Wednesday, January 4, 2017


Live feed from a parallel universe, where the handsome owner of the Purple Bird Bus Company is meeting with Jon Harbaugh for his annual performance review:

"Biscotti?" the owner asks Jon.

"Excuse me?" Jon replies.  Seated on the opposite side of the owner's large desk, Jon appears puzzled—although it's hard to tell as his expression often shows signs of confusion and uncertainty, as if he is unsure exactly how he's arrived at this place in life, because his only other experience with school buses before being hired to drive one was washing them.

"Would you like a biscotti?" the owner clarifies.

"Oh, I thought you were saying that was your name.  Because it is something like that, isn't it…Biscotti?"

The handsome owner smiles.  "Let's not worry about that right now.  Let's move on."

Jon stands and heads for the door, mistakenly believing the meeting is over.  (Jon has difficulty managing time, especially in critical situations.)

"No, Jon," the owner calls to his driver's back, "we're not finished."

"Oh."  Jon returns to his seat and smiles politely.

"Let me ask you this," the owner offers hospitably, reviewing reams of paper pertaining to Jon's bus driving, "how would you rank your performance this past school year?"

"Excellent," Jon replies without hesitation, which is one of the factors the owner has always liked about Jon: that he is tirelessly positive even in the face of truly horrible circumstances.

"Excellent you say…" the owner ponders, trying to conceal his doubt.

"Thank you."  Jon's smile broadens from polite to genuinely pleased, thinking he's been complimented.

"Even though," the owner points out, "you only got the children to school before the opening bell half the time.  And in the past five years, you've gotten them there late more often than on time."

"Yes.  But remember how often the bus broke down.  And how we kept having to change mechanics to fix it."

"Oh, I'm well aware of that," the owner replies.  "In fact, I think we're still paying one of those mechanics even though he hasn't worked on our bus for two or three years."

"Yes."  Jon nods as if this is a factor in his favor.

The owner begins to feel that slight pinch at his temples that warns a headache is coming.  "Let me ask you something, Jon, and I probably should have asked this before now, but do you know how a bus runs?"

"Runs?"  Jon thinks he's picked up on a trick question.  "Buses don't run Mr. Biscotti, they drive.  They're a machine."

"My name isn't Biscotti, Jon.  I was asking before if you wanted a biscotti to eat."

"But I know it sounds like Biscotti."

"Let's not concern ourselves with that right now."

"Biscutti?" Jon takes a guess.

"Let's get back to the bus.  Because what I was asking is: do you know how a bus operates?  Mechanically?  Do you know how all the pieces and parts are supposed to work in unison?"

"You put your foot down on the accelerator and it's goes.  You put on the brake, it stops."  Jon smiles, then remembers, "And you turn the wheel and the bus goes left or right…depending on which way you turn the wheel."

"But what about the engine?" the owner inquires.

Jon appears puzzled (or maybe not).

"Do you know how an engine works?" the owner asks Jon.

"No, sir, that's the mechanics' job.  They make the engine go."

"But you're supposed to tell them how you want the engine to go.  How you want the entire bus to go.  You're supposed to be the leader, to give the bus its identity."

"It's a bus, sir—that's the identity."

"But what kind of bus?"

"It's a school bus," Jon delicately points out in case the owner has forgotten.

"Yes, I know, Jon, but what kind of school bus do you want it to be?" the owner encourages.  "When it comes down the street and people see it, what image are you trying to convey?"

"It's yellow."

"Yes…"  The owner takes a deep breath.  "…it is yellow."

Jon smiles.

The owner is inclined to rub his temples, but that will acknowledge his headache, and he did not get where he is today by giving credence to every pain, cramp, and distraction that crossed his path.

The owner turns to another tabbed page in the report, one of many tabbed pages—in fact, there may be as many tabs as there are pages, in many different colors, a different color for each consultant who has had a turn with the ladle stirring this muddled-as-pea-soup document.

