Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

The Ruby chain

“What you said was so confused that one could not tell whether it was nonsense or not.” —Wolfgang Pauli, to Lev Landau

Image result for oswald band

On Friday, November 22, 1963, the perennial loser Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated the 35th president of the United States.  That Oswald was the assassin is a certainty—the evidence is overwhelming.  That Oswald acted alone is almost as certain.  The Santamaria Commission Report (2015) laid most people’s doubts to rest, and conspiracy buffs receded into the woodwork like the cockroaches they are.

Two days later, Oswald himself was shot and killed by Jack Ruby.  The story is well known.  Ruby was also a loser, despite his love of dogs.  He had wanted to spare the first lady the discomfort of an Oswald trial circus.  So on Sunday morning Ruby cashed in on his connections and friendships with local policemen to saunter unnoticed into the Dallas police headquarters, whip out a .38, and plug Oswald in the gut.  Good riddance.  Ruby was promptly taken into custody.

Of course, it was now Ruby’s turn to be killed.  On Tuesday, Nov. 26, Ruby died in his jail cell after ingesting a poisoned corned-beef sandwich.  The sandwich had been tainted by deli owner Karel Hartka, who “didn’t like the look” of Ruby.  He had been watching the Oswald prison transfer live on TV.  Witnesses say that when Ruby shot Oswald, Hartka giggled like a schoolgirl.

The Dallas police were, of course, raked over the coals.  First Oswald is killed, then his killer is killed?  The press wondered, is the DPD a bevy of incompetence?  Do they have their heads up their asses?

Hartka’s role in Ruby’s death wasn’t discovered until Saturday, Nov. 30, when Hartka himself was found dead in a ditch in Plano, Texas.  Two kids walking to school found Hartka’s naked body, covered in flies, being gnawed on by a coyote.  When Sherriff’s deputies arrived they had to shoot the coyote for fear of being rabid.  Tissue samples confirmed: no rabies.  Toxicology confirmed: Hartka had been drunk.  No one in Dallas had seen him since Thursday (Thanksgiving) when he had walked home (tipsy) from having dinner with friends.  An autopsy found that Hartka had been killed that Thursday by blunt trauma to the head.

The Ruby connection was easy to piece together.  One, Hartka owned the deli that had sent sandwiches to police headquarters.  (A lot of policemen were friends with Ruby, and they indulged his requests: booze, cigarettes, food, even a jail cell visit from his dog Sheba).  Two, witnesses said that Hartka himself had made the corned-beef sandwich, Ruby’s favorite.  The other sandwiches sent to DPD were either chicken salad or muffuletta.  Three, several plastic sandwich bags filled with arsenic were found in Hartka’s apartment, and indeed it was eventually shown that Ruby had died from arsenic poisoning.  Four, Hartka was a real wanker.

The Ruby Chain was born.

Things were getting weird.  Someone had killed Hartka, who had killed Ruby, who had killed Oswald, who had killed JFK.  What’s more, each death was separated by exactly two days.  It seemed ridiculous, but as the Hartka murder investigation proceeded into December, most people expected Hartka’s murderer to have already died on Saturday, Nov. 30.  You see, it fit the pattern.

And that was, indeed, found to be the case.  Hartka was killed on Thanksgiving night by Shirley Ansley, a schoolteacher from Norman, Oklahoma who was in town visiting her sister.  Ansley had just walked up to Hartka on the street and bashed his head in with a bowling trophy.  She had then somehow dragged Hartka (did she have help?) into her 1962 Cadillac Coupe Deville and driven to Plano, where she threw him in a ditch.  Why had she driven to Plano?  We may never know.  Why had she removed his clothes?  As predicted, Ansley herself had been murdered on Saturday, Nov. 30, in Linneus, Missouri, forcibly drowned in a bathtub.  Linneus at the time had a population of 450 people.

The Ruby Chain was proceeding apace, two days per death, but investigations can take longer.  Hartka’s death wasn’t connected to Ansley until mid-December.  Ansley’s death on a farm in bumfuck Missouri wasn’t solved until January, 1964.  By then, there were over 30 people in the Chain.  But as more murders were investigated and the concept of the Ruby Chain became more widely disseminated, law enforcement began to catch up.

One thing that helped in the early days was the knowledge that whoever killed someone in the Chain was slated to die exactly two days later.  So, let’s say you have a murder on Monday, connect the murder to person X, but then person X shows up dead for totally unrelated reasons on Wednesday.  Your cases may be part of the Ruby Chain!  You make some calls.  Eventually, it’s all worked out.

