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

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….

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dreaming Wide Awake, Chapter 8 excerpt

mystery

As I drew closer to my apartment, I noticed a dark herringbone sleeve protruded from the shade my doorway. I tried to see who it may be, but a cold breeze whipped around the building and hit me in the face. I zipped up my spring jacket and closed my eyes against the onslaught of street dust. As I drew closer, I saw a man standing near my vestibule. He had a large flattened nose and heavy jaw. A thin mustache lined the area above his narrow upper lip. I expected him to dash away, but he simply smiled. He was chilled and swayed from foot to foot. “A little late in spring to see your breath, eh?” he said, and blew on his massive hands before shoving them deep into his coat pockets.

Recognizing him as the man who stared at me from the car in Connecticut, I was unsure whether to run or punch him in the nose. “You shaved your beard.” I said.

His black eyes narrowed. “Having trouble sleeping through the night lately, Gus?”

“Congratulations, you know my name.” I slipped by him and stood near the trash cans, ready to push him into the bins if he made a move.

“I just want to talk,” he said.

“What about?”

“I apologize for the way I’ve been…how shall I say it?”

“Stalking me?”

“Ha! Stalking… No, I’ve got much better things to do. Let’s just say I’ve been observing.”

Observing, my ass, I thought. I know a loon when I see one. His shabby coat told a story too tedious to care about. “I’m already on a case,” I said. “Can’t take on anything new.”

“Ah, yes. The convicted murderer in Connecticut. How’s that going? You know how many murder convictions get overturned or even re-tried in the United States?” I stood ready to jam him into the bins and run, put his gray herringbone coat back where it belonged. He continued his discourse. “Of course, it depends on which state we’re talking about. Conviction-happy, some states. Take Texas for example—”

“I’m tired and I’m cold,” I said. “I’m going inside. Call my office if you want a meeting.”

I unlocked the vestibule door. He took a step closer.

“Seeing a lot of lines and rectangles, lately?” He asked.

His knowing tone reminded me of a malevolent teacher grilling a student. His eyes lit-up with expectation. Moisture collected on his wiry mustache. The spark in his irises told me he was about to move in for a strike.

“Stop right there,” I said, and held up my hand.

He took a step back, but held his ground, still too close for comfort. I tried to avoid smelling his breath and cologne, but there it was, hanging in the air, a repugnant fog of Old Spice (or something similarly quaint) from the bowels of some ancient vanity. No doubt slapped on his newly shaven face.

“Out with it. What do you want?” I said.

“I’d like to…” He turned slowly toward neighborhood foot traffic, then watched a slow moving cab roll past. “…to buy you a cup of coffee.” His head snapped back to mine, and he smiled. His teeth, what I could see of them below his mustache, were small and yellowed from coffee and cigarettes.

“Not now,” I said.

“A drink, then? I need fifteen minutes of your time. It will change your life, I promise you.”

“A disease will change your life. Death will change your life.” I breathed through my mouth to avoid offensive odiferous inhalation.

“Gus,” he said, in a chastising tone, and butted a size-twelve, extra-wide, wingtip up against my big toe. “I promise you’ll not regret it.”

“I’ve got things to do.” I said, about to unleash my anger.

“I’ll give you a retainer of three hundred dollars right now.”

“No.”

“One thousand, then.” He pulled out a wad of cash and started flipping through hundred dollar bills. My temper quieted down. Was I that shallow, money could dissuade me so easily? I didn’t know or care. “Okay, I’ll give you ten minutes,” I said, eyeing the bills. “The pizza joint, over there.” I nodded toward the corner store.

 

We sat in a small table in the back room. I ordered a slice with everything, and a coke. He stared at me as I took a large bite, wiping grease from the corner of my mouth with a paper napkin. After a few seconds, he pulled a small white business card from his pocket and handed it to me. It read, Porter Grossman, MEd. An out of state phone number was printed below his name.

“Okay, Mr. Grossman, what’s on your mind?”

“Have you ever heard of a government project called…Stargate? The Stargate Project?”

“No,” I lied. I’d heard something about it, but wasn’t sure if it had to do with aliens, UFO’s or psychics. I took a sip of coke. “Enlighten me.”

He opened his mouth to speak and my stomach turned over. A picture lit in my mind; A long, straight white line leading into a rectangle. In an instant the image was gone, but it left an indelible impression. It was like when you stare at a white image against a back background and the ghost images light-up when you turn away. This is what I’d been dreaming for the past few weeks. He noticed my unease and stopped what he was about to say.

