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A fun, entertaining and uplifting read with over 60 reviews – 4.3 Stars out of 5.

Juan’s life is about to change, unfortunately, not for the better. “This can’t be my life!” If you’ve ever felt trapped in a life that you wish had turned out differently, or wondered, “Where is God?” this suspense-filled Christian fantasy will captivate you. This is the story of two men whose paths cross briefly during their childhood, then again during adulthood. Juan does his best to lead a normal life, after a freakishly bizarre accident. While trying to establish some kind of normalcy and dealing with the strange side effects, he finds himself caught up in a web of suspense and danger as he tries to help a friend bring an evil, cunning, and power hungry ego-maniac to justice. In the process, Juan receives a very special gift.

“This is not a fairy tale…as you’re reading along don’t be surprised if you smile often and even laugh out loud. Diogenes is a great story teller.” – Fr. David McBriar O.F.M.

Book Rating: PG13

Diogenes Ruiz

e   x   c   e   r  p   t

[Web-Dorado_Zoom]
  • The New Neighbors

Juan Arias was an ordinary twelve-year-old kid living in a middle income household. The downturn in the economy had hit everyone hard. Fortunately, no one in the Arias household experienced a layoff. Maria was a preschool teacher, and Ron was a programmer for a large software company in Cary, North Carolina. They were good parents and the bedroom community of Cary suited them fine.

Fortunately, Maria’s work schedule permitted her the flexibility to cook dinner for her family. Early on in their marriage, Ron and Maria agreed on two priorities for their family. The first was to eat dinner together as a family as often as possible. Second, was their decision not to impose any religious baggage on their children.

Whenever the subject of religion came up, Ron would say, “When they are old enough, they can choose a religion if they so desire.” Maria and Ron were practical people. Although they had both been raised Catholic, neither were practicing Catholics. They attended their local church on Christmas and Easter, as a nostalgic ritual from their youth. That was about as far as they wanted their religious influence to go.

Juan was not an athletic kid. He preferred to read and take pictures, lots of them. There was something magical about taking a picture. He could see something everybody else could see, and yet, it was his way of looking at it that made it unique. He would see texture and the juxtaposition of elements, where most people only saw a bunch of rocks, or he would see the interplay of light and shadow as they created exquisite patterns, where most people saw a rusty toolbox.

Juan loved his little sister, Angie, and was protective of her. He was a good big brother.

It was Wednesday the week after Thanksgiving and the Arias family had just sat down to dinner. All the Thanksgiving leftovers were gone, so Maria decided to make her traditional spaghetti and meatballs, which happened to be Juan’s favorite. Then came a knock at the door.

Ron reluctantly got up from his plate of hot spaghetti and meatballs. When he answered the door, he was greeted by a tall gentleman in his forties. His well sculpted chin and thin mustache reminded Ron of Errol Flynn, one of his favorite movie stars from the 1930’s. Alongside the stranger, stood a boy. He appeared to be the man’s son. At once, Errol Flynn smiled and held out his hand to shake Ron’s hand.

“Good evening, I’m Blake McPride, and this is my son Monty. We’ve rented the house across the street for a couple of months until the one we are building is completed. This was in our mailbox, but I believe it belongs to you. The mail carrier placed it in our box by mistake.”

Ron took the magazine. He figured that it was probably delivered as a promotional trial since he had not ordered it. He did not invite them in. His stomach was grumbling, and all he could think about was the spaghetti and meatballs getting cold on his plate. He wanted to keep this short and not appear to be rude, but the spaghetti was calling. “Why, thank you.” He held out his hand. “It’s good to meet you both. Welcome to the neighborhood. If there is anything we can do to help you get situated, just let us know.”

“Thank you, Ron. Well, goodnight. Come on, Monty.”

Just then, Maria came up behind Ron, “Who’s at the door?”

“This is Mr. Blake McPride and his son Monty. They are renting the house across the street for a couple of months until the construction of their new home is completed. This is my wife, Maria.”

“It’s nice to meet you Mr. McPride, and you too Monty.”

By now Juan and Angie were also at the door. Maria put her hands on their shoulders. “This is our son Juan and our daughter Angie.”

Mr. McPride smiled at each of the children. “It’s nice to meet you both.”

Monty kept silent and looked off to the side. He did not seem interested in this ritualistic formal introduction.

Maria raised her hand and motioned to them. “Won’t you come in, we’re just about to sit down and have dinner? There is plenty. Where is Mrs. McPride? She is welcome to join us as well.”

“My wife passed away last year. It’s just the two of us now.” Mr. McPride glanced at Monty. “Thank you for your generous invitation. Monty and I have reservations at Chateau Croix. I’m having dinner with a colleague. There’s some last-minute company business that needs attention before the big move.”

“Oh I see.” Maria felt bad that the boy had lost his mother. She wondered how, but did not want to pry. “I’m so sorry about Mrs. McPride.”

Blake McPride paused for a moment. “Thank you, yes, we miss her very much.” Monty remained silent and continued to look off into space.

Maria wondered what the new neighbor did for a living. “What kind of business are you in, Mr. McPride?”

Ron froze at the thought of having to stand at the door much longer while their dinner got cold. Why on earth did his wife want to prolong this conversation? Surely this was not the time to get into a question and answer session with the new neighbors. His stomach growled and he pictured his fresh hot spaghetti turning into a clump of petrified mess. He would need a chisel and hammer instead of a knife and fork.

“We develop products for the medical industry. The company is being relocated to Research Triangle Park from Sacramento.” He looked at his watch. “Well, we’d better get going. I don’t want to be late for my dinner meeting. Thank you again for your hospitable invitation.”

Ron and Maria waved. Maria said goodbye for the Arias family. “It was nice to meet you. Let us know if you need anything.”

Blake McPride waved as he and Monty turned to leave.

Ron quickly closed the door and made a beeline back to the dining table. Maria and Angie followed.

Juan peeked through the curtain as the new neighbors left. “The new boy must be a couple of years older,” Juan thought. “Maybe he’s from another planet.” There was something about him that made Juan uneasy. Maybe it was the way he looked into space while his father was talking. He thought about it for a moment, but that wasn’t it. It was the way Monty glanced at him occasionally with what seemed to be a glare of anger in his eyes. Maybe it was nothing, Juan thought. “Maybe I just imagined him giving me a dirty look.” Then, as he was about to turn away from the crack in the curtains through which he was peeking, he saw Monty fall behind just enough to be out of Mr. McPride’s view. Monty looked around quickly to make sure nobody was watching. Juan crouched down behind the curtain. “What was this new kid up to?”

As Juan continued his surveillance, Monty turned and quietly deposited a ferociously large glob of spit on the Arias mail box handle. Nobody suspected that he was accumulating his mega spit bomb as his father spoke with Maria and Ron. At last, he released it on its target. It oozed down the sides of the handle and the front of the mailbox. Monty looked at it and was glad of the slimy surprise which he hoped would be evident to the next person who opened the mailbox. He shuffled to catch up to his father, but before he did, he quickly glanced at the small crack in the sheer curtains and spotted Juan looking at him. Juan’s heart thumped. He was sure it would pop out of his chest. He froze with horror as he realized that he had been spotted. Monty’s look clearly conveyed, “If you tell, you’re dead.” The look was punctuated with a creepy smile. Then Monty turned and caught up to his father already halfway across the street. Juan made a dash for the dining room table and sat down looking at his plate of spaghetti and meatballs.

