I was just invited to submit another story to another zine. Wow. Well, while I was answering the email, a comment I made brought up another quick story idea. This is based on a real incident. I still laugh when I think about it. So, here it is.

All the usual disclaimers apply. I still don't own them and I'm still grateful to those who do, for not suing me. Thanks as well to Wolfpup for providing a home for my ramblings.

Up In Smoke


[ Reader comments ] [ Add your comments ]

It had been a long, exhausting day at the end of a long, exhausting week. We had had a rash of robberies that had all obviously been pulled by the same gang, but they didn't follow normal patterns for such things. They didn't just target convenience stores, or gas stations, or banks. Oh, no. They took on anything and everything. We finally got lucky today. Well, sort of. The one thing that linked each robbery, that they had in common, isn't anything we can use in court. That's because we can't use Jim's enhanced senses as a link between crimes. Yeah, I know, you're wondering what a man's senses has to do with it. Well, Jim's special. He's a Sentinel. According to his partner, an anthropology grad student named Blair Sandburg; it's a genetic thing. Something he was born with. His senses, all of them, are, well, for a better term, enhanced. He can see microscopically, as well as telescopically. Spotting a hair at twenty paces. Whatever the hell a pace is. He can hear a fly fart at a hundred yards...well, maybe not, but he can hear a pistol being cocked at a quarter of a mile. All his senses are like that. You're wondering why he's partnered with an anthropologist? Well, Sandburg's the only man alive who knows about Sentinels. Lucky Jim. Lucky us. No, I have to admit that without him, Jim would be crazy or dead by now. But it does give us an advantage. Just not one we can tell anyone about.

Anyway, back to this particular Hell Week, it started with a break-in at one of the local lumber companies over the weekend. The secretary arriving on Monday morning discovered it. The office had been ransacked and the safe broken into. I know, I know, that was a burglary, not a robbery. Well, I sent Jim out to investigate; Blair had a class to teach that morning, so I sent Megan out with Jim. She found out about his senses recently, so Blair's been giving both her and me lessons on 'how to bring Jim out of a zone'. Formal training. I know, I've known about it for three years, but he finally roped me into this 'real training' shit. He intentionally got Jim to zone and had both Megan and me try and bring him out of it. I was a little surprised to discover that I was actually pretty good at it. Megan gets frustrated and her voice rises in both volume and tone. Blair had to teach her to consciously lower her voice. That may be why I'm able to do it at all. I've got a pretty deep voice to begin with, and I guess I'm used to touching Jim. He's really a pretty hands-on kind of guy. I'd never noticed it until someone pointed out how much Jim uses his hands to communicate with people. To comfort, to show how he feels. He sure as hell doesn't show much in his face...'The Great Stone Face'; his boss in Vice used to call him. Warned me about him. Yeah, he was bad, but he was hurting, too. Since Sandburg came along, he's mellowed...a lot. He even smiles and laughs, now. Sandburg's been good for him. For all of us. Even if he weren't necessary to help Jim, I'd do my damndest to keep him around. Just don't tell him I think that not that he'd believe you, or anything. Well, maybe he would, at that

I'm getting distracted. Sorry. I sent Jim and Megan out to the lumber mill. Whoever they were, they were very professional. Definitely. All they found were some latex smudges and a single hair. Not much to go on. Except for one other thing. Smoke. Cigar smoke, to be precise. Of course, Jim was the only one who could smell it, but he said it was quite distinctive. That still gets me. How he can do that. How he always asks if 'can't you smell that?'. A real weird feeling. Well, they got what they could and came back to the station to fill out their reports.

The second call came in at about ten a.m. A robbery at the bank down on Pacific, near tenth. They had been there when the bank opened and were in and out without anyone seeing them. They had duct-taped all the staff and simply cleaned out the safe and the teller's cages. Fortunately, no one was hurt. The robbery was discovered when a customer came in and found them. Since Jim wasn't busy, I sent him out on that one, as well, again with Megan along as his partner. They came back arguing. Jim insisting that it was the same bunch as had hit the lumber mill, and Megan saying that was crazy, that burglars don't rob banks and vice versa. Jim insisted that the cigar smoke was the same. I called them into my office before they gave anything more to the rest of the staff; I mean, after all, they are detectives. I'm not looking forward to the rest of them figuring it out. When they do, the shit is really going to hit the fan. Three years is a long time to keep a secret from your coworkers and friends. They are not going to be happy. But they're good people. They'll forgive us, eventually. Anyway, I had to side with Jim on this one. He is, after all, the expert. Again, there was nothing else to go on but the latex glove smudges. Jim said that forensics should be able to connect the two scenes from the residue, as the gloves had to have something on them in order to leave smudges, just not anything he could trace.

