Bobby B – My Little Honey B

Baton Rouge, Louisiana – May 2006

Bobby pushed the last of the papers back across Aunt Liz’s shiny desk, ran his finger around inside the collar of his starched shirt. Carrie’s pink pen he’d used all afternoon had left a red canyon in his finger. He looked up at Carrie Louise, she loosened his tie.

“S’up Bobby? Why’re you lookin’ at me that way?”

“I hate to keep askin’ you for help, but can I change my name? Not all of it, just the last three? Without a lot of questions and BS?”

“I can have a look. Why?”

“‘Cause if I write Bobby Beauregard Barthelemy Buisson one more time my fuckin’ hand’s gonna fall off. And Ms.V, is there somewhere in all this paper that will get CL paid for helping me? Or she can send me a bill or something?”

Carrie punched his arm. “Goober. I’m already on your payroll. You work me harder than my retainer and you’ll get a bill, and I’ll pay myself. And in all that paper somewhere you have bequeathed to me an education in law at the college of my choice. Providing can I get in and all, and have proven myself to be a good steward of your financial interests between now and then.”

“Be –queathed? That sounds like –”

“Carrie Louise?” Liz Vernier didn’t look up from whatever she was signing. “Let go of his tie before you strangle him.”

“He was gonna say –”

“I know what he was he going to say, sweetie. Let him go. You train men the same way you train dogs. Once they stop peeing on the floor and you have their undivided attention you start on manners. He’s housebroken and you have his attention. He’s got this one. Let him go.”

Carrie Louise released Bobby’s tie, smoothed it. “That was lesson number one, buddy.”

“But I thought you thought –”

“I did think. ‘Cept funny is funny some places and not funny in others. Haha pizza and beer and sex during the Saints game commercials, not so haha in here. This is like a church, only better. So no sex noise jokes. Got it?”

“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear most of that.” Aunt Liz dropped the last of Bobby’s paperwork in a cardboard file box. “We’re finished, you two can go. Keep your eye on the mail in case they forgot something.” She watched them take a sloppy, arms around each other shirt tails out teenage stroll toward the door. He pinched her butt, she smacked his and glared. “Carrie Louise, are you on the pill?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Thank you.”

***

Houma, Lousiana, May 2006

“We’re home for only two days and you got ‘er done? That’s it? Dayum. You for certain sure there’s no more forms I need to sign like this?”

“You’re being a waste of skin, Bobby. All we did was change your name, not start a country. The court will send it to Social Security and the Parish and the State and you’ll get your new driver’s license in the mail. Tomorrow we’ll go to the bank and give them the card. You’re done with everything name-wise after Bobby.”

He held up the bank signature card. Bobby B. “What do you think, legal beagle? I do okay?”

“The old-time scroll-y thing underneath needs work. I just…I’m not sure. I liked Buisson.”

“It’s called a flourish. Come on, Roche. What’s the prob?”

“Ro-shay, Ro-shay, Ro-shay. Goddammit, you can’t call me Ro-shay like that whenever we get married. And now it’s just B? CL…B? Something you pour in a septic tank or a coffee pot to clean ’em out? Carrie Louise…B? I can’t ‘B’-lieve you’d do this to me, Bobby. Even if I hyphenate it with Roche it sounds like I’m the fucking mascot for some kind of honey.”

“Then I’ll call you ‘honey’.”

“Don’t be a shit, Bobby. I’m serious.”

“My little Honey B. That oughta be okay, ‘cause you’ve been named after a foil wrapped chocolate thing for sixteen-and-a-half years anyway.”

He felt it in his teeth when she slammed the screen door. He clicked the TV back on.

“Hey, Honey B! You’re gonna miss Murder She Wrote and all those great Eighties perms you like.”

Bobby ignored what she said about selfish assholes and what they could do to themselves and to each other in their curly perms and how the fucking candy ended in R and what sort of douchebag he was all the way down the steps and across the front yard. He picked up the signature card, touched it to his puckered lips. Some ideas nobody agreed with came with some honkin’ hidden benefits. Like quiet.

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Bobby B – Only Half Stupid

Baton Rouge, Louisiana – July 2005

Elizabeth Vernier waved off one assistant, handed another a china coffee cup and saucer and held up two fingers before she got back to the man sitting across from her.

