The Consultant: Chapter 3

The suggestion that the woman might be dangerous totally floored Barry. He was open to the argument that the woman was out of his league, or best left alone because the situation was likely to require more effort than it was worth. (And yes, he was also open to the possibility that she was a pro; Barry had already begun to consider that possibility himself.)

But dangerous? No, he couldn’t quite fathom that. 

“I don’t understand, Nagase-san.”

Sato was looking at Nagase with a puzzled expression, too. What had been a convivial celebratory meal only a few minutes ago was now something more serious.  

“As you know, Barry-san, Japan has a reputation for being a very safe country. And for the most part, this is true. But this doesn’t mean that there are no dangerous people in Japan.”

“There are dangerous people everywhere,” Barry said.

Hai. But in Japan they are not always easy to recognize. Have you ever heard of the yakuza—the Japanese word for the…?” Nagase paused while he thought of the proper words. “Mafia. Organized crime.”

“Yes, I’ve heard of the yakuza. But surely you don’t mean—that woman at the bar? She’s just a pretty woman in an evening dress.”

“Maybe. And maybe not. By herself, she looks harmless enough. And she smiled at you. She noticed you. But maybe she isn’t alone here tonight, neh?’

“Now you’ve really got me confused, Nagase-san.”

Tilting his head, Nagase subtly gestured to the area of the dining room beyond the bar. 

“Consider those two men on the other side of the room. The two men dining alone.”

Barry looked in the direction that Nagase had indicated. He saw two Asian men. They were both well-dressed. They were sitting at a small table. 

“They’ve been watching our table throughout the evening,” Nagase said. “At first I didn’t think anything of it. But now that woman at the bar has been watching us, too.”

“Hey,” Barry said, attempting to make light. “She was looking at me.”

“Looking at you then. But so were those two men, perhaps.”

Barry studied the men at the little table more closely. Although they were dressed in business attire, the suits and ties somehow seemed out-of-place on them. They were burly, stocky men. But more than that, there was a hardness to their expressions that one rarely saw in the world of offices and boardrooms. 

Barry couldn’t explain why the two rough-looking Asian men might have been watching them (or him). But that didn’t mean they were yakuza. 

“Nagase-san. I don’t know what to—”

Barry saw one of the men throw an unmistakable stare in their direction. (Nagase was right about that much.) But he didn’t look away when Barry met his eyes.

The man rose from his seat, and pushed his chair back.

Without taking his eyes off Barry.

The man was carrying something long and cylindrical in his hand, Barry saw. 

The stranger started walking toward the table that Barry shared with his two Japanese guests. The stranger was making a beeline, in fact. 

Who in the world was this fellow—and what did he want?

Barry had the feeling that he was going to find out very shortly.

The man approached, and Barry tensed up.

He wasn’t sure if he should stand, or remain seated.

He decided to remain seated for now.

The stranger was almost at their table. At this point, Barry got a better look at the cylindrical object he was carrying. It was a rolled-up magazine.

Maybe he’s got a gun in there, Barry thought. Maybe this is a mob hit about to happen.

Barry chided himself. It was ridiculous to think of his life in terms of a scene from The Godfather or The Sopranos. The man wasn’t coming over here to shoot him. 

That was crazy.

I’m a marketing consultant, Barry thought. Nothing exciting ever happens to marketing consultants. 

The unknown man stopped right before their table, just behind Nagase and Sato. There was no denying his destination now. 

But what did he want?

“Hello?” Barry said.

“Excuse me. Are you Barry Lawson?”

“Yes. Yes I am. But how did you—”

The stranger smiled, and unfurled the magazine he was carrying. He held it up so that Barry could see it.

Advertising World Weekly. Of course.

Barry immediately recognized his own face on the front cover of the magazine. Advertising World Weekly had interviewed him back in February, for the issue that came out in the first week of April. The magazine carried a full write-up of him, with special attention to the work that he had done in the automotive sector. The editors had also decided to put Barry’s photo on the cover of that issue. So…Barry Lawson could honestly say that his full-color image had graced the cover of a magazine. 

But Advertising World Weekly was a humble trade magazine. Virtually no one outside of the advertising, sales, and marketing sectors even knew of the magazine’s existence. The write-up in Advertising World Weekly had been useful for self-marketing purposes. According to Nagase and Sato, the Yukimura board had read a Japanese translation of Barry’s interview. 

But it hardly constituted fame.

Nevertheless, this man—whoever he was—had read the article about Barry, too. 

Barry stood up and said, “Yes. That’s my ugly mug on the cover.”

Barry’s self-deprecating humor apparently exceeded the stranger’s language skills. He didn’t acknowledge the joke, but he did introduce himself.

“My name is Mr. Kim. I am from Korea.”

“I’m glad to meet you, Mr. Kim.” Barry knew that Koreans, like Japanese, customarily bowed when meeting someone new. Barry gave Mr. Kim a brief bow, and Mr. Kim reciprocated. 

“Your work is much admired in Korea,” he said.

“That’s good to hear. I never would have thought that.”

“It’s true,” Mr. Kim assured him.

Barry suddenly realized that he had left Sato and Nagase completely out of the conversation.

