… Long Live the King

I nudged the lever with the outside of my wrist to to turn the water on in the upstairs bathroom. I was careful of the cheap tile counter top. Lord knows how tough it is to get any kind of dirt stains out of the grout, worse with blood, I was guessing. A whirring sounded in the pipes from the ground floor and, before I could trace its path, it was drowned out by the spurt of water, a projectile from the pressure and sheer gravity, shooting from the ridiculous, tall faucet, down into the drain with no stopper. The sink basin in this room reminded me of the camp sinks out at Bunyan Park, as deep as it was round with just enough room to rest a severed head. That startling thought made me wince.  “Where the hell did that come from,” I wondered; I hadn’t severed anyone’s head.

With my elbow, I slowly pushed the lever down to lighten the stream; I needed to avoid a splatter affect on the mirror when I washed my hands. The mirror. Shivers rippled from my core as I caught sight of the naked woman staring up at me.  Were the eyes questioning or accusing? “It couldn’t be helped,” I heard the whisper, and for a moment thought it had come from the woman, standing now, her mottled hands carefully dangling over the opposite basin ledge, away from the water.

I had buried that little girl – the one that believed she’d fight fire-breathing dragons some day … with swords of truth. Silly little girl thought she’d be president. She was dead, as dead as all my victims, and buried along with them on federal land. It was land that was likely to be bargained out of its sanctified landmark status and placed in the hands of the corporate dirt-bags that own this country.  Dirt-bags that would drill for oil and gas in the years to come. Sooner or later someone would dig there, and when they did, my secret would be discovered. That was actually my plan. Not really a plan, per se, since it all happened reflexively. More like an after-the-fact resolution.

Several had died earlier that night: the feisty little girl, a beautiful park ranger, Stephen King … As my mind raced through the tick marks of things that remained for the doing, I stopped just long enough to ask myself whose blood this was on my hands. I couldn’t remember. Did I even know?

The liquid soap foamed out a lather that smelled sickly sweet, like honey.  It mingled in my nostrils with the iron tang of the blood that seemed permanent there; I nearly blew chunks. Committed to the sink, I couldn’t spin around to the tub and get the solid bar soap now. “Evidence,” I repeated over and over again in my head, swallowing the lump in my throat. I massaged the soap into aged hands, frowning at how much they reminded me of my mother’s hands.  Had they been this weathered before?  Would I ever have noticed if not for this terrible night?  Pink rivers swirled around the drain and disappeared.

I scrubbed underneath and around my cuticles with a manicure brush I kept by the faucet; I wondered if the bristles would melt like the rest of the plastic when I tossed this in the burn barrel where the rest of my clothes were likely ash by now. Dark lines framed my nail beds. I couldn’t tell anymore if it was the blood or the dirt. I flicked the water drops, now clean, from my hands several times into the sink and swung around to the tub. A hot shower would ease my nerves and the steam would help rid the lingering scenes from my air passages. scratching the shampoo into my hair and scalp might complete the work on my fingers too. I replaced the towel on the rod with an old beach towel from the linen closet. That would burn too once I was finished.

Stepping into that shower was like entering a deep, restful sleep. I felt almost instantly relieved, as if it was all over. I let go and let myself forget for awhile. “At least until the hot water runs out,” I thought. As hot hit cold on the ceramic at my feet, steam billowed up around me and I drifted back to a time before – when the little girl lived, I was in love, and King was my hero.

Estate Sale

The house smelled like cat urine and mildew.  The estate sale had been picked through pretty thoroughly.  She could tell they might have found something of a treasure … a steal … if only they’d come to this one first.  But it wasn’t a video game, she reminded herself, and there was no level up or missed easter egg.
She found an old pencil sharpener like what she remembered from grade school – the kind that had a rubber bottom and a lever so you could “seal” it to the flat surface.  One dollar – it was marked.  And the wall map of the continental united states rolled up next to it was only a quarter.  “What are the odds of that?” she thought.  She found Grady and rambled around behind her, keeping her finds well in sight of whomever might be in charge of sales.  She didn’t know why, but she always felt worried about that – like someone was going to run after her and firmly say, “Excuse me – but you have to pay for that.”  She’d had people crowd around her half naked body with flashlights before, but somehow this scenario seemed even more mortifying than that.  Ironic.”Look at this.  I love this…” Grady said.  She motioned to a appalling rendition of an upturned hand.  The sculpture was done in white mortar or plaster and was grossly disproportionate.  She didn’t respond, didn’t make a face.  “Only I think it would be nice if it were your hand.”  Grady smiled sweetly and reached to stroke her arm.  A wave of emotion rolled from Malone’s gut and prickled the hair on her head.  Damn, she loved this woman.

