|Posted on November 27, 2015 at 9:25 AM||comments (0)|
Chapter 2 – Children, Go Where I Send Thee
There are times in life when, as a woman, you just know you have to take control of the situation. This was one of those times. If Dash saw the name of the place we were going, I would never hear the end of it. There was no way around it; I simply had to hold the reins and ignore whatever he said. It would be a challenge.
“You have the tickets?”
“Yes, Dash.” Of course I had the tickets. You never give anything important to Dash, unless you want it lost or wrecked.
“How long do we have to wait for our plane?”
I wanted to correct him – planes – but there would be time for that later. “We board in half an hour. Sit down and be quiet.”
I had a good feeling about this trip. We had gotten out of Cuba and into Canada with virtually no issues. We had to endure no questioning, no cavity searches, no nothing. It was sort of strange, and considering the hunky customs guy, a bit disappointing, not that I didn’t try to get his attention.
“We’re flying across the continent the day before Thanksgiving? Are you insane?”
It was at least the hundredth time he had bitched about the date, as if I could have done something to change it.
“Yes, we are flying the day before Thanksgiving. Deal with it. They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Cuba or Canada, so quit your bitching.” I didn’t have the heart to point out that we would be flying on Thanksgiving Day as well. Dash needed to be spoon-fed shit like this, especially if we were in public.
Dash stopped in his tracks. “They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada? What the hell is wrong with them?”
I put on my patient face. “They do celebrate it, but about six weeks earlier. Now, shut up and sit down.”
He dropped to the seat, stared out the window, then glared at me once more. “This place is insane!”
“It’s Toronto airport. What did you think? They would roll out the red carpet for you? Maybe they should have held back everyone else, like you were some sort of god damned royalty?”
“We’re flying to Alaska from here?”
Damn. There it was; the first question that I really didn’t want to answer. “You need some coffee? You should probably use the washroom. I don’t want to have you bouncing up and down on the plane.”
“If you don’t want me to have to pee on the plane, why do you want me to have coffee?”
He was starting to piss me off. I forced a kind, understanding smile. “I thought perhaps you were thirsty.”
He sat quietly, content for a moment with the answer.
“Hey!” He spun around on the seat to face me. “You want me to go to the bathroom now because there aren’t any bathrooms on the plane, right?”
“Of course there are bathrooms on the plane.” This plane anyway. I wasn’t sure if that would be the case for the rest of the trip. “Just shut up and sit there.”
I opened a magazine, hoping he would get the message that I was done talking. He fiddled his fingers, shifted in his seat, shuffled his feet on the carpet. I knew he wouldn’t be quiet for long.
“So we’re going to Alaska from here.”
Eventually, but I couldn’t tell him that. “We’ll be there before you know it.”
“Air Canada flight one-twenty-one to Winnipeg is preparing to board.”
Dash looked up to the ceiling. He probably thought the woman was sitting in the rafters making the announcement.
I stood. “That’s us.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“Yes, it absolutely is.”
He shook his head. “No, it can’t be, because we’re going to Alaska, not Winter... Winter...”
“Winnipeg. Winnipeg is on the way to Alaska. Let’s go.”
Winnipeg? Who the hell came up with these Canadian names? Why the hell were we going there? I grabbed my bag and followed Bambi, but this was not going to be the end of the discussion.
Thankfully we were through customs. Of course, Bambi had to bat her eyelashes and shake her barely-contained boobs at the customs agent. I was a bit worried; I’d seen on TV what border cops do to people – and they enjoy every minute of being able to inflict pain on people. I couldn’t blame them for that, but there was something distasteful about being on the receiving end of that. She was putting the moves on him, and I was sure they would pull us over and check through everything. Then again, if I had Bambi shaking her booty at me, I would absolutely run in the opposite direction. Too bad I hadn’t thought of that before.
I hate airplanes. They are small, crowded, and always there is some grubby-faced kid teething right beside you, where you can’t escape the noise... or you have the kid beside you who pukes every time the plane moves. Planes are crawling with germs and weirdoes. Who the hell needs that!
“I get the window!”
The bitch almost body-checked me right onto the god damned wing as she shoved past me. I tried to find my seat belt, but had to push several layers of her blubber out of the way.
“We’ll be lucky if no one throws a god damned harpoon into you while we’re in Alaska.”
She glared at me. “They don’t whale hunt anymore. It’s illegal.”
“Sure it is... until they have the perfect excuse – the whale was attacking them at the salad bar!”
Her elbow slammed into my ribs. I should have known to keep my mouth shut.
She turned to face the window, watching the baggage getting thrown into the cargo hold. I took the opportunity to mime what a whale walking through the restaurant to the salad bar might look like, puffing out my cheeks, and using my arms to emphasize my whale-ish size. The kid in the seat across from us giggled. Bambi didn’t. Her elbow slammed into me again.
She was starting to settle, sorting through her bags, shoving one under the seat in front of her, one under the seat in front of me, almost smothering me as she leaned over. I was pretty sure her nipples were polishing the toes of my shoes as she reached to the floor. My god, she was a lot of woman... and not in the good way country music singers croon about.
“Fasten your seatbelts. We’re getting ready to taxi.”
I couldn’t see the woman speaking. She sounded hot.
“The weather in Winnipeg is a chilly minus nineteen, with a wind chill of minus twenty-seven.”
I leaned closer to Bambi. “What the hell is a wind chill?”
“We’ll be stopped there for thirty minutes then will be heading on to Calgary. Those passengers continuing on are asked to stay in your seats while we reload the plane.”
I turned to Bambi. “Calgary?”
She smiled that patient saint-like smile that made me want to shove my fist down her throat. “Well, yes... we don’t need to worry. We can just stay in our seats.”
“Winnipeg to Calgary?”
She smiled again.
“Then Calgary to...? Alaska?”
She nodded. She looked a bit too happy with that.
“Where in Alaska?”
She fidgeted, chewing on her bottom lip. “Well, you see, we need to go from Calgary to Anchorage...”
“And your uncle Flockington lived in Anchorage?” I knew the answer before I asked, but I needed to hear it from her.
“Well, no, not exactly. Once we get to Anchorage tomorrow morning...”
“Tomorrow morning?” I didn’t yell. I spat the question between very clenched teeth.
“Yeah, well, by the time we get to Winnipeg, then to Calgary, have a little stop-over, change planes, and get to Anchorage, it will be tomorrow morning...” She was babbling now. She knew how pissed off I was. “But it will be early tomorrow morning.”
“Umm, well, very early.” She batted her eyelashes again. That never has worked on me. I let my eyes repeat the question. “Three in the morning.”
I waited. I knew there was more.
“Then, we wait at the airport for a bit, and get our flight to Uncle Flockington’s home.”
She sighed. “Okay, about eleven hours later, we get on our final flight.”
She smiled. I shuddered.
|Posted on November 26, 2015 at 9:20 AM||comments (0)|
As we approach the holiday season, we wanted to give you a little 'present' (bear in mind we use that word with creative license ;). Our very own Bambi rides again in a new release coming out this Christmas season -- a Christmas story we can quite confidently say is like nothing you've seen before. There will be no sugar-laden miracle at the end. There will be no adorable children going through that typical Christmas angst. There is no deeply moving message of hope and inspiration. None of those things would do justice to a Bambi and Dash story. What it is, hopefully, is a chance for you to sit back for a chapter a day, unwind from your stresses of the day, and have a little chuckle at their expense. Our gift to you -- Dashiel Waitflaker: Dash-ing Through The Snow.
Chapter 1 – Sweet Little Jesus Boy
I snapped my fingers. Juan didn’t need to ask. He showed up less than a minute later with another piña colada on a tray.
“Meez Bambi.” Juan bowed as he presented the tray to me.
I took the drink then leaned forward. “It’s getting a bit hot here, Juan.” I waggled my eyebrows at him. He knew what I wanted.
Without complaint, he grabbed the suntan lotion and squirted some into his hands. He then started to rub it into my skin. I growled at him, my inner cougar surfacing again. He was the best part of Cuba – my own fecking cabana boy. He was perfect – toned, tanned, dark-eyed... and everything he did pissed off Dash. I turned my head to smile at Dash, watching his blood pressure rise.
“Give the poor bastard a break.” Dash glared at me. “No one deserves that sort of torture.”
“Shut the hell up, Dash.” I turned and gave Juan my most provocative smile. “Thank you, Juan.”
Juan wiped his hands on a towel before picking up my empty glass and setting it on his tray. “Meez Bambi.” He bowed again then strode off. I watched as he disappeared into the hotel. My god, he had one fine ass on him.
“Quit drooling. For god’s sake, can’t you show even a hint of class?”
“Shut up, Dash.”
“What the hell did that kid ever do to you? Rubbing your back is cruel and unusual punishment by any standards.”
