Passport to Glory (a steemit story)

 

Passport to Glory by carolkean 54 in fiction

 Note: this story opens with a story prompt created by @Jeffways for @rhondak‘s Story Starter contest:

Holding my passport above the scanner, she looks at the screen and then at me. I try to appear calm as my heart pounds against my chest, expecting questions, but surprisingly—she stamps it.

“Enjoy your visit.”

Relief … freedom!

Suddenly, someone calls out my real name. I freeze.

 

Pretend you didn’t hear him, I remind myself. Not even an eye shift in his direction.

“Yuliana!”

That voice. God help me. I shift my carry-on from left to right.

The furious waving of that masterful hand, stealing into my field of vision. Ignore. Ignore.

One foot in front of the other. Move. Move. Casually.

“Yuliana!” He comes close to crossing the barrier separating arrivals from those who would greet them with open arms. Or fists. Or death threats.

“Yuliana!”

There’s no way he could have known I’d be here. I didn’t know I’d be on this flight, until yesterday’s passport swap with that German gal at the coffee shop therapy group. Both in recovery from rotten relationships, and looking like twins, or Doppelgangers, we knew what we had to do.

If we broke any laws while using each other’s passport, we agreed the punishment would be telling our exes where to find us. But I didn’t do anything wrong.

 Where do I turn? He can’t get in, but I have to get out. The longer I stay in sight of these agents, the more suspicious I’ll look. I’ve worked hard to lose the Russian accent, but the cheekbones draw stares from men who cannot be trusted. Make that men, who cannot be trusted. All but Nathan.

Nathan, the polar opposite of the man screaming at me now. Nathan, my safe port in a storm.

Nathan. Nobody else knew I’d booked passage to the States, much less that I changed my itinerary with a red-eye flight. I’d found a pay phone–I kid you not, a pay phone!–before getting into the queue an hour ago. Nathan said he’d be here before I got through Customs.

Nathan, where are you?

“YULIANA! God damn you, I know you can hear me!”

Others are staring at the gorgeous Latino in surgical scrubs, his favorite pajamas, wrinkled with sleep. I’ll look odd if I don’t look at him, too.

And now he locks my gaze in his.

Oh God.

His tousled hair, his morning stubble, his flashing dark eyes. The way he says my name now that he’s got me trapped in his melting gaze. My real name, Yuliana, so sexy on his Mexican tongue. My body shivers with memories too visceral to stuff down, down deep with the bad ones, the worst ones.

“Yuliana.” His bedroom voice. Flesh has a recall system of its own, responding to triggers only the head knows how to resist. My head is useless. Don’t lose your head again, Yuliana.

–No, no, Jessica. My name is Jessica, according to the passport.

Do not look at him,
do not look,
do, do, oh,
LOOK at him
!

That smile. Don’t fall for it again. He trots it out like an actor donning a mask.

My gaze darts, my senses shift into high gear, and I seek a way out. I can’t go back to him. Ever. Again.

But it’s like that thing Max Savage wrote in my high school yearbook. Story of my life:

Oh please do not do that
Oh please do not do
that
Oh please do
Oh please
Oh!

An agent cocks an eyebrow at me, a burly young redhead, feet wide apart, arms crossed, at the exit.

“Help me.” Swallowing hard, I struggle to speak above a whisper. “That man. He’s crazy.”

People with children, people talking into phones with unseen mics, people clutching passports in the long line, no longer show any interest in some man shouting to some woman in an airport. No matter how gorgeous he is.

My eyes dart, but still no sign of Nathan.

The burly redhead is at my side. It occurs to me I should try to unthaw. Unfreeze? Thaw? My English goes to hell when I’m nervous.

“Yuliana,” comes the silky Latino voice from another kind of hell. “Come along now.”

I look from the guard to the man I love. Loved. My heart is pounding so hard, my body wound so tight, I can barely get words out of my throat.

“That man.” I point with my head, trying for subtle. “The one in scrubs. He’s been stalking me. I have no idea how he knew I’d be here.”

The guard aims an authoritative stare at Joe Hernandez, the raging Latino in scrubs, who obviously raced straight from his bed to the airport to apprehend me.

“Cut the sheet, Yuliana.” Joe’s accent used to be so adorable.

“He’s delusional.” I lean closer to the young guard, so Joe won’t hear. “Saw me on Instagram, thinks I’m his ex-girlfriend. Can’t get it through his head, I’m not this … this Yuliana person. How he found me here–how?–it scares me.” It does. My throat goes dry. “I wonder what mental ward is missing a patient.”

And in those wrinkled scrubs, he really does look like an escaped mental patient.

The guard keeps an eye on Joe while tilting my way. “He does look a little hostile.”

I’m inspired. Work with what ya got, honey, said the coffee shop therapist.

Joe goes off like a rocket when anyone calls him by his childhood nickname, Chico.

“Please.” I lower my chin, looking up at Burly with my baby-blues. Blink away a stray tear. “Please, go ask him for his ID. I don’t know his real name, but on Instagram he goes by Chico.”

My heart skips a beat. This has to work! At least until Nathan gets here.

Burly Redhead nods to another guard, and they approach Joe. I back away, watching.

“She’s getting away!” Joe yells. “YULIANA!”

“Calm down, Chico.”

Joe flinches, his gaze raking the redhead from head to toe. “Who you talkin’ to?”

“You, Chico. Show us your I.D.”

“Do not call me that!” he shouts.

There is a God! Joe is blowing up, acting like the loose cannon I am counting on him to be.

“Your I.D.” The guards are staring him down, which will make Joe twitchy.

Joe feels his pockets, swears in Spanish. “I left home in a hurry. She’s the loony tune. Stop her!”

“Yeah, you can tell us all about it. At the station. Chico.”

He swells into a purple fury. Profanity spews like steam and molten lava from his suddenly ugly face.

The guards trade glances. “Someone needs his meds. Better find out where he escaped from.”

“Es-cape-ed?” Joe rages. “What deed that lying beetch say about me?”

Run, my inner “beetch” says. Run. But I just keep backing away, eyes focused only on him.

“Hey, beetch!” Joe yells. “You know why Nathan ees the only man on earth who’d date you?”

He waits for my reaction. I start turning away.

“Because I paid him to!”

No.

No, no, no.

Nathan. Joe knows Nathan. How did he play his part so well? How could I have been so deceiv-ed, as Joe would say? A hundred romantic moments flash before my eyes, then go down in flame.

Someone crashes into me from behind, and I’m down. I’m reeling through space, starry, head-spinning, stomach-churning outer space. I can’t even feel the floor beneath me but I do feel hands, pulling me up, then holding me steady.

