Knock Knock

Late Summer 1967, Paris, France

She stood in the window, interlaced her fingers, stretched her arms over her head and yawned, felt her long, silk nightgown almost too much to be wearing against the sun. Three months ago she had been Amanda Vincent. Twenty-two, Masters with Honors from Cambridge, madly in love enough with a beautiful French-Italian playboy to walk out in the middle of her Ph.D. in International Finance. This late Monday morning she was young bride of three months Amanda Morisè, daydreaming out the window of a third-floor Montmartre apartment at the noise and dust of Paris, the memory of day long lovemaking fresh in her mind. It was late summer, warm, close. A light knock on the door brought her back to Earth.

She answered the knock to find a young woman much like herself, wearing a soft cotton summer dress, hair pulled up loosely against the heat, her arms crossed at her wrists, waiting. She had the bluest eyes Amanda had ever seen.

“Amanda? Amanda Morisè?” From the sound of her voice her visitor was very French. And on the verge of impatience overcoming her mannered demeanor. “Je peut entrer? To speak a moment? The matter I think most important?”

Amanda was still somewhere between her daydreams and the young woman standing in the open door. “Yes. Yes…of course. My manners escape me…”  As her visitor passed she thought that if whatever was holding her guest’s hair together let go, it might just explode off her head.

“You possess the mind of his charm, Madame,” her guest said as she passed. “I am Alixandrie. It is too formal, I agree. I am called Alix. As in your America, now we shake the hands, oui?” The blue-eyed girl’s English was much better than Amanda’s French. Alix declared a halt to further polite formalities and launched into a story, told in a series of broken sentences wrenched from the center of her being. Some tears were shed in the telling and it ended with “I believe you also are married to my husband, Yannick Morisè.”

“No, that’s quite impossible,” Amanda’s tone completely dismissive of Alix’s story of a whirlwind romance followed closely by betrayal. “I know you’re upset, but you’ve made a mistake. I’m sorry for whatever your husband may have done, but my husband left just this morning for Marseille. His name is Yannick, but it’s not an unusual name, neither is Morisè.” Her daydreams returned, she saw them eating breakfast together, barely clothed, he spanked her lightly on her behind as she walked past him with her coffee. How, as he was leaving, he had bent over, dropped an end of his tie down her robe, raised his eyebrows, smiled when it followed him as he stood after a quick, deep kiss goodbye.

“No! No, I tell you he is in a house in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, half of one hour’s train ride from Paris. He believes I have come to Paris to discover an answer of my pregnancy. You are assured, Madame Morisè, I am not. I have come to meet you, the wife he married two weeks after me. Of treachery as such, be most assured!”

Alix removed a note card from her black leather clutch with an address in Saint-Germain printed at the top. “I am not believed? By you, his beautiful American woman? Tomorrow he will be away the day. If not for you, perhaps another wife? The Mademoiselle of flowers waits in the road from the station of trains. Show her this.” She took Amanda’s hand and smashed the card in her palm. “She will show the way to you. Tomorrow.” Her face softened. “Offer her kindness, please, the flowers girl. If what is discovered in Saint-Germane you cannot believe? No more will I speak of it to you.”

The blue of Alix’s eyes burned through the redness of recent tears straight into Amanda’s own before she gently moved a strap of Amanda’s nightgown back onto her shoulder, turned and walked quietly away. The soft fragrance of fresh flowers followed her. She put Amanda in mind of a small, beautifully sad garden as she pulled the door closed softly behind her, not quite closing it all the way.

Amanda looked at the card. Quite a girl, and even more of a story. Yes, Yannick had married her in a quiet civil ceremony, that was true. Often accused by the press of squandering his inheritance on a laundry list of immoral pursuits, he’d told her he needed no more publicity. That it was best his enemies, even his friends, not know that he now had such a beautiful wife. She had agreed. He could get her to do whatever he wanted. The things he said, the things he did to her, with her…It was all a lie. It must be. A jealous girlfriend with a story, attempting to start some girl nonsense. She would go to Saint-Germaine in the morning and get the truth from the lovely little French girl with her wild hair, blue eyes, and pathetic little lie.

***

When shown the card, the flower girl said “Oh, Oui,” and spoke rapidly and only  in French that she knew the way, offered to walk with Amanda.

“No, thank you.” Amanda tried to politely extricate her hand from the flower girl’s. “I prefer the quiet. It’s so unlike Paris.” She tried in English, and her best French, the flower girl not understanding. Amanda finally said, “Mercì” for the all the girl’s pointing and handed her a silver 10 Franc coin, which made the flower girl squeal, take Amanda’s hand back and kiss it until she had to pull it away.