“Stargate,” I said, finally, shaking off my unease. “Go on…”

He squinted at me, and took a miniature notebook out of his coat pocket, the kind that leaves no room for more than five lines a page. He glanced at the tiny handwriting, all neatly slanted to the right, like trees in the wind. “I’ve been conducting a little experiment.”

“Experiments?”

“One experiment.” Held help up a gloved hand and pointed his index finger at me.

“On me?” I asked. He nodded. “Does it have anything to do these white lines and rectangles?”

“Mmm. Yes, something like that.”

“So, are you saying those are from you, your little experiment?”

“Yes.”

I sat back and wondered what the hell was going on. Was he invading my sleep? And if so, how the hell was that happening?

“How?” I asked.

“You don’t believe me?”

“I don’t know what to believe. Explain yourself.”

“Well,” he said taking a sip of his coffee, “That’s what this little meeting is about.”

“Why me?”

“Obvious reasons.”

“To you. Enlighten me.”

“Well, one of my jobs is to scour the media, print, TV, internet, etcetera. Read about any potential talent out there in the world. I happened upon your psychic exploits, your dream state, and found it quite intriguing. Although, I didn’t believe for a second someone could be that psychic.”

“Am I?”

“I decided to see how talented you truly are. By the wide-eyed look on your face when I mentioned the lines and rectangle dreams you’ve been having, I take it the experiment was a success.”

I took a sip of soda and looked around the joint. Nobody had come in since we sat down. It was quiet. A young couple held hands and sipped drinks in front dining area. I didn’t know what I was expecting, a crew of secret agents descending upon us maybe, but I felt uneasy. Digestively compromised. I put the pizza down. “Are you telling me, you invaded my dreams?”

“Invaded? Hmm. I suppose you could say that. I sent you signals and you picked them up. White lines and rectangles. They weren’t random. They were a map of a particular area I was concentrating on.”

“I’m supposed to believe you sent me signals?”

“That’s right.”

“In my sleep.”

“Yes.”

“From your psychic brain?”

“Well, at first, yes. Later, when I was sure you were tapped into these images, I merely looped a video on my computer and played that. All night long.”

“Your computer? I was picking up signals from…and my normal dreams were…”

“Blocked, I presume. Or severely interfered with.”

I sat back, staring at this strange man. He looked like he hadn’t enough money to buy a TV, never mind have the resources to tail me for days.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I told you.”

The sparkle in his eyes told me he was lying, or at the very least leaving a big truth out. I didn’t mind so much, but my stomachache was getting worse. I took a long sip of soda and loosened my belt. “What do you want?” I asked.

“I want your help. Your cooperation in a little experiment.”

“I thought I already was your guinea pig?”

“That was a small test.”

I frowned, thoroughly confused.

“Let’s back up a bit. We were talking about Stargate.”

“So?”

“May I continue?”

“Hey, it’s your dime. Knock yourself out.”

He nodded and took another sip of coffee. “The project was disbanded. That’s the official story at least, after the CIA report disparaging remote viewing became public. They declared the program a failure, called it useless for spying purposes, etc.” A look of ironic humor animated his face. He was enjoying the story. His smile turned to a grimace and he cleared his throat.

“Not true?” I asked.

He snorted and touched a finger to the side of his nose. “It was a public report…”

“Why would I care?”

“Why should you care? A psychic with extraordinary gifts like yours, why indeed?”

I took another sip of soda and stared at him.

He continued. “The report was a cover, the program officially disbanded.”

“Okay, but—“

“And then came the Orenda Project. Much more secret and sinister, born in its place.”

“You work for them?”

He chuckled. “Oh, no. No. Not at all.” He peered into the front dining room, then at the back exit. His cold eyes met mine. His smile was replaced by a tight lipped frown. “I have been authorized to offer you a place within our group.”

The nausea started again. I could smell fruitcake all around me. I hate fruitcake.

“Your group. A boy band?”

He sat back. “You’re a complex character, Gus. We like that. Our group is made up of twelve distinguished scientists, psychics and lawyers, all former government contractors, all aimed at blocking or destroying the inner workings of the Orenda Project.”

“You want to destroy the Orenda Project?”

“Yes.”

I wanted to call for the check, just to have someone normal near us, but I’d already paid. I stood up.

“You can’t leave.” I held the back of my chair and his frown turned to a smile. “I haven’t finished.”

“That’s okay. I get the picture.”

“The Orenda Project was designed to control the leaders of the world.”