Slowly, I turn to face a lady in a fake fur coat and an ill-fitting hat with a fluffy raccoon tail that looks a little too twitchy not to be real. Really real.

“You’ll be all right,” she drawls. Her voice is honey-sweet with the sound of the South. “I was once married to a man like that ass-hat. Chico? Gawd.”

I’m moving now, because she’s tall and sturdy and I’m five feet without these boot heels, but even if she were a child, I’d let her lead me like a scared stray from the dog catcher’s net.

Joe’s voice fades away.

The airport flows away beneath my feet as this human tugboat guides me to a subway train, then to a parking lot, where she unlocks a big white van with 501(c)3 Animal Rescue painted on it, and slides a door open.

“Animal” is what Joe is. I breathe again when I make out a happy dog face as part of the logo.

The woman faces me, hand out, so I take it. Hers is warm and dry; mine, cold and clammy.

“Rhonda,” she says. “I’m Rhonda. I run an animal rescue.”

A bizarre, high-pitched mumbling comes from the woman’s head, and I freeze all over again. God. Not another lunatic about to kidnap me. My body flunks the flight or fight thing. I just whimper.

“Glory. Don’t move.” The woman’s head chitters at same time words come out of her mouth. Her hat starts moving, and my stomach clenches. I’ve lost my mind. It’s gone for good this time.

“Pardon me.” Hands rising, she grasps the hat, and suddenly a real, live raccoon is in her grasp, its black bandit mask turning my way. Turning, she leans into the van, hisses a few profanities, and makes a series of scuffling noises that end in resounding click of victory and a sigh of satisfaction.

What in God’s name have I gotten myself into now?

“Coon head.” She runs her fingers through her hair. “Worse than hat head.”

Her laugh is crazy in a good way, a coffee shop therapist sort of way. She looks young and pretty without the weird hat. I’m starting to think. To feel.

“The airline wouldn’t take her, so I gave her some knock-out drops. Glory’s book tour in England is paying for the rescue. I don’t know you from Adam–or Eve–but my spidey senses are tingling. In a good way, for once.”

My Doppelganger’s coat isn’t warm enough, and I shiver.

“You have two choices: get in this van with Coon Head Rhonda, or take your chances with Chico.”

I laugh so hard my ribs hurt.

In a good way, this time.

# #

   Rhonda is the Executive Director of a 501c3 rescue that regularly transports unwanted dogs from areas of shelter overcrowding to regions of high demand, where No Kill methods are firmly established. It all began with Kobi, the dog shown in this photo.

 

I pledge to donate 100% of any SDB income from this post to @rhondak’s 501(c)3 rescue, or a 50/50 split with Rhonda’s OCD and Fiction Trail and Radio Hour and Minnow Support and SFT…. regardless, Rhonda gets the $ because she knows how to invest time, talent, and money to make things happen! Steemit is a better place because of Rhonda the Raccoon Whisperer ~

Earnings at steemit via upvotes: $22.04

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“Unheard Melodies” for a Steemit Fiction Competition, #1 Week 1

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter –

–“Ode on a Grecian Urn,” John Keats, 1819

220px-Keats_urn[1]

This is my entry for the “Fiction Comp – All writers are welcome – #1 Week 1” fiction writing competition hosted by @kyrios.
Writing Prompt:
Having seen the fall and rise of empires…the death of his loved ones… an immortal tries
his best to not mingle with society by holing himself up in a cave far away from any civilization. During one stormy night… his home becomes the shelter for a stranger
who is the spitting image of his grandson.

Unheard Melodies

Alone in his mountain hideaway, the immortal heaved a godly sigh. The women he had loved! The demi-gods he had sired. Gone, all gone.

On a Grecian urn in a warm, dry part of the cave, fair maidens “forever panting, and forever young” danced under leafy boughs. Frozen in marble–ah! It seemed only yesterday he’d cavorted with them, not thousands of years.

Nor did it seem more than a century since John Keats gazed at those “marble men and maidens overwrought” in a British museum. Immortalized. Silly word. A graven image was no substitute for maidens who panted no more. All his statues, books, paintings, and music were also no surrogate for flesh and blood companions. They did remind him, though, why he had to distance himself from the mortals.

Thunder crashed, making the cave walls vibrate, but Weltschmerz didn’t worry about electronics or storms. He didn’t need human technology. With a swipe of a finger he called up songs from a life he’d led long, long ago.

Humans. So good at burning cities and libraries, spilling blood, and shutting out the voices of the gods. Then again, the gods had done their share of mischief.

But they’d done so much that was good, and beautiful, and true. Music, math, literature, science, history, art, and more, all existed in “the Cloud.” The nine Muses kept track of things that mortals kept forgetting, destroying, or failing to create in the first place. Euterpe had been saving music from ages past and ages yet to come. It took humans thousands of years of ignoring messages from the gods before they finally learned to capture sound on invisible radio waves. Soon, someone would wake from a dream, take silicon from sand, and build computer circuits. Knowledge would be backed up in an invisible realm so far known only to the gods.

“Weltschmerz!”

That was what they called him now, the gods, who’d scattered. Did he really hear that name in his hidden cave? The immortal swiped a finger over a titanium tablet, silencing a damsel with a dulcimer in Xanadu. He listened.

Howling wind, that’s all he’d heard.

“Weltschmerz!”

No mortal knew him by this new name, Welt (world) plus schmerz (pain). As if the world weariness of the gods were more his fault than anyone else’s.

Oh for one more night of nectar and ambrosia on Olympus, with all nine Muses at his table!

photo credit: Margit Wallner, pixabay)

He especially missed Euterpe, though he continued to see evidence of her across the ages. Mozart channeled her magic in his music, allowing mortals to hear the sublime sounds the gods had enjoyed long before. Euterpe also visited Coleridge in 1797, but the opium-addled poet awoke from a dream unable to remember the ending of “Kubla Khan.”

Weltschmerz remembered. If only the powers of the gods included calling up a panting maiden with a mere swipe of the finger.

“Weltschmerz! I know you’re in there. I’m coming in now, like it or not.”

How odd. Nobody else knew the path through the Black Forest to his mountain home. Weltschmerz blitzed to the cave entrance, a mere slit in the rocks, as a man squeezed through. How dare he?

The man straightened, coming eye to eye with Weltschmerz. They both blinked, leaned closer, and stared. Weltschmerz recognized the high cheekbones and chiseled jawline of his grandson, who’d been dead for–well, he’d lost track of time.