“Mr. Kim, these are my dinner companions and business associates: Sato-san and Nagase-san. They both work in the marketing department of Yukimura Electronics.”

 In Japan, one’s place of employment was a fundamental aspect of identity. It was therefore normal to introduce Sato and Nagase as men of Yukimura Electronics, even though this Mr. Kim was a complete stranger, whom they would likely never meet again. 

Nagase and Sato stood and bowed. Mr. Kim made a curt bow in their direction. Then he immediately looked back to Barry. 

“Anyway. I have disturbed your dinner. I just wanted to see if it was really you. I will go back to my table now.”

“Thank you for saying hello,” Barry said. “Yes, it’s really me.”

As he watched Mr. Kim walk back to his table and join his companion, Barry reflected that yes, this had been an unusual coincidence. 

But today was one of those days: the signing of the big contract, an attractive woman noticing him at the bar.

Some days were just luckier than others, he told himself. 

After he’d sat back down with Nagase and Sato, Barry was determined to put an end to Nagase’s flights of anxiety. 

“Well, there we go,” Barry said. “The mysterious Mr. Kim is Korean, not Japanese. So he couldn’t be part of the Japanese mafia.”

Barry expected that the matter would be put to rest with that. It wasn’t.

“So perhaps Mr. Kim is something even more dangerous.” 

“Nagase-san. What is it with you tonight, buddy? You seem to see the dark side of everything.”

Nagase wasn’t dissuaded, however. 

“Did you notice that  Mr. Kim didn’t tell us his place of employment?”

“Well,” Barry said. “He’s Korean, not Japanese.”

“Korean just like Japanese in that way,” Nagase insisted. “For a Korean man, at least, his company is very important. In Korea, a Hyundai man is a Hyundai man, just like a Mitsubishi man is a Mitsubishi man in Japan.”

“So what are you saying?”

“I’m saying,” Nagase said, “that Mr. Kim was hiding something. I can’t tell you what he was hiding. But he was hiding something.”

“Maybe you’re right, Nagase-san,” Barry said. “But that doesn’t mean that he’s dangerous.”

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Chapter 4

Table of contents

Revolutionary Ghosts: Chapter 37

I made it to Sunday morning without any further incidents.

I wouldn’t have described my parents as especially devout, but they were regular churchgoers. In the morning, I accompanied them to services at the small Lutheran church we attended.

I daydreamed through the service. When I left the church, I would not have been able to recount a single sentence from the pastor’s sermon to save my life.

My mind was otherwise occupied.

When we arrived home, our Sunday copy of the Cincinnati Enquirer had arrived, too. I took my time skimming through the paper, pausing only briefly on stories about the ongoing national headache of stagflation, and the upcoming presidential election.

Then I saw a story that did catch my attention.

“Headless bodies found near Zanesville”

In the wake of several young men going missing in the area, Zanesville authorities made a grisly discovery in a wooded area just beyond the city limits last Thursday.

The partially decomposed, headless bodies of two young men were found in a ravine…”

The story went on to include quotes from local law enforcement officials. There were speculations of a serial killer, or perhaps organized crime.

Zanesville was a small city in central Ohio. No more than a few hours from Cincinnati.

How many more coincidences do you need? I asked myself.

“Looks like an article there has your attention,” Dad said. Sitting on his La-Z-Boy, he was busy reading the sports section. The Cincinnati Reds were going gangbusters this year. The local sports media was already hyping the possibility of them winning the World Series (which they did, in fact, win in 1976—though I would have little interest in baseball that year).

I told my father the gist of the article. His reaction caught me off guard.

“What else can you expect?” He practically shouted. “With the way so many kids are using those damn drugs today, losing all control, it’s no surprise that things like that happen!”

I didn’t know quite what to say. We had not discussed Jack’s visit the prior night. Nevertheless, no major feat of interpretation was required to discern that my father’s words were a reflection of his frustrations and disappointments with Jack.

And I, for my part, was no fan of Jack’s lifestyle, for the rest of the hippie drug culture. But I wasn’t sure that I could so easily ascribe those headless bodies in Zanesville to the ongoing problem of young people getting high and dropping out.

More and more, I was coming to the conclusion that Harry Bailey’s article might have an element of truth to it.

But this was a conclusion that I was still fighting.

My mother had been in the kitchen, making the three of us pancakes, as was our usual after-church Sunday ritual. 

She walked out into the living room, drawn by the sound of my father’s outburst. 

“Is everything okay?” She asked.

My father smiled at her, obviously struggling to calm himself down.

“Everything is just fine, Marge. Steve and I were just talking, that’s all.”

My mom looked over at me for corroboration.

“Just a disturbing article in the newspaper,” I said. “Some young men murdered in Zanesville.”

“Do they know who killed them?”

“Not yet.”

“Oh,” my mother said. “Yes, that is a shame.”

My mother didn’t bother to ask why such a news report would have provoked my father to shout.

Thanks to Jack, yesterday had been a stressful day for them, as well as me.

Chapter 38

Table of contents

Engel Coolers

Revolutionary Ghosts: Chapter 36

That night, I did manage to go to sleep. For a while, I lay awake in bed, listening to my parents arguing with Jack.

I don’t know if they gave him yet another handout that night. Eventually, though, he left. By then I was asleep.