The tiny house was no more than a half a mile from the station, off a narrow street. She passed through the hedge wall in front and knocked with purpose. Alix answered and the door opened into a cool, dark room. Amanda wanted to say “Show me your evidence, tell me your tale, cry and let me leave. My husband will be home tomorrow.” Alix’s blue eyes were burning, lighting up the dark entryway. Amanda decided she might be better served with tact. It wouldn’t kill her to be polite. The girl was obviously hurt, give her a chance. Hear her out. It was a lovely village, so quiet after Paris, and Alix’s cottage was remarkably cool.

“I have said you are most beautiful,” Alix pulled the runaway strands of Amanda’s hair from her cheek, pushed them gently behind her ear. “Sad, no? Two beautiful women should meet such as this, our lives entwined in deceit.”

“I’m still certain there’s been a mistake of some kind, I —” Alix’s touch had been light as a feather, warm and cool at the same time…

“I talk too much to you, his beautiful American woman. See your ‘husband,’ Yannick Morisè. Come.”

Amanda had heard at Cambridge, mostly by way of racial innuendo, that French girls were temperamental, hot headed. Meaner than Spanish girls, smarter than English girls, sexier than Italian girls. This was always said by someone in a pub, in a fake French accent. It might just be true.

She followed Alix down a short hallway to a small bedroom dominated by a double bed, the window at the foot of it open where a light breeze drifted in, bringing with it a garden awash in flowers. It felt like home should feel. No, this wasn’t Paris. A view of trees some ten yards distant replaced the dusty haze that surrounded the Eiffel tower. The soft rustling of the hedge, the flowers. It was serene, like she was inside of poetry, so –

Alix practically ripped the doors off a double armoire, banging them violently on the cabinet’s side. Inside, Yannick’s signature blousy, white collarless shirts he had handmade in Florence hung there in testament to his presence. His white collared dress shirt from the High Street in Oxford. No…Surely, they weren’t her Yannick’s. They couldn’t be.

Alix picked up a man’s lacquered jewelry box, dumped the contents on the armoire’s shelf and tossed the box to the floor. Amanda recognized a familiar pair of cufflinks, the Tissot watch she had bought him as a wedding gift. No, no, no…She lifted the watch as if it were unreal, turned it over to see the “Love Always, C.A.M.” she’d had engraved on the back. She was shaking. She tugged on a shirt, softly at first, then violently, ripping it from its hanger to stare blankly at the tailor’s mark on the bottom. YFM, a number. It was true. It was all true. The compact bundle of electric French girl had told her the truth.

Alix saw her start to fold and set her on the edge of the bed, keeping her hands on Amanda’s shoulders. “No more tears. No more for this bastard, our ‘husband,’ will there be tears. Your Father has wealth I am certain?”

“Yes.” She felt dizzy, sick…

“As also mine. This Yannick desires more than beauty or sex, our money to waste. Do not faint on me, Amanda. The steps we take most severe to destroy him, he will not destroy us.” She looked Amanda in the eye, shook her shoulders. “We have the means. In France also the women may judge these things. Divorce him together, destroy him together. Together. For all women we shame this misery from the face of France!”

Alix left the room and returned with brandy in a water glass, gave it to Amanda and waited a few minutes for it to hit. When Amanda had calmed, Alix walked with her slowly, held her hand all the way to the station where they sat together on a worn, wooden bench and waited for the train. “Be strong for us,” Alix whispered when she kissed Amanda on the cheek before releasing her to board the train. “Be. Strong.”

***

Alix had said “We must be taken ill when he returns to us. He cannot touch us. No sex, no control, unable to attend the bank for him? He will go mad.” Amanda stuck to her orders from Alix, feigned “ill”, kept her mouth shut while her anger and her heart simmered into a slow boil for the two days Yannick was home before he was off to Florence on “business.”

Amanda had not only inherited her father’s money, but her one character flaw as well. Impatience. She didn’t wait well, didn’t like, as her father had said, to “let shit ride.” Now she’d let some sweet talking, hot love making pretty boy French bastard take over her body, her mind, her very soul. Let him blind her, blindside her, and marry her just two weeks after he’d married a wild, rich, blue-eyed French girl. Who the hell did he think he was?

