Winds West – 7

     She didn’t know where the days went. She was kept so busy with the details of living that she seldom had time to consider what her life was all about. Now that had changed. For the past two weeks she’d had the place all to herself. Mr. Langdon had gone visiting and taken the whole brood with him. They were staying with relatives in Pittsburg while he investigated business ventures with the railroad. He had written her a letter which mentioned that he was thinking of getting married again. If so, he would no longer need her services. Papa’s circumstances had improved during the time she had been away from home and he had told her to keep all of what she earned. Mr. Langdon had let her expand the garden and sell whatever the family didn’t need. She had managed to accumulate nearly two hundred dollars. Now she faced choices she had never had before.

     She was fifteen and a woman now. Even the physical changes had arrived. She felt grateful to her mother for preparing her for that transition to womanhood. Now that she thought of it, it occurred to her that during the last couple of years before her death, Mama had been preparing all the girls for her own absence. She knew she was dying and did her best to make her death as easy as possible for the others.

     Liza began to run over in her mind the many conversations between her and Mama. Mama had talked of how she had met Papa, what it was like being in love and courting, even what it was like to sleep with a man and bear his children. Liza had not yet experienced that, but expected she would be able to put up with it as well as any other woman. It was curious, that part of the man and woman thing. On the one hand, she knew all about the mechanics of sex. One couldn’t grow up in the country and be entirely ignorant of such things. She knew it was something all men were supposed to want and women to tolerate. But in her limited experience, it seemed that many of the young men were completely bewildered and only went through the motions of pursuing the girls. Rather like a dog chasing a train…what would they do if they caught it? For herself, while she had never flt any Grand Passion for any man, there seemed to be some vague yearning deep inside, so cloudy that she couldn’t even identify the target of the desire. Perhaps that would come, in time.

     But not around here. She realized that there was really nothing to hold her in Ohio. It was settled and civilized and full of nice folks and a few fools, but it lacked something she wanted, something she needed. Perhaps that was why her folks had left Pennsylvania so long ago and settled in Ohio. Perhaps they too needed the challenge of a new country, the opportunity for independence and having the course of their lives in their own hands. She was sure that was what Papa had wanted. For herself, she wanted to build her own life, not just settle into a role prepared for her by someone else, no matter how well-meaning.

     She thought of Ryle Tate, the minister’s nephew, and wondered how he was getting along with the ranch he had planned to build. He might make a good husband if he could learn to let a woman stand beside him instead of behind him, if he could accept a wife as a partner instead of some fragile thing he had to coddle. Men seemed to be like that, she thought. She didn’t know why. But not her man, she told herself. “I won’t settle for being an ornament to some man’s life.”

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Blind Pig – 7

     The officer dropped the report on Lisa’s desk. “No luck, Bogar. They ran the print against the drug crowd and the whole databank, but they came up dry. Want to ship it to Washington?”

     Lisa shook her head. “No, not yet. I’ll do some more spadework first.” She glanced at the file. Jared Crowley, dead of a knife wound to the heart. Evans, bum, throat cut. Only Crowley’s prints on the weapon. One foreign print on the fire escape. The ladder had been so rough and rust-scaled it hadn’t taken good prints. They’d found one on a railing and damn lucky to get that. She had an 8×10 blow-up in front of her and she stared at it, as if it could reveal its identity. Or at least its character, she thought. It would almost be enough to know the kind of person she was dealing with. Assuming it wasn’t a totally unrelated fingerprint, she reminded herself.

     “What sort of person kills and walks away, then informs the police?” she asked the wall.

     “I dunno,” Officer Caddo said. “Maybe a guilty conscience? A nut case?”

     “Huh! I doubt it. Either the killing was planned or it was impulsive, maybe accidental. If it was deliberate, that implies the killer had criminal intent. Why call the cops later? If it was spontaneous or accidental, why not come forward later? I’m afraid there’s only one likely answer.”

     “What’s that, Bogar?” Lieutenant Arnold had been listening.

     “The money, sir. The half-a-million dollars. Whoever killed Crowley has it. That’s 500,000 reasons for not coming forward.”

     “And he called 911 because?”

     “Because he’s not a criminal. He’s someone who stumbled into a drug deal and wanted us to know.”

     “Talk around the office is you’re looking for Super Civilian. Now you’re evidently looking for Rich Super Civilian.”

     Detective Bogar shrugged. “I know they make fun of it, but can you suggest a more likely possibility?”

     The Lieutenant leaned back against the doorjamb. “Bogar, I’ve seen enough things in the last twenty years that nothing surprises me any more. But you seem to have come up against a dead end. You can’t investigate every wealthy civilian in New York. And we have other cases to work on. I want you to help Dowling on that bookstore killing. Let this one gather dust for now.”

     Lisa sighed. “Okay, boss. I guess this one just has me more curious than usual. I’ll put it aside for now.” Silently, she wondered if she could really put it aside. She stared once more at the fingerprint, although by now it was almost engraved on her memory. She closed the file and dropped it into the folder with the rest of the paperwork. “Where’s Dowling now?”

