The End

theaterHe sat, pretending to watch the garish musical on the big screen. Why anyone would present a so-called gala night featuring some forgotten and forgettable musical was a mystery to him.

Since he was here to catch a blackmailer, ignoring the noise and commotion onscreen was part of the task, and he was glad of it.

Also glad that he knew exactly who he was looking for. Easy to catch a criminal in the act when you know who they are. Follow them around a bit, do some discreet digging, and hey presto! Usable information leading to eyewitnessing their perfidy.

The light from the preposterous dance number bounced off a shiny silk suit. No, it wasn’t the suit.

It was a knife blade. And that was flashing toward the suit.

The suit worn by the blackmailer he was going to catch in the act.

Instead, he’d caught his murder, live and in person.

Hole in His Chest

His habit was to pop out of bed the instant he awoke. Today it felt good to lie there, eyes closed, sun glowing through the window onto the bed.

bedroom-dark-light“Know what I want to do today?”

The room was silent.

She’s still sleeping, he thought. Lazybones.

He rolled over to put his arms around her, knowing she’d open one eye, give him the grumpy face, then snuggle into his chest.

Her side of the bed was empty.

He opened his eyes.

Properly awake now, he threw himself down on her pillow.

His wounded animal cries made no difference. He’d done this every morning since he’d been able to sleep again, and it made no difference.

She was still dead.

Waking Up on the Couch I Can Hear Someone Upstairs

shadowy stairsI climb the stairs, avoiding the few creaky ones I’m used to avoiding coming down. Soft-soled shoes help, but I know whoever is up there will hear the slightest noise.

Every time they rummage, stumble, make any noise, I take an extra step. My slow climb is taking minutes that feel like hours.

I miss, or rather, don’t miss, one of the creaks. The noise above stops abruptly and a figure dressed in black appears at the top of the stairs.

My assailant, male I think, rushes me, probably trying to push me backward down the stairs.

I quash the instinct to fight back. Instead, I drop to my stomach, arms flailing above me.

I catch an ankle.

Then I catch a knee in the back as he tumbles over me.

By the time I turn and scamper back down, he’s lying motionless on the floor.

Before I even check for a pulse, I pull the ski mask off his head.

It’s more of a shock than when I first realized someone had broken into my home.

Finding that pulse matters now.

Phil Brennan, Web Martin, and Jesse Donovan Walk Into A Bar

Joel D CanfieldYou’d think I’d know what to expect considering who I was meeting in the cheap dive downtown.

One at a time, sure.

I’d never sat down with the three of them, not all at once.

It’s enough to drive you to drink.

Or for those with other proclivities, to write.

Or maybe both.

On the Eve of My Daughter’s Wedding

Five weeks ago, I was one of the most important people in her life. Now, a near stranger is the most important person in her life, and I’m barely a part of it.

It feels like death. It feels, inside, exactly the way it felt when my father died.

I know that, one month ago, she left, and she’s never coming back. She’ll go away and be part of someone else’s life, and we’ll see her now and then, but she’ll never really be back.

After all the years of stress and frustration and countless hours of worry and talk and tears, someone else gets to have the almost adult we created, and we get an empty hole.

It’s not fair and it hurts, and all anyone else sees is the angry whining selfish old man. Someone is taking one of my most precious possessions, and doesn’t even seem to care how I feel.

I’m scared and sad and lonely. I’m heart-broken over the projects we’ll never finish because she’ll go away and be part of someone else’s life instead of mine.

It’s not anger. It’s pain. That sound in my voice; the look on my face.

That’s my heart breaking.

bride

blue sky over a white house

blue sky over a white houseblue sky over a white house wind blows waving trees above a green yard where something doesn’t move doesn’t move at all until slowly slowly one arm reaches up to his head it’s a man is he hurt I can’t tell slowly he rolls on one side birds chatter in the tree then fly off to the wire between the telephone poles who has a telephone that needs wires anymore but that’s what we call them isn’t it he’s up on his knees now and I can’t tell if he’s hurt or drunk or decided to sleep under the stars except he’s not under the stars he’s under the tree in the green yard under the waving tree and the wind blows in the blue sky over a white house

Lunch Note

lunch“What makes you think she’s in trouble?”

“I knew you wouldn’t take me seriously.”

“Not saying that. I need the lay of the land before I take the case.”

“Just because I’m not old enough to drive—”

“Hey, age has no bearing on whether someone needs help.”

“Or tells the truth.”

