Sunday, April 29, 2018

Dinner for Who?

Dinner for Who?
By Michael Cannata

The dinner crowd was finally settling at their tables, drinks in hand, preparing for the evening's entertainment. As the staff started serving, I couldn't help getting anxious. Tonight's dinner show was going to be something completely different.

My wife and our close friends loved going to the trendy, "Murder Mystery Dinners," where the dinner guests tried to solve a crime that would be played out by actors over the course of the meal. I found them childish and less than interesting. Most were held to raise money for charities and, knowing the money was going toward a good cause, made it hard to get out of going. My wife and I were considered pillars of our little community. Even after twenty-five years of marriage, I loved my wife more than life itself. If attending these parties made her happy I was more than willing to do it for her.

I tried my best to take part in the fun but rarely found the "mystery" challenging. The closest thing to a murder weapon was often the food on the menu. Frequently, the identity of the "killer" became pretty obvious far too early to make the mystery last. On the rare occasion where it was cleverly done, the various guests at the tables could get caught up in the game to the point where emotions got involved. The more serious amateur detectives would go so far as to start demanding that real detectives be called in to verify their solution. When their suspects were found to be the wrong man, shouts of cheating and fraud would ring out from the biggest donors with the worst guesses.

At the last event we attended, the reality that I could be bored to death occurred to me along with an idea that I found oddly appealing.  What would happen if an amateur murderer committed a real murder in front of all those amateur detectives?  As a doctor I knew lots of ways to kill people. It was always something I wanted to try. When I got home I started to give it serious thought. Once my most devious plan was complete I knew I had to put it into action.  I'd decided that making a few changes to the script would make the game a lot more interesting.

The dinner guests at tonight's party would have to guess the identity of the fantasy killer as always. Unbeknownst to tonight's guests this game would have an additional twist.  If things went as planned, somewhere between the main course and desert someone at one of the tables would suffer an agonizing, painful death. Unfortunately, and much to the shock of the audience, they wouldn't be acting. Some unlucky soul would enjoy the last meal of their life.

The suspense was excruciating. I couldn't be sure the guest would even eat their meal. And the possibility of someone I liked becoming the victim was something else to consider. However,  to make the game fair, everyone had to be a player. Fortunately, my wife and I would be safe. The menu tonight featured two main dishes, stuffed chicken breast and stuffed lobster tail. My wife and I would be having the chicken.

Once we got a tour of the large kitchen, one of the potential crimes scenes, the rest was easy. It had been a simple effort to put the poison into one of the large stuffed lobster tails that sat waiting to be prepared. The stuffing at this particular restaurant was always a favorite of the guests. I counted on at least that part of the meal being consumed.

Once things were in place, all that remained was to sit back and watch the scene play out. I already knew who the killer was. Who would die was the real mystery. Who was I going to kill? Even I had no idea. Finally, I was going to experience a new thrill, watching a show that featured a real murder.

I could hardly contain my excitement as they started serving the main course. For once this really was going to be a true, "Mystery Murder." I hoped the guests would enjoy this as much as I was going to. My wife couldn't help but take notice of my obvious interest in the evening's festivities.

            "Well, finally!" she remarked with a smile. "We seem to have found a show that interests this stuffed shirt of a husband I have here!" Her joke elicited hearty laughter from the table at large. I kissed her hand lovingly.

            "Why shouldn't I be interested?" I said, going along with the joke. "This crime takes place in a hospital setting. Solving this one should be easy. Obviously, if my guess is right, the doctor will have done it."

            As the waiter was serving the guest next to me he accidentally spilled some gravy on my dinner jacket. Too excited to be angry, I excused myself to wash up in the men's room. I chatted with a friend for a few minutes before explaining that I didn't want my dinner to get too cold or my wife to get too hot over my absence.