Whatever Yannick’s business in Italy, it had been unpleasant. On his return he was irritable, needed a shave, needed a shower, wanted a woman. He drank champagne from the bottle, directed loud, profane insults at Amanda in three languages, asked her why did he have a sick wife he couldn’t fuck? She lost it. Told him she knew. About Alix, about all of it. Because some “arrogant, idiot, dickless bastard had left a watch in a cottage in Saint-Germain.” She called him “the most useless piece of shit excuse for a man ever born.” An outburst that left her on the floor of their bathroom semi-conscious with a broken jaw, a cracked cheekbone and two fewer teeth than she’d had that Sunday morning. Lying on the floor, consciousness fading, all she could think of was Alix. Unaware, alone, and directly in Yannick’s path. He had stormed out in such a rage. He was dangerous. Alix needed to get away…To be safe…Amanda passed out thinking of her, of Alix, the French girl with those blue, blue eyes.

Yannick arrived in Saint-Germaine, at least as drunk and more self-righteously enraged than when he’d left Paris. Alix refused to let him in, but she did let him make enough noise pounding on the door and screaming profanity at her to wake her neighbors. He found an axe leaning against the woodpile, used it to break down the front door. When he was at last standing inside, dripping sweat, axe raised and with a dozen or so neighbors looking on, Alix shot him four times with the Walther PPK her father had taken from a dead German officer in 1944. She dropped the pistol on Yannick’s body when she stepped over it and through the splintered door into the late summer night. She would take the next train to Paris, find the beautiful American woman and tell her the good news. Tell her how a passionate, blue eyed French girl with impossible hair had begun to feel about her, see what she thought about that.

Revised and Updated

White Lies and Dirty Laundry

Another cutting room floor editing casualty from The Hot Girl that I liked enough to rescue from the trash.

Roosevelt Junior High, October 20th, 1971

Deanna clung to her open locker door with her right hand, leaned her head on the shelf inside. She couldn’t go to home room. She didn’t want to talk, or smile or lead cheerleading practice or read the afternoon announcements or do anything at all. Just for a day she didn’t want to be who she was. All she wanted was to be alone, and maybe have just one real friend she could tell about Gramma Cora. Goddammit. Was that too much to ask, really?

“Morning, Jackson.” Coach Stephens raised his chin at the growth-spurt skinny eighth grade boy in his doorway. “Some geniuses clogged the shitter in the band room next door.” He tossed the blue nylon bag full of his laundry at the kid like it was a medicine ball. “I’ll get you out through the girl’s side. Grab a hall pass in case you meet a stranger on that side of the building.”

Jackson tore off several pre-signed hall passes from the pad, hefted the laundry bag on his shoulder and followed Stephens to the center of the basketball court, the invisible wall between the only non-coed homerooms at Roosevelt Junior High.

Stephens chirped his whistle. “Heads up, skirts down, legs crossed, ladies. Man on business, comin’ through.”

Jackson knew he’d turned red, shielded his head with the bag and sent his eyes to the floor for his trek through the minefield of girl’s gym homeroom. Damn. They sat on the floor cross legged, or laid on their backs with an ankle on their knee, skirts dropped to almost there. He heard them all shuffling positions, heard the giggles, the “is that Santa Claus” and “what’s with the bag” and “uh-oh, panty check” comments that followed him across the basketball court until he was out the double doors, up five steps and in the hall headed toward daylight.

He raised his eyes, and opposite where the janitor had half the hall blocked there was a locker open, but all he could see were sweat socks and girl’s saddle oxfords. Cheerleader gear. And Mr. Han, the asshole French teacher and hall pass Nazi, was coming down the hall from the other direction, on a collision course with him and the cheerleader at her open locker. Shit.

Bonjour, Mr. Han.”

“Always halfway clever, Monsieur Jackson. You and the bag say it’s Wednesday. Who do we have at their locker who should be in home room?”

Jackson stepped sideways into the narrow space between the girl and Mr. Han, swung his laundry bag around and knocked the unseen girl back inside her open locker. He was chest to chest and almost eye to eye with Han in zero personal space for all three of them. He lifted a hall pass out of his back pocket with his thumb and finger, held it under the bag and waited until he felt her grab it.

“She was with me, Mr. Han. There’s shit, uh, sewage all on the floor by the band room on our side and Coach sent her to escort me out the girl’s side. So I wouldn’t do anything stupid or talk to anybody. And, um, anyway, she needed a book, that’s why he sent her with me. And she ran ahead of me. To get her book.”

Han reached around Jackson, checked the crumpled pink paper the girl pushed past the blue bag.

“Don’t you have somewhere you’re supposed to be, Mr. Jackson?”

“Yes sir.” Jackson stepped off in a hurry, just under the ‘don’t run in the hall’ rule, didn’t look back. Han followed him with his eyes until Jackson and the blue bag were around the corner.

“Miss Collings, are you feeling alright?”

