The Play’s the Thing

By Thomas Belton

In the first act, you get the hero up a tree, in the second you throw rocks at him,

and in the third act you get the poor son-of-a-bitch back down.

                                                                                    George S. Kaufman

He knew he had to get out of the business. It was eating his brain like a lovesick gerbil running a squeaky wheel through the small hours of the night. He kept mining his subconscious, hooting for ideas in the backyard of his Id, looking for the playground where all the goodies were, but all he got was midnight flashes of his ex-wife throwing his clothes out of their apartment window, or his Shelly Winters look-alike mother making Eggs Benedict naked in front of the stove at two in the morning while he looked on in disbelief from his pull-out bed in the hall, or his lawyer’s disembodied head floating above him in a Robin Williams shtick telling him to “Shit or get off the pot!”

J.T. Williams had to admit his playwriting and producing career was on the rocks or at least lost in a hurricane off the Bahamas with no land in sight. Maybe there’s an idea, he thought. A remake of Shakespeare’s Tempest set in 1950s Havana. That that Dictator Batista as the Wizard and old Fidel Castro himself as monster Caliban. Billboard shouts “Bay of Pigs Leaves Lovers Lost on Shore.” Nah, he thought, been done. They got Richard the Thirds boogie-dancing on Broadway, and Hollywood’s got women playing him in reverse drag. He needed something new and more daring.

Writer’s block wasn’t anything new to J.T. He’d a serious affliction with creative ennui in ‘84 when he’d sat for month in a bathtub of a friend’s Chelsea Hotel apartment swilling Colt 45. malt liquor and eating nothing but thin mints, trying to cook up an idea for a MacArthur Grant he’d already spent from the previous Fall. Surprisingly, the spell broke when his prune-skinned body was forcibly removed from the tub of self-pity by two house painters who’d been commissioned by his slightly deranged hostess to paint a series of life-size nude murals in the bathroom depicting WWII pin-ups of Greta Garbo and Hedy Lamar with the heads of cartoon ducks supplanted on their bodies.

Jumping up, he grabbed his trusty typewriter and hacked out a hundred and twenty-two pages of his next play entitled “The Mallard’s Revenge,” a social satire set in the Hamptons involving two bed-hopping society girls named Signet and Floyd, as they traipsed through the drug and martini infested mansions of the post WW II robber barons, eating caviar and sleeping with whomever gave them the biggest orgasm. The Times hailed it as “A Canard Crossed Tale of Back-Biting Bimbos” whereas the more plebeian NY Daily News simply stated “Ditched Broads get Plucked.”

The phone rang on his desk and he picked it up, looking out of his sixth-floor office window at the gaggle of sightseers in front of the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum” just across the way on Times Square.

“Yeah?” he asked into the phone.

“Hello Shirley,” a rough tobacco-laden voice said from the other side of the line.

“Fer’ Christ’s sakes, Ma,” he answered, “will you cut it out with the Shirley shit.”

When JT’s mother was vexed with something JT had, or hadn’t done in her myopic view of maternal rights, she always called him Shirley to remind him of his seminal dramatic experience at PS 103 up in Washington Heights. That’s when his third-grade teacher, Mrs. Powers, chose him to sing “The Good Ship Lollypop” in a Shirley Temple wig, puffed skirt, and black patent leather shoes. A so-called emergency when Mercedes Esposito fell sick from eating bad oysters and was home shitting her brains out as JT wowed them up in Harlem with terpsichorean footwork and an unfeigned falsetto.

Ruby Williams snorted at her easy success for knocking JT down a peg, even before she’d said what was really on her mind, then added, “Where’s my money, JT? I go out to the mailbox and look for my check. I open the door and what do I see.  A note from my son with a tiny bit of green appreciation for all the years I spent cleaning his soiled pants, nurturing his creative genius with my constant employment while he was out in bars till God knows when. ‘Seeking inspiration!’ he tells me. Inspiration at the bottom of a bottle of Bombay Gin, I’d say. Hanging out with no good whores and pickpockets. Too good to even stop round and see yer’ Ma while I’m laid up with the shingles. Like a cripple, I am, covered with blisters, which I got by the way my doctor tells me from the same chicken pops I got from you. And here they come back to haunt me twenty years later, pops covering me with these crudules, looks like I got a ring around my middle like a dirty bathtub and all I want is a little support in my dying years. ‘Cause that’s what it is JT. I’m dying! And what for? What do I have to show for a life of slaving, never thinking about myself? I got bupkis! Nada! Nuts! from my worthless Broadway mogul of a son. When am I gonna see some goddamn money, JT?” she finished, her voice rising to a hissing volcanic scream.