We were still discussing the case when the next call came in. Another robbery. A convenience store, this time. We looked at each other and I sent them out. I wasn't really surprised that Jim came back with the news that it was the same group. Between the bank and the convenience store, we had two videos of our suspects. Unfortunately, they only confirmed that it was the same group. There were at least six of them, at least that's how many we could see. They were quick and professional. Ski masks, the thin, nylon kind that motorcyclists like under their helmets. Not the big, bulky ones they usually use on the slopes. Balaclavas, I think they call them. They were in and out in less than five minutes at the convenience store, only twelve minutes at the bank. Real professionals.

That was all, for Monday. Tuesday was worse. They robbed a gas station and shot a customer who was unlucky enough to walk in on them. The good news is that the victim will survive. That was at five-thirty in the morning. By the time Jim got to the scene at seven-thirty, the only thing left was the faint trace of cigar smoke...

I suppose that the shooting threw them off their game plan, because there was nothing else that day. In spite of the break, we still didn't get any further with the investigation. There just wasn't any evidence to suggest anyone. The four crimes seemed to have nothing in common. At least, not yet.

Wednesday, Blair came in with Jim. I was sorry to have to throw them into it before they had their coffee, but I'd just gotten another call. A donut shop, of all things. Only this time, there was a body... I was sorry to have to send Sandburg in on this. The murder was messy and gratuitous. The owner of the shop had started work at three in the morning. His clerk came in at four and found him. There wasn't a camera, this time, but something about it told me it was our gang. Jim confirmed it. Lucky for Sandburg, the body had already been removed. I decided to go to the scene with them. It's always interesting, watching Blair put Jim through his paces. The man has good instincts, I have to admit that. Particularly when one considers that he isn't a cop. Something I keep throwing in his face, I admit. He isn't a cop. But he'd be a good one, if he were. One of these days, I just may tell him. But not today. Today I need him to help his partner...again. This time, Jim gets a little more than cigar smoke. He picks up someone's aftershave. Blair does this thing where he kind of hypnotizes Jim, so he can go back and remember the previous scenes and pick up the same scent there. It amazes me, how they can do that. A lot of it is the trust they have in each other...a trust that's been sorely tested of late. Thank God they seem to have worked through it, for the most part. Although, I have noticed that they're a little careful around each other sometimes. But they're definitely better.

Unfortunately, we still didn't get much from this crime scene, either. I didn't need Jim's senses to feel the frustration he was feeling. That was visible just from watching his jaw spasm. He doesn't do that so much any more, either. Another sign that Sandburg is good for him, for all of us, really. He has such a fresh perspective on things...

We were still talking about the case when another call came in, a WonderBurger, in progress, shots fired. We jumped in our vehicles and I was hard-pressed to keep up with Jim's old truck. I guess there's a good reason to have a big engine, because that truck can fly, I'm telling you. I can make it up a little in the turns, but still...

We were on scene within five minutes. About three minutes too late. There were injuries, but no bodies, this time, for which we were all glad. A customer had made the call from their cell phone. They were at the drive up window and saw the guns. They just drove off and called. They came back to answer our questions. There were six perps. Matching the descriptions we had gotten from the videos. There was another tape here. Again, there was the scent of cigar smoke that Jim latched on to immediately, as well as the aftershave. We had gotten there before paramedics, so we rendered first aid. Blair is such an asset when it comes to dealing with people. He had the victims calmed down and remembering things even before we got all the bleeding slowed down. I have got to find a way to get this kid permanently on the payroll. He's wasting his time at the university. We need him here with us. Full time. Just don't tell him I said that. I'll deny it. Well, maybe. This time, someone saw a vehicle. Great. How many white SUVs do you think there are in Cascade, Washington? Yeah. Narrows it down some, I guess. No one got anything on the license plate or even the make of the vehicle, though.

