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A story sent in by e-mail
Sam paused at the typewriter. He could start with the bad news first. Get it out of the way. Maybe he should work up to it. Better for the family.
No, the boss was a born Pinkerton. Sam decided to run down the timeline and give facts as he had learned them.
The mother had come in pieces held together by makeup a week ago. She had seen the police, but had only given them a day before coming to the San Francisco office. The boss had listened sympathetically and learned the following: Robert von Appel, age 12, disappeared after school. He was a clean-cut kid and never got into trouble. The mother lived practically alone with him and his two younger sisters. The father was away most of the time, on business. She had no idea where Robert could have gone.
The boss assured her agents would handle the task. Sam was fresh off his last case and had been assigned immediately. He borrowed the office car and drove the mother back to her home in Palo Alto. Along the way he ran over the basic facts again. At the house he asked to look through Robert's room. The mother reluctantly agreed.
The boy's room was normal for a 12 year old. He was a Phillies baseball fan, with memorabilia about the room. On the nightstand was a stack of Goudey baseball cards: Phil Collins, Jim Elliot, Eddie Farrell, Joe Sewell, Sam Byrd, Lou Gehrig. He kept no journal, and had nothing hidden away.
There was a stack of schoolbooks on the desk, but no book bag. Sam flipped through the books, and found two folded pieces of paper inside the math book cover.
The first was a letter, written in a childish hand and with skull faces on it. It was a Love/Hate letter, with instructions to leave the letter at a play structure with the answer facing out. The second piece of paper was a sketch of a man, roughly 40 years old, mustached, with a hard look on him. There wasn't a name written or anything to indicate who the man was.
Sam pocketed the papers and went back to the mother. He inquired about Robert's school, and if she knew a few of the names of his friends.
Robert attended Addison School, which Sam visited the next morning. He spoke to the principal first, then Robert's teacher. They were dead ends, with only good things to say about Robert. Sam inquired about close friends and was told to speak to Duncan.
Duncan Donnett was a pudgy kid with a sour attitude. He didn't care who Sam was, but once Sam mentioned Robert was missing he gave up the dirt.
Sam showed him the Love/Hate letter.
“Know anything about this? Robert not get along with anyone?”
Duncan looked at him. “You kidding? Everyone calls him Bob Frapples and he just smiles like it ain't nothing.”
Duncan looked at the letter again. “Probably from Chris Eyed. She likes him but he don't pay any attention.”
Sam produced the sketch from his pocket.
“I'll be damned, he actually did it.”
“Go to find his father.”
“What do you mean?”
“That jackass left the family when Bob was 6 or something. Said he was gonna go to find him. Said he even found his address. Bob sketched this from a picture he saw in the newspaper. I bet that's where Bob is now.”
Sam gave Duncan a quarter and went straight to Robert's house. The mom was shy at first, then indignant, when he started questioning her about her husband. She said the father had a mistress when the family lived in Pennsylvania and that she had left him and didn't know where the bum was. Then she threw Sam out.
Back at the office Sam sent a telegram to the Philadelphia office asking them to track Robert's father. The kid was slick, Sam mused, to find his father from across the United States. How long had he known? He must have dwelled on the knowledge for some time. There must be something in his room that—Sam smiled when he figured it out.
Sam wired the New York office, asked them to track Robert's father and to contact the police about a young kid alone and loose within the city. He caught a Union Pacific Overland to Chicago via Omaha, then a Pennsylvania Limited to New York.
When he arrived bad news awaited him. The operative who met him said they tracked Robert to his last dwelling, a hostel, but that he had disappeared. They did manage to find Robert's father, Carmel, a prominent businessman in the city.
“Can't miss him,” said the op. “Picture of his new tower ran in every paper nationwide.”
The op took him to the tower. It was Saturday, but the op said Carmel was working in the office. No one stopped Sam as he took the lift up.
He entered the office without knocking. Carmel was sitting at the desk, reading papers.
