The Mystery at Camp Sister Lick

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Nanci Dwuu’s convertible darted down the country road headed for mystery. Exactly what the mystery entailed, Nanci’s friend George wouldn’t divulge over the telephone. George, a tomboyish girl with short dark hair, was one of Nanci’s closest friends, but the girls hadn’t seen each other since George had moved to Camp Sister Lick, a women’s only retreat where, according to George, “Strange things had been occurring”.

“Please say you’ll come,” George pleaded, “the owner is a real darling and she needs your help.”

Although Nanci was intrigued by George’s mystery, she was hesitant to leave Hannah Gruel, the Dwuu’s longtime housekeeper. Hannah had lived with the Dwuus since Nanci’s mother suddenly passed away when Nanci was three.

Nanci had always been suspicious of her mother’s death, and in her last adventure, The Case of the Murdered Mom, Nanci discovered that her own father had poisoned Mrs. Dwuu in an insurance scam – resulting in Mr. Dwuu’s new residence on Death Row, all thanks to his daughter’s expert sleuthing.

“Oh, and don’t bring that asshole Nick, men aren’t allowed here.” George added before hanging up.

Nanci couldn’t have brought her longtime boyfriend Nick Nederson anyway. Nick was with his buddies the Hardly Boys on a fishing trip, staying at the popular sportsmen’s resort The Rainbow Lodge. According to Nick, the lodge didn’t have phones, although judging from the evening clothes Nanci helped him pack, the lodge had a disco.

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Camp Sister Lick was located in neighboring River Side. The property was formerly an old cattle ranch newly converted into a retreat facility for women. The camp’s unusual name paid homage to the new owner’s mission of promoting sisterhood and to the property’s natural salt deposits used by ranchers as “salt-licks” for livestock.

As Nanci’s convertible approached Camp Sister Lick’s entrance, she was greeted by a bevy of angry protestors waving vulgar signs demanding the camps immediate closure on moral grounds!

“How could a women’s only camp be immoral?” Nanci thought. “Maybe they offer Yoga.”

Nanci hit the accelerator on her Mustang, causing a few protestors to scramble as she glided easily into a spot in a parking lot filled exclusively with trucks. Looking around,  Nanci felt confident that she’d  have no trouble locating her car for her return trip home.

As Nanci followed the signs directing her to the main lodge, her old friend George suddenly emerged from a path leading from the woods “Nanci Dwuu, you made it!”

George hadn’t changed much since the last time the two girls were together. She still sported her short, chopped hair, and was dressed in her trademarked unbuttoned blue flannel shirt layered over a black T-shirt tucked into her denim shorts, with a pair of beaten, black leather boots framing her pale, unshaven legs.

“So, what’s the big mystery?” Nanci asked.

“First I want you to meet the proprietor of Camp Sister Lick, I just know you’ll love her, she’s so keen!” George pulled Nanci into the lodge’s office. Behind a desk sat a woman who appeared in her late fifties, stout like a bulldog, with graying hair whipped up into a beehive.

Nanci offered her slim, well manicured hand to the woman who took hold with a firm grip, shaking Nanci’s hand as much as Nanci. “I’m Virginia Diesel, the owner of this retreat, and you must be the famous Nanci Dwuu.”

“George hasn’t filled me in yet, what’s going on?” Nanci asked.

Virginia’s voice hushed to practically a whisper, “Someone is trying to destroy Camp Sister Lick.”

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“Who would want to do that?” Nanci asked, incredulous.

“Our retreat has had some local opposition,” Virginia explained, “Maybe you saw the protestors.”

“The attacks started two weeks ago when someone stuffed tampons in all eighteen holes of our golf course. When the sprinklers came on, it looked like a field of white mushrooms sprouting out of our cups. We had to cancel the golf tournament.”

“At first we thought it was a prank, but then something else happened.”

“What?” Nanci asked, her pulse beginning to race, “what happened?”

George took over for the distraught Virginia. “Last week was the championship game of our darts competition. Everyone was just terrible. No one could get a dart on the board. The dart would sail flawlessly through the air, perfect arc, expert aim, but the dart would strike the board and fall to the floor. It was eerie.”

“Let’s have a look at those darts, maybe they’ll shed some light on this mystery.” Nanci said.

“I hope so,” Virginia cried, “if this keeps up, Camp Sister Lick will be run out of business.”

George led Nanci on a short walk to a rustic building with a plaque that read “Gertrude Stein Field House”. George opened the screen door with a rusty creak. A ping-pong and pool table indicated to Nanci’s keen intuition that this must be some sort of building where ping-pong and pool tables were kept.

Nanci walked across the room to inspect the dart board hanging from a rusty nail while George produced the darts. “I think I have the answer to your mystery,” Nanci proclaimed, holding the darts up to the light, “These are Velcro darts and you have a cork dart board. Someone must have switched them.”

“But, but, Nanci,” George stammered, “we don’t use Velcro dart boards at Camp Sister Lick!”

