Why not a selection of scenes and episodes from one author's repertoire of published fiction? The Scene Menagerie answers that question.
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The Scene Menagerie
A Selection of Episodes, Characters & Short Stories from the Published Works of
By JOHN R. DOWNES
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2016 John R. Downes
All rights reserved.
The Conspiracy Against O.J. Simpson – a Satire
June 12, 1994
The Los Angeles Coliseum was dark when the first person, a pathologist, arrived by cab. He'd been contacted at the County Morgue by a supervisor and urged to depart immediately to assure getting a seat in the horrendously-large facility.
"Want me to wait?" the taxi driver asked. "Nothing's going on ... it'll be midnight in two hours."
The pathologist smiled and shook his head as he exited the cab and paid the fare. "We all know each other," he said, "and collaborate on these high-profile cases."
The cabbie stared at him, then shrugged and re-started the engine. The pathologist closed the door and watched the cab make a sweeping U-turn, as its headlamps cast ethereal silhouettes on the concrete walls of the empty monolith, then swooped past ticket booths, souvenir stands, and palm trees that dotted the area. As the cab neared an exit, darkness became glaring light at each of twenty parking lot entryways from headlamps of thousands of approaching buses, private coaches, passenger cars, pickup trucks, police cars, ambulances, and government vehicles.
The Coliseum lights flashed on, as a formation of several dozen helicopters flew overhead with flashing beacons. The pathologist watched them disappear over the parapet, picturing in his mind's eye their landing onto the Coliseum grass, emanating a colorful aura, mixed with eddies of dust whirling upward. Even though the rotors made a muffled pock-pock-pock sound, which receded after they'd passed overhead, the pathologist stood transfixed by the absolute silence, purposefulness, and apparent organization from the throngs of arriving vehicles. Fully-clothed SWAT teams appeared out of nowhere, and unlocked and swung open the gates with unified precision.
In only a few moments the parking lots were filled. Thousands and thousands of like-minded collaborators filed into the massive venue. The pathologist needed to quick-step into one of hundreds of fast-moving lines to assure himself of a seat. Already, the only remaining seats were in the upper tiers.
What a thrill to be involved, he thought. The carefully- made plan would unfold. It was going to happen. With everyone working together as a team. The first he'd attended on such a massive scale! He was part of the chosen elite to participate. There wasn't one person in attendance he couldn't trust.
Seated to his right were three Superior Court judges. On his left, a woman who worked as a 911 operator for the LAPD. Directly in front sat a paramedic from West Los Angeles. Behind him were five police officers from airport security. One's knees pressed against his back. Togetherness – a symbol of absolute unity. Next to them, two hematologists. And behind them, four lab technicians from the FBI facility. He spotted two assistant county coroners four rows down. Three others from Ventura County. They peered over their shoulders at him with thumbs raised. Beside them he recognized six baggage handlers, three ticket agents, and three building maintenance workers from LAX and Burbank Airport. Across the crowded aisle with his office staff sat the North American manager for an Italian shoe manufacturer, who waved his binoculars at him in recognition. Behind him sat a sports photographer and TV cameraman, who worked together at NFL games around the country.
Wherever the pathologist gazed, he saw no unfamiliar faces. Nine county jail turnkeys were seated next to four parking attendants from the City Hall garage. Everyone knew everybody. How else could this event be planned? The clandestine training was finally going to pay off. Secrecy was paramount. That had been pounded into all of them at every practice session. No one would ever find out.
When he'd gotten the notification call, he'd only been informed that a man and woman had been stabbed to death minutes earlier in the courtyard of an upscale condo in Brentwood. He already knew that the pre-plotted investigation/prosecution plan required multiple, glamorous locations, matched sets, a visible trail, a high-profile suspect, diverse principals, lots of blood, and absolute preparation for inventive enhancements.
"That's her ... she's the one that will prosecute!" the pudgy woman seated five rows down yelled. She pointed toward a slender, brunette with high cheekbones and a toothy grin, exiting a helicopter.
"She used to be a dancer ..." the pathologist heard from behind him.
"... to work her way through law school." a nearby judge interrupted. "She prosecuted a case in my courtroom last year."
"Aahhhh," was murmured by dozens in reply.
"Mine too," replied another judge, seated at his right.
Dozens within earshot turned around, nodded, and smiled at him.
"There's a tall, sandy-haired man with a military haircut still standing in the chopper," a bailiff said. "His face is in a shadow."
"We chose him at our last practice session to select, manufacture, and distribute the evidence," the shoe executive from across the aisle hollered. He peered through binoculars at the helicopter. "He's low key. Unflappable. Experienced LAPD detective. Interviews well on TV. Suspects underrate him."
