Category: Writing

Winds West – 5

     Well, dinner was over and nobody had seemed inclined to complain or had a bellyache, so she guessed it had gone alright. The minister and his wife had exclaimed over it, especially the ice cream and pies. Mr. Langdon seemed pleased and complimented her right in front of everyone. The children seemed proud of her, although she couldn’t for the life of her figure out why. The young man, whose name turned out to be Ryle Tate, was polite in a formal sort of way. He certainly didn’t say or do anything to give offence, but she admitted to herself she was a trifle miffed he hadn’t been more enthusiastic.

     She told herself she wasn’t setting her cap for him. Why, then, did it bother her what he said or didn’t say? Wryly, she acknowledged her interest had been piqued. There was something standoffish about him and she was curious to get behind that wall of social courtesy and polite conversation and find out who he really was. One thing was sure – she wouldn’t get far playing coquette. He was a serious young man, with more depth than most his age. He would want an equally serious woman. Though it would be a shame if he were so somber all the time. With a bit of a shock, she realized she had not heard him laugh at all, even when the children were joking or the minister and Mr. Langdon were swapping tall tales. He smiled from time to time, but he had not laughed. She began to feel sorry for him. That, she told herself, is your first mistake, thinking a man has some secret sorrow you can find and cure. Time to get back to reality, put the dreams away for the day. Time to do the dishes.

     With the kitchen tidied up, she wandered into the parlor, but all was neat and dusted, nothing to be done. For the first time all day, she had idle time on her hands and she began to relax and savor it. She moved to the window to catch a cooling breeze and began to leaf through one of Mr. Langdon’s gazettes. Mr. Langdon and the guests were sitting on the veranda, talking about this and that.

     “How is the Woods girl working out, John? I know you had your doubts before you hired her.”

     “She’s been fine, Reverend. You’re right about my having had doubts. I couldn’t see how anyone her age would be able to take care of my home and children, but she’s taken hold. Done everything I’ve asked and done it well. Even the children don’t seem to resent her. I was afraid they would compare her to their mother, which wouldn’t be fair to Liza. I think it made it easier that she didn’t try to replace Martha, just be helpful and concerned for them.”

     “Well,” said the minister’s wife, “I suppose she had good practice in her own home. She’s had to tend to her own brother and sisters since her mother died. Of course, she comes of good stock, pioneers. Her family was here before the Flood. But I was surprised at how much she knows about cooking and managing a home. The house is neat and clean, the dinner was very good and the children look happy. Even you, John, look a bit more portly than the last time I saw you.”

     Mr. Langdon laughed. “Yes. I loved Martha greatly, but frankly Liza’s a better cook than Martha ever was, God rest her soul. Very intelligent too. Reads to the children every night, then reads to herself, the good books. We will miss Liza when she finally decides to leave us.”

     “Is she thinking of leaving,” asked the minister?

     “I haven’t heard her say so in so many words,” Mr. Langdon replied, “but I can’t keep her here forever and wouldn’t want to. She has her own life to live and someday she’ll decide to go live it. When she wants to leave, I won’t stand in her way. Maybe I can even help her along a bit.”

     “You’re a good Christian, John,” the minister’s wife said. “And you’re right. In a couple of years or so she’ll take the eye of some young buck and you’ll be looking for a new housekeeper.”

      “Maybe she has already,” said her husband. “Ryle here seemed to be spending a lot of time and trouble avoiding looking at her. Is she so unattractive then?”

     Liza had been considering moving away from the window, telling herself it wasn’t polite to eavesdrop on folks. Now, however, she felt her feet glued to the floor and she couldn’t have moved if it came Judgement Day. She was more than a little interested in what young Ryle had to say. Had he really being avoiding looking at her? If she’d known that, she would have found ways to tweak his nose a bit, just for fun.

     “Oh, I saw her well enough, Uncle. You might say she’s the only one I saw today. She’s really very pretty, yet that’s not what struck me after the first glance. You’re right, Aunt Maude. She is more grown up than her years. You know, after church I looked over all those young ladies and she was the only one who seemed grown up. They all tried to flirt – properly, of course – except her. And you say she’s only thirteen? Remarkably serious, she seemed. Does she ever laugh? I’d like to make her laugh, somehow.”

     What a turnabout, thought Liza! He thinks I’m a somber old woman and I think he’s a gloomy young man and we both want to change each other! But maybe I’m as wrong about him as he is about me. Wouldn’t that be a joke! She inched closer to the window and told herself it really wasn’t her fault if she happened to be in the parlor when they happened to be discussing her.

     “Unfortunately, I doubt if I’ll get the chance to know her very well. I’m back to Colorado day after tomorrow.”

     “I wish you could stay longer, Ryle,” the minister said. “Since we moved out here from Buffalo, you’re the only family we’ve had visit us. Your mother and I were very close and you’re almost like a son to Maude and me.”

     “Thank you, Uncle. You both know how I feel about you two. But I’ve some money saved up and I know a nice little ranch that the owner will sell at a bargain – he’s got gold fever and is itching to get back to prospecting. That’s all I want, to raise cattle and children in some of the most beautiful country on Earth.”

     “You may raise cattle, but you won’t raise many children by yourself,” Aunt Maude said slyly. “Seems to me you’ll need a woman somewhere along the way.”

     “Yes, but I want to make the ranch a going concern before I ask any woman to share it. I couldn’t ask anyone to live in a sod hut, cook over an open fire and not have any nice things for the years it will take to make the ranch pay. Maybe then I’ll go looking. If she’s still unmarried, maybe I’ll look around here.”

