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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Adults
- Theme: Drama Stories / Human Interest Stories
- Subject: Tragedy
- Published: 04/25/2017
Here Today (gone tomorrow)Born 1957, M, from Belfast, United Kingdom
7.22 am. Herman Wok makes breakfast.
In all the years he had presided as a federal Judge Herman Wok never had any problem deciding on what sentence he should hand down to those put before him once their guilt was firmly established by a jury. Yet here he was pondering in his downtown Manhattan kitchen whether to have a Kellogg’s cinnamon brown sugar pop tart or an Aunt Jemimia’s Whole Wheat blend Pancake and Waffle mix. After a few moments of careful contemplative thinking he decided the latter was too much trouble and opted for the $1.49 twin pack. His decision, like most he made during his controversial career, was based not on a capricious choice but on a careful mediation of what would be the least disruptive of his now less than youthful digestive system. At 73 he figured he hadn’t done too badly not to have contracted a few ulcers like most his age and is grateful his medication is no more than the odd painkiller for his intolerance after one too many bourbons following a few rounds of Sunday afternoon golf with his Jewish friend Bernie Hoffman, a fellow similarly retired New York supreme court appellate judge. His arbitration is also influenced by the uncomfortable heartburn he’s been suffering from since he came home from his dinner date the night before. Which even the two large spoonfuls of Pepto Bismol he had taken before bed had failed to neutralize, making the pancake and waffle mix maybe a bridge too far in the gastronomic scheme of things.
Herman glanced at the miniscule multilingual cooking instructions on the back of the pop tart package which came across as nothing more than a black blur without his bifocal glasses which he had absentmindedly left on his bedside table alongside his latest reading material. A book by his favorite author and friend Carla Brookes who very kindly gave him a signed copy during their meal together in Toni Roma’s restaurant, a bistro he was unfamiliar with and one he now regrets visiting after letting the proprietor choose his main course for him. But Carla had raved about it as they traveled all the way across town by yellow cab, citing how Toni’s was the newest and hottest place to be seen in, and a famous authoress like her must keep up a high profile. So when Toni had recommended the garlic and red snapper fish linguine he didn’t want to look like an unappreciative patron slash guest even though he hated pasta of any type and never mind the spices the fish would be cooked in. The upside was the two bottles of Mastrojanni Brunnelo red they had shared managed to erase some of the aftertaste left by the Indonesian’s favorite catch. ‘Italian Fusion’ Toni had boasted.
Carla hadn’t really hit the big time as a writer up until about five years ago, prior to that she was hawking three books she had self published on EBay or at every fair within a fifty mile radius of her apartment over on Queens. One was a novella about an old retired Los Angeles detective living on a house boat in the everglades who begins to uncover bodies anchored by means of rocks beneath his vessel after a few return to the surface. A kind of a Raymond Chandler type plot with the similar style of narrative, unfortunately now outdated and full of clichés. the others were biographies of John F Kennedy, and Marilyn Monroe. All done before he was afraid and as far as he was concerned much more informative than Carla’s although he would never disclose his true point of view regarding her finished compositions. Suffice to say she never shifted many on any platform. Then as she puts it ‘I had an epiphany Herman’ a story he’s heard a million times (always after the first bottle of Brunnelo) and frequently during desert. ‘I said to myself, what really sells these days?’ he always replies ‘I couldn’t guess’ even though he knows she isn’t listening ‘Why sex of course Herman’ she says throwing out her arms like she’s opening a curtain on a theatres stage ready to perform. He can almost hear the roll of the drums like she’s delivering a punch line to a joke, bra-um pum! –‘good ole rumpy pumpy’.
Herman frowns, he cannot remember when he last had any rumpy pumpy and Carla may well be a friend with benefits if only he could ignite the fire that seems to have gone out in his boiler in the basement. He did have a few stirrings the other night in the nether regions during the final chapter of her number two novel in her series of three. Sensations vaguely familiar from his younger days which he remembers fondly used to lead to a roaring fire. Now sadly even Carla’s brilliantly described bedroom scene where Dorian White, a gigolo and the main character in all three novels, seduces Tiffany Costello the rich wife of a mafia boss onboard her yacht while the two of them run drugs from Columbia. All pure rip offs he thinks, kind of Henry Millar’s ‘Tropic of Cancer’ meets Fifty Shades of Grey. Nevertheless Carla seems to have filled the void left by the death of Jackie Collins in 2015, besides the fact Dorian White one, two and three are much raunchier than any of Ms. Collins novels. but hey she was right, sex sells and he’s happy she’s now reveling in her fifteen moments of fame.
