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Dallas 3 a.m.

On Oct 1, I woke in Dallas at 3 a.m. before my flight back to Las Vegas. Picking the morning flight over the red eye became a battle of trying to sleep in a too soft bed with a thin pillow. I might have slept better on the overnight. I should have just stayed awake and pretended I was 20 again.

I hit stop on the phone alarm and saw a long line of alerts. In the dark, the light of the phone let me know, “20 dead in Las Vegas. More than 200 wounded.”

It was 1 a.m. in Vegas; it had just happened.

For years, I feared hearing a mass shooting in my city. Too many tourists; too many opportunities. It seemed very real.

I spent the weekend with Katie in north Texas. A fan of country, she would have been at the concert. Thankfully, she was in bed in Denton.

Matthew tried to get tickets to the Route 91 Concert on Saturday. He texted to say he had couldn’t get tickets. That left my son Albert. My phone showed he walked into the house at 10:06 p.m.; two minutes before the mass murder.

I sat in the dark and thought how lucky we were. None of our kids were there. Relief and then horror as an alert put the death toll over 50.

We landed in Las Vegas after 7 a.m. Curtains flowed out of two windows at the Mandalay Bay. The Strip was closed so we took Maryland Parkway to work. It felt like the wind had taken the heart out of Las Vegas.

A Justice tried to give blood but the line was 3 hours deep and she had to come back to hear oral arguments. She never was able to give blood.

Albert woke up confused. He read my text, “Are you okay?” He looked out the window. A bus went by so he figured everything was okay. Then he Googled Las Vegas and saw the news. “Oh, that’s why they texted.”

He went out and bought six cases of water to take to the first responders. It seemed like all he could do. He talked to a few of them. Everyone was feeling grief. Not too many people wanted to talk about what had happened.

He kept pausing the news to ask us questions. “Why did he do it?” “I can’t believe he did it.” “Do you think he cared?”

I didn’t know what to say. I had the same questions.

I donated some money to the Vegas Shooting Fund. By the end of the week, it totaled more than $10 million.

Most of the victims were from California. Of my friends, at least 12 knew somebody shot or killed. A large number of people were from my hometown of Bishop. One little town of 4,000 people and so many people were at the concert.

Las Vegas gets a bad reputation as a place no one calls home. Nearly 50 million people visit every year.

But on the first day, United Blood Services collected more than 600 pints of blood; they are lucky to collect 100 pints a day. As people stood in line, businesses brought sandwiches, water, pizza, cake, umbrellas, and chairs. Everyone wanted to help. Our community showed through.

By the end of the week, you could find #VegasStrong on most of social media accounts and billboards around the city.

The mass murder stung us. But it didn’t stop us from being people who care.

I’m still numb to the whole event. I would give anything to wake up in Dallas at 3 a.m. to see nothing on my phone.

 

 


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A Diamond in Her Eye

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“You’ll never get me to tell you where the jewels are,” the child said. She leaned back and smirked.

Too much television, thought the inspector. He sat down across from her rattling the metal chair against the table in the interrogation room. The girl leaned forward. She glared at him. The stare-off went on for a few minutes until he leaned forward.

The girl pushed back pinning her arms into the rests. She was a small child with her hair tied back in a blue ribbon. She looked just like the picture sitting on the table next to him. Below her, the marble floor stretched out nearly a foot from her feet. She casually kicked the legs of the chair. Barely seven years and so far the kid had stuck to her resolve.

An older inspector, Don Sexton, had grandchildren her age. If anyone could play grandpa it was him.

He drew a cartoon hand of a large rabbit holding a carrot. The rabbit took an angry bite. Bits of carrot flew out of the rabbit’s mouth. The angry rabbit sported a fluffy cotton tail. The little girl put her hands on the table. She drew closer to the drawing.

“What’s his name?” she asked.

“Sergeant Baker,” he replied.

The girl studied the drawing.

“He needs a badge, or something.” she said.

Inspector Sexton added a badge above the mark identifying the rabbit’s belly button. The girl shook her head no. She eyed the drawing with skepticism.
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Can You Hear Me Now, L.A.?