Thursday wasn't any better. I came in to a local news crew sitting on the doorstep. Someone had leaked that the series of robberies were all connected. I told them 'no comment' but if you think that satisfied them, well, you've got another think coming. At least they didn't follow me into the building. Thank God. I called Jim and told him to park in the alley and sneak in the back way if he wanted to avoid the vultures. I could tell he hadn't slept, even over the phone. He takes his responsibilities to heart. There's no such thing as 'leaving it at the office' for Jim. When he's on a case, he's a real pit bull. Too bad there isn't anything for him to get a hold of on this one. I called him at home and gave him some more bad news, just half an hour later; there was another robbery, a jewelry store, this time. He and Sandburg went straight there, without stopping by the station. No bodies this time, at least. One new development, however. All the robberies were pulled off without any of the perps speaking. That means they've practiced until they don't have to talk. Could be something, maybe they're deaf? I asked. I was only joking, but Sandburg jumped on it. They watched all the videos of the robberies, but there weren't any signs or hand signals. Just well planned and executed robberies and murders. We decided that the gang must know each other very well, friends, perhaps. That gave Sandburg an idea. He requested a list of recently fired employees, or people who had applied for a job and been turned down. Listening to his ideas, I thought that he might just have hit upon the answer. At least, I hoped he did.

I guess the media monsters didn't have anything better to do, but they managed to waylay several of my people as they entered or left the building. They all said 'no comment', but the reporters started to get fidgety and rather rowdy, starting to make personal comments. At least they only targeted my people, who kept cool and, at least in Connor's case, laughed at them and asked them if they didn't have anything better to do than to hang out at the police station hoping for a story? That worked for a while but in the long run only made them more rabid. Then, just after lunch, they made the mistake of cornering Sandburg on his way back in. Stupid move on their part. Particularly since Jim and I were only about twenty feet behind the kid. He's nearly thirty, and I'm still calling him a kid. I guess it's an attitude thing. He seems so young, most of the time. But when they cornered him, right out front, his back against the wall, ignoring his pleas of 'no comment' and 'I'm sorry, but I have nothing to say' like a pack of rabid dogs Well, let's just say that Jim isn't the only one who can go into that 'Blessed Protector' mode. I'll admit it. I put my hands on some of them, pulling them back, I know a couple landed rather hard on their backsides; Jim right beside me, shoving and throwing people out of our way to get to the kid. I finally raised my voice and threatened the crowd of reporters with unlawful detention and harassment if they didn't back off and let the kid breathe

Several uniforms had to come out and help us; pushing back the crowd and helping us get inside. I couldn't believe it. Then, when we got back upstairs, I found several messages waiting for me from the mayor and the chief of police, wanting to know what we were doing on the case. I told Ellison and Sandburg to go back to work, that it was my job to answer the questions from the higher-ups and run interference for them, just to hurry up and get me something to report.

There was another robbery Thursday afternoon. A liquor store, this time. There were two casualties. The owner of the store was in ICU, and one of our perps was dead. He wasn't carrying any ID, but we had his prints and his picture, now. We went down to the morgue to take a look at him. Sandburg was, as usual, pretty squeamish about it, not that I can blame him. It was just a kid. He didn't look any older than my boy, Daryl. I had to fight down my own nausea; the owner of the liquor store had pulled a shotgun and blown the kid nearly in half, and the amount of blood had soaked through the covering sheet. Sandburg turned a really awful shade of green, not his color at all, but he managed to hold himself together. I'll admit that he impresses me. He'll do whatever he needs to do to help his partner, even if it means having nightmares for the next week. I envy them their relationship, sometimes. I know they think of me as a friend, but not the same as they see each other. Hell, most married couples don't have as good a relationship as those two If you tell them I said that, I'd call you a liar. Besides, I think they already know. Well, Dan Wolf mentioned that the kid wasn't more than eighteen, which made him most likely still in high school. I called Daryl and asked him to bring in one of his year books, thinking that we just might get lucky

If you can call it luck. By the time Daryl arrived, it was nearly four-thirty and the vultures from the media had pretty much given up for the day. I looked through the photos and found our perp. I asked Daryl if he knew him and was rewarded with a rundown on not only our DB, but half-a-dozen more members of the guy's clique. Daryl informed me that they were bad news. Bullies whose parents had a lot of money and sons without much sense. I knew the type. After all, Sandburg had only recently recovered from such a pair. Armed with a list of names, I approached Sandburg. He was still looking a little peaked from his visit to the morgue, but he was manfully searching his databases for possible connections between the victims.