“We’ll take fifteen grand as good will to recoup the funeral and sixty days living expenses. Six grand a month maintenance, post taxes and fees, until we put an offer together we can both live with. Say ‘yes’ or he’s a traumatized minor, and you’re a big, bad oil company.” She leaned back into the uncomfortable Victorian love seat, drummed her fingers on her knee. “I can have this in front of a sympathetic judge tomorrow morning.”

“Six grand?”

“It’s low, but acceptable.”

“What I should be asking is why.”

“So you’ll take it and look like a hero with your homies at Magnolia and buy your child bride something pretty with your bonus.”

That was low. I can go twelve without touching my phone.”

“I don’t want twelve coming back on me. When I bend you over for the settlement next spring I want you to look like the cheap, uncaring bastards you are. Sign it at six, Brad. Or go to court in the morning where we both know twenty will be a gift and hero goes out the window along with your bonus and happy trophy wife.”

“You’re a gold-plated, sapphire crusted, oil dipped bitch, Liz Vernier.”

“Thank you, Brad. That’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me this morning.” He signed, pushed the document her way, she flipped it up with a polished nail. “Leave the doors open on your way out.”

***

“Two coffees, straight and strong.” The assistant set the coffee on an antique table between the curved Victorian love seats, pulled the office doors closed behind her.

“Any questions, Carrie Louise?”

“Why did you go low?”

“Keep them over a barrel, anywhere they look. He can’t argue with us or we go to court. He’s an oil company, your Bobby is a damaged waif kept alive by the charity of neighbors. Court is the last place they want to be right now. We know Bobby’s liabilities and he can live on six grand, easy, and you can give your mother more than enough to feed him.”

“But you said settlement in the spring and that’s all court, ain’t it?”

“Isn’t it. And yes, it’s all court. I’ll ask twenty-five, we’ll puff up and sit on it down to the wire. I know they’ll waste both of our time fighting anything over twenty. When they finally lose we’re a year further down the road, they’ll go buy us a bunch of crap financial instruments that won’t mature until doomsday…” She waved her hand dismissively, tested her coffee, set it back on the table.

“On the courthouse steps I’ll deal us down to seventeen to keep them out of a drawn out court battle with pictures of Bobby dressed like Huckleberry Finn everywhere they look. But only if they’ll write us a check. They’ll bite, I’ll take two off the top and buy that house I’ve been looking at in the wine country. You and I will go shopping for institutions to act as wallets for Bobby’s money that you will learn to manage. We’ll cross those bridges when the time comes. In the meantime, go to the library and read what you can stomach on long-term and short-term interest only payouts from various financial instruments, and the tax burdens on those payouts. Put some scenarios together, see what Bobby’s allowance would be living on the interest. Call me with any questions.”

“Okay.” She closed her new leather folio, dropped it and the $200 pink Italian fountain pen, both gifts from Aunt Liz, into last year’s school backpack. “Shooo-eee, Aunt Liz. Was Bobby’s daddy really worth seventeen million dollars?”

“No, it’s worth seventeen million for Magnolia not to look like shit in the press and have OSHA up their asses for a couple of years levying millions of dollars of fines every time one of their platform workers sneezes.” She tested the coffee again, drank half the cup. “Bobby’s daddy, from what I gleaned, wasn’t worth much of a shit for anything but roughneckin’ and keeping Budweiser in business.”

“He wasn’t mean, though. He just kinda left all that up to Bobby’s momma.”

“And she kinda said ‘fuck this’ and handed it all back to him. And didn’t get a damn thing for eighteen years of indentured servitude but a trash bag full of cheap clothes, a son who won’t talk to her and a pansy greeting card artist.”

“That’s why I’m going to law school? So when me and Bobby get married and he fucks up I get half?”

“So you get it all.”

“All seventeen million?”

“Fifteen, sweetie. I’ve got a house to buy, remember?”

***

Bobby’s Living Room Houma, Louisiana – July 2005

“But you won’t will you? Fuck up and make us get divorced?” Carrie Louise switched off the Charlie’s Angels re-run and shook Bobby’s knee again, harder.

“Hey! Come on –”

“Bobby, you need to be listening.”

“It’s okay. Only the half stupid one would have made it twenty minutes in a real swamp. Fifteen million dollars, that’s what you said? No shit, CL, that’s honkin’. When?”

“April. Maybe May. Nobody stalls Aunt Lizzie much. And you still weren’t listening to me.”

“Yes I was. You wanna know will I maybe have a girlfriend on the side ‘cause of you not sexing me up like a millionaire deserves. And the answer is no.”