     “In Ballistics. I told him you’d be working with him.”

     You mean you warned him, Lisa thought. Told him to keep his pecker in his pants and his hands to himself. She smiled. Somehow, having Alan in the wings gave her more confidence in her ability to deal with the sexism that permeated the Department. She might as well get this over with. The sooner the day ended, the sooner she would be back with Alan. She shivered at the thought.

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Meme – 6

     Harry drove home, satisfied that he had fired the opening salvo of what he fully intended to be a war.

     I thought that woman was going to have a heart attack”, Helen said. “And a lot of the others weren’t much better. How’d you know she’d had an abortion when she was 18?”

     Harry smiled. “My cousin ran the camp where she was a councilor and he arranged for the abortion. Knowing her parents, he felt sorry for her and kept it quiet at the time. He met her again years later, after she had gone all holier-than-thou and her hyporisy ticked him off. He told me all about it. As far as the others, it was really a guess, but did you notice how many of them reacted?” He chuckled. “And I did a little digging into the past of that preacher. He got his degree from a diploma mill and started his own church mostly because established congregations didn’t want him. Ten years ago he was living hand-to-mouth, running a tiny mission in the seedier part of Chicago. Two years ago he showed up here with enough cash to build a church. I’m still tracking it down, but it seems he hooked a wealthy, senile patron who willed him her estate and died before the family found out about it. There was a lawsuit but it never went to court. I suspect the legitimate heirs paid him off just to go away. Morally questionable at the very least.”

     Helen laughed. “Okay, one down and one to go. Who’s your next target?”

     “I haven’t decided, but I’ll tell you something. In this day and age, privacy is pretty much non-existent. The only people who are unknown are those business and government don’t feel are worth the trouble. They probably know a lot about me but probably very little about you. Homeless people don’t interest corporations or governments unless they make trouble. Then they’re just stepped on but are still mostly anonymous.”

     “Yeah, we always told ourselves we were nobodies, at least nobody anyone cared about. It hurt at first, but you get used to it.”

     “Nobody should be treated like a nobody”, Harry said. “I’m going to spend the rest of my life and whatever it takes to remedy that.”

     “You can’t support all the homeless”, Helen said, “no matter how rich you are.”

     “No, but I msy be able to change things so that homelessness is no longer socially and politically acceptable. I don’t have to do it all by myself. What did you find out about that kid?”

     “He was there was as an assignment for his journalism class, documenting an anti-abortion protest. He thinks they’re a bunch of assholes and was delighted when you shot down Mrs Howe. He recorded the whole thing.”

     “I’d hoped it was something like that. Did you ask him to give me a call?”

     “Sure did. He promised to call you tonight. He has a serious case of hero worship.” She grinned. “He could have done worse”.

     Harry smiled.

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Winds West – 6

     Liza was sitting under an ancient cherry tree with the younger Langdons gathered around her, listening to her read Sir Walter Scott. As Mr. Langdon was having a farewell word with the minister and his wife, Ryle Tate wandered around the yard, slowly gravitating toward the group of children. Liza kept half an eye on him as he sat down on the grass nearby. Was he just passing the time waiting for his Aunt and Uncle to finish their goodbyes, or did he have other things on his mind?

     “Alright, children. That’s enough for today. It’s school tomorrow. You scoot off and get ready for bed.”

     The children knew better than to protest, and dutifully headed back toward the house. Only little Becky lingered, staring from Liza to Ryle.

     “Liza, are you going to marry him?” She had come to love and depend on Liza, and looked at Ryle Tate as if he were come to steal her away from them.

     “Land o’ Goshen, child! What ever put that into your head? Of course not! Now be off with you, and don’t forget to wash behind your ears.”

     She shoo’d Becky on her way and turned to Ryle with a smile. Before she had a chance to say anything, Ryle chuckled and said, “Out of the mouths of babes… Tell me, Elizabeth, are you really not going to marry me?”

     “What makes you think I want to marry anyone?”

     “Why I just assumed you would. Don’t most girls want to get married someday?”

     Liza shrugged. “Maybe. I can’t speak for others. I expect I’ll decide when the time comes, if it ever does.”

     “Oh, I don’t think you’ll have to worry about that. Anyone who can cook like you and keep house will have no trouble finding a man. And good with children, too. Where I’m going, you’d have your choice of husbands.”

     “And where might that be?” Liza didn’t want to admit to having eavesdropped on them.

     “Colorado. As beautiful a place as you’ll ever see. I’m going to go into ranching. Sooner or later, I expect I’ll be looking for a wife myself.”

     Liza clenched her teeth and kept her temper with difficulty. Is that how he thought of her? A housekeeper, cook and mother? She had never spent much time fantasizing about romance, but he seemed never to have even heard of it. She wasn’t particularly vain, but she knew she was pretty and it irritated her that he hadn’t so much as acknowledged it even in passing. The man was completely hopeless!