I placed the list of names in front of him, on top of his hands on the keyboard. He froze, stared at the list of names, moved the sheet of paper and started typing furiously, without ever looking up at me. Less than a minute later, he sat back and smiled up at me in triumph. There on the screen was the same list of names. They had all recently written complaints to the owners of our victimized businesses for discourteous service. I couldn't believe it. I'd heard of people and businesses being targeted for denying someone a job, or firing someone, but just because they thought the service was bad? I couldn't believe it. But there it was. I'm so glad that my son isn't like that. I'm also glad that I'm not trying to raise a child now. Daryl's nearly grown, thank God; and he's showing such maturity and promise that I can hardly contain myself. I just hope he changes his mind and takes advantage of that scholarship. Even if he decides to become a cop later, I'd still like him to get a degree. Not that I'm not proud that he wants to follow in my footsteps, don't get me wrong, we've had some tough times together. But we've managed.

Sorry, I'm rambling, again. Hard not to, when the subject of my wonderful son comes up. OK, OK. I'll get back on track. Where was I? Oh, yeah. They were robbing and shooting people because they thought the service was less than perfect. The lumber mill had loaded a truck up before them; a bank teller had made them wait while she checked a signature card; the convenience store had refused to sell them cigarettes without ID; the gas station didn't take credit cards; the donut shop owner had asked them to leave because they were rowdy; the Wonder Burger had gotten their order wrong; the jewelry store had refused one of them credit; and the liquor store had turned down their fake IDs and refused to sell them beer.

I asked Daryl where this group hung out, and he told me that they didn't really go to any of the usual hangouts, but generally stuck to their upper-class neighborhood, being 'too cool' to come down to the more plebian levels of their classmates. Where does the kid find words like 'plebian'? I suspect more of the Sandburg influence. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. That's another thing I owe him. He's managed to help me bridge the gap that had chasmed between my son and me. Not to mention helping him with his schoolwork and bringing his grades up. Which is what resulted in that full scholarship that I want him to take advantage of. Anyway, Sandburg asked me where I got the list of names and I told him that they were classmates of Daryl's. He looked over into my office, where we could see my boy at my desk, working on his homework. Without prodding, I might add. Sandburg mentioned that I might want to keep my son close, just in case our new suspects figured out how we got on to them. Of course I agreed. Luckily, Daryl was staying with me that week, as his mom was off on a business trip. I am so glad that Joan wasn't around for me to deal with. Everything that happens seems to be my fault Like I could have kept Garrett Kincaid from taking the arena hostage and kidnapping the Jags, their coach, my son, Sandburg, and me. I mean, really Anyway, I agreed with Sandburg about my son, even to asking him to skip school the next day. He seemed surprised, until he realized why I was asking. I was so grateful that he didn't put up any kind of a fuss about it. Turns out he was a help.

Friday started out just as badly as the rest of the week had been. Only this time, we lost one of our own. One of the patrol units had pulled over a white SUV for a minor traffic violation. They had run a stop sign and the patrol car had pulled them over. For some reason, they didn't know or didn't remember or whatever reason it may have been, we'll never know, but they treated them like a simple vehicle code violation instead of the 'caution, may be armed and dangerous' alert that had gone out on a white SUV. Tragically, the two officers walked right up to the SUV and were shot. Lincoln is in critical condition, may or may not survive, may or may not ever walk again, may or may not hell. She took four bullets: one to the face, one in the shoulder and two to the body. We just don't know. She has a husband and three small kids. Damn. Sorry. I hate it when this happens. Collins was killed outright. Lucky him.

Sorry. It's hard when you know the people involved. They were good cops good people.

What? Oh, yeah. They had at least called in the license plate number. That gave us a name. Sure enough, it was one of the kids Daryl listed. The APB went out, along with the warning 'Armed and considered extremely dangerous'. When the vehicle was spotted, I was never happier to have my son with me, as they spotted it at the high school

Daryl wanted to come along, but I insisted he stay in my office, where I knew he'd be safe. I was grateful that he gave in as easily as he did, although he did give me some valuable advice: the five remaining members of the group had all their classes together and our best bet would be to go after them during lunch, as they usually left the campus and the other students would be out of the way. He's such a great kid. I had to promise to call him as soon as everything was under control, so he could stop worrying.

Well, we had four unmarked cars waiting for them: Jim and Blair in Jim's truck, Brown and Rafe, Megan and Joel, and me. Sometimes, I miss the vehicles Jim had before. They just weren't as distinctive as that 1969 blue and white Ford of his. Not exactly low profile at any rate. Good thing that Jim could keep track of our little car-load of suspects without having to be right behind them, while the rest of us kept dogging them, changing places, hoping we were keeping them off balance. Well, they were heading for home for lunch, from what we could tell, once they were out of the more crowded parts of the city, we decided to pull them over. Since Jim's got that big old tank, I told him to go for it as soon as the uniforms in patrol cars showed up.