“Good. Because –”

“I’ll sure as hell have more than one, CL. That kinda money? I can afford a butt load of girlfriends, spread out all over.”

“Bobby, you listen and listen good. I won’t –”

He reached around, pulled her into him on the couch, kissed her.

“Well gawl-damn, Bobby Buisson. Why didn’t you just tell me to shut the hell up?”

“’Cause I’m only half stupid?”

She chewed “Right answer” out on his lower lip and smashed him into the back of the couch.

***

Houma, Louisiana – September 5th, 2005

Bobby, Carrie Louise and Momma Roche, all in new rubber waders from the WalMart in Meridian, Mississippi where they’d waited out the hurricane, stood in the street in front of their houses. Momma tried to cry, was so shocky she couldn’t. Carrie Louise was about to squeeze Momma and Bobby’s hands off. Everywhere, houses were covered in a chocolate pudding mud, like the sky had taken a giant shit and covered their town with it. Windows broken, chunks of roof gone. The bayou behind them was still sloshing out of it’s banks, choked with debris and dead livestock. There was an upside down cow where Bobby’s detached garage and his daddy’s workshop had been. His car, like Carrie Louise’s daddy who’d decided to ride out the hurricane in place, were nowhere to be seen.

“Eldridge Junior said his front loader came through okay. He’ll be by in a day or two to carry off the cow.” Bobby had a hard time believing what he’d just said. “I heard they’re truckin’ plywood all the way from Montana. We oughta have it all fixed up by Mardi Gras. Christmas, maybe.” Bobby wasn’t sure he believed either of those, what with having to live in one of Aunt Liz’s condos with Carrie Louise and Momma Roche and go to school somewhere outside of Phoenix. He shook CL’s death squeeze. “We ever do get married, and have us a daughter? Katrina is out of the name pool. Just sayin’.”

Momma Roche broke, hugged them both like they would blow away, and cried so hard they were afraid she might choke on it and die.

Almost Halloween 2005, a golf resort condo outside Phoenix, AZ 

Bobby pulled his phone out of his jeans. Unknown and an area code he didn’t recognize. All the calls from insurance companies and contractors over Katrina, he answered it anyway, listened, stepped out on the balcony. He talked for a minute, left his phone on a chair, slid the door closed when he came back in.

“Momma R? Mr. Roche turned up. Passed out drunk in my car at a rest stop outside Memphis. The cop said it looked like he’d been living in it for at least six weeks. Puke and vodka bottles and trash all over, gone to taking a leak and laying cable in the back. He’s in the hospital, crazier than a hoot owl, might not make it. I told them to burn the car and I’d get online when they told me it was scrap and kill the title. He said they’d had him about a week and apologized, but what with Katrina fucking everything up…Sorry. What the cop wanted to know from you was did you want to post his bail and claim him, in case he makes it?”

“Is the policeman still on the phone out there?”

“Yes ma’am. He said he’d give you time to –”

“You go back out there and tell him no. I don’t mean any kind of maybe no, or polite no, Bobby. You tell him Virginia Roche is on record saying Fuck. No. That miserable son of a bitch can rot in hell and don’t anybody need to apologize to me. His sorry drunk ass is Jesus’s problem now, not mine.” She waited, caught Bobby’s hand before he left. “When I’m gone and folks talk about all this, you tell them Katrina might have fucked up a lot of things, but she fixed a few things can only be fixed by a hurricane.”

Bobby B – In the Beginning

Several times in my vocational career I traveled the two-lane, one-lane and no lanes of southern Louisiana. I’ve helped make drilling mud movies, serviced music stores and eaten things I still don’t know what were. The stereotypes are far more sanitized than the reality, and to remain sane on those long, lonely swampy drives I talked to a micro cassette recorder. About Bobby B and CL Roche. Here they are.

Houma, Louisiana – Late May, 2005

“That pipe joinin’ chain let go and popped your daddy’s head clean off, Bobby. Rolled around on the platform some, kinda crazy like that bowling ball y’all took a blowtorch to a while back…” Gardner Dupont kept taking his cap off, putting it back on. He’d worked next to Bobby’s father on the offshore rigs for years and the two men were closer than most brothers. Aside from Mr. Dupont being black, they might have been. “Don’t know no other way to tell it. Sorry.”