“Yes. My grandmother’s funeral was yesterday. I just didn’t want to talk to everyone…anyone. That’s why I, um, ran to my locker. I’ll be okay. Really.”

“I understand. There’s never a good time for a funeral. Or Jackson.” He flicked the pink pass in his hand with his middle finger, handed it back. “Tell Stephens even he needs to put names on his hall passes. Why he’d send you out with that kid and the bag is beyond me.”

“Well, there is some really gross stinky poop and stuff on the floor on their side and Jackson can get in trouble. I mean pretty easy, and kind of a lot. And I did need my book.”

“It’s a good thing for you, Miss Collings, that everything you have said is true.” He pushed her locker door closed. “Home room young lady. Now.”

“Yes sir.” She glanced at the hall pass on her way, smoothed it out and put it in the history book she wouldn’t need for four hours. Jackson, the guy with the big blue bag, had spare hall passes and covered her, huh? Cool.

Looney Lunes #109

Lost in Translation

Most states require that all requests for a change to an insurance policy be made in writing. The following is an actual communication between a customer and insurance agent.

“Hey Victor! stop please this police, it”s car is sold!!!!”

Toothbrush

via Daily Prompt: Toothbrush

“If you’re about to apologize, don’t,” she said. “This was my idea.”

He watched Zanie brush her hair back into the signature bushy pony tail, adjust the perfect, store bought cantaloupes in a bra with six hooks under a silky t-shirt.

She checked herself in his mirror, shook her hair. “I wish I still smoked.”

“I keep some of Dash’s cigarillos around here somewhere. And some weed from Hawaii somebody gave me.”

“I told you I have a meeting in half an hour. No weed. Find the cigarillos. And a Coke or beer or something. Where did all that polite Coach Cowboy host shit go?”

“Polite host mask comes off with my other clothes. Coke or Heineken?”

“That’s it? Coke and Hiney?”

“Carbonated French fart water. And a couple of Michelob Lights that might be a year old.”

“Make mine Hiney.”

He left that alone. He came back, tossed the box of cigarillos on the bed between them, handed off her beer and pulled a lighter out of the nightstand.

“Thanks.” She held on to his lighter hand after she blew the smoke sideways. “I was thinking while you were gone.”

He lit his own cigarillo, waited.

“Thinking I should tell you the rest of the reason for ‘this’.”

“Your call. I don’t have to apologize, you don’t have to explain.”

“I’ve spent the last four years as cover for a gay jock. So when I walked my stringer gig I could get some career shit off the ground with no man interference. I saw all the holes I could plug if had a little time, didn’t have to worry about money for a couple of months and bought a set of serious Hollywood qualifications to fix…A problem. I thought when this move to the warehouse next to Dwight’s is done I might need to let someone in. Someone I could work with. And trust. Navarro told me about your Golden Rule number two. This afternoon has to be that way.”

“What afternoon?”

“Good.” She smashed the cigarillo down in the ashtray and chugged the rest of her beer. “Do you have a clean toothbrush I can use?”

“Depends on whether I can still brush my teeth with it when you’re done.”

“Charmingly perverse.”

“It’s a gift. There’s a new one in the drawer on the right side of the sink.”

“Kind of late to be worrying about germs.” She stuck her feet in her heels that immediately made her five inches taller than he was, walked past him and into the bathroom.

“Is this where I cue ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ and watch you drive down Ocean with the top down and your hair blowing around while a little bitty tear lets me down?”

“No.” She wiped her mouth on a hand towel, draped it over his shoulder. “I’m in my production van. And sad, whispery folk songs gag me. Your tear was a nice touch but I know it’s bullshit. Here is where we swear a blood oath to take ‘this’ to our graves.” She blew in her cupped hands, checked her breath. “So far you’ve gotten in my shit, told me a clown punching to old Playboys in your dad’s closet story, whined about the healthy crap all the ‘Oh my God if I gain an ounce or get a zit I’ll die’ girls eat and turned my idea of a quickie to find out who the hell you are into most of an afternoon. You’re a keeper.”

“I didn’t say anything about punching the clown.”

“I have brothers.” She shook out the ponytail again, got chest to chest with him. “You and I ate lunch, found out we have a lot in common that is mutually beneficial professionally, we’re production house neighbors, and we plan on working closely together on a number of projects. Can you repeat that on demand?” She got two inches from his eyes. “I don’t care if they pull out your fingernails. Lunch. Friends. Period. The end. You fuck anyone in this circle jerk mess of a softball team Little Miss Calimex handed you and I’ll be outside the door with a camera and crew. Professionals. Lunch. Friends. Period.”

“The end?”

“This is how good I look leaving. Remember to miss me.”