     Humph! How like a man, thought Liza. Any woman worth her salt wouldn’t mind at all, as long as she was with her man, building something for their future. Her own grandparents had migrated to Ohio when it was considered wilderness. They fought the Indians, cleared the forests and raised corn, beans and children. It wasn’t til they were nearly eighty that they lived in a place that didn’t have a dirt floor. And they swore they liked their old log cabin better.

Continue…

Blind Pig – 5

    “Good evening, Mr. Coombes. The usual? And would the lady like a drink before dinner?” Lisa asked for a strawberry daiquiri and the waiter departed.

     “The usual? You must come in here a lot,” she said.

     “Sometimes,” he shrugged. “Sometimes I eat Mexican or Italian. Tonight I’m in the mood for steak and shrimp.”

     “Sounds good to me,” Lisa said. “Don’t you ever eat at home?”

     He laughed. “Home is where I sleep and drink coffee. And write. I can’t boil water without burning it.”

     “Must be nice to eat out every night. I can’t afford it.”

     “What would you be eating if you were home now,” Alan asked.

     “Probably leftover salad and eggrolls. Whatever the fridge turns up. I’m afraid I’m not much of a cook either.”

     “Then we’ll have to eat out every night, I guess.”

     “I guess so,” she replied. He evidently assumed they were now a couple. To her surprise, she did not mind at all. How did that happen? They were really not much more than casual acquaintances. Now being with him seemed natural, as if they had known each other for years. “Does this mean your intentions are honorable?”

     He laughed. “Serious at least. Honorable depends on your point of view.”

     “You want my body, eh?”

     “Among other things. I have a sneaking suspicion I could fall in love with you very easily. Why not give it a chance?”

     Lisa looked him in the eye. Yes, she thought, why not? He’s far removed from the Force, he’s intelligent, as honest as most men ever are. Why not? And rather handsome, she reminded herself. With a little shiver, she realized she was going to go to bed with him that night and the thought brought up the mix of fear and desire she always experienced on such occasions. Well, he was certainly different from her usual dates. She wondered what kind of a lover he would be.

     Alan had surprised himself with his assumption that they would become lovers and was even more surprised by her acquiescence. He thought she must be lonely a lot. It wasn’t easy being a beautiful woman in New York, with all the guys hitting on you. Probably been twisted by lots of bad times and paranoid about every new man she met. He wondered what kind of lover she would be.

Continue…

Winds West – 4

    When the closing hymn started, Liza raised her voice along with the rest, but she hoped the Lord would forgive her mind being elsewhere. Guiltily, she was running over what she had to get done after church was finished. First, she must get the younger children out of their Sunday finery and make sure the older ones were kept busy at something that wouldn’t ruin their clothes…no tree-climbing, no exploring the barn with the neighbor children. Then she had to finish preparing Sunday dinner, including baking rolls and a couple of pies, as well as roasting a pair of chickens and fixing the vegetables. If they had enough cream left, she might put the younger ones to making ice cream. This dinner had to be special, since the minister and his wife were coming and bringing a guest. Mr. Langdon was easy enough to please and preferred to live simply, but he set great store by entertaining properly and would want everything just right.

    She had been there three weeks and he seemed satisfied with her work, but he wasn’t a very talkative person and she could never tell what he was really thinking. She thought that must be the difference between kin and strangers. With kinfolk, you had shared so much living you could almost read each others’ minds, but a stranger was an unopened book. Some looked to be so boring you didn’t want to bother, while others might be exciting or interesting. The young man the minister was bringing to dinner, for example.

     Liza glanced over at him now. He couldn’t be more than about twenty-two, but somehow he had a more grown-up look than many of the men twice his age. She watched him as he glanced around the congregation, seeming to look for something he couldn’t find. He had more assurance than the other young men, who seemed to have so much trouble avoiding blushing when they accidentally caught the eye of one of the young ladies. She saw Johnny Wilson making calf’s-eyes at her from the end of the pew. It was as close as he had dared approach her since he had announced that he was going West. He had great dreams of getting rich in the silver or gold mines and Liza had figured prominently in those dreams. While she sympathized with him, he wasn’t her idea of a husband. Perhaps she was too choosy, but she wasn’t ready yet to give up her own dreams. Besides, she told herself, thirteen is a trifle young to marry. She wouldn’t consider herself an old maid until, say, the ripe old age of seventeen.

     The minister was closing the service and people were beginning to stir about, collecting their wits and children. Mr. Langdon led his family up the aisle and Liza trailed along behind. Outside, the grownups mingled with friends while the younger children stared at each other tongue-tied. The older boys whooped and yelled and ran around, trying to find some way to impress the girls, who studiously ignored them.

     Liza wondered what caused these boys and girls to suddenly one day become adults and change their whole way of behaving. It must be something to do with falling in love, although she found this hard to believe. She had once been in love with a boy for a whole week and he with her for a month, but it hadn’t changed either of them that she could tell, except to make them act silly. A voice out of nowhere asked why she seemed so different from the other girls her age, but she shook off the question unanswered. That young visitor now. He might be a different story. She saw several of the eligible young ladies casting sheeps-eyes at him. He looked straight at them, rather casually, as if they were part of the landscape. Then his eyes would drift away, looking for something else. She reckoned she would find out more about him at dinner. She gathered the younger Langdons, leaving the older ones to accompany their father, and began to walk back to the Langdon home.