Just then, from outside came a piercing scream. Nanci and George ran from the field house. Emerging from the woods was a petite brunette woman with bright red lips, her flower-patterned culottes stained with mud.

image“Ahhhhhh!” she screamed.

“What happened?” Nanci asked.

“Men – in the woods” the young pretty lady gasped falling to the ground, holding her hand out to Nanci before fainting, “My name is Lizzie Lipshtick, and you must be Nanci Dwuu.”

As the two sleuths propped up the fallen girl, George filled in  Nanci. “Lizzie runs the art classes at Camp Sister Lick. Her classes aren’t well attended because they can’t compete with sports and Lizzie has never felt quite accepted. And now this!”

A crowd started to gather as Nanci took Lizzie’s pulse.

“That’s it! I’m leaving,” one guest proclaimed angrily, “This place is dangerous!”

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“I’m ruined,” Virginia later proclaimed to Nanci and George in the privacy of her office, “What was I thinking, trying to establish a little utopia for my sisters, an Eden without Epiladys. A place to celebrate our womanhood surrounded by the warm embrace of our Earth Mother.”

George was on the verge of tears, hugging Virginia, “Don’t you dare give up! Nanci Dwuu will solve this case!”

“Where do those woods go?” Nanci asked, determined to solve this mystery. George explained that the woods bordered the Tuscashawnee River, which was popular with fishermen and other outdoor enthusiasts. On occasion, boaters would pull their canoes over on Camp Sister Lick property, although there were “No Trespassing ” signs posted along the river bank.

“Whoever frightened poor Lizzie is probably still out there,” George surmised, anxious to confront the trespassers, but the approaching darkness made Virginia fearful for the girls’ safety and she insisted they wait until morning to search the woods.

Reluctantly, Nanci agreed. Back at her cabin, Nanci was finally able to rest after a long day of driving and sleuthing.

Drifting into a fitful sleep, Nanci was suddenly awakened by the sound of shattering glass. Bolting from her bed, a brick lay at Nanci’s feet with a white slip of paper secured around it. Untying the paper, Nanci detected a flowery smell before she gasped at the note’s content.

“You’re in grave danger Nanci Dwuu.” The letter was scrawled in what looked like red crayon. The note ended, “P.S. I think you’re cute!”

“Hmmm,” Nanci thought to herself. ” I didn’t think men were allowed anywhere near Camp Sister Lick.”

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The next morning, George and Nanci set out to explore the woods. Lizzie came along to point out where she saw the trespassers the night before.

Seeing Lizzie dressed in shorts and a thin T-shirt, Nanci lectured her on the dangers of deer ticks.

Lizzie laughed, “I’m so tired of flannel. Am I a traitor because I like frills and lipstick?”

“Not at all,” Nanci laughed along, “I like frilly things too!”

“We have so much in common! Lizzie proclaimed, grabbing Nanci’s hand, the two skipped along the dirt path through the woods. Nanci felt protective of Lizzie after seeing the poor girl so frightened the day before.

“I have a hunch were going to be good friends!” Nanci said, giving Lizzie’s hand an affectionate squeeze.

The forest was bristling with birds and busy squirrels looking for nuts. Suddenly, Nanci signaled the girls to be silent. Out of the peaceful chatter of the woods came the sound of male voices!

“Walk quietly, we’ll sneak up on whoever is out there,” Nanci instructed.

The girls hadn’t taken more than a few steps when from the dense bushes someone called out “Nanci Dwuu!” Looking past greenery, a smile of recognition mixed with relief swept over Nanci’s face. It was Nick Nederson, Nanci’s long time boyfriend.

“Nick! What are you doing here? I thought you went fishing with the Hardly boys?”

“We did, we lost our canoe.” Nick then called to his companions and from the trees emerged Nanci’s sometime sleuthing partners The Hardly Boys.

When George came running into view, Nick’s smile turned sallow, “Hey.”

“Screw you, Nick and your fascist paternalistic society.” George said warmly.

The two old friend’s friendly quarrel was soon interrupted by Nanci inquiring how the boys found themselves at Camp Sister Lick. Nick explained that he and the Hardly Boys were out pole fishing the previous evening when their canoe was inadvertently swept down stream, stranding them in the woods, where they stripped naked to keep each other warm.

“You gave Lizzie the fright of her life when she spotted you in the woods yesterday,” Nanci chuckled.

“Yesterday? It was well after dark when we lost our canoe.” Joe Hardly chimed in,

“We could barely see our poles.” Frank snickered and struck his brother’s arm.

Then someone else must have been in the woods, but who? Nanci thought to herself, not wanting to raise an alarm.

The girls hated to bid Nick and the Hardly Boys farewell, but men weren’t allowed at Camp Sister Lick. As it turned out, women weren’t allowed at the Rainbow Lodge, either.

“That’s too bad,” Nanci teased, “There’s nothing like a soprano voice for those great old campfire songs!”

“Nick sings soprano just fine,” Joe Hardly declared, before his twin brother giggled and punched his arm back.

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Back at camp, the three girls, hot and sweaty from their long hike, hit the showers and changed into fresh clothes before lunch. Afterward, Virginia called Nanci and George into her office. The brick that was thrown through Nanci’s window the night before sat on her desk.