     “Mr. Tate! I cook and keep house and tend children because that’s what I’m paid to do, not because it’s what I want to do. When I leave here, it won’t be to exchange one drudgery for another.”

     Ryle Tate realized he had angered her, but couldn’t quite understand how. “I’m sorry if I offended you. I certainly didn’t mean to. I just thought you’d make some man an excellent wife. It was a compliment, really.”

     “Then I thank you for your good intentions, but I suggest you not be so quick to make assumptions about people in the future.”

     “I’ll remember that next time, Miss Woods. And now I must take my leave of you, at least for the time being. I hope to see you again some day.”

     He bowed politely to her and joined his Aunt and Uncle coming down the path.

     “And next time – if there is a next time – ” Liza thought to herself, “you might consider flowers.”

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Blind Pig – 6

    Now he knew, he thought. She was timidly passionate, uncertain, too willing to please, frightened of her own sexuality. Probably never been able to be herself, he thought. Always busy pleasing her partner. Not an unusual circumstance. Well, that would change.

     He watched her as she slept, her long hair over her shoulder, covering one breast. He felt overwhelmed at the beauty of a woman’s body, the grace, sensuousness and silky texture. Yes, it would be all too easy to fall in love with her. He ran his fingers lightly down her face, down over her breasts and stomach, down her leg and back up the inner side of her thigh. She mumbled in her sleep and shifted slightly, drawing up one leg and letting it fall aside. He began to caress her, slowly and lightly, almost willing her into a gentle, sensuous wakefulness.

     She had been confused at first, and pretty uptight. Most guys are pretty blunt about what they want and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure them out. A bit of sex and they don’t call in the morning. He didn’t give much of a clue. In fact, he was so stand-offish that she wondered if he really wanted to go to bed with her. For the first time in her life, she had to do the pushing. It felt funny, being aggressive, but kind of good. If only I could be as assertive in bed as I am at work, she thought. He let her take the initiative, made her take it, and for a change she hadn’t felt used. God, it would be so easy to love him! But what would he think when he found out she was a police officer?

     She had drifted off to sleep and into a weird dream. She was back in uniform, the days before she made detective, walking down the street with her partner. Every time she looked at him, he was somebody else. Her father, her brother, her real partner, the old butcher who lived down the block. She didn’t know who the hell she was with. She wondered if she kept changing too. When the partner looked at her, did he keep seeing different women? “Who are you,” she whispered to her partner, to herself. Deliberately she turned to her partner and took his head between her hands, staring intently into his face. It kept alternating between being a mirror and being a face, and the face was different each time, different men, different faces in the mirror. The face in front of her seemed to dissolve and reform into Alan’s face. She felt dizzy and took a deep breath. That was when she awoke, writhing and gasping as her body shook under his touch.

     She lay back, totally exhausted, satiated. He didn’t think he’d ever seen anyone look so utterly happy, and it made him feel ten feet tall. “I hope I’ll always be able to make you feel that good,” he said.

     She reached up and drew him down, kissing his face gently. “Hold me, darling. I’m scared.”

     He smiled. “We have all the time in the world to be safe. Days, years. You don’t need to be afraid of me.”

     “It’s not you I’m afraid of,” Lisa said. “I’m afraid of falling in love. Afraid of it all not working out, afraid of getting hurt.” She remembered how she’d felt when the one serious relationship of her life had collapsed. Betrayed, used, dirty, stupid.

     “Or afraid of your feelings?” Alan asked.

     Lisa pondered that. Yes, at bottom, that was what scared her, the intensity of her own feelings. “How in hell did you ever learn so much about women?” she asked. “No, don’t tell me. I’d just get jealous.”

     He laughed. “No need for jealousy, love. Women and men aren’t really that different. We’re brought up in a society that doesn’t have much tolerance for real human emotions. Sometimes it’s tough to learn to let ourselves be ourselves. Do you know I’m in love with you?”

     “I was afraid of that,” she said. “What’s worse is that I think I’m in love with you too. Yesterday we were almost strangers, barely friends. Today we’re in love. What in hell happened to us?”

     “We happened to us. You happened to me and I happened to you. Delightful, isn’t it?”

     Lisa laughed. “I guess I’m not used to looking at people as events. But you definitely are an event. And I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.” She sat up and kissed him. “Now I’ve got to run home and get ready for work. Can I come back here tonight?”

     “If you don’t, I’m going to come looking for you. I fully intend for you to share my humble abode. Besides, you’ve got a great body.”

     “You bastard,” she said, “just when I have to leave. You wait, I’ll get even tonight. But I’ll be late. I have a Karate class.”

     “You’re learning Karate? Good idea for a woman in New York.”

     She stared at him in exasperation. “I’m teaching it.”

     “Oink!” he said apologetically. “Remind me never to make you mad.”

     She struggled into her jeans and reached for her tee shirt and bra. Alan sat on the edge of the bed and pulled her to him, raining kisses on her. She backed away and wiggled provocatively as she finished dressing. “See you tonight, darling.” She licked her lips suggestively and slipped out the door.

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