The Art of Drowning – Episode 2.4

Must We Be Enemies – by Phil Huston

Silk and powdery perfume, who appeared to have sent herself to the dry cleaners along with her clothes, glanced up from behind her large, glossy, empty-but-for-a-phone desk. “I’m sorry, you can’t…Caswell? You again?”

“New shoes, Elise.” He put his left foot on the edge of her desk. “Just for you.”

“How thoughtful.” She grimaced, ran her hand down the side of his shoe. “Well done. They almost look like leather.” She waved her hand at the pink Boots bag in his hand. “For me as well?”

“Your charms are eternal, but not today. I picked you some flowers, but had to chuck them. Fair Shona’s allergic.”

“Everyone in this game is a pathetically transparent liar. Dunning is in.” She collected a small purse from her desk drawer, caught Caswell’s eyes. “You will give me time to excuse myself.”

Silk and powdery perfume stepped to a door that appeared from nowhere and vanished the same way into the paneled wall behind her desk. Shona gave Cas a sideways glance.

“It’s a job, Shona. Someone needs to keep the riff raff at bay or the Empire would topple. Leaving us to let ourselves in gives her deniability should today be toppling day.”

“Resulting from riff following raff through that door?”

“I didn’t live so long leading dangerous charges, Shona. Ladies first.” He opened the tall door without knocking and ushered them in.

The startled, starched and balding man behind a larger polished desk looked up, frowned, caught it and offered a practiced politicrat smile. “Detective Nevill. Always a pleasure. Caswell.” Dunning flipped through a leather clad desk calendar on the pretense of reading it. “As your last visit, you don’t appear to have an appointment.”

Caswell opened the pink Boots bag and dropped his scorched, glass bottomed work boots on Dunning’s desk.

“Goddammit, Caswell…” Dunning held his hands up and away from his desk, now covered in tiny pieces of sand turned glass. “What the hell?”

“Last visit we asked you for data from the Juliette Simone. Who were the handlers and who were the victims of the gas that melted brains like rage melted sand under my feet while fetching Dr. LeClare fifty-three bags of –”

That’s what we need to discuss, before whatever shit fit you feel obligated to put on over the demise of an old pair of boots.” Dunning had put Caswell’s boots back in the Boots bag and scraped a folded piece of paper across his desk, pushing the bits of glass to one side. “You need to let your Dr. LeClare know she is relieved of that monumental project. We will make the determinations and connect the bones to their living relatives. Can’t have you lot dropping in on the families, handing off bodies in bin bags and scaring them shitless with tales of vengeful sand.” He pushed a translucent blue flash drive across the cleared part of his desk. “This is what you wanted. I hope at least one of you remembers your encrypted access passwords.”

Caswell pocketed the drive without acknowledgement. “Kylie won’t like it. She takes a personal interest in her bones.”

“Dr. LeClare’s happiness is your problem. I will get the bodies sorted and their stories told.”

“With what stories and how well sorted?”

“That’s my problem. Bones are bones. We can’t run DNA on every finger joint you pulled out of there. The proper skull and a box of bones, here’s old Uncle Charley. That’s all I can promise.”

“Shona’s missing person’s data?”

“This is a budget wrecker, Caswell. I have a dozen anthropology students on educational intern grants tracing ancestry based on myths we’ve fed them. All in an effort to assuage your theory of some connectivity curse based on an unfortunate circus of errors committed a hundred years ago. Start with what you have. Detective Nevill will get more of what she needs as it comes. Daily if need be. You may then connect the dots as you will.”

Cas glanced at Shona who nodded. “Right, then. I’ll have the regional Doc’s clearance for whatever we need to do at Cliftonwood House with Evelyn Blanchard and we’re less the burden for today.”

There was a moment of extreme tension between Caswell and Dunning, broken when Dunning let his breath go. “Cliftonwood…That’s a bit steep.” He clocked Caswell’s expression. “But doable.” He pushed the Boots bag across the desk behind the drive. “As for you and yours, any Juliette Simone investigation begins with Detective Nevill’s recovered and returned missing person and goes forward. Use the data on the drive, daily updates and our combined underaged research talent to find out why, who might be next.” He paused, only for emphasis. “Leave the bones and their tales to me.”

He watched Caswell open the tall, mahogany door and hold it for Shona, brushed a pile of glass into an open envelope. “Leave yesterday well alone, Caswell. What have you done for us tomorrow, eh mate? Stay in touch.” He punched his phone as the door closed. “Elise? I need a vac…Elise? Elise?”

