcore advocates for locking up every criminal might sway the election.

As restricted as his life was, he couldn’t complain; he deserved to be there, though an earlier release would have been nice. One couldn’t say Lon was a threat to society, his manner quiet and respectful. He had broken the law, no doubt, though his associates at the time should have been there instead of him.


Reaching old age is a goal we strive for, each day a promise of living and breathing, hopefully a little adventure thrown in for good measure. Of course, the main priority when faced with a senior assignment is health with a quality of life worth spending time on this earth. With age it’s to be expected we have a few aches and pains, our bodies, not perfect machines by any means. It would be nice if things could stay as they are without change but that is inevitable, our physical abilities diminished over time. Sure, modern medicine can replace a lot of parts but in the long run, we wear out and eventually expire, our souls whisked off to a place no one really knows.

Prison wasn’t that bad, once you got used to it if you could sidestep the violence a politics of prison. You were fed, clothed and allowed a little time to exercise under close supervision. Certain constants become reassuring, your routine exactly the same sunrise to lights out. Except for the monotony of the day, it isn’t so terrible, at least for the simple minded. It was harder for people who were intelligent and used to being free but Lon had been in the custody of the state for a very long time, his youth sacrificed and his experiences limited to a handful of years outside of prison.



Learning the Hard Way


His early life of petty crime caused his incarceration as far back as his early teens; that was his innocent beginnings before moving up to bank robbery and murder, a mistake he always regretted. Lon wasn’t a bad person, no, not at all. It was his unfortunate associations and poor judgment that ushered him into prison and a lifetime of being locked behind bars.

Stealing school supplies only once was the beginning, though academia was not a high point in his life. Considered a little slow by all his teachers, Lon managed to trudge along behind his classmates, barely passing the subjects and often repeating the same. Financial support at home was nonexistent, his father unwilling to pay for a son he considered an idiot. There were plenty of jobs out there for a slow man; he could dig a ditch or work in a mineshaft; selling papers on a corner didn’t pay well but it was something if one was mentally deficient.

Lon’s father did instill one uncomfortable virtue upon his son; charity was for the weak and accepting same, an admission of personal failure. The school supplies could be acquired through another means; Lon didn’t want to play the pauper card, a label his father refused to have attached to the family name. So it was a lot easier to swipe things than eat crow at home and school, life humiliating enough, Lon accused of being slow, dumb.

Thievery was not a career Lon had conjured up, independently. Encouraged by his mentor, kleptomaniac friend, Manny they liberated reams of paper, folders and a fist full of fountain pens. Unfortunately they forgot the necessary ink for the pens, demanding a second robbery attempt to remedy the oversight. It would have been fine except when Lon was faced by the very large store owner, whose face glowed red, his muscular hands holding Lon solidly like a vice. Manny managed to sneak away without being seen, his loyalty to Lon evaporating as quickly as he fled. Lon was of a small statue, no competition for the man a hundred pounds heavier with a dash of profound morality in his heart. After some serious manhandling, a cuff on the head and shoulders, Lon earned six months in Juvenile Lockup, a nice name for jail.

Though he sought mercy from his parents, their philosophies were not aligned with clemency, rather a distancing of their relationship to him. One of three children, Lon was the oldest and one his parents really never wanted, a miscalculation his father did not wish to enlighten Lon with. When Lon came into the world, his mental ineptitude distressed them. His father worried Lon would be a yoke around their necks for many years to come, human baggage that ate and did nothing to support the house. Perhaps that was the leading reason for his lack of support when Lon was accused.


“It’ll do the boy good to spent a little time in the clink,” bellowed his father at the hearing. “I don’t believe in coddling children. He’s an idiot and needs to learn right from wrong.”


The prosecutor made every attempt to involve the parents, insisting they take an active roll in their son’s moral education. Lon’s father didn’t relent, even after Lon’s mother pleaded for leniency in the hall outside the courtroom.

“He’s not very bright; but I can’t see why he decided to steal,” said his mother. “He’s really a good boy if you’d pay more attention to him. He listens when you do. I know he’ll be okay if we work with him a little.”

“Enough, woman!” snapped the father.

Lon had nothing to say when he faced the prosecutor and judge, accepting his punishment, six-month stay in a juvenile facility, a challenge for a boy who was small, slow and thrown to the wolves of delinquency. As in adult jails, detainees were subjected to the worst criminal elements, violence and intimidation a part of the program. The older boys preyed on the weak and vulnerable, exacting some sick satisfaction while administering abuse and forcibly extracting whatever the weak might have.

And so it was for six months, Lon had been beaten, robbed and shunned by the clique of juvenile ruffians, eventually being left alone when there was nothing else to take. Being small and not very confrontational, he submitted so they would leave him alone.

Following his release, Lon’s parent’s apartment sat vacant, no letter or forwarding address left with landlord or posted anywhere on the property. There was no place to go, no family to care for him. Unbeknownst to him their abandonment began the week after he was dumped on the doorstep of juvenile jail, a quick escape from an embarrassing situation. He couldn’t be sure but it appeared they didn’t want him to find them, leaving no forwarding address at the post office.