What I’m Reading and Why, v2

Writers have to read.  It’s not a chore.   Chef’s taste food; athletes watch footage of other athletes; cars get waxed.

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell

It occurs to me as a writer with a full time job that short stories may be the way to start.  I was fearful after I read a preface by Stephen King in one of his short story collections (“Until Sunset” I think).  He said short stories are a totally different creature than books and left me with the impression that it would be hard to break out of one mold (that of a short story writer) to become another (author of a novel).  So I delayed, dabbled, delayed some more.  Then I started reading this book.

I didn’t realize it was a collection of short stories when I started.  It may be possible that the stories will overlap somehow as I read more.  I’m less than half way through this book and so thrilled at the way it allows the author to flex more than one writing muscle.  The first story tells of a pair of girls who live in swamp lands and have been left alone for a time.  I could state its storyline follows that of the children of Alligator wrestlers but that wouldn’t even cover it.  Besides, you’d miss out on the sister’s jaw dropping relationship with the ghost/demon, and then might abandon it altogether for fear it’s a paranormal story when, in fact, it is not.  My favorite story tells of a camp for youth who suffer from a myriad of sleep disorders (some that will make you want to google them to see if they are indeed real).  I could state that the campers must band together to solve the mystery of a serial sheep killer, but you’d probably mistake that to mean this is full of cliches and a “cute” story.  It is not on either of those counts.

My point here, and I do have one, is how lovely it feels to dip my feet in, and even at ankle deep, this author has shown me how refreshing it can be to shift gears, change paradigms, and even genres, all within the same book.  My fear erased, I will honor the summer and start writing some shorts!  While I’m at it, I’m definitely adding some of her other books to my reading list: Vampires in the Lemon Grove, Swamplandia, and Sleep Donation.

 

Writing Mysteries

by Sue Grafton (Editor), Michael Connelly, Tess Gerritsen, Tony Hillerman, Sara Paretsky, Fay Kellerman, Ann Rule, Linda Fairstein, Jonathan Kellerman, John Lutz, Nancy Pickard, Jan Burke, Barry Zeman, Lawrence Block, Laurie R. King, Margaret Maron, Loren D. Estleman

WritingMysteriesCoverI know what you’re thinking – “Who are these people and why should I care?”  If you’re a mystery writer and this is, indeed, what you were thinking, you might want to consider writing for dairy ads.

Yes, it’s true!  In just one book you can have the mentoring of all those mystery writers.  Sue Grafton edited it and each chapter speaks to a different aspect of the genre.  I’m reading this book because, to not read it and go on writing mysteries would be like the child who pulls away from his parent and says, “No!  I can cut my own food!” and then progresses to let fly everything on the plate.  My favorite sections so far have been Faye and Jonathan Kellerman’s piece on research and Julie Smith’s on “Background, Location, and Setting.”

I hope you’re listening – mystery writers – this book has it all.  From dialogue and perspectives to short story mysteries and YA, you’ll find some inspiration or new information here.  The only thing better than reading this book would be to sit in my writing tank while listening to this as an audio book being read by each of the contributors.  Wait.  Is that too creepy?  Did I cross a line?  #authorgroupie

 

Neighborhood Watch (series) 6

6

I watched Tom Nelson draw a timeline on a yellowed dry-erase board at the little town Sheriff’s office.  His brown and tan uniform hung off his frame and wondered how much pestering his wife Janet gave him about it.  The room had one window, next to the door, and the drapes testified of days when people sewed their own things and practical was more important than pretty.  They hung, tired and stained, fastened in the middle by a couple wooden clothespins to keep curious onlookers at bay.  The walls bore old paint, slightly discolored above the ancient baseboard heaters that worked only part of the time nowadays.  Jack and his brother Jarod had begun plans to put a propane heater in the   collection of rooms that comprised the office, in the only noticeable “city” building in town.  They called it “Town Hall” but it looked more like a workshop.

A single desk faced the door, as if it lead the “pack” of desks strewn across the rest of the front room willy-nilly.  Each desk had it’s own personality, some with metal frames, some wooden, all with somewhat neat surfaces with the exception of the occasional abandoned soda can or water bottle.  The place smelled like aftershave and roast beef.  “Hen, you got anything for my stomach?  That pizza was good but I have a bad case of heartburn,” I said, as my pal returned from changing in the one, closet-sized bathroom.

“Nah, left my purse at home.”

“Very funny, smartass.  We’ll see who’s still laughing when the cheese kicks in.”

