Island Girl (Part 4) Mystery/Romance

The dim light of day blackened under a bruised sky. Clouds swirled and clashed, rumbling the heavens. He sat at the kitchen table and slowly shuffled a deck of cards in the soft light from a kerosene lamp. She emerged from the bedroom, wearing his loose fitting clothes and holding another lamp. She sat down across from him, placing the lamp between them. She looked softer, more approachable, in the dim light. Almost cuddly, he thought, wearing the extra-large clothing.

 “Do you play?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know if you play cards?”

“What game?”

“How about Tell?”

“I don’t know that game.”

“It’s easy.” He placed the deck in front of her. “Deal.”

“How many?”

“As many as you want?”

“That’s a weird way to start.”

“There are no rules to this game.” They stared into each other’s eyes for moment. He smiled, daring the butterflies in his stomach to take flight.

“I’ll take as many as I can get, then,” she said.

“Good choice.”

She picked up the cards and dealt the entire deck. “This is like War,” she said.

“How so?”

“Dealing the whole deck.”

He gathered his cards and said, “We throw down the cards one at a time. You can throw them down from anywhere in your hand. But, you can’t change your throw.”

She turned over her top card, revealing the jack of hearts, then threw it down. He threw down the ace of spades. “I win,” he said. “Now, you must tell me something about yourself. Something I don’t know already, which is almost everything.”

“I just tell you something, you don’t ask?”

“No, that would be truth or dare, wouldn’t it?”

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t either.” He gently tapped her wrist. “Tell.”

She sat back, pulling her hand away from his, thinking of something to say, then leaned forward. “I was born in another state.”

“That’s too vague.”

“I was born…” She placed a finger to her forehead and said, “In a place far from here.”

“Still too vague, but I’ll let it pass.”

He threw down his top card, the jack of spades. She threw down the ten of hearts.

“You win again. Are you going to win all the hands? I bet you are. I bet these cards are rigged.”

“You dealt them.”

“But you shuffled them.”

They stared at each other. The wind slapped the side of the cottage and she turned toward the rattling windows. Heavy rain pummeled the tin roof. Shadow silhouettes came in through the windows and danced across the floor, looking like animals invading the house. “Storm’s peaking now,” he said. “It will calm down soon.” He took her deck and pulled a card from the middle of the pile. It was two of clubs. He pulled another card from the deck, four of clubs. Finally, he pulled the ace of hearts from her deck. “There, you see? You have an ace.”

“Now, you tell me something,” she said.

“All right. I was born here, on this island.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“It’s true. I was born here during a bad storm, just like tonight. My parents were here for the day, but got stuck in the squall. In the middle of the night, my mother went into labor and had me right here, on this table. I was a week early.”

She leaned back and laughed. “This table?”

“I swear.” He held up a hand and they laughed.

She ran her fingers along the top of the table, feeling the raw edges of the wood. “You know what I think? I think you cheat at this game, and I think you lie”.

He stared at her, not liking being called a liar, then smiled. “Your turn.”

“Okay. All right. Let’s play,” she said, shuffling her hand.

“You know you can’t re-shuffle. Once it’s set, that’s it.”

“You cheat. I cheat. It’s the rule. Rule number one.”

“Oh, is it now?” he asked. “Go ahead, throw down.”

She tossed a card from the bottom of the deck. It was the queen of clubs. He tossed the king of clubs. She took a deep breath and looked up at the celling in exasperation. The wind threw rain loudly across the roof, seeming to reflect her response.

“Tell me something good, this time. Something I want to know,” he said. “Like, your name.”

A small tree branch hit against the side of the cottage. The slight pink hue drained from her cheeks. She got up and looked out the window. After a few moments, she turned to him and said, “They’ll be coming for me soon.”

“Will they?”

“Yes.”

“Who’s coming?”

“I can’t tell.”

“Can’t or won’t? I deserve to know what’s going on.”

“You’ll know. You’ll know when they come.” She walked to the fireplace and sat on the sofa. He shuffled the cards a few more times. “I’m playing as your proxy. You’re getting your ass kicked. Tell me your name.”

“Jane.”

He smiled. “Jane. Jane what?”

“Just plain Jane.”

“Plain Jane, from Pudden Tane?”

“Yes, that’s right. I was born here, on the kitchen table.”

 “Tell me Jane, who’s coming for you, should I be worried?” Rain gusts rattled the large windows on the windward side of the house. Gusts pelted the tin roof more loudly than before. “Is it the boogeyman? Should I be afraid?”

She looked at the ceiling.

“It’s the roof,” he said, raising his voice over the din. “It’s tin.”

She walked back to the kitchen table, took the cards from his hand, and threw down the joker.

“What does that mean?” She asked.

“It means you lose. You have to tell me your story, who you are, everything. I’m afraid I’m headed for trouble having you here, with people coming to get you. I want to know what’s coming.”

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“That’s right, you don’t know, do you? Well, we have that in common, Jane.”

“Look, I don’t remember my name, or anything else, is that so hard for you to understand?”

“I’m a little thick. He’s thick-headed, they used to say about me.” He stood up. “They called me Rocky because of it. My head’s like granite.”

“I can’t say.”

“Why? Why can’t you?”

A thunder clap shook the hill. Lightening lit up the sky. The trees surrounding the cottage swayed violently. She ran into his arms, resting her head on his chest, and sobbed. He gently patted her back. “It’s okay. You’re all right. You’re safe here.”

“Help me,” she said, softly, and buried her head into his chest. They stood like that for a while, until she stopped shaking, then he pulled himself away from her, and held her in front of him. She looked down at the floor.

“I won’t let anyone hurt you, if that’s what you mean. Not in my home.”

“It won’t matter. They’ll come and…” She looked up suddenly, as if remembering something, then backed away from him.

“What?” he asked.

Another violent thunderclap rattled the cottage. She backed away further, looking frighteningly up at the skylight, as if somehow the lightning would illuminate her through the glass, and give away her secrets. After the rumbling thunder sounded, she walked slowly to the sofa, her hands clasped in front of her chest. She laid down and buried her head in the pillow.

Growing exasperated, he walked over and stood in front of the fire. They listened to the storm and the wind. After a few minutes, she looked up from the pillow.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“That’s a tough way to be. Nervous like that. You should relax.”

She smiled. “I’ll try.”

“Good.” They watched the fire for a few minutes, then he said, “I’ll make up the couch. You can stay in the bedroom for the night.”