“I’ve made a decision.” Virginia said to the girls, “I never thought our opponents would resort to violence, but I can’t have bricks being thrown through my girl’s windows. I’m closing down Camp Sister Lick.”

“What!” George cried, “You can’t let these terrorists win!”

“I think it’s an inside job,” Nanci said matter of factly.

George gave Nanci a worried look. Ever since Nanci helped convict her father for the murder of her mother, Nanci hadn’t been her usual self. Her sleuthing skills had suffered and she was prone to grandiose pronouncements about minor  inconveniences, like when she solved The Mystery of the Missing Car Keys or The Secret of the Stained Carpet.

“Are you sure someone from the Camp is doing these horrific things, Nanci? Why?”

“I don’t know yet,” answered Nanci, “I need more time. Don’t make any announcement until after the Softball Tournament tomorrow. That will give me enough time.”

Before Nanci could leave, Virginia wrapped the young detective in a hug and whispered, “It’ll lighten an old ladies heart if you solve this mystery my dear.”

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“Do you like our uniforms?” George asked Nanci, showing off her team’s denim baseball pants and flannel jersey with their team name “Bull Dogs” emblazoned on the back. “We’re playing against the Dykes.

“Oh, are they from Holland?” Nanci asked with excitement, “Such a lovely place!”

“Yeah, they’re Dutch,” George said, inserting a protective cup into the crotch of her baseball pants.

“I’ve always wanted to save a town by putting my finger in a dyke.” Nanci mused.

“You might get that chance.”

George then revealed to Nanci her “secret weapon” for winning the softball game, a prized baseball bat George made years ago in high school wood shop. Caressing the bat’s smooth curves, George cooed, “I d be lost without my baby.”

The softball game was a welcomed diversion for everyone, but all through the game Nanci couldn’t shake the feeling that something was about to happen. Standing outside the Bull Dog dugout, Nanci suddenly became aware of a familiar sweet fragrance emanating from somewhere behind her, but when she turned to look, no one was there.

The Bull Dogs were trailing the Dykes by two runs going into the seventh inning when the Dykes sent in a new pitcher, the glare from the sun prevented Nanci from seeing who it was.

“Ball one!” the umpire called as the first pitch stopped short of the plate and bounced into the crowd. The next three pitches either sailed wildly over the batter’s head, or dropped short of the plate. With one runner already on base, the batter was walked and George was up next.

“Come on George, you can do it!” The Bull Dogs cheered. George smiled and made the traditional adjustment to her uniform cup, then reached for her prized bat… but it was gone!

“It was right here!” George insisted. Nanci felt horrible that she hadn’t kept a closer watch on things. Nanci was convinced that the sweet odor she smelled was somehow connected not only to George’s stolen bat but to the other acts of vandalism that had been plaguing Camp Sister Lick.

Reluctantly, George took the plate without her prized bat. The first pitch wobbled well outside the strike zone, but George, feeling defiant, swung anyway and her bat connected. The ball flew high and straight, making a beeline for the home run fence. The crowd went wild as George took her triumphant lap around the bases, stopping only to unleash a stream of tobacco spit at third.

A fanfaronade of buttocks slapping greeted George as her foot touched home. The Bull Dogs had won the tournament!

As the teams congratulated each other, Nanci was alerted to the same sweet fragrance she smelled earlier. Sniffing around, Nanci found the source of the perfume smell. Grabbing that player’s arm, Nanci turned the girl around, “I’d like a word with you -“

“Lizzie! What are you doing, I thought you didn’t play sports,”Nanci gasped, her eyes wide with surprise.

“I don’t, but I’m pitching in!” Lizzie laughed at her own pun. It was Lizzie who had pitched so horribly the last inning and probably stole George’s prized bat!

“You’re behind the attacks at Camp Sister Lick!” Nanci cried out, holding tight to Lizzie’s arm. Lizzie tried to pull back, but Nanci’s grip was too strong, so instead Lizzie shoved Nanci to the ground and the two girls wrestled in the dirt for about a half hour before George finally separated the mud soaked girls.

“Nanci… have you lost your mind?” Virginia cried.

“I’ve discovered who has been sabotaging Camp Sister Lick.” Nanci declared.

Just as Nanci predicted, George’s purloined baseball bat was found in Lizzie’s locker, along with the missing darts and several bricks similar to the one thrown through Nanci’s window.

“How’d you know it was Lizzie?” George asked her old chum.

“Well, Camp Sister Lick is fragrance free,” Nanci explained, “I noticed the first time I met Lizzie that she was wearing Calvin Klein. At first I wasn’t sure it was Lizzie, because Calvin Klein is a unisex fragrance”

“Lizzie tried to throw suspicion off of herself by making it appear a man was behind the attacks, first by making up a story about seeing men in the woods, and then throwing a brick through my window with a flirty message. When I saw Lizzie wearing that stolen softball uniform, though, I knew she was the culprit.”

“Uh, Nanci, she’s been playing softball all Summer – her name is stitched on her jersey.” George interrupted. “Anyway, why would she do these things?”