Herman switches on his fifty five inch high definition TV that’s mounted above the living room's marble fireplace from where he’s standing in the kitchen with his remote, which now resides in the pocket of his dressing gown. He keeps both doors open across the hall so he can see the screen while he cooks, only because the small 22 inch that used to sit on the breakfast bar gave up the ghost after his new years eve party and he hasn’t gotten round to getting it replaced. He thinks someone maliciously poured a drink into it. he has a vague idea who but without any evidence the case for sabotage cannot be proved and his liability on his house insurance is higher than what the seven year old TV is worth, which means there’s no point in making a claim. He makes a mental note to look on EBay later; maybe he could throw a few cheap bids at a second hand goggle box and get lucky. There’s nothing wrong with being thrifty, he tells himself and he can’t understand why his ex wife Marge branded him tight during their bitter divorce. After thirty years of marriage she should have said something sooner. or did she and he just wasn’t listening, nonetheless he mounted the high def where Marge’s portrait used to hang and decided it looks far better.
From it now the eternally irritating voice and plastic smile of Foxcast weather anchor Adam Klotz (and what’s with the stiff quiff that looks like a birds nest on his unusually small head all about) booms intrudingly into the morning’s silence. His garrulous slot between seven thirty and eight aims to provide the viewer with the latest weather conditions for the City and then the rest of America. His forecast is for sunshine and showers locally, typical for April.
Herman’s concentration with Klotz is broken as the pop tart jumps out of the toaster like a jack in the box, he lifts it out trying not to burn his fingers and puts it on a small waiting plate then pours a large mug (his favorite) with coffee before shuffling into the living room. Just as he sits down on his brown leather couch his cell phone rings, which also resides in the opposite pocket of his nightgown. He recognizes the number on the screen, it’s his friend Bernie, only when he answers it it’s not Bernie but his wife Gloria.
‘Hey’ he says slightly bemused ‘What up’
‘It’s Bernie’ she replies and he can hear the emotion in her voice ‘He’s dead’
The rest of the details of how she found him unresponsive in bed an hour ago, and how the medics where still there, peel off into a blur of words and pitiful tears, He tells her he’ll be right over and then clicks the phone to off, suddenly his pop tart is less than appealing anymore and another wave of heartburn rolls across his chest. ‘Jesus shit’ he whispers to himself.
8.09 am Herman Wok gets dressed.
Herman’s apartment is a single bedroom on the seventh floor of the New Plaza building west 66th street. With its view overlooking central park it boasts a day time doorman whose name is Bob, a large African American gentleman who looks and sounds like James Earl Jones of Star Wars fame, two elevators, and a laundry in the basement. Pets allowed. He’s resided there since 2010, which he bought outright with his half of the proceeds from the sale of their million dollar martial home on Riverside Drive. Marge got the furniture.
He needs to let Carla know of Bernie’s sudden death, she’ll be just as shocked as him, both she and Gloria were good friends, and many times they all made up a foursome on dinner dates or charity balls. Of course seeing as Carla was now a famous authoress she had a limo on beck and call (paid for by her publishers) which he figured would be a more comfortable ride over to Bernie’s place than some rancid yellow cab. He hasn’t driven in the city since he turned 65, nor does he wish to, in view of the fact he was involved in a fender bender incident one evening as he drove home from late court. When he got out to confront the perpetrator in order to gain his insurance details he ended up getting mugged for his wallet and Rolex watch. The guy got away leaving him with a two thousand dollar repair bill to his Mercedes and a bruised ego. But he had the last laugh in the end when two weeks later the same scoundrel came before him on a charge of robbery with intent; he dropped him the max and sent him down for twelve years with a massive grin and a feeling of sweet revenge.
Herman hit the speed dial icon of Carla’s bright smiling chubby face (the same black and white picture she likes to give out at book signings) on his screen and put the handset on hands free while it tried to connect. two rings later Carla answered just as he reached his bedroom door.