"Like Columbo," added a Beverly Hills clothing store manager.
"Looks harmless ... ha ha ha."
"About to retire, I hear," his stock clerk replied.
"A real evidence hound," the pathologist said. "He goes for blood."
"I arrived at our last practice late ... remember?" a bailiff said.
"He must love the gloves idea," another judge said.
All around him laughed. Many clapped.
"Are they waiting for something?" a paramedic asked.
"The dogs aren't here yet," an airport security police officer replied.
"How many auditions will we hear tonight?" a jail turnkey asked.
"I saw two busloads of dogs in front of mine," a hematologist said.
"Whew ... that'll take time," a limousine driver said. "Probably not," said a thin, bespectacled man, who worked as a janitor in the crime lab. "Voice coaches have been listening to them during the roundup tonight and short drive here."
"Plaintiveness," a bootblack replied. He operated the shoeshine stand in the City Hall lobby.
"What?" a criminalist asked.
"Plaintiveness," the bootblack replied. "The sound of tragedy ... you know ... it'll establish the time line. A nice touch. Especially from a dog."
"You know ... like a mother cat watching her new litter fall into the creek and drown," an airline ticket agent offered.
"Animal emotions are real ... no bias," the bootblack said.
Hundreds of team members within earshot turned around and nodded.
"Who could not believe that?" a hematologist asked. "Wasn't that your brilliant idea from two meetings ago?"
The bootblack pursed his lips. "Look who's talking. Your DNA theories are superb."
"Thanks," he replied. "Odds of 1 in 281,000,000 aren't too shabby."
A starter's gun fired, and a hush settled over the Coliseum. All eyes fell on a Greyhound bus that drove down the ramp onto the center of the field. The Slender Brunette from the helicopter strode over to it, holding a microphone in one hand and the gun in the other. She was joined a moment later by the Unflappable Detective, who held a can of red paint, a brush, and an easel pad.
"We've selected a suspect," she screamed. "Are you happy?"
A sustained YES!!! emanated from the crowd.
"He meets our standards!" she yelled. "He's popular ... charismatic ... a public figure ... a poster of him running through airports is everywhere ... millions adore him. Are we ready?"
"YES!!!" The crowd roared as one.
Both she and the Unflappable Detective cupped one hand to their ears. "We can't hear you?" the two shouted in unison.
"YES!!!" the crowd roared.
"Say again," the two shrieked.
"Star quality," she announced. "It's what we've been pursuing to get the public's attention to our work. To make our careers meaningful. Justice bores the public ... celebrities sell tickets. Tens of millions of dollars worth of free publicity for our professions and our system of justice will accrue from this one high profile case. Importantly, all of us will make more money, more respect, more promotions. And why? Because the suspect we've hand-picked has star quality. The public will pay attention!! Are we ready?"
"YES!!!" This time everyone in the Coliseum stomped their feet up and down. The effect was thunderous.
The pathologist, whose lonely work made him unaccustomed to such brouhaha, stood in place, held his hands over his ears, and felt the earthquake-like tremor under his feet. He watched the bus door open. Two dog handlers stepped out, each with a dog on a leash. They approached the microphones.
"Shushhhhhh," the Slender Brunette murmured into the microphone, after she fired the starting gun again. "We mustn't frighten the dogs. It's audition time, everybody. We've got two finalists. You get to choose. But, don't applaud until after we hear from both of them. Is the first dog ready?"
She turned to the handler nearest her. He nodded, then knelt down next to a mixed-breed poodle. A SWAT team member adjusted a microphone low to the ground. The second dog, a Great Dane, sat on his haunches and waited politely. Quiet time.
The pathologist noticed from his distant view that the handler simultaneously pulled down on the dog's tail and rubbed a long stick wrapped with something against its nose. The resulting sound was a frantic, dissonant, 'yip-yip-yip-yip-yip', followed by a soprano moan that varied between Aretha Franklin and Tiny Tim. The pathologist would learn that the stick was wrapped with a towel, smothered with raccoon fur, barbecue sauce, and ammonia. As the handler stretched the dog's tail slowly upward, the pitch increased almost one octave, and actually became vibrato when the critter's rear feet lifted off the ground. The Great Dane stared wide-eyed at the procedure, leaped high into the air, broke loose from his handler, and, with a monosyllabic repetitive wail, galloped full-tilt into the end zone and slammed head-first into the concrete wall. He fell over head.
"What do you think, folks?" the Slender Brunette screamed. "Wasn't that the greatest? Hold up the winner!"