“Ma! Ma! It don’t work that way and you know it. Come on,” JT whined. “I’ll get you some money come the end of the week; I promise.” Then hearing a snort at the end of the line, which JT knew was his mother’s monumental chest sucking in a snoot-full of hot air to blast into his ear, he quickly feinted by muffling the phone with his hand and shouting, “Hey Johnnie! How’s it going?” as he slammed his desk drawer in a poor mimic of his office door opening and closing. “Got to go Ma,” he said cheerfully, “It’s Johnnie Shoemaker. Big prospect. Wants to invest in a musical I’m working on, ‘The Last of the Mohicans.’ Gonna be a blockbuster,” and then he hung up with a loud bang of the receiver and hastily fell to his knees and pulled the phone jack from the wall before his Mom had a chance to hit redial on the red luminous Donald Duck phone he’d bought her at Disney World for their last vacation.

But then, as if on cue from one of his cheap plays, the office door swung open and in walked a beautiful blond wearing a mink coat over a red velvet dress too short for that time of year, actually too short for any time of year, but JT took it in anyway, savoring the view from his spot on the floor. A set of ‘gams’ that started at her ankles and ran like a NASCAR speedway up to her knees, calves he’d fight a cornered cat to sit on, and a waist he’d love to circle with whipped cream and a giant spoon, but then he got to her monumental chest and noticed the Shih Tzu glaring down at him with bloodshot glazed eyes and wearing a diamond collar that shimmered against her bosom.

“Are you JT Williams, the Broadway producer and playwright?” she asked in a sweet low voice.

“Yeah! Yes, yes,” he added, rapidly getting to his feet and dropping the phone into the wastebasket by his desk. “Let me get you a seat,” he said, shuffling across the room to a high-backed leather contraption that he shoved behind her. It looked a little like the hot seat up at Sing Sing prison. The chair, in fact, had once been a prop for the Old Vic Touring Company for its rendition of King Lear. A chair he’d covetously shoved off the loading platform and into his Pontiac 88s mammoth trunk for subsequent introduction into his own abode.

“Yapp,” cried the Shih Tzu and took a lunge at JT’s hand as he offered a gentle touch of guidance to the lady’s back. JT snapped his mitt back before the dog could take off some fingers at the nub and walked briskly over to his own chair behind the desk shaking his hand and taking note of the digits still present.

“I’m sorry if Ming The Terrible was bad to you. Aren’t we wittle one,” she added kissing the pooch on the nose? “My name is Amelia Caprio,” she said, offering her white gloved hand across the table while delicately holding the dog’s snout back so it couldn’t get another bite at the apple.

“Charmed!” JT replied, reaching across the expanse of his long planked wooden desk.

“I would like to commission the production of a play,” she said breathily, as if she’s been practicing the Marilyn Monroe shtick for ages. And she’d gotten it just right, JT thought, tilting his head to get a better peep at her over his spectacles, realizing she’d probably invested ten grand in the cosmetic surgery to make the Marilyn appearance even stronger, bosoms and cleavage to boot as she pulled the fur mink rug off her shoulders and juggled the dog from hand to hand. Looking at her coif he figured the platinum wig had once adorned the head of a nice Scandinavian junkie who was now probably shooting dope with the proceeds somewhere on skid-row in Copenhagen.

“Well you’ve come to the right place,” he replied exuberantly. “We have a long record of winning shows here at JT Productions. Just look at these,” he added, spinning in his seat to offer her an open-palmed appreciation of the rows of theatre posters that adorned the walls around his desk like giant postage stamps of dead thespians.

“Oh, I’ve heard a lot about you, Mr. Williams, you don’t need to convince me of your successes. My mother was in one of your shows years ago, and told me all about you.”

“You mother was in one of my shows?” he asked, a confused crooked smile creeping across his face.

“Yes, Holly Downton,” the babe said, pulling a gold cigarette case and lighter from her purse. “She worked for you at the Trocadero Burlesque in Philadelphia in the sixties. Of course, her stage name back them was Sussa Phone – The Babe with the Boobs of Brass. I do so love those names you made up for your dancers, Mr. Williams.”

