Another Free Story — And An Old Friend

I confess a nostalgia in writing this story for today. Anyone who has read my books knew these short stories would eventually have to include some favorites of mine. Writing this scene — and that is really more what it is, a scene from a book I will never write but I can see and feel the whole book right now — writing this scene was like visiting an old friend after a long absence.

Oh, and I also had a good time writing lyrics to songs in a genre I know nothing about.

We will be back at it tomorrow, Thursday, and Friday with more free COVID Captivity Chronicles. No gimmicks. No paywalls. No newsletter signups. Just outstanding content. Of Course, if you like what you read, we do have these books you can buy . . .

Until then, Enjoy!


The Package

A Butch Gregory Short Story

By Jamie D. Greening

Wyoming Wallace couldn’t help noticing the outstanding legs walking so close to his face. It pleased him even further when the beautiful face attached to the outstanding body carried by those legs stopped right in front of his seat: 22A. “Sir, there are only six passengers on this flight, so we’re gonna seat you in first class.” She beckoned him with her finger, “Follow me.”

“I’d follow you anywhere,” he mumbled. She turned around and smiled. He didn’t know if she heard him or was being polite. He hoped she heard.

“You can sit here in aisle four. Would you like something to drink?”

“Whiskey. Neat.” Wyoming stretched out his legs. The flight across the Pacific was packed because it was the only one in the next two weeks. A little comfort felt good.

The flight attendant returned with a tumbler generously filled. He thought she lingered a bit longer than was necessary, as if wanting him to make a move, even if it was small talk. Wyoming wanted to, but he didn’t have time for that. Not on this flight. It still flattered him though.  At thirty-seven years old, he still had it.

The plane landed thirty minutes early.

The mood inside the airport was a strange mix of normalcy and fatalism. It still surprised Wyoming how much the world had changed. And how fast. The first wave of COVID in the spring of 2020 spawned the phenomena of social distancing and restrictions upon gatherings. That worked, for a time. Now humanity was up to its proverbial eyeballs in wave two of the virus. The second wave hit with a hard iron punch, made worse by foolish political mechanizations to downplay the risk. Society abandoned social distancing. People returned to normal lifestyles, like flying, picnics, church, and visiting sick people in the hospital. They accepted the fatalism of doom: there was nothing to be done but wait for your turn to get sick, so why bother. Behavioral scientists called it the COVID-19 Catch-22. It was a no-win situation. Everyone would get it eventually. Why make the time between miserable. If you die, you die. A compilation hip-hop album in the winter of 2021 by the title 19-22 shortened the lingo for the common vernacular. People soon referred to the disease itself as the 19-22. As if on cue with his thoughts, the canned music in the corridor played the title song. 

The cough, the chills—the pain in the head

19-22 make you wish you were dead

Blame Fauci, China, Trump or Milan

Kiss yo mama bye, cuz humanity is gone 

Y’all

Wyoming didn’t delay. He’d cleared customs in Los Angeles, and only had his carry on. He was headed south on I-5 before the plane’s captain had gotten out of the bathroom. His black Jeep darted around sedans and vans. Time was important. For the last two years, time was all that mattered. 

He was fifteen minutes from Tacoma General Hospital when a black Hummer and a gray Chevy Silverado matched his speed. The Hummer took a position to his left and the Silverado squatted in front of him. The window on the passenger side of the Hummer rolled down. A young buck with a Fu Manchu pointed for him to exit. 

Wyoming did not recognize the man, but he knew who had sent him. He had no intention of stopping. To stop would mean death, probably for him, and certainly for Lucy. That wasn’t happening, not on Wyoming Wallace’s watch.

He smiled at the Hummer, as if to obey and waved forward to distract. He reached into the bag beside him in the Jeep and pulled out his .45. He almost forgot to roll down his own window. When he did, he fired the pistol toward the man in the window. The bullet exploded into his skull throwing blood and brain all over the leather interior. The Hummer screeched, lurched across the far lane, and collided into a series of road construction barrels before smashing into an unoccupied Washington State Department of Transportation pickup truck.  