‘Herman Dawling’ she gushed in her smoothed out Bronx inflection. ‘Are you calling to tell me how much you are enjoying the sexual adventures of Dorian White?’
‘Fraid not sweetie’ Herman says ‘I’ve some bad news’
‘Oh no! What is it?’
‘Maybe you should sit down before I put you in the picture’ he says fighting back a lump that’s now forming in his throat.
‘Oh please, you know I hate bad news Herman, but tell me’
‘Bernie’s dead Carla, Gloria just rang me’. His voice is flat and he hears her begin to sob. ‘Passed away in his sleep from what she describes’
‘Oh my god, but we were just with him two nights ago’
‘I know, I’m shocked myself Carla, but it’s like my Mother used to say, god rest her soul, ‘‘you’re here today and gone tomorrow’’ -can you come with me to Gloria’s? I promised I’d be right over’
‘No problem’ Carla sniffs ‘I’ll call the limo people right away and we should be with you in about fifteen-ok, and put on your black suit’
‘Will do sweetie’ Herman agrees ‘See you then’
He swipes away the hands free symbol and the line goes dead, he steps into the bedroom and drops his gown to the floor. He stares at his reflection in the long mirror on the closet door and lets out a subdued groan, at three score and thirteen he’s no longer the Tony Curtis doppelganger he once was, thanks to his Mothers Italian side looks rather than his Father’s Asian roots. What he see’s is an old man with dandelion white hair, saggy liver spotted pale skin and rickety knees which stick out of his blue striped boxer shorts like the nodules of two bamboo shoots.
He thinks about changing his underwear but the thought of rummaging in his drawers to find a clean pair hastens his decision to stretch the pair he has on to one more day. Everything he seems to do lately tires him out. Moreover where in the rulebook of personal hygiene does it stipulate one must change one’s boxers every day, although pushing them to three may just be living dangerously on the edge of individual sanitation- he considers briefly- but he figures he can live with the guilt until tomorrow at least, out of sight out of mind so to speak. Carla would never approve of course, but the chances she would be anywhere near his family jewels were less than one in a million. He sniffs each armpit in turn- they’ll do he concludes and then remembers it was by pure luck he picked up his white shirts from the dry cleaners yesterday, the only reason being he needed one for his dinner date with Carla last night. Otherwise it would have had to be the navy blue one which really doesn’t go well with a black suit and tie. But his feeling of good fortune is short lived when he unhooks his suit from its hanger and discovers a small greenish stain on the jackets right lapel just below the button hole. It looks like pigeon shit, which it probably is when he thinks how many of the little bastards swarm around the court house on any given day, and that’s where he was the last time he had the three piece on. His unexpected discovery suddenly fills him with a sense of urgency, however, Carla would be here soon and she hates being kept waiting, there wouldn’t be time to find the spray and go stain devil he knows is maybe somewhere under the sink, let alone stand and trying scrubbing the disgusting blot clean. There could be one saving grace, he thinks on the other hand, Carla will insist on bringing flowers to Gloria, he could use one to cover the blemish if he could only find a pin to secure it with.
Herman slips on his crisp white shirt with its stiff collar and its pleasant smell of starch, another eruption of heartburn streaks across his chest, this time like a lightening strike just as he begins to do up the buttons. ‘God damn fish!’ Herman swears to his reflection.
8.25 am Herman Wok is waiting.
During Adam Klotz weather summary he completed his slot with an indication for the city of steady nine mile an hour winds, a top temperature of 12 degrees and a humidity level of 52 percent. Agreeable for those much younger than himself, Herman mused, but for him it suggested an overcoat would be preferable. He put it on from his closet and adjusted it to cover his lapel shit stain. On his way out he lifted his swan head ash walking stick from the hat stand by the door then made his slow way towards the elevator, cane tapping his unmistakable one-two–three rhythm. He pushes the down triangle button on the wall keypad which instantaneously illuminates into a green circular glow around it followed by the sound of whirring motors inside the shaft. The elevator doors open with a soft ‘phisst’ and when he selects the ground floor indicator on the main panel once he’s inside a ladies generic voice informs him from above the ‘Doors are Closing’ and then he’s ‘Going Down’.