“No, I want to stay near the fire.”

“Okay, if that’s what you want, but the sofa’s not very comfortable after a while. The cushions are old and – ”

“No, this is good. I’ll be good, here.”

He looked at the decanter of whiskey on the mantelpiece and said, “Do you want a drink?” She stared at him, but said nothing. “There’s whiskey, if you want.”

 “Do you want some?” she asked.

There was nothing he wanted more than to pour himself a glass of the aged Kentucky Bourbon. He wanted to smell it, to see it pour over ice and savor its cool bite. He wanted its warmth in is belly, the gentle fire that ran through his guts and calmed him, the fast lift of the alcohol running through him and making his blood hot, energized and crazy. Right now, those old feelings felt fresh and exciting, wrapped in fancy new paper and sitting in a box under the tree. He thought of how after having a few, the whiskey would start to go down like water, and he’d go into a blackout and say and do things, and not remember most of what happened, and regret it all the next day. Then he remembered the puking, the pain in his gut, the hangover headaches and dizziness, his injured and sore body, and not being able to walk a straight line. How his words would come out so slurred, he’d have to think of them as he spoke. He didn’t miss the hangover or waking up in the strange doorways, or the doctors, with their curt manners, telling him he was killing himself, but he liked having the whiskey near, and looking at it in the fine decanter.

“It’s for guests,” he said, and turned and walked to the bedroom to get blankets and sheets.

     After they made up the couch, they locked eyes for a moment and his stomach turned over again. He thought of what it would be like to be with her, then pushed it out of his mind. She smiled, but he couldn’t bring himself to smile back.

“I hope you’re comfortable,” he said.

“I’ll hang my clothes in front of the fire, if that’s all right. They should be dry by morning.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Good idea.”

The wind died down, and a steady rain tapped on the roof. The only illumination came from the fireplace, and a kerosene lamp by the sofa. In the kitchen, he took the other lamp and walked into the bedroom. He turned and looked in her direction, but saw only the couch where she lay, and beyond that the clothes hanging from the fireplace screen. He wondered what time it was. It felt very late, but he sensed that it was still relatively early. It didn’t matter. They were both tired.

“Good night,” he said.

“Good night,” she answered, her small voice barely audible.

He turned and shut the door.

2

Island Girl (part 3) A mystery Romance

He laid down, half expecting his daughter to stand next to him and touch her fingers to his eyelids the way she so often did when he napped and wanted to wake him. Her light brown hair was so very fine, he used to tell her, because the angles had found it on the breath of whispers in God’s ear, and they’d snatched it away as it fell from heaven and weaved it onto her head. She’d hold her head in her hands and in a knowing, skeptical tone, scold him. “Daddy!” He’d touch her nose with a finger and hold her close, and they’d sit quietly for a few seconds, then he’d catch her eye and wink, and smile at her and her blue eyes would grow huge for a second and she’d beam at him, taking in a deep breath and releasing it with a sigh. Her small fingers were perfectly formed, but slightly pudgy, as she held them over his eyes, and he’d quickly snap at them, pretending to bite her hand, and they’d laugh. But she did not come to wake him. She would never come again. The pain of that realization sat upon his sternum like a dead weight, a rock pressing against his heart, unable to be dislodged. He crossed his hands over his chest and fell into a deep sleep.

     She stood at the end of the sofa, gazing into the fire. The youthfulness of her face was illuminated in yellow and orange hues. He watched her for a moment, not completely sure he wasn’t dreaming. The fire popped and an errant piece of char hit the fire screen. Startled, she turned to him and he smiled. They locked eyes for a second, her opal-light irises instantly captivating. Her hair and clothes were soaked and she dripped water onto the floor.

“You decided not to leave, then?” he said.

“It’s raining.”

“I noticed.” He sat up. The wind and rain buffeted the cottage, making the fire feel all the more pleasant. She stared at the burning wood and said nothing. He got up slowly, watching her and the fire, then went to the kitchen and poured water into a glass and brought it to her. “How’s your headache?” he asked.  She took the glass and sipped, but said nothing. “I have a shortwave radio,” he said. “Cell phones are spotty, and may not work. Is there someone we need to call?”

She walked to the kitchen and placed the empty glass on the counter, then sat in the old, creaky chair at the head of the table and stared down at her clasped hands. She shivered from the cold. He saw she was dripping water onto his chair and floor. “I have some dry things you can wear,” he said, and walked into the bedroom. He lit a lamp, then opened his bureau and found a navy blue sweatshirt and pants and thick cotton socks. When he turned, he was surprised to find her standing in the doorway, staring at him. She had removed her sweatshirt and now wore only a tee shirt and skin tight, very wet jeans. The low backlight accentuated the curve of her hips, thighs and well-rounded calf muscles.  “I’ll leave these here.” He placed the clothes on his bed and turned to her. “You can change,” he started to say, but she was gone.

He found her looking out a kitchen window. Shrubs and trees wiped wildly in the squall. Rain pelted the cottage in violent waves. “I left the dry clothes in there for you. Feel free to…” She turned toward him, and her slight smile stopped him in mid-sentence. She was more beautiful than any woman he’d ever seen. A flutter grew in his stomach and for an instant, he felt tongue tied, something he’d never suffered before. Feeling momentarily inept in front of her, but quickly regaining his senses, he turned away from her gaze. “You can go in there,” he said, pointing at the bedroom. When he finally turned back to look, she was walking toward the room and quickly disappeared inside. “Bring the lamp out when you come,” he said.

Dreaming Wide Awake

Dreaming Wide Awake

Prologue

The dead steal my dreams. They come into my head and play pinball with my thoughts, my emotions, my very life. Pick a night, any night:

My heart pounds. I can barely make out the digits on my clock as they jump in a frantic dance. Are my eyes that dry? I can barely make out the numbers. My guess is four AM. The ringing in my ears is louder. I close my eyes and breathe deeply.  Cool air fills my lungs. I open my eyes, a dark spot, like an evil cloud in the shape of a man in a long robes hovers in front of me. As my eyes adjust, the dark man dissolves into shadows. My back is drenched in sweat. I shiver and wrap the sheets around my body. Another clawing death dream has shaken me to my core.

I turn on the bed-side lamp and grab a pen and look around for paper. I tear the cover off a magazine and take notes. It was dark. Outside, perhaps. In a park. The woman was in her late thirties. Dark shoulder length hair. Somebody was attacking her. Did I see a knife? A mugging? And her scream. The same bloody scream I’d heard in countless dreams. Just remembering it sends shivers down my back.