It’s easy for Ruby Chain novices to lose the thread of the narrative.  Here are the first twelve people on the chain, along with Oswald (patient zero) who is not considered part of the chain since he did not himself kill an assassin:

Assassin n killed by with in on
Oswald 0 Ruby gunshot Dallas, TX 11/24/63
Ruby 1 Hartka poison Dallas, TX 11/26/63
Hartka 2 Ansley blunt trauma Dallas, TX 11/28/63
Ansley 3 Ferrer drowning Linneus, MO 11/30/63
Ferrer 4 McCloud gunshot Topeka, KS 12/2/63
McCloud 5 Perry stabbing Denver, CO 12/4/63
Perry 6 Bosler vehicular Denver, CO 12/6/63
Bosler 7 Spino blunt trauma Fort Smith, AR 12/8/63
Spino 8 David gunshot Pine Bluff, AR 12/10/63
David 9 Daugherty gunshot Memphis, TN 12/12/63
Daugherty 10 Maitland stabbing Providence, RI 12/14/63
Maitland 11 Woodward gunshot New York, NY 12/16/63
Woodward 12 Gretz gunshot New York, NY 12/18/63

[The entire Chain is updated every two days, if possible, at RubyChain.org.  If this website is inaccessible consult your internet provider.  Some places like China or California block such websites routinely.]

The Chain (as of the writing of this narrative, in the year 2018) is presumed to have 9,935 assassins, although many have not been identified.  There are, of course, gaps.  The most significant (the so-called Big Gap) occurred in July of 1973 when the n = 1757 assassin, Martin Boone, was found murdered (with a pencil through his neck) in Nairobi, Kenya.  There, the Chain went cold.  The thread was not regained until June 7, 1974, when n = 1909 (Turan Guliyev) was gunned down on the streets of Shamkhor in the U.S.S.R. (currently Shamkir, Azerbaijan).  His killing had multiple witnesses, and the killer (Ghislaine Williams) took refuge in the U.S. embassy in Moscow, where she was murdered two days later by a U.S. marine lance corporal (Bob Boyd).  The unusual circumstances of these killings eventually led investigators back to the Ruby Chain.

The Big Gap is typical of all gaps in the Ruby Chain.  Whenever a killer was not apprehended immediately, and then managed to either (a) get behind the Iron Curtain or (b) fade into the woodwork of a desolate country and/or wilderness (Mauritania, anyone?) the trail would go cold.  Inevitably, though, the random-walk of Ruby Chain killers would allow investigators to regain the thread.

The United States was the first country to form an organized bureau for investigating the Ruby Chain; this body was at first called the Ruby Chain Investigative Task Force (RCITF) but was later renamed the Ruby Chain Bureau (RCB) in 1986.  Other countries jumped on board when demanded by circumstance.  For example, when the Chain first appeared in Mexico, Canada, and/or the Bahamas at various times in 1964, local task forces were set up as needed to cooperate with the RCITF.  No global Ruby Chain bureau was created until the UN formed the FIPR (Fédération Internationale de la Progression Ruby) in 1998.  The FIPR coordinated efforts between individual agencies like the RCB, Interpol, and the United Kingdom’s MI18.

Now, in the early days of the Chain, murderers were apprehended and taken into custody, even if they were known to be part of the Chain.  Such behavior may seem naïve in retrospect, but the implications of the Ruby Chain had yet to be understood.  The Amarillo Incident of 1965 made such implications obvious.

On Valentine’s Day in 1965, Chip Fortenberry (n = 224) shot Lois Graham (n = 223) during a sermon at Bell Avenue Baptist Church in Amarillo, TX.  Fortenberry was quickly apprehended; several of the parishioners were Sheriff’s deputies.  It turned out that Graham herself was a suspect in a previous murder from two days earlier, but the deputies had not noticed she was there in the church with them!  The fact that she was now killed, inexplicably, two days later, marked this as a suspected Ruby Chain murder, and the RCITF was called in.

Proactive steps were taken to “break the Chain”.  Fortenberry was placed in solitary confinement, in the basement of the Justice Center, with a week’s supply of food (10 boxes of Frosted Flakes, a bag of apples, several boxes of crackers, and a jar of peanut butter) and plenty of bottled water.  The cell was then triple-locked and the men with the three keys went on “road trips” in three different compass directions.  The Justice Center itself was heavily guarded, but each guard was handcuffed to a partner so that none could “sneak off” and, say, set fire to the building.