“That, too. People of all ages lie to me. People of all ages get confused about people they love. People of all ages come in here and tell me all kinds of stories. I pepper them with questions like I’m doing right now, and if I don’t like their story, they can take it somewhere else. So like I said, age has nothing to do with it whether I’ll believe you, or take you seriously, or take the case even if I do. I still need to know what makes you think she’s in trouble.”

“She packs my lunch for school every day. Writes me notes.”

“This is not surprising.”

“Wait, I wasn’t finished. This is the note I found in my lunch today. Read it.”

“He’s going to kill me. Get help.”

Nothing But Stars

The blue-grey clouds squished over the rooftops down the road as I warmed my hands on my mug of darker-than-clouds coffee. A good night’s sleep would have been nice, thank you very much, but no, I got to bed early, tossed like a fish till all hours, then awoke, twitching and wild-eyed, at 3:13am. I’m not superstitious, so twitching awake from a nightmare to my WalMart digital clock displaying the usual number of disasters followed by the unluckiest number didn’t bother me at all. Not one bit.

bluegreyclouds

When it’s black night out here you can’t see the next house, a hundred yards up the road, unless Mort is going fishing and he’s up early. Otherwise, new moon like this, you see nothing but stars until the sun oozes up over the hills behind my cottage. Then, the stars are there one moment, gone in a blue-grey haze the next.

Except that was all in my imagination, of course, what with the thick dark cover of clouds. It would get lighter. It would not get sunny.

Matched my prospects for the day.

I swallowed the last of the lukewarm brew in my mug and went upstairs to shower, shave, and dress for my last day as an outsider.

Unglamorous Detecting

toiletsignI’m sure every profession is less glamorous than outsiders think. Except accounting. Accounting can’t possibly be less glamorous than it seems.

Sleazy employee I was keeping an eye on lived in a dump and walked everywhere, which meant I got to drive a piece of junk rental car and sit in a frankly frightening neighborhood so I know all his comings and goings. The dumpiness of the area also meant that popping down the block to grab a quick bite or use a clean bathroom was out. Yes, you can use the bathroom and not miss a guy leaving his apartment, if he walks everywhere.

But if there’s no bathroom, you do what you have to do. It’s not pleasant but it’s the job.

After a few hours of slowly cooling black coffee and nibbles of a lukewarm burrito, nothing happened.

See what I did there? You thought something was going to happen. You’ll need to drop that attitude if you’re going to succeed at this game.

Because most of the time, nothing happens.

If this loser wasn’t lifting vital records during his janitorial shift at a prestigious research facility, prestigious enough to pay loads to get the dirt on the dirtbag, it wouldn’t be worth the waste of time.

As it was, any move he made could be worth millions. Could, in fact, mean lives.

So, I sat. I waited.

Nothing happened.

Nothing except the coffee getting colder and my attitude struggling to keep its head above water.

And I Didn’t Disappear

sharp shoeIt was reckless, but I had nothing left to lose, and if I was right, everything to gain.

As he stepped off the train, I accosted him, rudely.

“You’ve trodden on my shoe, sir.”

He stepped back, knowing well he’d done no such thing.

“I’m most sorry sir.”

As he made to pass by, I stepped in front of him.

“It was freshly polished.”

I’d moved from inconvenience to annoyance, meaning, he took notice of me as a person, not only a noise in his way. Looking down, he could tell my shoes hadn’t been polished in a very long time.

“That is difficult to believe, sir. Let me pass.”

I pushed.

“You’ll pay the tuppence to have them shined again.”

“Tuppence? If you paid a ha’penny for that shine you were diddled. I, on the other hand, will not be.”

“Pay, sir. Or shall I call a constable?”

“Step aside. Let me pass. I have business to attend to, fool.”

Of course, I didn’t step aside, and of course, he drew back his fist and hit me, hard, in the face.

I knew my grandfather’s temper. I knew my grandmother’s eventual abhorrence of it. I knew that if she saw it, from just over there where she awaited her prospective (but not anymore) husband, she would leave the station and never look back, as she’d always told me after his unmourned death.

What I didn’t know, when I shifted painfully through the ether of time from early 2019 to the date of their meeting in 1937, was whether preventing their meeting would, in fact, alter my physical existence as one of their progeny.

As I said, nothing to lose.

But now, knowing what I know, everything to gain.

I Don’t Carry a Gun

bright-light-dark-nightA careful check of my assets revealed a wallet with no cash, no pictures, and no character, a pack of Beeman’s gum, a religious tract, and half a bottle of drinkable water. Where else but California?