“Gott in Himmel,” the familiar stranger whispered. “You look exactly like the man in my dream.”

Weltschmerz caught a whiff of dog and sheep in the stranger’s wet wool jacket, warm blood, cold wet hair, and the stench of a battlefield.

“Well.” He remembered the hospitality of the ancients, Homer’s exulted Greeks and Germany’s less-celebrated Nibelungs. No greater shame was there than to neglect a visitor. Time to lavish this one with a warm bath, dry clothing, and a feast. “First things first.”

Weltschmerz whisked his visitor to the hot springs deeper inside the cave, saving questions for later. He was an immortal, after all. Biding his time wasn’t an inborn talent. He’d learned it with many a sob of remorse.

His human visitor finally took a place at table, gazing around in wonder, yet accepting the incredible with the assurance of a demi-god. Weltschmerz engaged only in small talk–more wine?–until they could retire to chairs by the hearth.

“A man who pays attention to dreams,” Weltschmerz began. “Silas, you are an anomaly.”

“Indeed.” Silas cast a furtive gaze at all the antiquities. “The dream did not, however, give me a sense that you are a Nazi. I wondered where they–where all the artwork was being hidden.”

“Relax. It was World War One that drove me into this cave, and the Nazis who kept me from venturing out again. The antiquities you see are my own personal collection, and most were new when I acquired them.”

“That’s a scary thought.”

“You have no idea.”

Silas stared into the fire. “I faced a firing squad today,” he said, “and I’m not entirely sure I’m still a real, live human. If my executioners had seen me get up from a shallow grave and walk away, their surprise would be no greater than my own.”

“Not bad, for a demi-god.” The old one steepled his hands. “Your crime?”

Judenliebe. I tried to save as many Jews as I could–until I got caught. I can’t save the world, but there is a way I could go back and save more people than I did. A way to do more good than harm.” He looked intently at his host. “If you’ll help me.”

“We can only do so much.” Weltschmerz felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. As usual. “Sometimes, we think we’re doing the right thing, only to find out later we are the ones who caused the strife we’re fighting so hard to stop.”

“You can help me. I couldn’t have dreamed you exist, much less have found you, if this were not so.”

“Ah, you Germans.” Weltschmerz sighed. “Just when I make good on my vow to stop meddling in mortal affairs, I see Nazi soldiers build nesting boxes and feeders for birds at the front. The Third Reich has a Department for Bird Protection. They protect the flora and fauna, yet they exterminate Jews. What would you have me do?”

“I was executed for treason, yet I didn’t die. I had a dream, and here we are. You can tell me why.”

“No. I’m done. If I had answers, would I be hiding out in a cave?”

Silas folded his arms, unmoved.

“Don’t give me that look, young man. My days as a god among mortals is over. Moses should have been the last straw, telling his so-called Chosen People to throw us away. Then that badass Paul came along. The minute he’d turn his back on his converts, they’d worship their own gods again.” Weltschmerz tapped his chest. “What am I, a wooden idol to smash and burn? To add insult to injury, Paul wrote long letters, full of chastisements, along with promises of an afterlife in some resurrected body, and do these epistles go up in flame like the lore of the Aztecs, or drown like the library of Alexandria? No. Two thousand years later, millions of people call his nastygrams the gospel truth.”

The god heaved a profound sigh. “Still. Whatever thoughts I had about Moses, I wouldn’t even dream of harming the people. Exile is bad enough. Genocide? Where is their God now?”

“The God of the Jews did not send angels to stay the hands of the executioners,” Silas said. ‘There’s a Spiel about free will going on there. But I’m not satisfied to watch innocents die and hope there’s a better life for them beyond this world. I want to do something here and now.”

Weltschmerz laughed, shaking his head pityingly. “Been there, done that, as people will be saying in the future. Just don’t complain to me when your efforts to undo any harm you’ve done lead to worse harm.”

“I want a time machine,” Silas said.

“So, go invent one. You Germans are good at that stuff. In fact, the Nazis already started work on one.”

“You can travel without machines. Help me.”

“I don’t care if you’re my grandson, or his Doppelganger, or a demi-god, or a lunatic. No.”

Silas rose to his feet, slammed a fist to his chest as Kubla Khan himself might have, and recited Coleridge:

I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair
!”

Weltschmerz laughed, without pity, this time.

The Muse had spoken. How could he refuse her?

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All images courtesy of Pixabay

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“De-Coated” – a coat story in honor of my sister’s “dead animal”

CLOUDS FLOCK TOGETHER LIKE MEAN GIRLS plotting to rain on my parade. De-coated, but not defeated, I phone my evil daughter. I practice sounding stern and cold and calm: “I want my coat back.”

Voice mail. Which she never checks. Well, I have a way around that.

I put on the stupid blue coat someone swapped with mine during the funeral luncheon. White church behind me, clouds above me, shivering fir trees around me, wind whipping my hair: perfect! I fumble for the Insta-snap app, the selfie icon, the red dot that means I’m recording.

“Listen up, Phetamina.” That’s her user name.

With a sudden, sharp, prolonged breath, I realize she got it off my Rx label. Amphetamine salts.

I try to hit “off” but must have hit send. Oops. I don’t know how to abort this video.

Well, she had it coming.

I start filming again. The note that came with the coat. Pink-ink on college-rule notebook paper. I recite, in snide-girl: “Please accept my apologies, and a new and better coat.” Snort. “I’m leaving a terrible home life and need to get away incognito. Keep the scarf, and consider yourself my guardian angel.”

Six seconds is all ya get before Insta-snap goes into send mode? I’m not even close to done yet.

Take Four: “Terrible home life, Phetamina? We took your phone away for one week. Because you blocked me from all social media. I want my coat back. You are so, so busted, you–”

Take Five: “You like this bettuh, Pheta-mina?” I angle my body for the camera. “A trendy new packable puff coat instead of my so-called dead animal, which isn’t even fur, but leopard print fleece, thank you very much, and now I look like a sausage, stuffed into a blue casing, you little–”

I don’t know how many words got cut off when my six seconds ran out, and I can’t play the video, so I snap a selfie with the roiling clouds. The white steeple underscores my righteous wrath.

GMuxx’s Writing Contest #2; art prompt, this photo by @torico

Thirty years old, that coat, and it still fit, unlike others that came and went as I bore four daughters and the assorted hallmarks of a half-century of life.

The phone buzzes in my hand. I swipe the screen.

“Mom! It wasn’t me this time,” the youngest of my evil offspring dares me to believe.

