The Fraud

Some rides in life lead us to lessons instead of destinations.

He was charming. Not in a cheesy or fake sort of way. It’s what attracted me to him as a friend. Everyone enjoyed being around Pete. We were friends before there was an in-crowd. He invited me into his inner circle once it had formed. Who was I to say no? Pete was a smart guy. Hooking our train cars to him seemed like a good idea at the time.

Pete was more than intelligent; he knew how to have a good time. There were office parties and happy hours. Everyone who was anyone wanted to be on the express this guy was building. I remember when our numbers grew to one hundred. We were on our way. Pete would pull us together, and inspire us to do more, build more, sell more, be more. He claimed to be the smartest man in the room, and nobody would argue with him.

The company continued to grow. More ‘A’ list talent rolled in the door. Whatever Pete was doing, it had to be amazing. I would hang around with people from top-notch universities, and the smartest minds in their field. Technology, logistics, marketing, the list goes on. Everyone wanted to be on board the Pete train. One day, we all felt our train cars jostle.

Water cooler rumors that the money was not coming in. Other whispers echoed in the hallways, subjects too obscene to mention. Maybe the train was heading off the rails, or perhaps the tracks were about to end. Pete and his buddies kicked a few off the train. Sacrificial lambs to save face and readjust thinking.

Then more rumors and adverse financial reports. Rumblings of Pete selling off his train of success. Then rumors Pete was a little too close to some of the crew. The party was beginning to end. Top talent started to leave. Then the buyout came. The light shined on the truth. Pete’s train was millions in debt. Debt that he managed to hide even from the new owners.

The inner circle. Those of us who believed in Pete and stood by him. The ones who kept shuffling the coal. The ones promised a piece of the prize when the train sold one day. We were all left in the cold. Everything we thought we had vaporized into thin air with the stroke of a pen. Pete had sucked millions from the sale and had left everyone else behind.

Some stuck around after that. Pete may have been a fraud, but talented people maintained the train. Eventually, it sold again. It was uncoupled and merged with other train cars. Some remained and rolled down the tracks of the new, stable company. Most of us have only memories of Pete’s train to success and his fraud.

A Moment in Paradise

Paradise is where you find it.

Kim walked down the dark, deserted street of the little mountain town. At 10 pm. the sidewalks rolled up, except for a couple of bars that carried a pub menu to look respectable. Nobody glanced in her direction as she ambled down the street. Kim looked down and scowled at her worn, tight jeans, and faded college t-shirt that told everyone she was just another dropout.

Kim stopped for a moment and forced herself to smile. Life was not all that bad. After all, Doreen had given her a part-time job at the tourist information center. Alice had given her a room in exchange for maintenance on the house. A glow in the sky coming from the next town over caught her eye.

She winced at the thought of the college town nearby. Self-absorbed professors strutted around like royalty. They would stroll down the sidewalks looking down their noses at the locals. The townspeople appreciated their business but scowled as the elitists left their stores. The sleepy college village was now segregated between those with PhDs and those who built the town.

These same professors would talk class after class about the oppressed, and examples of injustice weren’t hard to find on campus. Kim’s roommate slept with a professor just to get an ‘A.’ The roommate had no concerns for his wife and children, nor the fact he was sleeping with other students. Kim had grown tired of the hypocrisy. If these were the people she would spend her life working around, she preferred to walk away.

It only took a ten-mile drive to find her new world. People here welcomed everyone, even the college dropouts that meandered through town. Fashionable cars driven by stylish people would park next to old rusty pickup trucks. Vehicles that coughed and smoked would start up next to high dollar imports. Nobody minded. Everyone was equal, and everyone smiled and waved to one another.

Kim leaned against a light pole and looked towards the local bar and restaurant. Patrons filled the patio on this late summer night. The owner, Patricia, walked back from a table and spied Kim. She smiled and waved. Kim smiled, waved back, and rested her head against the pole. She was not sure where she would end up, but for now, she would stay in paradise.

A Deadly Struggle

Sometimes we are called to fight for our lives.

Darren felt the blackness begin to give way to gray. Pain shot through his skull. His lips felt sticky as he opened his mouth. The metallic taste of blood touched his tongue. His world started coming into focus, and then pain shot up through his body. Darren sucked in his breath, and everything rushed into view.

Headlights blinded him, and he turned his head. A body laid on the ground with a cell phone next to its open palm.

His chest tightened, and he whispered, “Deborah.”

He looked around, and his world started to spin. Darren slowed his movements. To his horror, Deborah’s head hung limply against her shoulder, and her body rested bleeding against the doorframe. Deborah’s eyes stared blankly at the broken windshield.

He tried to reach for her, but his arm would not move. He looked down and saw a bone sticking out past his elbow. Darren stared and wondered why it didn’t hurt.

He looked back at Deborah and then to the crinkled ceiling near his head. Tears started to stream down his cheeks. “Take me, please! Don’t take her, take me.”

Blue and red lights began to light up the car. Someone walked up and looked inside. Darren pleaded, “Please help Deborah. I’ll be okay.”