“Oh, oh!” JT thought, as the light started to illuminate his worst momentary lapse of judgment. The Trocadero affectionately known as the Troc to the sailors from the South Philly Naval Base had its fair share of loud vociferous clientele. It opened in 1870 near the Reading Terminal train shed where commuters could get a little bit of topless fantasy before heading home to the Missus. The Troc was closed for obscenity every time Philadelphia’s Quaker Fathers wanted to flex a little muscle and was busted for bootlegging repeatedly during Prohibition. In 1968 JT was the acting stage director while waiting for a chance to move into legit drama over at the Forrest Theatre on Chestnut Street when the Troc musicians went on strike. It seems Pasquale Caprio, the general manager and six-fingered member of an Italian secret society known as La Cosa Nostra in South Philly, tried to fire two union musicians claiming the business could only afford three. Pasquale or ‘Fat Pat’ as he was known to his fellow secret society members was doubly surprised when the musicians went on strike, along with some of the strippers.

The whole disheveled fiasco came running back into JT’s mind with a flood of un-pleasantries as he sat there looking at Amelia Caprio. Her mother Sussa Phone along with Bermuda Schwartz “She’s hotter than hot pants,” Pearl Harbor “She’ll sink your ship,” and Sue Veneer “Come see her trinkets,” all decided to join the boys on the picket line and wear their more presentable costumes; that is halter tops and hot pants instead of the usual pasties and a G-String. The local press loved it! The Philly cops argued over who’d get assigned to control the mobs that showed up each morning coming out of Reading Terminal to the awesome spectacle of these hot babes hooting their stuff for free down Arch Street.

            “Your mother got me fired from that job,” JT said.

            “Yes,” Amelia crooned, “but in the most pleasant way.”

            “You call being locked in a walk-in refrigerator by three mopes from mobsters anonymous pleasant then yeah I guess you could say it was a frozen fart-filled delight.”

            “Well, the way mom told it, if you hadn’t supplied a lot of body heat she would’ve never made it through the night,” Amelia replied demurely pulling a cigarillo from her gold case as she plopped the fluffy mutt on his desk where it walked around like it was looking for a fire hydrant to take a leak on.

            Stretching across his desk to light her cigarette while simultaneously poking Ming the Terrible with a letter opener to keep it from sinking its fangs into his forearm, he replied with a stupid grin, “What’s a fella to do, Ms. Caprio? But that’s ancient history. Your Ma was a good egg.”

            “No mom supplied the good egg,” she said. “It was you made it an occasion. And voila, nine months later there I was.”

            It took JT a few moments to take in this last statement. He’d exited Philadelphia so fast in ’68 after escaping the meat locker that he’d never looked back. The reason for his disappearance was twofold, a dead striking clarinet player and one dead Bermuda Schwartz. He liked Bermuda; she was one nifty brunette who invented lap dancing before there was a name for it. They’d both been found dead, thrown from the balcony of the Troc onto the stage like busted marionettes. So, he’d never given a second thought to Holly Doonton, aka Sussa Phone, the Babe with the Boobs of Brass, or their one-night stand making love on top of a burlap bag filled with frozen peas. For the first time in his life, JT was speechless. The most that he could get out was, “Gaaahh!”

            And then as if on cue his office door swung open and in stomped JT’s mother like Brunnhilde descending with her Valkyries onto a battlefield. She has a pot-shaped hat on, which looked like one her three-dozen cats had sat on it, a coat made of rag-rug material that she’d picked up at a Flea Market somewhere in Jersey and supposedly crocheted by the Daughters of the American Revolution, Militant Wing, and underneath it all a dress she’d fought a little old lady for at Loehmann’s Department store, a silver lame’ deal with tassels made of aluminum shaped stars of David.

“Johnnie Shoemaker, indeed,” she bellowed, pointing at Amelia. And as the Shih Tzu took a flying leap at her extended hand, she snatched him out of mid-air and pitched him across the room and into a trash can upon which she adroitly plopped a saddle-sized handbag, trapping the little bastard in like a corked bottle. “Big prospect,” she continued, turning her venomous glare upon us both. ‘Wants to invest in a musical I’m working on, huh? The Last of the Mohicans! Gonna be a big blockbuster, huh?” she added, mimicking my lie across the phone. I should have known better that to believe she’d let it go. Ma was like a terrier on a rat once she’d gotten it into her head that someone owed her money. “Who’s this bimbo then?” she asked, glaring at Amelia’s Marilyn getup, “Princess Tickle Feather come to play hide the salami with my no-good cheapskate of a son.”

“Why Granny Williams,” Amelia said with a syrupy charm that could have melted the shoes off of anyone back at the old Troc. And JT realized right then and there that she wasn’t lying, she was definitely Holly’s kid. But there had to be some con going down here. Why would Holly send her kid to him? And how much did Amelia really know about that last night in Philly when two bodies were retrieved from under the Troc.