“Shut the hell up, Dash. Mind your own damned business. Juan is here to take care of me, so screw off.”
“His name is Jesus, for Christ sake! Gee-zuz. Not Juan!”
Dash was starting to annoy me – again. “It’s Hay-sus, asshole, but I was raised Catholic, so I can’t say that! It’s like... blasphemy or something. He’s getting damned good pay. He can live with whatever I want to call him.”
“God damned cabana banana.”
“Boy! Cabana boy!” I settled back on my lounger then took a calming breath. “God damned moron! That’s what you are.” I stated it as a quiet fact. “I think I’m starting to burn. My skin is so sensitive now, after you let it burn so badly on that damned boat.”
I didn’t need to look. I could feel his glare.
Dash opened his mouth to yell at me but stopped when Juan showed up with my phone on his tray. I waggled my eyebrows at him again – an unmistakable ‘come hither’ look – then flicked the hem of his trunks with my fingertips. He bent over, lowering the tray to me.
“Why, thank you, Juan.” One hand reached for the phone. The one that had reached for his trunks snaked inside the material, sliding up his thigh. I shuddered at the potential hidden by that material.
Dash glared again. Juan straightened and backed away, taking the tray with him. I lifted the phone to my ear.
You could see that poor bugger cringe every time he had to come near Bambi. Who could blame him? He must have done something to totally piss off the king or emperor or whatever the hell that Castrol guy was. I had to say, though, when you didn’t have to look at the slums and scruffy poor people, he did have a pretty nice country. What the hell did I care? It wasn’t costing me a damned thing – thanks to Bambi and her god damned freakish luck.
Then again, watching Jesus putting that suntan oil on the fat bitch was sort of like watching someone oiling up warm lard. The poor bastardo will suffer flashbacks from that for the rest of his god damned life.
She still hadn’t noticed that he only spoke two words to her. I think he was afraid to say more, that with his poor grasp of the language, and Bambi’s eternally overcharged hormones, he might say something that would only lead to disaster. The last bugger she did that to died from it, but let’s not go there! Truth to be told, though, Jesus was one fine specimen – not a lot unlike me in my prime, which would be up until the day I met Bambi.
We had been in Cuba for only a few days. Surprisingly, our pictures weren’t hanging on the post office wall yet, but I knew it was just a matter of time. That stupid Bambi would find a way to land us in the middle of a disaster, and we would be here, in fecking Cuba, where no one would be able to help us. I would probably end up serving a life sentence of having to run oil all over some other hairy moron – like I hadn’t already served that sentence since Bambi and I were married in god damned Saskatchewan.
I didn’t turn. She said it in that long drawn out Mary Tyler Moore way – ohhhhhhh Daaaaashhhhhh. It was a harbinger. I just knew it.
“My uncle Flockington has died.” Bambi sobbed and sniffled as she spoke.
“Flockington? What the hell is a flockington?”
Her palm smacked the back of my head. “My uncle! I just told you that.”
I didn’t point out that she had miraculously stopped crying in order to correct me. Alligator tears – that’s all the bitch was capable of. I played along. “Oh no, your uncle Flockington is dead? What happened... and why the hell should we care?” I dodged the swinging palm this time.
“He was my favorite uncle.”
“I didn’t know you had an uncle.”
“Of course I do.”
“So why the hell haven’t I heard about him before?”
She glared at me. She did that whenever I asked something that required logic. “I haven’t seen him for a while.”
“He was sort of... eccentric.”
He was a relative of Bambi’s and she thought he was eccentric? Yeah, we were talking either very normal, or he was totally bat crap crazy. My money was on the second option. “Lemme guess. You want to go to the funeral, right?”
“Well...” She hesitated. It was time to prepare. “No, not exactly. The funeral was a couple weeks ago.”
“A couple weeks ago?” Now she was pissing me off. “So what the hell do we care about Uncle Flockington being dead then?”
She smiled. It was that piggy-eyed shit-eating smile that I hated. “I’m in his will. I have to go to the reading.”
“His will?” Holy crap! Someone actually had an uncle who died leaving an estate to a niece, and it had to be Bambi.
“Yeah.” There was no trace of sorrow in her voice now. “So get your ass up out of that chair, get some clothes on, get packed and let’s burn some rubber.”
I stood, but made sure she would see I wasn’t happy about it. “Fine. Where the hell did Uncle Flockington live?” Bambi mumbled an answer. I had no idea what she said, but fully understood that she intended it that way. I wasn’t going to budge. “Bambi, where the hell are we going?” I crossed my arms for emphasis.
“North... to the mainland.”
I raised a brow. “Could you be a bit more specific?”
“North!” She barked it at me.
“Jesus, not Canada!”
Jesus appeared at my side with a bottle of beer. “Meester Dash.”
“Jesus Christ, not you! The other Jesus!”
“No, not Canada.”
“Where in the name of all that is fecking holy are we going?”
“Alaska, okay? We’re going to Alaska... but he was totally loaded; rolling in dough. We have to go. We’ll be there for one day. That’s all! Then we can get the hell out of there and it will be easy street for the rest of our lives.”
I didn’t believe it, not for one minute, but I also knew there was no point arguing. We were heading to Alaska.
|Posted on February 15, 2014 at 4:15 PM||comments (0)|
From The Chris Gallagher Files
by Tom Bryde
Detective Chris Gallagher catches his first case after the murder of his partner Vince. He arrives to find Pete Barnigan, an undercover drug cop, spattered all over the dining room wall. To make matters worse, his new, unannounced partner arrives on the scene. Dave Purvis is an unknown commodity to Gallagher, but makes sure Chris realises that he is not impressed by rank or reputation as he starts to work the case. As they retrace Pete's moves and talk to his contacts, more people associated to Pete also land on the Medical Examiner's table, including Pete's partner, and their handler is in the wind. Along with the twists and turns of the case, Gallagher has to deal with his new 'partner' putting the moves on his lady. The question that haunts Chris most during this case? Is he dealing with a cop killer or a killer cop?
She looked at the gun resting in her palm then slowly raised her gaze to look him in the eye. “It’s untraceable?”
JJ nodded. “That’s what was ordered.” He dug in his pocket. “This is the silencer. It just screws into the end of the barrel.”
“Have I ever let you down?”
“I know you never will.”
JJ held out his hand. A bag of powder was placed in it. “Sweet!”
“Don’t spend it all in one place.”
Pete raced down the stairs from the bedroom, his brow furrowed, his step determined. As he rounded the corner to the dining room, he stopped, his eyes narrowing. “What are you doing here?”
He took two steps closer to the table. “What do you want?”
“From you? Absolutely nothing.”
One muffled shot sounded. Pete crumpled to the floor.
“Nothing, that is, other than for you to mind your own fucking business.”
“Jesus, do I really want to go back to the damned job?” Detective Chris Gallagher stood in his shower allowing the hot water to massage his tense muscles. “Do I need that crap? Everyone will be staring at me when I’m not looking at them, whispering behind my back, afraid to make eye contact, not sure of what to say – a bunch of cats on eggshells, afraid of what might upset me. I’m the damned senior officer there, and I need all of them to have their heads in the game! We have a murder to investigate – the murder of another cop, for Christ sake. That has to be our priority. Vince is dead. His case is closed, so it’s time to move on.”
Not wanting to think of his partner anymore, he shut off the water and grabbed a towel, continuing his soliloquy. “I should stay here to help Becky. God knows she still can’t do a damned thing for herself. If she could have, Vince would never have been killed.” He considered the option for a moment, knowing it was a non-starter. “Richard would probably rubberstamp my leave pass for another couple weeks, despite the fact they’ve called me in early, but I can’t hide here forever. Besides, every time I look at Becky, I see Vince lying in that damned pool of blood.” He sighed, leaned closer to the mirror and began to shave. The thing is, I really like Becky. I don’t want to see her leave. She deserves a break – she has no place to go, she’s lost everything... I can’t very well turn her out, can I? If I did, I know Vince’s ghost would haunt me. He died trying to save her. I owe it to him to finish that assignment.
He shut off his razor and dropped it on the counter. The towel landed in a heap on the floor. Naked, he strode to his closet and grabbed some slacks from a hanger. “Crap! Get your shit together, Gallagher! There’s a murder to deal with. Richard expects me to lead the investigation. The guys will have to get over the fact that Vince won’t be working this case with us, or any other case.” He sat on the edge of the bed, swallowing back the lump in his throat. “I’m not supposed to be going back like this. This was absolutely not how it was to happen. It’s been a long time since I worked alone. Shit, Vince is gone.” He strolled across the room then slammed his fist against the dresser. “God damn it, he wasn’t supposed to go, and I don’t want to do this.”
