The Undisputed Champions of Texas, Part 21

One of the things I loved most about owning The Infinite Sheep was that it provided the perfect cover for criminal activity.  I mean, how cool was it that I could meet with a member of my crew anytime, and it would simply appear like I was chatting up a customer?

Bonus points, I’d get good Yelp reviews and a reputation for providing excellent customer service while I was secretly planning to take down the man.

And since I’ve always imagined that I would work with a more sophisticated class of crook, my associates would obviously appreciate the artwork on display throughout the café.

Because who would ever expect that the twentysomething kid, with the hair that changed colors as frequently as one of those wild mood rings her parents used to wear, was actually a master criminal?  Hell, if I’m going to be honest, I’ll have to admit that when I first opened the place, I couldn’t convince anyone I was the owner.

Everyone thought I was just another employee.  The more generous clients assumed I was the manager (I guess I was flattered by that), but no one believed I owned the place.

So like I said, and I’m just repeating myself now because I’m a little nervous at finally getting to tell my story, the café would be a perfect cover for me to plot the ultimate heist.

I’ve wanted to be Danny Ocean ever since I first watched Ocean’s Eleven.  I was even all in on wearing the tux because I thought I’d look damn good.  Once, when I was about fourteen and my parents were out, I tried on my dad’s tuxedo just to prove that I could pull off the look.

You’re damn right I looked awesome!

Not that I have anything against wearing a dress or looking like a lady.  I’ve just always thought of tuxedoes as the wardrobe of choice for kind hearted criminal geniuses.

And you know I’d be kind hearted.  I’d definitely give a portion of my cut to charity.  If you don’t believe me, I’ll show you my list of potential recipients for an anonymous post-heist gift.

Anyway, once I got seriously into art and opened the café, I kind of put my childhood fantasy of plotting and carrying out the crime of the century on the back burner.  But something like that never really gets erased from the mental hard drive.

As I matured, I also evolved.  I still wanted to conquer the challenge of planning the crime, but I knew I’d never actually have the proper mindset to do anything more than that.  Now that I was out from under the constant scrutiny of my parents (not that they were hard asses by any means, but any child wants to spread her wings and be free), I had come to enjoy my independence.

I didn’t want to give that up and spend a solid chunk of my twenties and thirties in prison.

Sure, you could argue that if I did everything right, I wouldn’t get caught, but part of maturing and evolving was further developing my common sense.  If a true master like Danny Ocean could get caught, then it stood to reason that Aspen Roark, novice law breaker, could and would get busted as well.

I might have set aside my childish dreams, but I never really forgot them…especially when I was presented with the opportunity to take over that sweet yoga studio space.

Even common sense cost money.  Luckily, I had the kind of mind that could figure out how to have my cake and avoid having to eat it in jail.

short story, serial, Modern PhilosopherWhen Tex came into the café that afternoon, I immediately knew something was wrong.  Not to sound so full of myself or anything, but he has a tendency to light up whenever he walks through the door.  Maybe it’s wrong to assume that his positive attitude is because he’s looking forward to seeing me, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.

On that day, though, he looked mopey and his cowboy hat was slightly askew.  He was pretty adorable if I’m being totally honest, to the point that I wanted to rush out from behind the counter and leap into his arms to give him a big hug.

But that’s not me.  I’m all about the romance when the situation is right and the chemistry is clearly there, but PDAs are not my thing…especially not in the workplace.  How could I ever expect my employees to act professional if I’m twerking like a school girl with a crush?

Instead, I tried to cheer him up with a little humor.

“Howdy, partner.  What’s got you looking so glum?  Did someone run off with your horse?  Did you miss the last stagecoach out of town?  Did you discover that there really isn’t any gold up in them there hills?”

I said it all with a smile and a pretty good old Western movie bartender accent, but I didn’t get the expected response.

Instead, Tex just plopped down on the chair in front of me and gave me a blank stare.

“What?” he finally asked like I had spoken to him in another language.

Of course, I just laughed it off.  “That was just a lame attempt at humor.  Forget you ever heard it.  What’s wrong?  I thought you and Champ were going out for a guy’s afternoon?”

Without even looking, Tex adjusted his cowboy hat so that it sat perfectly on his head again.  I was kind of jealous because it takes me half an hour of working on my hair in a mirror to get it looking like this mess atop my head.  He achieves perfection with no effort whatsoever.

“Yeah, but everything went wrong,” he sighed.  “Not only did he kick my ass at chess, but I also completely failed in my plan to catch a thief in the act.”

I nodded in understanding and quickly set him up with a glass of ice and a bottle of Snapple.  I don’t sell the stuff at The Infinite Sheep, but I always keep a few bottles on hand because I know that it’s Tex’s favorite.

That’s my idea of a PDA in case you were wondering.

I was intrigued by what he’d said because while I knew he was hanging out with Champ, I didn’t know he was trying to catch a thief.

If I’m being honest, I was bummed that he’d chosen him as his partner in crime for the activity rather than me.

Then again, he really had no idea that I was a master criminal in training.  Make that a wannabe master criminal with no formal training at all.

“Catch a thief?” I asked because I wasn’t one to beat around the bush.  “Does this have something to do with your plan to finance your music career by collecting rewards?”

Tex sighed and took a large gulp of his Snapple.

“When you put it that way, it sounds ridiculous…”

I’ve always been drawn to bad boys who had this misguided confidence that they had absolutely no right possessing.  Tex was the exact opposite.  As his bizarre criminal history attests, he’s a good guy trying and failing miserably to sometimes be a bad boy.

And he only seemed truly confident when he had a guitar in his hands and an audience in front of him.  The musician part was a definite turn on, but I was super drawn to the fact that he was vulnerable and not afraid to show it.

That was probably why I was so crazy into him.  Because it for sure wasn’t that corny cowboy hat that I’ve wanted to burn since the first time I saw him wearing it.

“I don’t think it’s ridiculous at all,” I reassured him as I leaned in real close.

I wanted him to see my smiling face and nothing else when he heard my words.

“In fact, I’ve been thinking about your plan, and I might have a way to improve on it.  That is, if you don’t mind me sharing some ideas.”

That handsome face of his lit up at the mere suggestion.  I knew he was hooked.

“That would be cool,” he answered in a low voice because he clearly wanted to keep this on the down low.

Not like any of the women who frequented the café at this hour were looking to get their hands dirty in anything that even slightly reeked of a criminal endeavor.

“What time do you get off work tonight?” I asked.

There was this crazy panic in his eyes as he checked his watch.  It was pretty obvious that he’d forgotten that he had to work.

“The bar closes at one,” he answered with clear relief that he wasn’t going to be late for work.  “I’m usually done by two.”

“How about I meet you at your place at two and I can tell you my thoughts?”

He nodded, but there was confusion in his big, compassionate eyes.

“Isn’t that a little late for you?” he asked.

I chuckled.  “It won’t be a problem.”

I looked around to make sure no one was peeking our way, and I gave him a quick kiss.

“Get out of here, cowboy.  You’re too darn distracting.  I’ll see you at two.”

Tex chugged the rest of his Snapple and then touched the brim of his hat the way gentlemen cowboys do in Westerns when they see a lady.

I still wanted to burn the hat, but I thought it was a sweet gesture.  I rewarded him with a wink and then shooed him towards the door.

I rarely let my heart get in the way of my decision making process, and even in this case, I was sure that I hadn’t done that.  I’d already picked up on the fact that Tex’s plan for extra cash and my plan for a master crime intersected somewhere on the convoluted Venn diagram in my head.

I’d made up my mind that it was time to see if there was anything to that notion.  Okay, sure, maybe I was five percent persuaded by how adorable he looked when he trudged in that afternoon, but give me a break.

Even Danny Ocean allowed his feelings for Tess to influence his decisions.

serial, crime, fiction, Modern PhilosopherI wanted that night to be special, so it was time to introduce a new look for Art Girl.  The oversized hoodie had served me well, but like me, Art Girl had matured and evolved.

I had seen the velvet cape in a thrift store about three months ago.  I immediately thought of it as a “Little Red Riding Hood” cape, except it was green.  And since green is my favorite color, I knew I had to have it.

At the time, I thought it would be something fun to wear on a crisp autumn day.  The more I looked at it in my closet, though, the more I realized it had a higher calling.

It also didn’t hurt that I felt like a Jedi anytime I put it on and pulled the hood over my head.

Tex was probably going to weird out, but then again, everybody does when they meet an urban legend for the very first time, right?

I was sitting in the hallway in front of his apartment door when I heard him on the stairs.  I thought about giving him the full look, but I didn’t want to freak him out.  After all, while this wasn’t really a shady neighborhood, no one expected to be confronted outside their home by someone in a mask at two in the morning.

I stood up and did a little pirouette so he could get the full effect of the cape.

“That’s pretty,” he said as he leaned in to kiss me.  “I don’t think I’ve seen you wear it before.”

“It’s new,” I assured him.  “I wanted you to be the first to see it.”

For some reason, I was totally turned on by the fact that we were about to do something that bordered on illegal.  So I kept kissing him as he struggled to get his key into the locks and open the apartment door.

I finally allowed him up for air once we were inside.

“That was nice,” he beamed.  “And totally unexpected.  I don’t feel at my sexiest after a night spent sweating in a bar.  I must reek of booze and cigarette smoke.”

I hadn’t noticed.  I was too focused on what we were about to do.

I slipped back into the hallway to retrieve my backpack.  Art Girl would be powerless without it.

“Why don’t you take a quick shower before we go?” I suggested.

He seemed caught off guard by that.  “We’re going someplace at this hour?”

I nodded and flashed a sly smile.  “What’s wrong?  Are you scared?”