Too bad those punks didn't follow the plan. I don't know if they spotted us, or what, but they rabbited. Stupid thing to do. Jim's truck may be just a two-wheel drive, but he's got twenty years of experience on them. I'm just glad they headed for the freeway and out of town. I'm a good driver. I know I tease and torment Ellison on his lack of driving skills; he does, after all, have horrible luck when it comes to using vehicles to stop bad guys, but he's really very good at the high-speed stuff. I don't know if it's the Sentinel thing, or just a Jim thing, but he can anticipate better than anyone I've ever seen. And in that old truck, with that big, powerful engine, there aren't many who can even keep up, let alone surpass him. Anyway, there I was, trying to keep up and yell into the radio at the same time. I'm lucky I didn't end up in the ditch. As it was, I was the last one in line following our little teen-aged hoodlums. Even from where I was, when they took that turn, I could see Jim's arm come across to hold Sandburg in place. Even with the seatbelt, Jim reacts that way. I thought only parents did that with their children Anyway, they managed to keep up with our suspects. From my position, I could see that Jim was trying to pass the SUV, maybe try and either box them in or force them off the road. Whichever it was, I was hoping for something not too damaging to either personnel or property. I really do not want to hear Ellison if he wrecks another vehicle in the line of duty. He's already spending more on his insurance than he is on his house payments. He needs to go another two years and a couple of months before his rates will go down after his Expedition was totaled. Whatever Jim was trying to do, the kids didn't want him anywhere near them. They kept swerving from one side of the road to the other.

They swerved right, then left, and Jim was right there, sliding up into the lane they were vacating as they were vacating it. By the time they realized what was happening, Jim was beside them and they only had the one lane to work with. Their SUV may have been the top of the line, with fuel injection and everything, but it simply didn't have the power of that old Ford with its big-block V-8. They tried to spook Jim (What a stupid idea that was) but all they did was scare themselves. After all, Jim doesn't worry about wrecking his vehicles in the line of duty, and he's a good enough driver to know how to crash. If anyone was going to get hurt, it was those kids. In the mean time, Megan was hot on Jim's bumper. As Jim accelerated away from the SUV, Megan slid right in behind him, not giving the kids any chance of cutting them off. Brown was right on the bumper of the SUV, and I was behind Megan. There was an extra passing lane coming up on the left, and I called for Brown to get into it to prevent the SUV from taking it. They nearly wrecked, pulling that maneuver, but they managed to keep the SUV in the middle. As they slid left, so did I. Now, Jim was a length ahead of them, Brown and Rafe on their left, Megan and Joel on their right, and me right on their bumper with several patrol cars close on my tail. Blair's voice came over the radio, warning us that they were going to pull ahead of the SUV and force them to stop.

Jim's truck is just a standard three-quarter ton pickup. It isn't raised, no special equipment; just a stock truck. He keeps it beautifully maintained and showroom clean. When he pulled in front of those kids, he switched on his headlights, which also lit his taillights. They thought he hit his brakes and slammed on their own. Good thing I was prepared. Jim did put on his brakes, about half a second after they had slammed on theirs. We all came to a nice, square stop, the SUV surrounded by us. Megan and Brown had pulled up so close to them that they couldn't get their doors open. Knowing that the kids were armed and that their car doors were no protection against a bullet, they immediately bailed out and hid behind the front of their cars, putting their engines between them and our suspects. Jim and Blair had bailed out, as had I. Everyone who had a gun had it pointed at our suspects, who were arguing with one another. Finally, they settled down and put their hands where we could see them. Jim was very careful, he had them open the passenger side front window and had them climb out, one at a time, where they were frisked and handcuffed and loaded into patrol cars. We found the guns, the masks, a whole lot of money and stuff from the robberies still in the SUV. The icing on the cake? They're all seventeen or eighteen, old enough to be tried as adults. I so much prefer that to having to pamper 'the poor children' who rob, maim and murder innocents. I'm sorry. Poor service is no excuse for murder, or robbery, for that matter. To me, poor service is best combated by a letter to the management and telling your friends not to go there. Hey, it works for me.