I try counting to ten and make it to one. “If I find my coat at Goodwill again–”

“It wasn’t me!” Always interrupting her mother, that spoiled little Millennial. Using that tone of voice, that know-it-all attitude I have never modeled, least of all to my own mother.

“Terrible home life,” I shout, a tremor in my voice. “You and your First World Problems. You’ve read Anne Frank. You–”

“Mom. I did not write that note. And if someone took your dead animal to Goodwill, you’ll have to look in their trash bin. There’s a reason you found it on the Last Chance rack. You couldn’t pay someone to wear that coat.”

“Well, someone must be wearing it right now.” And feeling very retro, very adult, in my coat.

I hang up and feel for the note, which I’d stuffed into a pocket. Does my Emma have pink ink? Does she even know words like incognito?

The stupid coat is soft, lightweight, surprisingly warm and comfy. Maybe I’d get one someday, in black. But I still want my “dead animal” back.

Fractured blue lights swirl around me. Police? What’d I do? The girls threaten me with child abuse if I so much as glare at them, but this–this calls for war.

The car blocks me from crossing the street. An officer steps out, looking at his hand-held, then at me. “That’s the scarf, all right.”

Crimson and yellow, hand knitted, in harlequin. I actually like the scarf. A lot.

“Ma’am, we need you to come with us.”

He escorts me into the back seat. Of a squad car. Me!

Thanks to my Insta-videos, they recognized the coat and the church, where another officer is hunting down clues. Never before have I seen police respond that fast to anything. Computers, algorithms. They’re quicker than guardian angels.

At the station they demand my name, rank, and serial number.

“This girl,” they show me a photo of a girl in the coat and scarf I’ve been stripped of, “Kim Dewitt, was reported missing by her parents. They’re afraid she may have run away with a man she met on Instagram.”

Terrible home life? The nerve. Oh, the stupendous stupidity of that girl.

“I’d like to report a stolen coat,” I say.

They don’t give a rat’s ass about my coat. To be fair, if my Evil Offspring had run off with a stranger from the internet, I’d do anything to keep her from suffering the consequences of a choice as catastrophic as that.

A scuffle of bodies and loud voices, and into the station comes… my coat!

“I ain’t done no wrong,” says a tall man wearing my coat over a pink Power Rangers costume. It stops six inches above his bare feet, and he’s so skinny, I’m not surprised he can fit into a child’s castoff.

“Like I tol’ you,” the man says, “I found it in the street. I din’t see who throw it. I din’t see no car.”

Not for a minute do I believe he’s the internet stranger Kim Dimwit ran off with.

I’m lost in the shuffle as they sort it out with the poor homeless man.

My coat sleeves stop at his elbows. Inspired, I slip out the door and hustle to the Goodwill store near the station. There, on the Last Chance rack, is a nice London Fog with a zip-out lining. Add a hat, scarf and gloves. Later, I’ll figure out his shoe size.

Ooh, and here is a jacket just my size, with big black buttons and faux fur trim. Forty-four cents. Only at Goodwill!

Back at the station, the man is standing like a fashion model, hands on hips, nose in the air, waiting in statuesque silence as an officer types notes into a laptop.

And there is my daughter. She saunters up from behind and claps the man’s shoulder. “Nice coat.”

His glassy eyes come to life, like street lights at dusk. He turns a slow 360, a peacock on the runway.

Emma glares at me. “Told ya it wasn’t me.”

“This time.”

“Wait’ll you hear about this teen runaway’s home life. You might stop jumping to so many conclusions.”

She could be right, but I’m done letting my daughter chastise me in public. Too much of that with the coat, already, which I would get back, and wear again, no matter what anyone said about my “dead animal.”

I hold up the trench coat and try to get the homeless man’s attention. “I’ll trade ya. This is a much nicer, warmer coat.”

He flicks his gaze over the London Fog and crows with laughter.

It occurs to me that he could find better fitting, better looking castoffs than a pink Power Rangers costume. He likes my “dead animal.” He wears it with a saucy confidence I need to emulate.

It also occurs to me I’ll never get my coat back.

“Mom.” Emma takes that tone with me. “You’re in trouble for leaving the station without their go-ahead.” Her tone shifts, authoritative and oddly familiar. “Our home phone rang. Imagine my surprise when it was the police. Looking for Lynette Bennet.”

When did she start sounding like someone’s mother?

Bossy little thing.

# # # #

 

images from pixabay

Title/Graphic by @bex-dk

 

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Otto Warmbier. I’m Haunted. Humbled. Who among us hasn’t deserved a #DarwinAward?

      Otto Warmbier

I’m Haunted. As a mother, as an American, as a doofus who’s done all sorts of stupid things that could’ve gotten me killed, one way or another.

“Stupid White Boy, Stupid Frat Boy: He Had It Coming”

He may look like Hiter’s Aryan ideal, with a German name; he might be the kind of American who makes American tourists look bad; or he might be the kind of kid so many of us were. In college, how often did you see stolen street signs or beer signs in dorm rooms? Anyone who thinks this kid was “asking for it” has a very short memory or no humility.

Haunted. Humbled. Angry. Outraged.

Who among us hasn’t earned a Darwin Award, though most of us get away with doing really stupid things? “The wages of sin is death,” but the wages of stupidity is staggering.

otto-warmbier-released-north-korea-news-2017-dennis-rodman-prisoner-622034[1] cowboy_cop_by_kersey475[1]

Friends described him as a “sports fan who can reel off stats about seemingly any team, a friendly Midwesterner who can break down underground rap lyrics (and craft some of his own), a deep thinker who would challenge himself and others to question their place in the world, a guy from an entrepreneurial family who ate half-price sushi, an insatiably curious person with a strong work ethic and a delight in the ridiculous,” the paper reported..

… Later, he would break down in tears: “I have made the single worst decision of my life, but I am only human.” http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-40308028

“There but for the grace of God” goes any one of us, or our children. Those who blame this college student should try some introspection before casting the first stone. Stupid frat boys, white privilege, none of this shaming and blaming and political division have a place here.

Why am I quoting the Bible when I doubt any God actually inspired its writing? Because my outrage over this incident is of Biblical proportions. I have a son. My sister, at almost 19, was murdered in 1975, and foolish choices had a lot to do with her being in the wrong place with the wrong people. Her cold case remains unsolved.

Turn the other cheek? I’ve had enough of that lamidity (to steal a word my daughter coined).

“Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord,” so leave it to God to punish the evil in some next life? No. I have no such hope. Karma sounds good on paper, and hell sounds somewhat gratifying for suffering innocents who turned the other cheek, but no.