Wyoming swerved to the right lane and shot his pistol twice at the right rear tire of the Silverado, causing a blowout. He sped past the truck and put the pedal down.

He parked on the curb in front of the hospital’s main door. “You can’t park there,” shouted a security officer. 

“Sure, I can,” Wyoming snorted as he walked by him. “I just did.”

“I’ll have you towed.” The guard said.

“Go ahead. Wouldn’t be the first time. Won’t be the last,” Wyoming zipped by. 

He picked up in his peripheral vision a muscular man in a nice suit who started toward him as soon as he entered the atrium. Wyoming took advantage of the many mirrors in the hospital to confirm a man in a blue suit, white shirt, and a lavender tie was on his trail. What Wyoming didn’t notice was the other man watching him from the second level mezzanine. 

Wyoming entered the elevator and pushed the button for ICU. The blue suit got in the elevator and pushed the second floor. When the elevator doors opened, the second man, wearing black trousers and a dark leather jacket stepped into the lift and punched Wyoming in the stomach as the second man hit the close-door button.

Wyoming doubled over. “I didn’t see that coming. I must not be focused.” The bulging blue suit grabbed him and held his arms behind his back.

“Apparently not,” said the second man in a thick Russian accent. “I hope you do see, however, there is no way out. Give it to us and we let you live. It is that simple. We don’t want any bloodshed. We have worked so well together in the past. We don’t want this present unpleasantness to disrupt our future.”

“I’m sorry,” Wyoming said. “I can’t do that.”

“I was afraid you would say such.”

Wyoming noticed the elevator wasn’t moving. He wondered how long it would stay before the hospital staff became suspicious. Half-hour? Half-a-day? It could go either way. He didn’t have time to wait. 

“Well,” Wyoming said. “I am a little pigheaded. I get that from my mother’s side of the family.” 

“I am impatient,” the second man said. “I get that from my father’s side of the family,” and with that he wailed on Wyoming with his left and right hands, striking him in the stomach and face. “Give it to us.”

Wyoming shouted, “Okay, okay.” He caught his breath. “I can tell you guys mean business. Free my hand and I’ll get it.” The dark leather jacket nodded to the blue suit, who then let go of Wyoming’s left hand. Wyoming reached into his denim jacket as if to extract what the men wanted, but instead he pulled out his knife from his belt. With one motion he slit the throat of the second man and then switched the angle of the knife in his hand as he brought it back behind him and shoved it into the kidneys of the bulging blue suit. It was one fluid motion that in hindsight, Wyoming recognized was inspired. 

He pushed the button for ICU on the elevator and felt it kick back to life. He hoped no one would be waiting for it when it reached the floor. The mess he’d made would be a little hard to explain. He pushed the two dead men to the corner. 

Fortunately, no one was waiting for the elevator. He made his way down the hallway

Lucy Gregory was in the fourth bed. Every room on the ICU wing was occupied with a COVID-19 patient. Every patient had a ventilator. The survival rate was only twenty percent once a patient went that severe. Wyoming looked at all the people, most of them his age or younger. The first wave took the older folks. This wave was taking everyone else. 

Paul, Butch and Lucy’s youngest child, their only son, sat on a bench outside his mother’s room. “Where is your father?” Wyoming said as he approached.

“With mom,” Paul said. “He hasn’t left her. Not in days.”

“Sarah?” Wyoming said. Because of their dream experience, in what seemed like a lifetime ago, he felt a special connection to the young woman who was his friend and the Gregory’s oldest child.

“She is still in Seattle at the Army field hospital in Seahawks Stadium.” Paul scowled. “I asked her to come but she said she had unfinished business. She said Mom would be okay. She said you were coming with help.” Paul looked up, “Did you bring help?”

“We’ll see,” Wyoming said.

Butch sat in a chair next to his wife. He held her hand and was reading the Bible to her.