"Jon," the owner says softly, always concerned with the morale of his employees, "do you know the pothole on Pratt Street?"

"Which one?"

"The one right in the middle of the road, shaped like a burro flat on its side.  The one angry citizens have spray painted orange in hopes the city might fix it before it needs its own zip code."

"Oh, yes, sir, I know that pothole.  That's a very big pothole.  Deep.  Monster hole."

"Yes, it is.  And you hit it every day.  Which could be contributing to how often the wheels fall off the bus."

"The wheels are the wheels mechanic's job," Jon points out.

"So it's his fault then, that when you hit this admittedly very deep pothole, every day, and the wheels fall off—it's the mechanic's fault?"

"Yes, sir," Jon proclaims definitively.  "The wheels mechanic is in charge of the wheels."

"Mm…"  The owner wishes Jon wouldn't have said that, because he really, really likes Jon.  Jon is a very nice man.  Jon has a very nice family.  The owner hired Jon.  Jon won a school bus driving championship for him.  "Let's talk about weather," the owner proposes, hoping this might be a better topic.

"Beautiful day," Jon says, looking out the wide windows of the owner's spacious office.

"Yes, today it's a very nice day.  But some days it rains."

"Oh, yes sir, boy does it."

"And when it rains, no matter how hard it rains, you always drive the same speed."

"Yes, sir," Jon says proudly.

"You remember when it rained so hard and we had those mudslides?" the owner asks.  "Those three mudslides the year we won the championship."

"Do I," Jon chuckles.

"And do you remember driving straight into those mudslides?"

"I sure do," Jon laughs.  "Because I remember thinking when the bus got stuck: I'm glad I just drive the bus now and don't have to be the one who washes it anymore."

"Do you remember how the bus got out of those mudslides?"

"I put my foot on the accelerator and pressed down like hell!"

"Well, that...  But do you remember Ray and Ed—they were seniors that year—how they got out of the bus and pushed it out of the mudslide.  Every one of those mudslides."

Jon squints, almost certainly puzzled now, because he's also shaking his head.  "No…no, sir, I don't think that's right."

"Jon, we have video.  I can play it for you if you like.  You know we videotape every mile you drive, from every angle?  Overlapping angles."

Jon remains puzzled.

"You don't remember Ray and Ed pushing the bus out of those mudslides?  Uphill?  In torrential rain?  And how in that one really deep mudslide, when the bus was sunk in up to its chassis, how Ray and Ed rallied all the other students and got them to get out of the bus to help push."

"But I was the one with my foot on the accelerator, sir," Jon points out.  "Without my foot on the accelerator, that bus wouldn't have gone anywhere."  Starting to get hungry, Jon gestures to the plate on the owner's desk.  "Are those cookies?"

"Biscotti," the owner specifies, graciously pushing the plate towards Jon.

"I knew that was your name."  Jon takes one.  As he chews, crumbs fall over his lips.  He coughs.  "Dry," Jon says of the biscotti.

The owner turns to the page of the report that was tabbed by every consultant involved in Jon's evaluation.  "Let me ask a hypothetical."

"All right."  Jon sits back and looks out the window.

"I want to ask you, Jon."

"Oh."  Jon returns his attention to the owner.  "I thought you had a question for the guy who replaces the windshield wipers."

"No—his name's Hy Portera.  I said 'hypothetical.'  But never mind what it's called.  Maybe that wasn't the right choice of words anyway."  The owner pauses.  Sometimes these meetings with Jon cause him to question the functioning of his own mind.  "Let's say you're driving the bus…"

"I am the bus driver."

"Yes—and let's say you're driving the bus and traffic is really, really busy.  The roads are jammed.  Maybe even closed.  Maybe there's been an accident."

"Oh, dear."

"Now, your plan—as your plan always is—is to drive thirty-five miles per hour, right down the center of the road, from the moment you leave our station, through all the stops picking up the kids, until you get them to school."

"That is my plan," Jon proclaims proudly.