“Who the devil are you? Leave this instant!”
Sam flashed his buzzer.
“I'm a detective. Your son Robert is missing. I believe he's here in New York.”
“No, he isn't. Now leave.”
“You haven't seen him?”
“Then what's with his yoyo on your desk?”
Carmel bought it, his eyes tracking to the orange yoyo.
“How did you know he came to New York?”
“He collected baseball cards, but only the Phillies and Yankees. If he wanted to come to here, he'd start learning everything he could.”
Carmel grinned. “Okay, so the runt was here. I sent him packing.”
Sam paused at the typewriter on the von Appel secretary's desk. He nudged the handcuffed and hogtied Carmel at his feet.
“Okay, Frapples. How should I explain you sent your son on a train to Palo Alto, Pennsylvania?”
Here's a story sent to me via e-mail
Moving On by Heather Ryan
Bobby Frapples stared at his math notebook, doodling a skull and crossbones with his teacher’s face. The teacher was droning about something, but he had lost Bobby fifteen minutes ago, and as he showed no signs of slowing his demanding pace, Bobby gave up on trying to follow along. He would ask his younger sister Karen to show him later. He could always count on her for expert math tutoring; she had taken this class last year.
A sketch of his father stared up at him from inside his notebook. Normally, Bobby loved to look at this sketch, as it was one of the last pieces his mother had drawn before she had gotten sick. Now, he just wrinkled his nose at his father’s dark, serious eyes. He had barely crossed paths with his father in weeks, since Bobby’s school afternoons were spent working at the toy shop. Every payday, Bobby brought home a yo-yo to his youngest sister Patty. She loved yo-yos and wanted to collect one in every color of the rainbow. Bobby did have most of his Saturdays and Sundays free, which used to be spent with his family. He was one of those rare teenagers with a really fun family that he didn’t even feel embarrassed to be seen with … at least not in the old days. Now, ever since Shirley came along, Bobby’s father wasn’t around much on the weekends. The neighbors whispered about this new girlfriend, saying words like “mistress” even though Bobby’s mother had passed three years earlier. The older two liked independence, but Bobby could tell nine-year-old Patty was hurting. He and Karen kept Patty safe and entertained, but they were no mother and father. It made Bobby sad to think that Patty barely remembered their mother. She had been so creative, so vibrant and full of life. Then, seemingly overnight, she just faded away …
Who did this Shirley think she was? She couldn’t just walk into a family and steal away the father! Bobby was going to get rid of her. As his math teacher finished the lesson, Bobby was miles away hatching a plan …
That Friday, Shirley checked her mailbox to find the usual assortment of bills and junk, until she came across a strange handwritten envelope with no stamp. The envelope was covered in distinctly male chicken-scratch handwriting. On the back was a drawing Shirley couldn’t identify until she saw the words “I love to walk the plank!” and, with a giggle, recognized it as a pirate drawing. The front of the envelope seemed to contain some kind of scavenger hunt instructions leading her to nearby Addison School. Curiosity finally got the best of Shirley and she opened the envelope to find a note that read “You should be in the movies. Move to Hollywood immediately and call me when you get here at 310-555-3785. You’ll find a map and some travelling money at the location specified on the envelope. Yours sincerely, Joe Tinselton, Director.”
Shirley felt a pang in her heart as she realized who the note must really be from. She kept telling Robert this would happen! Maybe now he would finally listen. This was going to require a woman’s delicate touch, Shirley thought, reaching for the telephone.
Luckily, Robert was agreeable to her plan and Shirley quickly set out for Addison school. Sure enough, at the designated spot, there was another envelope (this one at least lacking pirate doodles). Shirley sat on a bench and tore open the envelope to find a map of Los Angeles and twenty-five dollars cash. Suppressing a little smile, she glanced around her, then up into the tree branches above. Was that an orange yo-yo she saw through the leaves? It must be payday.