“Employment security!” Nanci replied, “Lizzie thought if she ruined all the more popular activities the women would have no other choice but to attend her art classes.”

“Will she go to jail?” George asked.

“That depends on whether Virginia wants to press charges.” Nanci said, turning to Virginia, “I’m hoping you won’t. Lizzie needs a steady job more than prison. I’ve arranged an interview at the Rainbow Lodge where Lizzie’s art classes will be more in demand. You’ll give her a good reference won’t you Virginia?”

“Anything for you Nanci Dwuu!” Virginia laughed.

And so Nanci Dwuu closed the file on The Mystery at Camp Sister Lick. But Nanci and a mystery were never far apart, and soon Nanci would be immersed in The Clue to the Secret of the Misplaced Remote.

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BITCH: The Maria Pappas Story

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APPLYING FOR UNEMPLOYMENT WAS NOT WHAT I EXPECTED. THE OFFICE WAS CLEAN AND MODERN WITH NONE OF THE RAGGED, DEPRESSION-ERA DRESSED PEOPLE I IMAGINED. THERE WASN’T EVEN A LINE. THE INFORMATION DESK WAS MANNED – OR IS THAT PERSONNED – BY TWO WORKERS, MALE AND FEMALE, WHO BOTH SEEMED HAPPY TO HAVE SOMEONE NEW TO TALK TO. THE WOMAN GREETED ME WITH A SMILE AND ASKED ME THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF MY UNEMPLOYMENT.

“Were you laid off? Fired? Did you quit?’ She inquired, trying to determine which form I needed to fill out. Seldom are things so clear cut and likewise, my recent unemployment was no simple question that could be answered “yes” or “no”, “black” or “white”. Besides, having voluntarily quit, I wasn’t about to close any options that would make me ineligible for free government money.

“I was forced to quit.” I answered, hoping being forced out would count just the same as being fired. For unemployment  eligibility requirements, being fired is second only in desirability to being laid off –  quitting is for losers. The lady looked over her glasses at me, clearly needing more information. “My boss heard a rumor I’d called her a bitch,” I explained, “Maybe you’ve heard of her. Maria Pappas, Cook County Treasurer?”

“Oh, she is a bitch!” The woman declared. Everyone has a Pappas story.

And such is the reaction I’ve come to expect after falling into disfavor with the baton twirling Maria Pappas, newly enshrined Cook County Treasurer. But the odd thing is, up until Ms. Pappas turned against me, I thought she was great. It’s funny how sometimes you look back and smack your head and shout, “What was I thinking?” I’m having that kind of summer.

After being led into an immaculate, carpeted room, furnished with two conference tables and a dozen empty chairs, I got right to work on the stack of forms I was handed, using a borrowed #2 pencil from a box of thousands. Employment History was the first intimate detail of my life they wanted to know about.

I started at the Treasurer’s Office right out of college. Not that working for Edward J. Rosewell, who was the Treasurer before Pappas, was the reason I spent over thirty-grand in student loans. All my life my family warned, “You better go to college”, as if it were some magical place that transformed you, by association, into a highly employable individual. So I went to DePaul University and drifted back out a few years later armed with a Bachelors degree in English. Unfortunately, I had  graduated in the middle of a recession and for employment purposes, an English degree during a recession is about as impressive as an Associates Degree in Telemarketing.

My first job offer out of college was from a rental car agency. They wanted me and my English degree for a Manager Trainee position. They saw my potential! And they wanted to groom me for management! As it turned out, the only thing I was groomed for was a career in washing cars. I left within two weeks. The day I “quit” (by mutual agreement) I made a frantic phone call to a politically connected fraternity alumnus who wanted to get in my pants (I told him “no thanks”, as there was one ass in there already). He made a call to his buddy, Edward J. Rosewell, Treasurer of Cook County and as simple as that I had a job. It was a temp position at first, but because I was able to dress myself and not show up drunk – and I could run a computer – I eventually got a permanent position as an “auditing clerk”.

I was constantly interrupted from my form-filling by a stream of well- meaning, but bored workers wanting to assist. There seemed to be about three workers for every unemployed person there. Thanks to the booming economy, many of the people helping me fill out those forms were in danger of becoming unemployed themselves. How ironic that their job security goes up when everyone else’s goes down.

One guy wanted to help me find a job, and asked me what kind of work I formerly did for the Treasurer. I wanted to say, “No thanks, I’m just here for the free money”, but instead I described my work experience. Despite having absolutely no financial background, I had spent the last six years doing accounting-type work for the County. Reconciling accounts, computing interest and distributing tax money in the Treasurer’s Cash Management department. But the last thing I wanted to do was work with numbers again, but nevertheless, I was handed pages of available accounting jobs. I politely accepted them and continued to fill in the blanks on my multitude of forms.

“Reason for leaving?”

We were back to that question. I wasn’t always the model employee I ended up being under Maria Pappas. I started off in the Treasurer’s office wanting to make good. I rushed through each assignment, then proudly reported to my supervisor that I was ready for more. That is, until a co- worker took me aside and asked “What’s up with that shit? Take your time, slow down.” That’s the culture you find in some government offices, where promotions are reserved for the connected.

