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“Who Speaks for Me?” by Bob Ferguson

Who Speaks For Me?

by Bob Ferguson


It was a simple contraption. Bare wires jammed into the receptacle end of an orange extension cord could be attached to a cyclone fence, then all he had to do was plug it in, grab on and Zaaap! He’d be gone instantly. It was a “do it yourself” electric chair.

For twenty years he had screamed his innocence at them. His frustrated yelling and odd, ha, ha, haaaaaaa, laughing at their bumbling errors made them treat him like a deranged pervert. As a Husky alum, he found the minimally educated guards to be cruel and inept. But, the worst part was living as a convicted child molester among vicious psychopaths who assaulted him daily.

Life had ended for James Albright in a courtroom filled with hubris, confessions coerced from his two young daughters, and bizarre accusations from his mentally ill wife. He did not blame them. She was too ill and they were too young. It was the new DA who promised to get “tough on crime.” Overnight, James went from being the respected head of his family to a pariah on society.

The metal fence was a perfect conductor of electricity. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” He attached the wires and plugged in the cord. Filled with fear, joy, and relief, he tightly squinted his eyes, reached out, and grabbed the next life.

Daily Journal of James Albright

7/5/13 Smuggled the cord from the shop today. It will work.
7/6/13 Assaulted twice today. Living is worse than dying.
7/7/13 For the last time I have cried out about my innocence.
7/8/13 The one sin God can’t forgive is suicide. He will understand. It is they who take my life.

Columbian Newspaper Article July 11, 2013

“Just days before his exoneration became eminent, James Albright committed suicide by electrocution on a jail fence. Twenty years ago he was convicted and sent to prison for child sex abuse. His two children have recanted their statements and have accused the prosecutor, Art Buris and detective Debbie Stevens of coercing confessions from them when they were only 5 and 6 years old. It is also alleged that Buris and Stevens withheld evidence from the defense attorney to advance their own careers. Sources say that Clark County was preparing to pay $5 million dollars to Albright who said from his jail cell ‘What good is money? That prosecutor and detective have already taken my life.’ Buris and Stevens are now retired and immune from any prosecution or penalties. They declined to be interviewed for this article.”

At the end of the day, the sun sets on the Bastards and Saints alike. Even God has difficulty discerning between them.

The End


Authors Note: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity between a current Clark County, case and those of the nearly 2,000 other cases of exoneration across the nation is purely intentional.

I have obtained the security camera video from Clark County Jail under the Freedom of Information Act. I hope you find it disturbing.


© 2014 Bob Ferguson


“Thanks Hank” by Bob Ferguson

An animal trainer
“Don’t eat that!”
Spending $4


Thanks Hank

By Bob Ferguson

The blistering sun and dust from the corn fields gave his face a swarthy look and his hands a leathery feel. He was tougher than the land he had tilled his entire life, but looked older than his sixty years.

It had been nearly a year since Samantha had passed away and Samuel Butler couldn’t move on. She was his ranch partner as well as his wife. In Fox Hollow, Alabama they were referred to as The Sammies. Everyone called each of them Sam, but to each other they were Samantha and Sam. They had been high school sweethearts and were fixtures in the community their grandparents had helped build. Her death came after a two year battle with cancer. Watching Samantha die had been like watching the slow wilting of the grandest rose in the garden. It withered Sam.  He was a hard-boiled, horse trainer, but her cancer was not something he could rope, brand, hog tie, and bend to his will. He could only watch and weep.

Sam put the tractor in the barn for the season. Harvesting was done. His tired body climbed the well worn stairs and he took a seat in one of the two rockers. He looked out over his acreage and was pleased with what he had done by his own hand. He took a cigar from the box of White Owls he kept on a wicker table.

The night was warm. He grabbed a cold PBR from the fridge.

He looked at his old acoustic guitar hanging on the wall. He took it down, tuned it, and began to sing.  His voice was like the rest of him, ruggedly sexy, and welcomed anywhere. He had been singing the same song since Samantha’s, the Hank Williams classic “I’m so lonesome I could cry.” He sang the same verse over and over:

“Did you ever see a robin weep
When leaves begin to die
That means he’s lost the will to live
I’m so lonesome I could cry”

Tears streamed down his face. Six PBR’s couldn’t ease the pain. For some odd reason he sang the last verse.

“The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky
And as I wonder where you are
I’m so lonesome I could cry”

That verse jolted him from his misery. While he was wondering “where you are” he knew Samantha would be the first to tell him to buck up and get on with the business of living. He drank the last of the beer and began packing.