I laughed while putting on my coat, but his eyes told me he was deadly serious.

“Gus, I’m telling you…no more free elections. No more representation. All of it controlled by a small group within the Orenda Project. Billionaires vying for complete control of world finances and governments, through mind control.”

I was going to ask him to show me his tin foil hat, then I figured he might just have one. Then I remembered the many times I’d tried to warn people I’d seen die in my dreams, convince them of their impending doom. They had no reason to believe me and usually didn’t, but I wouldn’t give up. I stalked, cajoled, sent notes indicating the time and place of their death, and still they wouldn’t respond…right up until the moment they were killed. Out of respect for his sincerity, and the thousand bucks, I sat back down.

“Aren’t billionaires already doing just that, controlling the world?”

“Ahhh, you would think so, but not in the sense I’m talking about. Of course, captains of industry maintain a certain hold on the political system, by means of lobbyists, money changing hands in a back room deals, promises of riches when retired, etcetera. I’m not talking about that.”

“Oh?”

“I’m talking about direct control of governments through mind control.” He stared at me expectantly. I frowned. He continued. “Those dreams you were having, lines and rectangles, they are just the tip of the iceberg. Imagine being able to convince a world leader to change his mind on a subject simply by bombarding his dreams with the outcomes you want? Imagine if you could do that?”

“Are you saying they’re doing that now, these billionaire, these Orenda people?”

“They’d like to. I mean, that is their goal.”

“So, they really can’t do it?”

“Something is blocking their efforts, Gus.” He sat back, pleased with himself and winked.

“So, the dream blocking images you sent to me…”

“Not the ones I targeted you with, but similar ones are helping slow their progress.”

“But don’t the leaders of the free world…I’m assuming that’s their target?”

He nodded. “Wouldn’t they have to be psychic in order to receive these signals?”

“Normally, I’d say yes. But we, each of us, have a certain amount of psychic ability already, Gus. We’re all born with it. They’ve simply found a way to tap into that natural ability.”

“How?”

“I’m not at liberty to say.”

I nodded, and stood up.  I reassessed Grossman, and his old coat, and he came up wanting. I still smelled a fruitcake. “Well, that’s all very informative, Mr. Grossman. I appreciate the offer, but I’ve got my own business to attend to. I can’t be joining any groups right now.”

“We’re running out of time, Gus.”

I pull the wad of money he’d given me out of my pocket and tossed it on the table. “What do you want from me, exactly?”

He didn’t seem to notice. “You have the strongest natural psychic ability I’ve ever seen. We need you.”

“To send signals?”

He leaned toward me. “To infiltrate their group, through psychic visions.”

“I’m not a spy.”

“You’re a detective, what’s the difference?”

He got to his feet and faced me, then looked past me to the window that overlooked 92nd street. His focus was drawn to a parked car, then at a couple walking our way, and he took step back. “I wanted to…”

“What?” I asked.

He seemed suddenly up-side-down about something. “I’ll get back to you soon.”

He dashed outside and headed toward 2nd avenue. I picked up the cash and followed him out the door. He walk at a good clip toward the corner, turned and shouted, “You’ll sleep better, I promise!” He crossed Second Avenue and sauntered up the hill toward Third. I noticed a car parked on the curb with two men in it. They both stared in my direction. After a few seconds, they turned toward Grossman. Then the black sedan abruptly lurched forward, turned right and headed down Second Avenue.

 

I slowly walked back into my building, wondering how the anything he said could be true.

 

 

   Deppea Splendens               

 

desert

    The two men dripped sweat after the short chase. They sat in the broiling patrol car, hot and miserable, in the mid-day heat. Officer Barrett wrote in his log.

The prisoner looked up and smiled. “Hey hombre, they say if you breathe in the smoke of the burning Deppea splenden plant, you will come face to face with the demons that hold you back. They are hidden in a world of shadows, far away from the life you truly should be living. You know what I’m talking about?”

Officer Barrett kept writing in his book and didn’t look up.

“You know, that gentle nibble, the irritation gnawing at you until it bites at your soul?”

Officer Barrett wiped sweat from his brow with a white handkerchief, and glanced in the rear mirror at his prisoner.

“You got illegal plants, Golton?” Barrett asked.

“Illegal? That plant? No. Extinct in the wild, very endangered world wide.”

“Extinct huh?”

“The smoke sets you on a journey you wouldn’t believe.”

“I know you don’t have anything on you, unless it crawled out your ass. And I ain’t going there.”