“I forget your lactose issues,” she remarked and leaned on the desk belonging to the chair I’d taken.

Tom was still filling in the pieces we knew on the board.  Jack had run home to kiss his kids goodnight and tell his wife he’d be late.  After the smalltalk and sarcasm we’d used to escape the moment’s severity passed, I picked at an old piece of scotch tape on the desk and asked her, “You got any ideas?”

“Nope.  Not until Jack gets back kiddo.  He said you’d poke before he got back.”

“Honestly Hen, I’m just trying to wrap my head around it right now.  I can’t find an angle.  I’m in on this regardless of how long it takes Jack to grant me his permission,” I added air quotes as I glanced up at her, “I’ll wait till he gets this started.  I’m just trying to get rid of this nasty feeling inside.”

“I can imagine it must have been so heart breaking – the drive down with him.”  She looked over at Tom to make sure he was still writing and leaned in conspiratorially.  “It wasn’t very roses what we saw up here either.”  She hooked the chair with her foot from the nearest desk, rolled it over and sat down.  “I know what you’re saying, though.  Feels like we’re all of one mind to get this bastard though.  Between the four of us I think we’re the best shot for finding him.”

Hen raised her chin in acknowledgement as Jack came through the door and locked it behind him.  He cupped his hands over his nose and mouth and steamed up his glasses as he tried warming his hands and nose.  “Startin’ to get cold out there,” he said, glancing at the proximity of Hen and I, making eye contact with her, and turning toward the board satisfied his instructions to keep me from jumping in had been followed.  “Tom, you’ll want to leave room on the right for whatever we find once the vehicle is tracked down.”

Tom picked up the eraser and made some adjustments to the evidence board, took a step back and capped his marker after studying it once more.  “Think we’re ready boss.”

Jack nodded at Hen, who grabbed a folder from the desk closest to the board and began fixing pictures with magnets strategically around the board.  “Sneaky,” I said to myself as I quickly jumped up and repositioned for a better view.  We all four stood in a semi-circle facing the recreated scene – the eery scene at the trailer where the little boy would probably never live again.

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Neighborhood Watch (series) 5

5

Percussion cap muzzle loader

Jack didn’t talk about his sister much anymore.  I had met Grady when a case I was working on had brought me to Fingerbone for the first time.  She’d won me over but hadn’t been able to drag me back to her hometown for good … until she’d disappeared and I’d come looking for her.  Jack and I had finally found her near  Rhodes creek (her favorite fishing spot), with a .50 Caliber Maxi-Hunter Bullet in her brain.  It had been open season for muzzleloading rifles, which required hunters to be closer than usual for accuracy.  This meant mistakes were unlikely unless they involved dinged up trees or tracking a wounded animal for miles.  We’d closed the case.  But closure had never come for Jack and I.  We missed her.

So it was odd that he chose this particular moment to bring her up.  He was always careful with her memory, especially around me.  This case must really have him worried for him to drop his guard.

“You only say that when you know I’m right you have to begrudgingly agree with me.  You forget I know you pretty well by now, Jack.  Damn, that pepperoni smells good.  Just one piece, I’m starvin’ here.  I had an IV in my arm no less than six hours ago and the doc said I should eat, remember?”

“Alright, pass me a piece too.  It’ll be cold by time we get back up there anyway.  Hen will understand.”

We were taking pizza up the treacherous roads to the “hilltop” community of Fingerbone, “Population 599 people, and one grouch.”  Every year the small community of Fingerbone had “Gold Rush Days,” complete with parade (mostly people on their four-wheelers), bake sale, and fishing contest.  The month prior a handful of residents would be nominated for town “grouch” and they’d have to run (like politicians).  At the beginning of the Gold Rush Days parade, the winner would be announced.  That was during the day.

At night it was a free-for-all when most the townsfolk, anxious for blowing off the steam of economic depression and unemployment, would drink themselves stupid and dance in the streets.  The morning after always found the main street resplendent with every color of beer can, bottles, and whatever food was left on crumpled up paper plates after foraging animals had feasted.  But a small contingency of people would get up early that morning and bag all the trash, sweep main street and the sidewalks, and make it all look nice again.  That was the great thing about Fingerbone – not many people, but they all stuck together.

I’d listened to Hen complain about one of the guys in the bar one night.  “He’s the lowest form  of life in the universe.  Janet finally got her mind right and divorced him.  I just can’t believe gals in this town are desperate or stupid enough to fall for his crap!”

“Isn’t he the dude that fixed your generator last winter?”

“So?”

“Well he must not be as evil as you’re making him out to be then, right?”