Questioning a man’s courage immediately after sending his heart rate skyrocketing with a series of long, deep, passionate kisses will always get him to give you the answer you want.

At least that’s been my limited experience.

“Give me five minutes,” he stated and ran to the bathroom.

I used that time to root around in Tex’s wardrobe to find something appropriate for him to wear.  After all, Art Girl couldn’t be seen walking around the very streets that were her canvas with some dude in jeans, a tee shirt, and a cowboy hat.

He looked less than thrilled when I showed him his outfit.

“You expect me to wear that?” he asked in befuddlement.

I nodded, put on my mask, and pulled the hood up over my head.

“Art Girl does not roam the streets of this fair city with just anyone.  Her associate needs to be anonymous as well, while also showing a flair for fashion.”

The items I’d left on the bed were a very loud red Hawaiian shirt, a pair of khaki cargo shorts, and an astronaut helmet.  I was really confused and a little frightened upon finding the helmet, but then I’d remembered his stories about his previous band.

“So this is Art Girl?” he asked as he pointed at me in all my caped and masked glory.

“A pleasure to make your acquaintance,” I replied and curtsied more for my amusement than anything else.

“And who would this be?” he asked tentatively as he pointed at the outfit on the bed.

“Oh, that’s Van Goghing 2 Spaceman,” I answered without hesitation.  “And that’s spelled like Vincent Van Gogh.”

“Obviously,” he responded.

“And there’s a number 2 rather than the word ‘to’”, I clarified.

Don’t ask me where I came up with the name.  It just poured out of my mouth.  Crazy ideas fill my head after midnight, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Tex took a moment to look at the outfit, but to his credit, didn’t hesitation any further.

“Screw it,” he declared.  “Why the hell not?”

That was, for sure, the moment that Art Girl fell head over heels for Van Goghing 2 Spaceman.

I mean how could she not?

TO BE CONTINUED…

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A Key Disappearance

“I feel like an email about the event doesn’t really do it justice,” Holly announced.  “I need you to tell me the story about your keys now that we’re face to face.”

When she smiled slyly, her beautiful face lit up as brightly as the August sun that shone down on them.

It was Sunday and the best friends were seated on their favorite bench along the river.

“But it’s so embarrassing,” Aaron pleaded to get out of sharing the tale.

“I know,” she remarked.  “That’s why I want you to tell me.”

She smiled even wider and then took a sip of her coffee.

Aaron sighed and accepted his fate.

“It was Wednesday morning, so it was garbage day,” he explained.  “I normally go for a run before work, but since I had to be in extra early, I had decided to skip my run.  That was why I was half asleep and still in my pajamas.”

He took a long sip of his Snapple like he needed the sugar rush before he could continue.

short story, relationships, humor, Modern Philosopher“Now I’m trying to picture your pjs,” she teased.  “I bet they have Star Wars characters on them.”

She giggled.  He rolled his eyes.

“More like an old pair of running shorts and one of my Jets tee shirts,” he corrected her.  “As you know, I’m a creature of habit, so my keys go in the same place every time I enter the house…”

Holly nodded.  “In the bowl on the desk in the foyer, along with your wallet and work ID.”

“Exactly,” he confirmed.  “So I reached into the bowl for the keys and came away empty handed.  Confused, I actually opened my eyes and took a closer look.  The bowl was there.  So was my wallet and my ID, but no keys.”

“Dum, dum dum!” Holly added a dramatic soundtrack more for her amusement than anything else.

“I walked into the living room to check the couch, thinking that maybe I’d forgotten to put the keys in the bowl, and they had then fallen out of my pocket when I sat down to watch TV.  Alas, no keys.”

“The mystery deepens,” she commented.

“Mind you, I’m still not really awake, but it seems logical that the keys must still be in the pocket of my shorts, so I trudge back upstairs.  They were not in my pocket.  I also decided to check the laundry in case I’d accidentally tossed my keys in there when I changed for bed.”

“But no keys?” Holly asked.

Aaron shook his head.  “That’s when I started to panic.  I had a short window to get ready for work and then leave for the office, and suddenly I’ve got a mystery on my hands.  I rushed back downstairs and started checking the other rooms.  The keys must have fallen out of my shorts at some point.”

“Then I looked out the dining room window and saw the zero gravity chair.  After dinner, I’d gone out to sit in the chair and read.  My keys sometimes fall out of my pocket when I’m all inverted in the chair.”

“That sounds promising,” Holly quipped and took another sip of coffee.

“Before I can go outside, however, I’ve got to find the spare key,” he explained.  “The last thing I need is to lock myself out of the house in my pajamas.  It took me a minute to remember where the spare key is, but I found it and hustled outside.  If I wasn’t wide awake by now, the cool morning breeze certainly made sure that I was.”

“I checked by the chair, but no keys.  And I don’t just check next to the chair.  I searched the entire yard.  I moved the chair.  Several times.  The landscaper had just cleared the yard, though, so there wasn’t really any place for a set of keys to hide.”

flash fiction, humor, Modern PhilosopherAaron had worked himself into a state of stress by retelling the story, so he paused for a Snapple break.  After taking a deep breath, he continued.

“For some reason, I decided to check the garage.  Maybe I threw out something when I was outside, so I dug through the garbage.  I evened check the car.  Oh, I should point out that my house key and car key are missing.  Luckily, I had a spare car key as well.”

“That is lucky,” Holly said with a straight face.

She knew it probably looked evil of her to find amusement in her best friend’s misfortune, but she knew the story ended well, so she didn’t think it was that bad to enjoy the fun in it.

“I remembered that I went for a walk after dinner, so I decided to retrace my steps,” he went on.  “I’m power walking up the block now, not quite wanting to break into a run and draw attention to myself.  But there I was, in my ratty pajamas, staring intently at the concrete like a crazy person in search of secret messages in the cracks.”

“I was at wit’s end now.  I wondered if I should call the police.  Clearly, someone had broken into my house and stolen my keys.  But why would they do that?  If they were already in the house, why not rob it then rather than waiting to come back later and use the keys to enter?  And if they had my car key, why didn’t they take the car?”

“All excellent questions,” Holly assured him.

He nodded.  “That’s why I didn’t call the cops.  And even though I had the spare house and car keys, I didn’t feel comfortable going to work while the originals were lost.  What if someone found them, realized they were mine, and let themself into my house while I was at work?”

“That does seem possible,” she had to agree.

“So I decided to go back to the house, call my boss, and tell him I was going to be late,” he explained.  “I didn’t know how I was going to find the keys, but I was going to spend the day figuring out a plan.”

“When did logic finally push the panic aside?” she asked.

He took a long sip of Snapple.  “When I used the spare key to let myself into the house, I realized that I wouldn’t have been able to enter the house last night if I’d lost the keys outside.”

“Hurray for logic!” she applauded loudly.  Again, more for her amusement.

“I decide not to call my boss,” he told her.  “The keys were obviously in the house.  But where?  I tried to retrace my steps in my head.  I was outside reading and listening to music on my phone.  When I went back inside, I should have put my book and phone on the desk and placed the keys in the bowl.  Then I would have put my ear buds on the shelf…”

Holly smiled.  The mystery writer had finally cracked the case, and she so happy to see the look of relief on her best friend’s face.

“The ear buds,” he mumbled.  “I don’t leave them on the desk because I’m afraid the cats will play with them and strangle themselves…”

“So you put them on the shelf above the coat rack, where you put your gloves and hat after your winter runs,” she finished his thought for him.

He finally smiled.  “My keys were tangled up in my ear buds.  I must have had them in my hand when I put the ear buds there and just didn’t realize.”

“Mystery solved,” Holly announced.  “The silver lining being that you now have an idea for your next mystery novel.

She giggled.  He shook his head and took another sip of Snapple.

“I’m glad my freakish anxiety amuses you,” he said as he shot her an evil glare.

“It really does,” she confessed.  “Speaking of solving mysteries, I figured out the clues in that little tale you spun for me last Sunday.”

The slightest grin crept across his lips, but he quickly dismissed it.  He raised an eyebrow in confusion.

“I have no idea what you mean,” he said with the slightest hint of sarcasm in his voice.

“I knew that dream was fake, but I have to admit it took me a little bit to figure out why you would tell such an elaborate lie,” she explained.  “I finally cracked the code and understand completely.  Now I just have to figure out how to pull off the seemingly impossible action outlined in your clues.”

He tried to keep a straight face, but the sly smile would not be deterred.

“I have no idea what you mean, but I suppose a ‘Good luck!’ is in order,” he played it cool.

“Don’t worry, smart guy.  I’m going to figure it out,” she vowed.

Aaron shrugged and turned his attention to the river.  Secretly, he hoped that she would succeed…

If the ending confused you, you might want to go back and read last week’s Aaron & Holly story, Dropping Therapy.

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The Undisputed Champions of Texas, Part 20

During his years as an all All-Conference defensive back in college, Wally had earned a reputation for being fearless.

Despite being undersized by NFL standards, Wally never hesitated to put his smaller body between an onrushing opponent and the goal line.  He had easily taken down receivers who were half a foot taller, and had leveled running backs who outweighed him by seventy-five pounds.  There were even rumors of a certain Heisman Trophy contending quarterback who had refused to scramble in games against his team because he had feared Wally would torpedo him and end his chances of playing professionally.

Whenever Wally watched that QB play on a Sunday, he snickered because he knew he’d put the fear of God into a man who was now an All-Pro and earning eight figures.

An opposing coach had once infamously declared in a halftime interview during a game in which Wally had sent two of his star players to the hospital: “That Wainwright kid inflicts way too much pain for someone his size.”