The uniformed police officer lifted the yellow tape, allowing Chris into the crime scene. He ducked under then straightened. Before moving any closer, he paused, taking a deep breath. I don’t want to go in here. I really don’t want to. Images of Pete Barnigan flooded his memory – sturdy, boisterous, dedicated; the goofy grin on Pete’s face when he announced to everyone that he was going to be a dad now haunted Chris. He climbed the stairs. It’s another body, another vic… nothing more. He took a second deep breath, pursed his lips and held his eyes shut tight for a moment, his hand resting on the doorknob. Sweet Jesus, I don’t want to do this.
As he walked through the door of the house, he pulled his dark glasses from his face. He hated the stereotypical expectations of cops in movies, however the morning sun was bright and his eyes were tired from a restless night. The glasses provided the added benefit of allowing him to observe while not alerting the person in his sights of his interest. His badge was clipped to his belt, but it was hardly necessary. The uniforms nodded him through without looking at it.
A young, slender police officer at the door met him with a stony, determined expression. “He’s in the dining room, Chris.”
Chris nodded. “Is Richard here yet?”
“He just radioed. He should be here any minute now; likewise with Colleen and Doctor Throckmorton. I also heard that Wentz and Niles Cooper are on the way.” The uniform looked down at his shoes as he talked.
“What about the kid who found the body?”
“Ten year old boy, lives across the road, comes over to cut the grass whenever it needs to be done. I guess Rachel must have set it up when she started having problems with the pregnancy, especially because of Pete’s hours. The kid is back home with his folks. There’s a uniform over there with him in case he says anything you need to know about.”
“They got dogs out there already?” Chris looked through the window as he asked, but saw nothing.
“Yeah, plus the uniforms are already canvassing for you, and road blocks are set up, but…” He shrugged.
Chris nodded again. “Okay. Thanks.” He walked into the living room. The unmistakable stench of blood and decay, smells of death that were a significant factor of his job, assaulted his senses. Already he was looking for any sign of what might have happened in the house – a home in which Chris had enjoyed many a beer and a laugh. He stopped then returned to the door. “Hey, Frank, his service revolver and badge?”
The uniform turned back toward Chris. “We didn’t touch anything. We did notice, though, that his sidearm is still holstered. We left that for you to log into evidence. This is one of those files that we really don’t want to screw around with, you know?”
Chris smiled. “Yeah, I know.”
“Chris,” the uniform called out again as Chris reached the living room for the second time. “I just wanted to say, well, you know, I’m sorry…”
Chris raised his hand and pushed off the gesture of sympathy. “Yeah, I know.”
There appeared to be nothing disturbed in the living room. To anyone arriving at the front door, there would be no reason to suspect anything at all had happened in the quiet, quaint home. His gloved finger traced along the back of the couch. Pete was so damned proud when we moved this furniture in for him and Rachel. He fussed around like some old lady whenever we came here to watch a game, always worried about the glasses leaving rings on the damned table. It all came from Ikea, for god’s sake, but he treated it like it was Chippendale.
Chris walked around the corner to the dining room, the typical dated L-shaped living arrangement of so many homes in the neighborhood. He stopped short, his eyes locked on the body sprawled on the floor, and the crimson pool of blood dotted with shards of broken glass that surrounded it. It seemed straightforward enough. Pete had been standing in the dining room. A shot through the window hit him, blasting tissue from his body as it pierced, killing him almost instantly. The mahogany table and chairs separated victim from window. In the Rorschach spray of blood and brain matter that covered the wall, Chris easily spotted the evidence of a second shot that had been fired through the window. He made a mental note to point it out to Colleen when she came to work the scene.
Careful to touch nothing that might harbor a fingerprint or destroy evidence, Chris knelt beside the body. Constable Pete Barnigan was face down on the carpet, his cheek pressed into the once cream-colored fibres. His left eye, vacant and brown, was still open. His mouth was twisted as if he was mid-sentence when he was shot. That could be nerves, panic or fear as he lay dying. The position of his feet, the fact that the bullet had entered his head through his face… he was looking toward the window when he was shot. There’s no sign anyone was in the house with him – no knocked-over furniture, no footprints, no sign of struggle at all.
Chris shook his head then stood to face his supervisor. “Right now, I would suggest the bullet came from outside the window. There’s nothing in here to indicate anyone came in the house, and we have a spray pattern and broken glass.”
Richard Nichols quietly examined the scene himself. Chris was always impressed by the man. He looked like he had just walked off the set of a network soap opera, his thick, silver hair professionally coiffed, his long face still free of wrinkles and in perfect proportion, and the package finished off with an Armani suit, Gucci shoes and a silver silk tie, even those times when he had been called in at five in the morning. “He was shot through the window. Anything outside?”
Chris turned, his eyes still examining every item, every detail of the room. “Haven’t gotten there yet, but they have a dog working the area now. Colleen is on her way, and some uniforms are already canvassing.”
“What about Rachel? Where is she?” Richard asked.
Chris turned once more to face the supervisor of the SCU, and was caught off guard by the second figure behind Richard, examining the room. With effort, he turned his full attention to Richard. “I’m not sure where she is, but it’s going to be hell for her. We’ll make sure she has some support here, and considering her condition, I’ll arrange for someone to take her to see her doctor as soon as we locate her.”
Richard frowned. “Why the hell did this have to happen? What went wrong?”
“I guess it’s just part and parcel with the job, especially when you work drugs.” Chris was still having a hard time ignoring the dark-haired, dark-eyed man who continued to hover in the background, but based on Richard’s indifference, he talked openly to his superior. “I’ll get Bert to go through Pete’s files and contacts, see what he was working on, although I have no doubt the list will be massive. While he does that, I’ll have Jimmy work the scene here with Colleen, and I’ll talk to the boy then track down Glen Gilletto to see what light he can shed on this situation.”
“Niles Cooper is on his way to deal with the media, making sure that no one says anything about Pete being on the job, but just his presence here will be enough of a warning flag that something more is going on with the case.” Richard pushed his hair back with his fingers as he spoke. “For now, you might just want to tell him it’s too early to speculate about anything. I don’t want to release any details at all about Pete or the undercover work he was doing. When you brief him, you might strongly suggest that we need to think about the other guys on the squad who could be impacted if Pete’s cover is blown. We also need to take care of Rachel and protect her as much as possible from the media attention that’s sure to come from this.” Richard looked out the window. “Chief Wentz is going to want a full briefing as well. He was planning on coming over here, but I told him we had it covered and you would be by to see him at your first opportunity. You can expect him to be shadowing you constantly on this one. Two dead plainclothes officers in one month is more than enough reason for him to be concerned. He’ll be demanding answers quickly.”
Chris stared at his mentor, close friend and surrogate father. “Please tell me you don’t really believe there’s any possible connection between this and what happened…?”
Richard shook his head. “Absolutely not. We know there’s no connection at all, but public perception might not see it that way, despite what we say. They’ll be scared. They’ll want answers. Two dead cops is two dead cops, and the fact that both were shot in cop’s homes doesn’t help matters at all. This will be a media nightmare for all of us.”
“Yeah, well the public better not find out about the second dead cop, at least not for a little while, because that would certainly jeopardize the whole unit. I’ll get to Wentz when I can. I have other pressing business to take care of, like processing this scene and tracking down Pete’s partner.”
The stranger in the room was examining the carpet at the base of the wall then stood as his eyes followed the spatter pattern up the drywall. As he focused on the bullet hole, he pressed his face close, almost touching the paint. He had said nothing. The red flashing lights outside bounced off the badge clipped to his belt.
Chris could contain himself no longer. “Hey, get the hell away from that. This is a crime scene, asshole, and you have no business in here.” He turned to Richard. “I don’t know who the hell this guy thinks he is, but I don’t need him contaminating this scene. We just had someone shot here, and if there’s a problem, it’s my ass in the sling.”
Richard’s left eyebrow lifted and his eyes widened. “Yeah, well, I don’t think you need to worry about him, because...” Before he could finish, two more men made their way into the dining area of the little house.
“Shit. I kept saying on the way over here that there was no way in hell this could happen to Pete. Jesus.” Jimmy Estabrook groaned as he looked at the floor.
Chris noted again that at any hour, Jimmy Estabrook looked like a GQ model. Feeling suddenly out of place, he tugged on his sleeves and ran his hand through his hair, straightening it.
Lyle ‘Bert’ Burton, Jimmy’s perpetual partner, the two of them working together like the gears in Big Ben, stood beside Richard. “Where do you need us, Chris?”
“You can hang around till Colleen gets done in here then see what you can find for paperwork or anything else Pete left that might help us. Then you can get your keyboard out and see what you can dig up from whatever sources you need to use.” Chris emphasized the ‘whatever sources’ – a clear indication that Bert was to push, bend or twist the rules as much as he needed to get the information.
Bert nodded, pulled out a camera and began to snap photos of every aspect of the scene. Colleen would also have her forensics people doing the same thing, but Bert knew that Chris liked some to be downloaded into the computer right away for their own reference.