None of it mattered.  Fortenberry, along with 38 other people, died on Feb. 16 when Julián Cavallería (n = 225), an airline pilot, crashed a Lockheed Constellation filled with women’s dresses into the Amarillo Justice Center at an almost 70° angle.  Besides the victims on the ground, there were two other casualties: Cavallería’s co-pilot and flight engineer, both of whom Cavallería had shot mid-flight shortly after take-off from Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City.  Despite all precautions, the Ruby Chain was unbroken.

Ah, but what of Cavallería himself?  Remarkably (although predictably) Cavallería somehow bailed out of the plane before impact.  No one knows exactly how he managed this, but in any case Cavallería made good his escape and was, of course, killed on Feb. 18.  The Ruby Chain cannot be denied!

Other attempts to break the Chain met similar tragic results—tragic, in the sense of innocent life being lost.  Remember the Hermosillo Prison Fire of 1982?  What about the 1991 Sri Lankan Missile Strike?  Eventually, the consensus became: track the killers, but let them go.  Justice will take care of itself.  After all, it’s just assassins killing assassins.  Why all the hassle in trying to prevent any of it?  Let the fuckers die.

Of course, in today’s era of iPhone videography and ubiquitous social media, the idea of a Ruby Chain reality show was inevitable.  What if you could find living member N of the Chain, and follow them after their murder of N – 1, but before they’ve been killed by N + 1 … the possibilities are endless!  What drama!  What exciting TV!  Who can forget that sublime moment when the famous YouTuber Jesse Maddox interviewed Paul Stull (n = 9582) in a WalMart parking lot?

Maddox: Hey Paul, what’s it like to know you’re part of the Ruby Chain?

Stull: What?  What?

Maddox: America’s watching, Paul.  We know you killed Krissy Wall in Salt Lake.

Stull: I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Maddox: America’s watching!  And since that was two days ago, well, you know, Paul, today’s the day you die!

Stull: Fuck off.

Maddox: In fact— [draws a .38, just like Ruby, and fires it point-blank at Stull.]

Stull: Ooooohhhhhh!

[Maddox, now n = 9583, runs quickly to his car off-camera and peels out of the parking lot]

Not surprisingly, the Ruby Chain Channel (RCC) is now the 4th most-watched channel in American households.

This is something that happened.

In some universe, this occurred.


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Image resultLeBron James will sign with the Golden State Warriors, “sources” hinted at Tuesday.

“This will be a new chapter in the legend that is my life,” James is alleged to have maybe said.  He announced his intentions in an unsubstantiated tweet at 12:02 AM Tuesday, just minutes after his Cleveland Cavaliers fell to the Warriors in the NBA finals.

The tweet said, “Joining the bandwagon!  I need another ring!!!”

James is expected to sign a one-year, $177 million dollar contract.  When asked if Golden State could possibly afford such an amount, James shrugged and said, “Maybe they’ll cut Patrick McCaw or something.”

James said he was switching teams for “personal growth” reasons:  “I need to go in a new direction,” James wrote in an alleged email to someone.  “I need an opportunity to expand my horizons.  And the only way for me to grow as a human being is to have another giant ring on my finger.  Three just isn’t enough.”

James thanked Cleveland in an off-hand way.  “I’m glad to have played here in Toledo, um, I mean, Cleveland.  Or wherever it is that I am.  But I’d love to move to Golden State…that’s in Wyoming, right?”

James will join Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, who already play for the Warriors, along with Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard, Isaiah Thomas, and James Harden, who are all expected to sign with the Warriors soon.

“We all need rings,” James said.  “That’s the only thing that’s important.”

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This is Something that Happened

Get away, you beast, for this man

does not come tutored by your sister;

he comes to view your punishments.

            —Dante, Inferno, Canto XII, lines 16–20


There was a pause in the conversation­—one of those sudden strange lulls that seem to have meaning, but are actually just coincidences.  Mr. Herbert didn’t like coincidences of any kind, so he said the first thing that popped into his mind.

“Why don’t we bury politicians alive?”

The married couple, Mrs. and Mr. Quain, looked at each other knowingly, and it didn’t take much perception to surmise what they were thinking.  See, George, I told you he was weird.  Yes, Gladys, I see what you mean.  Have some more of the kale salad.  Why, I don’t mind if I do.

The fourth person at the table, Mr. Muraña, didn’t react at all to Mr. Herbert’s absurd declaration.  He kept sawing at his overdone steak with a huge serrated steak knife.  The sawing was surprisingly delicate, as if Mr. Muraña was preparing tissue samples to be placed between glass slides.

“I said, why don’t we bury politicians alive?”