I sip water from the glass I keep by the bed for just such emergencies, and take another deep breath. My heart begins to slow. I lie back, saying aloud, “Please, Just make it stop….”

But in that clawing plea, the only thing I’d managed to make go away was my girlfriend of six months. She’d had enough of the nightly carnage, the fitful dreams, screaming in the night, pushing her out of bed. After almost strangling her in her sleep, she finally moved on. Because I couldn’t. I’d give up everything, all my measly possessions: my clothes, prized record collection, new computer, TV, bank account, everything I own, if only it would just stop.

Ripping through another person’s fate is exhausting. The violence is terrifying. I’ve seen people hit by cars, shot, crushed by busses…you get the idea.

My last case began with black sedan careening over the side of a bridge and falling a hundred feet into a raging river. Both occupants were killed. But that was my precognition. That was just a dream. They hadn’t died…yet. So, I sought out the victims and tried to warn them. But they wouldn’t listen. (Most my warnings often unheeded.) They were killed a week later in the exact same accident I saw in my dream. But, hey, who doesn’t have quirks? I’m a damn good detective.

Infinity 7

“Powerful and compelling, “Infinity 7″ by Charles R. Hinckley is a riveting psychological sci-fi adventure that readers won’t soon forget!  When suspicious communication comes from the Metis 3 Space Station requesting a team to investigate malfunctions and the possibility of alien life forms, astronaut and astrophysicist John Collins knows he is headed back to space.  Developer of the Metis Space Program, Collins has dedicated his professional career to this project, at great personal cost, and will do whatever it takes to keep the funding flowing for this research. Discovery of alien spores found in soil samples have been mishandled by Forrest, one of the techs, putting the entire station in danger of contamination.  Strange behavior from the crew and the mainframe computer system suggest alien forces have taken over as an entranced crew member is determined to destroy the space station.  Fighting hallucinations and madness caused by exposure to the spore toxins, John Collins is in for the fight of his life and the future of the earth.  This story is a fantastic read!  I really enjoyed the writing – Hinckley has a talent for creating vivid, colorful, life-like descriptions in every paragraph, and not a word is wasted. The plot-line is complex without being overwhelming; the various layers of the story are sophisticated and round out the entire story as a whole.    The author’s imagination seems limitless as the creativity displayed in the scenes and the settings compel the reader to plow through the pages…”

Twelve Bullets (Part two)

bank robbery

Robbery

There were two men at the door and one inside at a table set aside for ciphering. The man outside the bank nodded, signaling all clear, and Roscoe Hunter stepped up to the window. The teller was small man, wore glasses and a long handled mustache that hid his mouth when he talked.

“Yes sir, what can I do for you today? Would you like to open an account?”

“Why you say that?”

The teller looked startled for a second, his eyes darting from the man in front of him to the door and back again, then he smiled. “Well, I’ve never seen you before. I know all my customers.”

“Well, I’ll tell you what. I’m gonna promise I won’t kill you if’n you hand over all the money in that there cash drawer.”

The teller took two steps back, his eyes wide. Roscoe showed him the pistol.

Roscoe leaned in. “Now, easy there. No time for panic. Put you in a bad fix. You want yer bag’o bones without leaden pills, you bes’ start load’n that money.”

The teller nodded, wiped his mustache with the back of his hand and stepped up to the cash drawer.

“There’s only fifty-seven dollars, Mister.” His voice shook.

“Get the other drawer over yonder.” Roscoe pointed to his left, at second teller window.

“That station is closed sir, on account of it being noon. Lunch-time for the other teller, sir.”

Roscoe cocked the pistol. “Well then, go over there and get the money yer self.”

“I, I don’t have the key, sir.” The teller’s hands began to shake.

“Break it open or by God I’m gonna break yer head!” Roscoe rested the pistol on the counter, pointed at the teller.

The teller raised his voice and started acting strangely, hitting his leg with his left hand, his eyes rolling around in his head. ‘Yes, sir! Yes, sir! I’ll get you that cash right away, sir! Yes, sir.”

“Shut up, you.”

The teller twirled around, hitting his face and stomping his boots on the floor. “Yes, sir! I’ll do it! I’ll do it!”

Ben Farley, the fat Irishman who ran the bank, two-fisted a double-barrel shotgun and waddled out of his office to check on the commotion. Roscoe looked at him, and Farley looked at Roscoe. The pistol shot first, hitting Farley in the chest, causing him to pull the shotgun back and fire. The blast took out the front window of the bank and hit a horse tied up outside. The horse reared- up, broke loose the rail, and bolted down the street, buckshot holes seeping blood from its rump.

Roscoe jumped the fence to the second teller station, and shot the drawer twice, causing more screaming from the crazy teller. The three customers inside the bank were on the floor covering their heads in their hands. The draw was shot to splinters, but wouldn’t budge. Roscoe pried it open with the stolen Bowie knife. The teller continued to twirl in circles behind him, holding his ears and yelling something about brick-ovens and marmalade. Roscoe pushed him in the back. The teller squealed and keeled over like a dead fish.

Outside the bank, curious bystanders squawked at seeing real bank robbers. When the shotgun blast shattered the window and hit the horse, one bystander tried to stop it by jumping for the reins. A portion of the fence, still tied to the horse, hit him on the head, knocking him out cold middle of the street.

Roscoe and his boys jumped on their horses, hooting and hollering, and firing into the air.

To Be Cont’d…

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Island Girl

cabin

ONE

Sprawled at his bare feet, a green canvas bag holding captive two large lobsters. They scuttled about, armor clacking the skiff. He didn’t particularly like the taste. He loved being out on the boat, the feeling of floating on the tide, looking into the shallows, seeing crab and small fish roaming among the barnacled rocks. Pulling pots by hand and rowing was good exercise. He loved the smell of the bay, the shore at low tide, the complex aroma of living Earth.

The wind kicked up from the east as he maneuvered the skiff in toward shore. The island foliage tossed uneasily, fighting the stiff breeze. Choppy waves riled the skiff. He pulled the boat onshore and tied it down, when he saw her. Something out the corner of his eye. Just a splash of red, but the color was bright enough for him to realize it was not a natural color for the island. He thought for a moment he was seeing things from his imagination. The red of blood. The color he was sure covered his wife and daughter. The horror of imaging how they looked after the crash. His imagination often took him there, to that scene on the tarmac. The horror of it sinking into his bones, like cool water floating down in layers, to the bottom of his soul.