“Jimmy, you can come outside with me. We need to find where the shooter was and see if he left us any presents. Then you can see what the uniforms came up with. They may have found some people you can talk to. Also, check out what’s happening with the tracking dog and the roadblocks then go back to the office and start going through Pete’s files.” Chris continued to focus his attention on the scene around him while he spoke, looking up only briefly as he issued his instructions.
“Sure thing, Chris,” Jimmy said while he scratched some notes He then slipped the pen and paper back into his pocket and turned to go.
“James,” Richard quietly called out. “Perhaps you can give Bert a hand in here instead.”
Jimmy spun around, but not as quickly as Chris. He was not used to his orders being overruled, even by Richard. At times Richard Nichols would make a suggestion or offer an opinion, but never had he so blatantly interfered with one of Chris’ investigations. This was neither the time nor the place for him to start. There was absolute silence in the room, all eyes, save for one set, intent on Richard.
The stranger who had arrived with Richard was now kneeling beside Pete. With his pen and, using extreme care, he eased the victim’s shirt open to look down along the body. Pete’s gun was still in its shoulder holster, where under normal conditions it was hidden from sight. He appeared totally oblivious to what the other men in the room were saying or to the electric atmosphere that had developed since his unannounced arrival.
“I told you to get the hell out of here before I pick you up and throw you out myself,” Chris hollered at the man, his anger and confusion at Richard’s interference manifesting itself in the only outlet available. He could feel his world spinning out of control as already this investigation was being hampered and tampered with. He owed it to his fallen friend to ensure that everything was done properly. There would be no mistakes.
With painstaking slowness, the kneeling figure swiveled his head around to look at Chris, his face still frozen, but there was a sparkle in his dark eyes. When he stood up and approached Chris, it was clear that neither would be easily intimidated. This man was equal to Chris in height, but his thick neck, chiseled face and well-muscled chest were clear indicators that he was no flyweight. His face continued to show no emotion.
“There are an awful lot of people who would probably appreciate seeing me tossed from a room.” His voice was smooth, his words delivered with quiet control. “I rather doubt that you would be the man to do it. It might be entertaining to see you try, but I think you have enough here to keep you busy for the next couple minutes, without adding a trip to the hospital to the list of things you need to get done.” A slight smile twisted his lips as he pressed his face close to Gallagher’s.
Teeth clenched in anger, nails digging into his palms as he fisted his hand, Chris glared back, welcoming the challenge. “Clearly you underestimate me. I would have to guess that all those steroids you pop don’t help build every muscle.” Gallagher reached out and tapped the stranger on his head.
The smile remained in place, as did the sparkle, but only for a moment longer. With no warning at all, Chris found himself pinned to a wall, a large and strong rubber-gloved hand around his throat holding him in place. “Excuse me, Sir,” the stranger addressed Richard, “but I believe you wanted to say something to Detective Gallagher here, and I think probably right now you could have his undivided attention.”
Richard rolled his eyes upwards in a practiced plea for help from above. He took a breath then sauntered over to where the two men were now standing. “Okay, Dave, let him go and the two of you make nice. It’s time for you both to learn to play.”
“Why is that?” Chris growled from the corner of his mouth, the hand still holding him tight to the wall.
The stranger answered, a wide and wicked smile cutting across his face. “I think he wants us to learn to get along because they already have two dead cops and that seems to be enough for now. Also, it will make his life a whole lot more simple in the long run, Partner.”
“Good morning, Detective Purvis.” The approaching male voice was conversational and very relaxed, indifferent to the fact that Purvis’ hand was still wrapped around Chris Gallagher’s throat.
Purvis smiled at the older and much shorter man. “Good morning, Doctor Throckmorton.”
“Good morning, Detective Gallagher,” the diminutive Medical Examiner greeted the other investigator as he made his way through the room. He seemed befuddled, preoccupied and scattered, but the men knew such was never the case with Norton Throckmorton.
“Norton,” Chris acknowledged perfunctorily.
After a quick visual examination of the scene, the doctor turned to Richard. “Good morning, Richard. This shouldn’t take me too long; then your boys can have the place.” He used a quick movement of his head to indicate the two men, who still had not moved. “You still think this is a match made in heaven, do you?”
Richard chuckled as he gave the two the same look an exasperated mother might give her children when they are trying her patience. “Yeah, I must be nuts, but yes, I do.”
Throckmorton shrugged. “So do I.” His head dropped down and he examined the floor as he made his way further into the dining room. “Detective Purvis, put the nice policeman down. It’s time to quit playing and get to work.
CHANGING PARTNERS by Tom Bryde
Available in Print, Digital and Kindle/mobi formats on
Saturday, February 22nd, 2014
|Posted on February 12, 2014 at 10:45 AM||comments (0)|
STILL, AT YOUR DOOR by Emma Eden Ramos
Sabrina "Bri" Gibbons has only a few short minutes to pack her things and help her sisters pack theirs before running with their mother to the bus that will whisk them away from Butler, Pennsylvania, an abusive relationship, and a secret that none of them wishes to acknowledge. She was not prepared, though, for her mother to drop them on the streets of New York with the promise that she would be right back. Haunted by the sight of her mother running back to the cab, Bri, with Missy and Grace in tow, settles in with their grandparents. Thoughts of her present and her future collide with memories of her past, her dead father, and her mother’s bizarre episodes. She watches her sisters struggle with school and acceptance, all the while knowing the lack of any sense of security will make it impossible for them to carry on as ‘normal’ children. She finally lets her guard down enough to allow someone else in and sees a faint glimmer that her dreams might be attainable. Disaster strikes again, this time targeting her sister. Is it possible for Bri to find that balance between her dreams and her family’s realities?
“Still, At Your Door: A Fictional Memoir is a very real, very fluid lesson in life, in abuse, the dynamics of power, of sex and the relationships between people. In this book, Author Emma Eden Ramos brings forth both the bitter and the sweet on wings of articulate, elegant prose, delivering a read that is as deep and wise as it is gripping and powerful.” ~ E.S. Wynn, Author of the Pink Carbide series, Chief Editor at Thunderune Publishing, Daily Love Journal and Yesteryear Fiction Magazine.
“Still, At Your Door: A Fictional Memoir is a power-house of emotion from the moment you begin. Sabrina Gibbons' story is upended from the moment her mother drags them out of their abusive home in Butler, Penn, and drops them off with their grandparents in the Big Apple. Like New York City, this novella precariously teeters between nightmares and dreams, exploring mutual dependence where one wrong step over the threshold can lead to disaster.” ~ Serena M. Agusto-Cox, Reviewer at Savvy Verse & Wit and War Through the Generations.
I hold tight to my memories of the solid years. Each one is a crystal vase filled to the brim with brightly colored petals. Summer, ‘99: Missy is five, I’m six. We’re vacationing at Virginia Beach with Mom and Dad. Mom wears a black one-piece, a white sun hat and no sunscreen. Her lanky, bronzed legs shimmer under the fiery rays, but it’s all well and good. “Gypsy skin,” she explains, lathering up my little sister. “You and I have it.” She winks at me. “Missy here’s more like Daddy.” In front of us, Dad talks to a blonde boy with a surfboard. He turns to us and beckons. I jump to my feet, eager to hit the waves. “Sabrina.” Mom presses her leathery palms against my cheeks. “Bri-bear.” She kisses my nose. “Go on.” I grab Missy’s hand and we scamper toward the giant salt pond, ready for Dad to scoop us up and wade us through.
Another summer, many years later, Missy and I come across what looks like a secret stash of sea glass. We collect the emerald green fragments just as a mother-sized wave unfurls to scoop them back up. The edges have been smoothed over, calmed. I slide my index finger across one side of the largest piece. Missy stands next to me, peering out toward the horizon. I turn to her, the glass held tightly in my fist. Before I can begin, she says, “Water life is easier.”
“Huh?” I stare down at the rushing waves. A thick clump of seaweed tickles my ankle.
Missy seizes a shard from her stash and flings it. The water swallows the glass whole. There’s no resistance on either side. “It wasn’t ready.” She shakes her head.
“What does that mean?” I ask. “How is water life easier?”
“I don’t know. I guess… you go in jagged. You’re jagged when you go in but smooth when you come out.”
Trying to understand, I scrutinize my sister’s profile. I recognize our mother in her pronounced cheekbones, her long black lashes.
“But not us.” Missy speaks to the open water. I just happen to be standing by. “We come in soft, without edges. Those come later.”
“You mean we get jagged with age?”
“Yes.” Missy’s eyes grow big. She cocks her head to one side, then turns to meet my gaze. “That’s what happens to us.”
From our second floor bedroom, I hear the old red Ford sputter. Brrr, brrr, brrr. The brief silence is followed by a clang and a fuck!
“What the hell?” Missy’s bed creaks. “What’s going on?”