Well, as soon as we got our little perps sent off to the jail and impounded their SUV, I called my office to tell Daryl that everything was fine. That we had managed to avoid a shootout and even any vehicular damage (The kid had the nerve to ask if Jim had destroyed his 'hayseed' truck, like he hoped they had). OK, I admit it. I laughed at what Daryl said. Anyway, we got back to the station and started on the paperwork. By five-thirty, we had everything ready for the DA. I could see how tired everyone was. I figured that we needed a little bonding session, one with food and beverages, with designated drivers, just in case. I shouldn't have worried. My guys generally don't overindulge, for which I'm very grateful, I'll have you know. We went out for steaks. My treat. I know. I didn't have to spring for eight steak dinners, but sometimes it feels good to just do something nice for my crew. They are the best at what they do, after all. Of course, getting phone calls from the Mayor and the Chief of Police doesn't hurt our standing any, either. Of course, after the week we've had, we were all pretty tired and subdued. Which is why we didn't party all night.

So, it's Saturday and here we are at the track, in an 'owner's box'. Little Stogie is set to run in the ninth race. Jim's sitting next to me, with Sandburg at his side, followed by Megan, Brown, Rafe, Joel, and Daryl's on my right. Hey, the boy deserves to be with us. After all, he helped track down our perps. I'm drinking a beer, as are several of the others. Something occurs to me and I lean over to ask Jim a question.

"So, what about the cigars you kept smelling?" I asked.

He just grinned at me. "The driver. He was carrying them. Never lit them. They're Cuban, illegal in this country. He stole them from his dad."

"Oh? Do we need to raid 'daddy's' place?"

"Nah. Sandburg fixed them for when he picks up his son's stuff." Jim's got the most shit-eating smug look on his face

"So?" I gotta admit that I'm curious as hell.

"So, it seems that the brat wanted to play a trick on his father. All those cigars are loaded." I felt a twinge of annoyance. "You mean, like exploding cigars?" Our conversation had brought everyone else leaning close to hear.

"Yep. The kid thought that the cigars were a 'nasty habit'."

"Doesn't he know how dangerous that is?" Joel asked, pulling out his cigar case and offering cigars around to the rest of us. We all take one. Hey, Joel knows some refugee Cuban guy who makes all his cigars by hand, and they're wonderful. If I could only get him to share

Well, Daryl, Jim, and Blair decline, but that's to be expected. The last time Sandburg had a cigar I heard he was sick for days afterwards. Which I find amusing, by the way. Anyway, Joel continued on with his lecture.

"When I was still in the bomb squad, the guys who worked for me would slip me a loaded cigar every now and again. I can't tell you how many suits I ruined with their 'practical jokes'." We were all lighting up our cigars. Ahhhhh. There's nothing as fine as a good cigar.

"So, if you wanted to get someone to stop smoking, what would you do?" Daryl asked. I looked at him, concerned that he meant me.

"Well," Joel took a puff, "If I just wanted them to stop smoking cigars, I'd probably thread some hair through them, with a long needle." Everyone made a face, thinking how bad burning hair smelled and those who smoke were probably all imagining what it would taste like. I know that I was.

Just at that moment, the end blew off of my cigar and I jumped up, brushing the damn ember from my camelhair coat. I was furious. That was an expensive coat and my favorite, the last thing I wanted was to ruin it with a burning wad of tobacco.

"See!" Joel almost snarled. "That's what I'm talking about. Did you get it off you in time, Simon? That's too nice a coat to lose like that." He added.

"I'm fine, Joel. Yeah. I got it brushed off in time." I looked around. The other smokers had stunned looks on their faces, well, actually, they all had stunned looks on their faces. But then Daryl and Sandburg happened to look at each other, and burst out laughing. Then Jim joined in. The rest of us (smokers, all) stared at them. It could have been any one of us who had gotten the explosive cigar. As smokers, we didn't find anything amusing in it. That ember could just as easily have gone into someone's eye, had I been turned a different way

They kept laughing. Finally, Brown started to giggle. Then Rafe started chuckling. Finally, only Joel and I weren't laughing. There were tears streaming down my son's face, he was laughing so hard. Megan was whooping like a hyena, which was when Joel and I finally lost it. I mean, how often does the unusual occurrence you're talking about happen precisely when you're talking about it? We were all laughing so hard that we were gasping for breath. We laughed so hard that we missed the ninth race. We missed watching Little Stogie lead his race from wire to wire, winning by five lengths. We were still laughing when we got down to the winner's circle, barely containing ourselves for the photo.

For a week that started out so shitty, it sure ended well.

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to


Search for another story