The man standing outside yelled towards the red flashing lights, “Hey, this guy has multiple compound fractures, and his legs appear crushed under the dash! The woman is unresponsive.”

A female medic yanked on the passenger door, but it would not budge. The policeman and EMT yanked and pulled. The door finally gave way with a screech. Another medic appeared, and they both gently lifted Deborah out of the car and laid her on the ground. They checked her vitals and began to administer CPR. Darren prayed.

A policeman brought a blanket and placed it on top of Darren. Tears began to flow down Darren’s face. Two Firemen walked up and began discussing where they would put the jaws of life to rip the car’s cockpit open and free him.

One of the medics with Deborah hollered, “I have a pulse!”

Could it be true? Darren looked towards the activity around Deborah. Oxygen was over her mouth, and an IV needle was being taped off.

The female EMT looked in Darren’s direction, “She’s stabilizing. I think she’ll be alright, sir. Why don’t we take care of you now?”

Darren laid his head back against the seat and quietly thanked God for saving Deborah.

Suddenly, a fiery pain ran up his body, and he gasped for air. The agony he had been blocking came rushing in like a flood. Someone stuck a needle in his arm. The pain started to retreat, and Darren felt himself smile as he drifted off to sleep.

Bitten

Careful where you step.

Jerry’s pace quickened against the crisp mountain air. Dusty clouds emitted from his jogging shoes as he traveled up the dirt road. A view of the Rockies was on his left and an Aspen covered slope on his right. His agile legs expertly guided his feet around the rocks that could twist his ankle.

The smell of pine and fresh air filled Jerry’s nostrils, and a smile remained transfixed across his face. The dirt road turned sharply and substantially increased in grade. His leg muscles started to burn. The smile left his face for a few moments before it returned, and the burning disappeared.

The sun was beginning to break over some of the lower crests, and its warm glow fell on the back of Jerry’s t-shirt. He turned the next switchback, and the sun heated his face. He glanced up at the clear, blue sky when a sudden pain struck his right ankle mid-step. Instinctively, he kicked and saw the small rattlesnake go flying off into the bushes.

He stuttered, wobbled, and stumbled. The blood swiftly pumping through Jerry’s veins began to burn.

Jerry let himself collapse in the middle of the road. He screamed, and the morning’s smoothie ejected from his stomach. Tearing at his shirt, he fashioned a tourniquet using a nearby stick. His hot muscles and veins fought against the restriction put upon them.

Jerry blocked his instincts to stop tightening the torn fabric and twisted the stick between gasps for air. Dizzy and nauseous, he worked to control his breathing.

He had wanted a quiet run, and now it looked like he was going to die in the effort. The minutes ticked by, and his right leg became numb below the tourniquet. Looking down, his toes and foot looked as though they would pop if someone poked them with a needle.

An unnatural rumble emitted from the bottom of the valley. Jerry blinked, shook his head, and strained to decipher the sound below. Whatever it was, it was climbing up the dirt road. The distinct sound of an engine began to grow louder, and Jerry said a prayer of thanks.

A black jeep appeared around the bend and Jerry hollered and waved with everything he had left. The red-headed driver stopped and jumped out. Her tight hiking outfit and boots fit her girlish figure like a glove.

Jerry gasped, “A rattlesnake bit me.”

“Don’t move,” insisted the young woman.

The hiker went back to her jeep and got one of her walking sticks.

“Grab hold of this. I’ll take your other shoulder and help you up. Then we’ll get in the jeep.”

Jerry managed to keep his foot off the ground. A warm wave rose from his stomach to his chest, and the road rose and fell under his feet. He swallowed hard, and they worked their way over to her jeep.

The young woman already had the passenger seat tilted forward, and Jerry eased into the rear. He laid there on his back with his foot elevated. She grabbed an ace bandage from her first aid kit, and the two of them tied off his tourniquet. Dialing 911 on her cell she jumped in the front seat, turned the jeep around and made her way back down the mountain to meet the ambulance.

“If you don’t mind me asking, why didn’t you have a cell phone?”

Mumbling through the pain, he responded, “Solitude.”

The young woman glanced at him over her shoulder, “Judging from that swollen foot, I think your running days may be over.”

Jerry attempted to smile, his voice strained, “Maybe. There’s always swimming.”

“Does that mean next time I’ll find you floating in one of the lakes?”

“Possibly.”

The woman reached back with one hand grasping at the air. Jerry grabbed her hand for a moment. “My name’s Maria.”

Although he was wincing with pain, the conversation was keeping his mind occupied. “I’m Jerry. Thanks for the rescue.”

The ambulance appeared ahead, and she pulled to the shoulder. The EMTs brought the gurney to her vehicle and Maria hastily scribbled something on the back of a card from her purse. She walked over and put it in Jerry’s hand.

“Don’t lose this. It has my business number on the front and my cell phone on the back. Let me know how things turn out. Maybe we can go to dinner sometime, and you can tell me how you managed to avoid this from happening until now.”

Jerry looked into Maria’s bright, blue eyes and muttered. “Remind me to thank that snake later.”

The EMTs delivered a quick dose of pain medicine and pushed the gurney into the ambulance. Jerry felt himself relax and closed his eyes.