Ron took a bite of his food. “It looks like we have new neighbors, at least temporarily. Hmm honey, you make the best spaghetti. I couldn’t wait to get rid of them so we could get down to business and eat.”

“Ron, I know you were eager to get rid of them, but we have to be polite. They seem nice enough, too bad about his wife passing away. The son looks to be about Juan’s age, maybe a little older. What did you think of Monty, Juan? Perhaps you can be friends and help him make the transition to his new home?” Maria observed that Juan was not eating. “What’s the matter, Juan? You haven’t touched your food.”

“I’m not hungry, lost my appetite.”

Maria touched Juan’s forehead to feel for fever. “Are you feeling OK? Spaghetti and meatballs are your favorite.”

“I feel fine.” His thoughts were on what he had just witnessed, and he wondered what to do. If he told his parents, who knew what this new kid would do. He looked a little crazy. Perhaps it best not to tell and just hose down the mailbox after dinner. “No, I’m fine, mom, just not hungry.”

Ron held up the magazine. “Oh, and they delivered this.”

Juan glanced up at Ron. Then he realized what was in his father’s hand. He popped out of his seat, ran over to Ron and grabbed the magazine out of his hands. He ran back to his chair and placed it neatly on the table.

“Hey, pal, what’s going on? You grabbed that as though your life depended on it.”

“It does!” He flipped through the pages. “I ordered a subscription.”

Maria and Ron both looked at each other. “You did? Why?”

Juan looked at his parents with an inquisitive look as if they should know the answer to that question. “Cause it has the best photography ever. That’s why. I saved my allowance and used it to get a three-year subscription.”

“Three years? You might not even like the magazine in three years.”

Juan ignored his Dad’s comment and started to shove spaghetti into his mouth as he carefully turned the pages. He didn’t want to get any sauce on them.

Maria noticed how her son was eating. He reminded her of a hungry caveman. “Got your appetite back, huh? Speaking of photography, what were you taking pictures of out in the back yard this afternoon?”

Juan took a break from gazing at his magazine. “We have to take photos for a project in school.”

“What kind of project?” Ron asked.

“We have to take pictures of Easter stuff. You know, rabbits, eggs, stuff like that.”

Ron was a little annoyed that his son should be involved in this kind of project. After all, they were in a public school, and religion has no place in school. “Why is Mrs. Arnold having you do that kind of project? She’s is not supposed to be teaching religion, is she?”

“No, we don’t have religion class, Dad. We’re learning about different people and their customs and rituals. The next one is going to be on Chanukah. She wants us to learn about them, that’s all.”

Ron looked at Maria. She knew how strongly he felt about keeping religion out of school. There was no place for “God” or other superstitions in today’s fast-paced world. Those who believed in such nonsense were usually the uneducated or people who had some kind of guilt or insecurity that could probably be cured by a few sessions of good psychotherapy, not a life of religion and idol worship. Ron was proud to be head of his secular family.

Maria ignored Ron’s frustration. “I’m sure you’ll do well, dear. Now close your magazine and finish your dinner. You can look at it afterwards.”

Ron chimed in. “What a waste of time. If you asked me, they should be learning about computer programming. It’s the future!”

“I hate computer programming.” Juan knew where this conversation was heading. He could mouth the words. His father said the same thing every time.

“Better that than a starving artist, Juan.”

“I’d rather be starving photographer than a computer nerd!”

Maria looked at Ron. He knew what she was thinking. “Do you have to start with that again?” She turned to Juan. “Now, now, let’s not argue. You’ll have plenty of time to figure out what you want to do.”

Juan was undeterred. “I know what I want to do. I want to take pictures for this, National Geographic, the best magazine in the world!” He was defiant as he held up his prized copy. His subscription was official. It was like a rite of passage. Photography was his life.

Ron stared at the familiar yellow border of the magazine in Juan’s hand.

“Printed magazines are going to be a thing of the past very soon.” Ron was a practical man and his brief sense of nostalgia as he looked at the bright yellow border was overtaken by his sense of practicality.

Juan’s excitement was not at all deflated by his father’s comment. “That’s all right, they still need good photos. I’m writing them a letter so I can work for them one day.”

Juan’s little sister, Angie, chimed in to support her big brother. “Yeah, they still need good ‘pittures.’”

After dinner, Juan got out the hose, connected it to the spigot and hosed down the mailbox while his parents were watching television. Nobody saw him, he thought.

The next morning Juan and Angie headed off to school. Juan was in the fifth grade. Angie was in second grade. Angie liked having her big brother go to school with her. They both attended PS189. He always looked after her.

Today, Ms. Arnold gave the class a set of math problems. Juan was good at math. Although they were being timed, he had no trouble with most of them. A few were tricky, but he wasn’t fooled at all.

Just as the clock struck 10, Ms. Arnold asked the class to put down their pencils. After collecting the papers, she stepped outside for a few minutes.

As Ms. Arnold entered the classroom, Juan’s heart sank. He was stricken with disbelief and fear as Ms. Arnold escorted Monty into the classroom.

“Class, may I have your attention please,” she said with a big welcoming smile. “I would like to introduce you to the newest member of our class, Monty McPride. I know you all will help me make Monty feel right at home.” Then she looked at Monty. “Welcome Monty. Here, let me show you to your seat.”

Juan was certain that this was a bad omen. The weird new neighbor was now in his class. This was so unfair. Why couldn’t he move to the desert or someplace far away? Juan pretended to look at his book, but he could feel Monty’s gaze upon him. At least there was no way that Monty could sit next to him. There was only one empty desk, and it was two rows over. That was a relief.

Then Ms. Arnold asked Becky Pearson to move to the vacant desk. Monty would need to use the larger desk; he was a big boy. Juan was horrified at the realization that the easygoing classmate with the ponytails, that sat next to him, was being replaced with his neighbor from hell.

“What are the odds of this happening?” Juan thought. “I must be the unluckiest kid on the planet. My life is over. Not only do I have to live close to this spit-bomb puking lunatic, but now he will be lurking at my side in school, casting whatever poison he has my way. Maybe I should pretend to faint or pass out. That would get me out of here now, but I would be right back in this seat tomorrow. There is no escaping. What are the mathematical odds? Is there a scientific explanation for this? There must be. My dad says that everything can be explained by scientific reasoning if we just look closely enough at the facts. What are the facts? Rich crazy kid moves in across the street. Rich crazy kid spits all over my mailbox. Rich crazy kid is assigned to my class and winds up sitting right next to me.” Juan closed his eyes, dreading the inevitable.