***

Silk and powdery perfume, topped with a large, fashionable anti-CCTV hat, stepped out of the doorway of a pastry shop and fell in step with Shona and Caswell. “They want the bones to test for trace evidence, and the hell with you and the truth. Without evidence, it can’t come back to them and you’re on your own with whatever is out there.”

“Ever thus,” Caswell said. “Has anyone been in? Defense, Navy? Other ministry shit shovelers?”

“No. The flag wrapped nurse made ripples for twenty minutes with the alarmists. Dunning had them let it go when the body failed to connect. The Bee woman was chalked up to a drug mugging. Too many bodies along the coast and in the shadow of Cliftonwood, Cas. If I see anything go missing on the way to your reports I’ll text. You know where to find it.”

“How long did my wife ask you to try and keep me alive after she was gone?”

“Until I couldn’t. Or you quit this devil’s game and proposed.” She stopped, caught his arm. “Ketamine and Xanax is reality for most at Cliftonwood. What the hell do you hope to accomplish out there on the cliffs?”

“We need to unravel a psychotic woman’s murderous dreams and follow the thread down whatever magic rabbit hole this is.”

“Stay out of the rabbit hole of the Juliette. All of you. They’re looking for an excuse to get rid of it. And Kirklin. Arm’s length rule on both till the curtain falls on this.”

Shona turned to ask a question and Elise was gone. “You know the most fascinating people, Caswell.”

“Chase ghosts long enough and you meet spooks. One day she’ll tell me what my wife really said.”

“One day you’ll tell me what you really do.”

***

Shona sat cross-legged on the floor, Caswell leaned against the wall of Kylie’s candle-lit exam theater and they listened while Kylie read Wordsworth’s Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey as she walked among the fifty-three black bags of bones. Her voice soft, full of poignancy, consolation and hope. She finished, clutched the book to her chest schoolgirl fashion and addressed the assembled bags.

“A few more tests and you will all be going home. Leave whatever tragedy brought you to the Juliette Simone behind. And embrace your families.” She sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” quietly as she walked the bags again, touching each of them. She left the candles burning and followed Caswell and Shona out into the hall when she was finished.

“You’re free to phone Dunning’s minions now.” Kylie looked over her shoulder at the exam theater door. “They were so sad. And confused. But now, I think…They just needed to know that someone…That we…” Her eyes welled up. Caswell squeezed the top of her shoulder, Shona put an arm around her and led her down the hall to the coffee machine.

Kirklin rose from his seat behind an open newspaper. “Tears. Emotion. Touchy feely, hugs and tea. That’s why it’s so bloody hard to work with women. They wrap a shit job in nurturing and domesticity.”

“We could all be a bit more humane, Kirklin. ‘The dead have their needs’.”

“They do indeed.” Kirklin lit a black cigarette under the No Smoking sign, pulled a knit cap from a pocket as he walked toward the exit. “And she put a right shine on Wordsworth for them.”

***

“Don’t roll your eyes and play at not being home!” Caswell shook both arms of Evelyn’s rocking chair. “You’re as daft as I am, you old bat. Talk. To. Me.”

“Daft as you, daft as you,” she parroted in a cackle. “Ask me a question, I’ll riddle you half and half’s enough to tell you all if half a wit you’ll be.” She laughed another insane cackle and spit on the floor between them.

Cas shoved himself off the rocker’s arms, motioned for the pair of orderlies. “Take her back.”

They lifted her out of the rocker by her shoulders where she hung, limp and uncooperative. Caswell glared when she shuffled past. “Nothing. Not a bloody thing but food. You’ll see what you see and then you will talk to me.”

Evelyn wheezed, her voice cracked and hoarse. “Why do you hate me so? Have I done you some harm?” He could see the blood in Evelyn’s eyes. “The food is shite. The drugs? Nothing.” She squirmed against her handlers. “All of them, their hands are cold and clean and the sheets smell of bleach and death. I haven’t hurt you. I want my room. I want my room and my bed and my window and I want you GONE OFF ME!”

The stainless-steel orderly’s cart in the corner of the room began to vibrate until it reached an audible pitch. Shona saw it coming, barked a warning.

“DOWN! NOW!”

The cart exploded. The only sound it made was pieces of it whizzing through the air.

***

The staff doctor handed off a bandaged but ambulatory orderly and a clipboard to the two paramedics. “I have him down for an x-ray and a scan. Keep him overnight.” He turned, stared at the floor where the blood had begun to coagulate under the body of what had been the other orderly, severed in two just above his hips by a piece of the stainless-steel cart. He glanced up at Caswell. “You have a criminal pathologist with proper credentials on the way?”