After straightening his tie in the lifts mirror Herman pops an indigestion lozenge into his mouth to try and subdue his dyspepsia hangover, swearing never to set foot in Toni Roma’s fusion bistro ever again, not even for his beloved Carla. On his way down a somber thought of his dead friend Bernie intrudes into his selfish contemplation about his own health, making him push away the feeling of a dull ache now forming in his right arm. ‘There for the grace of god’ he whispers. The doors open with another ‘Phisst’ and Herman taps out along the burnished marbled floored hallway towards the street.
Bob sees him approaching and opens the door, the early traffic is heavy and loud, and it would seem Klotz got it right.
‘Good morning judge’ he greets him with his piano key smile ‘another fine day in the big apple wouldn’t you agree sir, do you need me to hail you a cab?’
‘Not today Bob, thank you’ Herman says ‘Miss Brookes is coming for me in her limo’
Bob is dressed in his blue morning suit with gold stripes down each side of his pants and around his cuffs and lapels. He’s wearing a similar colored top hat and on his hands are pure white cotton gloves. His black patent shoes are immaculately clean.
‘Going anywhere nice today Judge?’ he asks.
‘Oh?’ Bob frowns.
‘It’s my old friend Bernie Hoffman; you’ve met him a few times haven’t you?’
‘Yes sir, fine gentleman’
‘He died suddenly this morning, his wife Gloria just rang, you remember Gloria don’t you’
‘Yes sir, fine lady as well and such a sad thing to happen’
‘I know, Carla and I are going over to console her, help with the arrangements if necessary, she should be along any minute’
‘Are you feeling ok Judge’ Bob asks. ‘It's just you look somewhat gray this morning if you don’t mind me saying’
‘Carla and I had a bit of a late night is all Bob but thanks for asking’
‘Oh I see sir’ Bob smiles and winks.
Herman thinks about putting Bob straight on the subject of his long lost prowess in the art of seducement, instead deciding what would Bob’s enlightenment gain other than to dent his own reputation.
‘What time do you make it Bob’ he asks (even though he has a watch clearly bulging from his waist coat pocket and anchored to a silver chain). Changing the subject is merely a distraction.
‘Eight thirty seven Judge’ Herman makes an accentuated ‘humpft’ sound and rolls his eyes ‘Typical woman, always late’
8.50 am Herman Wok thinks of Bernie Hoffman.
When Carla finally arrives her limo driver, an exceedingly tall Polish man with a nose like a pecans beak came round and helped him into the back. He knew he was from somewhere near the Czech Republic because when Marge and himself were still loved up and living in the big house on Riverside she had decided they needed a butler. Not for any reason other than to see the expressions on the faces of those who came to visit when he answered the door and the pleasure she got from the Women’s Institute coffee mornings when ‘Delbert’, as she nick named him (she liked to introduce him as Delbert Grady on occasions –the butler from Stephen Kings the shining, just for a laugh, with her being a big fan), but whose real name was Aleksander, served them up their Danish pastry from a silver platter and called them all ladies. Both Alek and Carla’s driver spoke with the same parlance.
Carla was nursing a large bouquet of lilies and white chrysanthemums on her lap wrapped up in cellophane when Herman slumped into the faux leather seat. A black and green ‘S’ logo of Scotts Flowers New York covered one side of the wrapping while the other had a small paper window were the sender could place their feeling in words. Carla had wrote and signed ‘’Dearest Gloria my sincere condolences- your friend Carla Brookes’’
Herman let out another ‘humpft’ sound when the sentiment caught his eye, the least she could have done was put his name on it, he thought. Now he knew why she was late.
‘Does your driver know the way to Bernie’s?’ Herman asked as the limo jerked into traffic.
‘Peter’ Carla replied ‘His name is Peter, and yes I have given him directions’
‘I thought these cars all had sat nav’s these days-don’t they? Herman mused. ‘Maybe your publishers are too cheap and hired the most economical company they could find, wouldn’t surprise me you know’
He could see Carla wasn’t amused by his slightness the way she looked at him (serves her right he thought for not adding his name) –‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean t-’ he immediately rescinded ‘It’s just Bernie’s passing is so much of a shock’
Carla reached out and touched his hand with hers; he noticed the new black nail varnish that matched her Ted Bakers of London trouser suit and which she finished off with a pair of Christian Louboutin four inch heels, patent of course. She was immaculate as ever and looked even more alluring than her authors sepia portrait. A likeness that never did justice to her honey blond hair which more often than not she wore to her shoulders, this morning however it was tied back with a silk ribbon of gray. For a brief moment a pilot light flashed on in his basement boiler but went quickly out again.