            It was when I took my seat that I discovered how horribly wrong my plans had gone. While I was away from the table, my wife had swapped her chicken with her friend's lobster. I tried to hide my rising panic. I kept telling myself that the odds were 100 to 1 that she would get the tainted plate. She was finishing the last of the stuffing and lobster as she marveled over the flavor. It was her first time trying lobster. As she started to cough during desert and suddenly excused herself, I knew it would be her last as well.

            When the screams started coming from the ladies room, along with shouts to "Call 911," I knew the show was over. I rushed to her side giving what aid I could but I knew better than anyone, there was nothing to be done.

            Fortunately for me, they never had to figure out who killed her. Her death was ruled a severe allergic reaction, just as I had planned. When it came to medicine I was a renowned specialist. As I quietly mourn my loss, unable to ever reveal my part in her death, I often remind myself of the lesson learned that night.

            I discovered in a cruel but well deserved way that I'd never imagined while losing the one person in the world that mattered…

…murder is not for amateurs.


By Michael Cannata

"Another day, another dollar!"

He repeated that old saying to himself every morning as he got ready to go to work. He gathered his things and set out for the new job site. It was such a beautiful day that he decided to walk rather than take the bus. He enjoyed the early morning air. It always seemed so much fresher and cleaner to him. By the afternoon, the trucks and cars belching their smoke and smog into the air made it almost impossible to breath.

He checked his backpack to be sure he had all his gear. He worked outside so having the right clothing was essential if he expected to put in a full day. He remembered how badly his first day on the job had gone. The weather had been nice in the morning, just like today. Without warning, around noon, dark clouds rolled in along with a cold front. By 3:00pm he was wet, freezing and pissed off. He was forced to leave early, a mistake that cost him some serious money. Money he couldn't afford to lose.

After awhile he got his routine down. He was always prepared for the weather now. His job site changed depending on the day and the weather. Today the site was only about a two mile walk. He liked walking in the empty city streets of early morning. It kept him fit and got his blood flowing. By the time he got to his job he was warmed and ready to go to work. Some days he would stop for a coffee and a muffin; most of the time he just enjoyed the brisk walk as he headed to work.

He checked his pockets for loose change. He had two quarters, a dime, a nickel and two pennies. At the newspaper stand he bought five pretzel rods for a quarter. The pretzels were one of his favorite snacks. He was never much for a big breakfast. He would nibble on the pretzels over the morning. As he passed the fountain in the park he tossed a penny in and wished for the same thing he wished for everyday.

He tried not to let the thought into his head but, as usual, it insisted on intruding and ruined his good mood. He thought about his wife and son and wondered how they were doing. It had been over a year since he last talked with them.  Every day he decided that that would be the day he called them again. And each time he went to the payphone he would recall the last conversation between him and his wife. The memory of that angry call would make him think better of it.

The last time he phoned her the call didn't end well. They never did. The conversation would always start off pleasant enough. But whenever he brought up the subject of reconciliation, the pleasant nature turned first to pain and then to one of anger. He had made too many promises, and then broken them again, along with her heart. She would never take him back. He knew it was hopeless. At this point he just wanted her to know how much he loved them still.

He had the chance to make some good money today. It was Friday and the long summer days offered a better opportunity to put in some overtime. He had an 11:00am appointment that he couldn't miss. He hated to lose his spot on the best day of the week… payday. He would be cutting it close, but he thought he could make it to the methadone clinic and back before the lunch crowd hit the streets.

He put what little change and the dollar bill he had left into his cup. His "seed money," he called it. He found that people were more apt to drop some change into his cup if there was already money in it. He settled into a spot near his favorite corner. He set out his hand lettered sign that read, "Homeless and hungry… please help." The sign was getting pretty worn. He would have to scavenge some new cardboard for another one.

He started his job pan-handling like he did every day, with little hope and less money. As he waited for the commuters to start arriving for work at the train station, he thought again about his wish. Maybe today it would come true and he'd win that lottery.  Maybe even win back his family. If he was lucky, he might have enough for a sandwich and that lottery ticket before the evening rush hour.