Continue…

Blind Pig – 4

     Alan Coombes was wondering the same thing. He eyed the pile of manuscripts stacked on the desk. Always claimed you could write the Great American Novel if you could devote yourself to it 100%, didn’t you? Well, now you can. Live a long time on that money and just write and write and write.

     Faced with the reality of a dream coming true, he laughed softly. Be careful what you wish for – you might get it, he thought. Well, plenty of time to consider that later. For now, he had to finish Chapter Five of his latest novel. The writers’ group was meeting tomorrow night. It was in composing Chapter Five that an idea came to him and he stopped in mid-word and beamed. He glanced at the closet where the moneybag lay and smiled, then returned to the writing with renewed zest. He would do something about the money later.

     Detective Lisa Bogar closed the file and dropped it into a folder in her desk. Shit, this was going to be like looking for a needle in a haystack! The killer could be anyone, anyone at all. She was becoming obsessed with the case. Maybe she’d drop by the writers’ workshop tonight. Most of them were amateurs who would never amount to much, but they were interesting and at least it was a break from her normal routine.

      She smiled to herself. She knew she had a reputation in the department as a hard-nosed, no-nonsense detective. It had to be that way, because being over-zealous was one way to keep the sex thing from getting to her. The other way was being the Division Karate Champ. But nobody knew about the other side of her personality. They probably thought she spent her spare time reading department regulations. They would certainly never suspect her of being a closet poet and bohemian. Never really know people, she thought. You only see one side of them, at work, or at a poetry reading, whatever. Never know the other side of their lives. For all she knew, even Horny Werner could be a ballet dancer on his own time. She giggled at the thought.

     She went to the locker room and changed into civvies, tight black jeans and a tee shirt, baggy vest and boat shoes. She undid the bun and brushed out her hair. After a glance in the mirror, she picked up her bag and sauntered out, bound for the Blue Quail Cafe.


“The sea-slick landscape, oil-bled and gray
Goes slapping gently at the piers each day.
The sturdy wood must think it can withstand
The water’s formless, weak and splashing hand.
So we laugh at all the blows of life,
Because the world is so inept at strife.
The piers forget the water’s strongest trait;
Although the wood rots slow, the sea can wait.”

     It was fitting for her mood, Lisa thought, as polite murmurs went around the table. “Great, good imagery, Lisa, kinda scary, etcetera, etcetera and so forth.” The only listener who hadn’t commented on her poem was Alan. He looked at her over his coffee mug and did not smile. It irked her a little. He was probably the closest the group had to a professional writer. At least he was trying seriously. Was his silence a negative comment?

     “How about it, Alan,” she said. She cursed herself mentally for caring about his opinion. As a cop, she was completely self-confident, but as a poet she felt very insecure, maybe because she allowed herself to be vulnerable in ways a cop couldn’t be vulnerable.

     Alan peered at her over his glasses. They made him look almost fatherly, she thought, bringing fleeting images of her own father, sitting mindless in the nursing home, dreaming of the past.

     “The poem? It’s fine, Lisa, very succinct.” He leaned across the table. “What I was considering was why someone as young and beautiful as you would be thinking such dreary thoughts.”

     She shrugged. “I guess we all have bad days. Sometimes even I get depressed. Don’t you?”

     “Depressed? No, not really,” he said. “I just get bewildered a lot. And lonely sometimes.”

     Playing for sympathy, she thought. Probably hopes to get in my pants that way. Fat chance!

     He smiled at her, as if reading her mind. “No, Lisa. I like you, but it isn’t because I’m lonely. When I feel lonely, I don’t want company. I get into myself until I stop feeling that way.”

     Perceptive, she thought, dangerously so, then cursed herself. She was still being cautious, a wary cop. The whole point in being part of this scene was to get away from that, be a normal, vulnerable human being for a few hours. To let herself be a woman, she thought. She smiled in acknowledgment and began to consider him seriously. “Let’s get out of here. Have you eaten? I’m starved.”

     Alan grinned. “I was hoping for something like that. Come on. Let’s go over to the Derby. I’ll buy.”

     “I pay my own way, Alan. No strings.”

     “No strings, Lisa. Never. Unless we want them.”

     She smiled. “And you can read me the latest chapter of the Great American Novel.”

     “Fair enough. At least you’ll appreciate it.” He lifted his manuscript and got up.

     Lisa was surprised. “You want my opinion? I always thought you were pretty self-sufficient, immune to criticism.”

     “No one is immune, Lisa. To anything.” He held the door open and followed her into the night.

Continue…

Meme – 3

     Officer James Brucier looked a little embarrassed, as Harry opened the door. “Hello, Jim. What brings you to my door today?”, Harry asked.

     “Well sir, it’s like this. We got a complaint. Seems someone was concerned something untoward was going on here.”

     “Might as well come in. Untoward? Just what sort of untowardness did this complaint specify?”

     “Nothing specific sir, just wanted us to check up.” He nodded politely to Helen. “Ma’am.”

     “And may I enquire as to who lodged this complaint?”, Harry asked. He was beginning to get a bit pissed off. He had no doubt one of his neighbors had observed his arrival home, with Helen in tow. Probably Mrs. Howe, who spent her time on her upstairs balcony, watching the neighborhood through her opera glasses. He vaguely recalled her coming out of Safeway about the same time he did.

     “Now Mr. McOliver, you know I can’t tell you things like that.” Jim all but ground his toe into the carpet, wishing he were somewhere else.