His fearlessness had earned him the nickname Asteroid because, as his teammates loved to explain, his impact always left a crater.  Sometimes that crater was in the field, and sometimes it was left in the body of the offensive player that Wally tackled.

Wally secretly worried about the day that Bruno found out about that nickname and made his life a living hell moving forward.

That gridiron fearlessness had served him well on the police force.  Wally never backed down from any situation, nor did he ever cower when he’d faced the wrath of the grumpy detective with whom he was often paired.

The one situation, however, where Wally’s legendary lack of fear abandoned him was when it came to disagreeing with or defying Michelle.  He loved her, but he was also scared to death of getting on her bad side.

If Michelle had been a planet, Wally’s seemingly indestructible asteroid would have avoided it at all costs.  Better safe than sorry.

So when Bruno told Wally to go against Michelle’s wishes and interview their friends aka “the suspects” before the FBI arrived, he thought about fleeing the hospital rather than doing something that could make his personal life miserable.

Then again, if he didn’t do what Bruno ordered, his professional life would be a nightmare.

Wally wanted to bang his head against the wall of the stairwell, but even if he got lucky and knocked himself unconscious, he’d have to deal with both Michelle and Bruno when he regained consciousness.

Instead, Wally stared at his cell phone and cursed Bruno for being too busy with his top secret case to come to the hospital and handle the situation.  After all, he was the famous detective and Wally was just the sidekick.  The second fiddle wasn’t supposed to have to deal with the meat and potatoes of the case.  He worked strictly in the side dishes as he preferred.

And what was this other case that Bruno refused to discuss with him?  Wally felt like they were regressing to the old days when Bruno didn’t fully trust him.  Not that the “old days” were so long ago, but Wally had been certain they’d moved past that crap.

Just like he used to do on the football field, Wally psyched himself up for action by jumping up and down a few times and punching himself in the chest.

Once that was done, he opened the door to step back into the hallway and accept his fate.

He was going to do what Bruno asked, but not because he feared him more than Michelle.  The deciding factor had been that Michelle did not have a gun, while Bruno did and had more than once threatened to shoot him with it.

short story, serial, Modern PhilosopherMichelle greeted Wally with a cautious smile when he reappeared.  She was happy to see him, but uneasy about the way this case made her feel.  Michelle was incredibly ambitious, but would never climb the career ladder on the back of her friends.

“Is Bruno coming?” she asked anxiously as she fell in step next to him and they walked back towards the room.

“No,” Wally mumbled with a shake of the head.  “He’s working on that other case.”

Michelle nodded as she processed how this piece of information was going to affect the way she moved forward.

“Has he told you anything about that case?” she asked even though she already knew the answer.

“I’ve been told it’s none of my business,” he replied with a hint of ager.  “He works it himself except when he’s in the Captain’s office talking about it behind closed doors.”

“Maybe I can ask Maggie about it,” Michelle brainstormed.

“Good luck getting her to break Bruno’s wall of silence,” he quipped.

They walked the rest of the way in silence.  Michelle used the time to come up with a plan of attack, while Wally used it to conjure up some courage.

Michelle paused at the door to the room, however, and turned to him with a smile.

“How about we get Chinese for dinner tonight?”

She definitely had his attention now.  General Tso’s Chicken was Wally’s comfort food of choice after a rough day, but Michelle frowned upon ordering it because it was supposedly so unhealthy.  Wally had never understood why health and comfort had to work hand in hand.

“That would be great,” he responded with a smile of his own.

At that moment, Wally regained his fearlessness.  If Michelle was willing to relent on Chinese food, then she would be okay with his disobeying her orders from her boss.

flash fiction, crime, mystery, Modern PhilosopherThe room hadn’t changed much since they’d left.  Aspen was still curled up next to Tex in his bed, but at least she seemed to be awake now.

Champ was still out of sorts in his bed, but he had stopped demanding to stare at his reflection.  Now he had something else on his mind.

“Champ wants to hear the rest of the angel song.  Can you sing it?”

Tex groaned from his bed.  “How many times do I have to tell you it’s not a song about angels?  I’m in no mood to sing.  I’m still recovering from almost dying.  Give it a rest!”

“Champ thinks that someone who had a brush with death would want the angels on his side!”

Tex opened his mouth to reply, but Aspen patted him on the shoulder to signal that he should simply drop it.  In no mood to fight, Tex heeded her advice.

Now that there was silence, Wally pounced.  “I just spoke to Detective Bruno…”

“Is he on his way?” Champ asked with urgency as he shot up in his bed.  “Champ definitely thinks we need to talk to Detective Bruno!”

Wally did his best not to react to the comment which seemed like an indictment of his ability to make them feel safe.

“No, he is not coming,” Wally broke the news.  “He’s dealing with another case, but promised to use his connection with the FBI to see how he can help here.”

“What’s more important than his friends almost being killed?” Tex grumbled.

Michelle decided it was time to give Wally some back up.  “You’re in perfectly good hands with Wally, and I’m here as well.  If Detective Bruno says he’s going to smooth things over with the FBI, then I think that’s a much better use of his time and more of a help to you.”

Champ mumbled something no one could make out, and flopped back down onto his bed.

“What we’re going to do now is take your statements,” Wally began.

Michelle shot him a look, but didn’t say anything.

“I know Michelle was given orders to wait until the FBI arrives, but Detective Bruno and I agree that this would not be in your best interests.  I’m hoping that ADA Ambrose can see the benefit in defying her boss’ order and getting a jump on the Feds on this high profile case.”

Wally didn’t even have to look over at Michelle to know that the wheels were spinning in her head.  Going against the commands of her boss, the man she would be running against for District Attorney in the next election, always had a certain appeal for her.

“Fine,” she relented.  “But Bruno better be able to deliver on his promise for help with the FBI because I have absolutely no authority to poach a case that they want to lead.”

Wally beamed at her words of support.  “When has Bruno ever let us down?”

No one was able to cite an example, so Wally decided to move forward with his interrogation.

“I need to know exactly what happened tonight,” he explained.  “Don’t leave out anything pertinent, but at the same time, skip over the unimportant details.  We don’t know how much time we have before the FBI arrives, and I want a solid understanding of the events before they get here.”

“And if you want to slow them down later with a muddled retelling of the tale, then by all means go for it,” Michelle suggested with a sly smile.

No one said anything at first.  It was like a game of interrogation chicken.

Finally, Champ broke the silence.  “Champ wants to go on record as saying that while he didn’t agree with the plan, he went along with it because you never let a friend go into a fight alone.”

Wally appeared slightly confused by the comment which wasn’t at all a succinct version of the events of the evening, but he just smiled and hoped someone else would start talking.

Tex slowly sat up in his bed.  “Look, this is all my fault.  We wouldn’t be in this situation if I’d just been able to keep some punk from stealing a crappy bike I’d swiped from my friend.”

Wally threw up his arms in frustration.

“Okay, I don’t think you are grasping the concept of giving me all the details quickly and concisely,” Wally pleaded.  “Can we try this again?”

Aspen sighed and climbed out of Tex’s bed.

“This was all my idea and I happen to think the night was a rousing success despite opinions to the contrary.  I mean, who’s ever made an omelet without breaking a few eggs?”

“I like the way she thinks,” Michelle stated upon sensing a kindred spirit in the young woman she really didn’t know.  “I vote that she tells the story.”

Champ and Tex had absolutely no opposition to that.

Aspen dragged a chair into the middle of the room and sat in it.  She made sure all the eyes in the room were focused on her before she spoke.

“I’ve wanted to plan the perfect heist for years,” Aspen confessed.  “And the thing I really looked forward to, maybe even more than the job itself, was the part where I explain exactly how I pulled it off to the confused members of law enforcement…”

TO BE CONTINUED…

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Dropping Therapy

“I had the craziest dream last night,” Aaron stated after he chugged nearly half his Snapple.

It was a sweltering Sunday in Maine.  The best friends were seated on their favorite bench next to the river, and they were sweating.  There was nothing they could do to make it stop.

“I like crazy dreams,” Holly remarked with a smile as she sipped her iced coffee.

“I was in therapy.  And don’t even think about making a comment on that,” he warned.

Holly shook her head and had another drink of her beverage.

“My therapist told me I was doing such an excellent job that she wanted me to take her place at a session for another patient,” he continued.  “She had a scheduling conflict, but didn’t want to cancel the appointment as it would have been detrimental to the client.”

“More detrimental than having a non-therapist lead the session?” Holly quipped.

Aaron just glared at her and drank more iced tea.

short story, humor, Modern Philosopher“As soon as I entered the room for the session, I knew it was a set up.  There were four women sitting in a wide circle, so it’s a group session, rather than a one on one…”

“And that’s a problem because your specialty is individual therapy?” she asked with a giggle.

Again, Aaron chose not to reply to her comment.

“The problem was that I knew all four of them, even though they didn’t seem to recognize me,” he explained.

Holly sat up straight on the bench.  He had her full attention now.

“Who were they?”

“Women I once had serious feeling for, but had never said anything or did anything about it for whatever lame reason seemed practical at the time,” Aaron confessed.  “Even though it had been some time since I’d seen them, they all looked as exactly as they did when I thought I loved them.”

Holly raised an eyebrow.  “Very interesting.  Yet they didn’t recognize you?”

Aaron shook his head.  “At the very least, no one let on that I was a familiar face.”

“So what did you do?” Holly was now on the edge of her seat.  “Did the therapist bring them all together and arrange this ruse to force you to face your commitment issues?”

flash fiction, relationships, Modern PhilosopherAaron shrugged.  “I was clueless.  The therapist hadn’t told me the reason for the session, but I had to assume there was a single issue that linked the women.”