Lon decided their departure was a sign of better things to come. There was no one to tell him how dumb he was and how smart his siblings were. He could stay up as late as he wished and eat as much candy as he wanted. He wouldn’t have to wash behind his ears or take a bath. There would be no schoolwork for him, since no one knew. Now that his parents had deserted him, school was quite impossible. So what was he to do under these circumstances?



A Question of Ownership

These weren’t the streets of London where Fagan takes a young boy under his wing, instructing and providing a vocation much like the one that got him deposited in the hoosegow. The vultures of the streets pick at the carrion of the vulnerable; this was America, where Ryan Cole could take advantage of a boy sitting on a curb begging for change, a prime candidate. These American street urchins could be helpful and were expendable in Ryan’s profession.

Our hero Lon was not the brightest boy in the county, a fact that had been established by a local doctor soon after he was born. Tilting his head to the side, he told Lon’s parents the boy scored low on all the tests. The poor child couldn’t even follow the doctor’s finger from one side to the other, a test to check for normal motor responses.

‘I’m afraid your boy is a little on the slow side, folks,’ said the doctor. ‘He ain’t too dumb to do simple things, though. Maybe he’ll be okay with a little schoolin’, but I doubt he’ll amount to much.’


Lon had to do a lot of thinking, a task that demanded every ounce of energy he had. The idea of labor sounded tiresome; begging was a simpler solution to his immediate financial dilemma, no special skills required. By late afternoon of the first day of freedom, he had acquired fifty-seven cents and a bus token worth a nickel. By evening he should have enough to get a sandwich at the deli. On this day he would not starve, the future outlook, favorable.

The woods north of town were a swell place to sleep as long as the weather held; it was summer with no prospects for rain, plenty of discarded newspapers to use as a blanket when it got cold and pop bottles strewn about, some worth pocket money when turned in. He had seen other men and boys scrounging like that as a youth. The world was his clam and all he had to do was beg and bed down wherever his heart desired. What could be simpler?

“Hey you!” shouted a cop from across the street. “No panhandling here, boy.”

“I’m not panhandling, officer,” returned Lon, a little concerned he might be thrown back in juvenile hall. “I’m only begging.”

“Are you stupid, boy?” shouted the cop, stepping across the street to where Lon sat. “That’s what panhandling is. Now you get your sorry-ass off my street before I run you in.”

“Oh! Sorry, I didn’t know this was your street, officer,” apologized Lon, thinking the cop really owned the street.

“Don’t you get smart-mouth with me, boy. I’ll whack you on the head till your eyes bug and your brains fall out.”

It wasn’t necessary to go into any long dialogue about Lon’s status quo; the threat was enough. Lon picked himself up, moving quickly to where he hoped a neutral street might be found, one that the cop didn’t own. He had never heard of a cop owning a street before but it was possible since everyone else seemed to own things. Hadn’t his father said how Mr. Greenly owned most of the town? Maybe the cop was a relative.

Two blocks away he sat on another street corner his cap in front of him begging as before. He noticed the mixed reactions of the people who passed; some grimaced as they past saying nasty things, while others gave him a pathetic look, tossing a penny in his cap. Polite, Lon thanked each one of his contributors. One man tossed in a dime, the largest haul of the day. This new corner might be quite prosperous if things continued as they were.

His tally after a half hour rang up to sixty-two cents and a nickel, bus token; one lady placed a pamphlet with something about Jesus Christ into his cap. That wasn’t worth anything and cluttered up the cap; he tossed it on the sidewalk without a thought. A couple more hours and he should be able to get a bowl of soup, a sandwich and soda; he hadn’t had a soda since he got out of the juvenile section of jail.

“Hey!” yelled the familiar cop. “I told you to get off my street, boy. And I saw you throwin’ that piece of trash on the sidewalk. Littering, that’s what it’s called. That is gonna earn you a fine and time in jail.”

He couldn’t imagine being put in jail for a piece of paper, but didn’t wait around to be nabbed by the cop, rushing to his feet and running off before he could be approached.

“Damn!” Lon said out loud, breathing heavy. “That cop owns a lot of streets.”



Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

He never looked back to see if he was being pursued, which was highly unlikely given the officer’s substantial girth. This time Lon didn’t stop until he reached the woods north of town, a known habitat for hobos and perverts; Lon had no idea what a pervert was but figured it couldn’t be too bad. The edge of the woods was littered with various types of debris, old newspapers, candy wrappers, discarded papers of all sorts, rusty tin cans and a variety of beer bottles. The underbrush held them fast, though the woods weren’t so cluttered further in. You had to be careful where you stepped since there was no outhouse for the nomadic tramps occupying the woods.

Lon decided it might be better to hide there for a while until the coast was clear, avoiding the small campfires and settlements residing in the woods; some of the residents took exception to uninvited guests. The spindly trees weren’t much but they reduced the wind, warm now but colder later.

He was startled by a voice from behind, prepared to light out again should the cop own the woods as well as the streets.