“Hey loser,” came the soft whisper in his ear. Juan didn’t even bother to turn and look at Monty. He pretended to be listening to Ms. Arnold. Juan sighed. He looked down onto his pad in an attempt to avoid Monty. All at once, Juan let out a yell and jumped up from his desk. He backed up and tripped over the person sitting on the other side. There was a crash. The class froze. All eyes were upon him. He was breathing hard as he struggled to get up and shoo away the large centipede that was on his note pad. It was a big black juicy one.

Juan pointed at the centipede, and the class issued a collective “eeeeeww.”

“Where did that come from?” Asked Ms. Arnold.

“I don’t know.” Juan looked at Monty suspiciously.

Ms. Arnold was disgusted and did not want to have to pick the thing up.

“Here, Ms. Arnold, I can help,” Monty proudly announced, as he leaned over and picked up the large squirming insect. “What should I do with it?”

Ms. Arnold made a hurried gesture with her hands. “Just get rid of it. Open the window and let it out on the grass.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Monty said politely and he went to the window. He leaned out, holding the centipede in his palm. “There, little fella,” he said in a gentle, caring voice. Then he tightened his fist until the centipede exploded in his hand. “That’s better.” Monty wiped his hand on the outside brick to get rid of most of the insect debris before leaning back in. Then he leaned in and said, “OK, he’s safe now.”

“Thank you, Monty. Now, take your seat. You too, Juan. Let’s get on with class, shall we?”

“Yes, ma’am,” responded Monty in his noblest, best behavior voice.

Juan looked at Monty in disbelief. Monty gave him the same sick smile which Juan had seen the night before.

“OK, everyone, remember that your photos for our culture and rituals class are due next week. I hope that you are giving some thought to your photographs. There will be first, second and third place winners who will receive homework passes. We will review the photos as we learn about what this day represents for Catholics. Next, we will explore the Chanukah celebration among the Jewish people. Are there any Catholics in this class who can share a little about Easter?”

Approximately a third of the class raised their hands. Juan was not sure whether he should raise his. He knew that his parents were raised Catholic, but he didn’t know what he was, or what being Catholic entailed. They did not go to church much, and he never asked about it. Juan remembered that the last two times the family went, on Christmas and Easter, there was singing and people read stuff to the audience. Today was definite proof that there was no such thing as God. He would never have allowed Monty to move in next door and now sit next to him at school, but he would research Easter a bit. He was sure he could do well with his photo entry.

Ms. Arnold looked around at the kids with their hands raised and called on one of them. “Freddie, tell the class what Easter represents.”

Freddie lowered his hand. “It’s when we get to buy new clothes and stuff we want. Not like Christmas when other people give you presents. This is mostly stuff you eat or wear, like chocolate covered bunnies, or a new shirt or pair of pants.”

“OK, very good, Freddie.” Several other hands went up. “Yes, Adrienne, go ahead.”

“I think it has something to do with Jesus, the man they killed on the cross. He was supposed to come back to life or something like that.”

“OK, one more. Yes, Henry,” Ms. Arnold called.

Henry stood up. “At first, everyone liked him, then nobody liked him. Then after they killed him, some people thought he was the son of God because he came back to life.” Henry seemed very proud of his knowledge.

“OK, very good, Henry. Now class, whether you believe in God or not is not the point. We are exploring beliefs of different cultures and groups of people so that we can better understand them and get along. All right, let’s move on to our English grammar lesson.”

At lunch, Juan sat with some of his classmates.

Monty strolled over to his table and shoved to make room for himself. He sat down between Juan and Henry. “I know you saw me last night, loser.” He whispered to Juan. “That was my little gift to you and your family. I was extremely disappointed that you washed it off. You should be more appreciative.”

Juan was repulsed as he thought of Monty’s grotesque antics. “You’re sick.”

“And you’re dead if you tell anyone. Just like I squished that stupid centipede, I’ll squish you and wipe your guts on your sister’s dress.”

Juan wondered how someone could be so nasty. “Why do you do it?”

Monty turned to him and whispered, “Because I hate you, your family, this stupid school and everyone in it. I hate everything.”

“Why do you hate everything and why do you hate me?” Asked Juan. “I’ve never done anything to you.”

Monty turned to Juan and opened his mouth wide, to expose the partially chewed food in his mouth. Juan cringed with disgust. Monty smiled his sick grin seeing Juan’s reaction. “That’s why. Because it’s fun. Because I can. You should try it. Then you wouldn’t be such a loser.”

“No, thanks!” Juan got up and started to take his tray to another table. Monty stuck out his leg and tripped him. Juan started to fall. Henry leaned out and prevented him from going all the way down and spilling his lunch.

Monty looked honestly disappointed and made a pouty face. Then he turned to Henry. “Hey, stupido, what do you think you’re doing?” He then opened his mouth to expose his partially chewed food for Henry to see.

 

  • Special Delivery

When Juan got home that afternoon, Maria called for him. “Juan, honey, I need you to do me a favor. Get out the hose and wash down the mailbox, inside and out.” Juan looked at his mother with surprise. Last night’s mailbox wash and the spit bomb removal had been quite thorough. Did he miss a spot?

“Why mom, what’s with the mailbox?” Juan knew that she was upset because she spoke in an excessively calm voice.

“Honey, the mail carrier left our mail next door with the Jansens because some crazy person left the remains of a dead squirrel in our mailbox. The poor old man almost had a heart attack when he opened it and saw it in there. I need you to get a stick or something and put it in a garbage bag. Then I need you to hose the mailbox down to get rid of the blood and remaining gunk that is smeared inside. I called it in and filed a vandalism report. The police said that we need to do the cleaning up ourselves. I can’t imagine what sick sort of person would do such a thing.”

Juan was stunned. He had seen lots of scary movies with vampires and monsters, but Monty was scarier because he was real and creepy in an evil sort of way.

Later that night as the family sat down to eat dinner, Juan asked, “Mom, do you believe in God?”

Maria glanced at Ron then back at Juan. “Why sure, dear.”

Ron rolled his eyes and added, “Some people like to believe in a God. It makes them feel better.”

“You mean like Santa Claus?” Juan asked.

“I guess it’s something like that. It makes them feel better about things.”

Juan persisted. “Yeah, but is there really a God? I mean people go to church and pray and all that kind of stuff, and we go at Christmas and Easter. Is there a God for them?”

Ron rolled his eyes again. “It’s just a belief, son. It doesn’t need to be real. Folks just take comfort in pretending a God is there.”

Maria looked at Ron. “Well, I don’t share your father’s view completely. I believe there is a real God who is there for everyone. People have their own way of believing or not believing that He is there. When you are older you can decide for yourself if there is or isn’t a God, and what that means for you. Your father and I don’t want to pressure you into believing in something that you otherwise might not accept. Why do you ask?”

Juan explained his class assignment. “Ms. Arnold was talking about different cultures and beliefs and asked if there were any Catholics in the class who could explain what Easter was about. I didn’t know if I was Catholic or not. You were both brought up Catholic, but I wasn’t sure what that made me. Is someone Catholic just because their parents are Catholic?”

Maria gave Juan an endearing look. “You can be Catholic until you decide what you want to be, if anything. When you’re older, you can make up your own mind, OK?”