Bobby buried his face in Mr. Dupont’s starched overalls, and stayed there. Dupont put an arm around him, set a big, rough hand on Bobby’s head. “Things gonna be okay, son. The oil company, some insurance. I’ll help with cleanin’ up your Daddy’s business, gettin’ him in the ground and such. It’ll work out. Long about now, though, they tell me since you’re only sixteen, you’re gonna need a legal guardian. You want me to call your Momma?”

“Hell no, Uncle G. I ain’t movin’ to Kansa City and I ain’t living with her and that couillon greeting card artist she ran off with. That shit won’t never happen. Never.”

Carrie Louise Roche, the petite fifteen-year old girl in cutoffs and a faded tank top who’d been standing in the living room with Bobby when Dupont and the Sheriff knocked, opened her folded arms, put a hand on Bobby’s back. “Mom’ll do it, Bobby. She’s right next door, and my Aunt Lizzie an ‘em in Baton Rouge will run it through the system however we need. Mr. Dupont’s right. It’ll work out.”

“C’mon, Roche, your Daddy’s not so fond of me.” Bobby’s muffled voice sneaked out from between his head and Dupont’s chest. “Or my daddy or my used-to-be mom, us not ever bein’ Christian enough for him.”

“Daddy’s an ex-alkie tent revival coon ass who thinks Jesus pulled him out of the bottle when Catholics had foresaken him, and nobody is Christian enough. Particulalrly Catholics ’cause we’re all still idol worshipping drunks and fornicators as far as he’s concerned. Which, no offense, your ex-momma kinda was some of that, but forget him. My Momma says you and me, we’re the pair to beat in Houma, and she’ll do whatever for us. Daddy does exactly what she tells him ‘cause even snake handler Hell looks like a springtime garden in the French Quarter compared to my house if he don’t. And Momma’s been feedin’ you half the time anyways since your Momma took off and your Daddy was out on the rigs.” Carrie stopped, assessed the quality of her pitch, decided she was okay and went for her summation. “So we’ll ink it, and unless you fuck up royal and stop goin’ to school or do some other dumb shit, things’ll keep on bein’ how they’ve been.”

Dupont looked at the girl, nodded with approval, gave Bobby a squeeze. “Girl’s got herself a point, Bobby. Down the road there’s gonna be some money for you in all this. And Carrie Louise, since she’s gonna grow up and be a lawyer and all? I gar-own-tee she’ll sue her Momma, she don’t do right by you.”

*** 

Houma, Louisiana – Early July, 2005

“This is what we’ve decided is a prompt and fair offer for your Father’s untimely death while in our employ, Mr. Buisson.” The oil company lawyer from Baton Rouge, who Bobby figured smelled better and had softer hands than most women who went dancing on Saturday night or church on Sunday morning in Houma, set the papers on Bobby’s kitchen table. Carrie Louise immediately snatched them away and had a look.

“Five hundred grand? That’s it? You’re fucking kidding me. Uh, us. I mean our client.” Carrie skipped a beat before she let go of the line she’d practiced in front of the mirror countless times. “We’ve subpoenaed the OSHA reports, the witness statements and reports from your own company on their pathetic indifference to safety and lack of concern for their people. You can stick this where the sun don’t shine, Mr. Michaud. And we’ll see you in court.”

“And you would be?” The lawyer’s obvious boredom and indifference lit Carrie Louise’s fuse. Her mother put a hand on Carrie’s arm to shush her.

“She would be my daughter, Mr. Michaud. Unfortunately for us, she was born with the same Lawyer stamp on her forehead as you. However, I do agree with her sentiments, if not her language. As I’m Bobby’s legal guardian and my daughter is his legal watchdog, we can neither, in good faith and with Bobby’s best interests and future at heart, accept your offer without making further inquiries on his behalf.” She smiled like the edge of a sharp knife. “But if you would be so good as to leave us a copy of your offer, and your card?”

***

The Highway Patrol trooper who’d escorted the fuming lawyer and was supposed to have been an official witness to the signatory proceedings, eased out of the Buisson driveway and rolled down Bayou Black. “Not what you were expecting in there, I gather?”

“Mouthy little backwater bitch. She was mine I’d turn her over my knee and teach her some manners.”

“She was yours, and you did, she’d have me put you in handcuffs and every penny you’d ever made or will ever make would be headed straight into her bank account. Girl’s been that way since she was born. Sharp as a catfish whisker and a mouth like gator. Just like the rest of the women folk on her Momma’s side.”