     “Jim, if an official complaint was filed, it’s your job to follow up. I understand that and I don’t blame you. But if the matter ever comes before a judge, you should know three things. First, I’ll win. My lawyer is the salt of the earth. But in court he’s a mean son-of-a-bitch, my mean SOB. Second, whoever brought the complaint will have to come forward – accused gets to face the accuser, remember? Third, I will totally destroy whatever persons meddle in my life. I’m a private person, doing nobody any harm – and I don’t like being hassled. “

     “Please, Mr McOliver. I’ll just go back to the office and say it’s all right here. Okay?”

     “No, Jim, I want the name. I have my suspicions, but I want to nail it down.” He paused, considering. “Jim, you recall 3 or 4 years ago? Your wife was working two jobs to support you and the baby while you were going to school. Your car broke down and wasn’t worth fixing, even if you’d had the money, which you didn’t. You bought a good used car – think your wife still drives it – for $1, right? How come it only cost you $1?”

     Officer Jim Brucier looked thunderstruck. At the time, he’d been broke and had zero credit. He’d been told it was a gift from a friend, although none of the friends he knew could have afforded to give him a car. The truth sank in and left him helpless. “It was Mrs. Howe”, he admitted.

     “Thank you, Jim. You can report that there is nothing untoward going on here. I will deal with Mrs. Howe in my own good time and my own way.”

     The officer almost ran for the door.

     “Just a minute, officer”, Helen said. “On my behalf, please. Tell this Mrs. Howe person that the silverware hasn’t been stolen or Mr McOliver murdered. Tell her you that you just found us naked on the floor fucking like teenagers.”

     Officer James Brucier stopped dead in his tracks and looked at Helen in astonishment, then a chuckle erupted and turned into a guffaw. He nodded to the two of them and left, shaking his head.

                          ————-

     Harry laughed. “I think that’s the last we’ll hear from Mrs. Howe. I’d wish he would actually quote you, but I expect he’s too polite. But it does make up my mind for me about something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. This may be the straw that broke the camel’s back. If you want to see the shit hit the fan, stick around.”

     “I haven’t anything better to do”, Helen said. “What do you have in mind?”

     “You’ll see. It’s time for some people in this town to be taken down a notch. I’m gonna make it happen.”

     “Good!” Helen said. “Always wanted to see the high and mighty get their comeuppance. You might be a pretty decent person after all, despite your fancy house.” She grinned at him and he grinned back.

     “Now, let’s see what clothes we can find that fit you. I suggest you junk what you brought and we’ll run over to Target and outfit you.

     “Soon”, Helen said, and there was a new tone in her voice. “Just in case the officer does quote me to Mrs. Howe, we wouldn’t want to make a liar out of him, now would we?” And she let the robe slip off as she sank to the floor.

     “Helen”, Harry began, “you’re sexy as hell but I’m not a young man any more.”

     “Do you need me to teach you?” she asked. “Take your clothes off, Harry. Now.”

     With a smile which was partly resignation and partly anticipation, Harry complied.

Continue…

Winds West – 3

     Papa was sitting in the big chair and the little ones had been shoo’d off to bed. Liza sat in the rocker and reached into the darning basket for the next pair of his stockings that needed mending. She turned toward the coal oil lantern to thread her needle.

     “Elizabeth, you know I wouldn’t let you go to Langdon`s if I didn’t have to. He offered room and board and five dollars a month. That’s good pay for someone your age. God knows we need the money, but I want you to keep one dollar of it. That way you’ll have something put by to help furnish a home of your own someday.

     “I know, Papa. I’m glad to help any way I can. I just hope you and the others can get by all right. Maybe Effie and Helen can take care of the house. I don’t know who’ll take care of you and Ryan.”

     “We’ll make out, girl. It’s you I’m thinking of. You shouldn’t have to work so hard, so young. Maybe some nice young fellow will come calling in a couple of years and you can at least be doing the work for your own family. Langdon’s is a closer to town and they have a lot of church socials and such, more people for you to meet. You’re a pretty one. Remind me of your mother when we met.”

     “Maybe. Maybe I’ll go West. They say women are scarce out there. Remember Mr. Luby saying every woman who comes into town get a dozen proposals the first day?”

     “Every woman, yes. It seems like yesterday you were just a little girl. Now you’re a woman, or close to it. You’ve had to grow up fast, Liza. Faster than I would have liked. It’s too bad you mother isn’t with us. A girl needs someone, and although I try, there are things I just can’t help you with.”

     “I’ll be just fine. I miss Mama too, Papa. I’ll miss all of you, but you and Ryan most. Mama’s dying was hardest on him. I’ll ask Helen to read to him and that will help, but he’ll need to do things with you too. Otherwise, the girls will just run right over him. Are they hiring in Columbus?”

     “There’s a man starting the hiring tomorrow. I’ll be there bright and early and I stand a good chance of getting work for at least the summer. There can’t be too many bridge construction men with engineering degrees. If they don’t need me, I may be able to work with one of Langdon’s friends building houses. Not exactly my cup of tea, but work’s scarce these days.”

     “I know. Johnny Wilson hasn’t been able to find anything for months. His mother says he may go prospecting for gold in Colorado if he can find a way to get there. They say even if you don’t find gold, there’s plenty of work to go around.”

     “I should think there would be. The whole territory is nearly unbuilt. The trouble is, those mining camps are here today and gone tomorrow. Steady work needs more. There’s more future there in ranching. When the gold is dug up and gone, people will still have to eat.”