My bed is closest to the window. I get up and tiptoe over. “Shush,” I whisper. “You’ll wake Gracie.” Looking back, I see my little half-sister sprawled over her sheets, her thin brown hair dangling in front of her face. She’ll be eight in a little over a week.
Outside, the young January frost stings at our tiny four-paned window. By March the glass will be splattered with white grime, and no one will bother to clean it. Mom’s car wheezes thick puffs of smoke, but she is nowhere in sight. I search for her, notice Jim’s truck is gone from its spot, then jump, startled as the front door slams, its metal chimes making a racket against the wood and glass.
“Huh?” Grace sits up, wide-eyed. “What’s wrong?”
As I head over to Grace’s bed, the sound of Mom’s heels rattle up the stairs and through the rickety hallway. All three of us freeze, waiting for her to reach our door.
“Come on! Come on!” Bursting into the bedroom, two packed pocketbooks slung over one shoulder, Mom fumbles around for the light switch. I shudder as the bulb flicks the room into candescent disruption. The fluorescent glare gives her a grotesque glow, and I wince at her mismatched outfit, caked-on foundation and crooked maraschino-cherry-red lipstick. She jerks from one side to the other, as though trying to latch on to some invisible thought strand. “Come on, girls,” she manages, before rushing to the window. “Get up. Get! Goodness, how did I produce such lazy… let me open this window. It’s New York time. Get your clothes on. The car has to… no time for breakfast. Let’s go!”
“What?” Missy and I start at once. Grace just stares blankly, her mouth hung open like an untended puppet’s.
“We’re going to New York, Babies!” Mom dances across the room, smiling. I notice a dark ring under her eye. The purple skin pokes out beneath a thick layer of pale foundation.
“Where’s Jim?” I turn to Grace. Her knees pressed against her forehead, she rocks back and forth, whispering something I can’t make out.
“The bus leaves in an hour.” Mom jiggles the almost unhinged doorknob before exiting. “We’re done with this place for good.”
As the door slams shut, I whirl around on the balls of my feet. The floor resists my calloused pads, firing splinters into the softer areas of my toes. Missy meets my stare with a scowl. “Fuck this shit!” she snaps, tossing her sheets to the floor. I don’t respond because there is nothing to say. It’s been a while, but we’ve made this move before. Sure, the details vary slightly each time, but we’ve got the gist down pat: four sets of clothes each, Grace’s stuffed dolphin she calls Daisy Girl, toiletries, a few books, my ten-year-old denim knapsack and my new journal with the words The Sky’s the Limit written in cursive on the cover. Missy grumbles, stepping into her jeans from the day before.
“Will we have real school in New York?” Grace stands next to me, two fingers lodged between her lips.
“Yes,” I nod, stopping to yank her hand from her mouth. “You wanna look like a rabbit when you’re my age?”
She pulls Daisy Girl from the pile I’ve arranged on the floor. “No.” She hugs the stuffed animal to her chest. “We’ll actually go there? To school?”
“Uh-huh. Remember?” It’s true. In New York City, when we stay with Grandma Marta and Grandpa Kal, school is not Mom gathering us into the kitchen at midnight to help her learn the lines to a play she hopes to star in some day. It isn’t me yelling at Missy because she’s filled out Grace’s state administered home exam in her own fifteen-year-old handwriting. School, when we live with Grandma Marta and Grandpa Kal, is that place we go and, for six hours each day, pretend that we are normal girls… girls who know very ordinary lives.
The engine rumbles beneath us as we say goodbye to the gray ramshackle we’ve come to accept as our home. Grace taps her fingernail against the chilled car window. She blows warm breath on the glass and, before the moisture can evaporate, draws a tiny heart with a smiley face in the middle. Missy sits with her legs up, her forehead pressed against her knees, the music from her headphones competing with the asthmatic car engine.
“Mom?” I whisper, reaching across the cup holder where an opened twenty-four ounce can of beer has been sitting for almost a month. As I brush Mom’s cheek, sticky residue from her foundation sinks between the cracks on my index finger.
She turns to me and smiles. “Yes, Bear?” I see she is only ten miles above the speed limit.
“What do you want me to tell Grandma and Grandpa?”
“About what?” Her eyes are level with mine, but I know she isn’t really looking at me. I’m more like a blank screen, something stable and empty for her to project on to. Once again, I point to the purple ring under her eye.
“Oh.” She pauses and, for a moment, reverts back to the road. “Remember when I played Blanche? You remember, in A Streetcar Named Desire, back when we lived in Roanoke.”
“Yes,” I nod. “I remember.”
“Grandma and Grandpa came to see me then. They sat with you and Missy right up there in the front row.” Tilting her head back, Mom shuts her eyes as if to hold the memory still: keep it in present time. “Your daddy carried Missy backstage afterwards. I don’t know if she ever got to see my final fight with Stanley, but you, Bear, you stayed awake for the whole show! That’s why we’re going to New York now.” Mom takes hold of my hand, her bony fingers disappearing into the spaces between mine. I try not to flinch as the tips of her nails dig into my palm. “All we need’s a little time and money, Bri.” She pauses, then swivels, looking back at Grace and Missy. Both have dozed off. “Time and money.”
Feet up on the dashboard, I take my journal out from my beat-up knapsack. I’m fifty pages into this one already – fifty pages of thoughts, hopes, stories, some real, some made up. New York, I write in sprawling letters. New beginnings?
STILL, AT YOUR DOOR by Emma Eden Ramos
Available in print, digital and Kindle formats on February 22, 2014
|Posted on November 19, 2013 at 10:30 AM||comments (0)|
RELEASE DAY - FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 22nd, 2013
STAIRBIRDS IN LOVE by SHAKEY SMITH
Once again, Shakey immerses us into the middle of a Dupee family crisis, and the results are amazing.
It is 1992, February of that year to be exact -- the month of brooms. An icy wind is scouring the sand hills of western Kansas, sweeping tumbleweeds and clouds of grit across the gray prairie. There is nothing on the monotonous horizon but same and old. This is the time of year that folks do crazy, desperate things and silent, steel-fisted stairbird Meggs Dupee has just done something crazy. He has taken a pregnant, twenty-something waitress home to keep his house for him. Is it a ploy to dodge Migra or is it true love. Even Meggs is not sure.
Since Meggs gave up on housekeeping back in the late eighties his house is not fit for even the most determined housekeeper, Meggs' male cousins come to his rescue, cleaning his house and shopping for him. In the process, they begin a long, spirited debate on the mystery of love, never once realizing that they have stood up their wives on Valentine's Day.
CLICK HERE TO VIEW BOOK TRAILER
Chapter 1 -- The Pretender
“She’s waiting in the back room.” Ollie shivered a little in the draft from the opened door. He gestured with his thumb toward the dark storeroom, but remained at the register, counting.
“Does she have the kids?” Meggs asked from the doorway.
Ollie nodded, busy with facing the bills.
Meggs let the door close behind him. He took a peppermint from the complimentary dish. “Is she ready?”
The café was empty, the lights dimmed. The closed sign blinked in the frosted window, casting a feeble orange glow against a scrappy tinsel border of hearts and cupids. Outside only tumbleweeds traveled the deserted highway. Still the two men whispered.
Ollie took a minute to scribble in a ledger. “Yeah. You’ll have to stop by the trailer to pick up their coats. It turned cold so fast she didn’t have a chance to bring them. There’s a sewing machine she made the payments on. Fact is, she made most of the payments on her and Rosa’s car, too. Doubt if old Miguel will turn loose of the car, but it might be worth a try for the sewing machine. Miguel says him and Rosa are leaving in the morning, before dawn.”
“They can’t take Rosa’s own sister and kids?”
Ollie closed his ledger and zipped the day’s deposit into a bank bag. “Miguel’s out of work. He has a chance for a job in Las Animas. If the truth was known, I’d say that old Miguel isn’t any more comfortable with Migra than Tedi is. Anyway, they have to move fast and Tedi ain’t going nowhere fast. Migra is after her and she don’t have no place to go in Mexico but to a step-father who hits her. Are you getting cold feet?”
For a moment, Meggs’ eyes were fixed on his giant work boots. Then he shrugged. “Too late now.”
Ollie tossed the deposit into an open safe in a corner of the kitchen. He left the safe’s door ajar. “If you’re not one hundred percent on this, forget it. I’ll call Migra and get it over with. They’re not monsters. They’ll feed her and the kiddies and put them on a bus to El Paso. I’ll slip Tedi some cash to tide her over till she finds something.” He hung his apron on a hook behind the door then switched off the lights. “I don’t stick my neck out for no one. I’m no do-gooder.”
Meggs followed him out of the kitchen. “That why you are feeding her and letting her stay here when she can’t work?”