He thought again about his family as he watched the pedestrians walk hurriedly past, most of them never so much as glanced in his direction. Those that did looked right through him. He let out a long sigh and wished for change in more ways than one.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Photograph

The Photograph
By Michael Cannata

The police officer asked me for my license and registration after pulling me over. I’d committed a crime that most people commit every day. "A rolling stop," was what he called it. I took out my wallet and rummaged through the compartments searching for my driver's license.

As I pulled it out and handed it to the officer, a small folded photograph that had stuck to the back dropped out. It had been awhile since I last looked at it and had forgotten it was there.

As it fluttered to the ground, the memory that it captured came flooding back, along with a myriad of emotions. It had been taken back in my first year of college. The girl had been someone I'd met at a dance the night it was taken. I took it at the end of our first date. For me it actually was my first real date. She was such a beautiful young woman then. I could still see her deep blue eyes and recalled how alluring they were.

We danced, apart at first, but as the evening went on we danced closer. She pressed herself hard against me and I could feel her firm young breasts rise and fall as she breathed deep. I felt her bra strap as I held her tightly.

We went for a drive after the dance and she flirted with me all the way to the place where we parked. I pulled her to me as we made out and I started rubbing her breasts. I was young, eager and very inexperienced. In my haste I fumbled and tore some buttons off; making a complete fool of myself as I tried to undress her while we kissed under the stars. I apologized for being so anxious.

She seemed to tense up but did nothing to stop me and I could feel her heartbeat grow faster. Still, she smiled nervously and said nothing, doing her best to help me stay calm. She helped me remove her blouse and bra with her trembling hands. She breathed heavily and deeply as I stared at her naked body. She remained still as I ran my own trembling hands over her cool skin.  I appreciated her patience and told her so.

"It's my first time," I said sheepishly.

"It's OK," she replied nervously. "It's mine, too.  You can do what you want. Just go slow and please don't hurt me," she whispered. "We can do anything you want!"

"It won't hurt, I promise," I told her. And, as best as I remember, it didn't. To this day every time I think of her eyes I still get excited. In fact, I found my loins stirring as the officer picked up the picture and unfolded it.

Of course he didn't see her eyes. Her head was missing when I took the picture after a long night of, well, I called it lovemaking, but she probably didn't consider it anything of the sort. But that night was so very long ago and I was a much stronger man. If the officer had stopped me that night I would have fought much harder if he tried to arrest me.

"My first kill," I offered casually as he looked at me with fright in his eyes and drew his gun. His hands were shaking worse than mine did the night I cut her to ribbons.

"Some moments are just too precious to let pass without taking a photograph. Don't you agree?"

I quietly followed his commands and allowed him to handcuff me without a fight. I wished I could have taken a picture of his horror stricken face as he arrested me. I wondered what the detectives who would investigate my crimes would think when they saw the dozens of other pictures hidden in my bedroom closet.

When it came to pictures I always had a good eye. Unfortunately, my dates in the photographs never had any.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

My Drinking Daze

My Drinking Daze
By Michael Cannata

           "The more you drink, the better looking I'll get. Hahaha!"

            I used this line on the night I met my future wife. It worked like a charm. Of course, it took me my entire week's budget to buy enough drinks to get her to the point where she agreed with me, but it was worth it.

            My drinks didn't change things much as far as she was concerned. She was already damn good-looking. Drinking just made her a lot more desirable, especially since she had a car. Fortunately, by the time I'd won her heart she was in no condition to drive. I knew she was the one for me as she stood outside the cab barfing delicately. I was thrilled when she called me and said she looked forward to going out again. It meant a lot. Because I had no idea where she lived and had lost her number.

            When we first met, my wife and I couldn't keep our hands off each other. We didn't need to drink to make love. Drinking just added an extra level of unabashed passion to our lovemaking. It also made the act a lot feistier. When it came time to propose, being a man of little self confidence, drinking helped a lot. I still wonder just how much her drinking had to do with her agreeing to marry me.