“I know where to get it. Close by.”

“I don’t smoke amigo. But you keep talking like this, I’ll book you on more than just being a public nuisance and you can spend more time in lock up. Understand?”

“I can get it for you now. You see what it can do.”

“I can see it did wonders for you. Why don’t you just shut up?” Officer Barrett chuckled as he wrote in his log.

“You see what I mean? I have an offer for you that could change your life and all you can do is write in your police book. Why don’t you look around, Hombre? People are living other people’s lives.”

Barrett stopped writing, glanced in the side-view mirror for oncoming traffic, then merged the patrol car onto the single lane highway.

Golton made a clucking sound with his tongue and rested his head against the back door. The desert heat penetrated the car and washed over the men in rippling waves.

“Hey Hombre, how about turning up the air in this bucket?”

“Don’t worry about it, we’ll be at headquarters in fifteen minutes.”

“You telling me you don’t have air?”

Barrett said nothing. Golton kicked the seat and slumped down.

“You kick that seat again and I’ll close your window.”

The two men stared at each other in the mirror. Golton broke eye contact and hummed quietly the Spanish song, De Colores as he turned away and looked out the window.

Distant, low mountains gleamed in the desert sun. Sequoia cacti dotted the sparse landscape. The occasional tumbleweed blew across the dusty road.

“I see a few lonely plants out there, Hombre. But none like the Deppea. She has the most beautiful flowers of any plant, more beautiful than the cactus flower. It’s purple. A deep, deep purple like you’ve never seen. I can take you to it.”

Barrett smiled into the mirror. Golton frowned. “Hey, these cuffs are hurting my wrists. Why don’t you fix them at the next stop?”

“Next stop for you is the jail.”

“Before that, I have to pee.”

Barrett started to roll up the rear window.

“No, no! Please the air is all I need!”

The rear windows came back down and Barrett smiled into the rear view mirror.

“You piss in this car and you’ll be cleaning it up.”

Golton Nodded. “Have a heart, Amigo.” But Barrett  said nothing.

They sat in silence for a while. Golton coughed and sighed, then said, “The first time I tried the plant, it was such a beautiful day. It was at my cousin Celia’s house, in the back yard. We sat under some trees there and she pulled out this small dried piece of the Deppea. The air was thin and dry that day, too, like today. Some clouds were trying to roll in from the foothills, but the sun was keeping them away. Celia, she lit this little twig and pulled a shawl over us to breath in the smoke. I coughed and choked, Amigo. Oh, man my throat closed up and I could hardly breathe. But, that was when I saw her. She came to me under that tree. She appeared to me first from a silver cloud and took the shape of a beautiful woman with long flowing gowns. She had flowers in her hair. I said to her, where do you come from? And do you know, she looked right at me with those stabbing eyes! Her eyes sparkled like little silver sparks from a blade, like tiny bits of sun. I have always been with you, she says. Then she spread her wings and covered me, took me in her arms and…”

Barrett looked at Golton in the rear view mirror.

“She took you for a ride, huh?”

“No man, she made me see. I saw my life the way it should have been instead of the way it is now. I was a different person. I was me, but a better me.”

Barrett pulled his aviator glasses down his nose a bit and glanced at Golton. “You weren’t a screw up anymore? Good dream. Too bad you can’t live it, huh? Live the dream.” Golton looked away in dismay. “Most drug trips just kill a few thousand brain cells, yeah?”

Golton looked out the window. “You wouldn’t understand even if I told you the whole story. You would just laugh. People like you always laugh at people like me.”

“At drug addicts? Nah, I’m not laughing at you Golton, I’m laughing with you.”

Golton began to cough. He gagged and choked and tried to catch his breath. “What are you doing back there?” said Barrett. He pulled off to the side of the road and got out of the patrol car. Opening the back seat door, he leaned in to see to Golton. “You pull anything and I’ll -”

The spray hit him squarely in the face. Barrett shot up straight and put his fingers to his nose and mouth. A fine, dark purple power covered his fingers. The earth began to spin. Round and round it went until he could no longer hold on, until he staggered back and fell to his knees. His eyes crossed and his eyelids closed.

“I forgot to tell you, Amigo, it comes in powdered form, too,” Golton laughed.

Barrett was rigid on the ground. His body convulsed once, and then went limp.

“Oh, shit, Amigo. Don’t die on me. I still have to get you off the road.”  Golton dragged Barrett around the back side of the cruiser and lay him face down in the dirt. He removed the keys to the cuffs and unlocked them from his wrists. “These hurt me, amigo.”