     “I suppose so. Were you able to buy a paper today?”

     “Luckily, Elizabeth, one of the traveling salesmen at the Garnett House left this behind.” With a sly grin, he took his coat down from the rack and extracted a newspaper. “None other than the Columbus Dispatch.”

     “Mercy! I never heard of it. Is it any good?”

     “Why don’t you read it and find out?”

     “You read it, Papa. That’s more fun.”

     Papa took out his reading glasses and unfolded the paper with ponderous gravity. Holding it at arm’s length, he posed pompously and began. “The world seems much as usual, daughter. Rascality and Ignorance battle vainly with the forces of Light and Right. Or perhaps it’s the other way round.”

     “Read, Papa. Don’t orate.”

     “The Illustrious and Confabulated Senator from Ohio has today confirmed the intention of the President to bestow upon our esteemed citizenry the dubious benefit of his presence in our Capitol during his upcoming trip. While purportedly to hear the view of the natives regarding the Free Trade issue, your correspondent has it on highly questionable authority that his looming arrival is actually intended to give the local Magnates of Commerce the opportunity to contribute to the coffers of the President’s upcoming campaign. In other words, to pay their annual bribes. The President is expected to be accompanied by his wife, who will not allow him to get a word in edgewise and who will sneer daintily at such quaint Ohio customs as civility and washing one’s hands before dinner.”

     A farm laborer reputed to be one William O’Brian was arrested for public drunkenness. He was brought before Justice R.P. Bumble and sentenced to spend the next ten days at the county workhouse, gluing back together the stones he had broken into pieces during his similar stay three months ago.”

     “Western Union messages carry a tale of a fabulous gold strike in western Colorado. Sources there say that if the native tribes can be induced to allow miners to pursue the issue, precious metals may be found, amounting to as much as $37.53. Several New York moneybags are reported interested and will assuredly swallow up any profits to be had in the affair”

     Liza laughed so hard she couldn’t keep her mind on her work, as she discovered when she stuck herself with her needle.
“Seriously, Papa, I sometimes wonder what the newspapers would be like if you wrote for them.”

     “They might not have as much news, but they’d be more interesting reading, wouldn’t they?”

     “Surely they would, Papa. Probably tell us just as much of what we really need to know, too.”

     “You know, Elizabeth, there’s no way to tell folks what it’s really like out West. The country hasn’t seen the like since my grandparents crossed the Ohio. A frontier is a different world entirely. Even the people aren’t the same. Different needs drive them. Here, we’re used to everything being settled, controlled, polite. A predictable and orderly life. Out West, it’s not so orderly and certainly not so predictable, but a man’s life is what he makes of it.”

     “You liked it out there, didn’t you, Papa?”

     “Yes. It took some getting used to, but on the whole, I liked it. Liked the land, liked the people.”

     “Why didn’t you stay there? You could have sent for Mama.”

     “Well, your mother didn’t want to leave her kith and kin in these parts. And I suspect she was afraid of the West. It can be a pretty rowdy place.”

     “Did she know how much you liked the West?”

     “I suppose, but your mother was loathe to move. And she could be very loathe, when the mood took her.”

     “I still think we should have gone. We don’t often get a chance to follow a dream. Do you still dream, Papa?”

     A sadness crossed his face and he became somber for a moment. “Not often, girl, not often. Mostly for you and the others.” He sat back, pretending to read the paper, but she could see his mind was elsewhere. She wondered if things would have been different for him if Mama were alive. She promised herself she would not let it happen to her. She would follow her dreams! Whether voicing her thoughts or his own, he said, “Don’t you give up, Liza. Ever.”

Continue…

Blind Pig – 3

     Alan sat back, a little stunned, a little overwhelmed. The money totaled up to $450,000. No wonder the kid had attacked him. It was not the sort of cash one was casual with. Nor the sort its owners wouldn’t be looking for, he reminded himself. The real question was whether or not he’d been seen by someone who might identify him. The latter was unlikely. He was pretty much of a recluse, with no friends and few acquaintances. He could, of course, turn the money over to the police, but he figured that wouldn’t offer any protection if the dealers found him. In fact, it might make it more dangerous. If he turned it over, his identity might well become public knowledge. First he’d be a hero, then he’d be a dead hero. And there might be problems proving he had killed in self-defense. No, best keep a low profile – and the money. He wondered if the decision were based on considerations of safety or on greed. Never know, he thought, never know even yourself completely. He put the money in a laundry bag, shoved it under his bed and made a pot of coffee.

                          ——————-

     “The guy you two didn’t kill swears the kid was dead when they found him. And nobody around. They didn’t even notice the second body.”

     Officer Werner just looked at her, mentally licking his chops. “Did he say how they happened to find him?” he asked. “It’s not like he was lying out in the middle of the street. It’s dark there. They had to be looking for something or someone.”

     “Oh, yes,” Lisa answered. “He admits the guy was buying. Not much point in denying it, what with that satchel of crack in the back seat. But there are some things that bother me about this case.”

     “Bother you?” Sergeant Lott asked. “Two known drug dealers dead and a substantial amount confiscated? That bothers you?”

     She laughed. “Not a bad night’s work, even if you two do have to spend your own time filling out paperwork. But consider something. Who killed him? There’s no reason to think it was the Hispanic. He’s doesn’t look like he has the balls for that, even if you don’t believe the guy was dead when they found him.

     “Maybe the two guys killed each other,” Werner said. “You identified them yet?