I thought working for Maria Pappas would be different. I had followed Pappas’ political career through the years, admiring her confrontational style. She was always bitching about something and stirring up controversy. I liked that. I rooted for her when she ran for the County Board Presidency against John Stroger and Aurelia Pucinski. I cheered her on when she twirled her baton every year in the Gay Pride Parade. When she announced she was running for Rosewell’s job, who was retiring under the scandal of an indictment for ghost payrolling and for placing his window-washer “room- mate” in a $70k job. I was excited about the prospect of working for this political maverick and when she took office, I transformed myself from lackadaisical county employee into Super Worker, eager to be part of the team.

There were a lot of worried faces within the rank and file as the day approached when Eddie Rosewell, a very sweet, energetic little Irish man – and the top vote getter for the Democratic party – would gallop off into the sunset (or possibly prison) and Ms. Pappas would take over the helm. Gossip and rumors filled the office. Pappas had a terrible reputation as an employer during her years as a County Commissioner. The gossip columns buzzed with her latest firings or of disgruntled workers calling it quits. One estimate pegged her as going through over twenty employees in an eight year span, which is a staggering figure when you realize commissioners are only allotted three employees. There were also rumors that called into  question Pappas’ mental health. Supposedly she had  her office swept for bugs – the electronic kind – afraid someone was spying on her. There were also tales of her employing handwriting analysis of people she didn’t trust, trying to judge character through their scribblings. There were so many, many rumors, I just discounted them all. At worst, I thought, she was a little eccentric.

On Pappas’ first day in office. I was appointed by her Chief Deputy, a wonderful guy named Mike Shine, to assist with computer related issues. The Treasurer’s office wasn’t exactly the information superhighway. When I first started, we were still doing spreadsheets on grid paper. I was good with the different programs like Excel and Word, while most workers couldn’t find the “On” button; and because of this I gained a reputation for being knowledgeable about computers, which Pappas’ people found to be of value. This is what I craved – what any worker craves – to be recognized and to feel needed.  I responded well to this new and unfamiliar stimuli. I found myself staying late and arriving early, working harder and what was really odd – taking work home with me! Because of my enthusiasm, Pappas’ top management recommended me for several different promotions, but for some reason, Pappas always turned my promotions down. I never took it personally which was a mistake, because it was personal, only I didn’t know it yet.

The first clue that working for Maria Pappas wouldn’t be all roses and lollipops came the second day she was in office. It was early December, with signs of Christmas all around, but for a half-dozen employees, their coal-filled stocking came early. It was expected that the new administration would want their own top management, but the people Pappas canned were hardly top management. Most were mid-level career employees who had worked in the office for ten or more years. Two of the workers fired were a gay couple, both approaching retirement. The biggest shock was when they fired Kelly, a young woman from my own department. Kelly started working for the Treasurer’s office right out of high-school, needing the job to support her younger siblings after their parents died. Kelly was an invaluable resource for everything related to the functions of the Cook County Treasurer. She was also six months pregnant when she was abruptly informed her services were no longer needed.

Everyone was freaked out by Kelly’s firing, including me, but I tried to remain calm. That was my reaction to everything that happened, “Calm down, I’m sure there’s a reason.” Even when Pappas made all the women  – and only the women – wear ugly blue blazers. They were hideous, baggy and had the effect of turning even the most shapely woman into a frump. You could feel the humiliation from the ladies when they were forced to put on these over-sized men’s cotton jackets. Males were required to wear white shirts and a tie, unless you were part of the janitorial service, she made the male janitors also dress in those awful blue blazers.  Women and janitors. Let that sink in for a minute and what that says about Madam Treasurer’s regard for women. (Given Maria’s psychology degree, maybe someone should ask her!)

The ladies hated those fucking jackets, but were all too afraid to complain. Except for one.

Pappas liked to hover about the workers, and when the blazers were distributed, she went around asking the women how they liked them. She questioned the wrong person when she asked Joyce. a fifty-something lady not known for her quiet nature. Joyce told Pappas she hated the jacket, “I feel  like we’re in prison,” she replied. Pappas seemed startled by this frankness and asked the lady seated next to Joyce for her opinion. The lady answered “They’re fine,” which caused Joyce to erupt, “That’s not what you said a few minutes ago!”

After several more futile attempts to promote me went down in flames, my supervisor took me aside, “Did you do something to piss off the Treasurer?” he asked. I was surprised by this, “No,” I replied, I honestly couldn’t recall saying or doing anything that would put me in disfavor with the Treasurer. She certainly didn’t behave toward me as if anything was wrong. Pappas had even bragged about my serving on the county Domestic Partnership committee – chaired by Congressman Mike Quigley, who then was the man newly elected to Maria’s old County Board seat; and also Greg Harris and Kelly Cassidy (before they were elected State Representatives).  My role was to draft a letter that all County officials would sign in support of extending benefits to LGBT domestic partners of Cook County’s 25,000 workforce. Our committee crafted and helped pass the Cook County Domestic Partnership Ordinance, and Pappas boasted to everyone that she and I were working “together” on this project (although her only involvement was not objecting to my attending the committee meetings).