Juan paused and looked first at his father, then at his mother. “Is it all right if I believe that there is a God?”

Maria smiled. “Of course, honey. Now eat your food.”

Ron looked at Maria with a frown but did not say a word. The family ate quietly for a few minutes and then Juan started with questions again. “Mom, what did happen on Easter?”

Ron got up and left the table, taking his dinner plate with him. “Come on, Angie, eat with daddy in the living room.” Angie just shook her head to say, no.

“OK, suit yourself.” He went into the living room by himself.

Maria turned her attention to Juan. “What little I know about Easter is that Jesus was crucified. They nailed him to a cross on a Friday. He died, and three days later, he rose from the dead and went to heaven. On Easter Sunday, that’s what we celebrate.”

“Why was he killed? Did he kill somebody or do something terrible?”

“No. That’s a little more complicated. Jesus was the son of God. He helped many people, taught them things and cured many of them. He even brought back one of his dear friends from death. His name was Lazarus.”

“Why couldn’t Jesus save himself from being killed if he could bring the other man back from the dead? Why didn’t God save his son from being killed, if he was God? Couldn’t he do that?”

Maria was starting to feel a little uneasy. She didn’t know how to answer her son’s questions, which were growing in complexity. Finally, she said, “Well, honey, I’m not quite sure, but there was probably a good reason.”

“Does God have a wife?”

Maria sighed. “That’s enough for tonight, Juan. Eat your dinner, dear.”

Angie sat quietly and then broke the silence with a loud fart. Maria and Juan looked up and started to laugh at the same time. Angie started giggling after seeing their reaction.

The next few days at school were excruciating for Juan. No more dead things had appeared in the mailbox, but sitting next to Monty, there was constant bullying, nose picking, bug squashing, and gross displays of the contents of Monty’s mouth. Many of the kids in the class tried to avoid their hellish classmate. Even Ms. Arnold seemed to be growing tired of Monty’s tricks and his pretense of being an angel. He was sent to the principal’s office more in one week than anybody else had gone all year long.

 

It was the night before Juan’s photo was due for the class project about Easter. During dinner, Ron asked, “How is the new boy doing, Juan? I understand that he’s in your class.”

Juan responded without hesitation. “He’s a jerk!”

Angie repeated, “Yeah, he’s a jerk!”

Ron and Maria both looked at each other with surprise.

“That’s not nice,” said Maria. “Why are you saying that about him? He and his dad seemed nice when they came to the door.”

Ron glanced at Maria. “The father’s loaded, you know! That company that is being relocated? He owns it. I checked it out. McPride Industries is huge. They have contracts with every major hospital. The guy must be worth millions, easy.”

Juan shrugged his shoulders. “Yeah, he may be rich, but he’s still a jerk and a bully. He’s mean and nasty and pushes everyone around.”

Maria could not believe that Monty was as bad as all that. “I’m sure he’ll adjust. After all, it can be difficult moving to a new place.”

Juan was astonished that his mother could be so naive. “I wished they had moved somewhere else.”

“You should try to be his friend. Maybe he’s lonely and has difficulty making friends.”

Ron glanced over to Maria then at Juan. “I’m sure it’ll be all right. Just don’t let him bully you around.”

Juan looked at his dad. He thought, “How can a grown-up be so stupid? That kid is twice my size, and he’s been left back  fifty times.”

Ron continued, “Who knows, you two might become best buddies!”

Juan almost barfed at the thought, but kept silent, finished his dinner and went to his room.

At school the next morning, just before they were about to go in, Angie seemed troubled and was nearly in tears.

“What’s the matter, Angie?”

She looked up at him with disappointment in her face. “I forgot my lunch.”

Big brother Juan came to her rescue as he always did when something was troubling her. “Here, take mine. I’m going to be busy at lunch anyway and won’t have time to eat. You might as well take it.”

Angie’s little face beamed as relief came across it and she said, “Thank you, Juan.”

“No problem. You better go in.”

No sooner had Juan taken out his lunch to give it to Angie than Monty walked by and knocked the lunch bag out of his hands.

“Whoops! Sorry, losers.”

Juan picked up the lunch bag and gave it to Angie. “Don’t mind him. He’s an idiot.” He reassured her. Juan continued to his locker and then stopped into the boy’s bathroom before going to his class. Monty followed him in. Juan was not aware that he had been ambushed.

“So you think I’m an idiot?” Monty raged as he pushed Juan.

“No, I think you’re a jerk!” Juan surprised himself standing up to this crazy loon.

Monty had a weirded-out look in his eyes. He pushed Juan hard enough that he fell to the ground. The book and papers in his hands went flying and fell onto the white tile floor. Monty looked like a madman. He wanted to hurt Juan badly. Then out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of Juan’s photo. He also spotted a letter of some kind and picked it up.

“What’s this?” Monty read the letter out loud. “Dear National Geographic, my name is Juan Arias and I really like your magazine. I am a recent subscriber and enjoy your fine photographs. When I’m older I would like to apply for…”

Monty looked at Juan, then back at the letter and started to laugh hysterically. “You dweeb, you’re such a nerd!” Then he crumpled the letter and threw it on the ground and spotted the photo.

“What do we have here?” Monty picked it up.

Juan got up and tried to grab the photo out of Monty’s hands. “It’s my entry for the photography contest. Give it back.”

Monty shoved Juan back again. “Hmm, you know, I was going to enter, but I just didn’t get around to taking a picture. So, loser, I guess I’ll be in it after all. This will have to do.”

Juan stood up and tried to grab his picture back. “You can’t do that. That’s my picture!”

Monty shoved Juan hard to the floor again. “Listen, dufus, I can do whatever I want and you better keep your mouth shut or some nasty things are going to happen to you.”

Juan got back up in a hurry as he continued to try to get his picture back. “I don’t care, give it back!” Monty gave another hard shove, but this time Juan did not fall to the floor.

“Oh, did I say you, loser? I meant your loser sister. You say one word about this and your cute little sister is not going to be so cute anymore.” As he said this, he pulled out a rather large knife and pinned it under Juan’s throat. “She’ll look more like that squirrel I left for you. You remember it, don’t you, the mailbox surprise?” He gazed at Juan, enjoying the moment, taking it all in and feeling wonderful about himself. Then he gave Juan a full creepy smile and said, “And I mean it, loser!” Monty then looked at himself in the mirror, threw himself a kiss and left the bathroom.

Juan picked up his books and the rest of his papers, including the crumpled-up letter, and tried to clean himself up. His neck was a little sore where Monty had poked him with the knife. As Juan examined the area on his neck, he saw a few drops of blood where the knife had made contact with his skin. “God help me,” Juan said as he looked in the mirror. “And please don’t let anything bad happen to Angie.”

 

  • The Praying Mantis

Juan sat in his chair gazing at his notebook, lost in thought, when Ms. Arnold announced, “OK, class make sure you put your photographs on my desk this morning before we get started. I’ll take a look at them during lunch and announce the winners of the free homework passes this afternoon before we begin our lesson on culture and rituals.” The kids lined up. One by one they placed their photos on Ms. Arnold’s desk.