The crimson flashes moved inland, up beyond the tall grass on the hill, beyond the slink weed bushes on the rocky trail leading away from the cottage. He reached the trail head, but saw no more signs of her. A slight breeze rustled the bushes behind him. He started and turned quickly, scanning the bushes, the trees and grass beyond, but he saw nothing. A bird landed on a tree nearby and he smiled. His mind was playing tricks. His only visitor was a black bird with a red patch. Red winged black birds were uncommon on the island and probably the reason it caught his attention. Crows and seagulls ruled the rock. Just last night, a small murder of American crows appeared near the cottage, their loud cawing and iridescent feathers unmistakable in the craggy pines.

He lit the outdoor roasting fire. After he’d cooked and eaten the lobster, he sat, satiated, under the canopy of stars. Cool air wrapped around him like damp sheets. He sat on the hard flat rock, shaped like a stool, and stared into the fire. Clumps of smoky seaweed, still oozing dampness, wheezed and popped in the heat, and gave off sour smoke.

When the season was right, he’d roast corn on the cob with the lobster, but often he couldn’t finish the meals. His appetite would wane as he drifted into bad memories. The burial, the condolences, the sad offerings, the blur of black clothing, pale skin and muted whispers, and the sorrowful moans. The preacher’s caw echoing into incoherent rants. Words popping out, such as “life,” “death” and “meaning,” but his voice was more like the wind and rain and provided no comfort. Rituals. Other people’s thoughts held no meaning. Grief lived in his chest like a knot of angry crabs, the weight of it strangling and gnawing on the flesh of his heart, and because of it, his appetite was gone. He ate what little he could of the rich lobster meat and threw the rest back into the fire. He held a bottle of bourbon on his lap, running his fingers down the smooth glass. But, he knew he wouldn’t drink. Not at that moment, but soon maybe, and it would start all over again.

A twig snapped and he looked up. Just off the trail, someone standing in the shadows, but he tried not to stare. He held a smoldering twig in his hand and watched the glowing tip turn to ash, occasionally looking up and scanning the trees and bushes, trying to snatch a glimpse of the stranger. After seeing the outline of shoulder-length hair and just enough facial features to decipher them as feminine, he thought it might be a young woman. Thick hair, perhaps, covered the side of her face. He saw these things in dark outline, never catching any detail. And her footfall was light, not like a man. He was quietly amused by his silent watcher, and wondered if she was a perhaps a child, or a teenager who’d run away from home. Then he realized he should speak and see what kind of trouble she might bring. How could she be anything but trouble? “Come in out of the dark,” he said, placing the tip of the smoldering stick back into the fire. “I won’t bite you.” He sensed her there, standing still in the shadows. He resumed holding the burning stick, until the flame diminished into a small glowing point. There was no sound, other than the occasional breeze.

As night closed in around him and the air cooled, a chill covered him like a damp whisper, and he decided to go in. He stood and looked at the area where he’d last seen her outline and said, “I’m going in now. I’ll leave a blanket on the porch. It gets cold.” He stared into the blackness and laughed to himself for thinking it was somebody. If it had been a girl, she would have talked to him by now. And if she had talked to him and had come inside, what trouble would she bring? He didn’t need it. He was alone with his own troubles. That was enough, and they were all he could handle.

He went inside the cabin and built a fire. When the logs caught, and the flames licked a good size log, he pushed the sofa up close to the hearth and sat. If it was a girl out there, he thought, somebody would be looking for her. She could be a runaway or hiding from the law or bad men, a bad marriage. But these were just ideas. It had been a black bird with a red patch on its wings. Nothing more.

Time passed and heaviness woke him. He roused and checked the fire and found no flames.  The room was cold. He looked out the window toward the fire pit. There was nothing to see. He lit a kerosene lamp and went to the bedroom.

His shadow cast on the ceiling from the lamp, as he adjusted himself under the covers. His own dark outline brought to mind the crows outside the cottage. About two weeks earlier, they’d come and stayed the night in the pines, cawing and squawking into the early hours of the morning. A murder of crows, holding court. What had they said to each other? Had it had been an omen. The figure in shadows popped into his head. Perhaps it really was a girl. He turned down the lamp and pulled the cold covers up to his chin. He turned over, and a whisper came to him. A gentle tingle in his ear. He wasn’t sure what it said, but the voice was that of his wife. Perhaps she was standing beside him now, watching over him. He opened his eyes and saw nothing, then yawned and closed them again. He inhaled deeply and sighed out the words, “Goodnight, my love.”

To Be Cont’d…

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Twelve Bullets

 

CO_Adams_2012.0236-1

 

12 Bullets

 

That night he drew up near a large pine tree and sat with his back against it. He was too tired to start a fire, but knew he must. As he gathered dead leaves and straw in the area around him, he noticed a piece of broken glass. He held it up to the setting sun and saw it sparkle, a blue hue in the sunset. He thought about the time he’d loaded small rocks and glass into his musket, because he had no more balls to load but still had powder and wadding. The glass killed a boy up close. And he once again saw the face of the boy as he took the shot. His stomach turned over thinking about it. He put the glass in the small cartridge box on his belt, just in case he ran out of lead. The nine cartridges he carried were still intact and he was glad of it. The three load in his revolver made twelve. A dozen rounds to defend his life. He didn’t want to fully load his pistol for fear he’d waste one or two shots. Better to wait and load them if he had to.

The fire was small and smoky. He had nothing to eat but venison jerky, and he drank an extra swallow of water to stave off hunger pangs.

He thought about burying coals and sleeping on them, but the ground had too many pine needles and he worried it would burn him in the night. The wind had picked up at sunset, then died down just as the chill air began to descend from the hills. It was a wet air and soon he was sitting in fog. The yellow glow of the fire surrounded by fog.

A feeling on loneliness ran through him as he stared at the flames. The face of the boy he’d shot came to him, blood spattered, half torn by glass. Then, the many battles he’d been a part of raged in his head. Each memory, a small snippet of moving images, like galloping on the back of a spooked horse, speeding through his mind’s eye: Running through the lines at the battle at The Wilderness. Trees exploding with shot. Dead men lining the trail as he ran over them. Blood and gut-spattered trees.

He stood up and paced, wishing the images away. He held his hand on the sap covered bark of the pine and smelled the pitch on his hands. His fingers stuck together with the pine pitch, but the smell made it better, brought him out of his memories.