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A loud sneeze sent a nose full of snot onto the steering wheel and the windshield. James held the phone away from the explosion; otherwise, it too would have been covered.

“Are you gonna be alright?” Sally snickered through the phone.

“Damn ragweed.” James looked around for a tissue. He also tried not to run his hand through the sticky mess on his steering wheel. “I’m either blowing my nose or snorting up salt water.”

He dug through the console for a napkin or any kind of paper. He found nothing to wipe his mess.

He clicked on the speaker button and dropped the phone on the passenger’s seat. He moved his left hand through the snot on the wheel. James shook his hand onto the floor and yelled into the phone.

“I don’t have time for this crap.” His pant leg was now covered. “Just email Mike the job, call my doctor, and find me some tissues.”

James turned his convertible onto Mullholland Highway and headed north. The other end of the line was silent.

“I’m in a hole,” he said. “I’ll pop out in a moment.”

The cell towers often dropped calls and Sally waited. She figured he would always call back.

The sun was shining through the dried yellow mucus on the windshield to create a rainbow on his dash. He looked at the light and ignored the bungalows and exclusive homes of Beachwood Canyon.

James turned a few more times up the winding road. He reached for the phone and heard static. Then a voice came through.

“He says he won’t do it this time.” Her voice sounded distant.

“What does that mean?” he shouted. “Of course, he’s going to do it. There’s no one else.”

“I think it will cost more this time.”

“It shouldn’t cost anything more than last time.” He looked at the screen. “The job hasn’t changed.” He slapped the phone on the wheel and turned the car to the right. He corrected before he clipped two bikers on their way to the Hollywood sign.

“Just email him again and make it clear,” James yelled.

He pulled into a far parking spot at Lake Hollywood Park and stopped the car.

WH-form

James fell out of the car along with a stack of bent coffee cups. A wadded up napkin followed the empties and blew off toward the grass. He stumbled up grabbing the wad and ripped it apart. With the paper remains, he dabbed at the steering wheel.

“You still there?”

He heard a silent sigh.

“Good, we can iron this out.”

He explained how Mike had no excuse to refuse.

“It’s easy.” James talked with his arms. He waved his left hand in the air.

“He parks on the fifth floor under the camera.”

“Uh huh.”

“No one will see him get out.”

“Uh huh.”

“He takes the box with him and inches along the wall.”

“Why doesn’t the camera see him?” she said.

“It’s pointed out at the cars and not the wall.”

“Oh,” she said. He could tell she failed to see it.

“The camera points across the garage,” he explained. “It doesn’t see up close.”

“I see.”

He lost track of the next step. Honestly, this would go a lot easier if he could just do it himself.

“No one will see him coming,” he said, while pushing his finger toward the ground.

“I’m not sure everything will fit in the box,” she said.

“They came in the box.” James clinched his eyes and rubbed his forehead. “Why is there a problem?”

“The canisters are too big and he can’t put his mask in the box with everything too,” she said.

“Just have him wear the mask and carry the box.”

 

A small boy and man passed him in the parking log carrying a kite. James looked up at the sky. A few clouds floated up from the ocean. It was a nice day for playing in the wind.

“Canisters?” he asked.

“They’re cupcakes, for crying out loud,” he shouted. “Just have him carry the cupcakes, wear his mask, and surprise her.”

“Cupcakes?” she asked.

“Yes, a dozen red velvet with the yellow baby bottle sugar decorations.” Sometimes she exasperated him.

“Do you think you can pass this on Sally?”

He heard dead silence on the other end of the phone and he wondered if she understood him. He raised his head and stared at the clouds. He shook his head dumbfounded. He wondered why everything with her required so much energy.

“Sally?” she asked.

She had to know her own name. Sometimes she drove him nuts. He looked around the park for a closer cell tower.

“Sally? James enunciated to make sure she heard him.

“This isn’t Sally.”

He pulled his phone away and then brought it back to his ear.

He heard a man in the background tell the woman to shut up. Then the phone went dead.

 

 


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