Late that night—or early the next morning, I should say—I awoke from a dream. 

The dream itself was routine enough: a mishmash of random scenes and events from my daily life. First I was at home with my parents, then I was going to classes at West Clermont High School. In another segment of the dream, I was working at McDonald’s. 

The dream was subject to the usual distortions and inconsistencies of the dreamworld, but it contained no content that was especially memorable or disturbing.

And then some force invaded the dream.

The dream images of daily life abruptly dissolved, replaced by total darkness. I was awake now—but not quite awake. Paused on the boundary between sleep and full consciousness. 

And I wasn’t alone there.

A presence was leaning over my bed. 

I dared not open my eyes. As is often the case in this in-between state, however, I was capable of some version of sight, or what I imagined to be sight. 

Lying on my back, I could sense the vague shape leaning over me. 

It terrified me, whatever it was. It was horrible and seductive at the same time. 

The thing was trying to speak to me. But before I could make out the words, I pulled myself out of this in-between state.

 

Fully awake now, I sat up in bed. Looked around my darkened bedroom. 

I was alone. But I noticed something: The door of my bedroom was slightly ajar.

I had closed it when I went to bed, to drown out the sound of Jack’s rambling pleas for charity, and my parents’ frustrated but half-hearted responses. 

But now the door was slightly open. 

Not good. 

It was just a dream, I told myself. Just a dream.

Another part of me perceived that it hadn’t been a dream, though. The scenes of school and home life and McDonald’s—yes, those had been dreams. But I had been at least marginally conscious when that thing visited me.

I struggled to figure it out. The thing had appeared as nothing more than a mere shape. 

Or no—more than a mere shape. The shape had been distinctly female. But no longer female in the sense that Leslie Griffin and Diane Parker were female. 

The shape had once been female, it occurred to me. My visitor carried femininity—and humanity—as distant memories. But it was something else now. 

Marie Trumbull, were the words that sprang to my mind. 

Ridiculous, I told myself. You were not visited by Marie Trumbull, the executed Loyalist spy. You’re letting your imagination get the best of you.

I lay there, for perhaps an hour or more, before I finally willed myself to go back to sleep.

Chapter 37

Table of contents

Revolutionary Ghosts: Chapter 35

At several points in this narrative, I’ve alluded to Jack’s service in the military—such as it was. Perhaps now would be an opportune juncture to tell you exactly what happened.

Jack was eighteen in 1967, which made him prime draft material. Jack wanted no part of either the military or the war in Vietnam. Despite his lackluster academic performance, he perceived that a student deferment offered him the best chance for avoiding all that.

He could have attended the nearby University of Cincinnati; but he convinced my parents to fund his enrollment at the Ohio State University, located two hours away in the state capital of Columbus.

Jack was no more of a scholar in college than he had been in high school. Freed from all sense of restriction and structure, he was worse, in fact. To make a long story short, my brother required only two semesters to flunk out of OSU.

Jack returned to Cincinnati. He bummed around for a while at odd jobs. Without his student deferment, he knew that he was draft meat. He tried desperately to secure a spot in the Ohio National Guard or the U.S. Army Reserves. (During the Vietnam War—unlike the more recent wars in the Middle East—the National Guard and the reserves were not deployed abroad.)

Finally, Jack decided to take classes at the University of Cincinnati, with the hope of acquiring another student deferment. But by then it was already too late.

There had been complaints throughout the country that the very concept of the student deferment was unfair. The result of the student deferment system was to place the burden of fighting the war disproportionately on lower income youths, while exempting the sons of the wealthy.

In 1969, President Richard Nixon signed legislation that made all incoming male college students eligible for the draft lottery. So Jack couldn’t escape the war simply by signing up for classes at UC.

Shortly after that, Jack’s draft number was called. 

Jack briefly toyed with the idea of going to Canada. But while my father might have been willing to bankroll Jack’s abortive attempts at scholarship, there was no way he was going to finance an illegal flight to Canada. 

Bowing to the inevitable, Jack enlisted in the U.S. Army. In the days before he left for basic training, Jack seemed to turn over a new leaf. 

Maybe he would even like the Army, he said. In a rare moment of self-reflection, he went so far as to say that the discipline might do him good.

That attitude, however, didn’t last.

Jack was sent to Vietnam. No big surprise there. But he wasn’t sent out into the jungles, hunting down Vietcong. Jack had—with uncharacteristic wisdom—selected the Quartermaster Corps, which handles the Army’s supply and logistics operations. 

The U.S. Army sent Jack to Vietnam to serve as a low-level warehouse clerk in Saigon. He was stationed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, just outside the capital city of South Vietnam. 

The assignment might have afforded Jack an opportunity to serve out his enlistment in relative peace and safety. But this was Jack; and with Jack, things could never be simple or easy.

He became involved in a scheme to export narcotics from Southeast Asia to the United States. By this time, an illegal market for recreational drugs was already booming in the U.S. Jack’s role in the Quartermaster Corps placed him in an ideal position to transport the Southeast Asian contraband to U.S. destinations. (Keep in mind, this was before drug-sniffing dogs, and the draconian airport security of the post-9/11 world.) 