As Monty got up from his desk, he whispered to Juan, “Remember what I told you, snot maggot, or your little sister is dead meat.”

Juan remained in his seat as Monty got in line to hand in the stolen picture. When it was his turn, he politely smiled at Ms. Arnold and put the picture on her desk. Then he beamed a big friendly smile to her.

“Thank you, Monty,” Ms. Arnold replied.

As the line continued to move, Ms. Arnold noticed that Juan just sat there. He had not gotten in line. “Juan, don’t you have an entry for the photo project?”

From his desk, Juan looked up and uttered in a low voice, “No, ma’am.”

“And why not? I’ve seen you take plenty of pictures; you love photography.”

Juan tried to find the right response and fumbled his words. “Uh um, I lost it and didn’t have time to take another one.”

Ms. Arnold looked disappointed and a little irritated. “You realize that this is part of your homework assignment, and I will have to give you a failing grade on it.”

Juan wondered what Ms. Arnold would think if she knew all Monty had done and that he was a diabolical bully. It was amazing that she had not caught on to him by now. “Why are grownups so blind to things?” He wondered, but he dared not say a word. He remembered the dead squirrel in his mailbox and the threats Monty had made to hurt Angie if he said a word.

“Yes, ma’am” Juan acknowledged as he sat slumped in his chair looking down at his blank notebook. He felt Monty’s creepy gaze upon him and then heard Monty whisper.

“That’s a good little snot maggot.”

Juan did his best to ignore the demon child next to him and thought, “God, I don’t know if you are real or not, but if you are real, please help me.”

The morning dragged on and then it was finally time for lunch. Juan, Henry, Adrianne, and a few other kids were gathered in the playground. They formed a circle and were hunched over, looking at something on the ground.

Monty came out onto the playground and yelled at the group, “Any of you phlegm maggots wanna jump the fence and get a shake across the street?”

“You know, you’re not supposed to do that,” cried Henry.

Monty approached the group. “Hey, Henrico stupido, I do whatever I want, and I always get what I want. Get that through your thick cabeza.” He paused and looked around at them. “What’s so interesting? What are you all looking at down there?”

“Nothing,” Juan replied.

“Yeah, nothing,” cried Henry.

“Let me see,” Monty shouted as he shoved his way to the front of the circle and gazed down.

“It’s a praying mantis. Don’t hurt it,” cried one of the girls in the group.

“What’s it praying to?” Monty asked, with a sneer.

“That’s just what it’s called. It’s a bug. It doesn’t really pray,” Henry blurted out. He didn’t say the rest of what he was thinking, which was, “How stupid can you be?”

Monty stood there with his arms crossed. “It wouldn’t matter if it did. There is no such thing as God, anyway.”

“That’s not true,” cried Henry as he stood up. “You shouldn’t say that.”

Monty picked up the bug. “Here, I’ll prove it to you.”

The group of kids gasped simultaneously. “Please don’t hurt it,” came cries from the group.

“OK, Henry, pray to God that this praying mantis doesn’t die in the next minute. If it’s still alive, then there is a God. If it dies, then there isn’t.”

Henry looked at Monty with terror and disgust. “Put it down. Don’t be a jerk.”

Monty made the motion with his other hand as though he was going to smash the insect. “You better start praying. I’m counting down. If you’re not praying out loud by the time I get to one, the bug dies, and it will be your fault. Five, four, three, two…”

“OK, OK,” Henry said as he started to pray. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

“OK, that’s enough,” Monty instructed. “Now let’s see what happens.”

Everyone was motionless and stared at Monty holding the insect in his hand. Then Monty smiled at the group and said, “You dweebs, I was just kidding,” as he put the insect gently on the ground. There was a collective sigh of relief. Then Monty crushed the insect with the heel of his shoe.

“See, I told you, Henrico stupido. It wouldn’t matter how hard you prayed – ha ha ha ha.” Monty was hysterical with laughter. He looked at the group of kids. Some of the girls were crying. Everybody was upset.

“And if any of you go blabbing to Ms. Arnold, I will step on you. Just try me. It will be so much fun. For me, that is, not for you. You’ll be in pain.” With that, he turned, jumped the fence and then turned back toward them. He continued walking backwards while pointing at the group and roaring with laughter. As he turned again to see where he was walking, he walked straight into a pole. When they saw this, the kids stood up and pointed while they and laughed.

“Yes!” Henry yelled, and gave Juan a high five.

Dazed for a moment, Monty turned and saw the group pointing and laughing at him. He felt the surge of pain from the lump that was starting to form in the middle of his forehead. He touched it and cringed, “Ouch!” Embarrassed, and with a painful bump on his head, he turned to run across the street. He was not paying attention to the traffic because he was still a bit stunned from what had happened. Monty did not see the car that had just made the yellow light and was speeding his way. He started to cross the street, and a loud honk pierced his ears. He looked at the oncoming vehicle with shock. At the very last instant, he was jerked back out of the path of the oncoming car. Monty turned quickly to see who had yanked him back.

“Son, you should be more careful. That car is a lot bigger than you. Why, you could have been squashed like a bug,” said the old black gentleman standing beside him.

Monty was speechless. He just stood there staring at the man who had just saved his life.

“You with me, son?” the man asked. Monty gave a strong yank and ripped his arm away from the man’s grip and walked away. “You might want to thank the Lord that you weren’t killed,” the old gentleman said as he stood watching Monty walk across the street. He shook his head and murmured, “You’re welcome.”

After Monty reached the other side, he turned to the stranger and flipped him the bird.

 

Back in the classroom, everyone took their seats. When Monty came strolling in, a few of the children who had seen him walk into the pole, started to giggle. Monty looked around at them, gave them all a dirty look, and sat down.

Juan chuckled to himself and looked over to Henry, who had a big grin on his face. Monty glared at Juan, giving him the evil eye.

“OK, boys and girls, this afternoon we will announce the winner of our Easter photo contest. Your assignment, as part of our culture and customs class, was to take a picture that is representative of Easter. We will use these photos as a way to learn a little bit about this particular holiday.”

Juan sat there, lost in his own thoughts. He was out of the running and would get a failing grade on this assignment. What Juan didn’t know was that this would be the last time he would see Monty McPride for a long time. Blake McPride had paid the crew overtime and added more men to get their house finished several weeks early. The trucks were moving the McPride household as the class in PS 189 sat in Ms. Arnold’s class that very afternoon. Blake McPride would be sending the car around after school to pick Monty up to take him to their new home in the most luxurious and exclusive neighborhood in Cary. Monty would start class at the prestigious McGuire Academy the following day. Juan would come across Monty again in the future, but their encounter would be much worse.

Ms. Arnold read the names of the winners for best photos. “We will start with the third place; the winner, Katherine Smith. Second place goes to Laura Diaz. All of your photos were quite good, and it was difficult to select the top three winners, but there was one photograph that the judges felt deserved first place, and the winner is Monty McPride.” The class reluctantly applauded as Monty held his head high.