His ’63 Chevy was like the one he had in high school. It was made to run. He put the guitar in the back seat and a few bags of clothing in the trunk. He had arranged to have the farm taken care of for the next month and he now had a plan to live with gusto. He even whipped a few doughnuts in the front yard, and made a bee line to the county road. He would rejuvenate his mind and body on the beaches of Mobile, play his guitar and sing in the karaoke clubs. Samantha would like that.

On the edge of Montgomery Sam stopped for lunch. Nothing fancy, but a city diner.

“Hi there hon, take a seat anywhere,” the waitress said. “You look like you’re the real deal, not like the guys who come in here, they’re all hat and no cattle.” She handed him a menu and said “We had a little problem with our stove today so you don’t want to eat the jambalaya, but we’ve got some good four dollar gumbo.” She was filling his water glass and wiping tables all at the same time. She was a hard worker like Samantha.

“Where ya’ll from?” She asked.

“I’ve lived my whole life up in a little place called Fox Hollow,” Sam said.

“You gotta be kiddin’ me,” the waitress shouted. “Let me take another look at you baby cakes. I lived in Fox Hollow for a few years myself. I hated to leave it, my dad got transferred.”

Their eyes met. They were of the same vintage, no wedding rings, life’s experiences etched their faces, and there would be no need for awkward flirtation.

“Charley, I mean Charlene is that really you?” Sam said, remembering her as one of the prettiest girls in school.

“And you’re the guitar playing Sam who married Sam!” They had the rest of their lives to fill in the rest of their stories.

“Well, I’m single again.” Sam was going for it. He was starved for fun. “Since we seem to be between the lunch and dinner crowds, how about if I sing for my supper?”

As he went to fetch his guitar he heard another refrain that Hank made famous,

“Hey, hey good lookin’ What ya got cookin’
How’s about cookin’ somethin’ up with me?”

The End

© 2013 Bob Ferguson

“Occupy the Bacon” by Bob Ferguson

Character: Police station clerk
Action: Tightening a knot
Setting: A meeting for a subversive group
Prop: Decorative songbirds made from vinyl records


Occupy the Bacon

by Bob Ferguson

The tragedy of lightening is that it strikes randomly. It never punishes the deserving. Have you ever heard of lightening striking an “idiot congressman?” As Mark Twain, said “…but repeat myself.” That was the view held by Angus Thornberry, a cop who walked the “Old Town” beat until a quirky accident, changed his life.

While walking his night shift, a bicyclist riding a “fixie,” the type of bike with no gears, no brakes, and no brains, slammed into him. The rider’s thick helmet crashed into his cranium giving Angus a concussion. Like many other cops, Angus filed for the “golden disability parachute.” His reputation suffered when he claimed to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shortly after taking acting classes.

Continue reading

2010 Winners

Congratulations to the following writers who won the 2010 Sledgehammer prize packages!

First Place Individual: Josh Gross, “Toothpaste and Bumper Stickers”

First Place Team: Disciples of Ba’alat, “Varney’s Revenge”

Readers’ Choice: Bob Ferguson, “Riff Raff”

All winners will read their full stories at Wordstock this Saturday at noon at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland. They’ll also be presented with their prize packages there, so don’t miss out on seeing all the goodies.

And of course, a great big thank-you goes out to all our sponsors who made this year’s prize packages worth over $6,000!

Riff Raff

Riff Raff

by Bob Ferguson

I would attack them from a hiding place in plain sight. They would never expect an assault from a pariah of society. I planned to steal enough of their money to skip to Portugal or South America and live comfortably for life. Except—I had no life. They took it when they hooked Jess, my son on drugs—and he overdosed.

Drugs are every parent’s nightmare. At our wits end, we used the tough-love technique espoused by the current psycho-gurus and kicked Jess out of the house the day he turned eighteen. Through teary eyes at his funeral my wife, Jenny said “We drove him straight into their ripping claws.” She was right. The guilt, self-hate was intolerable. Ten days after his service Jenny found the easy way out—sleeping pills.

There was no celebration of life, no service, and no obituary for either of them. I buried each with a simple marker in the family plot where I had expected to be the first to rest. I headed home after the burial. No purpose. No feeling. No reason to live. On the two-lane road back down the hill it would be easy to give the wheel a quick jerk to the left into the path of an on-coming semi-truck. Swift. Quick. Sure. But with every passing second, like an infectious fever, hate began permeating the cells of my numb body. As a driving force, hate seemed more dominant than love. Vile loathing was giving me an insidious purpose for living—to seek retribution. They would pay dearly for what they had taken from me.