Gloton went through the deputy’s pockets, found cigarettes and matches and lit one up. In the front seat he found a bottle of water and drank it down. Water droplets tickled his nose and he rubbed his fingers under his nose and wiped. When he pulled his fingers back he saw they were purple. “No!” he said out loud and looked in the rear view mirror. The purple was in his nostrils and on his fingers. “Shit, shit!” Golton wiped his face on the deputy’s shirt. He found Barrett’s hanky and used it in each nostril, but it was too late. All he could do now was wait.

Golton sat on the front seat with the door open and stared far across the vast emptiness of the desert plane.

A small dark cloud lingered in the distance. Soon the cloud was rising up. And he could see her coming. On a galloping horse-cloud she rode. Her teeth were bright white and clenched, her hair flowing back into the wind. In an instant she was there. Her wind horse was screaming. Dust flew up into his face. She sat on the thundering horse cloud as it reared up before him. Her shadow cast him into darkness and the wind blinded him with sand.

“Have mercy!” he pleaded.

She leaned forward on the swirling horse-cloud and spread her wings.

“Forgive me mother! I am a wicked man! Please. I know I have not done what I am supposed to do. I have failed you! Please!”

Her voice rang through him like an electric current. It yanked and pulled his flesh, yet was smooth and comforting. A voice, other worldly in gravity and charm, it grounded him, pinned him to the floor of the Mother Earth and opened him like a frog on a dissection table. “You are. No more, no less than eternal truth has created you.” she said.

She picked him up in her arms and carried him far across the desert to a small oasis covered in olive trees. There she gently placed him by the water. He tried to see her, but she melted away into the sand and with her, the light of the day was gone.

He was alone in the heavy, clawing darkness for how long he couldn’t tell, until a small distant light appeared. It came close and was carried by a beautiful dark haired girl. She sat down next to Golton and looked into his eyes.

“Who are you? he asked.

She smiled a perfectly white smile and offered him a cup. He sipped and tasted, for the first time, what he knew to be his life and he spit it out. Bitterness crept inside him and he felt cramps in his stomach.

“Do you not like it?” she asked.

“It’s bitter.”

“It is what you have made.”

“I made this?”

She smiled and took off her clothes and stood naked before him.

“You are beautiful,” he said.

She turned and walked into the water and disappeared beneath the surface of the black pool.

“Wait. Come back,” he yelled.

But he knew she would not be back. He knew he was all alone. For alone is what he’d been his whole life. And he felt the stillness of this. Then he felt something very hard come to him. Not on his body but in his mind. It was hard and final and useless, and he knew it was death that he felt. Death, like the sand under his feet, was all around him and made up everything he saw. For the earth and death were the same and made of the same things. All things were living and dead at the same time.

Golton hunched down at the edge of the water and heard whispers there. Whispering voices from everyplace and no place. Pieces of words came to him and filled his heart with heaviness. Words that where whispers of what he could have done with his life, whisperings that meant nothing and all of everything. Empty and meaningless words pinched and bit at his arms and face. Echoes of choices made or ignored long ago. Black vomit full of regrets filled his heart and came out from his mouth, and he knelt down and sobbed them onto the ground. Regrets flowed from his eyes as he moaned and softly cried.

The sound to his left was love lost. The sound to his right was a wrong that could have been righted. The wind gently blew sand toward him, and in those grains, he knew, were the thousands of lost hours he’d spent doing nothing, being nothing, thinking nothing. For he was alone. And Golton wished to all the knowing grains of sand that he could have those moments back. That he could make something out of his life, if only he could have one last chance. “Please dear God, one last chance!” he cried. Then all was still, and black. And he fell asleep.

Golton awoke to a thundering voice. “Get out!” Barrett pulled Golton from the car and steadied him as they walked into the police station door. Golton strained to open his eyes. They stung and felt sand scratched as he tried to concentrate on Barrett’s commands.

“I don’t know what stunt you pulled on me, Golton. But I’ll be damned! Assault on an officer!”

“Hey, Amigo. I’m glad to see you’re all right. I thought maybe you had a bad trip or something. Some people don’t make it back fro the purple flower. It’s too much for their system. They collapse instantly and never come back. But that only a ew. It’s worth the risk, though, eh?”  Golton said, as they made their way to the processing room. Barrett sat Golton on a metal chair and cuffed his hands to the table. “Hey, Amigo. Have I told you about the Deppea, the lady in the wind? She comes to me and tells me when things are going to happen.”