“Yeah.” He looked down at his own bloody corduroys, the left leg slit open and dangling from the triage that had removed another piece of the serving cart’s shrapnel from his thigh. Twelve stitches and a tetanus shot.

“The nature of our ‘guests’ prohibits a direct police inquiry.” The doctor paused, seemed to weigh Caswell. “I place a call, they send someone. Based on paperwork received just this morning, that someone would be you. Or someone like you. Correct?”

Someone like me.”

“Only younger. Unsympathetic and no doubt distastefully humorless. Pick up your antibiotic and pain medications at the desk when you’re finished. Follow up with your GP or return here in ten days.” He took the clipboard Caswell had been holding, scratched his signature across the form attached to it, handed it back. “You’ll live. Consider ending your relationship with salt, you’ll live longer.”

***

Evelyn Blanchard drummed her fingers on her window sill, the last golden shafts of sunset ricocheted off the crystal wine glass she’d kept wrapped in a seaman’s rough bandana and stored in a drawer for forty years.

“The blood of the lamb says the church.” She rolled the glass by its stem, watched the rainbows dance on her wall and guests. “Salvation? Lamb’s blood it is, as sacrificial they are. And many’s the soul as found desolate salvation in the grape and cup.” Her lips tightened into a stiff smile. “Must we be enemies, Caswell?”

“Shrewd, but not a shrew?” Caswell poured her a touch more wine. “We’re not enemies, Evelyn. All we want are answers. We can’t right a hundred year wrong without them.”

Evelyn sat back, swept her hand in a broad arc. “All will become as it should, if only I will speak? Well speak I did, and blood covered the floor. More of that you want? Me, speaking? Then more of that you’ll have until you learn to listen.” She went back to drumming her fingers. With the sunset gone and no more games of light and crystal to entertain her, she took her stare somewhere beyond the sea’s distortion of the moonlit horizon and sighed.

“What you want is not from me,” she whispered. “I know his rage. I feel his longing. I touch his soul as he touches mine. But I’m not him. He fears naught but to be forgotten, yet all forgotten is what most he desires.” She looked at all of them, her eyes resting on their faces. “When all that was, died? When vile intent was loosed on the unsuspecting, the innocent, the loved and the lovers…What did they in turn expect? Pastoral nightmares? Orderly chaos and a well-mannered English death?” She held out her glass to Shona, who filled it half-way. Evelyn set the glass on her window sill, resumed her stare.

“The one who cannot die searches for those who failed him his death. He persists only to leave more blood in his wake that cannot sate him. He is Fugitif.” Evelyn tapped the window with her index finger, smiled at the fireflies in the dusk. “And I am Vessul.”

She turned to them, her tired eyes glassy. “Solve the riddle. Of death. And love. Or death and madness will be in the air until the air itself is scourged with sand and our blood.  Listen to me, my angels three. Undying death.” She turned back, put her hand gently on the window, let the fireflies dance on her fingertips. “And undying love…”

***

Cas limped to the X5, opened the passenger door and fell in. “This has love story overtones gone more horribly wrong than Shakespeare ever imagined, Shown. We take a few days, regroup on Monday with everything we have, go back to the beginning with Evelyn and the Juliette Simone.”

“Dunning said –”

“Fuck Dunning.” He turned, grabbed her headrest one handed. “The male nurse in the flag? The dead nurse, Bee? That kid in there today? Your original missing? Look close enough through Dunning’s data and we’ll find their deaths have been on the books a hundred years. It took whoever he is a while to get to here, that’s all.” He fell back in his seat, fastened the harness. “I need a drink.”

“You need a shower. And some trousers with both legs.” She pulled out of the gravel lot, hit her high beams and stuck her foot in the X5. She checked Caswell, tapped the clock. “And we both need to eat.”

He sighed, rolled his window down, smelled the sea in the air, caught himself letting a field of fireflies carry his thoughts away. “I’m beginning to think Kirklin was right about working with women.”

“Say what?”

“I said it’s too cold to go swimming.”

“Brilliant. Fox and Goose it is. Hey, Cas?” She smiled, reached over and punched his shoulder. “Fuck Kirklin, too. Where would you be without us?”

“Dead.” He managed a wry smile her direction. “Or bored next door to it.”

The Art of Drowning – An Ethereal Mystery

3 writers, no destination – What could go wrong?

Ash N. Finn  The Perilous Reading Society  & Not Very Deep Thoughts

 

The Art of Drowning – Episode 2.3

A Brittle Sigh on the Night Air – By Jac Forsyth

Shadow, form and reform. Fold words with the unfold of 10,000 fireflies, ‘Rescue came against my will, yet you presume to judge me on the choices I make? Hauntings always did run common in the halls of your reason, Caswell.’