Ollie raised a chapped hand to fend off the charge. “She worked hard for me when she could. She’s cheerful, honest, a decent person. No sense with men but that’s most women – at least the pretty ones. I like Tedi fine but I’m not stupid enough to dick with Migra. You need a housekeeper. She needs a place to stay. You like her. She likes you. It might could work out.”
“I’m thinking about family.” Meggs took another peppermint and very carefully unwrapped it. He slipped the mint into his mouth and the cellophane into the bib of his overalls.
“You haven’t told your folks nothing?”
“Just what, Ollie, am I supposed to tell them?”
“Have you even tried?”
“Jeez, Meggs! What are you? Pushing forty?”
Meggs stepped to a mirror that hung next to the coat rack. “I was going to ask Dad for something to cover up the gray, but I forgot.” He tugged at his beard.
Ollie took up his feather duster. “You’re my baby cousin. God knows I try to hold my tongue because of the tragedy and all, but sometimes you are flat peculiar.”
Meggs was still at the mirror, fiddling with the band that held his dark ponytail. “Can’t see how the folks could bitch, but they will.”
Ollie dusted each of several toy tractors that were displayed in the window. “Aunt Stevie is bound to kick a little. Just in her nature. The girls might… well, Tharon. You know Tharon will have something to say.”
Meggs adjusted a gallus then tugged his sport jacket to cover his overalls. “I’d like to break it to Mom first.”
Ollie opened the side door to shake the duster. “Tedi needs someplace to sleep tonight. That little cot in the backroom just isn’t big enough for all of them. Kids are cranky and edgy, starting colds. At night the wind just cuts through this place.”
Meggs looked down at his mighty hands. A stubborn blotch of yellow paint stood out on his well-scrubbed wrist. Nervously he swiped at it with his bandana. “Okay. I’ll just have to spring her on the family tomorrow sometime. Might be easier to catch everyone together on Sunday.”
“No way you are going to keep this quiet for even a day! Now, if you are not gentle enough in your mind about this arrangement to tell your own folks, you had better clear out.” The heavy door blew shut on Ollie, almost snapping the duster in half.
Meggs turned from the mirror to stare out the café window. It was February, the month of brooms. A dry, howling wind scoured the prairie like a phantom broom pusher, raising clouds of frozen grit, jangling the bayonet, and scattering jackrabbits and coyotes alike.
On the windowsill, the cupids, a row of toy tractors and a small dish of Easter cactus made a brave show against the menacing night. The wind rattled the window and kicked an empty cardboard box down Highway 50, which was also Main Street for the two blocks that comprised Pierceville, Kansas.
“That’s some wind,” Meggs observed.
“Terrible fierce,” Ollie affirmed.
“Sky won’t snow, wind won’t let it.” Meggs shuddered and glanced again into the mirror. “Okay.”
Ollie took a minute to water the Easter cactus. “Clinic tomorrow in Charleston. Sam or Phil will be there. Tedi doesn’t have an appointment but she needs to see a doctor.”
“Has to,” Meggs agreed.
“She has quite a bill there. Don’t look like Alberto is going to pay any on it.” Ollie looked steadily into Meggs’ face.
“Okay,” Meggs said again, starting down the dim hallway that led to the storeroom, his great, heavy Wolverines ringing hollowly on the linoleum. He stood for a moment, jingling the silver and keys in his pocket.
Ollie opened the door for him. For just a split second, Meggs had the impression of a den, with a bitch and pups huddled in the dark. Then Tedi struggled to stand with the sleeping baby in her arms. Ollie helped her up, taking the baby. She picked up a single, duct-taped suitcase. Meggs took the suitcase from her. Tedi lifted Yesi, who wrapped her legs and arms around her mother and buried her face in her blue black hair.
Meggs led them through the dark café. He stopped at the register and blinked at the empty coat tree.
“They don’t have no coats. You’ll have to pick them up on your way out of town,” Ollie explained patiently.
Tedi stood, head down.
Meggs slipped his coat around her and Yesi.
Ollie pulled Bobby’s dingy blanket around his chubby face. He took a toy tractor from the windowsill and tucked it in with the sleeping baby. “Boy is plumb nuts about tractors,” he explained.
Meggs opened the café door and walked the sidewalk to his ‘76 Laredo. He turned the heater to full blast and drove, over the sidewalk, to the very entrance of the café.
“We’d better both help Tedi in,” Ollie advised, handing up Bobby, who had yet to open an eye. Meggs and Ollie both worked to get Tedi, who was about the size of a small house, into the pickup cab. She sat silently, almost sullenly, holding the children to her.
Meggs thought back on the slim, sassy girl who had brought him his iced tea and pie, his patty melt and salad, all summer. He shook his head as he climbed behind the wheel, wondering how women got themselves into the fixes they did. Ollie slammed the pickup door and its baling wire handle jangled. Bobby jumped but did not wake.
They bumped through the dismal village of Pierceville then crossed a concrete bridge that arched ridiculously over a dry bed of scrub willow, ragged tumbleweeds and frozen sand. Once out of town, Meggs followed a winding, rutted road which ended in a weedy trailer court. He stopped in front of the most rundown of the court’s six trailers. Tedi opened the pick- up door. Meggs held her arm. “You stay here.”
There was a flicker of light in her dark eyes.
He left the truck, stepped over a yard of dismantled furniture, and rapped on a duct-taped front door. Miguel answered. The house was in boxes and crates. Several children slept in the living room, on threadbare sofa cushions.
“I came for Tedi’s car and her sewing machine.”
Miguel shook his shaggy head. “Ella no tiene un caro.”
Meggs shook his shaggy head. “Tedi made the payments.”
“No, Rosa lo pagó. Chee hev title,” Miguel handed out a single cardboard box.
Meggs took it and waited. Miguel tried to close the door. Meggs inserted his huge boot.
“What joo wan?” Miguel snarled.
“The sewing machine.”
“Ella nos debe dinero.”
“Chi are ode oss.”
“No es HAIRS. ¡Es nuestra!”
“The sewing machine!”
“¡La maquina es nuestra!”
“You bastard!” Meggs said this with some heat although he had been expecting it. Miguel took a step backwards and shoved a sorry box of broken toys and rags at him.
“Thees hit! Thees hall! Now you gat the hail!”
Meggs was thin, gray and stringy but he was a big man who swung hammers for his livelihood. He had the advantage despite the age difference. His huge fist was working, but he didn’t need any trouble with Migra. Miguel sensed this, cutting his eyes contemptuously at Tedi.
“You thievin’ greaser bastard,” Meggs snarled.
“Gringo.” Miguel spat and slammed the door.
Meggs carried the boxes to Tedi. “Coats?” he asked.
She rummaged through the boxes and shook her head. He threw the boxes into the truck bed and climbed into the cab.
“¿La maquina?” she whispered.
Her eyes narrowed. “Ladrones, “ she hissed.
“Bastards,” he affirmed.
They drove south and west on a county road, slithering across barren sand hills and nothing else. The wind shook the pickup cab. Tedi wept quietly. Yesi, unnerved by her mother’s distress, wept also. There were no streetlights, no guard rails, no signposts, no horizon. There was only the dead, moonless sky above them, the sickly green dash light, a woman crying softly, and a child crying softly, in the vast darkness. Meggs had never heard anything so heart-wrenching and timeworn.
He took his bearings from a round-top, a stock tank, a pear tree and a clanking windmill. He turned east. He hadn’t wanted to make any major expenditures until he was certain that the arrangement would work, but he couldn’t have his family, coatless and weeping, in the cold and dark.
He navigated the country road, made a bootleggers’ turn at a dilapidated round-top and bumped up, onto the pavement. It was late. He was tired. He had been hauling junk and painting most of the day but he was a family man now. He reached for a second wind and watched Tedi out of the corner of his eye. She had no idea of direction, and so was unconcerned. He was relieved. He hadn’t wanted to frighten her.
|Posted on November 16, 2013 at 4:55 PM||comments (0)|
RELEASE DAY -- Friday, November 22, 2013
CENTER POINT by R.M CLARK
A list of names, an old map, and a drawing of a Native American warrior named Komaket: These are the items professional student, Dennis Kozma, receives on his twenty-fifth birthday. They are gifts from his father, who died fifteen years earlier. Unfortunately, Dennis' memory is tainted by accusations that his father defrauded their town before his death.
The map leads Dennis to the graves of the men on the list... members of a secret society awaiting the return of Komaket. While unravelling the mystery of this society, Dennis discovers a shocking conspiracy: town officials covered up a dark secret and framed his father.
As he strives to clear his father's name, before the long-awaited arrival of Komaket changes his quiet New England town forever, Dennis comes to two startling and fateful realizations -- nothing is what is seems, and all clues lead to the... CENTER POINT.
CENTER POINT has been nominated for the NIEA Indie Excellence Award and the Foreword Book of the Year Award, both in the suspense categories.