“We heard you the first time,” said Mr. Quain.

“Oh, George, be nice.”

Mr. Herbert feigned a smile.  “I am serious.  Here’s my proposal.”  He gulped the rest of his wine—a cloyingly sweet port which suited him just fine.  “OK, so we have elections, right?  There are always plenty of candidates.  The problem is, none of the candidates are ever any good.  Idiots, the lot of them.  So here’s what we do: on election day, at around 8pm, say, we bury all the candidates alive.  Just trundle them all up in a bunch of coffins and stick ‘em six feet under.  And then, get this, when the election returns come in, we dig up the winner only.  Good riddance to the rest, I say.”  He popped a cherry tomato into his fleshy mouth.

Mrs. Quain was pretending she didn’t hear any of Mr. Herbert’s idea, chewing her kale with grim determination.  Mr. Quain was less subtle.

“I thought we were having a serious conversation,” he huffed.

“I am serious.”

Mr. Muraña raised a hand and snapped a finger.  This being a restaurant with two Michelin stars, a waiter or waitress (it was impossible to tell which) immediately refilled his glass of water.  He then resumed his steak sawing.

“Well,” said Mr. Quain, “we were discussing Heidegger’s Being and Time.  At least, I thought we were.  Then you bring up this nonsense—”

“Is this a sort of game to you, George?” Mr. Herbert asked.

“Whatever do you mean?”

“I mean, I change the subject, and you get all indignant?”

Mrs. Quain smiled faintly, as if she had thought of something naughty.  Her husband said: “I’m not indignant!”

“I don’t want to talk about Heidegger any more.  So I changed the subject.”

“To something ludicrous!”

Mr. Herbert lifted a blue-and-white napkin and wiped non-existent crumbs from his lips.  “Not as ridiculous as your analysis of Being and Time.”

Mr. Quain was nonplussed.  He appealed to Mr. Muraña, as if Mr. Muraña were a referee who could adjudicate a thorny issue.  “What say you, Reyes?”

Mr. Muraña looked up.  “About Being and Time, or about burying people alive?  As to the first, I think the book is overrated, as is Heidegger, truth be told.  I think that the informational content of the book is close to zero.  It reminds of new age nonsense, such as Deepak Chopra.  You see in the book whatever you want to see.  It is a kind of Rorschach test.  The language is convoluted, almost labyrinthine.  Page after page on the difference between Being, and Being-in.”  Mr. Muraña put his serrated knife down carefully, perpendicular to and on top of his fork, making a cruciform as if to ward off evil spirits.  “As to the second, well, I don’t think you have thought your plan completely through, Mr. Herbert.  When did you say you would bury the politicians?  8pm, no?”

“That’s right.”

Mrs. and Mr. Quain looked at each other again.  She was softly shaking her head; he was turning vermillion.

“Well,” continued Mr. Muraña, “assume that the election returns come in around 11.  All the politicians would be dead.  You cannot survive three hours buried alive.  You would suffocate.”

Mr. Herbert looked as though he were about to retort.

“Now look here,” Mr. Quain said, “let’s get back to Heidegger—”

Mrs. Quain rolled her eyes and muttered, “You did spend so much time slogging through it…”

“The thing I like about Heidegger is that he distinguished between factual properties, on the one hand, and ‘Being’ on the other, which is not a property,” Mr. Quain said somewhat pompously.

“Do you even know what that means?” Mr. Herbert asked.

“Of course.  Let me explain.  See Reyes over there?”  Mr. Muraña raised his water glass in salute.  “He is a man.  That’s one of his properties.  But his existence is not in and of itself a property.  The term ‘man’ is a category.  The term ‘being’ is an existential.  It is factual to say he is a man.  It is ‘factical’ to say that he is ‘being’ right now.  Do you get it?”

“George,” Mrs. Quain said, “I don’t even think Heidegger would have gotten that.”

Mr. Herbert shrugged.  “I didn’t want to get into all that ontological inquiry versus ontic inquiry over dinner.  I wanted to talk about something a bit more fun.  Now, Mr. Muraña, as to the suffocation problem—”

“I am a woman, you know,” Ms. Muraña said.  She swatted away a non-existent fly.

“—the way I see it is, we could put these ventilation tubes down into the coffins.  Let them breath just fine.  We can plug them up later when the results come in on CNN.”

“You’re a woman?” Mr. Quain said, the same way one might enunciate the phrase The volcano is exploding?

“Oh of course she is,” Mrs. Quain said.  “You really don’t have a finely tuned gaydar, do you, George?”