 

  • Twenty Five Years Later

There was applause from around the room and the man in his late thirties stood with his head held high. He seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the somewhat subdued applause. It was a formal black-tie affair and members of the Board of Directors of McPride Industries and their families were in attendance. Some had expressions of surprise on their faces while others murmured at their tables. The applause died down quickly, and Monty McPride spoke to the crowd.

“Thank you, thank you very much. I’ve worked hard for this, and I am as surprised as some of you to receive the top sales award for this past year. Since there are so many products here at McPride Industries, I tried a new strategy this year so that I could reach more customers with more of our products. Well, it seems to have worked. Thank you again.” Polite applause arose then subsided quickly.

The wait staff took their cue. Now that the award had been presented, they started to serve dinner. Background music from the Ed Mann Trio softly filled the room with smooth jazz. The 300 people gathered at this year’s banquet started the evening by watching a video about the company. Then they heard from key department heads about the company’s growth overseas and the role of technology within their new products division. This was followed by award presentations to individuals in separate categories. Now that the awards were out of the way, the guests were free to converse and dine. Next, they would hear from the CEO about something big that was on the horizon for McPride Industries.

Monty’s award was a bit of a surprise to everyone, including the folks organizing the event. At the last minute, Fred Wilkins explained to Beth Avery, the event coordinator that there was an error in the name of the designated recipient of the sales award. A new plaque was produced within hours of the event.

Harold Jacobson could not hide his disappointment when Fred Wilkins informed him of the error and the fact that he would not be receiving the sales award after all. As everybody started to eat, the chatter level increased in the hall.

“Malarkey!” whispered one of the guests to others at his table.

“Idiots.” Tom Harris, the director of human resources was not pleased. “That guy hasn’t worked a day in his life. If it weren’t for his rich old man, he’d probably be out on the street or in jail. He must think we’re all a bunch of idiots.” Tom knew that Monty was the least likely candidate to receive any kind of award, especially one that was dependent on hard work.

Tom chuckled. “Oh my, I don’t know how he did it, but I think most folks recognized that there is one big smelly elephant in the room.”

A few of the guests congratulated Monty and shook his hand as he made his way from the stage back to his table. He walked by Blake McPride’s table with his head held high. He glanced over at his father. Blake McPride did not say a word.

John Delmont, senior advisor to the CEO and a strong voice on the board of directors, turned to Blake McPride. “Wasn’t Harold Jacobson supposed to receive that award?”

After the Monty peacock had strutted past their table, Blake turned to John and nodded. “Yes, Harold Jacobson was supposed to receive it. I’m not sure what just happened, but, oh, how I wish it were true, John. Nothing would make me prouder. Lord knows, I’ve given Monty every opportunity to earn an honest living here. I felt I owed him that much. After all, he is my son.”

Blake paused and glanced at Monty’s table, where he seemed to be engaged in animated storytelling with the guests. “I know that is a poor excuse, John.”

“This is a big company, Blake, but you can’t continue to sponsor ineptness, incompetence, and pure…” John hesitated.

Blake wanted to hear the rest of what he had to say. “Go ahead, John, you’ve always spoken your mind. Don’t stop now.”

John looked Blake McPride in the eye and reluctantly finished his sentence. “Pure…” There was another pause. “Disregard for others.”

John Delmont did not say what was really on his mind, what he really wanted to say about Monty because he could not bring himself to say it. Even though Blake McPride trusted him and encouraged him to speak freely, John could not tell his boss that he thought his son was “pure evil.” Blake was the father, after all, and as much as John felt he could speak openly, this was a line he did not want to cross.

“Perhaps I shouldn’t say this, Blake, but you need to stop feeling guilty for whatever it is you think you did or didn’t do and exercise some tough love. Stop feeling like you owe him everything, because the cost just keeps rising, and I’m not just talking about the money. You’re lucky to be alive, my friend. You’ve had your run-in with stress and fortunately that medicine you take every day is keeping you alive. Monty’s effect on morale is becoming worse, and I’d hate to see something happen to you because you are trying to rid your guilt by catering to Monty. You cannot take responsibility for Monty’s decisions.”

Blake nodded. “You’re right, John. I’ve been trying to make up for my own incompetency as a father. I’ve moved Monty to just about every division within the company, and the result has always been chaos. This is terribly difficult, John, but I think I know what I have to do. God help me and forgive me, but I may have to fire my own son. I’m not sure how he hoodwinked this award, but I’ll get to the bottom of it.”

A little while later, Blake McPride excused himself from the table and went up on the stage to deliver his big announcement.

“Dear colleagues and friends, I want to take a few moments to share some exciting news with you. Some of you may have heard rumors that we have been testing a new secret product. Well, it’s true. It’s been in the works for quite awhile, but I think we are close to a breakthrough. We are about to make medical history in the treatment of burns. Now, to tell you a little bit more about this incredible technology, here is Ray Cromwell, with MedezTeck Labs. He is heading up our research efforts.”

Ray Cromwell took the stage and shook Blake McPride’s hand. Ray’s brown hair was neatly cut, and his face was pleasant in the way he seemed to exude confidence. His smile was sincere, and he did not appear to be nervous, although he was very nervous. This was the most exciting project Ray had ever worked on. He had always dreamed that he might lead a team in a breakthrough project like this and at 34 he was getting his big chance.

Ray had attended North Carolina State University and was an avid basketball fan. He had a great deal of charm without any self-centeredness or conceit. It was his love of basketball and his honest charm that helped him meet and win the heart of his true love. It happened one day while at a big rivalry game between NC State and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. He was dressed in his NC State red enjoying the game on his side of the stadium among a sea of fellow classmates all in red. After the second quarter, he visited the concession stand to get a drink. The line behind him soon swelled with fans dressed in red. All of a sudden, a girl dressed in UNC blue approached the concession stand and the reds started booing. This was no ordinary rivalry.

The young lady was surprised by all the attention and booing she was receiving. When Ray Cromwell took a look at Angie Arias, his heart skipped a beat, and he emotionally switched sides. UNC blue had never looked this good. She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. He told the person in line behind him to save his place. Then he stepped out of the line, waved his arms at the reds and said, “It’s OK! She’s with me!” He winked at her, held out his arm in a true gentlemanly fashion and escorted her to his spot at the front of the line, as roars of “Traitor! You rat! It won’t last! You’re crazy!” came from the rest of the line.

She was special and Ray was still an avid NC State fan. Contrary to what his friends said to him when he fell for a UNC girl, there was no therapy needed in the household of two people who loved each other and loved hating each other’s team. It made for some interesting commentary during rival games.

Now on the stage, ready to take the microphone, Ray’s personal game was on. He introduced himself and began his presentation.

“Ladies and gentleman, BD109 is a revolutionary product that allows the various layers of thermal tissue to bond at an extraordinary rate. It is absorbed by the skin very rapidly and begins its bonding of cells and tissues almost instantaneously. It is conductive and in many ways functions like human skin. One of the extraordinary properties is its ability to bond with inorganic tissue to create a new type of epidermal system. We have had success with different medical fabrics and created artificial skin prototypes. The implications are far reaching. Our testing is in its final phase, and there should be some more good news regarding the outcomes later next week. We expect that the McPride Industries Bonding Agent, BD109, will cut the recovery time for burn victims in half.”