"But is it wise, I wonder, to keep driving thirty-five miles per hour when you see there's nowhere for the bus to go?  When the roads are jammed with cars?  Do you ever—oh, I don't know—think about making an adjustment to the plan?"

"An adjustment to the plan?"

"Yes.  You know, a different course of action.  Take an alternate route, perhaps.  Maybe even put on the brakes so as not to slam into all the cars stopped ahead of you."

"Sir, with all due respect, consistency is the twin brother of discipline.  And I should know, because I have a brother, and he is neither consistent nor disciplined."

"I know your brother, Jon.  He rode the bus you now drive when he was a student.  Once he even threw the driver off the bus and drove it himself because he thought the driver was going too slow.  And got into a scuffle with the police for driving without a license.  I think he was ten at the time."

"He's always getting into scuffles with the police."  Jon leans forward and whispers as if sharing a secret, even though no one else is in the office.  "My brother has a problem with authority.  But don't worry, sir, it's not genetic.  That's my brother, not me.  I drive straight down the middle.  Thirty-five miles per hour.  Rain, sleet, snow, fog, mudslides, traffic jams…"


"Yes, sir—and potholes.  Just keep going thirty-five miles per hour."

"And get the students to school by the start of class less than fifty percent of the time."

"Not over my entire career.  Over my career, sir, I've gotten those kids to school on time way more than they were late.  And won a championship."

"Yes, and I am grateful for that…but since Ray and Ed graduated…  The last five years…  These have not been good years, Jon."

"I really don't see what this Ray and Ed you keep talking about had to do with anything.  Keep in mind, sir, it was my foot on the accelerator.  My foot," Jon determines proudly, then remembers, "And these hands on the steering wheel.  Turning left.  Turning right.  Making all the turns.  All the turns.  I'm your driver, sir.  Driving that bus.  Yellow bus," Jon adds, recalling something earlier in this meeting about the bus' identity.

"Yes."  The owner smiles through the full-bloom of his headache.  "Yellow—that'll make us stand out."  He shoves the report—tabs and all—into the recycle bin, making a mental note to circulate a memo that he is not, under any circumstances, to be told how much that report cost to create.  "Good meeting, Jon."

Jon stands.  "Thank you, Mr. Biscotti."  He shakes the owner's hand and leaves, whistling, unless the owner is mistaken, a tune that has something to do with luck and the Irish.

The owner stands and moves to his wall of windows, where he is awash in sunshine and has a view down to his prized bus in the parking lot.  He watches Jon climb in the bus, start the engine, and pull into city traffic, shifting gears until the bus is going 35 miles per hour.

His beloved bus.  Maybe next year things will be great again, like they were once.  Maybe next year they—

The owner's blindly-hopeful thoughts are interrupted when one of his chief assistants rushes breathlessly into his office.  "Sir!  Where's Jon?"

"He just left."

The assistant dashes to the window and looks outside.  It's too late—the bus has already turned the corner.

"What's wrong?" the owner asks.

"There's been a building collapse on Charles Street.  Which caused a sewer line break.  Which felled electric poles.  The road is impassible."

As the owner clutches his chest, a series of horrible sounds reach his ears: a school bus going 35 miles per hour plowing through vehicles whose drivers foresaw danger and stopped, then plunging into a three-foot-deep gorge of raw sewage, before being electrocuted by downed power lines, and ultimately crashing to a halt in a hundred-foot-high pile of concrete, brick, and steel.

"Don't worry, sir," the owner's assistant assures, "we'll have it fixed up in time for the start of the next school year.  We're very upbeat about a new group of students coming in to fill our needs."

"Our needs…" the owner bemoans, collapsing into his chair.  He read that report with all the tabs.  They need everything.  At every position.

He finds himself reminded of an anonymous note he received the day after they won that championship, a note he discounted at the time as sour grapes sent from someone involved with the bus company they beat—or maybe from Jon's brother—a note foretelling his future once Ray and Ed graduated, a note that read: Now you'll see what kind of driver you've got.

