This is the seventh round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For these submissions, it’s the letter “G”.
Readers have until the publication of the next round of stories (about two weeks between rounds) to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on total votes received.
In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.
Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.
Here we go. Presented anonymously, the second of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “G” as submitted by its author.
Copyright 2020 — Perry Broxson
(3,052 words – approx. reading time: about 11 minutes based on 265 WPM)
My name is James O’Keefe. Jamie, to all but my mom. I’m a journalist. And a podcaster.
My journalist chums from Northwestern University insist that the two vocations are diametrically incompatible. Podcasting, they sniff, has no credibility, that’s it’s the refuge of dilettantes and demagogues.
When they say these things, I typically quote a current Gallop Poll. The mainstream news media – to include journalists – registers a whopping 62% disapproval rating from its viewership, the American people.
Then I open my wallet and fan a raft of Benjamins. Which is not to say that podcasting is necessarily lucrative. It’s not. For the vast majority, it’s not. However, every now and then, a podcast breaks through the din and charms an audience. You may remember Serial, hosted by Sarah Koenig. That gripping crime story grabbed the attention of vast swaths of Americans – catapulting podcasts into the spotlight.
Three years ago, I did something very similar. I kicked off a podcast called Numinous.
I can hear you say: “Then why haven’t I heard of you, Jamie-James O’Keefe, self-proclaimed Pod God?”
In a country of 320 million, it’s understandable that you haven’t. My podcast, Numinous, targets a sweeping sub-culture. Think of me as the Fox Mulder of digital subscription. Yes, I investigate mysteries – the more paranormal the better.
I have 3.6 million subscribers. Not as many as The Joe Rogan Experience, but more than NPR’s Fresh Air, with Terry Gross. My primary demographic consists of ufologists, ghost hunters, cryptozoologists, and conspiracy theorists of all stripes. Throw in ten-odd-thousand certified schizos and psychos, and that’s my peeps.
If you sniff a whiff of disdain for my audience, you wouldn’t be all wrong. I entered this field fueled by wide-eyed wonder and a quest for Truth. It wasn’t long before my toolkit of tenacity, logic, and investigative integrity were subsumed by the sewer of sensationalism, hysteria, and overt hoax.
I rode the rocket for three years, then blazed out. Ultimately, I’d made a stack of ad-cash, but lost my passion for the paranormal. Each week was more disheartening than the previous. Despite interviewing almost 300 so-called experts, it had become apparent to me that there was no there there. Worse than that, I detected a theme. Whether it be aliens or ghosts or yetis, the common thread was hope. No proof, just hope.
I sat across from these unfuckable misfits, week after week, in my studio, and all I saw was wishful thinking . . . hope. It was pathetic.
After much reflection, a broken marriage, and a stint in rehab, it occurred to me: as a promulgator of faulty dogmas, I was all the more pathetic.
So, I quit.
Correction. I tried to quit.
My agent, Sam Tarkington, known in the biz as Shark, flew his Cessna from L.A. to my summer home in Vale. He grabbed four beers from the chiller and walked out to the cedar deck. He divided the beers, allowed himself a long inhalation of thin, sweet air, then began his pitch.
“I want to be a guest on your podcast,” he said.
I wasn’t expecting that, so I laughed and said, “Sam, you’re crazy.” I took a swig and clarified, “And by that, I mean that you’re not crazy enough.”
Sam peeled the label of his Fat Tire and said, “I’ve got a story to tell and you’re the only one I trust with it.”
“You’re serious,” I asked.
“Never more serious, Jamie.”
“C’mon,” I said, “you handle five of the top twenty-five podcasters in America. Give it to someone credible. Terry Gross would be my choice.”
His face soured. He couldn’t conceal his disgust. “Maybe you’re right. You are burned out, Jamie. You don’t even have the journalistic curiosity to hear me out. I’m wasting my time here.”
Sam, the Shark, Tarkington won the head-game. I pulled out my phone and pushed the record button. “Let’s do this,” I said.
Transcript of Numinous, Episode 299; Guest: Sam Tarkington
Sam: “You’ve got a good ear, Jamie. Can you tell that I’m from the South? I’ve worked hard over my 59 years to lose the accent.”
Jamie: “I had no idea. I would’ve guessed East Coast . . . maybe even New York.”