            “Granny, is it dearie?” Ruby said real low down with this grumbling sound deep inside like an eruption from her colostomy was about to blow itself free.

            “Now, now girls,” JT intervened getting up from his seat. “Ma, take it easy will you. This is the daughter of an old friend of mine from Philadelphia. She says she wants to put some money in a play. A commission, Ma,” he added significantly, steering her towards the only other seat in the room, a smallish affair used by Wendy in the Lost Boys hideout from the American Sign Language touring company of Peter Pan. JT lightly tripped her, forcing her to squeeze her bulky derriere between its two extended arms, where she sat with her knees protruding like twin cannons from a battleship caught in dry dock.

“Miss Amelia Caprio, meet my mother, Ruby Williams. ‘And lay off the granny stuff,’” he whispered sotto voce to Amelia, as he walked past her and back to his desk.

“Why no offense, Mrs. Williams,” Amelia said with a flowery voice that seemed more like a demented Blanche Dubois from Street Car Named Desire than a South Philly bimbo. “It’s just that you remind me of my grandmother, although I’ve never met her, and have only my mother’s description to what she looked like,” she added as a confused expression dropped over her face like a late curtain on a bad play.

“I remind you of your grandmother? And you say you’ve never met her?” Ruby replied with a squint catching ahold of her left eye, a twitch which I knew by experience meant Ma knew Amelia was lying, but then again you didn’t need a degree in psychology to know that her last loopy statement was about as nuts as you could go.

“I think what Amelia means is that IF she had a grandmother, which she doesn’t,” he added for emphasis, “And based on her dear mother’s description, she’d look just like you. Isn’t that right, Ms. Caprio? But more to the point, you say you want to commission a play. Do you have an author in mind? A musical, comedy, straight drama?”

“Why yes,” Ms. Amelia said, handing him a slim manuscript, which she extricated from within the confines of her discarded coat and one of those inexplicable pockets that women use to hide essentials upon their persons, everything from lipsticks to Uzi machine guns. “I wrote this about my father. It started out as a novel-memoir but I turned it into a play. It has too much vibrant dialogue to let some fifth-rate Hollywood director get his hands on it and turn all that raw emotion into blurry cinematography with gauzy red sunsets and hot sex scenes.”

“Ha, here we go, another half-baked bit of trash out of Philly,” Ma yelled from her kindergarten seat, sending the imprisoned dog into a yipping frenzy, so Ruby smacked the side of the trash can with her foot stifling the mutt into whimpering bleats that brought a shout of disapproval from Ms. Caprio, “Hey lay off the dog will you. It don’t bite.”

“Oh, you’re a cheeky one,” Ma said, glaring at Amelia. “Don’t sass me girl. I’m doing us all a favor keeping that cretinous vermin in there. I got bit once by one-a-them rat dogs, near killed me with the rabies it did. I had the sucker put to sleep and I don’t expect no worse for your mutt, he comes after me. But I won’t wait for no SPCA this time. I’ll put his lights out right here and now. You hear me?” she added, shaking her fist under Amelia’s nose for emphasis.

“Yes, yes, I hear you!” Amelia Caprio replied, looking at Ma in shocked disbelief. JT figured her euphoria at fingering him as her dad was dying a slow death at the thought that she might be related to Ruby.

“Wait a minute,” I said reading quickly through the play synopsis and then glancing up from the title page. “You said you wrote this about your dad. The dedication here says ‘To Pasquale Caprio.’ Your father is Fat Pat Caprio from the Philly mob?”

Smiling now but in a different, sly way, Amelia seemed to be appreciating his discomfort as he finally caught the jist of the shakedown. She replied, “My mother married Pat after you left town. Being in a family way after your torrid encounter in the freezer, she had no choice but to find any port in a storm, and that port happened to be on Fat Pat Caprio’s lap, mob enforcer and Daddy Dearest, whose raised me as his own but doesn’t know that you’re really my father.”

Then for the first time in his life JT saw his Ma speechless. All she could get out was, “Gaaahh!”