The crowd went crazy. The dog handler raised the mixed-breed poodle high over his head and slowly turned three hundred sixty degrees to face the entire audience, then repeated the maneuver twice again. Raucous noise was undescribable. The closest helicopter started its engines, the rotors picked up speed, and the handler raced toward it with the dog and clambered on. The cheering throng watched the helicopter lift off and fly over the scoreboard, as a stretcher team below moved the Great Dane's still-twitching corpse.
"The crime scene beckons," the Slender Brunette shrieked. "Tomorrow morning's headline will read, 'Yipping Dog Knows Something Is Awry at Scene of Double Homicide.'" She turned to look at the Unflappable Detective, who'd been waving his cell phone at her. He approached and whispered into her ear.
"Good news," she shouted, wearing her toothy grin. "Our selected suspect is en-route to the airport. Red eye to Chicago. Which means we can do our preparatory work unimpeded. He won't be around tonight. How lucky can we get?"
The crowd exploded into jubilation, as she and Unflappable Detective hugged each other and jumped up and down, while still clinging to each other. During the prolonged celebration, which created a human wave that encircled the Coliseum numerous times, the Unflappable Detective tore off several sheets from the easel pad he'd brought, handed them to ten nearby SWAT team members to hold up in front of themselves, opened the red paint can, dipped the paint brush into it, and flicked the brush at them one-at-a-time, stooping to dip the brush occasionally for more paint.
"What's he doing?" the shoe executive yelled at the top of his voice. He viewed the scene through his binoculars.
"An evidence-planting demonstration," the pathologist shouted. "Uncanny!" the shoe executive exclaimed. "It looks just like blood stains after a knife fight. Specks and splatters. Ewww. That one got all over his face and hands. Now they're laughing and throwing black leather gloves at each other."
The Slender Brunette raised the gun above her head.
Stillness reigned. Several seconds elapsed as the Coliseum lights dimmed, and a spotlight encircled her. The Unflappable Detective stepped into it. "The time has come," she screamed. "We are committed to this, AREN'T WE?"
"YES!!!" the crowd roared.
She cupped a hand to her ear. "I can't hear you!!"
"Each of us has made a vow to all of us, HAVEN'T WE?"
"You will be receiving verbal instructions from your immediate supervisors after we make the arrest. Keep the faith. And remember ... you be careful out there." The Slender Brunette blew kisses to the crowd, as she turned all the way around three times to face everybody in the massive place. Music from God Bless America began softly.
The pathologist watched the lights brighten. Simultaneously, a warm glow embraced his body, from the top of his head to the bottom of his toes. A sense of oneness with the thousands of other collaborators was complete and fulfilling. As he walked solemnly out of the Coliseum amongst them, he realized that the strength of commitment they shared together was everlasting. The bond of fellowship and the pride of being part of such an important and broad-based junta – involving so many professional disciplines – would be the hallmark, preeminent life's achievement, and badge of honor, for each and every one of them. He knew he would never tell anybody about this night, nor would he ever disclose that their specific mission was to frame O.J. Simpson. He knew with an absolute certainty that none of them would either.CHAPTER 2
A Trip to the County Fair
Aaron Zinkgraf had sworn his adoptive grandson, Kenny Kroneldt, to secrecy.
The thirteen-year-old had pulled an upset by winning the five dollar first prize in the arm wrestling contest for 17 year-olds at the Adams County Fair in Hastings, Nebraska. But, the big money had come afterward in the fair's Administration Office behind the Exposition Building.
Hastings was seventy-five miles from Dalton, where they resided. Kenny's bedroom was on the second floor, directly above Zinkgraf Mercantile.
Kenny had heard the local legend numerous times about Aaron Zinkgraf's father, Gerd, winning the Mercantile property (which had been a saloon and brothel) in a poker game, but he hadn't known about his grandfather's penchant for gambling until this outing. And now, Kenny was the owner of one hundred sixty-eight dollars. The most he'd won previously for his multiplication skills were the nickels proffered by the Chicago gangster, Sam Venneman.
When Kenny accompanied Aaron Zinkgraf into the fair's business office to receive the prize, General Manager Mooney and Office Manager Herb were adding up the morning's receipts. After waiting through three attempts – with different totals each time – Aaron Zinkgraf offered a remedy.
"Read the numbers aloud," he said. "My grandson here will give you the correct answer without writing them down. Kenny's never wrong."
Both fair employees looked up skeptically.
"Read the numbers aloud?" Aaron Zinkgraf repeated patiently. He counted out five ten dollar bills from his wallet and set them on the counter. "Here's fifty. Five to one that I'm right about my grandson. Pay me ten if I am. You keep the fifty if he's not."