Jack wasn’t the only one involved in the scheme. There were two other conspirators from the Army, and at least two from the Air Force. But this assembly of halfwits didn’t equal one full wit, apparently.

Once again, I’ll make a long story short: The scheme was exposed before the cabal ever sent a single shipment of hashish, heroin, or other intoxicating substances to a single American port. All of the men were arrested, placed in the stockade, and told to prepare themselves for court martial procedures.

Then someone in the Army hierarchy learned who Jack was. Or rather—who his father was. That changed everything for Jack.

By the early 1970s, the nightly news was filled with footage of antiwar protests. Public sentiments about the war in Vietnam had reached a low point. Several incidents, moreover, made the situation even worse. 

In 1970, we learned that a rogue group of U.S. Army soldiers had massacred over three hundred Vietnamese civilians in the South Vietnamese village of My Lai in 1968. (We also learned that another group of American soldiers, members of a helicopter crew, intervened on behalf of the villagers. The helicopter crew threatened to turn a machine gun on their fellow countrymen, should they continue to murder civilians.) 

That same year, a raucous student protest at Kent State University, in northern Ohio, took a tragic turn when National Guardsmen fired on rock-throwing protestors. Four students were killed and multiple others were wounded. 

One of the dead, an ROTC scholarship student from Cincinnati, wasn’t even involved in the protest. He was on his way to class when he was killed by a stray bullet.

These were dark days for the American military—for the entire country, for that matter. 

But the men who had fought in World War II were still largely revered as heroes. Especially the ones who had participated in the big, historic battles. All of the men in my dad’s division had been decorated for their actions on June 6, 1944. 

In the atmosphere of the Vietnam era, the last thing the Army needed was a news report of a decorated D-Day veteran’s son being court-martialed for engaging in a conspiracy to transport illegal drugs to the United States. 

Or that, at least, was the conclusion that the Army brass eventually reached. The Army dropped Jack’s court martial and sent him packing with a dishonorable discharge. 

This was a mixed outcome for Jack, but it could have been much worse. On the plus side, Jack avoided a lengthy term in the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The Army, meanwhile, avoided yet another lurid public scandal.

But Jack was not truly a veteran, in the sense that my father was a veteran, in the sense that all the other young men returning from Vietnam were veterans. He had been drummed out of the Army under a cloud of disgrace. 

Jack returned to Cincinnati. Where else was he going to go? 

There were inevitable questions and suspicions about Jack’s hasty return from the service. But the story of Jack’s debacle never made the papers. We were therefore able to get by with vague explanations. No one outside the family knew the whole story—so far as we knew—but I’m sure that plenty of people suspected something near the truth.

You might now ask me why my parents didn’t simply disown their elder son at this point. Jack had, after all, disgraced them, even if that disgrace never made the news.

I didn’t understand their forbearance at the time, but I understand it better now, since I’ve had children of my own. 

My son Mark, and my daughter, Patty, never sold drugs or engaged in other forms of criminal behavior. But they did at times disappoint me, and try my patience in various ways.

Even if they had done worse, though, I don’t believe that I could have truly disowned either of them. That is a difficult step for any parent to take.

Chapter 36

Table of contents

Revolutionary Ghosts: Chapter 34

My heart was still pounding. But at least I had reached our neighborhood now. 

I saw no sign of the skeletal figures that I had seen in the bushes, no sign of anyone on horseback. 

I permitted myself to wonder if I had imagined it all—what I had seen and heard on the drive home. 

Today had been an emotionally charged day, filled with various circumstantial evidence of the weird and supernatural. 

I had foolishly allowed Keith and his friends to goad me into taking a hit on the reefer. 

I didn’t believe that a single hit of regular marijuana would have altered my senses. But how did I know what was really in that joint? I had heard stories of people lacing ordinary marijuana cigarettes with LSD and hallucinogenic mushrooms. 

If that had been the case, then there was, indeed, a logical explanation for that most unusual drive home from McDonald’s.

Keith Conway had set me up. Maybe I would deck him the next time I saw him, consequences be damned. 

Then our house came into view, and I forgot about Keith Conway and the last five miles I had driven. 

Jack’s red Corvair—the one that Leslie and her girlhood friends had been so fond of—was sitting in the driveway. 

Or to be more precise, Jack’s red Corvair was parked in the pull-off space, the one that Dad and I had made—for my car.

I was immediately tense. But tense for an entirely new set of reasons.

I parked on the street. Otherwise, I would have to move the Bonneville again in order for Jack to leave. And I didn’t want to delay his departure by even a minute. Hopefully, he would be on his way out already.

But Jack wasn’t on his way out. Jack had just arrived, in fact. 

My brother was sitting in the spare recliner in the living room. Dad was sitting in his La-Z-Boy, Mom on the couch. 

The television screen was dark. In 1976, there wasn’t much to watch late at night. Most of the networks signed off around midnight. 

And anyway, my parents had a visitor—an unwelcome one, I thought.

Jack was wearing blue jeans and a black tee shirt. He wore his hair and his beard long.

Jack had never been much for cracking the books. But as a high school student during the 1960s, he had been a respectable baseball player. Back then he’d been clean-cut. Now he looked like a cast member of the musical Hair

“Hello, little brother,” Jack said. 