There comes a time in a man’s life when he has to admit to himself that he’s just a smidge in the eye of God and God is rooting him out with a smudged finger. That’s the way he felt looking from Ruby to Amelia as the newly acquired member of their dysfunctional family outlined in all the gory details how Holly and he had survived the great Trocadero Mob Massacre of 1968 by hiding in the freezer. Watching how she handled herself, he half wanted to believe Amelia was his kid because if she was Pat Caprio’s, he couldn’t see it. Fat Pat had barely made it through the sixth grade before graduating prematurely into the Philly Youth Detention center for hijacking and extortion. That’s where he did post-graduate work in knuckle-walking and chest-beating. Amelia was smart, in spite of the bimbette appearance, which he assumed came from surviving on South Philly turf, as they listened to her describe her upbringing as a mob princess; going to Saint Maria Goretti High School; throwing rocks at police cars come into their neighborhood uninvited; helping Fat Pat move cartons of loose money into the garages he owned all over town as storage vaults for his purloined goods; and how poor Holly patiently put up with him for years waiting for a chance to get even for his cruelty, especially after her looks went.

Amelia pulled out a picture of her mother and JT almost swallowed his tongue. Holly had grown to meet the challenge of living with a big man. She must have put on two hundred pounds since the last time he saw her naked in that frozen walk-in freezer under Arch Street. In the photo, Holly and Fat Pat looked like a pair of elephants hovering over Amelia at a Chucky Cheese restaurant, Amelia being hugged by Chucky the giant birthday rat surrounded by screaming pimply kids in party hats as her parentals scarfed down doubled pizza slices over her bobbing curls.

“I hate to break up this little love feast,” he said, “but I don’t get it.”

“You don’t get what?” Ruby asked, extricating herself at last from the little chair and pulling the lid off the wastebasket to free the whimpering mutt as a peace offering to Amelia.

“This!” he said waving the play in the air. “What’s it all about? And why me after all these years.? Your mother didn’t care a cracker, so why should you?”

“Simple,” Amelia said picking up the pooch as she circled my desk and sat on its edge facing me. “Revenge!”

“Revenge and money, I hope,” said Ma. “Vengeance has no wrath like a goodly stroked palm you ask me.”

“Oh, there’s money in it alright,” Amelia replied with a devious smile that definitely reminded me of me. “For all of us, but only if you help me.”

“OK, what’s it about, Amelia?” JT asked.

“I want you to help me whack Fat Pat.”

“Ha,” he cried incredulously. “I knew it. You got to be kidding me. Whack a made-guy in Philadelphia. The last time someone did that it was ‘Chicken Man’ Testa and Harry ‘the Hunchback’ Riccobene got hit, and blood flowed for weeks. Whole generations of Sicilian bloodlines died out over lasagna and bread sticks in the ‘City of Brotherly Love’.

“No, No, I don’t want you to do it. I just need your help in finding someone local to contract for me. I can’t roll on Fat Pat in Philly. Every wise guy within a hundred miles would be on to me in a minute.”

“Girlie, I got to admit, I like your style,” Ruby said with a gleam of grand-maternal pride in her piggish eyes. 

“Are the two of you nuts?” JT said. “Why should I help you, and besides what makes you think I’d know someone put a heavy hit on a player in Philadelphia?”

“Ma said you owed her on account of you leaving her there to take the heat with the Capo, Carlo Luna.”

“Wait a minute,” he said getting up and pacing the floor between the two of them as the little Shih Tzu yipped along besides him like a Border Collie, “I never even came onto Holly before that night. She was so dipshit as to believe she could go on strike against the mobbed-up owners of the Troc and her dopey girlfriend, Bermuda Schwartz, is sleeping with the trombone player AND Carlo Luna at the same time. You tell me how stupid can you get? I wasn’t taking sides publicly with a bitch that humiliates a Don? I just pulled Holly out of the way and into the freezer to hide when the button-men came to do their number; Fat Pat and some other asshole named Two Fingers.”

“Look,” Amelia said pointing a long pink lacquered nail at JT, “Mom and I spent our lives with this creep. I spent my whole adolescence watching her turn into a blimp from depression and Fat Pat groping me like I was one of his girlfriends, like he must have known I wasn’t his. I’m ready to serve up some serious hurt on his gut. Holly and I talked about it and agreed you ought to be the guy to help us. Ma said you’d have all these Hollywood contacts that must know how to take someone out, guys who didn’t move in the same places as Fat Pat.

“Amelia,” he said very softly. “I’m sorry, but I didn’t know about you until this very minute and to be honest your Mom was a nice lady, as I remember. But I don’t know anybody in this line of work you’re taking about. And even if I did, it’d take a lot of juice to pay someone to go after another hitter.”