Sam: “Florida. And not the posh parts. Ever hear of the little beach town called Gulf Breeze, in the Panhandle?”
Jamie: “Yes, I have. One of my guests, a year ago. He came from there. Gulf Breeze was a hotbed of UFO activity back in the 70s.”
Sam: “Great segue. My story begins there. Ends there.”
Jamie: “Start where you want. I’ve got a 78% battery charge. I’ll try not to interrupt.”
Sam: “We fished, me and Geronimo Jones. That’s all we did. Throughout the mid-70s, if we weren’t in school or church, and the weather permitted, we were in our 14-foot johnboat, trolling the shoals of the Gulf of Mexico.
Me, for fun. Geronimo, for funds. He was what we called dirt poor. Came from a busted family – mother dead, father in prison. Raised by his Granny. She was half Seminole. Geronimo had her cheekbones and raven hair. His real name was Gerald, but you’d get a knuckle sandwich if you called him that.
We fished for mullet. I had an eye for those mud-suckers. Swirling. Whirling. Flashing. I could spot a school of mullet from 300 yards with the sun in my eyes. But seeing them wasn’t catching them. That was Geronimo’s job. He threw a 12-foot cast-net. For those not familiar, a cast-net is a hand-held net with lead weights sewn into the perimeter. Takes skill to chuck one of them bad-boys.
My redneck is showing, isn’t it?”
Jamie: “A little. But go on.”
Sam: “Before I get to the weird stuff, let me tell you about Geronimo Jones.”
Jamie: “Please do.”
Sam: “At the time . . . the time of his disappearance . . . he was a truly magnificent specimen. I don’t mean that in a homosexual way. We were friends. Fishing friends. We both liked girls. But even a straight guy couldn’t help but envy the beauty of that boy. At 15, he was six-feet tall. His body looked like a Michelangelo marble sculpture. Except the color. He had that Seminole blood, so he was dark – coppery dark. Hair like a horse’s tail . . . black as tar, wild as Tarzan’s.
Strange, that he hung with me. A porky kid with chronic acne and crooked teeth. That’s where I got the name Shark, by the way. Bet you thought it was something different.”
Jamie: “You got them fixed. And yes, I thought it was something . . . business related.”
Sam: (Big smile) “His only flaw – if you can call it that – was a harelip. Is that PC? Do they still call it that?”
Jamie: “Cleft lip. Or cleft palate. Depends on the severity.”
Sam: “Cleft lip sounds right. Had a scar from his lip to his nose. Being part Indian, he couldn’t grow any whiskers to hide it. Kids back then, well, let’s just say they could be little shits. They made fun of him. Geronimo could have kicked their asses, strong as he was. But the Seminole side of him just let it slide. He rarely went to school anyway. The Gulf was his classroom.”
Jamie: “Sorry to interrupt. I’ve got a half-hour of battery left. Should I get the charger or” –
Sam: (Laughing) “Nice way of saying Get to the point, Shark. Guess I’m hesitant because, I don’t know – I’ve never told this story out loud. Not even to Jennifer. And we’ve been married 38 years.
Jamie: “She’s a saint.”
Sam: (Smiles then sets his jaw) “Okay. It was July 3rd, 1976. The Saturday before the Bicentennial. Me and Geronimo didn’t care about all that patriotic bullshit. It was Saturday and sunny and we were itchin for fishin, as we liked to say. The last two weeks had been a no-go, on account of tropical storms.
Geronimo showed up at the dock shirtless. Typical. His skin never seemed to burn. Me? I had to slather on the sun goop.
‘Check out my tattoo,’ he said, pointing to his right shoulder blade. Damned if he hadn’t gotten a tattoo of the angel-man on Led Zeppelin’s album cover . . . the one on Houses of the Holy. You’re too young to remember.”
Jamie: “I know it. But I thought it was a depiction of Icarus.”
Sam: “Smart, Jamie. That’s why I like you – why I worked my ass off to get you that Audible Books sponsor. You’re right, it was Icarus. But I only learned that later. Back then, I thought it was an angel.”Jamie: “Twenty-seven minutes.”
Sam: “So we set out in our johnboat. Me, Geronimo, and his cast-net. Also, two coolers: one with ice, the other with a milk jug full of fresh water, a box of Saltines, and four cans of Vienna sausages.