Jack smiled at me through his dark, heavy beard. I recall thinking that there was something wild and dangerous in my brother’s eyes; and that was the impression I had had of him since as far back as I could remember.

Jack had never laid a hand on me—with the exception of some harmless roughhousing during our brief time together in our parents’ house. But I was afraid of him, nonetheless.

That might have been the moment I first faced that realization head-on. After a day of so much that was unbelievable, I was facing up to a mundane truth of my childhood, a truth that I had lived with my whole life—and yet—evaded to the best of my ability.

I feared my brother. 

And I hated him a little bit, too. 

“Hello, Jack,” I said. 

Jack appeared to be moderately intoxicated. But Jack always seemed to be intoxicated back in those days. 

“A little late for a casual visit,” I said.

“Really?” he asked, an edge in his voice. “Might I remind you, Steve: I was here ten years before you were. If one of us is the interloper here, it’s you.”

I felt a tide of rage welling up inside me. I wanted to tell him off, to tell him to leave. 

But my father intervened before I could.

“That’s enough of that kind of talk,” Dad said. “Your brother was out working tonight, Jack, which is more than I can say for you.” 

“I have been working,” Jack said. He looked away from me, dismissively, and back at our father. “I’ve been working as an assistant at Hal’s Body Shop, over in Batavia.”

“You’ve been doing that about five hours per week,” Dad scoffed. “You spend the rest of your time screwing around, getting drunk, getting high. Which is why you’re twenty-seven years old, and still unable to support yourself.”

Although Jack thought nothing of using harsh words with me, he knew better than to attempt a frontal assault on our father. His tactic was always to make some allowances for Dad’s criticisms, before attacking stealthily from another angle.

But this time Jack’s modus operandi backfired.

“I know I need to do a better job of getting my act together,” Jack conceded, with what I took to be contrived humility. “I’ve been working on myself. Try to have some sympathy, for me, please, Dad. Some understanding. We’re both veterans, after all.”

I saw the color rise in my Dad’s face. My mother’s eyes went wide with alarm. 

Jack shouldn’t have said that.

“Please, Jack,” my father said, with an obvious effort to control his sudden anger. “Don’t say things like that. I served my country in combat, including D-Day. As you well know. Your time in the military wasn’t anything like that.”

“I know,” Jack said, hanging his head dolefully. “I was just saying—”

“Well, don’t say things like that.”

Jack raised his head again. “Everything you’re saying is true, Dad. Every word of it. I really need to work on myself, like I said. But I’m in a jam. I’m behind on my portion of the rent out at the farmhouse.”

This was the living arrangement that Leslie had mentioned, which I had dismissed as a “hippie commune”. Jack shared space—probably not much more than a cot and a corner of a room—at a farmhouse farther out in the country. He lived with a group of six or seven other guys, all of them dropouts in one way or another.

“And so now you’re here for money,” my mother said.

“I’m here with the sincere hope that my parents will be willing to help me out when I’m in need.”

“Jack,” Dad said, “your mother and I have already given you handouts, or ‘tide-me-overs’ as you like to call them, on numerous occasions.”

I had heard versions of this conversation multiple times in the past. Today had been a long day. I was tired and shaken by the events of the day (though partly buoyed, too, by my pleasant interactions with Diane Parker.)

Under ideal circumstances, I would have liked to have talked to my parents about my day, to have made them understand—if it were possible to break through their understandable skepticism—what I had experienced since noon.

I was almost certain that I had seen something in the bushes. Those hoofbeats, moreover, I had heard for at least two miles. 

Could all that really have been mere figments of my imagination?

But Jack was here, and so Jack’s needs, Jack’s deficiencies, Jack’s addictions, were going to dominate the conversation.

“Excuse me,” I said. “I’m going to head to bed now, if that’s okay.”

“Of course, Stevie,” Mom said.

My father echoed a similar sentiment. 

I headed toward my bedroom.

As I was leaving, Jack gave me a sardonic, “Goodnight, little brother.”

I didn’t answer him.

Chapter 35

Table of contents

Revolutionary Ghosts: Chapter 33

Most of the route home consisted of secondary two-lane highways that cut through farmland, woods, and open fields. Country roads, in other words. 

I passed the Sunoco station where I had stopped for oil. I wondered about the clerk. Was he sitting behind the counter now?

And what had he seen, that provoked such anger in him when I asked him about hoofprints, and seeing a horse?

I rolled down the window on the driver’s side. The Bonneville was equipped with an early version of air conditioning; but I didn’t want to overly tax the car’s capacities until I had the oil leak fixed—another worry on my mind that night.

The wind blowing in through the open window was sharp with the smells of cow pastures and tilled fields. I glanced to my left: I saw a field of early corn, still less than knee-high, and behind that the dark hulk of a wooden barn. There was a three-quarters moon tonight, and I could read the words, CHEW MAIL POUCH TOBACCO painted in white against a black background on the side of the barn that faced the road. 

This sure was a lonely spot, I thought. I passed a farmhouse. The little white clapboard structure was at the far end of a long gravel driveway. A single light burned in what appeared to be the kitchen window. 

But for all practical purposes, I was alone out here. 