“Bobby?” Shirley called. The tree leaves rustled, then were still. “Bobby, it will be much easier to talk to you if I can see your face,” she implored. No response. “Okay, then. Bobby, your father and I are so sorry for these past few weeks. We’ve been acting totally irresponsible, and that is not fair to you and Karen and Patty. You should know that your father loves you three so much; you are his entire world. He wanted to keep me away because he was afraid you would think he was trying to replace your mother. It sounds like your mother was a truly amazing person. You were so lucky to have had her, and I wish I could have known her too. I think we might have been great friends. I will never, ever aspire to take your mother’s place, but I care about your father very much. I’d like to get to know all four of you and see if we all have room in our hearts to make space for each other in our lives. What do you think?”
There was silence and stillness from above for a few moments, but finally Bobby’s head emerged from the leaves. He wrinkled his brow and stared at Shirley for a minute, then nodded very slowly. Shirley held out Bobby’s money as a peace offering, and he jumped down from the tree, brushing leaves out of his hair.
At that moment, Robert Frapples appeared on the other side of the playground with Karen and Patty in tow. His face lit up when he saw Shirley and Bobby looking reasonably friendly with each other. “My four favorite people in the world, all in one place!” he exclaimed. “Why don’t we all go to that burger place around the corner?”
The mention of burgers received an enthusiastic response from three of those four favorite people.
Robert went on: “Let us not forget your beautiful mother, may she rest in peace, for bringing three of these amazing people to me. I could not be a luckier man.”
All five bowed their heads in a brief moment of appreciation and remembrance, then turned toward the faint scent of French fries that reached the playground.____________________________________________
Another story sent by e-mail:
THE APPLE NEVER FALLS FAR FROM THE TREE
by Dee Turbon
He don’t mind boys takin what’s lyin in the grass, them as has fallen early, fallen before they’s been picked. He don’t mind boys takin them windfall apples. He says so every year, old man Tucker, sittin on his porch and a shotgun laid across his knees and his cur curled at his feet.
‘Jes don’t be takin them as is still on the tree.’
He says them apples belongs to him, the pick of ‘em does. His trees, his apples, he says, and the fruits of his labours is what he says them apples is. Only Bob don’t see it that way. It’s the tree what’s done the labourin. All old man Tucker’s been and done is sittin in the sun watchin the apples ripen, and sometimes not watchin cos he’s sleepin. Ain’t no labourin in that, Bob says, and I sees his point. Bob figures that sittin in the sun’s the opposite of labourin.
So it’s Bob’s idea for us to raid old man Tucker’s apple trees, one day when his back is turned. He plans the whole thing. Plans it like we was robbin a bank or a store, all whisper and lookin over his shoulder like he might be heard. And he’s a map of old man Tucker’s yard, and he pushes the table to one side and spreads that map out on his kitchen floor. It’s a map he drawed hisself and it’s a good drawin. I’m impressed. ‘Sgot all the apple trees and red dot-apples on the green, and you can see old man Tucker’s porch and the curl of his cur, and the chair with old man Tucker asleep in it, his head tilted back and his eyes closed but his mouth open. Bob’s even drawed a silver-spittle thread trailin from the old man’s mouth and I seen it just like that once.
Bob tells us what’s what and what will be. He’s got it all worked out, the times and the positions. And I says I don’t like it none. Bob thinks I mean the drawin, which I don’t cos as I says it was something good. I don’t like the dog, I says. I don’t like nothing to do with dogs. They’s all teeth and growl and bite. And old man Tucker’s cur is no different.
And I sees Bob smilin then, like he’s got somethin up his sleeve, which it turns out he has. He’s been doin some experimentin with meat and sleepin powders. He shows us a small glass phial and he shakes it so we sees the powder inside. Somethin he stole from his granpa’s veterinary, and he speaks in smaller whispers then, cos he lives with his granpa now, see. Three years he’s lived with him on account of his ma bein in the ground since the day he was born and his pa bein away jes for now. And Bob tells us how old man Tucker’s dog will be sleepin like a baby – only I still ain’t so sure, cos I heard babies crying fit to burst and I knows they’s usually awake when theys should be sleepin.