Herman shook his head. ‘Bernie and I have, I mean were, friends since we first met at collage. The year was 1962. Jackie Robinson was the first African American elected to baseball’s hall of fame and John F Kennedy had begun a blockade of all exports and imports to Cuba. Gregory Peck was starring in Harper Lee’s ‘To kill a Mocking Bird’, Bernie and I went to see that movie three times after its Christmas release.
Bernie’s father Larry was a New York real estate broker and a Dachau concentration camp survivor, originally from Nauheim, a small German village. Penniless, Larry made his way after Dachau’s liberation in 1945 to America where he met and married Ingrid Goldwyn, no relation to the Goldwyn’s of Hollywood I must add in case you were wondering. As it happens Ingrid was the daughter of Aaron Goldwyn, a rich diamond merchant who owned a business trading in uncut rhombus stones brought in from the mines of South Africa. Once he appraised the size of the diamonds carat he would cut the stone into various shapes ready to be mounted then sell them on to jewellers in the city. How did a poor man who fled the Nazi’s end up marrying a rich girl you might ask? –well, the story, as Bernie favored to tell it, went like this. One evening, early January of 46, Aaron was walking home from his place of business to his home which was quite close to celebrate Hanukkah with his family. In order to get back sooner than his usual twenty five minute walk, Aaron took a shortcut down a cross alley between Broadway and William Street one block away from his apartment, a route he rarely ever used. Halfway down he was struck from behind, the police thought it was from a pistol’s grip because of the shape of the laceration on his scalp. They also believe he was followed purely with the intention of being robbed; maybe the attacker presumed he was carrying diamonds or cash. But Aaron would never have been that stupid, he always used his safe, locking away all the diamonds each night. What they also didn’t count on was Aaron himself being a tough old cookie; well he did survive a concentration camp after all. He began to fight back and in the midst of the struggle shouted for help. At any other time his cries would have gone unheard, the alleyway was nearly always deserted, but on this night Larry Hoffman was keeping dry and warm sleeping in a doorway. He heard the ruckus and seeing Aaron being attacked, without any thought for his own well being, Larry fought off the assailant, Aaron was shocked and a little roughed up but otherwise he was ok. Of course he wanted to reward Larry for his help and when he found out he was living rough immediately gave him a job as his bodyguard. That night he brought Larry home to the Hanukkah where he met Ingrid. It was love at first sight for both of them. Within a few months after a whirlwind romance they were married, and a year later Bernie was born’
‘You know I’ve heard this story a million times’ Carla smiled.
‘I’m gonna miss him Carla’ Herman sighed ‘he was my best friend’
Carla tightened her grip slightly in a gesture of silent understanding.
Herman turned his head and looked out of the window to hide the tear that was now rolling down his cheek from Gloria, and the sudden surge of pain which had just shot down his left arm making him grimace. He remembered the last time he’d cried and that was thirty years ago at his mother's funeral. The shock of the pains swiftness and intensity left sweat beads forming on his face and he suddenly felt the urge to throw up.
9.20 am Herman Wok is no more
When his wave of nausea had subsided it had been replaced with a feeling of lightness, a sensation like no other he had experienced before. The only thing that had come close was the time he had fainted during the execution of David Dene Martin. Martin was put to death by electrocution on January 4th, 1985, at the Louisiana State penitentiary. William J Guste, attorney general, had invited him to witness the implementation of the death sentence after Martin had lost his final appeal.
Herman had met Guste and the prisons warden, Ross Maggio Jnr, in the Ritz Hotel Manhattan near the end of September the year before. They were attending a fund raising evening for Shriners Hospitals a medical institution looking after sick children. Guste and Maggio were there as guests of the organizer and then patron of the charity Patrick Vincent Murphy, Police Commissionaire and a hard boiled native Brooklyn man of Irish catholic decent. Murphy thought it would be interesting to put all three together at one table after hearing Herman was a supporter of the death penalty and his feelings it should be more broadly used since restrictions were put in place at the latter end of 1967 in New York. Herman felt his hands were tied in certain circumstances when the death sentence rather than life for some crimes would have been more fitting.