Despite all of the signs, I still could not believe that Pappas had something against me.

“Are you finished with your forms?” The Unemployment officer asked, interrupting my trip down memory lane. I nodded yes, but her keen eye spotted information I had yet to fill in. “Put your previous salary here.” She said, pointing to one of my errant blanks.

Your former salary helps determine your winnings in the Unemployment Sweepstakes. County employees are not lavishly paid, unless you’re a former window washer. Rosewell gave me a secure job with benefits, but no lavish salary. Luckily, money wasn’t an issue for me. Like Pappas, I had  married well. Not nearly as well as Maria, whose husband is an owner of the Treasure Island grocery store chain, but well enough that when the shit hit the fan, I was able to walk away without worrying where my next meal was coming from.

During her run for Treasurer, all the Treasure Island stores had Pappas campaign signs in their windows. A precinct captain told me about Pappas campaigning at the Broadway Treasure Island, sitting on a table, puffing away on a cigarette inside the store. One of the employees, a young bagger, approached her about this, pointing to a very prominent “No Smoking” sign and asked her to put the cigarette out, to which she seethed, “I own this store!” Apparently this is the manner Pappas treats all of her subordinates. Very early on, we were given a memo instructing us on how she preferred the phones to be answered; a script ending with the chilling words “Phone Calls may be monitored for quality assurances.” After that, we assumed we were all being listened to, even departments such as mine where calls from taxpayers were rare.

No one could have convinced me that Pappas herself was the one doing the phone monitoring, until one day a worker in the Refund Department told me about a call from an irate taxpayer who referred to Pappas by every four letter word imaginable, without any contradiction from this employee. Later, an angry Pappas confronted him, demanding to know why he hadn’t defended her. “You instructed us that the customer is always right.” he replied. This rule, he found out, had some exceptions.

Another lady was written up twice for going into her own purse during work hours. Pappas had targeted her for ill treatment to get her to resign so she could give the job to a supporter and the fact that this poor lady had lost her entire family in a drunk driving crash a year earlier had no alleviating impact. They drove her to quit without pity.

The cumulative effect of all the memos, the blue blazers, the mysterious firings and the massive write-ups for petty infractions led to a state of paranoia, distrust and multiple forced resignations.

My turn came on April Fool’s Day. Pappas summoned me to her office for a meeting. I wasn’t the least bit nervous, assuming she wanted to talk to me about one of my projects. She invited one of her deputies to sit in our meeting, explaining as she closed the door, “I want a witness to avoid any confusion later.”

“Uh-oh,” I joked, “what did I do?” I had no idea what was about to happen.

“So, you think I’m a bitch.” Pappas said, taking a seat behind her massive desk, “and that I’m part of the Greek mafia.”

I was floored. She could have had me on the “bitch” part, as I’ve used that word liberally my entire life. It’s a great, all purpose word, and as a political friend later commented, “If calling Maria Pappas a bitch is a firing offense, then crank up the hiring mill.”

Pappas and the word “bitch” had a quiet wedding years ago. Former County Board President Dick Phelan made a big splash in the press when he called her one during a County Board meeting. Pappas was called a bitch so many times by so many people, I thought it was part of her name until they painted it on the front door.

She might of had me on the “bitch” remark, but the “Greek Mafia” thing was not from me. I tried to defend myself, but she kept insisting her informant, whom she would not identify, was “trustworthy”. Then her faced turned cold and sneering, “Quit!” she yelled, “If you don’t like it here, then quit!”

Walking back to my desk, I felt like a truck hit me, or I’d gotten kicked in the balls. I was bewildered that someone would do something like this to me and powerless to defend myself without knowing who was my accuser. Later in the day I attempted to speak to Pappas again, to iron out this mess. I was talking to her secretary when Pappas poked her head out of her office and hissed, “What are you doing here?”

By the tone in her voice I realized it was a lost cause. I returned to my department and typed up a letter of resignation and began looking forward to a long, luxurious summer collecting unemployment and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, now that I’m all grown up.

I’ve also made a decision to retire the word “bitch” from my vocabulary, I’m considering a switch to the “C” word. Bitch is still a great word, it’s just that I won’t be able to use it without thinking about Maria Pappas. I want to move on, you know.image

Republicans Suck, Gay Republicans Swallow

This is an old column of mine from Gab Magazine. Despite the intervening years, Republicans still suck and gay Republicans still swallow. The names of the homophobes may have changed, but not their hate. So, when you read the name Pat Buchanan, just switch in Rick Santorum. Bob Dole=Mitt Romney, etc.                      

Don’t forget to take the online poll at the end: Do Republicans Suck?


 

My Last Listing: The True Story of Hellish House

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by John Smith

  “Hellish House – a dark mansion with a checkered history of murder, suicide and polyester.” my associate George read aloud to me as our Mercedes sped down the lonely highway en route to my newest real estate listing: the legendary haunted DeCamp Manor – otherwise  known as Hellish House.