“Well, they’ve got a fight on their hands if they think some scrawny, teenage gator mouth swamp monster wannabe lawyer and her Ice Maiden Momma are going to push Magnolia Production around. I’ll drop the offer to two-fifty, tell ‘em that’s it, see how they like it.”

“They already ain’t likin’ it at twice that, Mr. Michaud. Chew on this. That little swamp monster’s Aunt, the one helping her out with the ‘wannabe lawyer’ business? She’s Liz Vernier, runs Senator Guillon’s office.”

“Senator Francis Guillon, the pious Robin Hood reformer? Vernier as in Vernier, Leduc and Delome?”

“Daughter and senior partner and the Senator’s Chief of Staff. The one pushing his pious reformation ass right at the governor’s office. Yes sir.”

“Fuck.” Magnolia’s assistant chief counsel ripped the manila envelope with the unsigned payment contract and release into eighths, then ripped them up some more, scattered the whole mess out the window and watched them blow into the bayou. “You know what VL&D got from the tobacco companies and the refineries?”

“Yes sir, I do. And that right there was littering.”

“Arrest me.”

The trooper hit his grill and rear window lights, turned right onto the highway and pushed the cruiser up to 85. “No sir, not this time. If it’s all the same to you, Mr. Michaud, I’ll take you on back to your office in Baton Rouge. Where I reckon you’ll be a sight more miserable than you would be in jail, even in Houma.”

The Art of Drowning – Episode 2.7b

Punks, Princes, Milkmaids and Poetry – by Phil Huston

Kirklin found Caswell outdoors at the pub in Oxfordshire, dropped into a chair opposite. “It was Elise told you they were after the rust bucket? Me?”

Cas nodded, held up a finger to the waitress and pointed at Kirklin.

“They turned out punks, Caswell. Dressed up as sailor boys. I could smell the fear after I put two bouncers down the shaft. I’m surprised the lad I pulled out below didn’t faint. And nothing for my destruction but internet taught and e-bay bought door opener photocells, Chinese fireworks and drain cleaner. Crude, but deadly. Pissed me off they’d arm it with the Doc in tow.” He took his beer from the waitress, acknowledged her with an appreciative nod. “I met with Elise.” He gauged Cas, got no reaction. “We rowed a bit over her dust and cobwebs intelligence gathering. Had her log in as Dunning on the Secrets VPN and search the not-redacted crypt while I watched. They wrote off the Juliette as dangerous to their reputations in 1918. Swabbed every surface of it looking for whatever they’d done, found nothing. With sonar and free time in 1951, they pulled up two canisters the size of coffee tins from the site of the original torpedoing, no evidence they ever belonged to the Juliette, trucked them off to Sheffield and dumped them in a furnace to be sure. There’s naught about that boat but whatever story the bones might tell that worries them. Or someone.”

They sipped beer, listened to the wind blow bits of pub lunch conversation in and out between them. Cas pulled a stapled sheaf of spreadsheets from his jacket, passed them across.

“What Shona found. That the family trees of murder stopped twice, for significant periods of time. Most of the bodies were pre-Fifty-five. Only three more she can track until eighty-six when it stopped completely. Picked up again three years ago. The recent all random and unconnected, save for location.” Caswell unconsciously rubbed his freshly unstitched thigh, caught Kirklin’s eye. “Recall as Dunning told us once that he was the King who wasn’t, and the nepotism in his family favor was down to a distant Prince of Anjou shagging the milkmaid? I believed it conceit. In truth, the dairy queen’s lad was afforded landed entitlement to stop his noise. Would have been better had the milk maid shoved the Prince off and he’d run down his father’s leg. As well the egg that dropped from a stableman’s daughter in Normandy gone six hundred years and more. Dr. LeClare is the first female since the Fifteenth Century down either of those bastard lines.”

“Richard Dunning and his foul seed, perhaps this Fugitif, our Baby Doc? All down to a poncy Prince of Anjou getting his leg over, both sides of the channel?”

“Yes. And she’s ‘our’ Baby Doc now?”

“Leave it. I told her about us and Douala.” He paused, let in a fleeting memory and killed most of his beer. “Two hours later she came face up on trying to reconcile her own ‘no happy endings’ scenario without you or the Irish lass to hold her hand, and puked all over my truck.”

“We need to keep her away from that shit, Kirklin. She can’t get cynical like us.”