He stoked the fire, laid out his bedroll, then rested his head on a small sack stuffed with his extra clothes. He fell asleep seeing the boy’s face as he’d died, cold and lifeless. Then he dreamed of his yellow haired girl, Jilly. She was soft and gentle and had a straight smile. She stood in a brown grass field, in the summer sun. Her whispers caressed his parched lips.

Jilly wanted what he thought all pretty girls want. A good husband, a home and children. A man to come home and take care of the family after a hard day’s work. And he had a mind to give her just that. The thing he remembered most was her soft smell and the touch of smooth skin. Soft as butter, and smelled of something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. It calmed him, that smell. Her lips were the color of wine when you mixed it with water and held it up to drink. He’d lost her exactly three weeks and two days ago. His Jilly. She’d left town suddenly, and under mysterious circumstances. As far as he was concerned, she was kidnaped. Witnesses saw it. Bad men took her by force and rode west. He’d been on her trail ever since.

Holding his bedroll in his arms, her in his arms, he was finally able to doze off.

*** ***

That night, the Wolves came into camp. He couldn’t figure why they didn’t shoot him dead, but instead, they accepted his nervous invitation to chew some jerky. There was six of them. Bad men. He knew they were bad the minute they approached. Good men don’t come at you in waves, sending the kindest looking one first. Good men don’t scare you by the look in their eyes. Dead men reflected in those eyes.

It was the Tall Man who walked into camp first.

A shadow slowly came out of the foggy wood. A black mass. Then he stepped into the light, and Brett thought he was staring at Abraham Lincoln’s ghost. He wore the same long coat, top hat and beard, and had the same wrinkled, worn-out face.

The Tall Man removed his stove-top hat and held it in his hands, a dull twinkle in his eye. “Can you spare any food, mister? Been on the trail for a while.”

Brett held a hand on his revolver, but the Tall Man had a slow, kindly look about him, so he left it by the tree.

The Tall Man continued. “Yes sir, I seem to recall a time on the trail I helped a man and his son. They were half-near starved and cold as a block of ice in sawdust. I saw that in San Francisco. Big city. Ice in sawdust. Have you seen that type of ice, sir? They say it’s the coldest.”

There was a rustling in the bushes and a horse whinnied.

“Who’s that?” Brett asked.

Slowly the men appeared in the camp, legs spread apart, hands on their weapons.

“Just a few compadres. Drawn to the warmth of your fire. No anointing need be.”

A small man in buckskins stepped closer. “Shut your bone-box.”

The Tall Man bowed slightly and placed the hat upon his head. Brett wanted to reach for the revolver, but it was too late.

“That one there cuts the long bow. Pay no mind, neither.” The small man looked around the camp, like he was checking to see if anything was out of sorts. He nodded and said, “We got rum. What you got for trade?”

Brett said, “Not much.”

“What food you got?”

I got jerky. I’m just out of mystery bags. Ate the last for supper.”

“Month of Sundays since I ate a good jerky. What ‘er they?”

“Venison.”

“That’s a good taste. Mind if we join yah?”

The men walked into the light of the fire and Brett saw there was too many for it to end well for him. He held out the pouch of jerky. The Small Man took it and smiled, a nearly toothless grin. He chewed on a piece, grabbed two more and passed the bag to the Tall Man, who grabbed a fist full and passed it on. By the time they were done, there was nothing left and the bag was ripped out. Small Man handed the bag back and smiled. Brett noticed him staring at his cavalry hat by the tree.

“That’s tasty, right there. Got coffee?”

“Nope.”

“Beans?”

“Nope.”

“Well, then what else you got in that bread bag? Don’t want no hard-bread. Had enough of that to last.”

Brett frowned. “I’d be happy with some hard-bread. I was expecting that jerky to last me a while.”

“You got any shot?”

“Just for my own use.”

“Share some.”

“I need my shot.”

“I don’t give a fart what you need.” They stared at each other. Brett felt the blood rise in his face. “You need yer bag of bones healthy, yah?” A few of the men took a step forward. Brett slowly nodded. “Then we do this my way, the friendly way, or we break yer bones. Now, give me yer shot.”

Brett handed over his cartridge box. The Small Man counted the contents.

“Two, four, six, seven…nine. That’s it?”

Brett nodded. Small Man took Brett’s Spencer repeating rifle and slung it over his shoulder. “You got any coin?”

“No. And please don’t take my rifle.”

“Please? Search him, if you please!” Small Man laughed.

Tall Man grabbed Brett. Two others went through his clothes. They found the five silver dollars he’d saved and had stashed inside his breast pocket. Another two men searched the rest of his belongings. When they were done and had everything they wanted, they mounted their horses and rode away, not saying a word.

Brett stood by the fire and collected himself. They’d taken his Colt Bowie knife, his coin and his Spencer Repeating Rifle. He could kill them, one by one, and vowed to get his things back. He wondered why they hadn’t just slit his throat, then he remembered Small Man looking at his cavalry hat. A veteran maybe?

After a while, Brett sat back by the tree and brooded. He felt hollow. Violated. Like he’d been punched sideways when not looking. The thieves were long gone, having been on horseback. Brett had a feeling he knew where they’d go, though. The only town within a few miles was Collins. Best to get in a few hours rest. They’d left his bedroll and his clothes in a heap. He gathered them up into a bed and after a while nodded off.

Daybreak came quickly and Brett awoke with a start. A tree branch snapped nearby. He sat up and listened. An animal walked in the leaves. Could have been a squirrel or something larger. Brett pulled out the Colt Revolver he’d kept hidden by the tree and cocked the hammer. He was glad they didn’t find his Colt. It had been with him since his darkest days in the war. Rode into battle with it in his left hand, the right being the horse’s reins. He’d shot men dead with that pistol. And as sick as he was of killing, now he would do it again, so help him almighty.

Brett stood by the tree and stared out at the trail. The Tall Man stood not ten-feet away, clutching his side. Blood covered the back of his hand, and he appeared near falling.

*** ***

Small Man’s name was Roscoe Hunter, and he didn’t like weak men. He’d seen his share of cowards in the war. Turn tail runners, he called ‘em. But that man giving up his Spencer last night, he could tell, was no coward. He’d stood his ground and was polite about it. He respected that.