“Are you serious?  You think just because someone does something nice that makes them nice?  Who do you think is going to haul your butt out of the ditch when that golf cart you’re calling a vehicle slides off the road next winter?  I’ll tell ya’.  It’s gonna be any-old-body that sees ya’.  Don’t matter if they’s all in a hurry to go sell some meth or gotta go slap around their wife … we are all just what we are up here and we do for each other.  We might hate this one or that one, but we are smart enough to know that when the chips are down, we’re all we got.  The preacher might be the one who’s gonna get you to work on time if your car breaks down; and he might need you to find loan him a cup o’ sugar for those brownies he’s making for Sunday dinner.  He don’t care that you’re, misterly with the sisterly, you just need to get to work – just like he may need some sugar.”

I had laughed so hard that night.  Looking back now, I felt bad.  I had lived in Jack’s rent house for nearly two years.  I hadn’t ever said much to those folks or to the little boy for that matter.  Other than “Watch out you don’t hit my car with that ball please,”  I’d never even asked him his name.  What kind of a neighbor was I?  Guess I still didn’t fit into the hilltop culture.

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Neighborhood Watch (series) 4

4

My Sony digital recorder“You understand, I have to clear you before I can tell you anything more.  So Tom here will take you into one of the rooms and a couple of us will be in shortly to ask you some questions.”

There was no point in objecting.  He was absolutely right.  Jack knew I had nothing to do with this besides rushing to the child after the assault, and then flagging his vehicle down for help.   But he and his small staff, viewed by other departments as country bumpkins, would have their methods scrutinized more than others.  If he wanted to solve this case and see justice done, he’d have to do everything by-the-book.

I followed the officer into an interrogation room that looked nothing like the television renditions.  A heavy wooden desk, reminiscent of my elementary school days, sat in the middle of the small office setting.  There were empty shelves to the right, and I shuffled sideways between them and edge of the desk to sit in the chair facing the door.  The wall opposite the shelves was covered, from corner to corner, with file cabinets and an even smaller space to squeeze through.  As I sat in the squeaky roller chair, I took a deep breath to chase away the nagging sense of claustrophobia I was feeling.  Across from me, on the “business” side of the desk, a faux leather chair faced me.  Tom brought in a second chair, smaller but of similar style, and placed it next to the other.  He smiled and excused himself.

Ten minutes later, Jack and a detective I didn’t recognize entered and sat down.  I leaned forward, my chair squeaking as I  scooted it back a bit, and planted my forearms on the desk. I noticed their chairs were completely silent as they made themselves comfortable.

The detective placed a tape recorder on the table.  His finger poised on the record button as if preparing to pull a trigger, he focused on me and asked, “You’re familiar with this, yes?  I understand you are a detective.  I’m going to hit record now if you’re cool with that?”  His tone was less about seeking my permission and more about an established protocol.  I nodded and the red light glowed on the little machine.  He stated the date and he and Jack’s name, title, and badge number – never taking his eyes off me.  “Please state slowly and clearly into the recorder your full name, date of birth, address for your home of record, and a phone number where you most commonly be reached.”

“Legal name Molly Malone. Born June 23, 1984.  I live at 271 W 3rd Street, Fingerbone, Idaho.  Cell Phone number 409-435-3242.”  The detective wrote down the information as I spoke, even though he was recording it.  It was a common interrogation practice.  I knew he would start by asking some questions I’d be certain of the answers, and that anyone would be comfortable answering regardless of their guilt or innocence.    They would then observe the subject’s body language and demeanor, the speed of their answer, the direction they looked … and would use these as a baseline for gauging a person’s truthfulness later on in the interview.  If the interrogator was really good, they could identify micro expressions commonly associated with dishonesty, fear, or other aspects that could help answer questions left unspoken.

The detective continued.  “Are you married?”  Interesting.  Not even one minute into my interview and I was already enjoying some observations of my own.  I could tell by the way Jack tensed his jaw for a millisecond that the question made him uncomfortable.  I assumed he was nervous about what the detective’s reaction would be when he got around to what Jack perceived as “outing” me.

“No.”

“Have you ever been married?”

“No.”

“Do you have children?”

“No.”

“Are your parents still alive?”

“Yes.”

“Where do they live?”  He was keeping the introduction to this process simple, asking only one question at a time to give me a false sense of comfort or security.  When he started in on the important questions, he would turn up the heat and throw them at me two or more at a time.  Cranking up the intensity as the interview progressed was classic methodology and this guy wasn’t impressing me with anything innovative.