When I first heard the distant clatter of hoofbeats, I immediately went into denial mode. I told myself that I was hearing nothing more than the echo of the radial tires against the blacktop. 

Then the hoofbeats grew louder.

I pushed down on the accelerator pedal. This two-lane country road was narrow, and the narrow berm left little margin for error. But at least I was on a straightaway. 

The hoofbeats faded.

And they grew louder again. 

I took a quick look at the speedometer. I was driving 60 mph in a 40 mph zone. If a cop happened by, I would be more than deserving of a speeding ticket. 

That would be fine with me. Red flashing lights in the rearview mirror would have been a relief. 

But when I looked in the rearview mirror, I was looking for a horse. 

Which made absolutely no sense. There was simply no logical explanation for my being pursued by a horse along this road, at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night. 

The sound of the inrushing wind was so loud that it wouldn’t have been possible for me to converse with a passenger, if I’d had one. 

I pushed the accelerator again. 66 mph. 

I was almost home. Only a few more miles to go.

I was coming up on the secondary road that led to our neighborhood. A sharp left turn. 

I could still hear the clattering hoofbeats behind me.

I released the gas and touched the brake—just a little. 

I pulled the steering wheel to the left. Hard. Tires squealed on the pavement. 

As the Bonneville made the sharp turn, I overshot the far side of the road by a good foot or more. 

One of my tires slid on the gravel that covered the berm. 

I had only a split second to correct the car’s trajectory, lest I take it into the ditch. 

My only option was to pull the steering wheel to the left again. But that meant the risk of overshooting the road in the opposite direction. 

Somehow, I managed to yank the wheel to the right. But not too far to the right. 

The car swerved back and forth for a short distance until I was able to stabilize it. 

This road was heavily wooded, and curvy. A speed of 65 mph simply wasn’t an option here, no matter what was on the road behind me. 

I slowed the car to 25 mph as I neared a sharp curve that sloped upward. 

I looked behind me. Nothing in the rearview mirror.  

I sighed with relief. I was only a few miles from home now. 

And I couldn’t hear the hoofbeats anymore.

Something caught my attention at the side of the road—to my right.

There was movement in the thick underbrush at the front of the tree line. 

I saw manlike shapes, bearing long rifles.

No—muskets. 

At least, that was what I thought I’d seen. But that wasn’t the worst of it.

I thought that I’d seen a flash of the manlike shapes’ faces, five or six feet off the ground. 

Their faces were a bony, bleached white.

Skulls. 

I remembered what Harry Bailey had written, more or less:

“These soldiers appear as skeletal ghouls, as might be consistent with their undead state…” 

This could be a dangerous road at night, even at a slow speed. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to look backward, at the spot where I had seen them.

There was nothing back there now. 

I looked straight ahead, gripped the steering wheel with both hands, and continued home.

Chapter 34

Table of contents

Revolutionary Ghosts: Chapter 32

Diane, as a new employee in the training phase, wasn’t asked to stay for the “closing up” procedures. Jenny Tierney and I had that covered. Two was more than enough for the cashiers’ portion of the closing. 

We retrieved fresh boxes of condiment packets from the back storage room, and restocked the supply beneath the counter. In the customer dining area, we filled the straw and napkin dispensers. 

I walked out at not quite 10:45 p.m. My earlier estimate had been right on target. 

When I saw the boys gathered in the parking lot, under one of the big halogen lights, I groaned silently.

I had avoided Keith Conway for the entire evening since our initial conversation. But I was to avoid him no longer.

Keith was there with Jonesey and Scott Thomas. They were smoking a marijuana cigarette, passing the reefer back and forth between them.

They hailed me almost as soon as I came out through the main door.

“Yo! Stevie, buddy! Come here!” Keith Conway, of course. 

“Have a good night, Keith,” I said, as I approached them. I was about to veer toward the Bonneville. “I’m going home.” I nodded curtly at Jonesey and Scott. “I’ll see you later.”

There was nothing about my response that struck me as humorous, or even mildly ironic. It nevertheless occasioned giggling from Scott and Jonesey. They knew that Keith and I were not exactly best friends, and they saw this as another way to curry favor with him. 

“‘See us later’?” Keith said. “I was thinking you might want to toke up with us. Come on, Stevie. The Carol Burnett Show is already off the air.”

Jonesey and Scott found this hysterically funny. I recalled that Louis had said something similar. Why did everyone seem to think that I watched Carol Burnett? 

“I don’t think so,” I replied. I turned away from them.

“Ah, man. Can’t you ever just be one of the guys?” Keith said. “I mean like…for once in your whole life?”

I had no desire to be one of this particular group of guys. Under different circumstances, I would have told them so.

I was in turmoil, however. I couldn’t rid my mind of all the unusual events of the day—despite my conscious intention to focus on pleasant summertime thoughts.

It had occurred to me: If Louis has been having strange experiences, too, then it can’t be all coincidence. 

In the midst of that inner conflict, the needling from these three knuckleheads caused my temper to snap suddenly. 

They wanted me to be one of the guys? Fine. I would show them.

I spun on my heels and walked up to them. I saw Keith’s body tense. He was likely wondering if I was going to hit him.

And for a second, I was wondering about that, too. 

“Here,” I said. I snatched the joint from Jonesey’s hand. I put it to my lips and inhaled.