A waiter or waitress arrived with dessert: a Meyer lemon donut with cereal milk.  Everyone took a plate; Ms. Muraña also asked for strong coffee.

“We should go further,” Ms. Muraña said.  “Why not?  I propose that we bury the accused.  Just during jury deliberations, you know.  Bury these people alive, with ventilation, as you say.  Let the juries or judge deliberate.  Then if they are acquitted, we dig them up.  Otherwise—”  She smiled.

“Only for heinous crimes, surely” Mrs. Quain said, sipping her cereal milk.

“Not you too!” Mr. Quain gasped.

“Of course,” Ms. Muraña said.  “Rape, murder, maybe tax evasion.”

“I like it!” Mr. Herbert said, biting into his donut.

Mr. Quain decided that the only way to get the conversation back on track was to plow ahead, and pretend that his wife, his neighbor, and his (apparently) female boss had all gone temporarily bananas.  “Anyway, I am struck by Heidegger’s final thesis: that time is temporal.  Now, you see that if—”

Mrs. Quain suddenly became a minotaur.

First, her head snapped up, as if her mind were now controlled by a powerful sorcerer, within range but out of sight.  Her eyes rolled back, showing blood-shot whites but no pupils.  Veins in her neck started to bulge.  Her chest expanded; her blouse and bra popped off in shreds.  She stood up violently, knocking her chair backward.  Several drinks were spilled.  She then shook her head rapidly, almost comically, as if to say no no no no no no no.

Her limbs grew in length and girth.  Her skin tone darkened, and wiry black hair grew all over.  Her skirt fell away; her panties became tatters; a huge uncircumcised penis (fully erect) now protruded from between her legs.

Her head transformed last.  Mrs. Quain’s eyes began to bleed, as if her tears were made of blood; her lips cracked and bled as well.  Her formerly perfect teeth became dull and yellow and fetid.  Her nose doubled in size, then flattened and became decided bovine.  Her forehead puddled forward, as if viscous, then hardened into an elongated shape: definitely the head of a bull.  Her eyes shrunk in size and receded into a furry face.  Steam escaped her lips.

Now fully naked and close to seven feet tall, the minotaur that was Mrs. Quain bellowed: an almost primal roar that caused everyone in the restaurant to startle.  As if by magic, a huge battleaxe appeared in her hairy arms.

“Είμαι Μινώταυρος!”

Mr. Quain was cowering on the floor at his wife’s feet.  Mr. Herbert was standing some twenty feet away, trying to decide whether to exit the room entirely.  Ms. Muraña had picked up her steak knife and was holding it without enthusiasm, as if she realized its efficacy was nil.

“Αυτό είναι ένα σύμπαν στο οποίο συμβαίνει αυτό!”  Mrs. Quain swung her axe at the table, cleaving it in twain.

There was a stampede towards the door.  Mr. Herbert was one of the first to leave, no doubt thinking of burying minotaurs alive.  Mr. Quain was a babbling, incoherent mess.  Port wine and tears and cereal milk mixed as they dripped down his face.  He had shit himself.

Only Ms. Muraña retained any kind of composure, although ‘composure’ here is a relative term.  She had wet herself, and had bitten her lower lip until it bled, but by sheer force of will she had stood her ground and not backed away.  Paradoxically, the fierce look on her face and her aggressive stance made her appear more feminine.

Why did she stand her ground, that day, when confronted with the minotaur?  That is, of course, the question.  It is not for us to speculate, or judge.

“Είναι ένας τρόπος που οδηγεί από το αρχέγονο χρόνο για να την έννοια του να είναι εκεί! Μήπως το ίδιο το ίδιο χρονικό διάστημα, όπως αποκαλύπτουν τον ορίζοντα της ύπαρξης!”  Mrs. Quain sprang forward and swung the axe at Ms. Muraña.

In abject terror, Ms. Muraña flung her knife to the side.  It skittered across the marble floor.

Ms. Muraña was decapitated cleanly, her head sloughing off like mashed potatoes piled too high.  Through some autonomic response, she raised her hands and clutched at where her head used to be, as if feeling for her soul.

The corpse that used to be Ms. Muraña slumped to the ground.

This is something that happened.

In some universe, this occurred.


If you enjoyed this story, you may also enjoy my book Why Is There Anything? which is available for the Kindle on Amazon.com.


I am also currently collaborating on a multi-volume novel of speculative hard science fiction and futuristic deep-space horror called Sargasso Nova.  Publication of the first installment will be January 2015; further details will be released on FacebookTwitter, or via email: SargassoNova (at) gmail.com.

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