We progressed through the ages of my folks, the state of our relationship, and to Jack’s pleasant surprise (I’m sure), this guy never asked me about my orientation or whether I’d ever killed anyone.  This guy was not the sharpest tool in the shed.   If I had any part of this thing, I’m certain he would have missed it.  He then followed protocol and had me dictate a timeline of my whereabouts for the past two days up to the present.  He discovered that I didn’t know my neighbors, not by name anyway.  The extent of our “relationship” had been me waving and smiling, according to standard social norms for that region, and getting the cold shoulder from “Ma and Pa Kettle.”

Of course, I didn’t tell him what I thought of their ridiculous front yard, it’s remnants of “Hee Haw” days gone-by.  Carcasses of sun faded, plastic “Big Wheels,” and long defunct “Sit-n-Spins,” cluttered the scene … along with old tires, cinder blocks, and the quintessential yard-car adorned with blue tarp.  I didn’t mention the various camouflaged clothing items (skivvies included) that were habitually hung on the clothesline for weeks because none of them could cart their lazy asses back out to take them down.

Eventually he hit on what he thought to be the key elements of his interview.  “Can you think of anyone that would want to see them gone or that would want to harm them in any way?”

“As I’ve said, I didn’t know them at all.  I don’t know any of my neighbors except for the people with the game processing business on the corner.  And even with them, I don’t spend time or talk with them much.”

And that was that.  He concluded that I was not a suspect and thanked me for my time.  Asked me to contact them if I have anything further that might help them with the investigation.  Walking out with Jack, I waited until we were out of the earshot of any of the regulars at this station.  “Jack, please tell me he’s not going to do the rest of your interviews in this case.”

“I’ll be handling the case personally; I just couldn’t question you myself after spreading the rumor that you’re helping us with the case and that I called you in.”

“Yeah, about that.  What do you see as the next move?”

“Malone, I only said that to keep you out of danger.  I can’t have someone outside the department messing with this.  Hen and the boys and I will get this thing done.  We’re not the “Barney Fife‘s” some people make us out to be.”

“I know that, Jack.  I don’t think that.  But you need my help.  There’s too few of you and you don’t want to bring these people down here in, if you can help it.  There’d be too many chiefs and the search would go south fast.  You know me; you trust me.  And though you don’t want to admit it, you need someone who can easily skirt the red tape.  You need that kind of speed on this case.  Jack – listen to me dammit.  I can’t tell you what went through my brain when I realized what that dirtbag did to this kid.  I won’t walk away from this, can’t walk away from this, even if you order me to.  I just have to DO something to make it all make sense … to put things back in order in the cosmos or something.”

He started shaking his head halfway through my protestations, as if the act would negate what was spewing at him.  He gripped his jaw, now scraggly with the long day’s growth (we’d been off the hill since the late morning and it was now nearly seven in the evening).  “I’ll think about it.”

“It’s not uncommon for private investigators to consult with police departments from time to time, Jack.  I think – ”

“I said I’ll think about it.  I will.  Now let’s go grab a few pizzas for the team and head back.  I got a long night still ahead.”

“Great.  You can finally fill me in on everything Hen found so far on the way back up.  Don’t look at me like that.  You’re thinking about it – I get it.  In the meantime it can’t hurt for you all to add my perspective on everything … until you are finished thinking about it, that is.”

“Sometimes I wonder what my sister ever saw in you.”

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Neighborhood Watch (series) 3

3

Intravenous IIt felt like someone was pushing ice water through my veins.  In fact, it was pretty close to that.  When I woke I was laid out on a gurney in a hallway.  A saline pack above my head was half empty, its tube draped over my shoulder and running parallel to my arm.  They must have stuck poorly the first time because the back of my hand was sore and I could see the small bruise that had formed when the needle nicked the vein, causing blood to form just under the skin.  The taped gauze where the saline drip entered my arm didn’t cover it entirely.  I knew from my lab tech days in the Army, they’d probably had to poke around to get it set up right.  I was irritated at the prospect of having my hand look like I’d lost track of a hammer while nailing a board for the next few days.

I could see through the double doors to the reception desk.  Jack was talking to a woman with one of those nose piercings that look like a diamond.  I could never understand how people with those things kept from sneezing all the time.  She was nodding and folding a piece of paper he’d handed her.  He turned around to point down the hall and noticed I was awake.  I saw his lips change course to form an “Oh, look,” and he waved and smiled.  His wave morphed into a “number one” as he mouthed “Just one minute,” and I nodded my understanding, then reassessed my hand.