Then Bob asks if I’s chicken or somethin, and I ain’t chicken, no ways. So I agrees to go along with his plan. And we does it, jes like Bob said. Old man Tucker’s cur gets a free meal, meat that Bob stole from his granpa’s fridge and it’s been stuffed full of his granpa’s sleepin powder. Enough to fell a horse, Bob says, and some. And Sure as eggs is eggs, old man Tucker’s cur is felled and it’s sleepin like no baby ever slept before. You could fart in its face and it wouldn’t do no more’n sniff in its dreams.
And old man Tucker, well he’s sleepin too, jes like in Bob’s drawin, and I reckon Bob’s put some powder in something the old man’s been drinkin. The light is goin down and we sneaks about, hunched like the sky is pressin heavy on us from above, and we picks all the apples we can reach from old man Tucker’s trees. Strippen ‘em bare as near as. Bob’s got old sacks, the smell of dead leaves on ‘em, and we fills those sacks so they’s hard to carry. And we gets a bit silly then. Laughin and singin, you know. And that’s our undoin, see. Cos old man Tucker wakes then and he yells into the dark where we is and he kicks his no-good cur and he cocks his gun. Only he don’t fire, cos there ain’t nothing in the barrel. Jes an empty gun is all. And we’s only laughin all the harder. And that’s our greater undoin.
‘I knows you Bob Frapples,’ hollers old man Tucker. ‘I knows you anywheres, even in the dark, jes like your pa. And you’ll get what’s comin to you, boy, I’ll see you do. You’ll get jes what your pa’s got. Cos there’s a wall someplace with your name scratched above a metal-frame bed, and that bed in a prison cell dark as shoe-black, and it’s jes waitin.’
And then we aint laughin no more and I says we should take the sacks of apples and leave ‘em on the old man’s porch. And Bob spits into the grass and says he ain’t afeard of old man Tucker’s threats.
‘The apple don’t fall far from the tree, Bob Frapples, and I knows it’s you out there.’
And I still thinks we should take back them apples. And I says as such. Only Bob says we all got alibis, see, and he tells us what they is. Only again I ain’t so sure, cos his pa had an alibi too and it din’t do him no good, but I don’t say that, not to Bob. And we hides the sacks of apples in the dark under his granpa’s house, and we waits for old man Tucker to come callin.
Here's another story submitted by e-mail
Bobby Frappe by James Thibeault
I can’t make a frappe, but I wish I could. Mr. Thompson won’t let me use the machine on account of me breaking the old one. On top of that, he makes me work the late shift at the diner. It’s nothing but truckers and raccoons. Usually, it don’t mind cleaning white countertops when I’m all alone—except when Big Wilkins, with his red beard and plaid shirt, slumps down and almost bends the stool.
“Hey Bobby! Bobby Frappe!”
“It’s Frapples, Mr. Wilkins.”
“You come down here and shut your mouth.”
He slams a couple dimes on the counter. Big Wilkins only stops here about every three weeks. Because of all the diners he’s stopped at from here to Tennessee, he never remembers what we charge.
“You go on and get me a burger and two shots of bourbon.”
We’re not suppose to serve alcohol at this hour—especially to the truckers, but Mr. Thompson tells me if they can drive till six in the morning, then they can handle a little bit of liquor.
“I reckon there’s gonna be some left over change, so you go on make yourself a burger. I worry about you, Bobby Frappe. You skinny and you never get a woman if you look like one.”
Mr. Wilkins laughs to himself and takes a swig from a flask while I throw two patties on the skillet. I know the joke’s coming, so I pour him the two shots and turn around. I try focusing my heart on the skillet—hoping to God watching two burgers sizzle’s going to make Mr. Wilkins not say it. But as the grease spreads along the metal…
“Hey Bobby! Bobby! You go on a make me a frappe too.”