“Yeah? Did she tell you you’re gonna spend forever in lock up?” Barrett said, as he filled out a form. “Resisting arrest, assaulting an officer, illegal substances….”

Another voice charged the air. “Barrett, what the hell happened to you?”

A large man stood by the desk.

“Nothing, Sarg. I got the wind knocked out of me. Damn little prick hit me with some kind of spray.”

“Yes. Yes, she tells me many things, Amigo,” Golton said.

“Well, you look like crap. Get yourself hydrated.” Sarg snickered and walked away.

Golton still could not see well, but as he turned to go with Barrett, he heard a banging against the desk, then a fall. Men scuttled toward him and then to Barrett. They said things like, “Get the EMT’s.” And, “Put his feet up.” He heard the chest compressions being performed. More men scuttling back and forth and then the far off sound of a siren could be heard as it raced across the desert toward them.

“Hey, Amigo? Are you still there?”

A voice called, “Somebody get him out of here!” And Golton was being led to a cell. The blurry path to the back was lined in tan uniforms and shiny guns and badges as the whirling sounds of a life and death struggle played out in back of him.

“Amigo. Don’t fight it. I see now what she told me. Yes, she told me she was coming. For you! I thought it was for me. But she covered me with her wings. It must have been for you, Amigo. You! You see? The Deppea Splenden never lies. I told you, Amigo. She sends you on a trip, eh?” Golton laughed and coughed. “A trip, eh?”

Golton suddenly grew very tired and rested his head on the bench in the cell. He wondered what trip the policeman had been on. If she had come to him, too. Perhaps she folded her wings on him and he had pushed her away.

The sirens were there now, just outside his door, but they could not keep him awake. They could not bring him back. He fell slowly into the desert’s swirling winds, covered only by her wings. And in that moment, he felt a tinge of regret for the life he had wasted, for the man he could have become, then he felt vaguely hungry and wondered what they were serving for supper that night.

 

 

Warm Water (part one)by CR Hinckley

Mick Cullen glided through the warm water as easily as a snapping turtle on a hot day in the bayou. Long lazy swings of his arms propelled him several feet at a time. Holding his breath for a long minute, he let it out slowly and continuously, turning his head side to side as he swam. Tiny bubbles of cool air tingled on his skin, stimulating his senses and causing his muscles to contract under goosebump skin.

The side gate opened with a practiced squeak and the young woman, tall, sleek looking in her dark blue bikini, walked into the lounge area. Mick pressed his body against the pool wall, balling the bathing suit in his hands, as she walked by. Her large brim hat and dark glasses revealed the cool image of a mature woman with a still young body, strong chin and straight nose. The edges of her lips curled in an easy smile.

She sat on a lounger and pulled a bottle of baby oil from her bag. Her tight thighs glistened in the sun as she spread the oil onto her dark skin. Mick smiled and she nodded slightly. She turned, pulling her bathing suit bottoms down a few inches to reveal a white tan line.

“Hot today,” he said.

“Mmmm,” she purred.

“Like a bath.”

“I bet.”

“The birds have been at it again,” he said referring to the crushed and broken berries that covered the decking.

“The birds?”

“They like the berries.”

She turned toward Mick, pulling her sunglasses down onto her nose, and said, with a twinkle in her eye, “I like berries.” She looked around as if noticing the deck for the first time and said, “They’ve made a big fat mess, haven’t they?”

Mick pointed to the bushes crowding the pool fence. “They’re poisonous.”

“Those?” she said.

“I hear they’re delicious, actually. Then you die a slow painful death.”

She turned onto her back and crossed her feet.

“I haven’t seen you before. New to The Chamberlain?” he asked, referring to the condos.

“Just visiting.”

“Staying with friends?”

“And you’re the welcome wagon?”

Mick laughed. “Just nosey.”

He slipped feet first down into the water, put his bathing suit back on and slowly came up again, letting the water smooth the slick his thick, black hair back on his scalp.

“I guess I can’t help myself,” he said. “I mean, I know most of the residents. Maybe I know your friends?”

“My cousin, actually,” she said.

“Cousin?”

“Sherry. Sherry Pilton?”

Mick gulped a mouthful of water and spit it out in a long stream. Sherry Pilton. That bitch. Hysterical, manic Sherry Pilton, soaking wet, running out of the pool. That picture would stay in his head forever. Man, was he drunk that night. Sherry Pilton, the head case.