I reached up and tightened the clamp, shutting off the drip.  Placing the tube between my teeth and making sure there was no slack in the tube leading to my hand, I gently tugged at one side of the tape.  Peeling it upwards, I anchored a finger just below where the needle ended under my skin.  I pressed down and pulled my hand away from the tube, then pushed the gauze back over the buise and taped it down again.  Getting off the stretcher was a bit more difficult, since someone had failed to lock the wheels when they’d parked me there.  Thankfully, I was able to stay perpendicular to the floor and roll my shirt sleeve back down as I approached the doors.

“… until we figure this case out, just to make sure he stays safe.  And I want a phone call immediately if anyone asks about him or comes to visit, okay?  Hey, what the hell do you think you’re doing?  I said we’d be with you in a minute; what’s the hurry?”

“I know,” I said, “but I feel better and I know a thing or two about phlebotomy.  No sense wasting a nurse or tech’s time to do all that when I can do it myself.”

Jack shook his head in disgust but decided to concede the battle.  “This is Sue Polanski from social services.  She’s going to make sure the boy is cared for and stays protected while we work the case.  Sue, this is Malone; she is the private detective I’ve asked to help that I was telling you about.”  As Sue shifted her focus from Jack to me and extended her hand, his eyes fluttered quickly to mine.  His head bobbed an inconspicuous nod as his eyes narrowed and spoke an urgent message of caution.  It was not necessary.  I had already taken his lead as he spoke the deception, and smiled at Sue with my no-nonsense professional look of confidence.

Sue smiled.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you Malone.  I’m sorry to hear about your little accident, but so glad to see you’re just fine now.”  Texas?  Maybe Oklahoma … I wasn’t sure.  I’m a sucker for Southern accents.  I made a mental note to quell my curiosity another time (perhaps over dinner) about why on earth she would leave warmer climates for the daunting winters up in these parts.

“Thanks.  I hadn’t eaten yet when Jack called and, in the rush, I think I just got a little light headed.  I appreciate the concern.”

With that, Jack grabbed a nurse and lead Sue to where the boy was being treated (the Intensive Care Unit, I assumed).  I signed myself out at the desk and grabbed a bag of chips and a soda from the vending machines.  I had devoured the chips by the time Jack returned and we headed to the station to file paperwork.

“Thanks for playing along back there.  I don’t know if the guy you saw is paying attention or not.  If he thinks there’s a witness, it could put you in trouble.”

“What makes you think he wouldn’t just run faster and get the hell out of Dodge?” I asked.  Kicking a kid like this scum had, it was certainly evil.  But it wasn’t the same kind of crime as taking out your enemies, one-by-one.  It didn’t seem to fit – Jack thinking this guy was that organized.

“Hen called while you were out.  She had to go get a couple of guys to help her process the inside of the trailer.  There’s no one alive inside.”  I studied his face as he turned the ignition.  My neurons still hadn’t pieced together his words when he turned and looked directly at me.  “Share what I’m telling you with NO ONE.  What I’m saying is …” he studied me as he spoke, “… there were three dead bodies inside.”

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Neighborhood Watch (series) 2

An 8% grade with no guardrails

2

He took a turn off the highway I’d never noticed.  It started out as a dirt road, smoothed and dustless, probably one of the locals had sprayed it with some diesel illegally.  After the third sharp turn the truck hit gravel and Jack slowed down a bit.  “It’ll get a little bumpy in a few minutes, but we’ll save some time and the kid looks like time is more important than comfort right now.”  He had read my face and I acknowledged his answer with a nod.

“What about the call for help?  Won’t they be looking for us on the highway?”

“Doubt it.  They never take our calls up here as very immediate priorities.  By the time they think about scrambling a life-flight and calling for landing possibilities, we’ll be off the hilltop and pretty close to the hospital.  Beats waiting helplessly.”

The truck hit a patch where the gravel had dissipated and a puddle shone through.  The bundle in my lap didn’t moan or register any disturbance.  I was afraid to even look at him for fear he’d be more pale then when last I checked. Earlier Jack had grabbed a blanket from behind my seat and thrown it over him.  “Keep him as warm as you can; somewhere in that little shell he’s got to be going through some shock.  We’ll get a little warm in here, but I’m turning on the heat to try and help him out.”

We rounded another corner and I saw why this way was shorter than the graded highway.  There were less switchbacks with a steeper grade between each, and a straight shot to gun an engine from turn to turn.  That’s exactly what he did.  s we’d approach a curve at near 80, Jack would tap the breaks gently until we had slowed for the switchback.  Then we rounded each corner at about 15 miles per hour to avoid careening off the edge where no guard rails or cement blocks stood between the truck and the town in the valley below.