I had never smoked marijuana before. I had only smoked regular cigarettes on a handful of occasions, and I hadn’t liked the experience. One thing you may have noticed about the children of smokers: They either automatically drift into their parents’ tobacco habit, as a matter of course, or they quickly decide that they want nothing to do with the products of RJ Reynolds and Philip Morris. I was firmly in the latter group. 

I wanted to cough out the lungful of acrid, oddly sweet marijuana smoke. But that would give them undue satisfaction. They would have themselves a good laugh at my expense. 

So I willed myself not to cough. I exhaled the smoke slowly, luxuriantly, as if this was something I did every day. 

“Are you happy now?” I said to Keith. 

I handed the joint back to Jonesey, and then turned and walked in the direction of my car.

Now I had to drive home. I was feeling light-headed. 

Surely a single hit from a joint hadn’t affected me that strongly, I thought.

Nevertheless, I could see a little field of stars swimming before my eyes. I had experienced this feeling once before, when I’d played touch football, and another kid had tackled me from my blind side.

The placebo effect, I told myself. One hit on a joint is nothing. Keith and his moronic friends, after all, seemed to smoke bales of it. And they somehow managed to drive themselves around. 

I started up the Bonneville, backed out of my parking space, and began my journey home. I had a feeling that I hadn’t yet exhausted the day’s surprises. 

And I hadn’t—not by a long shot.

Chapter 33

Table of contents

Revolutionary Ghosts: Chapter 31

My fifteen-minute break period arrived some time later, as the twilight was fading into night. 

I didn’t want to hang out in the dining area, and the hourly employees were actively discouraged from loitering in the front parking lot during our breaks. Ray Smith didn’t want his customers to be intimidated by the sight of his employees skulking around outside the front door. 

There was an area behind the McDonald’s, directly off the kitchen, in the small rear parking lot of the building. Employees could go there to escape the constant gaze of diners during their break periods. It was kind of lonely back there. The rear parking lot wasn’t visible from the road, and vice versa. 

But I had fifteen minutes to myself, and I wanted to do some thinking. I wanted to think more about Diane Parker, and what possibilities might exist there. 

I didn’t want to think about everything else that had happened today. I imagined myself clipping out the vast portion of the afternoon: from my visit to the Pantry Shelf around noon, to that visit at the counter from the British-speaking, red-haired Banny. 

Banny, who had seemed to disappear into thin air….

My introduction to Diane Parker had been okay, though. I would keep that. 

I passed through the kitchen. Keith Conway and his friends were absorbed in their cooking tasks, for once. They either didn’t notice me, or decided to save their annoying banter for another time. 

The door to the rear parking lot was in the far corner of the kitchen, not far from the freezer. I opened the metal door and slipped outside.

The first thing that struck me was the impending darkness. The rear parking lot ended a stone’s throw from the back door. Beyond the parking lot, there was a little rambling field of overgrown grass and weeds. And beyond that, the woods. This late in the day, this close to full darkness, the tree line was black and monolithic, a jagged profile against the purple sky. 

The humidity lingered, but it was now at a tolerable level. The restaurant’s dumpsters were located back here, too; and they emitted a rancid effluvium. There was nothing even vaguely supernatural or unexplainable about that. 

That wasn’t the only odor back here, though. I detected the distinct odor of cigarette smoke. 

From the lower right corner of my field of vision, I caught the glow of a cigarette’s burning ember in the darkness. 

“Louis!” I said, startled.

Louis was sitting on an overturned wooden crate between the rear brick wall of the restaurant and the dumpster. 

He was smoking, of course.

“Didn’t see me, did you?” Louis smiled.

“You’re like a cat.”

He smiled again and took a drag on his cigarette. “Well, don’t be thinking that you’re going to put a bell on me. Because that isn’t happening.”

“You just startled me, was all.”

Louis nodded thoughtfully. “You seem to be hitting it off with Diane.”

“I think so,” I said. “Time will tell.”

“Well, don’t let too much time tell. Remember your competition.”

My earlier interactions with Keith Conway had been grating, as always. My time with Diane, and what seemed to be a genuine rapport between us, had buoyed my outlook concerning my prospects. I was waxing both hopeful and self-assured—maybe a little too hopeful and self-assured, even.  

“Diane is too smart for an idiot like Keith Conway,” I said. “But don’t worry, I won’t take too much time.”

Louis took another drag on the cigarette and raised one eyebrow at me. “Feeling confident, are we?”

“Like you said, we hit it off.”

“Just don’t get overconfident,” Louis advised.

Then my boss abruptly changed the subject. He looked back at the tree line. Despite the mugginess of the June night, he visibly shivered.

“I’ve never been afraid of the woods,” he said. “Not in my whole life. But I don’t feel comfortable back here now. This is like, a very recent thing. I get the feeling that something’s watching, that something’s out there.” 

He paused, and looked up at me. “And I can’t explain it. Does that make any sense to you?” 

In that moment, I almost told him everything. Today I had seen two sets of very unusual hoofprints (coated with nasty black gunk!) where no hoofprints should be. I had learned that two young people, only two years older than me, had gone missing while on a routine Saturday-night date. I had seen something unusual in the hallway of my home. 