There were spontaneous murmurs throughout the audience and heads were nodding. Eyebrows were going up everywhere, including Monty’s.

 

  • The Devil’s Apprentice

Fred Wilkins wanted power, prestige and wealth. He knew he would get it the day McPride, Jr. took over the company. Fred also knew that Monty needed his help to get what he wanted. Since Fred was the leading geek at McPride Industries, he had access to all the company’s computer systems and the data they contained. He was an expert programmer, hacker and sleaze bag.

Both men sat in Monty’s office the following day. “Good job, Wilkins. I don’t know if those idiots, including my father, actually bought it, but things went smoothly yesterday. Are you sure no one can track what we did and find out how we altered the numbers?” Before Wilkins could respond, Monty cut him off. “Doesn’t matter, by the time they figure out how we did it, I’ll be running this place. By then, it won’t matter.”

Wilkins responded with confidence. “No one will ever be able to track anything. It’s amazing what you can do with a little programming know-how and a few well-placed bugs. Money skimmed here, money skimmed there, along with the commissions from the sales you never made, the dollars become quite significant after you add….”

Monty cut him off. “What did you find out about this bonding agent?”

“It’s just like Ray Cromwell said. It will revolutionize medicine, but here, take a look at this.” Wilkins produced a large brown envelope and handed it to Monty. “It’s a report on BD109 that I managed to retrieve from the MedezTeck Lab’s server. I think you might be interested in the results.”

Monty glanced at the report and gazed at a series of numbers and charts, none of which made much sense to him.

“So what? All I see are a bunch of charts. Why are you wasting my time with this, Wilkins?” Monty had a short fuse, especially when it came to geeks and their reports.

Wilkins waved his finger at the report. “Look at the toxicology section on page 16.”

Monty turned to page 16 and looked it over. Then he took a deep breath and looked at Wilkins. “More gibberish and charts, Wilkins, just tell me what I’m looking at before I bitch slap you.”

Wilkins finger pointing became frenzied as it pointed to a small chart which had several items listed with numbers scaling from 1 to 10. He looked like a kid who found a golden ticket in a chocolate bar. “Do you see that chart? It refers to the level of user dependency that is a projected outcome from BD109 if repeatedly ingested. Basically, it means that in addition to being an externally applied bonding agent, BD109 has the potential to be the most addictive drug on the planet. However, it is not being formulated for internal use. It’s intended for external application only, in which case it would be harmless.”

Monty grabbed the chart and stared at it. He slowly turned to his partner in crime. “Wilkins, if you weren’t so damned ugly, I think I’d kiss you.”

“I thought you would be pleased,” replied Wilkins.

“Pleased? Hell, this is the best news I’ve had since I learned that the old geezer will die without that medicine he takes! By the way, is everything ready?”

“You bet!”

“Who would have guessed that we could make a fortune treating the burnies and another fortune supplying the druggies.” Burnies is what Monty decided that he would call burn victims. He thought of it right then and there, spontaneously. He thought himself to be quite witty. Witty, spontaneous and fun, that was Monty. He also considered himself extremely good looking. Whenever Monty saw another man that he thought might be attractive, he would rate himself in comparison. He always won, of course. He was absolutely sure that there was no one more witty, spontaneous, fun or handsome than he was. What a delight he was to himself, always pleased to think people perceived him as breath of fresh air in their otherwise drab world.

“So, Wilkins, when will the bonding agent by ready?”

“Ray Cromwell’s report suggests that if the final test is successful, BD109 should be ready for manufacturing in less than three months.” Wilkins was satisfied that he had earned big brownie points with the future CEO of McPride Industries. He was climbing that corporate ladder faster than Superman could leap a tall building in a single bound.

Monty reclined in his chair with his hands behind his head as he stared up at the ceiling. Then he quickly spun around in the chair. After all this good news, he was feeling just a little bit giddy, and that brought out that fun and spontaneous side of him. All of a sudden Monty dipped his hand into the candy bowl on his desk and flipped something to Wilkins.

“Here, have an Easter egg mini. Hmm, I love Easter, don’t you, Fred?” Whenever Monty was in a particularly good mood, feeling all giddy and spontaneous, he would refer to Wilkins by his first name. Otherwise, it was always “Wilkins.”

Monty continued in his euphoric bliss. “I just love Easter. It’s the season for marshmallow bunnies and chocolate-covered eggs. It’s the best time of the year, don’t you think, Fred? Christmas is overrated, too commercial, kind of phony. You know what I mean?”

 

  • Father’s Keeper?

Blake McPride spent most of the morning in meetings with the heads of marketing and public relations. They reviewed ideas for a product name for BD109, and strategies for a public relations plan. Two of the top choices for the product’s name were Epiphoenix and DermalNew. That afternoon, he planned to review another important project for Broadwell Medical. He buzzed Ms. Simmons, his secretary.

“Peggy, is the Broadwell documentation complete?”

“No sir, but I am close to finishing and should have it for you in a half hour or so. Will that be acceptable, Mr. McPride?”

“Yes, that’s fine, Peggy, and I need you to pick up a refill of my prescription. I seem to have misplaced the bottle and shouldn’t be skipping it for two days.”

Peggy Simmons was Blake McPride’s personal assistant, going on three years. She had run out to get his prescription many times before, but she never liked it when he skipped taking it for whatever reason. It seemed to be happening frequently. He kept misplacing his bottle. She planned to call his doctor for an extra prescription to keep on hand, in case he lost his medicine again.

Peggy would not have to worry about that again because there would not be a next time.

She hoped that he was not starting to get senile. “Yes, sir. Would you like for me to run out, right now, to have it refilled?”

“No, no, that won’t be necessary. I’ve done it before, and I’ll probably do it again. I hate being ball-and-chained to this medicine. Finish what you’re working on first. I’ll be fine.”

Peggy did not insist, although she was tempted. “Yes, Mr. McPride. Will that be all?”

Blake McPride was a good employer, and he appreciated the work performed by his staff. “Yes, Peggy, thank you.”

“You’re welcome, sir.” She immediately returned to her work on the Broadwell Medical file.

Blake McPride reviewed the marketing plan and product names for BD109 again and decided that he liked “DermalNew” better than “Epiphoenix,” which sounded too contrived for his taste. While he reviewed the marketing schedule, he heard a knock on his door. Blake looked up and saw a head poking in, which he ignored. He turned his attention back to the document on his desk. Monty opened the door the rest of the way and let himself in. He took a leisurely stroll over to the guest chair. On his way, he looked around the chairman’s office. As he did so, he puffed up his chest and wore a grin on his face. He slowly sat down and patiently waited to hear the chairman say something.

Monty sat quietly continuing to gaze around the office. He was in no hurry. He amused himself by thinking of the Rolling Stones song, “Time is on My Side.” “Yes, it is,” he thought to himself.