As they turned up the hill away from the game trail and headed ‘round the slope toward the town, Roscoe Hunter turned his horse and watched for Jeb Castor. He was a lying, fool talk’n, no good, sod busting coward if he’d ever seen one, and he’d grown tired of having to tell that fool what to do. Jeb approached slowly from the rear, riding that tall mare, came up lame every other day. When Jed stopped a few yards back, that stupid look on his face, Roscoe had had enough.

Jeb stood his ground, and Roscoe almost respected that, but he knew it was only out of confusion, not bravery.

Roscoe pointed at the mare and said, “That horse slowing us down a’gin. I ain’t have’n none of it. You get off that hoss and let’s see that rear hoof she bin favor’n.”

“It’s a loose shoe is all, Roscoe. I was gonna mend it first thing.”

“Git.”

Jeb dismounted and walked back his hand to the right rear hoof and lifted. Roscoe was close enough so he could see a nail had come loose and had torn out part of the hoof. “Let me see that.” Roscoe slid off his mount and took hold of the hoof. “You no account Jonah. How you let this animal be like that?”

Roscoe grabbed the nail, twist it out and in one swift motion, ran it into Jeb’s gut. When Jeb bent over, Roscoe slapped him on the face and kneed his forehead. Jeb fell back, the nail still stuck in his side.

“I can’t abide sloppy. I can’t abide cruelty to animals. Now get your ass out of here.”

Jeb sat up dazed, holding his side, a dumbfounded look on his face. “But Roscoe.” His upper lip quivered. “I ain’t done nothing to deserve that.” Tears filled Jeb’s eyes.

Roscoe turned away in disgust. “You ain’t done nothing….”

The other men gathered their mounts around in a circle. They’d seen this show before. Just last week Roscoe kicked a boy out of the group for being stupid with the gun powder, and now he was even angrier at Jeb.

“How long you been riding with us?” asked Roscoe.

“You know how long. I joined you all…”

“I joined you all…” Roscoe mocked.

Jeb turned to the other men for sympathy, but met stone faces. “You all know me.”

“How long, you tall-tale jawing, bone box yapper?” Roscoe said, waving the air the way Jeb did when unfurling a long winded story.

Jeb rubbed dirt into his palms, as if to sooth him somehow. “Since Charlottesville,” he said, almost like it was question.

“My horse’s teat! All the way since then. That’s been half a year or more, and I swear to God you been slowing us down ever since. You lazy! Let your mount rot under foot.” Jeb started to answer, but Roscoe continued. “I’ll tell you what fer. You a lazy, malingering, son-of-a-bitch, and I’ve had done with you. We called The Wolves. Not the Lazy Malingering Jaw-box’s! Now, go on. Git.”

Jeb started to get up, and Roscoe kicked him in the ass. Jeb fell back and the men laughed. When Jeb limped toward his mount, Jeb stepped in front of him.

“Oh, no. You done with this hoss. Now go!”

*** ***

Now, Jeb stood at the dude’s camp, hoping to get some food or water or more. Maybe it was because the dude had seemed a proper gentleman. Even in the midst of robbing him, he was polite and calm. Or maybe it was because he’d seen the pistol hidden by the tree and hadn’t said anything about it to the others. The dude saw he’d noticed the sidearm and hadn’t raised the alarm. He could have snatched that pistol for himself, but he hadn’t. He’d left the dude a fighting chance. Maybe that would make the dude trust him. Now, he needed that gun. He could talk to the dude, bide his time, gain his trust. Talking is something he could do.

Jeb moved in the shadows of the trees and spoke in a soft voice. “I came to this country as a lad of eight. Travelling with my uncle and cousins. There were five of us in that rickety wagon. We made our way by chopping wood, selling it for fire. Sometimes, we’d get in a bad scrape for chopping the wrong wood.”

The dude held the gun on Jeb. “That’s close enough.”

“We also skinned. Sold the pelts. Since I know how to read, sometimes I taught lessons for coin.”

“You took everything I had.”

“Not I, good sir. As you can see, I am no longer a member in good standing in the Wolves. I can no longer abide their ways. Your robbery was the last straw and I told them as much. Unfortunately, they didn’t see it that way and here I am. At your mercy.”

“What you want?”

“Nothing much, Sir. A crumb of bread. Perhaps a drink. I’ve been traveling through the night.”

“You’re a thief. Been kicked away by worse people that yourself.”

“That’ Sir, is indubitable. However, I’d like a chance to explain myself.”

“I’m leaving now. Go your way, I’ll go mine.”

“But Sir-“

The man with the gun took a step toward him. “Empty your pockets.”

“I came here in good faith, sir.”

The dude cocked the pistol. Jeb placed the contents of his pockets on the ground. The dude snatched-up his pocket knife.

“That’s my best blade, sir.”

“Y’all stole mine. I’m taking your piddling little sticker. Now, git.”

Jeb smiled, but stood his ground. “Perhaps I can interest you in a partnership? You’ll want your Spencer repeating rife returned, no doubt. I know where the Wolves are heading. You can get all your things back. My name is Jeb, by the way.”

*** ***

They walked from the scrub and the frozen mud-trails up the rocky hills and into the higher elevations, then down into the cold and windless canyon. A deep hollow between the shimmering ridges of tall pines.

They sat, breathless and wind-burnt, in the snow under an immense pine tree, and struck cold flint to steel. They grappled with the twine and twigs, until sparks flamed into a smoky fire. He packed snow into the rusted can he’d slung along for drinking and it melted over the hot coals. After the can was empty, he packed it again and when it melted, offered it to Jeb, who was sitting, his back against a tall pine.

Jeb rubbed the spot where the nail entered his side. Blood still seeped onto his fingers, sticky and warm. He took the can and drank the warm water.

“Why haven’t we caught up to them, yet?” asked Brett.

Jeb stayed quiet, his hand clutching the wound.

Brett shook his head. “You’ve been playing me for a fool. Been three days. They ain’t up ahead. You’re bringing us up into the colder places.”

“The camp is just a few miles away. I know it well.”

“I don’t believe you. And I don’t have enough to take you any further.”

Jeb’s eyes fell to his worn shoes, his half-frozen toes peeking out the wear-holes. “So, my dear friend; I’m soon gone, anyway. The puss has got me.” He smelled his fingers and shook his head. “I ask you one last favor. Will you bury me when I go? I don’t want to be food for the animals.”

Brett looked away, then half-nodded.

“And take this letter to my girls?”