“Wanna’ try to answer some questions for me?  I can wait until we get there if you want, but it may help take your mind off what we might find out.”

“The truck that drove away looked like his dad’s truck.  I’m pretty sure it was.”  I almost whispered it in case the boy could hear, as if he wouldn’t have known or out of some sort of motherly protection mode.

“Did you see him?  Tell me what you saw.”

I relayed the story to him as best I could.  I told him about the man grabbing his shoe from the boy’s gut and putting it back on, then driving off.  I shared my frustration and hatred for the boy’s family in the little single-wide trailer, after I had kicked the door repeatedly and no one had answered my frantic shouts.  “I didn’t actually see the man’s face, but it didn’t look like the guy I’ve seen pick him up before.”

“But you recognized the truck?  Can you be sure it was the same truck?”

“Unless someone else got the window tint from somewhere that looks like they use purple cellophane to wrap the glass? Has a ‘Welcome to Fingerbone. Now take your wolf and go home,’ bumper sticker on the driver’s side cab window? I’m pretty sure it’s the same one.”

I could see his brow wrinkle as he processed what I had told him.  “Did you hear any noise from inside the trailer?  Anything at all?”

“The TV was on and it was loud, so I’m not sure.  I heard what sounded like a car chase, wheels screeching – that kind of thing.  I figure that was on the TV.  I know it must have been, because I could see the light of the TV on the window pane they have in the front, right next to the door.  I couldn’t make out anyone in there from that view.  And I didn’t, you know, feel the thing vibrate or move like someone was walking or anything.”

“But the kid came from inside to the truck, right?”

“I don’t know.  I didn’t even pay attention until I head him …”
My ears teared up at the memory again, and when I tried to keep the anger at bay, I only made it worse.  I cringed inside at what a frail, female mess I must look like to him.

Jack ignored it, whether out of professionalism or kindness, I didn’t know.  “So you didn’t see what direction the boy came from … or, wait!  Is it possible the boy could have gotten out of the truck?”

I remembered the open door, the driver’s open door.  What would the kid be doing over by the driver’s door?  If he’d come from the trailer to get in his dad’s truck, wouldn’t he have gone to the passenger side?  What was he doing on the street side, by the driver’s door?  I shared this with Jack.

“It leaves more questions to be answered, sure.  Just remember, every question is also an answer to something that could get us closer to the truth.  I’ll call Hen and get her to make some calls after she gets back from the trailer.”

He had called his other Deputy after we left the highway for the Lower Ford’s Creek shortcut.  Fat, grey Hen was my friend.  We’d gotten to know each other shortly after I’d moved to Fingerbone and hit it off right away.  Nicknamed “Hen” for her mother hen appearance, her real name was Darling.  She preferred Hen and I could understand why in a place where the only single men were either rugged (and usually drunk) loggers or scraggly meth heads.

We’d become instant best friends based solely on our inability and lack of interest in fitting in on the hilltop.  She was large and loud, unlike the pretty but mostly timid housewives or the quite but articulate artisans.  Most of the women steered clear of her because of her brash, tell-it-like-she-saw-it attitude.  They steered clear of me in case being a lesbian was contagious.  Hen teased me often about being overly concerned with this stigma.  I teased her for having a head full of silver hair at the young age of 38.

The doors of the ER opened and three people came racing toward the truck.  Jack hadn’t let off the horn from the instant he’d turned into the hospital and which had probably been the first clue something was up.  I let the first one cradle the boy out of my arms as Jack filled them in non-stop with as many details as he found pertinent.  Before I could even speak they had whisked him away and out of sight.  Jack had to help me out of the truck; I hadn’t realized the effort I’d put into tensing up and relaxing the whole way in an attempt to ease the bumpy ride for the boy’s little frame.  My body felt like I’d been hit with a Mack truck.

“Let’s get them as much information as they need and wait for the social worker to get here.  I’ll see what Hen has found at his place and we’ll head to the office to get the report filed.  Are you hungry?  We can grab something from the cafeteria here while we do this.  It’s pretty bland, but it’ll save time and I have a feeling we need to make every second count, OK?”

“Yeah,” I said.  Then I fainted in his arms.

<<Read the 1st episode HERE

                                      Read the next episode HERE>>

Neighborhood Watch (series) 1

1

It wasn’t that I didn’t care.  I was conditioned.  How many times do you recall hearing a dog yelping?  If we stopped what we were doing every time we heard a dog squeal or yelp, I mean do I really have to go there with this explanation?  Science fiction and ghostly cognition scenarios aside, there was something in the air that slapped the inside of my skull after the noise had already gone through my filter and factored into the “ignore” section.  I can’t explain what made me suddenly grab the bungee cord attached to that dog’s cry of pain as it plunged into oblivion and out of my memory banks.  That scene from King’s book came into mind with urgency.  It was that one from Dead Zone where the guy everyone thinks is okay just sinks into creepy, black evil and kicks a dog to death.  I turned my head toward the window.  It wasn’t a dog that had made that sound.