     “Not yet. But the knife didn’t have any prints on it except the victim’s. Besides, the second body looks like a wino. According to some letters, his name was Evans. Probably sleeping off a drunk and woke up just in time to get his throat cut. I doubt if he killed the kid.”

     “Well,” Werner said. “Somebody stabbed him, maybe wiped the handle and closed the victim’s hand over it.”

     “Maybe,” she said, “but the knife was the victim’s. He was wearing a scabbard for it. You’re saying someone took the knife away from him, killed him, cleared his own prints and provided the victim’s prints? Pretty cool killer, wouldn’t you say? Drug dealers aren’t usually so careful. They just don’t give a damn.”

     Werner shrugged. “It’ll have to do unless you can come up with another scenario. The DA’ll probably pin it on the Puerto Rican. And you’re right. I don’t believe he did it, but he’s the only game in town.”

     “Not quite,” Lisa Bogar said. “Another thing that bothers me is not the evidence. It’s the lack of evidence.”

     “What do you mean?” Lott asked.

     “This guy was waiting to make a drug buy, buying a lot. The preliminary estimate is half a million worth. He wasn’t going to buy that much crack with the change in his pockets and dealers don’t take American Express. What happened to the money? It wasn’t in the car or the alley.”

     Lott whistled. “Hey, that’s right! So there had to have been someone else there who took the money!”

     “Right! And maybe that someone knows how this kid wound up with a knife in his heart.”

     “So?” Werner said. “So the buyer had a partner who decided half a million was too good to pass up. He kills the kid and hightails it before the sellers got there, right? Anybody know how long the kid had been dead before everybody descended on the scene?”

     “Coroner said only a few minutes. Hell, the body was still warm when we got there. The killer must have been within spitting distance when you arrived.”

     “We didn’t see anybody else. Of course, once we arrived, we weren’t really canvassing the neighborhood. We had our hands full with the three from the car.”

     “Oh, I’m sure he was gone by then. It was probably his phone call – conveniently anonymous – that sent you there. But he must have been only a skip and a jump ahead of the dealers. According to the Puerto Rican, they had been cruising down the street real slow, on the lookout for anything that might mean it was a police trap. They wouldn’t even have stopped if they’d seen anyone around. Whoever took the money and presumably killed him wasn’t on the street.”

     “Fun and games, Bogar. There was a fire escape at the back of that alley, wasn’t there?”

     “That there was, Sergeant. I think we’ll dust it for prints and take a look up on the roof.”

     “If you get decent prints, you might find a match, maybe among the kid’s acquaintances.”

     “Maybe, but I doubt it. Any friends of the victim would probably be criminals too and I don’t think it happened that way.”

     “Why not?” asked Werner.

     “Because somebody called 911. Somebody tipped us about the body and the limo. A criminal would just have taken off with the money and hoped to be out of town before the body was discovered. Given the short time between the knifing and the call, the caller must have been at least a witness, probably the killer, possibly has the money and is probably not a professional criminal.”

     “An innocent bystander, Detective? A civilian who just happened to be hanging out in the alley? Shit! Anybody out for a midnight stroll who just happened to bump into that kid would have been killed without a second thought. Look what happened to the wino!”

     “Maybe the kid tried. Maybe someone surprised the buyer, so he attacked them. But the passerby killed the kid instead.”

     “Super Civilian!” Werner laughed.

     “Think, Werner! The kid had a belt holster, so he must have had a gun, but nobody has any bullet holes in them except the two you shot. The holster was empty, so whoever killed him and took the money, also took the gun. The kid tried with the knife because he wanted it quiet, but he just wasn’t good enough with the blade. The sticker became the stickee.”

     “Like I said,” Werner replied. “Super Civilian.”

     She shrugged. “Not necessarily. Plenty of people know how to defend themselves against a knife attack. Military men, cops, Kung-Fu nuts. Could be the passerby just got lucky.”

     “Well, detective, looks like you’ve got your work cut out for you. But I doubt if you’ll break the case unless you get lucky with the fingerprints. What if the killer wore gloves?”

     She snorted. “How many innocent bystanders would you find walking down the street wearing gloves in August? Well, I’ll get on it in the morning. By then the coroner’s report should be done, and yours too, if I don’t keep bothering you.”

     “No bother at all,” Werner said. “It’s always a pleasure to give you a hand.” He smirked slightly. He’d always had the hots for Detective Bogar.

      She grinned wryly, understanding him completely. “I appreciate that, Officer, so long as the helping hand stays inbounds.” With a nod, she walked down the hall to her desk.

     “Damn!” Werner said. “Detective or not, that’s one fine-looking woman! Maybe I should try to make detective – one way or another.”

     The Sergeant laughed. “She’s beautiful, but don’t kid yourself. She’s as smart as they come and a whole lot tougher than she looks. If anyone’s going to solve this case, it’ll be her. And even if the killing was justified, she’ll bust him, just because it’s The Law. She takes her job seriously.”

     “Well, if she’s right and it was just an innocent civilian who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, I hope the guy gets away. Shit, what did he do? Killed a guy who needed killing and queered a drug deal! She’d bust a guy for that?”

     “She would, just to tidy up the case. She doesn’t like any loose ends.”

     Werner snorted, “Hell, this case is all loose ends.”

     “Well, it’s her case now and out of our hands, once we get this paperwork finished.” He turned back to the typewriter and began pecking at the keys.

     Werner did the same, idly wondering to himself what he would do if he unexpectedly found himself in possession of half a million dollars. Not likely, he thought, although he did have a few sources of income the Department knew nothing about.