            I had a few drinks on my wedding day… before the ceremony. Not that I needed them. But the drinks helped steady my frayed nerves. We both continued drinking well into our wedding night. By the time we we're ready to consummate the ritual, we were both too blotto to remember what to do. So, for the first time on a Friday night since the day we met, we did what most newlyweds rarely do. We slept together… deeply. Fortunately, drinking made the snoring much easier to deal with.

            I celebrated the night my son was born by having a few drinks with a dozen friends. Or maybe it was a dozen drinks with a few friends. Whatever! I spent the entire night telling everyone what a beautiful boy, little Seagram, was. No one questioned the name until the next day. To this day, Steven, stills gets a kick out of the story. Knowing he loved to hear it, I told it every time I had some drinks in me.

            I drank a lot more when I was younger. In my 20's, I would finish a beer in half the time I did in my 40's. To make up for that, I drank twice as much as I got older to help keep things in balance.  By that reasoning, I'd only get half as drunk, twice as often. I think. Of course, math had never been a strong point, so I'm not sure it all added up. Doing math always made me want a drink so I can't honestly say it worked.

            I never drank while I was working during the week; like most of my friends I worked on my drinking on the weekends. Don't get me wrong! I'm not the kind of guy who got drunk a lot. Neither was my wife. Drinking was just something we did as a social habit. Perhaps, it's because most people at the functions we attended were drinking too. More likely, it was because drinking made being social when attending those parties a lot easier.

            Like most responsible people, I drank in moderation. I averaged about a beer a day. Unfortunately, most of the 30 beers I drank in a month were consumed over one or two weekends. Football season raised that average a lot. I blamed my friends for that since they were almost always around when the drinks started flowing.

            My wife and her friends loved to sit in the other room, drinking their elegant wine and ridiculing their beer guzzling husbands. They didn't consider wine a drink. To them it was more like a desert. To the guys… beer was the meal.

            As time passed, we slowed our lovemaking down… a lot. Eventually, any time we ended a good night out by frolicking under the sheets, we were usually about 3 sheets to the wind. We always agreed that it was still true. When we drank, we both looked a hell of a lot better.

            As the years went by, drinking became an obstacle that made the athletic element of sex a lot more difficult. Falling off the bed could sober us up in a very rude way. Not to mention that it would wake the kids. We tried our best to avoid any complicated positions. The whole top or bottom decision was resolved when we mastered the face-to-face position. Lying on our side allowed us to make love without either of us having to lift anything off the bed. Drinking also added to the humor. My wife once pointed out that my foreplay wasn't as good, particularly, when I got real tipsy and spent ten minutes feeling her shoulder up.

            I never let my kids see me drink too often when they were growing up, so I tried to avoid hanging out with my kids. Being responsible was pretty hard since I'm a pretty irresponsible guy by nature. My wife is the mature one and she was the one that finally put an end to our drinking. She explained that if I didn't stop drinking I would lose her. It was true. I almost lost her a couple of times at footballs games that year.

            We don't drink much anymore. Life has a way of sobering you up as you get older. For me, it happened when my son announced the name of our first granddaughter. He named her, Morgan. He and his wife giggled as they told us just how much influence, Captain Morgan rum, had on that decision. His drinking days were just starting, while mine were long gone. I envied him a little. I hoped he'd be a lot more responsible than I was. But in today's world, what choice does he have?

            My still beautiful wife and I celebrated the birth of our first grandchild with a bottle of wine that had our heads spinning before it was finished. As we wobbled up the stairs, I got a good look at her rear-end. I remember thinking… damn… it still works!

            I'm not ashamed that I drank. It was what my generation did to have fun. The shame usually comes when I remember some of the crazy stories that happened because of drinking. I was going to write some of the best of them down, and I will.

            Just as soon as I have a few drinks in me.