Copyright 2017, Preston Pairo

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Top 100 Kindle Title

Many thanks to all the readers who helped One Dead Judge reach the Top 100 list on Amazon for Kindle satire titles.  Please click to link to Amazon to read more or purchase.

Monday, June 6, 2016

How To Tax A Tomato

Many of my books deal with (let's call them) nuances of the American legal system, to which I was first introduced as a kid decades ago, trailing my father, grandfather, and uncle to various courtrooms, mostly in Baltimore City.

When I began law school, one of the first cases we were assigned to read was Marbury v. Madison, a cornerstone of constitutional law. However, a case that might better prepare first year law students and non-lawyers to deal with the U.S. legal system is one that I just read, three decades after being assigned Marbury.

Nix, et al. v. Hadden, also a U.S. Supreme Court case, was decided in 1893, and as recently as 2015 was cited in Supreme Court decisions as solid precedent.

A tariff case, Nix holds that tomatoes are vegetables. This may not seem especially important, except for the very scientific fact that tomatoes are actually a fruit, due to the botanic classification that they are "that part of a plaint which contains the seeds of the plant, especially the juicy, pulpy product of the plant, which covers and contains the seed."

So how did the Nix case so flatly deny science? By making vegetables a tax matter.

At the time the case was decided, the U.S. imposed a tariff on imported vegetables, but not on imported fruit. Alas, as it was in the best interests of governmental revenue that tomatoes be a vegetable, the Supreme Court deftly performed legal gymnastics and ruled that vegetables shouldn't be defined by botany, but by when we consume them.

Vegetables, the court found, are eaten as a part of a meal, while fruits are eaten for desert.

Perhaps if there had been hipster ice creameries serving sun-dried tomato gelato in the late 1800's, tomatoes could have better argued their scientific standing as a fruit. Alas, that was not the case, and science was hustled out of the courtroom for what would not be the last time.


Preston Pairo's latest novel, One Dead Judge, a saga from Ocean City, is available exclusively at

Now on Amazon: One Dead Judge

Ah, summer.  Dallas Henry's favorite time of year—except for this week when the State Bar Association holds its annual convention in Dallas' beach town, and hundreds of his former legal brethren arrive like a red tide of litigating menace.

Dallas has been giving away free rooms at his one-star motel to keep any lawyers from checking in, but suddenly he has bigger problems.

Cranky Judge Crenshaw calls Dallas in the middle of the night and claims someone's trying to kill him, but won't say who he thinks it might be, or why.  Convinced the judge is pulling another of his infamous practical jokes, Dallas plays along, only the next day Crenshaw turns up dead and doughy prosecutor Brent Bannister claims Dallas' car was the murder weapon.

Then Dallas' old law school girlfriend shows up, followed by a TV advertising lawyer with bad hair plugs, a felon with bad aim, a bag of steamed crabs, someone digging holes in the judge's back yard, piles of deer pooh, the dead judge's reclusive ex-partner, a former courthouse worker who gets three pension checks, a real estate tycoon hell bent on building a new golf course, and a convention center full of lawyers who want to make Dallas "Attorney of The Year" for running over Judge Crenshaw.

Dallas' helpers, meanwhile, aren't helping.  Francophile Herbie's massive origami creation is taking over the motel's front desk.  Misdemeanant Dash is stealing limos from foreign diplomats.  And Susan still isn't the love of Dallas' life.

Who would have thought one dead judge could cause such a commotion?  A satiric whodunit from the sunny beaches of Ocean City, Maryland, One Dead Judge is now available exclusively as an eBook at

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Wrong Lawyer | a short story

"The wrong lawyer?" Jake Burton squinted. His gloved hand, that had expected to have an envelope in it by now, firmly set his empty shot glass on a coaster that was stuck to the table. "I got the wrong lawyer?"