On the boat ride out to Widow’s Cove, I asked Geronimo about his tattoo. He said his Granny did it for him. Did it with a knitting needle and chimney soot. When she finished, she blessed it in the Seminole tongue.
I told him that his Granny was super cool. You have to remember, this was mid-70s. Only sailors and convicts had tattoos. To me, Geronimo was the baddest badass in Gulf Breeze, Florida.”
Jamie: “For the benefit of our listeners: during that period, Gulf Breeze, Florida was the mecca of UFO sightings.”
Sam: “That gets me to my story. Thank you. I spotted some mullet. They were boilin’. That’s what we called it – when the fish were so thick, so concentrated, that the surface looked like it was boiling. I goosed the Johnson 10-Horse Power outboard motor and angled the oar to turn the boat. Geronimo readied the net. He cinched the handline around his wrist, looped the slack over his bicep, fanned the skirt over his shoulder, and bit down on the lead-line . . . a trick I wouldn’t try. If not timed right, you could lose your teeth – crooked or straight.
Geronimo planted his bare feet and cocked himself like a crossbow. I steered us into the heart of the boil, then veered right, allowing him a port-side toss – best for a right-handed caster.
Boy, did he rip it. That net opened up like a whore’s legs. Sorry. You can edit that.”
Jamie: “Keep going.”
Sam: “Geronimo had replaced all the two-ounce leads with four-ounce leads. It made the net so heavy I couldn’t cast it, but it also sunk it fast. And when you’re trying to lasso a mess of spooked mullet, you gotta be fast.
Soon as the net settled, he snatched it. It was a trick he used to scare them, make them charge the net, and tangle up in the filaments.
It sure worked. He caught – probably – 180 pounds on the first cast. With the wet net, that was close to 250 pounds. God, that boy was strong.
We picked the fish from the net and tossed them into the ice cooler. ‘We’re good,’ I said. ‘Cooler’s full. Let’s head back and sell them at Rollo’s Fish House. At 19 cent-a-pound, we’re looking at 30 bucks!’
Geronimo shook his head. ‘Follow them,’ he said. ‘I want to buy a new stereo. If we empty the food cooler, we’ll have room for another haul.’
Poor sap had fallen in love with Zeppelin. Who could blame him?”
Jamie: “Not me.”
Sam: (Laughing) “Geronimo could have said, ‘Let’s stick our dicks in the Johnson’s propeller,’ and I’d have said sure. I was lucky to have him. He was my only friend.”
Jamie: “Thirteen minutes.”
Sam: “I spotted the mullet down the way – near Sullivan Shoals. I goosed the Johnson and pointed the bow. The wind was kicking up, so progress was slow. Clouds were bunching, the sun was bashful, and a salty breeze was giving me a rash of skin-pimples. Also, there was this weird crackling in the air, like electricity.
But Geronimo needed a stereo and his Granny sure couldn’t afford it, so we forged on.
As we approached the shoals, something looked different. We’d fished it a hundred times, maybe a thousand, and I’d never noticed this particular sandbar, just below the surface. What struck me was, it was circular. Perfectly circular. And it was as big as skating rink.
Geronimo didn’t seem to notice. He was in hunter mode, preparing the cast-net for a toss.
I steered at the heart, then veered, giving him a good look. He let ‘er rip. It was a good throw, not a great throw. The envelope closed too quick. He’d overthrown, allowing the trail to double-under the leading edge.
‘Damn,’ he said. That was a big deal for Geronimo. He thought cussing was for rednecks . . . and he did not want to be lumped in with them.”
Jamie: “Seven minutes, Sam. Let me run inside and get the charger and” –
Sam: “They were blind, Jamie. The few fish he pulled onboard. Their eyes were gone. Just gone.”
Sam: (Reaches into his pocket and puts two items on the table) “See that? That’s a locket. That’s a photo of my mother, dead all these years. I swear on her grave that what I’m going to say next is the God’s honest truth.”
Jamie: “I believe you, Sam. But what’s this gadget?”
Sam: “That, I don’t know. But I know where I got it. It was in the net . . . in Geronimo’s second cast. Along with the eyeless fish.”
Jamie: “Can you describe the item for our listeners?”