Guste had given him the gist of Martins heinous felony over the course of the evening, why they thought the judgement was vilified. ‘Aug, 14, 1977’ he began, ‘for his murders of Bobby Todd, a bar owner with whom Mr. Martin's wife, Gloria, said she was having an affair, and three other people who happened to be at Mr. Todd's mobile home in Bayou Blue when Mr. Martin walked in and started shooting.
Mr. Martin's attorney, Richard Shapiro, maintained that Mr. Martin was driven to murder after his wife's affair and after his daughter was born with birth defects. Mr. Shapiro said Mr. Martin was under the influence of alcohol and the drug phencyclidine, also known as PCP or angel dust, at the time of the slayings. The United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit noted that a divided Louisiana Supreme Court had affirmed Mr. Martin's death penalty by a 4-3 vote, with the three dissenters saying death was too harsh a penalty in this case. Evidence in the case showed that Mr. Martin reloaded his revolver twice, pulled the trigger 15 times and confessed the crime to five people. While Mr. Shapiro stressed the influence of drugs and alcohol, the judges of the appeals court said the evidence indicated Mr. Martin had planned the murders in advance’.
‘As far as we are concerned it's an open and shut case’ Maggio interjected. Herman had agreed whole heartily, leading Guste and Maggio to invite him to the execution scheduled for January 4th the following year.
The men shook hands at the end of the evening and Herman went home with a feeling of nervous excitement. He remembers over the next few months how his anticipation heightened as the date drew closer, like a child waiting on a birthday party. However his planned social gathering he had to remind himself was not to celebrate a birth, but a man’s death.
After arriving on a Pan Am flight the day before Herman booked into a small motel not far from the jail. the following morning at 11am he ordered a taxi cab to take him the few miles, where he was greeted by Guste and Maggio in his office.
In his now semi comatose state with the pain in his chest and arm, Herman’s mind begins a rerun of that fateful morning. Yet somewhere in his fog of delusion he could hear familiar voices calling to him, one is Carla’s and the other is his long dead Mother. He’s aware the limo has stopped, bright blue and red flashing lights intrude into his peripheral vision- a man is barking orders in his ear. Medical sirens are going off and he can feel the cold rush of medication cascading into his veins.
Soon he is tumbling into space desperately trying to grab at something solid but nothing is there. suddenly he is transported to the room where Martin is to be executed once more. It is a gray walled space with no windows and only one door. Ten green metal folding seats face a wooden chair mounted on a plinth behind a glass partition in which Martin now sits. He is connected to the electricity generator by a copper cone with electrodes, it covers his shaved head. Around his bare right ankle a wire is also attached leading to a bolt on the floor - this will complete the circuit. He is strapped to the seat with leather bonds across his body and arms. ‘Fine day for a killing’ he hears Maggio laughing. ‘Ole smokie never lets us down eh Ross!’ Guste jokes - both men are sitting either side of him. Herman’s eyes are transfixed on Martins as he stares blankly ahead devoid of any emotion and showing no sign of fear as the charges are read out and the order is given he should be put to death by Paul Phelps, secretary of the state Department of Corrections. Also in the room is Martins attorney Richard Shapiro and the Rev. Ray Winders of Paris, Tex., a Seventh-day Adventist and Mr. Martin's spiritual adviser and family members of those murdered.
With the legal requirements out of the way the sound of a large lever is heard clanking into place, the lights dim for a second as the generator starts. Within seconds Martin arches forward, his muscles stiffen then relax as the alternating current goes through its cycle. His face contorted into a hideous grin, over and over he jerks, but something has gone wrong. Martin is not dying as expected. Smoke begins to emerge from underneath his copper cap and leg restraint. The skin on his face begins to bubble into blisters like hot boiling cheery jam in a stove pot. He bites his tongue, blood oozes from his lips and just as he finally dies his right eye pops from its socket with a sickening ‘phoot’. Panic and screams from those watching radiate around the room. This is where Herman faints. Only this time the white light he sees fades away like the small dot of a TV being switched off. Herman Wok is no more.
9.50 am Carla Brookes, renowned Authoress, writes in her diary.
Note to self: Title of new book- ‘’The Life and Times of New York Judge, Herman Wok’’
The End. Will Neill 2017 5,360 words