And then there was Banny—the disappearing Brit with the strange, nasty vocabulary. 

All of this, moreover, might have some connection to that article in Spooky American Tales, written by one Harry Bailey. 

I was seventeen, though, and I was seized by the conviction—more a general sense of things than an explicit idea—that my willpower could make the world go the way I wanted it to.

And I wanted no part of the things I’d seen today.

“It might just be your imagination, Louis.”

“I’m suggestible, is that what you’re saying?”

I shrugged. “You said it, I didn’t.”

Louis stood up and dropped his cigarette butt on the ground. He stamped out the butt, and then picked it up, before tossing it over the side of the dumpster. His break had come to an end.

“I’m going back inside,” he said. “I’ll see you.”

“Yep. And Louis—thanks. Thanks again.”

He appeared honestly puzzled. “For what?”

“Well, it hasn’t escaped my notice that you’ve kind of put your finger on the scale for me, where Diane is concerned.”

“Oh, that. No problem. All I did was put you in front of an opportunity. Making something of it is another matter. That’s up to you.  Remember: You need to strike while the iron is hot.”

“Sure, Louis. Got it.”

With that he opened the back door of the restaurant and disappeared inside. The door fell back with a sigh of the overhead pneumatic cylinder, and a sharp click.

I was now alone behind the restaurant. 

I stared into that impenetrable tree line. I tried to think pleasant thoughts, about the summer that might be ahead of me. 

The summer that would include some predictable unpleasantries, of course. There would be drama at home with Jack, no doubt, but that was nothing new. It was a bad thing, but I had learned how to live with it. 

I would spend a lot of hours working at McDonald’s. I had already learned, though, that work is life and life is work, and so I accepted that with equanimity. My McDonald’s paycheck had paid for my Bonneville, such as it was; and I was socking away money for college next year. My parents had already told me that they would help me out with tuition, but I would have to cover my textbooks and car expenses. 

It was also because of my job at McDonald’s that I had met Diane Parker. I knew the dangers of counting one’s chickens before they’re hatched—especially in matters of the heart. 

But I had my hopes up. Louis and I had both seen that Diane and I had hit it off.

These were the thoughts I was trying to focus on, as I stood there alone behind the McDonald’s, facing the dark woods.

But these thoughts wouldn’t stay in my head. I wasn’t comfortable, standing there. I had the feeling of being watched. From somewhere back in those woods. 

My break wasn’t quite over yet, but I decided that I had made myself as refreshed as I was going to be, under the circumstances. I turned around and opened the door to the kitchen. 

As I opened the door, I could have sworn that I heard something moving around in the woods. 

I didn’t turn around to look.

Chapter 32

Table of contents

Lindsay Buroker on Amazon exclusivity

As an author, the real problem with Kindle Unlimited is not that readers read your books for free.

(I have no problem with the concept of readers reading my books for free. “Free” to the reader need not mean “unpaid” to the author. There are many alternatives to charging readers per-book, including subscription fees and ads.)

The real problems with Kindle Unlimited are a.) the Amazon exclusivity requirement, and b.) the fact that the sales ranking system within Amazon is rigged in favor of books enrolled in Kindle Unlimited:

Amazon requires authors to make their books EXCLUSIVE to their store in order for them to be enrolled in “KDP Select.”


Among other things, checking the KDP Select box puts your book into the Kindle Unlimited subscription program. For as long as it’s enrolled there, you are forbidden (yes, they enforce it) from selling the books on other stores or even your own website.


So, why do some authors go along with this?


As I write this in May of 2019, each borrow through Kindle Unlimited counts as a sale in regard to determining sales ranking and overall visibility in the Amazon Kindle store.


I’ll pause for a moment so you can debate whether that actually makes sense. When you’re a KU subscriber, you essentially get any books in the program for free with your subscription. Yes, you pay $10 a month for the service, but that money gets automatically sucked out of your account every month before you even notice. It feelslike those books are free.


And yet Amazon weighs borrows the same as sales in determining sales rank.


And sales rank determines how visible your book is in the store, i.e. how many people (potential new readers) have a chance of seeing it when they’re browsing the Top 100 lists in their favorite genres.


Thus, it’s a clear benefit to authors to have their books in Kindle Unlimited. Putting aside how much they make from borrows of books (payment is on a per-page-read calculation and, for all but very long and very inexpensive books, is less than an author would make from a sale), the authors are more likely to have their books seen by readers in their target audience.

Lindsay Buroker

Is there a solution to what Lindsay Buroker calls “the Amazon conundrum”?

None that I can see…at least not in the immediate future. The exclusivity clause starves the other stores of content. This keeps many readers locked into the Amazon system, as well.

Amazon realizes this, of course. Amazon isn’t stupid. Amazon never does anything haphazardly or without intention.

But the other stores are also partially to blame. Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo have all known for quite some time that they need to create alternatives to Kindle Unlimited. I have mixed feelings about book subscription services; but it’s clear that some readers (especially devotees of certain genres) have a strong preference for them.

Until there are clear alternatives to Kindle Unlimited at the other stores, there is a huge swath of both readers and writers that are unlikely to leave the Amazon compound anytime soon. And that’s the simple fact of the matter.