“Yeah,” Holly chuckled.  “You!”

Aaron sighed and chugged the rest of his Snapple.

“That’s not even the craziest part,” he warned her.  “You know how I’m always babbling on about time travel and how I’d love to go back and fix certain things in my life?”

“Know it?  Your incessant ramblings about time travel on our first and only date was a key factor in my deciding that there should not be a second one,” she replied with a roll of her eyes.

Aaron paused before replying.  Most likely because the sting of the comment hurt too much, even after all these years.  The outcome of that date had always been a thorn in his side.

“Well, the important thing about time travel is that you have to know the right moment to return to in order to right the wrong.  If Marty McFly had taken the DeLorean back to a moment after the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, it wouldn’t have mattered that Doc had perfected time travel.”

“I get it,” Holly assured him.

“When I looked at the four women in that room, I immediately knew the exact moments in time to which I would travel in hopes of changing my life for the better,” he explained.  “That’s not an easy thing to calculate, but it was crystal clear precisely when I needed to be to make an impact with the four individuals waiting for their group therapy session to begin.”

“So what did you do?” Holly asked anxiously.

“I don’t know,” he told her.  “I woke up.”

“Are you kidding me?” she yelled at him.  “All that build up for no pay off?”

“That’s life,” Aaron explained.  “Sometimes, you set the table beautifully, but you don’t get to sit down and enjoy the meal.”

“I’m not talking to you for the rest of the day,” she vowed and turned her attention to the river.

Aaron glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, and flashed a sly smile that Holly could not see.

**********

NOTE FROM AUSTIN: I want to leave you with something to ponder, Modern Philosophers.  Did Aaron really have this dream, or did he make up the whole story?  If he did make it up, why would he do such a thing to Holly?

I have been reading a lot of mysteries lately as research for my novel.  I’m about to finish my second novel  by Anthony Horowitz.  He writes about a novelist who puts messages and clues about real life people in his mystery novels.  Just something to consider as you think about my questions...

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The Undisputed Champions of Texas, Part 19

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”

It took nothing short of a miracle to fluster a self-described “severe Catholic” like Maggie enough to take the Lord’s name in vain, but Champ had managed to do it.

Maggie quickly made the sign of the cross and mumbled a prayer to ask for forgiveness.

“You’ve got to give me some space,” Maggie pleaded.  “I’ve already got one natural shadow.  The last thing I need is another, especially in such a confined space.”

They stood behind the bar.  Maggie had turned to walk to the cash register, and had not expected Champ to be right there.

“Champ doesn’t mean to be a burden,” he explained humbly as he took a few steps back to allow his boss some personal space.  “Champ just wants to be around if he’s needed.”

Maggie had to smile.  How could she not?  She adored Champ, who was not only a dream employee, but also a good friend.

With his long, wild hair and kind blue eyes, he also reminded Maggie of her late Uncle Finnegan, who had passed when she was just a wee lass.  He was buried back in Ireland, but Maggie sometimes swore that Champ was Finnegan’s ghost come back to watch over her.

Although lately, it seems more like his intention was to haunt her.

“Look, dear, I understand that you feel responsible for watching over me ever since that stranger gave you a start with his thinly veiled threat against me, but I absolve you from that burden,” she told him while patting him gently on the arm.  “You had no idea who that man was and what might have been his intent.”

“Champ should have sensed he was trouble,” he continued to beat up on himself.

Maggie shook her head.  “Last time I checked, you weren’t psychic.  Nor were you ever briefed on every criminal and known associate who might have a beef with Chip.  I’m going to be fine.”

“But if he comes back…” Champ started to argue.

Maggie shut that down by shaking her head emphatically.

“Chip has arranged for an undercover officer to be in the bar at all times in the event he’s stupid enough to make a return appearance,” she whispered.

They both turned their attention towards the customers to try to figure out which patron was really a police officer.  The bar wasn’t crowded at this hour, so it wasn’t difficult to discern who had been placed there by Detective Bruno to keep an eye on his significant other.

Even this didn’t seem like enough to satisfy Champ, but Maggie was not the kind of person who accepted no for an answer.

“You and Tex haven’t worked many shifts together lately.  Why don’t you take the afternoon off and catch up with him?”

She turned her head upward to glance at the ceiling.

“I can hear him walking around up there, so we know he’s home.  It’s time for the Undisputed Champions of Texas to have a much needed reunion.”

She smiled in a way that was both sweet, but also indicated that there would be no argument. 

Champ understood this and nodded.

“Champ wouldn’t mind spending some time with Tex,” he admitted.  “He hasn’t been around much since he met Aspen.”

“Have fun,” Maggie encouraged.  “Don’t get into too much trouble, but if you do, call Wally, not Chip to bail you out.”

Champ’s cackle caused Maggie to laugh.  She let out a relieved sigh when Champ finally walked off towards the staircase that led to Tex’s living space.

short story, serial, Modern PhilosopherTex was happy to see his friend.  Truth be told, he’d felt a little guilty about not spending as much time with Champ since he’d met Aspen, so this surprise buddy day was welcome.

“I’m actually about to do something stupid, and I could use a wing man in stupidity,” Tex told him with a smile as he led Champ over to what passed as the living room area.

“Champ does stupid well.  Champ’s in!”

Champ’s cackle echoed through the open space.

“Remember my plan to make money by finding lost items and returning them for the reward?” Tex asked as they sat down on opposite ends of the well-worn couch that dominated the area.

Champ shook his head.  “Champ still thinks it’s a great idea.  Weren’t you going to get those skateboard kids to help you?”

“That didn’t work out,” Tex confessed as his shoulders slumped.  “Turns out they didn’t remember me as fondly as I’d hoped.  Rather than seeing me as the guy who paid them some quick cash to steal a few Christmas decorations, they chose to think of me as the ass hat who almost got them arrested.” 

“So what’s the plan?” Champ asked anxiously because he was now definitely in the mood for a little male bonding.

“I’ll show you,” Tex promised and then bolted off the couch and vanished somewhere deeper into the living space.

When he returned, he wheeled a ten speed bicycle beside him.  The bike wasn’t in the best of shape, but it still worked.  Tex had taken the time to polish it up and dust if off so that it looked newer than it truly was.

“There’s no way we’re both going to fit on that,” was Champ’s first thought.  “Champ’s going to need a bike of his own.”

Tex chuckled.  “We’re not going to ride it.  We’re going to use it as bait…”

It took Champ a moment, but his brain finally got there.

“You’re going to put the bike someplace and hope that someone steals it?  But Champ isn’t sure that January is bike weather.”

“It’s not as cold today and it has been, and there’s no snow on the ground, so at least it’s plausible that someone would be riding a bike,” Tex insisted because he was one hundred percent invested in this plan.  “Besides, there’s no such thing as burglary weather.  This is a crime of opportunity, and we’re going to make it tempting.”

Champ shrugged.  Who was he to judge?  Plus, he was happy to spend time with Tex.

“Champ wonders if we’d look suspicious just standing around watching the bike.”

“That’s why it’s perfect you showed up,” Tex replied.  “Two guys chatting in the park wouldn’t be so weird.”

“If we’re going to be in the park, Champ thinks we should play chess,” Champ suggested excitedly.  “Champ always carries a travel set.”

“Perfect!”

Tex held out his hand for a high five and Champ slapped it enthusiastically.

“The Undisputed Champions of Texas are back!” Tex declared.

“Where’d you get the bike?” Champ asked as they headed for the door.

“Remember the house I was staying in?  My friend said I could take anything I wanted when I moved out, and the bike was in the garage.”

“Was there a car in the garage?  Champ would have taken that instead!”

Champ’s cackle could be heard out in the hallway even after Tex had closed the apartment door behind them.

**********************************************

McKinley Park was across the street from St. Sebastian’s Church and Elementary School.  With its basketball courts, swing sets, and grassy fields, it offered something for residents of all ages.

Tex was interested in the park’s bike racks, which were located near the basketball courts and in the direct line of sight of a bench that was partially hidden from view by a large tree.

The bait bike was the only one in the rack.  Like Champ had suggested, it wasn’t exactly bike weather.  As far as Tex was concerned, this worked in their favor because the bike would catch the attention of any thieves who happened past.

Tex and Champ kept an eye on the bike from the bench near the tree.  The tiny travel chess board, with its miniature pieces, sat between them.

“Champ doesn’t understand how someone is going to steal the bike if you chained it to the rack.”

“It’s a cheap chain, and any thief worth his salt is going to have the means to snap it,” Tex explained.  “While they work on the chain, we can swoop in and surprise them.”

Champ nodded.  “Champ’s unclear on what happens once we swoop and surprise.”

Tex sighed because everything seemed so obvious to him.

“We tell him we’re going to turn him in to the cops unless he gives up his fence or the location of all the other bikes and things he’s stolen,” he explained as patiently at possible.

“So the way you see it, one person is responsible for all the missing items in the city?  And this person has all those stolen goods stockpiled in one central location where he will lead us based solely on an empty threat from a couple of well-intentioned citizens?”

“Something like that,” Tex mumbled.  “You’re always after me to play, so how about we analyze my plan less and play more chess?”

Champ could sense his friend’s frustration so he smiled and made his move.

Tex quickly countered with a move of his own.

“Champ sees that your chess play hasn’t improved much,” he taunted as he captured his knight.

“Sorry.  I haven’t had much time to practice,” Tex replied as he made another quick move.

“Champ notices you’ve been spending a lot of time with Aspen.  She really is quite an intriguing young woman.”

That brought a smile to Tex’s face.