"From its opening pages to its terrifying, heart-stopping conclusion, Center Point delivers a labyrinth of cryptic clues and hidden passages that will have readers begging for more. With layers upon layers of secrets and unnerving clandestine societies, Robert Clark masterfully weaves a tale of danger, deception, and the quest for truth within all of us. Clark’s attention to historical detail mixed with a story rife with twists and turns produces a winning combination." ~ Colby Marshall, author of Chain of Command and The Trade
"Robert Clark has crafted an intricate, supernatural mystery that will keep you guessing and looking over your shoulder until the end. If you prefer your mysteries with fewer bloody corpses and more folklore, Center Point will hit the spot." ~ Bryn Greenwood, author of Last Will and Lie Lay Lain
I arrived at the sports bar perfectly sober, but I had no intention of staying that way. You only get one chance at turning twenty-five, and I was going to make the most of the opportunity. I waited in my car, cranking a great tune with the windows up. The bright O’Reardon’s sign flickered above the front of the sports bar, the R barely hanging in there. Had this been any Saturday between September and May, the place would’ve been crawling with college kids – and lots of coeds – of legal drinking age; easy pickings most nights, but it was early August and we had to settle for the local crowd, which was perfectly fine with me.
Two songs later, my friend, Tom Richcreek, rolled into the parking lot. He backed his small pickup into the space next to me. Jed Stormont was with him.
“Looks like it’s just the three amigos,” said Tom. “The others bailed.” He used the remote to lock his car. “Hey, Koz, more beer for us.”
My friends called me Koz, short for Kozma, my last name. Everyone else called me Dennis.
We entered O’Reardon’s at just after nine, walked past the long bar with six kinds of beer on draft and several hi-def TVs, and found a corner booth, our favorite during football season. A waitress arrived, mid-thirties, wearing a short dress that revealed a modest amount of cleavage. She wore heavy makeup and a nametag that read STACY.
“I’m going to need to see some ID.” Stacy placed a notepad back in her front pocket. It was a college town so everyone under thirty got carded whether they knew you or not. The manager was always watching.
Tom and Jed each handed over their driver’s licenses, which Stacy examined and handed back. She glanced at me.
“What about you, sunshine?”
“It’s his birthday!” Jed said. “Does he get a free drink?”
I gave her my license and flashed a wide grin. Stacy checked the date on her watch. She looked at the license, then at me, again. It happened all the time, so I guess it was the curse of being baby-faced. Maybe it was time to grow some facial hairs, I thought.
“To answer your question, yes, you get a free drink.” Stacy handed me the license and took out her notebook. “What’ll you have, boys?”
Tom took care of the ordering. “A Guinness Draft for me and the birthday boy, a Corona for Jed.”
Stacy returned a short time later with the drinks and advice. “Don’t go crazy tonight, Dennis. I don’t want to read about you in the paper or anything, okay?”
“No problem, Stacy.”
Jed raised his bottle. The lemon wedge was sticking out so he pushed it down with his palm. “Cheers.”
“Cheers.” Tom clinked his bottle with Jed’s.
I put mine down to make a T with my hands. “Timeout. You’re telling me that’s all I get for turning twenty-five? Come on, you guys. We’ve been friends since kindergarten. I deserve a proper toast.”
Tom cleared his throat. “To the first twenty-five years of your miserable life, Koz.”
I shook my head. “Nope, that won’t cut it, either. Try again.”
Jed held his bottle before me with the lemon stuck in its neck. “Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. We’d been through everything for more years than I could remember. We’d shared good times, bad times and even coeds. “Sorry, you stole that from the movie Jaws. Unacceptable.” I gave out an exaggerated sigh. “I guess I’m not worthy.”
Tom leaned over to Jed and they whispered something to each other. Tom raised his beer once again. “To Koz. We’ve known men wiser, we’ve known men humbler, but I’ve never known a man more proud of his rock tumbler.”
That was more like it. I laughed at the inside joke and tapped bottles with my two friends. Every year on my birthday, they reminded me of the unusual birthday presents my father used to give me.
“I still have that rock tumbler on the top shelf of my closet,” I said, “along with the Erector Set he got me when I was eight.”
“And the chemistry set?” Jed asked.
“Yup, it’s there, too.”
I thought back fifteen years to the day, my tenth birthday. All I wanted was a Nintendo gaming system. I hinted about it for weeks and even pointed one out to my parents in the toy store. When I opened the presents at the end of the party, I saved the big one from Dad for last. It was the right size and everything. Dad was ‘the man’ and he would take care of me. Come on, Nintendo! I ripped off the paper and there it was… an ant farm.
“The way I look at it, my dad just wanted to find something that interested me.” I took a handful of popcorn and downed it. Sadly, I still haven’t found it.
Jed lifted his bottle to clink it with mine then repeated the act with Tom. “Here’s to crappy birthday presents, then and now.”
We turned our attention to the game on TV and cheered when the Red Sox pitcher struck out a batter. Stacy returned a short time later with three more drinks.
“Attention, people,” Tom said. “What we thought was a rumor is, indeed, a fact. Our Stacy is a mind reader.” His hands hovered above the table.
She leaned sideways and placed the drinks on the table. “I don’t think so, slick.” She used her elbow to point. “These are courtesy of that handsome gentleman over there.”
We turned in the direction of a well-dressed man with a salt and pepper beard in a corner booth. He munched on popcorn as he watched the baseball game.
Jed dislodged the lemon and downed several more ounces, nearly knocking off his Yankee cap. “Anyone know who that guy is?”
Tom shook his head.
I squinted through the glare with one hand above my eyes to get a good view. “He looks... kind of familiar, but I can’t place him.”
“It’s your birthday,” Jed said. “He must have done it for you.”
“Maybe it’s a secret admirer, Koz. You are kinda cute.”
“And you, sir, are a dick.” I smacked Tom in the shoulder then finished the contents of the first bottle. “Well, there’s only one way to find out.”
I walked to the corner booth, nearly running into Stacy along the way. The man clapped as the Red Sox scored a run.
“Excuse me. I wanted to thank you for buying us a round.”
The man turned his attention from the game and looked up. “You’re welcome, Dennis.”
“May I ask why?” I couldn’t decide where to put my hands so I folded them behind my back.
“Dennis, do you know who I am?”
He was wearing a dark suit with a red tie, making him slightly – okay, extremely – overdressed compared to the rest of the clientele. This was certainly no one I would hang around with.
“If I owe someone money, just let me know...”
“No, it’s nothing like that. My name is Gene Clausen. I’m an attorney.”
I looked carefully at his face. Then it came to me. “You were in our house once.” I hooked my thumbs through my belt loops. “Yeah, just after my dad died, right?”
“That’s right. I handled your parents’ divorce and I was executor of your father’s estate.” He put his hand out and I gave it a firm shake. “Have a seat, Dennis. I have something that might interest you.”
I looked back at the others, who watched from our booth. No way was I abandoning them tonight. “I’m kind of out with my friends. You’re welcome to join us.”
He took out his card and handed it to me. “I’m here on official business, Dennis. What I have to discuss concerns only you. I’ll let you decide if you want your friends involved or not.”
I checked him over and realized he was dead serious. What the hell does my dad have to do with anything? He’d been gone for fifteen years, so I was pretty much over it. Besides, lawyers always gave me the creeps.
“They’re my buds,” I said. “Tonight, we’re a package deal. Come join us, Gene the lawyer.”
“Thank you. I’ll do that.” Gene slung a large canvas bag over his shoulder and slid out of the booth. “Lead the way.”
Tom and Jed both stood as we arrived. “This is Gene Carlson. He’s a lawyer – my dad’s lawyer. Gene, this is Tom and Jed.”
“Uh-oh, Koz,” Tom said. “What did you do now?”
Jed raised the bottle and nodded. “Hey, man. Thanks for the brew.”
“It’s Gene Clausen. It’s a pleasure to meet you both.” He shook their hands then slid into the booth after me.
Gene took the bag and placed it on the seat. “Your father was a wonderful man, Dennis. He was truly one of my best friends.”
“Thanks.” With nothing more to say, I started on my second Guinness. It didn’t taste nearly as good as the first one, thanks to the arrival of our unexpected guest.
Gene pulled out a package and placed it on the table. It was a leather satchel with string wrapped around it in both directions. “I promised your father I would personally hand this to you on your twenty-fifth birthday.” He looked at his watch. “What do you know? I made it with a few hours to spare.”
Stacy came by and removed the empties. Tom made no attempt to move as she leaned over him. She didn’t seem to mind.
“Hey, Gene the lawyer, can I buy you a beer, or something?” Tom asked.
“Just ginger ale, please. I’m still officially on the clock.”
I turned the package over and examined it. It wasn’t very heavy and had no markings. “What’s in it?”
“I honestly don’t know, Dennis. This is exactly the way your father handed it to me in my office fifteen years ago.”