The tour group who sent college students to a dangerous country should be penalized – severely – for throwing Otto under the bus. For taking money from Americans to send them to a place where freedom and justice do not exist. Tyrants can steal the lives of others without fear of repercussion.

Be afraid, North Korea. Be very afraid.
Oh, I know you won’t be. Japan was so unafraid, it took not one but TWO atomic bombs annihilating millions of civilian lives to get them to stop acting aggressively and killing others all around the globe. (Pearl Harbor?)

“I worry that my family will be harmed… one final time: I beg for forgiveness…” –Warmbier

“We hold NorthKorea accountable for Otto Warmbier’s unjust imprisonment” – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
and now, death. https://go.usa.gov/xNv54

He got a death sentence for allegedly stealing a poster from a hotel lobby…

*”I committed the crime of taking out a political slogan from the staff-only area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel. The slogan inspires the Korean people’s love for their system. The task was given to me by the Friendship United Methodist Church. At the encouragement of the Z Society and the connivance of the United States Administration, I came to commit this task. The aim of my task was to harm the motivation and work ethic of the Korean people. This was a very foolish aim. Growing up in the United States, I was taught that the DPRK is a mysterious, “isolated communist nation” from the mass media and education. This made me an innocent thinking adventurous young man like myself, want to show my bravery in this mysterious country in order to improve my reputation and show Western victory over the DPRK.”

“I have been very impressed by the DPRK Government’s humanitarian treatment of severe criminals like myself and of the very fair and square legal procedures in the DPRK. And I’ve come to see that the current “human right issues” in the DPRK, consistently highlighted by the United States Administration is simply nothing more than a hypocritical excuse to eventually overthrow the Government of the DPRK. I apologize to the people and the Government of the DPRK and beg for forgiveness.”*

It isn’t “just one” life.

The American I grew up in (last century, yes) esteemed justice, the way all those spaghetti Westerns modeled. It was a fairy tale fraught with misdeeds and heroes who had trampled Native Americans, but now we have trampled every last American ideal of freedom, which depends on respect for others, and punishment of those who infringe on the liberty of others. Those who harm and kill others must be stopped – if not by the arm of the law, then by vigilante justice. No, I don’t mean lynching! I don’t condone law-breaking and I do not condone violence. Except as an absolute LAST resort.

Otto Warmbier, I can only hope there’s such a thing as life after death, and a fitting punishment for those who get away with evil in this life.

“The North Koreans lure Americans” to the country through tour groups, claiming that the region is a safe place to travel, Warmbier (Otto’s father) says. He adds that they agreed to let Otto go because of the claims that it would have been an educational trip. “He was taken hostage at the airport as he was trying to leave the country,” said (Fred) Warmbier.

“Fred Warmbier also dismissed whatever efforts were made on behalf of his 22-year-old son Otto by the Obama administration, which asked the family to keep a low profile when news of Otto’s arrest became public. ‘The results speak for themselves,’ he said in a news conference, adding that President Trump, by contrast, reached out to him personally,” reports Fox News.

Vigilante Man: A type of anithero who operates outside the law to punish criminals. They can almost always tell when a criminal is innocent or not.

Examples:
The Punisher
The Vigilante
Most versions of Robin Hood
Rorschach from “Watchmen”
V from “V for Vendetta”
Light Yagami from “Death Note”
Yuri Lowell from “Tales of Vesperia”
The Red Tornado from “Romeo X Juliet”
The McManus family from “The Boondock Saints”
Billy Jack from “Billy Jack”
Mack Bolan in “The Executioner”
Erica Bain in “The Brave One”
Travis Bickle from “Taxi Driver”
Dexter Morgan from “Dexter”
Clyde Shelton from “Law Abiding Citizen”
Eric Draven from “The Crow”
Nick Hume from “Death Sentence”
Harry Brown from “Harry Brown”
Coffy in “Coffy”

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“Sirius: A Novel About the Little Dog Who Almost Changed History” by Jonathan Crown

“To study history means submitting to chaos and nevertheless retaining faith in order and meaning.” –Hermann Hesse

Well, that’s easier said than done. In historical fiction, more so than the classroom, we find the lessons we must learn and commit to memory, however hard it is to reconcile with any kind of faith in humanity. Toss in a little magic realism, and what harm is done? None, in “Sirius: A Novel About the Little Dog Who Almost Changed History” by Jonathan Crown, translated from German to English by Jamie Searle Romanelli.

51AIC+k0g0L._SS300_[1]51BcMQWHwqL[1] https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01CO344PM/ref=cm_cr_ryp_prd_ttl_sol_0

On the heels of “The Perfect Horse” by Elizabeth Letts, a marvelous nonfiction account of priceless horses rescued in the closing days of World War II, I was sorely in need of some feel-good reading. “With charisma, heart, and delightfully spry prose,” the synopsis promises, “Sirius is an enchanting fairy tale about love and humanity and a roving exploration of a momentous historical moment.”

It’s also heart-rending, at times, and unsparing in its honesty. A fox terrier in 1938 Berlin loses his home, his familiar neighborhood where people greet him by name, and even his name. Levi’s Jewish owners, the Liliencrons, rename him Sirius, after the “Big Dog” constellation, to protect him. Levi is flattered. “But at the same time he feels the responsibility weighing down on both himself and the star – of being a glimmer of light in the darkness. Dogs called Rusty have an easier time of it.”

The humor and insight of this preternatural terrier show up in line after line. Make me laugh, and you’ll rise to the top of my list of favorite writers. Like the stereotype of Blacks dancing better than whites, Jews seem to have mastered wit and humor like no other marginalized people in literary history. I’m officially smitten with Jonathan Crown, just as I’ve been with Robert Silverberg (“The Dybbuk of Mazel Tov IV,” a 1972 short story, is a classic example of what I might label as Jewish humor).

“Jonathan Crown” is a pseudonym. Born in Berlin in 1953, journalist Christian Jämmerling dedicates the book “For my family, who lived in Berlin during that period.” I’ve no doubt that the most wrenching scenes in this story come straight from real life, from first-hand accounts of people who were there, who experienced the worst fates we can imagine.

Immersed in the point of view of a dog, readers might scoff at the cognitive genius of this furry, four-legged creature, but to write off this book as unrealistic is to miss out on a truly fantastic story. As if by magic, Sirius shifts from his native German to understanding words spoken in English. He even learns how to spell and to use the piano to convey what he’s learned via espionage (our magical dog cannot speak human). Any reviewer who’d fault the book for such “plot holes” is missing the boat. And this is one ride you don’t want to miss.