   With a reputation like that, it was no wonder the house had sat unsold all these years.  “I REALLY should change that sales brochure,” I made a note to myself.

                                                                ******************

   The ink was barely dry on my real estate license when my Century 21 sales manager handed me the listing for DeCamp Manor, a gray granite, six bedroom mansion sitting on 25 acres of wooded isolation. Any agent worth his salt would have salivated over this plum property, yet somehow all my colleagues were too busy. I accepted the assignment with glee, silently calculating what I thought would be an obscene commission.

   “By the way – it’s haunted.” my manager said, cackling as he walked away.

   The joke was on me. It turned out that DeCamp Manor had been on the market for over 30 years. Rumors of strange happenings always prevented the estate from being sold and so all new agents were given DeCamp Manor as a sort of initiation. I was determined to sell this house and have the final laugh.

   Actual details of the supernatural phenomenon associated with DeCamp Manor were hard to come by, but the locals referred to the property as Hellish House. Even thieves were too frightened to venture inside and thus the former owners possessions remained intact and undisturbed all these years. Hearing these rumors of ghosts terrorizing caretakers, I wondered, “Is this something I’m required to disclose?”

   My determination to sell this house meant that I would have to personally visit DeCamp Manor. So I called upon my old college chum, Dr. George Charleton, who, as luck would have it, was a major force in the field of parapsychology and aromatherapy. We once roomed together at our alma mater, St. Martin de Porres School of Cosmetology and Paranormal Studies. We had remained friends even as our respective careers took us in different professional directions.

   As a noted paranormal expert, George was already familiar with the strange history of DeCamp Manor.  He couldn’t wait to get a look and insisted that we leave immediately. George packed my car with sound and video recording equipment in hopes of documenting any supernatural phenomenon we might encounter. He also brought along his “assistant” Hector, a hunky Latin youth, who, by coincidence he had hired just the night before. At first I mistook Hector for the strong and silent type until I realized he didn’t speak a lick of English.

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   It was late in October and the Fall  had sparked the country foliage into beautiful golden and brown hues. I spent the two-hour drive admiring the scenery and scouting the pristine countryside for possible locations for a strip mall, while George was spread out in the backseat studying the file he had assembled on Hellish House and its previous – now deceased – owner, Trevor DeCamp.

    As our little band drew closer to DeCamp Manor, my apprehension grew stronger. Noticing my fear, George pulled from his travel bag a small bottle containing a thick, greenish liquid, “This Oil of Spearmint will soothe you. Take a whiff.”

    I inhaled the sweet, fresh aroma and was reminded of chewing gum, which reminded me I had just quit smoking, which reminded me I wanted a cigarette; so I bummed a smoke from Hector, which immediately soothed my frail nerves.  I handed George back his bottle. “It worked!”

    At dusk our Mercedes pulled into the twisted driveway of Hellish House, the stately mansion but shadows in the twilight. Seeing in person the graceful granite façade and stone turrets I was overcome by a sense of doom. “What if can’t unload this elephant?”

    Hector made himself useful by unpacking the car while George and I made our way up the stone steps to the intricately carved wood front door. I fumbled through my ring of keys, inserting one after the other into the rusted old lock to no avail. “No, that’s to a lovely condo,” I said aloud, moving to the next key, “No, that’s to a gorgeous townhouse with 3 bdrms,  w wbf,  new apps, close to pub trans…”

    “Why don’t you try the skeleton key with the Satanic head and writhing serpents?” George suggested impatiently.

    I don’t know why I didn’t try that old skeleton key first – it did sort of jump out, but before I could insert the key into the lock, the door creaked open on its own.

    “Madre de Dios!” Hector cried, dropping our luggage on the ground before jumping into my Mercedes and peeling rubber back down the long twisted driveway.  George looked on passively as if this experience were not alien to him.

    “Rough trade.” he mumbled.

    Gingerly, I took a few steps into the pitch black foyer of DeCamp Manor. Electricity hadn’t pulsed through these walls in years, so I made my way with an electric torch. The furniture was covered with dusty sheets, the windows mostly boarded over and the interior was cold and stale with a pervasive moldy odor that caused George to reach for his aromatherapy bag for some incense, which he placed in an ornate silver ball on a chain and began waving around the musty room.

   “Your purse is on fire,” I teased. But George, like most aromatherapists, lacks a sense of humor about his profession and gave me a withering look.

   “We must refresh our environment with positive energy.” he lectured.

    “I brought some Glade Plug-ins.” I helpfully offered.

    “Bah!” George sputtered, walking past me. I followed him from room to room as the bobbing glow of his burning incense lead the way.

    We explored the ground floor first, finding that each of the spacious rooms still contained the full furnishings and artwork of the manor’s late last owner. George preceded me into one of the rooms just off the foyer as I lagged behind admiring an abstract sculpture that on closer inspection turned out to be a giant ivory phallus. Then, out of the silence came a horrible shriek – it was George! I ran to find him in the library, his flashlight beaming on a curio cabinet.