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Meme – 2

     They were sitting at the table, Harry sipping his coffee and watching Marilyn eat like it was the first time in a week. She was wearing a light blue robe and the wide collar turned up to frame her face. She needed a hair cut and styling, a manicure and probably a pedicure, but she was fundamentally a very pretty woman. Not exactly what he’d call beautiful, but quite attractive. He suspected she knew and could use her attractiveness.

     After her second helping of eggs and the last of the bacon and toast, she leaned back and stretched her feet out, wiggling her toes. Harry felt they were wiggling at him. “Now what?”, she asked. “Is this where the quid pro quo kicks in? You got me cleaned up and fed. What do you want from me?”

     Harry ignored the question. “You know art?”, he asked.

     Marilyn shrugged. “Another life. It doesn’t matter now.”

     “Would you want that life back?” Harry asked

     “Never! At least not the last 30 of it.” She smiled at some memory and said, “The early years when I lived in the Village and Paris and Rome – that I miss.” She studied him speculatively. “You want to support a starving artist?”

     “It’s none of my business, but what happened?” Harry asked.

     “Shit happened. A particular shit named Andre Mackler”.

     “I’ve heard of him. Vaguely recall some scandal – fraud, absconded with funds. Don’t remember the details. “

     “He was a high end lawyer and investment guru. He looted his clients’ estates and investments and ran away to Brazil. Now I think he’s somewhere in Croatia or maybe it’s the Caribbean. I don’t know. Or care. What I do know is he left me to face the consequences.”

     “How so?”

     She looked at him. “Thirty years ago I still had my looks.” She flashed him a smile. “Maybe not Marilyn Monroe, but still good. I had a name as an up-and-coming artist and art curator. I could talk the language of all his filthy-rich clients. So he made me his trophy wife.”

     “Living the high life and all of as sudden the bottom dropped out. Surely you weren’t held responsible for his debts.”

     She snorted. “No, not for the stolen money. But they took everything except my clothes. My car, my jewelry, even some of my own artwork that was in the houses. I had nothing. And when the word got out, people treated me like dirt, like I must have known and been party to all his schemes. People I thought were my friends cut me dead. One offered me a secretarial job – provided he got a daily blowjob. I told him I’d rather live on the streets.”

     Harry thought for awhile. “Tell me, if you could go back to being an artist, would you? Could you?”

     Marilyn looked hard at him. “I might try. The artist crowd isn’t so judgmental, and I could be happy painting and sculpting again. But I’d still have to deal with the pricks who buy the paintings and that whole class. What pisses me off most about them is that they are so busy screwing each other and the rest of the country, they’re worse than Andre was. He stole from the millionaires and billionaires. Most of them steal from the poor people and the middle class. They do it in business, in politics, in religion – you name it, wherever money and power reach, they’re there, getting their pound of flesh. And the money and power reach pretty much everywhere, these days.”

     “A succinct social and political commentary”, Harry remarked. “And pretty much on the mark. But you’ll never get most people to see it that way. The upper class is at war with everyone else, but we don’t fight back because we don’t understand it’s a class war. We like to pretend there are no classes in America, despite the evidence to the contrary.”

     Marilyn smiled. “And what class do you consider yourself? This place isn’t exactly a hovel. How many peons did you have to pee on to be able to afford this house?”

     Harry had been expecting the question. “I grew up rural, working class. Did manage to finish college because it was quite cheap or even free in some places. I started a software and consulting company fifty years ago. It was quite successful. I didn’t have peons. My employees were well paid, good benefits. Once they demonstrated their competence, I gave each of them a piece of the company. By the time a good buyout offer came by, there were 36 of us and I only owned about 30% of the company. The employees owned the rest. They voted to accept the buyout. We all took their money and ran. The buyers ended up owning a corporation with a great reputation but no employees.”

     Marilyn leaned back and roared with laughter. “Marvelous! And what did the buyers have to say?”

     Harry shrugged. “Wasn’t’ much they could do. Not my fault they were too tight to hire a good lawyer when it came time to draw up the takeover contract. With judicious investments, I’ve done pretty much what I pleased for the last thirty years.”

     “And what have you done for the last thirty years?”, she asked, rather softly.

     He smiled. “Spent a lot of my time trying to help people who need help. Some charities are okay and do good work, but I like to get more personal.”

     “Like with me.”

     “Like with you.”

     “My name isn’t Marilyn Monroe”, she said. “It’s Helen.”

     “Hello, Helen.”

     “Hello Harry whover-you-are.”

     “McOliver,” he said. “Harry McOliver. And even if your name isn’t really Marilyn Monroe…”

     “Yes?”

     “You’re still a damn fine looking woman.”

     And the doorbell rang.

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Winds West – 2

     Looking out the window as she cleaned up the apple peels, she could see Ryan sitting by the gate, pretending to whittle while he waited for Papa to come home. She would ask him to make some pegs to put in the barn for hanging up the harnesses. That would please both him and Papa. Helen was not far behind but she didn’t see Effie. She’d have to make sure they did their homework. It was lucky she had finished school herself by the time Mama died. She wouldn’t have had time for the housework and homework too. If Papa wasn’t too tired and if he’d been able to get a paper, she would ask him to read it to them. He always embellished the articles to suit his fancy and kept them all in stitches.

     “Hello, Helen. Didn’t Effie come home with you?”