Carl Liliencron is a professor who studies microscopic plankton. “Anything bigger than ten thousandths of an inch is of no interest to me,” he’s fond of saying. He studies living things which are 3.5 billion years old, and they’re rarely mentioned in the newspapers. He doesn’t care to read about politics, Hitler, and the future: these things are “all too big.”

But then Nazi troops storm Berlin. After a harrowing escape, the “Jewish dog” and his family flee to California. Liliencron can’t believe the magnificent villas, the view of a landscape reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands: “Now it’s finally clear where the sun is when it’s absent in Berlin–in Hollywood.” This new life “often plunges him into extistential-philosophical moods.” The dog adjusts well, while the professor wonders if they’re caught in Einstein’s curvature of space-time.

Liliencron becomes a chauffeur, while Sirius befriends everyone from Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant to Rita Hayworth and Jack Warner. Renamed Hercules, he becomes a canine movie star. A series of events, each seemingly the worst thing that could have happened, turn out to be blessings in disguise, reminding me that the Japanese word for crisis can also mean opportunity.

It also reminds me of a Hebrew expression, “Gam zu l’tovah,” (oops, Gam ze letova, my Israeli friend tells me) –“Even this is for the best” — from a column by Lenore Skenazy. She mentions the parable of Rabbi Akiva camping in the woods with his donkey, rooster and candle. While it’s “insulting to say that all bad things are really for the best,” Skenazy concludes, “…taking action, sometimes out of sheer misery, can change life for the better.” (www.creators.com, September 15, 2016).

The story of Sirius illustrates this wisdom in scene after seemingly hopeless scene. Levi, renamed for the Big Dog constellation, “transformed himself into a star, Sirius, and saved his family’s life. Only he who transforms himself survives.”

“Humans have been around for 160,000 years,” murmurs Liliencron. “And yet it only took Hitler five to destroy humanity.”

As World War II unfolds, Levi-Sirius-Hercules accidentally ends up in Berlin again, gets renamed again, and becomes the favorite dog of Hitler himself. How can a mere dog help the German resistance, depose the Führer, and find his family?

An omniscient narrator commands the point of view. Early in the Liliencron family’s assorted adventures, a movie mogul reminds an actor “I made you.” We also get the narrator’s interpretation: “The words sound as though God is speaking to one of his creatures, moved by the memory of the day when it learned to walk upright and become a human being. And that’s exactly how it is. In Hollywood, Jack Warner is God.”

But Warner has his good side: “Good old Jack Warner. He helps countless Jews to escape from Germany, he pulls strings in the White House, he takes the new arrivals under his wing and directs their journey from suffering to happiness, called destiny. He is a one-man dream factory.”

So many real-life people are named in this book, I had to learn more about them. Jacob (Jack) Warner was born in 1892 to a Polish Jewish immigrant family in Ontario. Reputedly crude and difficult, the real Warner sounds worse than Crown’s version. Warner made, or saved, the careers of numerous celebrities from Errol Flynn to Joan Crawford. He also accused some of his staff of being Communists, ruining their careers. Warner ousted his brothers from the family business that they had founded together and severed ties with his son. His brothers never spoke to him again. (www.haaretz.com)

Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Minister for Propaganda, is another real-life character who appears in this story. “The German people,” he says, “have to defend their most holy assets: their families, their women and children, their beautiful and pristine landscape, their towns and villages, the two-thousand-year legacy of their culture, and everything that makes life worth living.” It’s impossible to fathom how he reconciled this “holy” obligation with the imperative of torturing and murdering millions of other lives. A little bit of xenophobia is part of human evolution, but taking it to the extreme of exterminating others is beyond comprehension. This is one of many facets of a story rich with food for thought.

Here’s another: in desperation, the Germany Army plots fantastical ideas for a new wonder weapon. “The prototype of a UFO, built in the Skoda factories, turned out to be a failure. So now there was a new plan: Why not fire dogs into the enemy lines?” Just inject them with a neurotoxin “which would be released on impact and destroy everything in their vicinity.”

This facet of history may not be well known: a law forbidding Jews from keeping pets. “They are instructed to immediately put their dogs or cats to sleep. Germans are forbidden from keeping Jewish pets.” Jewish cats and dogs? Rational, educated Germans managed to believe this stuff? It staggers the imagination.

This is “the kind of thing that usually gets forgotten,” Crown narrates, but in World War II Germany, “the birds are being looked after… The soldiers on the front receive guidelines on the construction of nesting boxes and feeders. Tons of hemp seed and sunflower seeds are transported to the front, as winter sustenance for the birds.”

Yes, the Nazis cared about small, vulnerable creatures. Cognitive dissonance, anyone? The infamous Third Reich commanded a Department for Bird Protection (and Forest and Nature Conservation). It’s forgotten details like these that keep me returning to that most brutal and horror-laden genre, historical fiction.

“We Germans are a people of the forests,” Goering wrote. “Unlike the Jews. They are a people of the desert.” Well, now this is beginning to sound familiar. “A bird singing in the forest is the most beautiful German song in existence.”

Not so incredibly, then, Walt Disney’s “Snow White” is one of Hitler’s favorites. (For real.) The evil dictator “likes to unwind by watching Hollywood movies.” And college basketball, I’ve read elsewhere. It’s unsettling to see a human side to the world’s most notoriously evil dictator. Hitler had a dog who loved him. More than one dog, in fact.

For a long time, I couldn’t reconcile this gentler, more humane side of the Nazis with their unthinkably horrific torture and mass murder of fellow human beings. Then it dawned on me that vegans will forego dairy products and eggs (potential lives), while allowing millions of human fetuses to be scalded, dismembered, and vacuumed from their mothers’ bodies. I’m not denouncing anyone’s ethics and morality, legal rights and politics, here; just pointing out that people, as a whole, do in fact hold conflicting ideals simultaneously. I’m not defending Germans, Hitler, or Nazis, either, when I marvel at their capacity to display a better side, even a kinder and gentler side.

Help! My brain hurts!

In no way have I come close to summarizing the plot twists, surprises and delights in this novel. No spoilers here. We all know Germany loses. It’s safe to say that one of the most memorable scenes is that of a Hausfrau with her broom, sweeping away the aftermath of war from the streets of Berlin. The woman has gone mad, of course, but this small scene illustrates so much of what I love about the German people as I knew them, all third-generation Americans, all thoroughly “German” in their ways. I grew up with cuckoo clocks, braided blondes in St. Pauli girl dresses, sauerkraut, bratwurst, hard work, thrift and industry, a dad who sometimes yodeled on his tractor, and a certain pride in a heritage that novelist Frank Norris called “a foul stream of hereditary evil.”