“No, don’t think I know her,” he said through polished teeth.

“She’s having a little get-together later.”

“I’m going into town,” he lied. “Meet up with an old friend.”

“Her parties are a hoot.”

“Really?”

She turned sideways on the chair, white tan lines starting to pink.

Mick swam the length of the pool, catching a glimpse of her breasts as they fought to break free from her top. His mind reached for conversation.

“Where are you visiting from?” He asked as he paddled on his back near her chair.

“I’m moving in, actually.”

“Getting your own place?”

She pulled her sunglasses down again and looked over them with radiant blue-green eyes. If there was a family resemblance to Sherry, Mick sure couldn’t see it.

“I mean you’re probably looking for your own place,” Mick smiled.

“Are you in real estate or something?”

Mick laid his hands onto the deck for support. “As a matter of fact, I am, sort of.”

“Huh,” she said, smirking.

“It just so happens that I have a property that is available.”

“Really,” she said in a disinterested tone. She turned onto her side, her head away from the pool.

Splashing onto his back, he slid down into an inverted loop, slowly coming back around and up for air.

Mick turned to say something but when he saw she had turned away, he started to do laps instead.

Sherrie Pilton’s naked body popped into his mind; her dark red hair, brown freckles dotting her white skin. Man, she was a wildcat, angry and bitter from a nasty divorce, living the lonely life of a single gal. Always talking to her cat. That was enough to drive any guy away. He chuckled, remembering the way she looked at him when he told her to leave him alone. All hurt and stupefied. That girl just couldn’t take a hint, wasn’t worth the trouble, anyway. Sure she had a nice little body, but her bad habits drove him crazy. She was looking for love and desperate about it, but had no idea what he was like or what he wanted. She always wanted him to go to this party or that, or double date with one of her bimbo friends. Sherry didn’t even know the difference between Chardonnay and Cabernet. She was a white trash loser. A hick, really. Creepy. Needy all the time, like she’d get her claws into you and never let go.

He was drunk the day he tossed her into the pool. Right after that barbeque full of losers at her friend’s house, and he’d told her to get lost.

Mick floated on his back near the side of the pool. So what if she was Sherry’s cousin? What she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt either of them.

“What if I was to tell you that you could have a two bedroom condo with a pool view and brand new carpeting?”

“Thanks, but I think I found a place,” she said without looking up.

“Nine-eighty a month.” He wanted to grab his tongue as the words slipped out, knowing he could get twelve. He hoped she hadn’t heard.

“Two bedroom?”

“A thousand square feet, two bedroom beauty ready for move in.”

The last tenant was a divorced mother with a ten-year-old kid. What a little brat. Digging into the walls, writing all over the closet doors with magic marker. He finally had to tell them he was moving in to get them the hell out. It took a week to clean up the mess. She was a horny little thing, but the kid was a nightmare. And he’d vowed no more kids. The little pigs weren’t worth the trouble.

“Maybe I’ll take a look, then.” She sat up and put her hat on.

“Sure. I mean, if you haven’t signed a lease.”

“No, not yet.”

“No kids, no pets.”

“What do you have against kids and pets?”

“Insurance doesn’t allow them,” he lied. “They do damage.”

“No kids, no pets,” she said.

“Good. I’ll take you over to see it.”

She gave him a why not nod and sat back in the chair.

“I’m Michael, by the way. Michael Canova.”

She smiled warmly and said, “Laura, Laura Ray.”

“Glad to meet you, Laura.” He flashed a smile and slunk down into the water, his eyes just above the surface, staring into the dark lenses of her sunglasses, wondering how long it would take him to get under that bathing suit and get her into bed.

**********

She was tall and sophisticated looking in her floral print sundress as she strolled down the hall toward the condo. Mick felt a tingle in his gut when she smiled and held out her hand to shake. He held her hand for a second longer than he should have, but she didn’t seem to mind. Encouraged, he held his hand on her back as they walked into the empty condo

Mick pulled open the blinds to reveal a view of the pool.

“That’s where we were,” she said looking at the pool area. “That was my chair right there.”

“There it is,” he said, wondering if she was really that sweet. “Let me show you around.”

They walked into the first bedroom, an empty 10 x 12 room with a sliding glass door on the closet. She nodded politely and followed Mick into the master bedroom.

“What’s that?” She looked up at the mirrored ceiling.

“Last tenant must have put that in. Never seen it before,” he lied. “I guess the bed would go…”

He stopped himself from saying the obvious and stood directly below the mirror. “Of course, that will have to come down.”