I shook it, but the contents didn’t shift. “Does my mom know about this?”
Stacy returned and Tom sneaked a peek down her shirt as she placed the glass in front of Gene. Tom handed her two bills and winked. Stacy rolled her eyes as she walked away.
“I haven’t told anyone, Dennis. I put this item in a safe about a month before your father passed away. A promise is a promise.” Gene hoisted his ginger ale in my direction. “Happy birthday, Dennis.”
We clinked glasses and I took a hearty drink. Any friend of my dad’s was a friend of mine.
“Open it, Koz,” said Jed.
“Is it just me, or does anyone else hear the Twilight Zone music playing?” asked Tom. “I mean, we’re talking about your dad and his crappy birthday presents when a mysterious stranger shows up.” He mimicked the Twilight Zone theme while making weird movements with his fingers.
“C’mon, Koz,” said Jed. “You’re dying to know what’s in it.”
I took a small knife from my pocket and sliced off the strings binding the package. I flipped open the top and pulled out two Manila folders. They smelled like my father’s cologne – God, I missed that scent. I opened the thicker one, which contained photocopies of various documents and legal papers.
“What are these?” I asked Gene.
“I’m not sure, Dennis.”
“Check out that one.” Jed pointed to a page sticking out of the smaller folder.
I opened it and slid out what appeared to be a very old map. The poor light in the booth made it difficult to identify.
“I’ve seen old town maps before,” said Tom. “It looks like New Dover way back when.”
I studied it carefully, but I couldn’t make it out. “Why are these sections colored in?” I pointed to four distinct sections of the map.
Tom snapped his fingers and turned the map ninety degrees so it aligned with true north. “Now does it look familiar?”
“No. Should it?”
“These shaded areas are cemeteries, Koz: North Street, Darrowville, Oak Ridge and New Dover cemeteries.” Tom pointed to each as he spoke. “Is Rod Serling in here?”
“That is pretty creepy, Koz,” said Jed. “Did your dad have some morbid fascination with cemeteries?”
“Not that I knew of.” I thumbed the map then realized there was another page beneath it. I slid it out and placed it next to the map. It was a charcoal drawing of what appeared to be a Native American man’s face. The face was just an outline, with a distinctive jaw line and a flat nose. He appeared to be wearing a fancy necklace. Below it was a single word, also sketched in charcoal: KOMAKET.
“So, who is this Komaket dude?” Jed asked. “He’s kind of spooky looking.”
We all looked at Gene, who put his hands up. “I told you, already; I’m just the messenger. This is the first time I’ve laid eyes upon these papers and this, well, rather interesting-looking fellow.”
“Submitted for your approval,” Tom said in a decent Serling voice. He certainly had the eyebrows for it.
Tom made me smile, but just for a moment. “That’s really not helping,” I pointed out.
Gene shifted in his seat. “Dennis, there is one other issue I need to discuss with you. As I mentioned before, it’s a personal matter that concerns your father but only indirectly. I don’t think it’s a good idea to involve your friends, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide that, because, hey, this is your night.” He slid out of the booth and stood. “I’m going to hit the men’s room. You decide how you’re going to play this.” He turned on what looked to be very expensive heels and he was gone, at least temporarily.
“Koz, what the hell is this guy talking about?” Jed asked.
“I’m not sure. He told me he had business that concerned only me.” I looked at the drawing of Komaket. “I assumed this was it. I didn’t know there was a sequel.”
“We’re going to need another round for this.” Tom attempted to get Stacy’s attention.
“Or we could sneak out now while he’s taking a piss.” Jed turned his cap around, something he did when he was nervous. “You don’t need this kind of drama on your birthday, Koz.”
Part of me was halfway out the door, but I figured Gene had made this much effort to contact me on this one night, so I should see it through. Maybe he had more crazy drawings in his bag.
Stacy stopped by and we ordered another round. Drinks arrived just as Gene returned. Tom moved a Guinness directly in front of him.
“I took the liberty of ordering a beer for you, Gene the lawyer,” Tom said. “I figure you’re off the clock, now.”
“Good assumption.” Gene took a strong pull from the bottle. I was fully prepared for him to take something from his bag, but he sat silently for several seconds, then he leaned in my direction. “Okay, Dennis, I’m not going to sugarcoat this. I also promised your father I would take care of your college finances. To that end, he set up a fund that could only be used for educational purposes.” He took another long drink from his bottle. I could tell this was not going to be a short conversation.
“I know all that, Gene. My mom has sent checks to the university every year for several years.”
“Actually, that was my doing. Once your parents got divorced, I took on the fiduciary responsibility. She sent me the bill and your father’s fund took care of it.”
I couldn’t believe he came all this way to tell me something so obvious. “Okay, do you want a medal or something? Sounds like you were doing your job. I mean, for Christ sake, writing out checks is so hard.”
Gene twirled a napkin several times. “It’s more than that and you know it. Let me first say that I knew Norm Kozma better than anyone on this planet – I dare say even better than your mother – and I really doubt he’d be happy with the way things have turned out.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
Tom leaned as far across the table as he could. “You’ve got a lot of balls coming here tonight, mister big shot lawyer. You make it sound like Koz is some sort of deadbeat dad or welfare mom. Well, as someone who knows him better than anyone on the planet – dare I say even better than his mother – I should point out that he’s gainfully employed, never been in jail and is taking graduate-level courses. Things have turned out pretty well, for the record.”
I really didn’t need any help defending myself, but it was always good to have someone like Tom on my side. He’d been there for me many times before. I finished off the last of my beer and slammed it on the table. “And that’s why I’m where I am today.” I put out a fist and both my friends bumped it.
Gene also placed his bottle down a little harder than he needed to. “And just where is that, Dennis? I have full access to your academic records. I see you dropped out twice and changed majors at least five times before deciding on European History. History? Really? There’s another name for majoring in history, by the way. It’s called majoring in unemployment.”
“Hey, he got his degree,” Jed said. “That’s a pretty good accomplishment.”
“Actually, he didn’t.” He pointed his bottle in my general direction. “According to your official transcripts, you never completed the foreign language requirements necessary to graduate. All these so-called graduate courses you’ve been taking for over two years are just various piddly-ass electives and senior-level classes. In my day, we had a name for someone like you: professional student. Plus, I doubt your job at a pool supply store pays you much more than minimum wage.” He nearly polished off his beer. “Hey, it beats getting a real job, right Koz?”
Tom looked my way. “Is that true, Koz? I thought you had a degree in psychology.”
“I could’ve sworn it was archeology,” Jed said.
I waved my hands in front of them. “This is all bullshit. Why do you care what classes I take or where I work? Your cushy job is to sit on your ass and spend my dad’s money. That reminds me, Gene, I sign up for classes this week and I’ll need another check.” This got me a fist bump from Tom.
He finished the contents of the bottle and placed it down. “Therein lies the real point of this discussion. The money is gone, Dennis – all of it. You’re on your own from now on. The good news is that it’s not too late to apply for a student loan, or maybe you can borrow from your mother. I’m sure that will go over well.”
I nearly choked on my beer. I had been going to college for eight years. It was the only life I knew. I had every intention of taking that stupid foreign language class then getting my Masters. I loved the university life and I loved to learn. What was so bad about that? Dad would have understood. I was no ‘professional student’ because I had a plan – at least I thought I did.
Gene’s phone went off and he dug it out of his bag. He quickly glanced at the screen, turned it off and stuffed it back in. “Gentlemen, I have to go.” He slid out from the booth and stood at the end of the table. “I’ll find my way out, thanks, anyway.”
“Door’s over there.” Tom pointed while holding his bottle.
“Understood, but just one more thing…” He looked down and gently tapped the portrait of Komaket. “I’m not sure what all of this means, but there must be a reason he waited until you were twenty-five. He never shared that part with me, but that’s what your father wanted.”
“How the hell do you know what he wanted?” I asked. “Fifteen years is a long time.”
“I think you’ll find that it isn’t. Let me remind you that your dad was always the smartest person in the room wherever he went.” He shook his head and smiled, like he was recalling a Norm moment. “He was very ill when he came to me with this package. It’s likely he had little time to gather the information.” He got up in my face. “Finish this for him, Dennis. For once in your life, finish something.”
I watched him as he made his way past the server’s station. He pulled out a few bills and handed them to Stacy, who smiled and pushed a strand of hair behind her ear.
“Screw him.” Tom playfully jabbed my arm.
“Yeah,” Jed said. “Let’s have another round, birthday boy.”
They tried to get me back into the festivities, but I couldn’t. All I could think about was the package Gene delivered and how I was going to pay for my next round of classes. I was never a real inquisitive guy by nature. To me, it was a bunch of papers and a drawing of an old Indian – another lousy gift, another ant farm; a total buzzkill. Thanks a lot, Dad.