As the Hebrew phrase “Gam ze letova” expresses Jewish wisdom, this novel shines a light on the darkest chapter in human history. Crown’s tragicomic approach to themes of exile, flight, expulsion, and homelessness make a profound and lasting impression.

First released in Germany, the novel received overwhelmingly positive feedback. I look forward to more from this writer.

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“Super 12” American soldiers guarding Saddam Hussein discover a villain’s humanity – #PrisonerInHisPalace by Will @WBardenwerper

The Prisoner in His Palace

Saddam Hussein, His American Guards, and What History Leaves Unsaid  by Will Bardenwerper

5-May-2017
Monday morning, when the alarm radio went off, NPR’s Rachel Martin was talking to author Will Bardenwerper about his book The Prisoner in His Palace, in which twelve U.S. soldiers in Iraq are tasked with guarding Saddam Hussein in the months before his execution. Trained to aggressively confront the enemy in combat, the “Super 12” – all young, American men – spent the summer of 2006 guarding the notorious Hussein.

I started waking up as the details emerged. This high-risk felon engaged the young Americans in conversation. He charmed them with anecdotes and gradually emerged as a human being, not as a fallen despot who’d taken so many lives with so little regard.

I was all prepared to boycott this book and started listing my objections:

So, Husssein was a human being. Who knew.

And Hitler had a dog.

And the Nazis loved forests and protected birds.

Thanks, Americans, for being so gullible. How noble to make a friend-for-life out of the world’s biggest bad guy (until the next one comes along).

But then this young author spoke.

MARTIN: I’d like to have you, if you would, read a little bit from early on in the book. This is when you’re describing the first few days of what it was like for these guys guarding Saddam Hussein.

BARDENWERPER: Sure.
(Reading) For these young men, it was like visiting a zoo and being forced to watch a creature who, though deadly, rarely does anything but sit, only occasionally deigning to walk across the cage to thrill the assembled spectators.
….They had to essentially always be within what one soldier called lunging distance of him in order to just safeguard him. It was sort of inevitable that there would be some thaw in this relationship. And then I think, also, part of it was a reflection of just Saddam’s own personality and his charm that he would try to engage them in conversation.

Dang. I did not want to like this book, but the “red flag waving” was addressed before I could even formulate the words in my own mind:

BARDENWERPER:
I think that’s one thing that’s important to highlight – is that a lot of these kids were from tough backgrounds. I think their antenna would be raised to someone trying to manipulate them. And, certainly, it occurred to Ellis. You know, this could just be an elaborate ruse to get better treatment from us. But at the same time, if that was Saddam’s only aim, he didn’t really emerge with a lot to show for it. He had a crappy, old exercise bike. He had a stack of loose-leaf paper and a pen.

So I think that’s one of the mysteries of the book – is what was going on here. Was it purely an attempt to manipulate? Was there genuine human affection? Was it a combination of the two? And I don’t think we’ll ever really know. I think human nature is complicated.

That’s where he really got me: “I don’t think we’ll ever really know. I think human nature is complicated.”

In the blackest heart, goodness can be found. Bad men can win sympathy, admiration, even love. Even a bad-ass like Saddam Hussein, in this true-to-life tale of a sordid, mean killer showing grace under pressure and kindness to his captors. The man had dignity. There is something to be said for that.

Over the radio I couldn’t discern the name of this former journalist. I got up, repeating “Prisoner in His Palace” over and over lest I forget it before I got to the kitchen to write it down. After coffee, I looked up the title online. Bardenwerper? How would I ever remember this author’s name?

Oooh, he followed me back on Twitter! And he messaged me privately that I should clarify that he was NOT one of the Super Twelve. He interviewed the twelve and pieced the story together. #GottaLove@WBardenwerper

Say what you will about the duality of good and evil in human nature, I wasn’t ready to “empathize” with a killer. My sister was murdered in 1975, and I am not one of those people who’d cue the film crews as I met the killer face to face and offered him forgiveness. I’d get no satisfaction from seeing him tried, found guilty, and executed, either. I’d like to know who he is and inflict psychological torments on him, but I’d never get away with it, so I read fairy tales and watch cat videos and try not to think overly much about all the evil in this world, and how many thunderbolts I might hurl, if I were God.

But, ohhh, the reviews of “Prisoner” are stunning. And I always fall for reviews like this:

“As twelve young American guards spend their days in the same room with this brutal gangster­ killer, a chilling, Shakespearean portrait emerges. Intriguingly, we meet a man who, while sometimes manipulative and petty, is also avuncular, joking, charming, wistful, and physically affectionate…. This is an unforgettable, essential read.”
-William Doyle, author of A Soldier’s Dream: Captain Travis Patriquin and the Awakening of Iraq and PT 109: An American Epic of War, Survival, and the Destiny of John F. Kennedy

And this:

“Through meticulous research and a keen eye for detail, Barden­werper does the near impossible: convinces the reader to empa­thize with Saddam Hussein during his sad final days. “The Prisoner in His Palace” is a deeply human book, and though we all know the ending, I couldn’t put it down.”
-Brian Castner, author of The Long Walk and All the Ways We Kill and Die

All right. Publication date is June 7. I’m buying it. And when I’m done reading, I’ll post a review. Watch for a sequel to this post.

Publisher’s Synopsis:
Living alongside their “high value detainee” in a former palace dubbed The Rock and regularly transporting him to his raucous trial, many of the men begin questioning some of their most basic assumptions—about the judicial process, Saddam’s character, and the morality of modern war. Although the young soldiers’ increasingly intimate conversations with the once-feared dictator never lead them to doubt his responsibility for unspeakable crimes, the men do discover surprising new layers to his psyche that run counter to the media’s portrayal of him. Woven from first-hand accounts provided by many of the American guards, government officials, interrogators, scholars, spies, lawyers, family members, and victims, The Prisoner in His Palace shows two Saddams coexisting in one person: the defiant tyrant who uses torture and murder as tools, and a shrewd but contemplative prisoner who exhibits surprising affection, dignity, and courage in the face of looming death.
In this artfully constructed narrative, Saddam, the “man without a conscience,” gets many of those around him to examine theirs. Wonderfully thought-provoking, The Prisoner in His Palace reveals what it is like to discover in one’s ruthless enemy a man, and then deliver him to the gallows.