“Intriguing is definitely a word to describe her,” he agreed.  “There’s something about her that’s almost magnetic.  When I’m not around her, I feel pulled towards her.  Does that make sense?”

Champ nodded and made a move.

“Champ thinks you sound like a man in love.  Have you told her how you feel?”

Tex shrugged and pretended to be studying the chessboard.  Champ, however, knew his friend well enough to realize that he rarely put any thought into his next move, and was merely buying time before answering.

“Honestly, I’m intimidated by her,” Tex finally admitted.  “She made the first move in our relationship and I’m constantly second guessing myself about what to do next.  What if I do the wrong thing and scare away the coolest woman I’ve ever met?”

Tex made a move.

Champ rolled his eyes and followed with his own move.  “Check.”

Tex looked at the board and tried to figure out how he’d been put into check so quickly.

“Champ thinks you should approach Aspen the same way you approach chess.”

Tex raised an eyebrow to the comment.  “That’s horrible advice.  I always lose at chess.”

Champ shook his head.  Once again, the student was questioning the mentor rather than listening and learning.

“You lose because you never stop to think about your next move,” Champ scolded him.  “How many times has Champ told you that you need to think two or three moves ahead?”

Tex shrugged because the number was too high to quantify.

“Champ thinks, though, that your impulsive game play might actually work when it comes to Aspen.  You’re thinking too much and moving far too slowly.  Love is often about first reactions, impulses, and risky moves that leave your heart exposed.” 

Tex took off his cowboy hat and stared at it like the answers to all of life’s questions were printed on the brim.

“So you’re saying I should approach chess like I approach love, and vice versa?” he asked as he returned his trademark hat to the top of his head.

“Look at this this way, Champ doesn’t think you could get any worse at chess.  And does Aspen seem like the kind of person who’ll just wait around forever for the result she wants?”

Tex moved his king out of check.

Champ shook his head and moved his queen.  “Checkmate.”

“Fine,” Tex relented.  “I’ll try it your way.”

short story, mystery, Modern PhilosopherNight came early in January.  Even though the sun had not yet set, the sky was dark and the temperature had dropped about ten degrees.

Champ blew on his hands to keep them warm as he pondered his next move.

Tex looked forlornly over that the bait bike.

“We’ve been here for hours, and no one has even stopped to look at the bike,” Tex commented with defeat in his voice.  “Maybe we should call it at day.  This was a huge waste of time.”

Champ made his move.  “Champ thinks we should give it until the end of this game.  And the day hasn’t been a total loss.  Your new, slower style of play shows improvement.”

“All it’s really done is prolong the inevitable,” Tex remarked.  “You still win every game.”

“But at least the games are longer.”

Champ’s cackle forced a smile onto Tex’s face.

That’s when they noticed the middle aged man.  He stood very close to the bait bike, stared at it almost like he wanted to memorize every feature, and then reached out to test the chain.

“It looks like we finally hooked someone!” Tex blurted excitedly.

They ran over to the bike rack.  When then arrived, the man was squatting to examine the tires.

“Why are you trying to steal my bike?” Tex challenge.

The man yelped in surprise and jumped to his feet.

“Whoa, cowboy, I’m not trying to steal your bike!” he protested.

“I saw you pulling on the chain,” Tex countered.

Champ walked around so that he stood directly behind the man.  The man then turned to try to figure out what he was doing back there.

“What’s happening here?  Why is your grandfather sneaking around behind me?”

“He’s not my grandfather, and why are you changing the subject?” Tex demanded.

The man glanced back and forth between the two of them.  Tex and Champ stood their ground and tried to look as intimidating as possible. 

“I’m just interested in the bike,” the guy tried to explain.  “I had one like this when I was a kid, and when I saw it, I thought it would be cool to get one for my stepson…”

“And by ‘get one’ you mean steal my friend’s?” Champ asked.

The man shook his head emphatically.

“That’s not what I meant at all.  I was just checking it out.  I was going to leave a note asking if the owner would be interested in selling it.”

He reached into his pocket to pull out a pen and a notepad as proof.

“You always carry a pen and paper?” Tex asked.

“Yes, I do,” the man answered proudly.  “I’m an idea man.  I always need to have something handy to jot down my thoughts when they hit me.”

“Is one of those ideas ‘Steal a bike in the park’?” Champ asked aggressively.

“Again, no,” the man said firmly.  “And I want to clarify something because it’s clear the two of you have trust issues.  The bike wouldn’t be for my stepson.  I mean, I wish, I hope that one day he’ll be that.  Right now, though, he’s the son of the woman I’m dating.  Well, we’ve only been on four dates, but after five years of single life after divorce, she’s the first woman to go on more than a first date with me…”

Tex’s face betrayed that he was both frustrated and confused by this conversation.

“What are you saying?” he asked the man.

“The kid hates me,” the guy explained.  “He’s ten years old.  He misses his dad, who ran off with his secretary.  He blames his mom for dad being gone.  And the things he says to me, especially when his mom leaves the room.  I’ve got to do something.  I’ve got to win his trust or buy his love.  I don’t care.  His mother is the first woman who’s touched me, and I mean that both literally and figuratively, since my divorce.  I’m not losing her because of that little creep.”

Champ rubbed his temples because this stranger gave him a headache.

“Champ thinks four dates is a little soon to be meeting the son.”

The man shrugged.  “Finding a babysitter is rough since the kid is such a brat, so he’s actually been on all our dates.”

Champ’s jaw dropped, but he said nothing.  He couldn’t go any further down that rabbit hole.

“The bike’s not for sale,” Tex told him.  “And even if it was, do you really want to be in a relationship where you’ve got to bribe the kid to tolerate you?”

The man nodded.  “Yes, I do.  Notice how there was no hesitation.  Clearly, you haven’t been alone for five years, cowboy.  A man has needs.  When those needs back up for over eighteen hundred days, you begin to look at life very differently.”

He pulled out his wallet.  “I’ll give you forty bucks for it.  It’s all I have, but I’d rather walk around with an empty wallet than continue on with this overflowing need…”

Champ groaned.  Tex held up his hand to stop him for speaking any further.

“The bike isn’t for sale.  You need to go before you embarrass yourself,” Tex advised.

The guy laughed maniacally.

“Screw you, your grandfather, and your damn bike!” 

He flipped them both the bird, kicked the bike, and stormed off down the path.

Tex and Champ stood in silence and watched until he disappeared from sight.

“Champ hopes that encounter convinced you that you have to act now with Aspen.  You don’t want to wait until you have an overflowing need…”

Champ cackled loud enough to be heard on the altar at St. Sebastian’s.  Tex laughed and punched his friend playfully in the shoulder.

“Champ would punch you back, but he’s already kicked your ass several times today at chess.  It’s time to show a little mercy.”

“I appreciate that,” Tex answered as he fished a key out of his pocket and unlocked the chain on the bike.  “Maybe the lack of a lock will tempt someone to try to steal the bike.  Let’s give it until we finish this game and then call it a night.”

“Champ agrees,” his friend replied.  “Champ has also decided that dinner is on you tonight.”

“That’s fine with me,” Tex agreed.

As they walked back to the bench, a teenager in a hoodie walked off the basketball courts.  He headed directly to the bike, pulled it free from the rack, and pedaled off down the path.

Tex and Champ didn’t notice that the bike had been stolen until they’d settled back down on the bench and Tex had made his next move.

“Damn it!” Tex screamed when he saw the empty bike rack.

Champ cackled so loudly and for so long that he fell off the bench and onto the grass.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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The Undisputed Champions of Texas, Part 18

Aspen’s talented alter ego not only helped with her insomnia problem, but it also opened up a whole new future for her.  She quickly came to the realization that art would be her life, and she dove headfirst into it with a determination that surprised everyone from her parents to her guidance counselor.

“Focus” was never a word that had been associated with Aspen, other than in the context of how dearly she lacked it.  Once she discovered art, however, that changed.

Her parents were relieved.  She was sleeping.  She was happy.  She talked about a future that was non-dystopian.  Whatever supplies she required, they purchased.  They became her biggest fans and encouraged her constantly.

Aspen never told her parents about Art Girl, though.  She understood the superhero genre just well enough to know that her secret identity must be protected at all costs.

But mostly, she didn’t want any grief from them if they decided that turning the city’s streets and sidewalks into her personal canvas was somehow wrong.

That side of her persona was hers alone to cherish, and no one could ever ruin it for her if they didn’t know it existed.

The logic seemed sound.

Because she started putting so much time and effort into her art, Aspen slipped out with her chalks in the middle of the night less frequently.  Ironically, she was too exhausted at the end of the day to find the time for the activity that was the center of Art Girl’s origin story.

When she did find the time to inspire her fellow citizens with chalk art, she took the task very seriously.  She’d often visit the pieces during daylight hours (sans costume, of course) to gauge the reaction of people to her work.

Anytime someone stopped to look at a piece, she smiled.  She had affected a stranger’s life, and in a good way.

It was a feeling Aspen had never before experienced.

During one particularly slow news cycle, a local television reporter did a piece on the mysterious chalk art that had appeared at random intervals around the city.  This was during Art Girl’s Inspirational Quotes Phase as Aspen liked to refer to it.

She’d taken to adding words of wisdom to her art.  The ones featured in the news report were Keep smiling so they know they haven’t crushed your spirit, It’s only a rat race if you decide to stop being human, and Don’t give up hope, there’s always the weekend.

The reporter interviewed people on the street who gushed about how much they loved the art and were inspired by the words.  One of the folks referred to the anonymous artist as a superhero.

Aspen’s parents had seen the piece and insisted that she watch it so she could see the true extent of art’s reach on society.  Aspen was thrilled, honored, and desperate to reveal her secret to her parents, but she held her tongue.