The neighbor (kind of a misnomer for a person who simply lives near you but isn’t “neighborly” at all) across the street had a visitor.  A blue GMC truck, the kind they came out with the year their SUVs made me think of hightop tennis shoes, had pulled up to the curb.  I’d seen this before.  Shared custody meant that a guy came and picked up his “50% son” every other week in his ugly blue, poor excuse for a truck with the cheap tinted windows.  The little kid I always see picking his nose and playing on the hillbilly trampoline in the front yard was currently wrapped around a shoe by the driver’s open door.  Looked like the shoe had come off the man when the poor little guy had tensed in shock and pain as the toe made a deep indention in his gut and part of his chest.

My right hand dropped my coffee and and as the ceramic mug shattered on the tile floor, my left hand reached out and slapped the window.  I simultaneously rose from my chair as a foreign language of murderous intent and disbelief grew from my throat.  The driver didn’t hear me yet.  This was obvious because he calmly looked over at the boy’s house and, upon noticing that no one was at the door or looking out after the boy’s welfare, calmly bent over and removed the shoe from the boy’s clutches.  He was careful not to touch the boy I noticed as I rushed from the window to the nearest door.  I lost sight of the driver while fumbling with the damn sliding glass door lock, and tore my shirt as I stormed out before the thick door panel slid all the way open.

I leapt off my front deck into the yard and ran to the boy as the truck sped out of view.  Through my tears I could see that the boy was unconscious – or maybe dead, I couldn’t tell.  I yelled at his front door, angry that someone hadn’t come out yet.  There was no movement, only the pulsing blue light of a television occasionally dancing on the front windowpane.  I gently scooped the boy out of the street and cradled him as I ran to the door and kicked it frantically.  No one answered.  I didn’t have time for this.

“Hold on, little one.  Gonna’ get you some help, sweetie.”

I couldn’t stop the tears of anger and sadness pouring from my face.  I ran with him into the street and yelled at the pickup that was headed toward us.  Jack Mitchell leaned over and pushed open the passenger door.  “What the hell…”

“Jack he needs help.  Someone just kicked him hard and he isn’t moving.  I can’t get anyone to come out of the house.”  I pulled myself into the truck with my little ward still tucked into the crook of my right arm.  Jack didn’t blink, reaching over and pulling the door shut, he grabbed the satellite phone he carried in his truck, hit some buttons, and propped it between his shoulder and cheek as he shifted the truck into gear and spun the tires into movement.  When we turned onto the highway, he yelled over the engine into the phone as his hand left the gearstick and pushed the thing closer to his voice.  “This is Deputy Sheriff Mitchell over in Fingerbone.  I’m driving a white diesel Chevy Silverado headed South on highway 8.  I have a fatally injured child who needs immediate medical attention.  Do you understand?”

Jack Mitchell was the head police officer in our little rural area.  It wasn’t coincidence that he was driving along this road when this happened.  He was my landlord and was probably headed over to fix my heater before the harsh winter hit.  He also owned his own construction company.  Most people up here had two or three jobs in order to pay the bills.  Some did it to live more comfortably.  I think Jack did it because he couldn’t be still.  We were 45 minutes from an emergency room and, for the kind of attention the limp little boy in my lap would probably need, we may as well have been at the North Pole.  I buckled us both in and prayed for a miracle.

Find out what happens next>>

Vantage Point 2

Carting around the catch all day was bad enough; it seemed the smell never left her nostrils fully after there were no more buyers in the streets.  This was only intensified by the oils and other fluids that remained after the fish were sold or returned to the market.  Molly used the lye soap and tried lemon juice, wincing at the sting as it seeped into the cuts and cracks.  Her hands smelled so badly of fish, she sometimes soaked them in vanilla liquor or wood alcohol, other times in pickle vinegar, in an attempt to get rid of the stench. Continue reading

Vantage Point

He’d been washing his flatbed trailer full of four-wheelers for over two hours.  The sound of high powered spray on fiberglass was driving her mad.  Besides, it had rained on and off all day long.  What the hell was wrong with this guy?  She leaned out the window, stretched just enough to see around the tree that blocked her view, and donned her best, “Forget to take your meds this morning, Mr?” face.  No effect. Continue reading