 

 

5130LQeFg6L._UY250_[1]  Though Saddam Hussein once owned dozens of marble palaces, he seemed reasonably content in his small prison cell, the report said. (Photo: AP)     51isfMRu0hL._UX250_[1]

Amazon Author Bio:  Will quit his job in finance following the 9/11 attacks in Manhattan and volunteered to serve in the United States Army. He has spent most of the last decade engaged in United States foreign policy, beginning in 2004 as an infantry platoon leader. 61ol9YFr2kL[1]After completing his Army service, Will worked in the Washington Bureau of The New York Times, and later as a Director of Good Harbor Consulting, where served as a strategic advisor embedded with an Emirati paramilitary organization in Abu Dhabi.

In 2010, Will received a Master’s Degree from The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Upon graduation, he was selected to join the Pentagon in 2010 as a Presidential Management Fellow, where he spent the next four years working on the development and implementation of defense strategy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Will was an Airborne Ranger qualified infantry officer in the United States Army. He was stationed in Germany and his service included a 13-month deployment to Nineveh and Anbar Provinces, Iraq in 2006-7. While in Iraq, he helped lead his infantry battalion’s reconstruction, civil affairs and tribal engagement efforts in the city of Hit. His unit helped contribute to the beginning of what would later become known as the “Anbar Awakening.” Will was awarded a Bronze Star and a Combat Infantryman’s Badge.

Will is a graduate of Princeton University, where he majored in English. He has had Op Eds and other articles published in the New York Times and Washington Post.

In his free time, Will enjoys tough Crossfit workouts, playing ice hockey, and rooting for the New York Mets and Washington Capitals.

Will lives in Colorado with his wife, Marcy, and editorial assistant, Parker the Cat.

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First Big Case for the FBI: The Osage Murders; First Book About It: “Killers of the Flower Moon” by David Gann

005_Gran_9780385534246_art_r1-E[1].jpegMollie Burkhart (right) with sister Anna and mother Lizzie. (Credit: David Grann)

29496076[1] In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe. Then, one by one, they began to be killed off.

024_Gran_9780385534246_art_r1[1] Osage in automobile. (Credit: David Grann) See “The FBI’s First Big Case: The Osage Murders”  http://histv.co/2pfei3X via @History

One Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, watched as her family was murdered. Her older sister was shot. Her mother was then slowly poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances.

In this last remnant of the Wild West … virtually anyone who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage, the newly created F.B.I. took up the case, in what became one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations. But the bureau was then notoriously corrupt and initially bungled the case. Eventually the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only Native American agents in the bureau. They infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest modern techniques of detection. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most sinister conspiracies in American history.

In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann revisits a shocking series of crimes in which dozens of people were murdered in cold blood. The book is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, as each step in the investigation reveals a series of sinister secrets and reversals. But more than that, it is a searing indictment of the callousness and prejudice toward Native Americans that allowed the murderers to operate with impunity for so long. Killers of the Flower Moon is utterly riveting, but also emotionally devastating.(less) (Publisher’s Synopsis)

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Gann 

Review by Trish, The Bowed Bookshelf, April 2017:

That we as a nation, less than one hundred years after the Osage Indian killings, have no collective memory of these events seems an intentional erasure. The truth of the killings would traumatize our school children and make every one of us search our souls…

….The Osage Indians once laid claim to much of the central part of what is now called the United States, “a territory that stretched from what is now Missouri and Kansas to Oklahoma and still farther west, all the way to the Rockies.” The tribe was physically imposing, described by Thomas Jefferson as “the finest men we have ever seen,” whose warriors typically stood over six feet tall. They were given land by Jefferson as part of their settlement to stop fighting the Indian Wars in the early 1700s.

Jefferson reneged on the agreement within four years, and ended up giving the once-mighty Osage a 50-by-125 mile area in southeastern Kansas to call their own. Gradually, however, white settlers found they liked that particular Kansas farmland and moved onto it anyway, killing anyone who challenged them, oftentimes the legal “owners”. The government then forced the Osage to sell the Kansas land and buy rocky, hilly land in Oklahoma, land no white man would want, where the Osage would be “safe” from encroachment. This was the late 1800s.

In the early 1900s oil was discovered on that ‘worthless’ Oklahoma land and because a representative of the Osage tribe was in Washington to defend Osage interests, he managed to include in the legal agreement of the allotment of Indian Territory “that the oil, gas, coal, or other minerals covered by the lands…are hereby reserved to the Osage Tribe.” Living Osage family members each were given a headright, or a share in the tribe’s mineral trust. The headrights could not be sold, they could only be inherited.

The Osage became immensely wealthy. The federal government expressed some concern (!) that the Osage were unable to manage their own wealth, and so ordered that local town professionals, white men, be appointed as guardians. One Indian WWI veteran complained he was not permitted to sign his own checks without oversight, and expenditures down to toothpaste were monitored. But this is not even the most terrible of the legacies. The Osage began to be murdered, one by one.

When Grann discovered rumblings of this century-old criminal case in Oklahoma, he wanted to see the extent of what was called the Reign of Terror, thought to have begun in 1921 and lasted until 1926, when some of the cases were finally successfully prosecuted. The “reign,” he discovered, was much longer and wider than originally imagined, and therefore did not just implicate the men who were eventually jailed for the crimes. “White people in Oklahoma thought no more of killing an Indian than they did in 1724.” said John Ramsey, one of the men eventually jailed for crimes against the Osage. A reporter noted, “The attitude of a pioneer cattleman toward a full-blood Indian…is fairly well recognized.”

What we learn in the course of this account is that a great number of people had information that could have led to answers much sooner than it did, but because there was so much corruption, even the undercover agents and sheriffs were in on the open secret of the murders. Those townspeople who might be willing to divulge what they knew were unable to discover to whom they should share information lest they be murdered as well. Grann was able to answer some questions never resolved at the time, with his access to a greater number of now-available documents.

Why this history is not better known is a mystery still. Memory of it was fading already in the late 1950s when a film, The FBI Story starring Jimmy Stewart, made mention of it. The 1920s are not so long ago, and some of the people who were children then have only recently passed away, or may even be still living. Among the Osage there is institutional memory, and still some resentment, naturally, and a long-lasting mistrust of white people. Need I say this is a must-read?

The audio of this book is narrated by three individuals: Ann Marie Lee, Will Patton, and Danny Campbell. Interestingly, the voices of the narrators seem to age over the course of the history, and it is a tale well-told. But the paper copy of this has photographs which add a huge amount of depth and interest to the story. This is another good candidate for Audible’s Whispersync option, but if you are going to choose one, the paper was my favorite.

 

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