“But that’s what I thought too,” Amelia said excitedly. “That’s why I got Fats to finance the play,” she said reaching for her coat. “I’ve been pulling his strings for a year before Ma died on how I wanted to write a play and get it produced on Broadway. He gave me a hundred thousand dollars to go and find a producer. He wants to make me happy. I think it’s this Catholic guilt thing over Ma coming to own him.” At this Amelia pulled another package out of the mysterious bottomless pit within her fur coat and dropped a mound of freshly wrapped hundred-dollar bills on my desk.

Ruby lit up and walked towards the greenbacks like a zombie, her hands twitching with the need to caress, to stroke that lonely money into her pockets.

“Wait a minute,” he shouted pushing her away.

“Son of a bitch, JT,” Ruby cried. “This girl needs us. She’s family and besides,” she added wistfully looking towards my desk, “Look at all them presidents needs us too.”

“Are you both crazy,” he shouted. “I can’t whack Fat Pat and I don’t know anybody that can.”

   “Wait, wait, I got an idea,” Ruby cried throwing both arms out like a traffic cop, glancing from JT to Amelia with this crazed look in her eye like there was a door opening in her head and something gruesome was coming through, “What If I told you we could get Fat Pat hit and never lift a finger to hire a killer. Maybe keep this money all to ourselves,” she added looking gleefully down at my desk. 

“How could you arrange that?” Amelia asked, intrigued, as she picked up her precious dog and settled back into the oversized chair.

“These mob guys are real secretive ain’t they?” Ruby asked. “Real suspicious of anybody lets outsiders know their business, right? Anyone does, they maybe think that person is wired or talking out of school?”

“Yeah, I guess,” replied Amelia. “But what’s your point?”

“What say we put on your Play. Call it ‘The Mobster’s Revenge’ and announce it’s been ghost-written by Fat Pat Caprio, a Cosa Nostra insider, who knows what he knows. Say we take say ten thousand of this,” she said, sweeping a small pile of bills to one side of my desk, “and use it to pay for advertising and a publicist. Get all the papers in Philly in on it. Put flyers up all-over Little Italy. Then we split the remainder,” she added. “To you,” she said pushing a pile towards JT. “To you,” she added pushing a pile towards Amelia, “and to me,” she finished creating a little hill of hundred-dollar bills in front of her like a mini Mount Everest.

“Then we sit back and wait,” she continued. “Amelia, you go into seclusion on account of your working on the play but we let it be known in Philly that you’re arguing with your dad. It’s him that wants to put on the play and you’re just going along for the ride. When the smoke clears, you’ll be home free.  The Capos won’t stand for it. Fat Pat won’t last a week and not a shot will be fired from our end. Just the thought of the play will do him in. We won’t have to cast it or produce it, just set it up like we’re ready to go and walk away after the whack. You get what you want Amelia and we split the money.”

For a long moment, they sat there. JT looked at Ruby and saw the glow of the Muses on her brow. Ingenious! He looked at Amelia and it seemed as if a veil had lifted from her face revealing a subtle smile like she hadn’t really thought it could happen but all of a sudden there it was like a ‘Dum Dum’ lollypop in the candy store just waiting for her to pick it up and lick it clean.

“Let’s do it,” JT said fingering one of the neatly bound bundles. “To paraphrase Shakespeare, ‘The play’s the thing wherein we’ll make the mobster sing.’”

“Ha! Hamlet, right?” Amelia cried, as JT smiled, and Ruby pulled the pile of dough into her purse along with the yipping dog.

Thomas Belton is an author with extensive publications in fiction, poetry, non-fiction, magazine feature writing, science writing, and journalism. His professional memoir, “Protecting New Jersey’s Environment: From Cancer Alley to the New Garden State (Rutgers University Press)” was named an Honor Book by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. More recently, his Young Adult novel “The Bargeman’s Daughter” won the “best first chapter contest” for the literary journal, “Meet Me @ 19th” an imprint of Arch Street Press (12/28/20). This story “The Plays the Thing” was a winner in Writers Digest, “2017 Popular Fiction Awards for Crime: Best Short Story.. His mystery short story, “The Murderous Wood,” featuring T.S. Eliot, Sir James George Frazer, and Robert Graves as sleuths was published in “Mystery Weekly Magazine” in 2019. He has also published short stories in the Young Adult literary magazine “Cicada” and the arts magazine “Art News.” In non-fiction he has many publications including a recent essay in Superstition Review, the literary magazine of Arizona State University on climate change titled “Sea Level Rise and the Two Cultures.” He is also a frequent Op-Ed writer for the New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, and The Philadelphia Inquirer.