Tools Down

by

Captain Truxtun could hardly contain his agitation. “They what?” he stammered.

“Refuse to work, begging your pardon,” said the foreman.

“All of them?”

“Yes sire. To a man.”

“And what is their complaint?”

The foreman shrugged. “What ain’t their complaint is more to the mark. I think this time it has to do with cocoa instead of coffee. Last time it was about working on a saint’s day.”

The captain pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. The frigate, one of six commissioned by Secretary Knox and President Washington, was already over budget. He could not afford to have it run over schedule as well.

“Would a rise in pay ameliorate this… lack of coffee?”

The foreman swallowed this unfamiliar word but took its meaning at once. “I reckon it couldn’t hurt, sire.”

The captain reached for a pen and did not see the foreman licking his lips.

 

What Pegman Saw

In 1794, the United States Congress authorized the construction of the USF Constitution, the USF Chesapeake, the USF Constellation, the USF President, the USF United States, and the USF Congress. These were heavy frigates – longer and faster than the conventional frigates of their day, armed with up to fifty 24-pound cannon and constructed of stout oak from the Ohio Valley. Though strong, they were much faster than 74-gun ships of the line. In the early battles of the War of 1812, they proved themselves superior to the once-indomitable Royal Navy. It was a triumph of design and technology and put the new United States on the map as a military power, allowing safe convey of merchantmen and whalers across the seas as well as suppressing the Barbary pirates. 

The six frigates were also significantly over budget and delivered later than anticipated, a tradition proudly upheld in military contracting to this day.

 

 

Two Days After

by

I got to the house about four PM on the second day of November. The Halloween stuff in the yard gave me an odd feeling.

It had been a few years since I’d seen him. We hadn’t had a falling out, exactly. We’d just stopped talking.

His wife answered the door, eyes puffy. “Thanks for coming,” she said.

“Of course.” I looked at the couch, the pillows and blankets.

“The bedroom is sealed,” she said. “I guess it’s a crime scene.”

“Are you going to move?” I asked, regretting it.

Her swollen eyes pooled. “The kids,” she said. “The kids.”

 

Friday Fictioneers

Farvel, Min Søn

by

Enok sat in the kitchen as his mother wrapped the bandage around his hand, wincing a bit as she cinched it tight.

“Sorry,” she said. “We don’t want it bleeding through on the boat.”

“Was that ceremony really necessary, Mother? I know it’s tradition and all, but I’m only going to Århus. It’s not like I’m–”

“Enough,” said his father from the living room. “I explained to you the need. It is part of who we are. Who you are.” He ruffled his son’s hair. “And you won’t soon forget it.”

“I know, I know,” said Enok. “Every time I see the scar. You’ve said.”

“Because it’s true,” said his mother, tying it off. “There. You can take it off in a couple of days, but until then keep it dry.”

Enok looked at his suitcase by the door. So much superstition here. He was glad to be leaving this place.

 

 

What Pegman Saw

Her Soldier Is Home

by

“Go away.”

She looked down the hallway, remembering the first time she’d seen it. She’d been pregnant with him then, so big she almost touched both walls.

Funny the house seemed so much smaller now. Maybe that’s how everything always was, different than you remembered it, smaller or dimmer or not as pleasant. She sighed.

“Are you sure you don’t want some pancakes?” she called through the door. “It’s no trouble.”

“I’m sleeping,” he said, voice muffled.

She sat in the kitchen. She’d been so eager for him to come home. This was almost worse than the worrying had been.

 

Friday Fictioneers

Guests of the Shah

by

“You’re limping, Houshang.” Hamid smiles up from the chessboard. “Stubbed your toe again, I suppose?”

“A blister from my long walk around the city yesterday.”

I chuckle. We both know why I limp.

I am a lifelong communist. My boiled cynicism often serves as much to poison as shield me. Hamid is a Muslim cleric imprisoned for criticizing the Shah’s fawning toadyism toward the Great Satan, America.

We are both guests of the Shah, here in the infamous Moshtarek prison which lies beneath the heart of the world’s most beautiful city. Our friendship almost makes me believe in God. Almost.

I hand Hamid my cigarette ration. I’ve never smoked, but he is almost as passionate about tobacco as he is about finer doctrinal shadings in the Koran. He pours coffee over the sugar cubes crushed  in the bottom of our cups.

I do not know how to tell him I am being released tomorrow.

What Pegman Saw

 

Houshang Asadi was a Communist journalist thrown into the cold confines of Moshtarek prison in Iran in 1974 by the secret police of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. There, he found an unlikely friend in the tall, slender Muslim cleric who greeted him with a smile. The two friends found common ground in their passion for literature, shared jokes, spoke of where they came from, their families, and falling in love.

On days when Mr. Asadi felt broken, the cleric would invite him to take a walk in their cell to brighten his spirits.  

Mr. Asadi would never have believed the cleric would one day become president of the Islamic Republic and the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. 