The tired man unfolded a wrinkled paper and held it out. Brett reluctantly reached for it. As he extended his arm, Jeb lunged forward, exposing a knife in his left hand. He fell on Brett and jabbed him with the blade. Twisting out from under his weight, Brett got to his feet and kicked the Jeb’s hand. The knife flew away, lost under loose snow. Then he kicked Jeb squarely in the head. The tall let out a yelp, staggered in a circle, then fell back, blood seeping from behind his ear.

Brett staggered back and touched his side, his fingers came back warm with blood. He leaned against the tree and carefully felt the wound. It was not deep enough to kill him, at least not right away.

The paper Jeb held out was lying in the snow. A drop of red blood highlighted the fold. He snatched it up and saw it was a receipt for grain, purchased at a store in a town many miles away. He looked at the tall man, his head haloed in red snow, and knew he wouldn’t wake up again.

A search of Jeb’s pockets revealed fifty-cents, a corn-cob pipe filled with half smoked tobacco and a metal button. The eagle on the button was used by the Southern Army in the war. Perhaps he’d been a soldier. Brett didn’t much care. He’d had his fill of the army and killing. He took the man’s meager belongings and started out of the basin.

His legs grew tired and cold in his ragged pants, but he was glad his boots were strong and felt good on his feet. Perhaps the cool weather would help him not need so much water? He walked until his legs ached and his feet began to freeze. When he felt too tired to go on, he walked another half-hour or so before collapsing on the hillside. The snow was melted, but his toes throbbed from the cold and he was sorry he’d waited so long to stop. He built a good fire and sat with his feet near the flames. All night his feet ached, and he had little sleep. Finally, around sun-up, he was warm enough that the pain stopped and he put his shoes on.

To be cont’d….

 

 

Ghost in a Box

ghost

Ghost in a Box

It must be the medication. The dreams have been vivid these past few days. Spiders, strange obstacles to overcome, and now…ghosts. This isn’t the first time I’ve dreamed of the dead coming back to haunt me. There have been several that I can remember. The most vivid ghost dreams involved an old buddy of mine. I was good friends with him many years ago. We were young and a bit on the wild side, I must confess. After moving away and many life changes, I hadn’t talked to him for almost 20 years. He kept coming into my dreams and taking them over. He was a rowdy guy, always drinking, carousing, having fun, so the dreams always involved him in car chases, or getting into a fight and beating up somebody. He even threatened to kill me in one dream. Held a knife toward me. Very menacing. After each dream visit, I’d awaken and wonder why the hell I was thinking of him. I began to ask him, in my dream, to leave me alone. I’d be having a very normal dream and suddenly, there he was, riding up on a motorcycle or convertible muscle car. He take me away and we’d find our selves in some drug filled party or elaborate scheme too convoluted to be remembered upon waking. Upon waking, I’d wonder out loud, why? And ask him to please go away. Finally, I did an internet search for the guy and found he’d died the same month I started dreaming about him. That was a little freaky. And sad. It was chilling seeing his obituary photo and realizing he was no more. He died young, but I wasn’t surprised. He’d lived hard and died young, just the way he said he would.

I’d had another series of dreams where my old roommate of four years kept showing up, only each time the dream was about him renting out my room. I’d come home to find a strangers cluttering up my room, my bed gone, a series of cots installed and me, in a state of shock and despair, climbing over people to get to my bed. Variations of this dream repeated for several months, always involving strangers taking over my room, often they were drug addicts and derelicts. I’d moved on and lost touch with my former roommate several years ago. Out of frustration and curiosity, I performed an internet search. I couldn’t find him anywhere. I searched his name and home town, his alma mater, Facebook and found nothing. Finally, I asked him to please leave me alone and I haven’t had more than a few dreams of him in the last few years. I am assuming he has passed. Probably a long time ago, of complications from drug and alcohol addiction. He, too, was a hard-party guy, and loved that life a little too much. (Don’t ask how I found these guys, because I am a wimp. I don’t even drink anymore)

Ghosts have been a theme in my dreams since I was a kid. My first ghost nightmare came in the form of a leathery, gray haired old hag, rocking in her chair and staring at me, a knowing squint in her eye, and somehow forcing me to giver her a kiss. I remember screaming, “It’s the old hag!” and I became hysterical, bit her, then ran off.

But last night. That was a good one. It involved a ghost on a television. I and my family, who were a mixture of my current family and the family I grew up with, rented a haunted house by the sea. It was an old, white Victorian home, with many large rooms, all trimmed in wood, with great windows and high ceilings. We were unaware of the ghostly residents, until in the middle of the night, the lights came on, a cold wind ripped through the house blowing everyone’s hair around like flopping wigs, and the TV came to life, depicting a wailing ghost, screaming for us to get out of her house. The feeling of fear, panic and anxiety was palpable. As we scurried to leave just as a fire broke out and dashed past wind whipped flames and laughing specters.

Later in the dream, I was talking to another friend about the experience and he suddenly become very serious and wanted to know all he could about the screaming, fire-starting spooks. I remember telling him about the ghost on the TV, who was young, maybe about twelve, a girl, with wild hair and crazy eyes. I also mentioned that the fire department had come, and that we’d gone back to the house only to wander through the partially singed, smoke scented rooms. The Victorian stood on a cliff,  near the ocean, next door to a boyhood summer home we’d had. (This configuration was impossible, but so was the dream) I suggested we rent the other house, but no-one seemed to know or care about that, because, as usual the dream began to decay into a unfocused jumble. And then I woke up.

I immediately went on Facebook to look-up the friend who had shown an interest in the ghosts, but he hadn’t posted since November. I’m sure he’s fine, alive and well. It’s not knowing for sure that stays with me, in the back of my mind. I don’t like it, but that’s the way it is. Maybe it’s the sleeping meds I took last night. I don’t know. Seems I always tend to dream of dead people, whether medicated or not. And spooky kids in a box.

If you want, you can read more about ghosts and dreams in my psychic detective series, Dream State, on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Dream-State-Sleeping-Detective-Book-ebook/dp/B01M5CO8UC/ref=mt_kindle?_encoding=UTF8&me=

 

 

The Lucid Spider

spider

The Lucid Spider

This is the spider I saw on the ceiling this morning. I drew him in ink and took  this photo to show you what he looked like. I’m calling him Gray Ghost. He appeared above my head and walked toward the bedpost before fading away. I closed my eyes and quickly reopened them, to see the spider back in original spot. It walked toward the wall, again, as if on repeat. My first thought; It’s not real. Probably a lucid dream.