“You don’t have to go through any trouble. I’ll get used to it.”

“Yeah?” he said, surprised. He looked into her eyes and they locked for a moment, then she turned toward the window.

“So, what do you think?” he asked.

“I’ll take it.”

“Good. I’d like to let you have it.”

They smiled at each other for a few seconds. She broke it off to look at the pool.

He took in her even profile, not believing his incredible luck; a real beauty in his condo. A ripple of anticipation fluttered in his stomach and spread out over his chest. She likes the mirror. She likes the pool. She likes me. Then Sherry, the crazy bitch, popped into his head. She could ruin everything. What was he going to do about her? Calling himself Michael would help. Sherry only knew him as Mick. They’d go out, go to his place and avoid Sherry at all costs. And if he had to, he’d pay her a little visit.

 

One Week Earlier

 

Mick slapped Sherry one more time before pushing her into the pool. Just then, out the corner of his eye, he caught sight of a blue Hawaiian shirt and a bright flash lit up inside his eyes. Mick found himself on the pool deck, holding his head. A huge hairy man stood over him with his fists clenched, the Hawaiian shirt hanging loose around his chest.

 

“You want more?”

 

Mick was looking into the eyes of a maniac. Large, wild black dots in the center of a fat red face darting from the pool to him and back again.

 

“What you hit me for?”

 

“Leave the lady alone!”

 

Mick turned to Sherry. She stood waist high in the pool, her tan dress nearly transparent in the cold water.

 

“Sherry, was I bothering you?”

 

Sherry held her arms out in front of her body as if to block a body check, her lips quivering slightly. “No. No he wasn’t bothering me. He’s my husband.”

 

“That’s right,” said Mick. “You gonna stand between a husband and his wife?”

 

The thick man looked at Sherry with doubting eyes, then back at Mick. Backing away, he turned toward the pool. “You don’t have to lie to me, lady. I saw him hit you. You can press charges. Take him to court.”

 

Mick smiled, his fingers wrapped tightly around the back of a lounge chair to support his wobbly legs.

 

“What’s your name?” asked Mick.

 

“Never mind my name. I know what I saw and I don’t go for it.”

 

The big guy looked distracted suddenly, like he was confused about something. Mick took it as his chance to rectify the situation.

 

“How about you go for this?”

 

Mick swung the chair around, sliding it into the big guys shin. Big guy leaned down to grab his leg and Mick slammed him in the gut with a right. Reaching back for a good wind-up, Mick smacked Big Guy right in the nose. He went down hard, and Mick was all over him. Kicking him in the face and punching him until he lay on the ground with his arms covering his head. Mick grabbed a large, white rock from the garden near the pool fence. Holding the rock high above the guy’s head, Sherry screamed for him to stop. Mick saw the gold Detective’s shield on the big guy’s belt and backed away, dropping the rock back into the garden.

 

Sherry was screaming like hell. Mick jumped into the pool to calm her down. Blood from the Detective’s head dripped into the pool. Mick held her, fighting her flailing until at last she was a silent, quivering mess in his arms.

 

Mick squeezed Sherry’s mouth with his fingers and pulled her face close, so he could see the wild in her eyes. He held her tight and whispered into her ear.

 

“You see that fat shit over there?”

 

She nodded her head.

 

“He’s a cop. A gold shield Detective and he hit me in the head. You understand? He just hauled off and socked me without cause and didn’t identify himself. They have to do that, you know. Identify themselves as cops. And you’re my witness, you understand?”

 

She nodded slowly.

 

“That’s right. Now, if I need you to, you’re gonna testify against this fat shit Detective that he hit me first without a reason, you got that?”

 

“Yes,” she mumbled.

 

“Good. Now, I don’t ever want to see you again, understand me, you little whore? Unless I call you, I don’t want to see your fat ass around the pool or anywhere near my side of the condos, you got me?”

 

She nodded.

 

“Good. Now, go home. And if you tell anyone about this, I’ll find out. Now go.”

 

Sherry waded out of the pool and ran through the open gate. Mick chuckled to himself, seeing her run all scared like that, her stupid little purse flapping behind her legs. She looked like a water soaked poodle.

 

The fat cop was starting to move when Mick walked up and stood above him, water from his soaked pants dripping onto the Detective’s face.

 

“You are in some deep shit, my friend.”

 

Mick took the badge number down and kicked the cop one last time before walking off. Fat pig deserved it for ruining his evening.