Sam: “I’ve always thought it looked like an antenna. The internal kind – for sophisticated RC vehicles. For the listeners, it’s metallic, about three inches long. It’s intricate. Mechanical. It looks heavy, but has almost no weight. When you touch it, it feels like skin . . . like a child’s cheek. And when you touch it, it touches you back.”
Jamie: (Handles the item. Tilts his head.)
Sam: “It came off the spaceship, Jamie. The one hidden under the circular sandbar.”
Jamie: “What makes you think there was a spaceship?”
Sam: “Geronimo wanted a new stereo to listen to Zeppelin. He gathered the net and threw it again. I was so freaked out by the blind fish, I didn’t think to say no – to stop him. He threw it and when it sunk, he snatched it. And when he snatched it, he awakened something.”
Jamie: “Let me charge my phone. I’d hate to miss this.”
Sam: “It rose, Jamie. Up from the sand, up from the water. This massive silver disc, rose, hovered, and then flew away.”
Jamie: “Did Geronimo see it too? Can I confirm with him?”
Sam: “He went with it, Jamie. The net – it got snagged on the craft. A probe, I think. The handline was looped around his wrist. I whipped out my pocket knife and pressed it into his free hand. ‘Cut it,’ I told him.
He could have. There was time and he was good with a knife. Could scale fish and shuck oysters like nobody’s business. But he didn’t. He just smiled at me with his split lip, like he made a choice not to cut it.”
Jamie: “It took him?”
Sam: (Placing hand on the locket) “It took him, all right. Took him into the sky. Into space, or heaven, or to Infinity and Beyond . . . I don’t know. All I know is that he was gone. I lost my best friend that day. I lost Geronimo, my Icarus.”
Jamie: “Sam, I don’t know what to say. You’re obviously emotional. Obviously sincere . . . but”–
Sam: “You don’t believe me.”
Jamie: “I’m sorry. This business has jaded me. I’ve seen so much deception – intentional and otherwise. You know I’ll have to fact-check?”
Sam: “Of course, Jamie. I’ll leave this with you. (He pushed the antenna toward Jamie) Get it checked out. I never bothered. I didn’t need any more proof. I was there.”
Jamie: “What did you tell the cops? His Granny – what did you tell her?”
Sam: “I told them the truth. The cops didn’t believe me. Granny did.”
Jamie: “We’ve got 20 seconds of power on the phone; I will check it out, Sam. If it’s got merit, I’ll keep podcasting. I’ll run Numinous for another contract year. If not, I quit.”
Sam: “That’s fair. I’ve got to file a flight plan and scram. It’s Jennifer’s birthday. I want to take her some place swanky for dinner.’
I sent the “antenna” to a friend of mine. He’s a professor at MIT. Smart guy. Teaches metallurgy. It took seven weeks, but he finally got back with me. Here’s the email he sent:
My oh my, you have really caused a stink. I ran every test our labs have – and we have ALL the tests: Ultra-centrifuge, Alloy Spectrometer, Crystallography. You name it, we ran it. I finally gave up and outsourced the job to my colleagues. You actually caused a fistfight between two esteemed professors, Jamie. Congratulations.
The guy that won the fight, swore your metal was . . . ahem . . . ‘Not of this world.’
Where did you get it?
Give me some backstory. This is a real head-scratcher. Any insights you can provide will be helpful.
Goodbye for now, Troublemaker.
Roger Pennington Ph.D. Master of Engineering, MIT
I emailed Sam Tarkington, the Shark, and told him I’d sign for another year of Numinous.
That night, I woke up with a thought. I flipped open my laptop and fired off an email to Jennifer, Sam’s wife.
All it said was: “Jen, is Sam’s mother still alive? Was thinking to send her something for Mothers’ Day. Sam has been very good to me. Thought it might be a neat way to return the favor.”
The next morning, I checked my inbox. There was a short reply.
Granny Tarkington is a hale 82. She lives at Morningstar Manor, a Senior Living Community in Manhattan, where Sam was raised. I’ll send you the address. Thanks for being so thoughtful. Sam loves you too. He calls you his Golden Goose.
That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.
Note: if you are not reading this blog post at DisperserTracks.com, know that it’s copied without permission, and likely is being used by someone with nefarious intentions, like attracting you to a malware-infested website. Could be they also torture small mammals.