Mr. Asadi fully supported the 1979 revolution. When he was arrested again in 1982 and accused of being a spy for the Russians and the British, he was convinced that it was a mistake. The regime sentenced him to death.

In a plea for help, his wife wrote to Mr. Khamenei, who had risen to power as president after the Islamic revolution. 

Mr. Asadi’s death sentence was reduced to 15 years in prison, during which time he was brutally tortured.

Mr. Asadi said he would now ask his one-time friend a single question: “Do you remember what you said? You told me no more tears, but now you are torturing people, you are raping our women, you are killing our people.”

 

 

Plan B

by

He got out of the car and decided to leave his box of office belongings in the back seat until he told her.  He hadn’t discussed it with her. This hadn’t been planned. One day, maybe, but not yet.

Working for Dynacom had been a soul-sucking experience he had come to loathe more with every passing anniversary, but it had bought this house. The car too, and Jeremy’s braces and Kit’s college and on and on. But what had it cost him?

His sense of purpose. His joy. His humanity.

He tried to suppress his sudden foreboding.

Confidence is key.

 

Friday Fictioneers

 

Times Is Changing

by

Malmsey stormed into the inn and flung down his bundle. “I’ll not stand for this!” he shouted. “A German? I’ll sooner die!”

“Calm yourself, mate,” said the keeper, drawing off a tankard and pushing across the bar. “We’ve heard.”

“Times is changing,” said Old Grumps from his corner table. “Rumor is the Queen herself is behind it.”

“It is more than a rumor,” said a man Malmsey had never seen before, a tall fellow with hair like raven’s wings and eyes to match. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Herr Hoechstetter, Royal Mining Engineer.” He produced a waxed linen envelope from his satchel. “Her Majesty’s charter grants me extensive powers to manage copper production.”

“Why you? Why not an Englishman?”

Hechstetter gave a watery smile. “I have twenty years of expertise. But have no fear. If you are willing, you can learn my methods.”

“Times is changing,” said Grumps.

 

What Pegman Saw

 

Note: In the 1500s, England desperately needed copper, for the brass making industry, for coinage to mix with silver and to make bronze for canons. Sheet copper was also used in battery works, workshops which turned the copper into a variety of utensils. Later it was used for ships hulls as a streamlining crude armor plate.

The expertise of the German miners was far more advanced than that of the English, both in the underground work of tunneling, pumping and hauling to retrieve the ore but, more importantly, in the art of separating and smelting the copper. In the 16th Century, the Germans led the world in mining technology.

To enable the miners to reach maximum efficiency, Elizabeth created the charter of the Mines Royal which was augmented in the year of 1564. Under the leadership of Daniel Hechstetter, a mining engineer from Augsberg, this charter gave them the right to prospect and survey for mineral veins anywhere in the country. Their privileged position did not go down well with the natives.

The Vacation is Ruined

by

Mark’s checked off just two items on his list before Marci commences meltdown. As always, he pretends to sympathize while secretly resenting Meg. She takes after you, his sullen mantra.

Meg is busy running through her own list. They’d slept the night before with the lights on. They’d FedExed Marci’s special food box directly to the hotel. Marci had the Trader Joe’s Honey Grahams and chunky Jif sandwiches, the Happy Cow vanilla soy milk.

Marci screeches and wails, flailing arms and legs, spittle flying while her parents hover and other tourists look on, clucking and whispering and shaking their heads.

 

Friday Fictioneers

A Prince Enchanted

by

Prince Berkant had begun to behave strangely, his sister Beyza thought. Every day he would saddle one of the stallions and ride out before dawn, returning long after dark with a wild look in his eyes.

At first she believed it was the looming responsibility of one day ascending the throne, but when she tried to speak to him about this he would give her a dreamy, faraway smile and refuse to speak.

She determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. One night she prepared her mare and in the dark of the stable waited for him to set out. She followed him many fersahs to a green valley surrounded by escarpments.

Berkant dismounted his lathered horse and set it grazing. Face alight with eagerness, he trotted up to a cave in the cliff.

Shocked, she watched him carelessly peel off his clothes and drop them as he climbed.

 

What Pegman Saw

 

In an ancient Turkish legend that goes back to the time of Gilgamesh, the Shahmaran is a creature whose head is a beautiful woman and whose body is a snake. She lives in the land of the snakes under the earth and lures unsuspecting lovers into her cave of honey. 

The Crossing

by

When Dwayne retired from Motorola we sold the house and spent a year driving the Caravan across the USA looking for the place we loved best. When we saw the ranch in Sasabe on the Sonoran border, we knew we’d found it. That was twenty years ago.

It was a year-round thing. They’d come through at night, parties of five or ten or twenty. Some men, but a lot of women and children. I got in the habit of setting out gallon jugs of water, packages of corn tortillas and cans of beans. Dwayne was furious when he found out.

 

Friday Fictioneers