This was her greatest triumph to date, but she couldn’t tell anyone it was her.  Aspen probably would have been more disappointed about that if she’d actually had any friends with whom she could confide her secret.

It was the day after Aspen learned that she had a city full of fans that she discovered she also had an archenemy.

short story, serial, Modern PhilosopherNigel Providence looked like a pathetic Reservoir Dogs cosplayer.  At least that was Aspen’s initial assessment of the man the first time she laid eyes upon him.

He wore a dark suit, a white shirt, and a thin black tie just like the characters in the Tarantino flick.  He was also extremely overweight and sweated profusely.

He had a pressure washer backpack on over his suit, and was using it to wash one of her pieces of chalk art off the sidewalk in front of the comic book shop.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Mr. Pink?” Aspen yelled to be heard over the noise of the pressure washer.

Providence wore ear protection and had his back to Aspen, so he neither saw, nor heard her.  Not one to be ignored, Aspen walked up to the stranger and tapped him on the back.

Maybe she shoved him.  It was definitely more than a love tap.

He gave a surprised yelp and dropped the end of the pressure washer that was blasting the chalk with water and cleaning solvent.  Then he turned to face Aspen, who stared at him defiantly, and motioned for him to remove the ear muffs.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Mr. Pink?” she repeated louder and with more disdain.

The oddly dressed man looked at her in confusion as he turned off the pressure washer.

“You must have me confused with someone else,” he explained.  “I’m not Mr. Pink.  My name is Nigel Providence.”

“Like Rhode Island?” she asked.

“No, like the protective care of God.”

Providence noticed her blank stare, so he explained his words just like he had done countless times already in his life.  “The protective care of God is the dictionary definition of providence.  And who might you be?”

“I’m a very pissed off citizen, who doesn’t think you should be using your Super Nerd backpack to wash away such a beautiful piece of art.”

Aspen knew she had to tread lightly.  She didn’t want to betray that she was the creator of the image that was being washed away into the sewer, but she needed to make it clear that she would not tolerate such actions by anyone.

“I’m an irate citizen who believes that hooligans should not be allowed to deface city property,” he countered.  “I suppose that puts us on opposite sides of this philosophical seesaw.  However, it looks like I win, since I possess the means to rid our sidewalks of this filth.”

He smiled smugly, which really upset Aspen.  He moved to turn on the device again, but Aspen slapped away his hand from the dial.

Providence reacted as if Aspen had just run a sword through his flesh.  He looked around for witnesses to the assault, but there were none.  To clarify, there were dozens of passersby, but they were all minding their own business as per usual in this city.

“You have no right to strike me,” he stated.

“And you have no right to wash away that art,” she growled.

“One person’s art is another person’s act of vandalism,” he replied.

Providence claimed victory in the debate by turning on the machine and washing away the rest of the drawing.

Aspen stormed off in a huff and plotted her revenge, but not before unleashing a torrent of curse words that would have made the characters in Reservoir Dogs blush.

short story, crime, mystery, Modern PhilosopherIt turned out there wasn’t really anything Aspen could do to stop her nemesis.  As much as her alter ego had the right to draw on the street and sidewalks, Providence had the right to obliterate the artwork.

The police refused to take sides because there were much larger problems to deal with in the city, so Aspen tried to get the masses behind her.  She went to the reporter who did the story on the drawings and asked for her help.  She also appealed to the newspapers and took to social media.

Even with the people behind her, Aspen couldn’t stop the guy in the black suit from erasing all the good she’d done.  Church groups and Conservatives threw their money, support, and influence behind Providence.

If anyone tried to stand in his way, they were threatened with lawsuits and boycotts.

Aspen tried to keep ahead of the pressure washer by going on middle of the night drawing sprees for two weeks in a row, but while she slept the next day, Nigel Providence washed away all her hard work.  And he did it with a smug smile that haunted Aspen’s nightmares.

Aspen’s parents could see that the issue was taking a toll on her, and tried to put it all in perspective.  They didn’t quite understand why she was so passionate about saving the chalk images, but they enjoyed seeing her take an interest in community matters.

“Sometimes, the people with the most uptight views get their way because the rest of the world gets so exhausted from trying to pull that stick out of their you know where that they finally just give up and let them win,” her Dad explained awkwardly one night in an attempt to relate.

“I just think it sucks,” Aspen lamented as she flopped down on the couch.  “What harm is there in positive messages and colorful drawings?  Why do the Nigel Providences of the world get the final say in such matters?”

“It does suck,” Mom agreed.  “I could go on a lengthy rant about how the world isn’t fair and how money and Bible thumping allows people to get what they want because politicians have no backbones, but I’ll spare you the rant.  What I will do, though, is encourage you to grow up to be a voice that isn’t satisfied with allowing those pricks to have the final say.”

“They might win a majority of the battles, but when you survive to dance on their graves, you win the war,” her father explained with a wink.

Aspen didn’t always understand her parents, but that night, she felt like they were on the same wavelength.  She made a promise to herself to always be a grave dancer.

**************************

As it turned out, Nigel Providence and his pressure washer faded into oblivion less than a week later.  No one was ever sure why.  The man simply disappeared.

Without the guy in the black suit to get behind, his supporters quickly forgot about how much they hated chalk art and moved on to the next item on the agenda that offended them.

***************************

Nigel Providence went out for a walk the very same night that Aspen’s parents gave her that pep talk.  He was in a wonderful mood.  Suddenly, he was popular.  People recognized him on the street.  Kids asked for his autograph.  Radio hosts wanted to talk to him.  An article in the Style section of the Sunday paper gave him credit for making the black suit and thin tie fashionable again.  There was even talk of his running for public office.

He whistled as walked.  Maybe that was why he didn’t hear the footsteps.  Then again, he probably didn’t hear the footsteps because the men making them knew how not to be heard.

“Aren’t you Nigel Providence?” a voice called out in the dark.

Providence smiled at the thought of yet another fan eager to meet him.

“Yes, I am,” he replied with a smile as he turned to the voice.  “And who might you be?”

The three men standing on the sidewalk were not smiling.  They wore the colors of the Heathens and were armed as such with a bat, a pipe, and a length of chain between them.

The leader of the trio was known as Raptor, but he chose not to introduce himself that way.

“We’re the local chapter of the Independent Artists Support League, and we’re here to explain why you are never again going to wash away another piece of chalk art in this city.”

******************************

Three days later, upon discharge from the hospital, Nigel Providence threw away his pressure washer.  Then he called the HR Department at his place of employment and requested a transfer to an office in another state.

He didn’t care where they sent him, just as long as the city did not have an Independent Artists Support League.

****************************

A week later, Art Girl drew a headstone on the sidewalk outside the comic book store where she’d first met her archenemy.  Then she added an array of colorful animals around the stone.

Satisfied with her work, she let out a mighty whoop and then danced happily upon her artist’s representation of Nigel Providence’s grave.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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I Can See Clearly Now

“I have to admit I’m pretty impressed with you lately,” Holly confessed with a smile before taking a long sip of her coffee.

“What did I do this time?” Aaron replied with a chuckle.

He wasn’t being arrogant or cocky.  He simply knew that a compliment from her was a big deal, but he wanted to play it off like he heard them all the time.  The truth was, he didn’t get them very often because he was a very difficult human being.

It was a beautiful Sunday for the last day of July, and the best friends were seated on their favorite bench next to the river.

Aaron drank some of his Snapple while he awaited her reply.

short story, humor, Modern Philosopher“First, you got new windows installed and put up new drapes.  Then you handled the rejection from the publisher well by sending out more query letters.  Now you’ve finally gotten a landscaper to remove those ugly bushes from the front of your house.  If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’ve been possessed by a spirit who is much more mature and doesn’t fear change and failure.”

She flashed a sly grin that only made her look more beautiful.

“Such a smart ass,” he replied.  “I’d be offended by that left-handed compliment if I weren’t left-handed.  So I’m just going to thank you for noticing my growth.”

“And the Health teachers told us we’d stop growing after high school…” she quipped.

Aaron rolled his eyes and took another sip of Snapple.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately, but I have felt the need to improve my life.  Even though one of my oldest and most trustworthy philosophies is “Change is bad“.  I’m not really sure what’s happening, but I’m just trying to roll with it.”

As much fun as it was to needle Aaron, Holly knew she couldn’t push it too far because then he’d stop making all these positive changes.  That was the last thing she wanted to happen.

“When we were sitting on your porch last night, I couldn’t help but notice how much nicer the view is now with those bushes out of the way,” she changed the topic slightly.

“That was probably the effect of all the wine you were drinking, rather than the work of the landscaper,” he shot back with an evil chuckle.

flash fiction, relationships, humor“It was good wine, but half a glass isn’t going to impair my vision, wise ass,” she countered.

“You’re right,” he conceded.  “Having those impediments out of the way really does open up the view and allows the natural light to hit the porch.  I’m already noticing the difference.”

She grinned.  “Sometimes, something’s right there in front of you, but you don’t even notice it because you allow other things to hinder your view.”

Aaron turned to his friend, looked at her for a moment, and smiled.  “You really can be corny sometimes.  Correction: pretty much all of the time.”

Now it was her turn to roll her eyes.  “I can be just as philosophical as you.  And for your information, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being corny.”

He gave her another look and then turned his attention to the river.

She noticed it, though.  No matter how hard he tried to hide it.  There was something in the way he had looked at her.  Like he suddenly saw something differently.

Holly’s cheeks blushed slightly.  She knew not to ruin the moment by saying anything.

She just took another sip of her coffee and savored the moment.