Parks had always been a pleasant place to while away a few hours with the family. Birds liked the high canopies of the tall oaks and centuries of adaptation had superbly equipped the squirrels for climbing trees more nimbly than Olga Korbut on the balance beam. I had no one to enjoy it with. I was wretchedly alone. The sounds and sights held no joy.

The park was further degraded, by the scum of humanity scattered about in old quilts, filthy sleeping bags and the rags on their backs like a human garbage dump. They reminded me of the dregs of the second wine bottle I was devouring. As disgusting as these human vermin were, they would be good camouflage for me to carry out my vengeance in the place where I knew Jess first began using drugs—the Park Blocks.

My .38 snub nosed service revolver that I had carried in Vietnam gave me a feeling of protection. It was stuffed into the field jacket that I had picked up at a surplus store. My gray hair was matted and matched my five days of stubble. The black stocking cap made me indistinguishable from the other homeless people who were in various stages of reverie induced by booze or drugs. I had become Charles Bronson in “Death Wish.” Life was imitating art.

It always surprised me that buying drugs was so easy. I wondered why a prosecutor simply didn’t grant amnesty to the guy at the lowest level if he ratted on his supplier. Then that supplier gets amnesty if he finks on his source, right on up to the top. I would prove my own theory. I would wait for the mule, the delivery man, the creep that made it possible to get my son hooked. It would be easy to follow him to his connection and follow that link to the next guy in the chain of command. I couldn’t offer amnesty, but a .38 in his face would be even a more convincing argument to become a stoolie. After I killed a few, they would know that Portland is no place for pushers.

“I’m Joe,” I said to a guy on a park bench as I screwed off the top of a fresh bottle of vintage MD 20/20 and handed it to him. “My wife was Jenny, my son was Jess. We called ourselves the “J” family,” I continued trying to be friendly.

“They call me Riff, I used to play the guitar on stage,” he said before he took a deep swig like it was the elixir of youth and he wanted to be a teenager again.

“I’d like to score a little Mary Jane,” I said trying to sound like an entrenched user.

“Haven’t heard that term in a while. If you mean pot, just watch that corner down there and you’ll see a guy who seems to talk to everybody. I’m tapped out or I’d give you some.”

It was a generous offer from a guy who seemed to be on his last legs.

“Keep that bottle of Mad Dog, I appreciate your info,” I said sauntering off toward a bench that had just become available with a better view of the corner.

His pants hung so low I wondered what held them up. A black baseball cap with a flat bill was stuffed sideways on a thick head of black hair. He was, it pained me to admit it, a handsome Latino. Even under his baggy hoodie you could tell he had a powerful build. Long silver chains draped down his sides and seemed to have no purpose other than decoration. He had mastered the art of smoking and talking incessantly on a cell phone at the same time.

It was a week day and he was busy. It was a quick reach into his fanny pack, a simple handshake, hug or short huddle and that was it. Money, pot, and short greetings were exchanged. It surprised me how many people dressed in suits and ties shook his hand. A bank of gray clouds created a sun screen that added an even darker mood to the nefarious activities taking place right in front of me.

He periodically got into a white, souped up Honda with dark tinted windows. He would be gone for a little while and then reappear on the same corner after stepping off the light rail stop just across the street.

The day was getting away from me. The Charles Bronson in me wanted action, but if I was careless it would be dangerous, maybe fatal. I feigned sleeping, reading the newspaper and if a stranger walked by I would even ask for spare change just to blend in with the vagrants.

The mark I had selected for my wrath would not be easy. He appeared to work alone, but there were always a few guys that looked just like him standing nearby. “His homies in hoodies,” I chortled to myself. It had been a long time since I had chortled, but it was not the good kind. I decided those stupid chains must be some sort of Ninja weapon. Even if they weren’t, he might be carrying and getting him alone would take some doing. They were wary, always looking for cops, rival gangs, and whatever other threats druggies face. They looked at me, but only saw the lowest of all life forms sitting on the park bench. Hiding in plain sight was perfect.

After a few hours the white Honda came by and he again got in. I glanced at my watch. It was a quarter to one. In almost exactly a half hour he again hopped off the Max line at the same stop—alone. That was it! I had my first victim in my sights. They had a time schedule for dropping off money and reloading with drugs and it matched the Max train schedule!

In the, invariably out of toilet paper, seedy, and filthy, public restroom, I shaved and washed my face. From my backpack I took out a non-descript jacket. I was ready.