“If you’re waiting for me to congratulate you, you can forget it.” Blake McPride’s voice was low and matter-of-fact. He continued to examine his papers.

Monty smiled and started to make his case. “Oh, come on, dad, I’ve been working really hard.” He said these words without much conviction, like someone reading a script but not doing a very good job at it.

Blake gave him a quick glance. “You’ve never worked hard at anything in your entire life.”

Monty spoke, but it still sounded like bad acting. Even the words he used were a little odd for a grown man. “Gee whiz, Dad, isn’t that kind of harsh? I mean, after all, I did win the sales award.” Monty liked saying, “Gee whiz.” It was another spontaneous bit of retro awesomeness. He even made it sound a little nasal just for effect.

The chairman looked up at Monty. “That’s just it. You’ve never even been on the map. Your sales efforts have been nonexistent, and the only reason you’re here is that you’re my incompetent son.” The old man’s blood was beginning to boil.

Monty, now sounding a little more serious, attempted to make his case. “I’ve changed, Dad, really. I wanted to show you, so I worked really hard and it paid off. I won top honors.”

The old man looked up. “This sudden quest to show me that you’ve changed wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that I’m retiring and will be naming a successor soon, does it?”

Monty put on his best polite and sincere voice. “I realized that it would be up to me to lead this company someday. Your retirement has forced me to see what a fool I’ve been not to work harder, but, I am determined to work as hard as necessary after you retire so that I can lead this company to greater profitability.”

It sounded so rehearsed and artificial that the chairman just rolled his eyes. He looked at Monty for a long moment, expecting to hear more dribble. “I guess that’s all he rehearsed,” the chairman thought.

“You can cut the act, Monty, I’m naming Stevens as the new chairman, and I’ve decided to redistribute ownership of this company among the board and the employees. These people have worked hard and sacrificed much to get us where we are. Consider your small but significant equity share as an act of charity, because you sure don’t deserve it.”

Monty quit his good boy act and got in the chairman’s face. “You mean you’d cut your own son out of the chairman’s position for some stranger?”

Now Blake McPride’s blood was boiling. “You’re unqualified, dishonest and have never worked at anything in your life. Nothing!”

Monty knew it was true. However, that was not a good enough reason for his father to select Stevens over his own son. “Even when I did something to make you proud, you’d never admit it. As a kid, when I won that photography contest, you never congratulated me or said that you were proud.”

“Good grief, you lunatic, that’s because you didn’t win it. You stole that photo from the Arias boy. Do you think I didn’t know? Do you think people are stupid? Heaven help me, but I should have put my foot down, after first giving you a good kick in the ass. All that childhood nonsense that I thought you would outgrow has only gotten worse. I always thought you’d turn around and be an honorable man. Heaven knows, I’ve tried. You’ve never gone without. You’ve always had it easy, too easy, and that’s my fault. Look at you, a grown man, and you still don’t know what it is to work for something that you want. You think that you can scheme, weasel or bully your way into getting it! I’m afraid that someday you really will get what you deserve. Unfortunately, so will I for not doing a better job of instilling a good set of values and a proper ethic into you. I should have listened to your mother, God rest her soul. She warned me about overcompensating for my frequent absences by giving you everything you ever wanted and not being stricter with your sorry ass. God help me and may your mother forgive me, but you’re fired, you ungrateful brat!”

“Fired?” Monty snickered. “You’re right, old man. We each get what we deserve, except for your son who’s getting screwed by his own flesh and blood.” Monty took his seat and looked rather relaxed. Blake McPride, on the other hand, did not look too good. He was flushed, and his heart was beating a mile a minute.

Monty sat for a moment and observed the chairman. “You know, you don’t look well. Have you been getting enough sleep?”

Blake McPride was breathing a little harder now as he looked up at Monty. “If you think that your fake concern for my health is going to change anything, you have another think coming to you.”

Monty sat calmly in the chair. “You’re wrong, old man. My concern is quite genuine.” He sat patiently and looked at his watch. “Say, isn’t it time for your medicine? You know, the stuff that’s keeping you alive?”

The chairman gave a piercing glance to Monty. “What did you do with my pills?”

“Now, now, old timer, take it easy. I found them on the floor. You must have dropped them. Say, you’re kind of overdue to take them, aren’t you? That’s not good.” Monty held the small pill bottle in his hand and examined the label as though he had all the time in the world. He listened to “Time is on My Side” playing in his head and a snicker came across his face.

“OK, Monty, just give me the pills and get out of here.” The chairman was hoping that his son would be reasonable, especially since breathing was becoming increasingly difficult. Monty sat calmly, still examining the bottle. Then he put it back in his pocket and took out a piece of paper and slowly unfolded it. He took a pen from his shirt pocket, removed the cap and tested its ability to write on the papers sitting on the chairman’s desk. He made a few scribbles, and then drew a happy face, but instead of a smile, he made a wiggly line.

“Sure, old man, as soon as you sign this executive order naming me your successor.”

Blake McPride was now beginning to feel dizzy. “Monty, I never thought you could stoop so low. I don’t have time for this, and you leave me no choice but to call security.” Thank God for the panic button on the side of his desk. He never thought he’d have to use it, but this was now a life-and-death situation. “How could my own son do this?” Blake thought. Shock, grief and pain all crossed through the chairman’s mind as he pressed the silent alarm button under his desk.

Monty took out a nail file and started to file the nails on his left hand. He did one, blew the dust off and started to file the next one. “I took the liberty of disconnecting your little buzzer so we won’t be interrupted, and I know you don’t have any meetings this afternoon, so we have plenty of time to take care of our little business.”

“Hiding my medicine, Monty? My God, boy!” The chairman’s voice sounded a bit raspy now, as though he needed to drink some water. “You’ve crossed the line. You’re mad.” Monty was now filing his right hand.

“And you’re dying,” Monty said nonchalantly.

The chairman reached for the phone, and Monty grabbed it. The old man’s hands began to tremble. Pain ran up and down his left arm. His chest tightened. He struggled to get the phone again, and Monty applied more force. Blake McPride was dying. He knew he had very little time; he tried to scream. Monty put his hand over the chairman’s mouth and took out a handkerchief from his pocket. He then stuffed it into the old man’s mouth. Monty grabbed the old man’s face, looked into the fading eyes and said, “OK, old man, this is your last chance to be a good boy.” Monty then put the pen in Blake McPride’s hand and signed the chairman’s signature with it. He had been practicing. The old man was weak, and it was easy to make the swirly signature which looked like a doctor’s illegible scribble.

When Monty released his grip, Blake McPride collapsed onto the floor. He was just barely conscious and trying to say something but could not because he was gagging with the handkerchief stuck in his mouth. Monty looked down on his father, calmly put the signed executive order in his jacket pocket, collected his pen, and got down so he could try to hear what the old man’s last words would be. He removed the handkerchief from the chairman’s mouth and leaned close. “What is it, old geezer?” Before he could utter a sound, Blake McPride closed his eyes. At that instant, the office door behind him opened, and Peggy Simmons walked in with the Broadwell files.

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