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The Undisputed Champions of Texas, Part 17

While it was true that Aspen’s discovery of chalk art was directly linked to her search for a cure for her insomnia, there was a little more to the story.

The more accurate version would be that Aspen turned to chalk art because late night strolls in the middle of the night had failed to make her tired.

When she couldn’t sleep, she would sneak out of the house, regardless of the hour, to go for a wander.  Her parents were ridiculously laid back and just wanted what was best for their only child.  Had she’d bothered to ask for their permission to go on these adventures, they would have granted it and then reminded her to take a sweater because it tended to get chilly after midnight.

Walking didn’t work, though.  Maybe it was because Aspen walked so much already due to her hatred of driving and mistrust of public transportation.  It wasn’t a total loss, though, because on one of her post-midnight jaunts, she came across a series of old buildings covered in graffiti.

The street art intrigued her, and Aspen was eager to give it a try.  However, she had recently read an article about how the police had vowed to crack down on such vandalism because the people who owned the buildings weren’t fans.

Aspen thought art was cool, but she didn’t want to get arrested for creating it.  After all, that would put her in the system and potentially derail her plans to pull off the ultimate heist.  She needed to remain off the police radar and out of their computer systems.

At least that logic made perfect sense to a teenager who was roaming the streets at three in the morning while half asleep.

She couldn’t get the itch to be creative out of her system, though, and those late night walks turned into brainstorming sessions about how to express her creativity to the masses without getting taken down by the man in the process.

Ironically, all that thinking woke her up even more and made sleep impossible.

Then one fateful night she walked past a construction site.  Even though the crew was long gone, they had left behind their equipment and a half dug up street.  What caught her attention, though, was the writing on the black top.

There was scrawl like “Dig Safe” and “City Gas Line” in crudely scribbled white letters.

Aspen wondered how many people saw those words on a daily basis.  This was a busy part of the city where foot traffic was considerable during rush hour and lunchtime.  It was also a city of strangers, who walked with their heads down because everyone knew better than to make eye contact.  You had no idea who might get offended if you looked them in the eye, or heaven forbid, offered a smile or a quick hello.

That was when she knew that the street and sidewalks would become her canvas.  She would leave art for passersby to enjoy while they rushed across town determined to keep their heads down and avoid any form of human contact.

No one owned the street or sidewalk.  Maybe the city did, but the city was too busy with bigger problem, so they wouldn’t go crying to the cops about it like building owners would.

And if she used chalk instead of spray paint, there would be no permanent damage.  It would just wash away the next time it rained or some drunk urinated on it.

The latter was more likely to happen because the entire region was going through a drought.

And because way more people engaged in public urination than city officials cared to admit.

short story, serial, Modern PhilosopherAspen loved the path along the river, but hated how decrepit the city had allowed it to become.  She had stopped walking down there partly out of protest, and partly because she couldn’t bear to see how awful it looked.  There was trash strewn everywhere, weeds forced their way up through cracks in the blacktop, and the city’s criminal element had turned the path into their unofficial business center.

That was why she decided to do her very first piece of chalk art on the river path.

She’d heard the police supposedly patrolled the path more regularly now that the Mayor had promised to chase the drug dealers, thieves, and prostitutes out of the area, but she had a feeling the cops focused on certain areas and left others completely ignored.

Nevertheless, she did exercise some caution.  She wore a baggy sweatshirt with the hood pulled up to hide her uniquely colored hair.  More as a joke than anything else, she also put on an old Halloween mask.  It was just a simple black mask that covered her eyes, like the one Robin wore when he was fighting crime alongside Batman.

She bought one of those headlamps that joggers and hikers liked to wear, as well as a battery powered lamp popular with campers.  At least that’s what the sales guy in the big box store had told her when she made the purchase.

Properly disguised, drowsy from lack of sleep, and armed with proper lighting and a giant box of colorful chalk, she headed down to the river walk.  Before she left the house, she looked at herself in the mirror, chuckled at her reflection, and said, “Look out, everyone, Art Girl can’t sleep so she’s going to make the world a brighter, more colorful place!”

serial, crime, mystery, Modern PhilosopherHer first piece was of the skyline on the opposite side of the river that she had to draw from memory because it was too dark for her to actually the buildings.

After that, she went with more generic, uplifting, and colorful images.  Rainbows were her go to because they allowed for the most use of color.  Unicorns, clowns, and astronauts straddling multi-colored rockets were also favorites.

She would draw for hours by lamplight and never encounter a soul.  By the time she was done, she was exhausted.  After the walk home, she would collapse onto her bed and sleep for hours.

Aspen loved having a secret creative outlet that also conquered her insomnia.  Everything was perfectly anonymous until the second week of Art Girl’s adventures.

That night, she had decided to dabble in monkeys.  Specifically, space monkeys who traveled by somersaulting down rainbows that connected the planets.  She was working on the getting the form just right on the third monkey in the rainbow caravan when a voice in the darkness almost caused her to jump out of her skin.

“I really like your drawings, but I don’t think someone like you should be down here all alone in the middle of the night…”

Aspen turned to face the voice.  A tall, muscular man in his early thirties stepped into the edge of her lamplight.  He had a purple bandana tied across his forehead and another on his right arm.  His arms and neck were covered in tattoos, and he wore a leather jacket with the arms cut off.

He looked damn scary, but he smiled at her.  That didn’t do much to lower Aspen’s stress levels, but it did slow down her heart rate just enough so she no longer had to fear that it would explode out of her chest.

Aspen didn’t know much about the city’s gang culture, but she had done some research before deciding to venture down to the river walk in the middle of the night.  The guys with the purple bandanas were the Heathens.  They were said to be the scariest gang in the area and saw the path as their domain.

“Nice mask,” the stranger said.

Aspen, who had just then remembered to breathe, had completely forgotten that she had the silly Halloween mask on her face.  She still had enough wits about her, however, to know not to offend the frightening gang member.

“Thank you,” she said weakly.

“I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said as if reading her mind.

“Well, you failed miserably then,” she quipped.

The big guy chuckled.  “I’m not going to hurt you.  I really do love the drawings you’ve been leaving along the path.  They make me smile when I’m working.”

“That was my intention,” Aspen replied.

Even Aspen was amazed at how quickly she’d regained her composure and quick wit.  Maybe it was the mask that made her feel more confident.

Still, she made a mental note to pack some mace and maybe a metal pipe for future adventures.

“But you really shouldn’t be down here alone in the middle of the night,” he reiterated.  “Some very bad people frequent this place, and wouldn’t they love to come across someone like you.”

Aspen nodded and pointed at his bandana.  “That means you’re a Heathen, right?”

The guy smiled.  “That’s right.  That should strike fear into your heart.”

“Oh, it does.  The only reason you can’t tell that I’m peeing myself right now because I’m wearing a diaper,” she replied dryly.

He chuckled.

“Can’t you pass the word to your crew to leave me alone and keep me safe from creeps?” she proposed.  “After all, I am creating a better work environment for all of you.”

He nodded.  “I’ll see what I can do, but honestly, we’re not usually around where you do your thing.  I’d hate for something to happen to you.”

“I understand,” Aspen conceded.  “I was thinking about moving my art show to a more traveled part of town to see if I can reach a larger, more law abiding audience.”

He chuckled again.  “You do that.  Just promise me you won’t give them space monkeys.  I think those should be our special thing.”

“You have a deal,” she agreed.  “I’m Art Girl, by the way.”

“Nice to meet you, Art Girl.  I’m Raptor.  I’ll stick around until you finish.”

“I appreciate it, Raptor.”  She smiled at her new friend and went back to work.

Little did Aspen know at the time that this encounter would one day come in very handy…

TO BE CONTINUED…

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The Walk Off Wedding

It was the hottest day ever recorded on Earth.  At least that’s how it felt to the best friends as they sat on their favorite bench next to the river.

They’d hoped for a cool breeze off the water, but had been disappointed.  It was so hot that Holly had added ice to her coffee.  Aaron had brought along a mini cooler to keep six bottles of Snapple chilled while they engaged in their weekly chat.

“I had a crazy dream last night,” Holly finally broke the silence.  “I shouldn’t tell you about it, but the temperatures have clearly melted away the parts of my brain responsible for common sense and logic.”

Aaron took a long sip of Snapple and motioned for her to get on with the story.  He wanted to save his energy for the disparaging comments he was certain he’d need to make after that set up.

short story, humor, Modern Philosopher“I had a dream that I was getting married…” she began.

Aaron did not let her get very far, however.

“To who?” he asked in what could only be interpreted as a demanding manner.

“I don’t know,” she replied with a shrug.  “He was standing there next to me, but I don’t remember his face.  In fact, I’m not even sure if he had one.  I think it was pixelated like they do on the news when they want to hide the identity of the person being interviewed.”

“That’s a little crazy even for you, don’t you think?” he asked accusingly.  “I know you’re a serial dater who’ll go out with anyone who asks, but I always assumed you’d at least be a bit more picky before agreeing to a marriage proposal.”

Holly sipped her coffee and shook her head.

“First of all, I don’t date anyone who asks.  Secondly, it’s just a dream.  I have no control of my actions in that scenario,” she insisted.

“Freud would beg to differ,” he countered.

Holly sighed.  She knew that telling this story was a mistake, but she had to do something to break the silence before they both melted under the sun’s relentless onslaught.

“Anyway, we got to the point in the ceremony where the priest asked if anyone had any objections to the marriage…” she tried to continue.

“Hold up!” Aaron demanded as he threw his arms in the air.  “You’re getting married in a church?  But you never go to church.  I don’t think you even know where the nearest one is to your home.”

flash fiction, relationships, humor“Well I sure as hell wasn’t going to get married at City Hill like some unromantic bureaucrat.  And with this ridiculous heat, an outdoor wedding was clearly out of the question,” Holly argued defensively.