     “She stayed to help the teacher with some papers. So she said. I think she’s in love with him.” She threw her books on the table and began cutting a slice of bread. “Ryan,” she called out the window. “Would you fetch me the butter from the well please?” She settled down on the woodbox by the stove and contemplated the Secret Romance she was sure was brewing between the schoolmaster and her sister. She wondered if she would ever feel the way she suspected Effie of feeling. She decided not. None of the boys around here seemed civilized, much less attractive. They only wanted to get out of school as soon and as often as possible and get back to their farms. “I want someone who doesn’t even know what a farm is,” she thought out loud.

     Yes, thought Liza to herself, and you’ll never be happy with the world as it is. “What homework did the teacher give you today?”

     “He gave me three Algebra problems and wants an essay on one of the English poets by Friday. I think I’ll write about Keats.” She stuffed half a thick slice of bread in her mouth and reached for the loaf.

     “That’s enough bread for now,” Liza said. “You’ll ruin your appetite for supper.”

     “What’s for supper, Liza? Roast chicken?”

     “You know we only have chicken on Sunday. And speaking of chickens, don’t forget you have to clean the chickenhouse today.”

     “Ugh! I hate cleaning that old place. It’s smelly and dirty and the rooster always tries to peck me.”

     “That’s why it needs cleaning. And you’re bigger than the rooster. If you like chicken for supper you’ve got to help take care of them. They don’t get on the table by magic and I just haven’t enough time. You have to help out. You’ll have to help out more, once I’ve gone to the Langdon’s.”

     “I wish it were me going, Liza. They say Mr. Langdon has a whole room full of books. I’d work there for nothing if he let me read all the books.”

     “Yes, and you’d never get any work done, just the reading. It might be fine to read all the time if we were wealthy, but we’re not and you can’t. Now put on your old dress and get started on the chickenhouse. Get it done today, before supper. Otherwise, you won’t get any pie.”

     “You baked a pie? Liza, I love you! What kind?”

     “Apple. It’s in the oven now.”

     “I really do love you Liza. I’ll miss you and so will the others.” She went to her room to change.

     And Papa will miss me most, thought Liza. The others don’t understand him like I do and he doesn’t know how to talk to children. He’s going to be lonely. So will I.

     She sat down for the first time since breakfast and suddenly realized how tired she was. Tomorrow she had to do the washing, and the ironing the day after. On Friday she would finish the garden, then on Saturday she would clean the house and change the beds. After church, maybe she and Papa would have time to talk.

     She felt sorry at leaving, but wasn’t sure if it was for him or for herself. She supposed she was setting out on her own life, but it didn’t feel like that. It was just one more thing she had to do because it had to be done. She was old enough to earn her keep and ought to do so. Maybe she would meet someone and get married someday. Maybe you’ll be an old maid, she told herself, always tending someone else’s children. Somehow, she didn’t think so.

     Effie came through the door with Ryan and she saw Papa down the road talking with a neighbor. She stood up and began putting the week’s baking away. It was time to start making supper.

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Blind Pig – 2

     When the call came over the radio, the operator sounded doubtful. An anonymous tip that there were a couple of bodies over on Washington Street and there might be a black limo cruising the area, containing drugs and assorted criminal types. Investigate the body and stop and search the limo if they happened to see it.

     “Okay, partner, might as well get this over with. If we’re lucky, it’s a wild goose chase.”

     “Yeah, don’t really need a stiff right at the end of the shift. Might be worth it if the limo shows up.”

     Patrolman Werner turned on the lights as he swung the patrol car up Hudson and turned west toward Washington. Rounding the corner, he came on the scene abruptly. There was a black limo parked by the curb, its lights on, doors open. The headlights caught three men, two of them dragging a body toward the car. Sergeant Lott reached for the shotgun as the patrol car skidded to a stop. Hopping out before the car stopped rolling, he yelled, “Police! Freeze! Stand where you are and keep your hands in the air!” He knew Werner would have his weapon on them at the same time.

     For a moment, it looked like the three men would obey, then one dove into the car and another pulled a gun. Sergeant Lott’s shotgun boomed in synch with his partner’s pistol and the gunman was tossed backward by the force of the blasts. The third man backed up with his hands high, babbling in fear. Leaving him to Werner, Lott pumped another cartridge into the chamber and swung toward the car, just as the driver slammed it into gear and headed straight at the officer. Sergeant Lot fired through the windshield and jumped aside. The car passed him and accelerated violently into the Jersey barrier, swung around and flipped its side. The driver sagged halfway out the window, obviously dead from the shotgun blast in the throat. Shouldn’t have tried to run me down, Lott thought. He reached in and turned off the racing motor, then looked in the back seat. There was an overnight bag and Sergeant Lott had no doubt about its contents. He returned to the patrol car. Werner had the last man in cuffs and was eyeing the body they had been dragging.

     “Shit,” Werner said. “I was going fishing tomorrow. Now I’ll be up half the night filling out paperwork.” He turned to his partner. “Might as well call for a meatwagon and the detectives. We’ll book this one ourselves. Then I suppose someone will have to investigate whether or not we used ‘justifiable force’. Crap!”

     “I don’t think we’ll have too much of a problem,” the Sergeant said. “Narcotics will find the bag in the limo and I recognize that guy.” He nodded toward the young man’s body. “He’s a mid-level dealer and errand boy for a guy uptown. Looks like a deal went sour. Well, let’s get it over with. Shit, there’s another body back there! Who’s on tonight? Bogar? She’ll have plenty to do.” He reached for the radio to make his report.

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