    “Look!” He panted, “The entire pre-1979 collection of Precious Moments figurines!”

    After regaining a normal heartbeat, I warned George that the house was likely filled with all sorts of collectible knick-knacks, and if he screamed like that again there would likely be another spirit joining the residence.

    We decided to make the library our base camp for the night, as it had a fireplace and was close to an exit. Plus it contained a pornography collection to rival Clarence Thomas’. We gathered wood from outside and in no time we had a roaring fire. Only after the fire was lit did we notice that hanging above the mantel was an over-sized oil painting depicting two men decked out in vintage 1970’s formal wear. One was decidedly older, distinguished and aristocratic with salt and pepper sideburns; the other was boyish, with a thick mop of jet black hair and a muscular physique.

    “That must be Trevor DeCamp and his young lover Chadwick Thornside,” George mused as he studied the painting, “Even in oil, leisure suits look tacky.”

    Just then, like a whisper or the wind seething through the trees, we heard a voice, “Biiitch.”

    “What was that?” I asked, terror creeping into my throat.

    “YOU called me a bitch,” George replied, “Rather rude seeing how I came all this way to help you.”

   I denied calling him any such thing. But he was right, it did sound like someone or something had used that unfortunate word. I began wishing that Hector hadn’t taken off with my car and his pack of cigarettes.

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    DeCamp Manor was built during what was known as America’s gilded era, when the wealthy garishly flaunted their prosperity and millionaires like the Vanderbilts and the Hearsts were busy building their castles on both coasts. Though more modest, DeCamp Manor rose to the sky in three floors, each boasting 15 foot ceilings. The heating bill must have been enormous.

   After unpacking our equipment, we headed for the upper floors. According to George’s files, much of the strange happenings occurred in the master bedroom. We hunted about in the darkened house for a  short time before finding what George felt certain was the right room. “Are you sure this is their bedroom?” I asked.

    “You will notice the handcuff marks on the bed posts.” George replied with confidence.

    “Were they into rough sex?” I queried.

     “Notorious leather queens – you saw their porn collection. Plus,” George continued, “they died in an amyl nitrate explosion – put two and two together.”

    We set up the recording equipment in the bedroom and waited. The engulfing silence suddenly cut by the startling chimes of a grandfather clock echoing from a distant room below. We counted along. Bong…bong…bong…Twelve chimes. George’s brow furrowed as he glanced at his watch.  “Shocking, did you hear that?” He asked.

    “Yes,” I whispered timorously, “and I too find it odd that a clock in a long abandoned mansion should be chiming.”

    “No, no, no!” George bellowed at me for missing his point, “That clock is 4 minutes slow.”

    “You’re so fucking anal.”

    As we waited for evidence of the paranormal to occur, my fatigue overcame me and I nodded off. It seemed only minutes later I was awakened by a frantic shaking. It was George, with his finger pressed to his lips, “Shhh…” Listening intently, his head cocked like a Labrador, George turned on his recording equipment. In the distance we could hear two distinct male voices. And they were coming closer! It was impossible to discern what they were saying, only that they sounded agitated.

    “What does that sound like to you?” George asked in his softest voice. I listened for a moment before venturing a guess.

     “Bickering?”

    George nodded in agreement. The voices grew louder as they came closer and closer until finally they were in the same room! I threw my hands over my ears in terror as George closed his eyes and sank to the floor. “These spirits are angry.” he said.

    “But why?” I asked, “Is it because we’ve invaded their home?

    “They are upset…with each other,” George replied haltingly, as he appeared to go into a trance-like state.

   “Trevor feels…he feels…” George’s sentence trailed off and his face began to contort in an odd manner as if he were trying to resist some power greater than his own. Suddenly his eyes opened and out of his mouth came a deep voice that was definitely not his. “You are a common whore! I should have left you in the gutter where I found you!”

    A disembodied voice answered back, “Fuck you, asshole!”

   “We’re through – get out!” the phantom controlling George yelled back.

    The two spirits continued to argue, back and forth, one voice emanating from George, the other seemingly coming from the air. After about twenty minutes of listening to this, the bickering became tedious and I grew bored. So I went in search of a snack. After polishing off a sandwich (and some chips), I thought it prudent to check back in on George.

   As I made my way back upstairs, I discovered George half-naked atop the staircase in a state of quivering dishevelment, his faint hair matted with sweat and his pants tripping around his ankles. “What happened?” I cried.

    “They made up!” George moaned, collapsing in my arms with a sweetly satisfied smile on his lips. Suddenly my fear vanished.

    “MY TURN!” I exclaimed as I bounded up the remaining stairs to the master bedroom.

Postscript

George and I decided to  pool our money and buy DeCamp Manor ourselves to turn into a bed and breakfast. George says people will pay big bucks to stay in a genuine haunted house. Although the ghosts of Trevor and his lover continue their nightly bickering, with an i-pod and some headphones, you can barely notice. We plan to charge guests extra to stay in the master bedroom – the epicenter of the hauntings – that is, if I can ever coax George out of there.