“I prefer ‘disillusioned romantics’.” He drained his beer glass, set it on the table and waited.

“Bloody hell, Kirklin. We know it’s not the military or the usual Secrets lot that’s running up the Juliette’s body count. Every time I think I have this one figured, I start over.”

Kirklin covered a small clam shell burn phone with his hand, moved it across the table. “So you know, Elise is still one of us. Spot on about our phones being hacked.”

Caswell covered Kirklin’s hand with his own. Kirklin raised his hand and there was a pound coin where the unseen phone had been. Kirklin stood, pushed the pound under his empty glass. “I told Elise you’d have a dog again, when you retired. She said you could have all the dogs you fancied, if you took more than a good few dance lessons. And burned your bloody guitar.”

“Poor dancer owned. She said nothing about my guitar.”

“She will.” He pocketed the spreadsheets. “All our non-numbers are on that phone, Vicar’s code. Call Elise, see if it works.”

“And say what?”

“Your wife’s buried thirteen years last month. The kids are on their own. Say something important. Put some poetry back in your life, mate. Well I know how bloody bleak it is without.”

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 2.7a

Rope Burn – by Phil Huston

“What is it we’re doing again?” Kylie set a small traveling bag of tools in the back of Kirklin’s truck and climbed in the cab, made a face when the door wouldn’t close. She wasn’t sure about the truck. Definitely not sure about Kirklin.

“Cas has gone limping off the coast of France with Shona. Asked us to see if there’s truth yet to what Elise let on about two old rust buckets. The Juliette, and me.” He reached across her and banged the door closed. They rode in tense silence until well out of the forensic lab parking lot and gone rural.

“You don’t like me, do you, Kirklin?”

“Not on you, Doc.”

“I’m ‘too pushy’, act like ‘I know it all’. I get rebound from it, especially with men. Older men it’s worse. Except for Caswell. I think he has a daughter. I know he had a wife. I mean it’s okay, it’s just uncomfort –”

“It’s not ‘okay,’ and that’s your bloody problem.” Kirklin let go of the wheel, held it with his knee while he lit a cigarette. “You ‘think’ and you ‘know’ and it’s ‘okay.’ You don’t think, and you don’t know, and it’s not ‘okay.’ Day’s end you’re an ill-affordable luxury.”

“I feel like I should object to that, somehow.”

He ashed his cigarette out the window, stared straight ahead. “You see something in a shop, eh? You like it. Maybe you’d wear it, or put it on the mantle or the wall, have it in your life. But the price? Nah. Not that you can’t afford it, but you won’t afford it. That’s you. And me and women.”

“We aren’t commodities we’re –”

Kirklin slammed on the old truck’s brakes and skidded onto a patch of gravel and mud by a farm gate, got in her face. “It’s not about you, or how women can do a man’s day. Four of us.” He held up a finger for each. “Cas. Elise. Orianna. Me. Playing at moneyed, disaffected ex-pats, dancing and drinking our way through what counted for civilized French Africa. Congo, Cameroon. Djibouti. Madagascar. Keeping watch on anointed weapons smugglers going off course for bigger money. Cas had a wife and baby at home, Elise was engaged, and there they were, thrown at each other, doing too good a job of it Cas’s wife would say. Ori and I were older and single and lived the part. We danced, we drank, we sweated and moaned and improvised bullshit for all listening. And bugged offices, phones, cars, cafes, hotels, shit shacks and shipping containers everywhere we went. Communication was pathetic when it wasn’t nonexistent. After six months, we’d become the intelligence mushrooms who’d danced our way into the crosshairs of the money typhoon. Our bloody handler, Richard Dunning, he knew well enough. We didn’t.”

He flipped his black cigarette butt past her head and out the window. Got closer his voice lowered into reverence.

“Cas saw the Jeep come ‘round a corner with small arms opened up and returned fire, no time to shout us down. We all sorted cover and returned fire, except Orianna. She stepped into the street, emptied a clip through the windshield. Killed the driver, confused the shooter long enough for Cas or Elise to take him out. Shooter fell into the driver, the Jeep wheeled left and punched Orianna through a wall not two feet from me.”

That sat in the air between them for a long moment.