The grease keeps spreading until the meat’s practically swimming in it.
“Hey Bobby,” he grins while bit of liquor trickles down his beard. “Why aren’t you making a frappe for me?”
“You know why, Mr. Wilkins.”
“Shoot boy, I’ve been all over these states and I always forget. How come you can’t make me a frappe, Bobby Frappe?”
I flip the burgers and watch as their other sides soak.
“Little Bobby, why aren’t you making me no frappe, Bobby Frappe?”
“Make a frappe damnit!”
He throws a shot glass at the Coca-Cola clock.
“I can’t make them!”
Mr. Wilkins laughs like he’s some wicked St. Nick and drums the counter with his hands.
“Boy! Bobby Frappe can’t make no frappe. That sure is something.”
He would have laughed until dawn came up, but the diner door creaks open and a black man strolls in. The man sits down on the other side of the bar.
“Bobby,” Big Wilkins whispers, “Is that there a Negro?”
“I think so, Mr. Wilkins.”
“You let them into this diner?”
We didn’t get any blacks around this part, but if we did I’m sure Mr. Thompson would let them eat. He’d probably he put them near the corner though.
“Hey!” Mr. Wilkins shouts like he was a football field away. “What you want here?”
“Just waiting for the boy,” the black man says.
“He ain’t no boy. You the boy.”
“Let him come down here please.”
“He’ll come when he wants to come. Ain’t that right, Bobby Frappe?”
I put the burgers on a plate and approach. The way Big Wilkins shouted at him, I thought the black man might bite me.
“What would you like?”
“He would like to get out ‘cause he scared. Scared of the white man.”
Mr. Wilkins laughs and steals the bottle of bourbon from under the counter.
“Would you mind making a frappe for my daughter?” the black man says, “She’s in the car and won’t fall asleep. I told her since she’s been really good on this drive, I would get her a frappe.”
“Better take a step back, Bobby. That boy there’s gonna kill you and take your money.”
“I just want a frappe for my daughter.”
“Where’s your daughter then, Mr. Negro?”
“In the car.”
“Why didn’t you bring her in here?”
“Why do you think?” the black man shouts.
Big Wilkins didn’t like that much. He stands from the bar, relieving the metal stool, and advances toward him with the bottle in hand.
“Bobby, I’m gonna tell you something good. You don’t serve this thing nothing cause he’s a Negro and that’s all you need to know.”
“Bobby,” the black man whispered, almost pleading “It’s for my daughter, we’ve been driving all night and I just want to make her happy.”
“I’m sorry,” I say to him. “I can’t make frappes.”
I was sure he was going to make a fuss, but the black man stands and heads to the door.
He turns around, “Maybe there’s another diner,” and simply walks out.
Big Wilkins wobbles out the door too. I look out the window and see the black man’s Ford back up while Wilkins slams on his hood. Wilkins shouts, but with the diner door closed it’s only drunken grunts. I look at the passenger side and see his daughter in pigtails. She had closed her eyes and cuffed her hands over her ears. As they drive off, Big Wilkins throws whatever he can at the car: empty coke bottles, papers, dirt. Wilkins comes back into the diner but still shouts to the car in the distance
“You stay in the dark where you belong. You never come back here ‘cause me and Bobby be waiting for you. Bobby ain’t never gonna give you a frappe!”
Big Wilkins slams the door and smiles.
“Bobby Frappe, you a man now. You don’t let anybody tell you what to do, especially that there Negro. We’re drinking this here bourbon and eating them burgers.”
I’ve never seen Big Wilkins so happy. He would never mention again the fact I can’t make frappes, but I wish I could. I still wish I could make them.