Lucid dreaming is when you become aware you are dreaming and sometimes even begin to actively control your dream. (Comes in handy with certain types of dreams, but I won’t elaborate) Although, each time I become aware I am dreaming and try to control my lucid dream, it quickly evaporates into the ether and I awaken. Apparently, lucid dreamers have a more highly developed area of the brain that allows for self-reflection. If what I’ve been thinking lately can be called self-reflection (rather that self-deprecation), then yes, I would lean toward this notion. I tend to self-reflect quite a bit. Not because I’m self-absorbed, as much as the fact that I am a writer, a thinker and an artist. You must think to write and paint.

However, upon some research, I realized this was probably a Hypnagogic Hallucination. I’ve been having that type of hallucination for years. Several times I have awakened to find a dark figure standing at the edge of my bed, and although I can’t see a face, the figure is apparently staring at me, as if this ungodly creature was wanting something unfathomable.

Another particularly vivid hallucination came after playing a video game entitled, Red Barron, a WWI bi-plane aerial combat game. I awoke to observe a small red bi-plane fly into my bedroom and come straight at me. It was so tangibly real, I sat up in bed, threw a pillow at it, and yelled, “Get out!” My wife did not understand, nor appreciate my reaction.

The thing that’s strange about the spider hallucination though, was after closing and re-opening my eyes, Gray ghost reappeared, in the exact same spot on the ceiling as before and began its short, spidery journey toward the wall. I know it wasn’t real, because of the way it looked. It was a ghost. A large, Gray Ghost of a spider, crawling slowly across the ceiling. And yes, it was as creepy as it sounds.

Why a spider, I ask myself? Why not something else, like a flower or a beetle? I have no hatred or fear of spiders, beyond that of any normal person. I haven’t been bitten by a black widow or nuclear infused spider. I haven’t been seeing them in the yard or the house, lately. And yet, I saw the damn thing in my strange half-sleep state. So next time, if there is a next time, when it comes, I’ll be ready. I’ve been training myself to lucid dream. Part of which is to remind yourself (if you can, it’s quite difficult) that you are dreaming. If Gray Ghost spider comes back, I’ll be ready. I’ll remember to remind myself to fall back into a lucid dream and then I’ll kill the little bastard! I wonder if Gray Ghost spiders leave any splatter?

 

All That Smells!

nose

“What seems to be the trouble?” The man leaned in, pointing a light at my eyes. I could smell coconut butter and vanilla pudding on his breath.

“I can smell everything.”

He opened my lids with his fingers and shone the light at my eyes. “Mmmm. That’s perfectly normal.”

A nurse walked down the hall and I could smell hamburgers and ketchup and pickles wafting into the room.

“No, you don’t understand. I smell everything, as in all things.”

“All things, all at once? That would be kind of confusing. That’d smell like mud, wouldn’t it? How can you tell them apart?”

“They come to me one at a time.”

“What do you mean, like in a queue?”

“I’m not sure. I guess I just recognize them quickly, so they don’t blend.”

‘I see,” he said and wrote more notes.

“You have no idea, Doc, how many foul things I smell every day. It’s a rotten world.”

“So, this smelling thing, it’s going on right now?”

I looked at the trash can. He followed my eyes, then walked over and popped open the lid. The strong smell of antiseptic and bandages hit my nose.

“What does that smell like, then?” He asked.

“Like a hospital.”

“Hmmm.” He wrote something in his chart, then hit my knee with a rubber mallet.

“That thing, there…” I said, pointing to the instrument.

“The mallet? What about it?”

“You should replace it. It smells like old rubber.”

He looked at the instrument, then smiled. “Remarkable. Very astute of you. You know, this is the old one. I have a new one right here.” He opened a drawer and pulled out a  mallet still wrapped in plastic. “You see?” he said, pointing it at me.

There was a knock on the slightly opened door. An attractive blonde woman stood partly obscured in the hallway. “Excuse me a moment,” he said and walked over to greet her. He closed the door, and that fanned a smell into the room. I knew immediately what it was. I cringed at the thought, but I knew right away what she had done.

When he came back into the room, he smiled and apologized and continued writing in his notes. “So…,” he said, not looking up. “This thing you have, is it bothering you? I mean, it’s not disrupting your sleep, or your work? You’re not distracted by it all the time, are you?”

I rubbed my sweating hands on my knees and didn’t say anything. He looked up, obviously reading my concern. “So, it’s causing you some worry?”

I couldn’t help myself. I had to say it. I held my breath for a second, as if inhaling courage from the air. When I felt lightheaded, and began to get dizzy, let it out. “She’s cheating,” I blurted.

He looked confused. “I’m sorry, what?”

“That woman. She’s your wife, I could smell you on her.”

“That’s not your concern.”

“Yes but, that’s not all…” I rubbed my hands harder on my lap, then jumped up from the table. “I should just go.”

The doctor blocked my exit. “Hold on a second. We’re not finished your examination. You have borderline high blood pressure. I want to run labs, maybe get you a referral for this obvious anxiety.”

“It wasn’t you. Okay? It was somebody else, and not that long ago.”

He stared at me a second, then put his iPad down on the table. “I mean…we could have you see somebody…”

“She was with someone this morning. I’m sorry. It was fresh and plain as day. I could smell the man…” He put his hands in his white coat pocket and pulled out a cell phone. He looked at me again, as if to confirm his thoughts, and I shrugged. “Sorry,” I mumbled.

As he registered what I was saying, his face turned dark red and his eyes glowed black. I started to say something, but he bolted from the room.

I stood alone for a minute, considering what to do, when another nurse came in. “I guess he had an emergency,” I said, smiling.

She looked at the exit door, as if she’d find some sort of answer there. “Is that what’s going on? He ran past me and didn’t say a word. Did he get a phone call or something?”

I shrugged. “More like a wake-up call, I guess.”

She smiled and the sweet smell of cherry candy wafted over me.

I started for the door. “I’ll make another appointment.”

“You do that. See the girl at the front desk. I’m so sorry.” She turned and walked to her station to get the ringing phone.

I waved as I walked past the nurse’s desk. A basket of assorted lollipops sat near the phone. “Can I?” I said, indicating the sweets. She nodded yes. I grabbed a lemon pop, then handed her my business card. She turned the card over and read aloud, “Smiley Detective Agency. If it smells we’re on it.”

I tossed the candy wrapper into the trash and waved goodbye as I walked out into the smelly world.