“Cas took a superficial round in the leg. Elise took one through-and-through between her neck and right shoulder. Inches one way she’s dead, the other she’s lost an arm. Why? Because she raised up as well when Ori stepped off that curb. All down to me. I’d jammed after one round and hugged the ground. A good woman killed and another shot, saving my ass. Doing my job. Orianna was one who ‘thought’ and ‘knew’ and all was ‘okay’ and she died not knowing I worshiped the ground her shadow crossed. As a professional and a woman. You are an ill-affordable luxury, Doctor LeClare. All of you self-assured, think you’re indestructible, knowing all and all’s okay types. Tolerance, not ‘like’, is how I work with women. I won’t afford else.” He sat back, jammed the old truck into gear and threw gravel and mud at some cows that had gotten curious.

***

“The least you can do is tell me what we’re looking for.”

“Anything not right, Doc.” Kirklin ran his fingers down the inside of the Juliette’s hull.

They both heard the series of clicks echo off the steel-walled silence behind them. Kylie turned, started back, Kirklin grabbed her jacket and yanked her behind him. He swept up sand and dust, tossed it back in the direction they’d come. They both saw the thin line of broken green light at ankle level.

“Nice of them to let us in. How far is it to where sand turned glass?”

“We’re halfway. We –”

“Shit.” Kirklin searched the iron rungs going up to his right, grabbed a fistful of Kylie’s jacket again and hissed. “Do. Not. Move. Don’t think. Don’t know. Breathe and wait for instructions.”

He swept dust and sand into his hand again, reached up as far as he could, let it go over eight rungs, stepped up and repeated the process. Two more times and he motioned for Kylie to follow.

Thirty feet higher and twenty minutes later, covered in dust and sand, they sat side by side on a small landing below the open hatch to the deck. Kylie blew out a deep breath, let her shoulders drop. “What was that down there?”

“Pressure devices, armed by the photocell. We only heard them arm because we were to be further in and me chatting you up, not us looking for their handy work. Too much mess to be explosive. Chlorine or a hydrochloride gas, my thinking. They couldn’t leave that for an accidental tourist, someone had to activate the cell to trip the detonators.”

“Couldn’t we have run past whatever they were? Or around them?”

“Like a movie, all of them firing off behind us as we’re such agile gazelles? Not likely. Pull up the camera.” He waited until she had the app open, reached in his jacket pocket, clicked something and killed the Juliette’s video stream.

She immediately got a text alert, and stared dumbly at her blank phone. “Now what?”

“We wait. They’ll be along soon enough to see why the camera’s gone off and we haven’t shown ourselves.” He looked at her, still staring at her blank phone. “How’d you get our camera up so high?”

“From rock climbing.”

“Best news of the day, that.”

***

It took seven minutes for the two-man watch crew to start making noise below. Kirklin pulled his Walther and put two rounds down the bulkhead stairwell he and Kylie had come up, the shots angled to ricochet around like billiard balls.

“We’re armed, Kirklin,” echoed up the stairwell.

“Lovely. We’re streaming to Facebook,” Kirklin lied. “One of you, up the hole with a decent rope. I don’t like what I see, there’ll be a hole in the top of your head and I’ll be down with another for whoever’s still about.”

***

Kirklin tied the Navy man to a cleat, tied the remaining rope off to another. He gave Kylie his Walther, took the sailor’s Glock 17 and cut two big pieces out of the sailor’s ripstop jacket.

“I go down, you stream it to Caswell’s cloud. All’s well, you take youngster’s gloves and follow me. If not?” He nodded at the sailor, “Shoot him. And the one pops his head up out of the hole as well.” He grabbed the rope with the rip-stop rags wrapping his hands and dropped over the side of the Juliette.

Four of the longest minutes of Kylie’s life went by in silence while Kirklin slowly rappelled down. The bound sailor, a young, rugged, handsome-ish type, studied her with curiosity and malice. On the surface he looked the kind of lad who, if he’d had manners enough, she’d easily have gone Moor hiking or rock climbing with on a Saturday, and possibly the two of them would spend Sunday “recovering” together.

She watched Kirklin crack the other uniformed man’s head with the Glock and motion for her through the screen on her phone. The borrowed gloves were smoking when she landed.

***

Kirklin held the key fob out the window of the truck, just as he had with Caswell, and both their phones came alive with the Juliette’s camera. He tossed the fob into the door-less glove box on top of both sailor’s handguns, lit a black cigarette and let the smoke drift for a moment.

“You’ll run the weapons for Caswell immediately and upload the data, as they’ll find legs out of your lab before tomorrow’s sunrise.” He bumped her lightly on the shoulder with his elbow. “We wanted to see what they’d put up. Found out, eh? Thought you’d break a leg, landing. Your lad had something to say, did he, you two alone?”