Arnie Dill's slender eyebrows raised as he nodded.

Jake thought Arnie plucked his eyebrows into narrow lines to match his pencil-thin moustache, looking like he was straight out of an old movie with the skinny eyebrows, moustache, slick hair, and black turtleneck. Truth was, he was right out of Dundalk--high school dropout from the would-be Class of '89 who'd made some money doing things no one had put him in jail for yet. Like making book in the back of this dark, crappy bar in Locust Point.

"Wrong lawyer?" Jake Burton was a 51-year-old man with a barrel chest and bulldog face. His topcoat was of the finest cashmere.

The two men were alone at a corner table. The tavern's only other customers were a middle-age couple at the bar. The woman was attractive. The guy, though, was that a toupee?

Jake leaned forward. "I got the lawyer..." He poked the table with two gloved fingers to emphasize his point. " told me to get. Guy came out the building you said he was comin' out of, the time you said he was comin' out, headed in the direction you said -- "

"Jake." Arnie cut him off, not knowing how to make this any clearer. "You got the wrong lawyer. Didn't you look at the picture I faxed you?" Arnie was getting a little snippy.

"Yeah, and that's the lawyer I got. Three quiet .22's in the back of his head. Puff-puff-puff. He goes down. I leave. No witnesses. And now I'm here for my money and you're feeding me some -- "

Arnie dug impatiently into a pocket of his black blazer--J.C. Penney all the way. He pulled out two pages, unfolded them on the table. The first was a Yellow Pages ad from the lawyers section, the one with the picture of the lawyer Arnie wanted dead. "That's what I faxed you."

Jake examined it. "That ain't what he looked like coming through my fax machine."

"Who's fault is that?" Arnie started unfolding the second page. "Buy a better fax machine." He slapped a photocopied Sunpapers article on the table: the obituary of a lawyer who was survived by three ex-wives--the lawyer Jake shot in the back of the head. "That's the lawyer you got. The wrong lawyer."

Jake sat back and squinted at Arnie. "This ain't my fault."

"How you figure?"

Over at the bar, Mr. Toupee put his arm around the woman on the stool beside him. She didn't seem thrilled.

Jake said, "I followed your directions."

Arnie kept his voice down, but was getting angry. "No, what you did was screwed up."
Jake's barrel chest butted the table. "It was a blurry fax. I couldn't half see it." Spit flew out when he talked and landed on Arnie's pock-marked cheek.

Arnie grabbed a napkin and wiped his face. "So why didn't you ask me to send it again."
Jake's reply came out as quiet rumble. "What the hell, I was doing the guy in the dark. I figured that's what he'd look like in the dark. Blurry like that. And he did. Which is why I shot him."

Arnie started to say something, but stopped. He exhaled deeply. "Look, what's done is done."

"Yeah, I'll say." Jake pushed the obit back at Arnie.

"You get the right lawyer, I'll pay you."

"So you ain't payin' me..." Jake dropped his fat finger on the face of the dead lawyer in the obituary. "...for this guy."


Jake's lips moved as though his gums were brushing his front teeth. "Yeah, all right, what the hell." He sighed and eased back in his chair, making its old wooden legs creak. "I got the wrong guy. My fault. I shouldn't've taken any chances. Gotten a clearer picture. Whatever. Here..." He motioned for the yellow pages ad, wiggling his fingers toward it. "...gimme that. Make sure I get the right guy this time."

Arnie handed over the advertisement with the picture of the still-alive lawyer he wanted dead.

"This guy," Jake said, holding up the ad, "right? Not this guy." He finger-pointed the dead man's obituary again.

"You got it."

"All right. I'll see you in 24, 48 hours, tops." Jake stood.

Arnie smiled. "Good deal."

"You're still buying the shot, right?" Jake motioned toward his empty glass.

"The shot I'm paying for."

"Make sure I didn't drink the wrong drink."

Jake walked out of the bar and into the cold.

It was starting to snow. White flakes swirled along the street.