No, I don’t carry a gun. The noise scares me, and besides, they don’t seem to be very effective against guys who hit you from behind with John Deere tractors.

The side of the Chevy was cool against the throbbing heat of my brain pan. After another ten minutes my giant intellect came to the conclusion that people with no money, no credit cards, and no friends shouldn’t let their car get assaulted by thugs.

Over the Rooftops

alleyAs I slid down the rough surface of the shingles, shredding my pants while putting years’ of wear on my shoes in a single moment, I thought about the ridiculous depictions of rooftop pursuits in the movies. Leaping across flat rooftops, scaling peaks and running down the other side.

Nonsense.

I was determined not to let this guy get away, not because I was being paid for it (though of course, I was) but because he’d rubbed my nose in his last escape.

Still, my knees and hands were bleeding, my clothes were rags, my stomach was heaving and lungs were burning. I had to catch him, but quick, or give up.

I’m not the “die trying” type, thank you very much.

I slid off the edge of the sloped shingle nightmare and fell the short distance to the flat roof below. I’d seen it coming or I wouldn’t have slid down. Found my footing and ran to the other side.

It was too far to jump. Too far for me, anyway. So he was gone. Again.

Glanced down to see how far my fall would have been, and there he was, rag-dolled over a pile of someone’s junk in the alley.

There goes my dreams of capture and confession.

Then I heard him groan, and one leg moved.

The pile of junk I landed in was softer than his, because I went down intentionally.

It still hurt. But not as much as he did.

Three Days’ Invisibility Shot to Pieces

swordJust because she didn’t want protection didn’t mean her husband didn’t want her protected.

Made my job harder, because I couldn’t let her see me, but in some ways I’m happier I didn’t have to stand around pretending not to notice her when I was supposed to be watching for the bad guys.

Staying close when she went into those stores specifically for the ladies was a challenge, but there’s always a men’s store or other testosterone-aware place nearby. Reflections are your friend in these situations.

I’d wager my whole take on this gig she never knew I was there, watching her those first three days.

After that, of course, she knew all right. Difficult to remain oblivious to a couple well-dressed gentleman wrestling with a ceremonial sword one of them was trying to stick into you.

Go Easy in the Boulevard

trafficThe last thing the police officer said was in English, sort of.

“You, go easy in the boulevard.”

My brother nodded vigorously.

I continued looking vaguely out the windshield at the traffic passing by.

Like many teenagers in the 70s, we sometimes took Dad to work so we could use the car.

Work just happened to be in another country.

… more … “Go Easy in the Boulevard”

The Caravan at Alssikin

Trickles of sand crept into the boy’s clothes as he lay peering over the crest of the dune, down at the caravan below. He told himself he could ignore the sand just as he was ignoring the sweat, the heat, his hunger and thirst, his fear.

caravanLess than a mile to the east the caravan would pass through Alssikin, a narrow defile appropriately named for the long thin knife even young boys in his village carried. Only a thousand yards long, Alssikin was the right spot to launch an ambush, were a band of brigands so inclined.

… more … “The Caravan at Alssikin”

Sometimes One Marshmallow is Enough

coffee-shop-menuIn the space of two paragraphs, Spike’s coffee shop was invaded by nearly a dozen loud business-suit types. Half the tables were already in use. Partial use, he thought to himself. Eight quiet bodies, minding their own business, reading or people-watching as the crazies of downtown LA staggered by. They’d probably chosen this building to live in because of the coffee shop. Didn’t even have to cross the street for the full Fauxbucks experience. That had been Spike’s reasoning when he moved downtown from out in the east (read “smoggiest”) end of the San Fernando Valley.

It wasn’t really Spike’s coffee shop, other than that’s what he called it: “Why don’t we meet at my coffee shop?” But he’d sat there most mornings the past nine months, enough mornings to recognize all seven of the other faces in the pre-business-suit-invasion moments.

Now those faces were putting on sham smiles. Yes, of course, please, share my table, crowded isn’t it, yes they make an excellent nonfat soy latte; newspaper meaningfully rustled and raised enough to indicate intent without overt rudeness.

“Mind?”

At least Camelhair Coat Dude wasn’t wearing a wool pinstripe like the two matching goofs who’d snagged a table by the door. Took Spike a moment to realize what the guy was asking; do you mind if I sit here? By then, he’d sat, and the question, and Spike’s understanding, were moot.

… more … “Sometimes One Marshmallow is Enough”