"I'll take that," Mooney said. "Want to up it to a hundred?" "I can afford it," Aaron Zinkgraf replied, without hesitation, as he added five more tens to the pile. "How about you, sir?" He stared at Herb.
"A dollar," he said, as he fumbled through his pants pocket and removed a crumpled bill.
Aaron Zinkgraf turned to Kenny. "Worth risking your prize money for a dollar?" he asked.
Kenny nodded. Mooney smirked. Herb frowned.
"Who's going to read out the numbers?" Aaron Zinkgraf asked.
"I will," Herb replied.
He proceeded in a careful monotone for almost four minutes. Some figures were odd cents, others more than a hundred dollars from gate receipts, food stands, midway attractions, livestock and poultry sales. Then he stopped and gazed at the two visitors from Dalton.
"6,715.31," Kenny proclaimed. All wrote that figure down. The two fair managers looked at each other and rolled their eyes, but after several re-adds by hand they reluctantly conceded that Kenny's answer was correct.
"Adding isn't so hard," Mooney said. He looked like a sourpuss. "I shouldn't have bet."
"Want to try something a lot harder?" Aaron Zinkgraf asked, without a trace of annoyance.
"Like what?" Mooney asked.
"You come up with any two 3-digit numbers, and Kenny here will multiply them in his head before either of you can figure it out on paper."
"It's harder than adding, I admit," Aaron Zinkgraf replied. "Lots of pressure for my grandson, too. We'll want favorable odds."
Excerpted from The Scene Menagerie by JOHN R. DOWNES. Copyright © 2016 John R. Downes. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. The Conspiracy Against O.J. Simpson – a Satire, 1,
2. A Trip to the County air, 10,
3. Lost And Found, 17,
4. Homecoming From the War – POV of a Seven Year Old Girl, 22,
5. Death of a Mafiosi, 28,
6. Manhattan Eddie – the Fastest Gunfighter Alive, 32,
7. Car Salesman Waiteth, 40,
8. The Cowardly War Hero, 43,
9. The Orange, 48,
10. Becoming an Orphan, 63,
11. Letter From a WWII British Army Nurse, 74,
12. Sitting Bull's Dream, 77,
13. Custer's Scout Saw the Whole Thing, 79,
14. Dissent At a 1929 Board Meeting, 91,
15. Criminal Talk at a Poker Game, 95,
16. Interview With a Grade School Principal, 99,
17. Columbo, Revisited, 103,
18. U-Boat Attack On a Convoy, 106,
19. Rap-Wraps Sweep the Country, 110,
20. Wormwood's Big Event, 114,
21. Zarph, Anyone?, 118,
22. Toys Guns & Yoyos, 122,
23. Hitler's Birth, 125,
24. Racing a Tornado, 127,
25. Job Interviews For a Wounded Veteran, 131,
26. Kibitzing Before the Great Depression – 1929, 141,
27. A Defense Against the Boiler Room, 143,
28. Hanky-Panky Hits Hollywood, 147,
29. Repatriation Day at Auschwitz, 150,
30. Fats Kunkel & The Wolfers, 152,
31. The Downside Of Printing Fake I.D.'s, 156,
32. First Day In an Orphanage – Tick Tock Tick Tock, 164,
33. A Night In the Closet, 173,
34. How Could Neville Chamberlain Be So Dumb?, 178,
35. Jumping to False Conclusions, 185,
36. Love Story – Pulling the String, 188,
37. Cracking Germany's Enigma Code, 190,
38. Saving Spokane's Looff Carrousel, 199,
39. Fatal Flirtation On a Train, 203,
40. Buffalo Bill & Annie Oakley, 207,
41. Notification of a Best Friend's Death, 211,
42. Guilty! – Regardless of Innocence, 214,
43. Marlene Dietrich Spurns Lebensraum, 222,
44. Bad Guys Can't Run – Or Multiply, 226,
45. Cliffhangers, 233,
46. A Propensity For Perfection, 250,
47. Atonement For a White Lie, 253,
48. Government Promises, 257,
49. Wolf Vittles, 259,
50. War Leaders' Motives, 261,
51. Nightmares of a German Spy, 264,
52. Journey On an Orphan Train –1923, 267,
53. Battle of Chemung, 274,
54. Daydreaming On a Harley, 279,
55. Creating Characters For a Crime Novel, 282,
56. Prediction of a Mayor's Downfall, 295,
57. Embracing the Customer, 302,
58. The Ray Gun, 307,
59. FBI Interrogation School Questions, 317,
60. Secret of Success, 335,
Cast Of Characters, 341,
About The Author, 345,