“No. He stared at me like he didn’t believe I’d know how to shoot him until I chambered your old Walther. I…I want to apologize. Or something. That’s twice, had I gone my way I’d not have come back.”

“No need.” He glanced at her, pensive and wrapped inside herself. “I said I wouldn’t afford to like you. Naught about having you killed in my company. Naval Intelligence.” There was humor in his voice Kylie hadn’t heard before. “Oxymoron, that. All told I’ll sleep better knowing the Empire’s well-guarded by the likes of those two.”

“I won’t.” Kylie stared out the window at the fog creeping inland on her side, thought about having to shoot the handsome-ish sailor and not being able to. Saw him dragging her blistered, dead body out of the Juliette like it was all in a day’s work instead, and vomited out the window.

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 2.6

The Fume of Sighs – by Jac Forsyth

The fall from heaven isn’t measured in rage. It’s measured in last steps. Begged and crawled, each one of them, blade down to bone.

So it was that death and dominion were lit from the same match. And those who had followed me saw the artillery of rage, and took it for my heart. They didn’t know that I was lost, trapped in the distance between one breath and the next. And I tried, my love, I tried. To tell them how it was the fall that held me. So small in its claws and teeth. And my tears tight to its chest in lullaby. Hell may have taken my soul in retribution, but for all its circles of torture, it still brought me more comfort than a star-sky of unanswered prayers.

I don’t remember the arc of that first dying. Just the world as it cleared in dream and scream. And those who walked then, staring at the sun with their lidless eyes. So many faces and I still see them, cold as fire. Waiting at the edges. Building the weapons for a man who would be king.

A strange shadow is tied to the footsteps of those who have sheltered behind the tattooed doors and endless corridors. But the taste of innocent blood is still cankerous, more so it seems in these times of fishless nets and moonless satellites. And once again I have seen the contaminated landscapes of holocaust sitting hunched on street corners. Folding father and son with the truthfinders and transmissions of slaughter. Whispers so others will speak the poison of my name. Willing the warriors of Anjou to rise again.

But in all the growing of their cancerous dynasty they have forgotten that this was always about love. Some days still curl the perfume touch of your skin through my mind. And there is nowhere left to fall when even hell has cast me out.

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 2.5

None so Blind – by Ash N. Finn

Insignificance provides a perfect shield from scrutiny. Perceived insignificance that is. Be honest now, do you pay a lot of attention to the beggar sitting cross-legged on the pavement outside your local convenience store, or his muttering hunched shape stumbling along the sea promenade asking have you got some change? You might throw a few coins into the plastic cup in his outstretched arm, maybe even give him a cigarette or two, but do you really look at him? Of course, you don’t. Or do you, Kirklin? Does anyone?

No, all of you carry far too much purpose in your minds and too much baggage on your shoulders to pause and look. Laughable, isn’t it, that the professional watchers don’t watch what their collective subconscious deems insignificant.

He says thanks for one of your black cigarettes, Kirklin. You even light it for him, but if I asked you what he looked like, whether his eyes were brown or blue or green or grey, cold, sparkling or dull, would you be able to tell me? Was his voice feeble or strong, deep or high-pitched?

Unrecognizable in his ragged guise, doesn’t he look the part so well that any trace of familiarity remains unseen. You’d know him if he wore his aftershave and tailored suit, stiff and stern in the tower of secrets.

Maybe you don’t really see him there either given your and your friends’ lack of respect for his barked protestations inside the hallowed building. He’s hungry for power and thirsty for blood, would not hesitate to kill his father if he wasn’t too shrewd to understand that this could lead to his discovery. Oh, how he hates him though. How he hates you and Cas and that bold Irish lass. You’ve already hurried along, Kirklin, and don’t see him crushing the cigarette with his foot and spitting in the direction of your dwindling shape.

A candle inside Evelyn’s window spits out its last feeble flicker illuminating the crystal wine glass and her unblinking gaze one last time before it dies. In the distance, someone’s dog howls. It’s a full moon tonight, and Caswell keeps himself concealed in the impenetrable shadow cast by the sycamore tree. He’ll have a dog himself when he retires.

No, we are not enemies, Caswell. We are bound by empathy, not enmity.

Evelyn smiles and gently presses her hand against the window pane. I’m not him, Caswell, go home now.

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