Time and crime. Sleeper stir, lead with the sanctified. And alchemy of insects come flick-click dripping. Four walls in a crippling.

‘Would you have me hide silent in sandstorms when I am fallen with the crown of Anjou?’ A sigh, bone brittle on the night air, ‘Come, my love, you know me better than that. Every beg, every borrow, every stolen, lays another gilding on my memory. Silent is the one thing I cannot be.’

Sleep crumble in moan and mumble. The seabirds cry. But dreamchaser know the meddling of birds. Sanctuary of dawn is just another trick of the dark.

‘Still you refuse me audience?’ Shadow falls soft along the seams, tears in the too late of this meeting, ‘Ah, my love, my love. In sword and arrow, I know more than most how shame hides refugee in the strangest of places. But the last of our choices were abandoned along with the tide. And it seems to me that the walls you have built between us would benefit from a touch of graffiti. Or perhaps something a little more, permanent?’

Insects take. Sleeper wake. Red on white cotton. Words never forgotten.

From the devil we came and to the devil we must return

The Art of Drowning – An Ethereal Mystery

3 writers, no destination – What could go wrong?

Ash N. Finn  The Perilous Reading Society  & Not Very Deep Thoughts

Looney Lunes #108

Oh, I am so Crushed for You! (Not)

It just seems to me that a billionaire can come in and get whatever he wants and run roughshod over average millionaires like myself.

Crescent Park (Palo Alto, California) Neighborhood Association president Norm Beamer

I’ll get out my violin as soon as the guy down the street pays the city $25 to haul off the toilet by his trash can that four-foot-tall weeds now think is a repurposed designer planter.

The Art of Drowning – Episode 2.2

Steep and Narrow – by Ash N. Finn

Evelyn watches the young nurse make her bed. Fresh covers. Five days and three hours without a change of bed linen. Bee had known to change them every day.

“We’re short-staffed at the moment, Mrs. Blanchard, sorry about that. What with nurse Beatrice, eh,” the girl swallows and clears her throat, “away at the moment, and Steve out sick as well. There, your bed is lovely and fresh now. Not that it smelled like it needed changing badly.”

“It’s Evelyn, child. Do call me Evelyn, please. It’s not about the smell. It’s the sand, it gets everywhere, the sand, and especially into the bed. The sand burns my skin, you see,” she holds out her arms for the nurse to see, “And it gives me fever, and makes me shiver, and then my visions, they, they take me to – no, I’d rather not say, you wouldn’t understand.”

Sleeping in the bed the second night had given her burns on her arms, hands, and legs, even on the soles of her feet. No blisters thanks to her quick reaction and escape into the armchair by the window in which she has slept fully clothed every night since, but her skin had turned a fiery red. It’s still red even now and hot to the touch. The soles of her feet hurt most of all, and hobbling around barefoot is all she can do. As little as possible. Her entire frame is sore from sitting in the armchair for hours on end. It will be good to lie down on the bed again.

“Mrs. Blanchard, eh, Evelyn, may I ask if you have taken your pill today? You should take it now and then go to bed, and have a good rest. Here, hold on to my arm, let’s get you over to your lovely fresh bed.”

Of course, the young woman thinks her mad. After all, isn’t this why she is in this place? Should she give up trying to make them see, trying to warn them? Yet, something tells her that the nurse is in danger. There is something familiar about the woman’s features and the unflinching openness in her doe-like eyes. Is she poor Bee’s child? Evelyn’s eyes fill with tears.

“Are you her child?”

“Oh Evelyn, please, don’t cry. What is it? Is it the memory of your last episode upsetting you so much? Try to calm yourself and go to sleep. I’ll stay with you a little longer. Hold my hand, close your eyes. You are safe here, always remember that you are safe here. Shhh.”

“The visions, they, they take me to – it’s a dark place – a steep narrow staircase – deep down – rags and bones – angry sand glowing red – so hot, too hot – scorching, torching – burning drumsticks in my head – bonfires roaring inside my blazing skull – get them out – don’t let it take them there – not their children, too – no, not the children – Bee – too late – so sorry, so sorry. Will you be able to forgive both the silence and the telling?”

“I don’t think anyone is angry with you,” the nurse places her hand on Evelyn’s forehead, “You’re running a bit of a temperature. Sleep now, you’ll feel better in the morning. Oh, and nurse Beatrice doesn’t have a daughter as far as I know.”

The Art of Drowning – An Ethereal Mystery

3 writers, no destination – What could go wrong?

Ash N. Finn  The Perilous Reading Society  & Not Very Deep Thoughts