“Reading anything good?” Wyoming asked. 

“Psalm 91,” Pastor Butch Gregory said. He looked up at his friend and began to quote:

You will not fear the terror of the night,

Nor the arrow that flies by day,

Nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,

Nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

Butch rose from his chair. The two hugged. Wyoming said, “My friend in Hong Kong told me to inject it into her arm like a booster shot.” He pulled a syringe from his inside pocket. “Four years ago, I would not have been able to board a plane with this.” He handed it to the pastor. “Security aint what it used to be.” A tired smile formed on his face. “The old man told me within six hours she will be breathing on her own. Tomorrow the fever will break. In two days, she will be well.”

“How can I trust this?” Butch said. “If this were a cure, a real cure, wouldn’t the whole world know about it? So many have died. So much has been lost.” 

“Trust me, Reverend. It will work.” Wyoming wiped his bleeding lip with his thumb. “I don’t know why it is not available to everyone. There is a reason China has avoided the death rates the rest of the world has suffered. It started there, and they knew about it long before we did. They must have developed a cure.” Wyoming stepped to the other side of the hospital bed. “There are powerful people trying to keep this secret.”

Butch prayed, “O Lord of life and death, I commit this to you. You give and you take away. Please give me back my wife. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

He injected his wife then sat back down in the chair.  

BUTCH GREGORY: ONE YEAR LATER

This week marks the one year anniversary of the release of my book, The Haunting of Pastor Butch Gregory and other Short Stories.  While I haven’t sold as many as I’d hoped (by the way, you can buy a copy by clicking on the image to the right—in paperback or Kindle), I can’t say that I’ve been disappointed.  A couple of times I’ve been in the top 100 in Kindle sales in my sub-sub-sub-sub category.  It’s pretty neat to see my book between books written by very famous people.  More than that though, most people who’ve read it have liked it and have told me so.  I suppose some haven’t liked it and have told me nothing; which is what I would prefer.  If you didn’t like it, just don’t tell me.

What I was trying to do with Butch Gregory was create a fictional pastor who struggles with many of the same things I and other pastors do, but make it so that he was not me.  Butch Gregory is not really my alter ego or avatar.  He is kinder and much more introspective than I am.  In many ways Butch Gregory is the kind of pastor I want to be; or at least I think I want to be. 

The book also contains other short stories and a few poems.  Two of my short stories deserve a little mention.  Convocation is an award winning tale staring the pantheon of pagan gods.  Much of that story was born in my own imagination of what it would be like if Zeus were to meet Allah, or how would Baal get along with Thor?  It is possible some could accuse that story of being insensitive to our multicultural pluralistic world.  However,  I believe that the epitome of a pluralistic world is the right to advocate for your faith.  I personally believe Jesus is Lord and all the rest are merely projections of human sin or fantasy and therefore false.  There is only One True God.

The other short story that needs some attention is Legacy.  I personally had more fun writing Legacy than any of the other stories.  There were several drafts of the story which had alternate endings and major character changes.  Legacy is a parody which could have the subtitle “Baptists in Space.”  All but one major character is named for a famous Baptist or influencer of Baptists.  Some of the nouns in the story were changed to reflect a futuristic nomenclature.  My favorite was “NFLday” as the future name for “Sunday.”  Essentially Legacy is about Baptist history and our future as well as the changes which have occurred in evangelical life in general.

I have big plans for Butch Gregory.  I wish to feature him in a full length novel.  Originally I intended to have it ready by this summer, but my life has become bogged down with the real world.  Church has been a very difficult struggle this year and has required more attention than usual.  Hopefully by next year that novel will be ready.  I am also working on two other books with my friend David Caddell.  Our Romans study is almost through the editing phase as well as another project—too top secret to mention—which is in the development stage. 

Since as early as I can remember I wanted to write a book.  Now that my appetite has been whet with my first one, I want to be the guy who writes 45 books by the time he’s 70.  I’d better get busy.  But don’t worry.  I’ll keep blogging away too.