“Oh so now you’re saying you do have control of your actions and decisions in your dreams?” he pressed.  “That’s a direct contradiction to what you said mere moments ago.”

Holly growled and contemplated throwing her coffee at him.  Then she realized she needed the fluids to remain upright, so she took a sip of it instead.

“The priest asked if there were any objections, and you stood up to object,” she explained.

Aaron grinned like he was proud of how the dream version of him had managed to cause a ruckus.

“Sounds about right,” he agreed.  “Was I objecting to the church setting, the mysterious identity of the groom, or the fact that the bride was wearing white?”

This time Holly did choose violence.  She lashed out and punched him in the shoulder.

Aaron didn’t even wince.  She would not get the satisfaction, especially not on the day of her dream wedding, to which he was clearly opposed.

“You objected because the Yankees were playing and the ceremony and reception would cause you to miss the game,” she informed him angrily.

Aaron flashed a million dollar smile.  “You know how important the Yankees are to me.”

“More important than me?” she challenged.

“More important than a sham wedding to some guy without a face,” he answered confidently.

Holly growled even louder this time.

“So how did the priest rule?” he asked.  “Did he stop the wedding?”

“No,” Holly replied.  “But I was so pissed at you I demanded that you leave the church immediately to go watch your precious Yankees.”

Aaron shrugged and sipped his Snapple.  It was just a dream, so he refused to apologize for his actions in her subconscious.

“Did I leave?” he asked.

“Not before you pointed out that they were playing the Red Sox,” she mumbled.

Aaron chuckled.  Holly loved the Red Sox as much as he loved the Yankees.

“And what did you do with that information?” he asked.

Holly took a long sip of her coffee before she answered.

“I called off the wedding and fled the church with you to watch the game,” she said softly.

Aaron beamed with pride.  “There’s hope for you yet.  It’s like a modern day version of The Graduate, only with a baseball theme.”

He winked and then turned his attention to the river.

She smiled and wondered, not for the first time that day, what her dream truly meant…

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The Undisputed Champions of Texas, Chapter 16

Champ was always thrilled when Maggie asked him to cover an afternoon bartending shift.  While he would happily do any task his boss assigned, Champ was a people person first and foremost, so he welcomed the opportunity to be more than a behind the scenes guy.

Sure, he’d once struggled with alcohol and other assorted controlled substances, but those days were long behind him.  Champ saw his ability to man the bar without wanting to pour himself anything from the dozens of colorful bottles at his fingertips as a true triumph of the will.

He was no expert mixologist, but the truth of the matter was that one of the reasons Maggie trusted him alone at that hour was because the bar was usually empty.

There were a handful of regulars who’d haunt the bar in the early afternoon, but they were there for a quiet place to read the paper, get out of the cold, and avoid whatever problems awaited them at home.  This crowd stuck mainly to beers or self-explanatory drinks.

Not even Champ could mess up a rum and Coke or a gin and tonic.

Champ could cackle maniacally about it now, but he had once torn apart the bar for a good ten minutes in search of a toolbox after a customer had asked him for a screwdriver.

Since the bar was usually quiet, Champ spent most of his time stocking the cooler, slicing fruit, and studying his chessboard.  However, should someone come in and want to bend the ear of the bartender, he would be prepared.

short story, serial, Modern PhilosopherHe was about to set a personal record by slicing his ninth consecutive lime without cutting himself when the stranger entered.

Champ was good with faces, but this one was unfamiliar to him.  The ability to put a face to a name had come in very handy when he lived on the street.  It was much easier to guilt someone into parting with some loose change when you asked them by name.

This gentleman was not someone Champ could recall ever having met at the bar or out on the street.  He was a bear of a man with cheeks ruddy from the cold.  He sat at the far end of the bar and made Champ come to him, which the lonely bartender was happy to do.

“Champ welcomes you to Maggie McGee’s.  What would you like?”

The stranger mulled it over for a moment.  “Something on tap.  Why don’t you surprise me?”

While Champ scampered over to grab a pint glass, the stranger looked around the bar like he was sizing up the place.  There was nothing much to see at this hour, but he took it all in like he intended to commit it to memory.

Champ returned, placed the beer on a coaster, and waited.

The stranger, sensing that Champ needed to know if he’d chosen wisely, complied by taking a sip of his beer.

“Excellent choice,” the man said and smiled.

Champ grinned, genuinely happy to be of service.   He quickly searched his mind for the proper topic with which to engage his lone customer in witty conversation.  He looked like the chess type, but how should be approach the subject?  However, the stranger beat him to the punch.

“Is Maggie around?”

Champ was slightly offended by the question because his immediate thought was that the man was implying he wasn’t good enough company.  Then he remembered that Maggie’s name was on the bar and she’d been tending it for much longer than he had.

People came in all the time hoping to chat up the affable owner.

“Champ’s sorry to say she isn’t.  Is there something Champ can help you with?”

The stranger paused before replying as if trying to process what it was about Champ’s manner of speaking that was registering as off.

“No thanks,” he finally replied.  “I was just hoping to say hello.”

“Are you old friends?” Champ asked because he really wanted to chat.

The stranger took another sip of beer and shook his head.

“Actually, her boyfriend is a friend of a friend, who recommended this place to me and suggested I stop in and give my regards the next time I was in town.”

Champ nodded.  “Detective Bruno knows a lot of people.  Champ would be happy to pass along that greeting.”

The stranger stood up and looked around as if he wanted to make sure that Maggie wasn’t lurking somewhere in the shadows.

“Sure,” he said once he had accepted the only way he was going to get his message to Bruno was through the odd ball bartender.  “Tell him I stopped in because I was eager to meet Maggie.”

Champ was confused.

“Champ thought it was Detective Bruno who was the friend of your friend…”

The stranger smiled slyly.  “Yeah, and that’s why I wanted to meet Maggie.  Bruno helped three of my friends relocate last August, and they wanted me to tell Maggie they hadn’t forgotten.”

Champ let out a low cackle.

“Champ thinks that sounds just like Detective Bruno.  He’s always eager to help someone in need no matter how busy he is.”

The stranger nodded his understanding, pulled a ten dollar bill out of his wallet, and placed it on the bar next to his beer.

“Thanks for the conversation,” he remarked with a wink as he headed for the door.

Now Champ was really bewildered.

“But you hardly touched your beer,” he called after him.  “Champ can get you something else if you didn’t like this one.”

The stranger gave a little wave and kept walking.

“What’s your name?  Champ at least wants to deliver a proper message.”

“Bruno will know who I am,” the stranger replied as he disappeared into the bright winter afternoon without looking back.

Champ shook his head, poured the beer down the sink, and put the glass in to be washed.  He then walked the ten dollar bill over to the cash register.

“Champ might be slow, but even he understands Detective Bruno isn’t going to know who you are if you’re a friend of a friend and have never met.”

Still shaking his head, Champ rang up the drink and put the change in his empty tip jar.

short story, serial, Modern PhilosopherLater that afternoon, Champ told Maggie about the stranger and passed along his message.

The look on Maggie’s face was one of concern.

“What did he look like?” she asked as her mind raced.

Champ shrugged.  “Champ remembers him looking very average.  He was big, though, maybe like a football player.

Maggie didn’t say anything at first.

“You didn’t happen to keep the glass?” she surprised him with her question.  “Chip would probably want to check it for fingerprints or DNA.”

Not for the first time that afternoon, Champ was baffled.  “Champ dumped the beer and washed the glass.  Champ doesn’t get it, though.  Why would Detective Bruno go through all that trouble to track down some stranger who wasn’t polite enough to leave his name?”

Maggie smiled.  She loved Champ and had to remember that all those blows to the head in the boxing ring had probably knocked the common sense out of him.

“That man wasn’t here for a polite visit,” she said sweetly, though her voice was tinged with concern.  “He was here to deliver a threat.”

Champ rubbed his temple and took a seat on one of the stools in front of the bar.  The place was filling up, but everyone was gathered around the end of the bar closer to the TVs.

“But he told Champ he wanted to thank Detective Bruno for helping his friends move last August,” he remarked.

“I believe you said he used the term ‘relocate’,” Maggie politely reminded him.  “As in to jail.  And when I think about last August, the three men who immediately come to mind are the ones from the failed bank heist.”

Something clicked in Champ’s brain and he finally got it.

“Champ is so stupid,” he berated himself and slammed his fist against the bar.  “That guy from the bank crew threatened Detective Bruno when he went to see him in jail.  His friend came here looking for you to let Detective Bruno know he could get to you at any time.”

Maggie nodded.

“Champ should have knocked out the bastard,” he lamented the missed opportunity.

Maggie reached out to pat him gently on the shoulder.  “There’s no way you could have known.  I’ll let Chip know immediately, but I’m guessing it was meant as more of a form of harassment than an actual threat.  And now he knows that I have a burly bodyguard on duty, and I’m not here all alone like a sitting duck.”

They both knew that she was playing it down for Champ’s benefit, but they took solace in the knowledge that Bruno would never let anything happen to Maggie.

That was the last day for the next several months that there wasn’t at least one undercover police officer in the bar during business hours.

TO BE CONTINUED…

NOTE FROM AUSTIN: When I turned the serials that first appeared on this blog into a novel, I added over 30,000 words to the stories.  The manuscript includes a chapter that follows Bruno as he foils a bank robbery all by himself.  This is the event referenced in this chapter.  Figured fans of the Bruno serials might be confused since they haven’t had a chance to read about the bank heist yet.  Just one more reason to pick up a copy of the novel once it’s published!

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