Jake stuffed his hands into the pockets of his expensive topcoat and turned down the alley.

Loiza Ely was leaning against Jake's Cadillac Eldorado, hands in the pockets of a ski parka, catching snowflakes on his tongue. "You ever do this when you were a kid, Jake?" the tall Romanian tech wizard asked.

"No. Get in the car."

"What's the matter?"

"Got the wrong lawyer."

"How's that?"

"Get in the car." Jake threw open the passenger door and thumped down. Even with the seat powered back, his chest was almost on the dash.

Loiza slid in the driver's seat. "Whaddayou mean the wrong lawyer?"

"Shot the wrong damned lawyer," he swore. "Friggin' Arnie. Who the hell faxes a picture of someone they want hit? What the hell'm I supposed to do with that? Now it's my fault?"

"So we're not getting paid?"


"And that was such a pure hit. No witnesses." Loiza stared down the alley, contemplating this latest lesson in being a killer he was learning from Jake. After half a minute, he said, 
"Now what?"

It was cold in the car without the engine running.

Jake didn't respond at first. He appeared deep in thought. "You know," he offered, "my mother wanted me to go to law school. I took the LSAT's and everything."

"Really?" Loiza didn't disbelieve Jake, it just seemed out of character.

"Got a good score, too."

The back exit to the bar opened and Arnie came out. He pulled his Penney's blazer close against the cold and blew into his hands, angling away from them across the alley, toward his Mercedes SLK.

Jake eased quiet and quick from the Cadillac and started down the alley toward Arnie, his steps light for such a heavy man

Arnie, still blowing into his hands, never heard Jake coming until he was five feet away, so by the time he turned and grunted, sensing something bad, there wasn't time to do anything about it.

Jake shot him three times in the head -- using the same .22 fitted with a silencer that had killed the wrong lawyer.

Arnie dropped dead, face up in the bricked alley, his mouth and eyes staring open into the falling snow.

Loiza came running, said, "Look, Arnie's catching snowflakes."

They dragged Arnie across the alley to the Cadillac, popped the trunk and put him in with room to spare.

"You know," Jake grunted, closing the trunk, "maybe it's not to late to do the lawyer thing."

Loiza brushed his hands down the sides of his ski jacket. "Actually, Jake, I picture you more as a judge."

They got in the car and pulled off.

Turning the corner, Jake saw the woman from the bar come out alone, leaving without the man with the bad toupee.

Jake nodded, figuring he and the woman had both made good decisions tonight.

copyright 2001, 2016, Preston Pairo III

Jake Burton also appears in Preston Pairo's legal thriller, Her Honor, available exclusively at

Friday, March 25, 2016

After Decades of Crime, A Romance

After writing crime novels for nearly 30 years, my writing took on a heartfelt change with The Builder, a contemporary romance set on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Released as an eBook exclusively on, The Builder began 15 years ago as a screenplay collaboration between with John Bensink, an established television writer.  It was a story we both believed in, but other projects seemed to push it aside.  Plus, it was a new genre for me, and I think it took me a while to feel comfortable writing a romance novel.

The breakthrough began in 2007.  My dad, with whom I was practicing law, began a long battle with health issues, and during that time I struggled to continue a new crime novel, which I eventually abandoned to begin writing a love story set in Ocean City.

I spent three years writing that other romance novel, and did it more as an escape from reality than the potential for commercial success.  My agent kept warning me the book was going to end up being too long, and 700-plus pages later, she was right.  But I finished the manuscript, which ultimately inspired me to get back to The Builder.

John Bensink was on board to expand the screenplay to a novel, and we returned to work.  I 
transformed the outline into the completed manuscript, while John undertook the duties of editor, thereby returning us to the respective roles we each held when we met in New York City in the 1980's.

It's very different to see a romance novel in my booklist, but I'm extremely pleased with the way it turned out.  And while I'm currently working on a new crime novel, I hope for more romance titles in the future.