“No luck beggin’, eh?”

“Who are you?” responded Lon. “These ain’t your woods are they?”

The man laughed and lit a cigarette, cupping his hands around the match to protect it from the breeze that passed through. He didn’t answer immediately but leaned back against a small tree. By the way he was dressed, Lon thought he couldn’t be a bum; they always had ratty clothes and stuck close to the railroad tracks, where they could hop a freight to destinations unknown. Lon was not privy to the locations one might want to travel since he had never been on a train. But this section of the woods was a long way from the rail siding, less populated.

“Name’s Ryan Cole,” answered the man. “And you sir are?”

“Lon Kirby, if that matters to you.”

A screen of defense entered his voice, especially with sixty-two cents and a nickel, bus token; his six months in juvenile hall made him wary of strangers. One had to be careful lest someone else shake them down. Fortunately, the man made no offensive moves to that end, giving ease to their close proximity.

“Well Lon, I’m always on the lookout for young enterprising men, young fellows like yourself, in fact. Obviously, you have a need for cash and I have a need for an associate; my last one met with unfortunate circumstances regarding the authorities. A little work is good for the soul, though our labors do not require a good deal of physical dexterity or time.”

“I don’t know what you mean by associate,” returned Lon. “I was doin’ okay beggin’, plenty of change out there. Work don’t sound like anything I wanna do.”

“My dear young fellow, work, in that sense is not what I do and neither will you if you decide to join me,” countered Ryan. “It is not your labor that I seek but your sharp eyesight and ability to communicate impending discoveries. Your diminished size also has certain advantages we can utilize.”


This man was not from this part of the country, a northerner by the sound of him. He also used a lot of fancy words, Lon had never heard before.

“As for this collection of trees, I can assure you I do not own these woods nor do I own anything in this municipality.”


Lon was slow to take the man’s meaning, though a regular flow of money was an appealing prospect.

“Let me clarify,” added Ryan, flicking an ash from his cigarette. “I am in the acquisition business; I find things and sell them. Sometimes I relieve people of their abundance of cash, a Robin Hood in a sense, except I do not give back to the poor; that is a ridiculous concept.”

“You steal, then?” inquired Lon.

“Oh my sad young friend, steal sounds so curt and vulgar,” replied Ryan. “I like to think of it as liberating things some people have too much of, a much more noble sounding phrase.”

“I see,” returned Lon.

“So, I have a proposition, if you are inclined to enlist,” began Ryan. “First of all, my name is not really Ryan Cole; real names tend to get us into trouble. For now, that’s what you may call me. I have several interests in relieving large sums of money from certain establishments in this fine community, which will include your services should you accept. Have you ever stolen?”

“Yeah,” said Lon in awe at the eloquence of the man’s language. “But I got caught and got put in jail. It was okay but not a place I’d want to be again.”

“I guarantee you, that will not happen if you follow my explicit directions. I am not in the business of being caught, hence the need for an associate. So what say you?”

“You ain’t no queer, are you? I heard about them when I was in jail, not sure what they are but the others boys talk about it a lot.”

“No my young friend, homosexuality is not my nature; my inclinations toward the opposite sex is well established. In any case, I prefer not to mix business with pleasure. The diversion of sexual pleasures tends to cloud good judgment, interfere with well-made plans. I avoid it, as shall you, should you accept my associate proposal.”

A deal was struck, Ryan Cole explaining how Lon was to be the lookout when Ryan was engaged in removing cash and valuable things from certain establishments. Lon may also be called upon to crawl through small openings to gain access to places of interest. For each job Lon would earn ten dollars if they secured a reasonable amount. If the job was aborted for any reason, Lon was not paid, which was only right as far as he was concerned.

“The fools in this town are extremely careless about how the secure their businesses,” explained Ryan. “A padlock does no good when the hasp is available to be unfastened, screws on the outside, that is. Unscrew the hasp and the door is no longer locked to us. Even these old key locks can be jimmied with a piece of baling wire. We shall do rather well, my young minion. And when we have milked this place dry, we shall move on to the next town, where we will repeat our exercises.”


The plan worked well for a number of months until local police began to patrol the town regularly at night. They weren’t too happy about it since many of the towns ‘finest’ liked to grab a nap or enjoy the delights of the local cathouse while on duty. The participants of the latter exercise were immune to arrest for obvious reasons. Though there were many other chickens to pluck, it was becoming too risky to operate in the town any longer.

“There is a small burg to the west of us that is ripe for the picking,” announced Ryan. “We shall shift our efforts there for as long as the authorities allow us. These country bumpkins take a while before they notice and begin looking. Not to worry, however; there are always a plethora people to fleece, beyond the boundaries of this town.”

“I already got plenty of money,” said Lon. “One-hundred and thirty-two dollars and ninety-nine cents. I save most of what I get. Why don’t we stop and just have fun for a while?”

“Oh, my dear boy,” returned Ryan, a mock chuckle in his tone. “We can never have too much money. In fact, I am considering a very big move that might allow us a good deal of time off, a vacation of sorts if things work out as planned.”

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