This story was submitted by e-mail
Commencement by Matt O' Malley
My mother was an alcoholic. It’s what eventually killed her. She would drink all day long and into the night. But she wasn’t always that way. I don’t remember her ever drinking when I was first growing up. And I guess, I guess that’s why I’m back here to see you again, seeking professional help as they say. I don’t drink now, well, not heavily, but because of my current divorce situation, I’m scared that maybe I’ll slip into alcoholism like her.
It’s like this. I remember my mother as being a very, hmmm, how can I say this, a very meticulous woman. She kept her home spotless, immaculate. The dishes were always clean, clothes ironed, floors swept. Every month the whole house would be washed, ceiling to floor, baseboards to chandeliers and by the time she was done, a month had passed and it was time to start all over again. She knew where everything was in the house for everything had its place. I think that’s why she never really liked me: too messy for her. And I admit, I wasn’t like a lamp, you know. I wouldn’t stay in the place I was put. Like any kid, I wanted to run around, have fun.
My father, as I remember him, had been the opposite. He would shed articles of clothing as he walked around the house after work: a hat in the kitchen, shoes in the hallway, jacket over the living room chair. He would empty his pockets onto any table that was closest to him at the time, which often led to him running around in the morning like a madman as he searched for his keys and wallet. He was an artist, a freethinker: he’s the one who painted this picture of me that I brought today.
And he was so much fun. He was always smiling and willing to play games with me that my mother refused to play, like hide and seek. My mother absolutely refused to play it, yet he would. And when I think of it, it really was so childish of him to play. I mean really. I can see my mother’s point. A grown man walking around the house wondering out loud on where I was hiding when I was always in a place that barely concealed me: behind the pillows of the sofa. But he always played that game the same way, acting as if it was a miracle that he found me at all. He would pull me out from my hiding place and tickle me and throw me into the air. I remember he always said how much he had worried and missed me while he had searched the house.
But that’s about the extent of my memory of my father. My parents divorced when I was a child and my father disappeared, to my knowledge, without a word to either me or my mom. This drawing I made is how I remember of him. Maybe I put too much of myself into it, the eyes, but who knows. Guess I got some of his talent.
Anyway I guess what brought me here to see you, what triggered me to think I should see a psychiatrist for a possible alcohol problem is that I just now have gotten to emptying an old wooden chest I found in my mother’s attic. Basically I knew where everything was in the house so naturally I had assumed I had found everything there was to set out for the upcoming estate sale. But I had completely forgotten about the attic ‘cause I never been there. In my whole life, I had been everywhere in that house except the attic.
So it was dark and dust was everywhere and when I flicked on the light switch, all I saw in that room was this old wooden chest and a rocking chair, and I immediately got this image in my mind of my mom rocking in that chair looking at the contents of that chest. It was so eerie. The image I had was sort of a cross between that movie the Sentinel and that painting of Whistler’s mother.
So I undo the leather straps on the chest, lift the lid, and inside is this painting and my yoyo and all these books, diaries, diaries my mom had kept and had written in for years since she was a child. And as I dig through the chest, I begin to read bits and pieces of her diaries and they tell of her dreams: wanting to meet Clark Gable, wishing she could sail on the Bay with Humphrey Bogart. There was a listing of chores and a recipe for a warm cider drink. And then I realize the diary on top is from the year my mom and dad got divorced.
So I open it up and out falls from between the pages of my mother’s diary, this letter. I had written it when I was a child and had given it to her to send out for me to my dad. And here it was, in the original envelope I had placed it in, unopened and never sent. And now it’s yellow. You can’t even tell the paper was this special egg shell white stationary I had purchased with my allowance at the time.
It’s funny. I can still remember placing that thirteen cent stamp upon it as if it were yesterday. I had spent nearly an hour getting that damn stamp in the right position, evenly spaced in the upper right corner, hoping at the time the postman would see the careful work I had done and would deliver it with all the expediency he could muster.
Anyway, I brought it here to read to you so you can tell me what you think. If you think I’m crazy for thinking I may become an alcoholic.
And maybe I should also say, I guess, I’ve been having bad thoughts of late.