“Riff, I’ll give you five bucks to watch this bundle for me. I’ll give you another ten when I return, is that a deal?” I asked laying the pack next to him.

“You sure you can trust me?” He said.

“Your cap says you’re a Vietnam vet or is that just brag?” I asked.

“No way! I joined the Marines right out of high school,” he said looking me in the eyes seeking a clue for some sense of trust.

“Well, Semper Fi my friend. Once a Marine always a Marine and this ol’ Marine needs your help, if I’m not back by 5:30 this evening, you can have it all,” I said walking away. I knew I had him with the Semper Fi.

Like clockwork, the white Honda came by at 3:45 on their two hour schedule. That meant that my Latino friend would conduct his business with those behind the darkened windshield and according to the Max schedule at his exit stop he would arrive back at almost exactly 4:15 pm., but I had a surprise for him.

I hustled down two blocks where the schedule read the next pickup headed north would be at 4:10 pm. It was in the “Fareless Square” so all I had to do was hop on and take a seat.  The train was deserted. He was easy to spot, sitting in the back of the second car with his feet stretched out taking up an entire seat. I took the seat directly across the aisle from him.

“There’s a whole car man, why you got to be right here in my face?” He said in broken English pronouncing “you” like the first syllable of Ju Ju Bean.

“I thought I knew you from somewhere,” I said.

“Now dat you know you don’t know me, I say you should move,” he said bobbing his head in a smart-alec way. I still wondered why the word “you” was such a tongue twister.

Physically, at 60 years old, I was no match for him, but I wanted to slap his silly face. I stood up like I was going to change seats and in a flash I pulled the .38 from my jacket pointed it at his face and said “Don’t move! My little friend here says I know you from the corner by the park, now put your feet down and your hands on the back of the seat in front of you.”

He stopped smiling. I slid into the seat behind him with the pistol pushed into the middle of his back. I wanted to pull the trigger and just leave him sitting there hunched over, but I had a problem. The gun was loaded with ammunition that was over forty years old and the bullets were green tracers. It was meant to be used as a survival pistol in case the F-4, in which I flew as a navigator on photo reconnaissance missions, was ever shot down. The green tracers were used instead of flares to notify the rescue choppers that I was a friendly force. A snub nose is not as accurate as a longer barrel, but there was a chance it could go clean through and ricochet hurting a bystander. I had never fired the pistol. Not even in Vietnam and I wasn’t sure what it would do.

“You, you are a dead man,” he said in anger making the “Y” sound even more like a “J.”

“So are you, if you don’t do exactly as I say.”  It was a bluff. “With your left hand, unbuckle that fanny pack and hand it back to me.”

For emphasis, I cocked the gun and pushed it harder into his back.

“It’s got a hair trigger,” I lied.

I took the fanny pack while moving the gun to the back of his head.

“Your buddies will be looking for you as we pass the park and what you need to do to stay alive is to wave to them as we go by.”

As we passed the park he was waving and I was holding up the fanny pack and flipping them the bird. Cute, but it was immensely stupid on my part. He knocked the gun from my hand, grabbed it and pulled the trigger—thank God the ammo was manufactured by the lowest bidder.  It didn’t fire. I had a second chance and pulled a lock-back knife with a 5” blade from my pants pocket. He was unimpressed and pulled out a 15” bayonet.

The train jerked to a stop, the doors opened and a passenger jumped on and quickly clubbed my nemesis from behind with a policeman’s night stick.

“Semper Fi,” said Riff. “I saw his amigos scattering when they thought they’d catch hell for losing the money and the pot. Then I saw him knock the gun out of your hand so I ran to the next stop. Lucky for you I always carry this souvenir night-stick for protection. A cop lost in a park scrum a while back.”

The dealer was stirring as we hopped off, ran back to the park, grabbed our gear and hailed a cab. It felt great to strike a blow for the good guys.

We gave the money to a homeless shelter, and the dealer resembled a body that was fished out of the Willamette River a few days later. The police speculated he had stolen some money and drugs from a local gang. Go figure.

Riff needed a place to live. I needed company. He’ll be living with me for a while.  He’s a pretty good guitarist. He plays and sings on open mic nights at a few blues joints. We’ve gotten involved in some veteran’s causes and my problems seem no worse than many others who are putting their lives back together.

I suppose life can imitate art, but it’s better to leave the vigilante stuff to the trained professionals. And what became of the pot? We’re Marines, not saints for cryin’ out loud.

© 2010 Bob Ferguson

“Riff Raff” won the 2010 Readers’ Choice Award.