Now You Know Too Much

“Do you think it’s possible to be too intelligent?” Aaron asked before he took a long sip of his Snapple.

It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving and the best friends were still digesting leftovers as they sat on their favorite bench along the river.

“Are you going to launch into some rant now about your big brain, how rough it was being the smartest kid in school, and how different your life’s path would have been if your stepmother had only taken you for an IQ test like you requested?” Holly asked with an extended eye roll.

Aaron had to chuckle.  “While that does sound like something I would do, I was actually referring to the main character in my novel.”

Holly blushed in embarrassment and tried to cover her rosy cheeks by drinking her coffee.

“He’s a detective,” she stated the obvious.  “Aren’t they supposed to be smart?”

Aaron shrugged.  “I’ve been reading a lot of detective novels and watching a lot of detective shows to get a better feel for how my character should be.  Usually, the detective is depicted as a genius and the criminals as bumbling nitwits, who always make a mistake.”

“Well, there’s your answer then,” she replied.  “The detective is always the smartest one in the room.  They say you should write what you know, so that should be a cinch for you.”

She winked after her compliment, but he didn’t seem to pick up on it.  He was too busy ruminating over his problem.

“But that’s the thing,” he explained.  “I don’t necessarily want my detective to be like all the others.  I want him to be relatable.  I want the reader to think they could have solved the mystery too if they had just paid a little more attention to the clues.”

Holly nodded like this made sense.  “So rather than have him be the smartest one in the room, you’d like him to be the most observant and perceptive.”

Aaron’s face lit up in a smile.  “Something like that.  No offense to the general detective population, but I doubt squad rooms across the country are occupied by geniuses who picked solving crimes over coming up with the next great invention or a cure for cancer.”

flash fiction, humor, Modern Philosopher“Then you should go for it,” Holly urged.  “This will make your protagonist stand out from all the other detectives out there in literature.  I think it’s fun that he’s a former jock who speaks like he never quite mastered the rules of grammar.”

“Could you imagine Sherlock Holmes trying to engage him in conversation?” Aaron asked.

They both had a good laugh at that one.

“I think you’re forgetting that the old Film Noir detectives weren’t cast from the same mold as Holmes and Poirot,” she pointed out.  “Phillip Marlowe and Sam Spade were never going to win any IQ contests, and I bet they weren’t exactly lining up the public speaking engagements, but they always seemed to crack the case.”

“You’re so smart,” he stated the obvious.

“Then maybe you should base one of your detectives on me,” she suggested with a hopeful smile.

“I don’t think my brain could ever do your brain justice,” he quipped.

“I know that was probably meant as a sarcastic dig, but I’m choosing to take it as your admitting that I’m smarter than you,” she replied.  “That’s me being the most perceptive person in this room.”

Aaron simply smiled.  He knew better than to try to make an argument he couldn’t possibly win.

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The Undisputed Champions of Texas, Part 41

As a runner, Detective Ng had always been drawn to the river walk.  She loved to look out at the river when she ran, and she always took a break to sit on one of the benches and stare across the water at the glass skyscrapers that dominated the skyline.

Ng sometimes imagined that she had caved to her parents’ pressure and become a doctor who worked at one of the state of the art medical centers on the other side of the river.  Those daydreams always ended with her being glad that she had stood her ground and joined the police force instead.

Even though the river walk had evolved over the years to become a wasteland with a waterfront view, Ng never gave up on the area.  One of the reasons she had been drawn to the Gang Squad was because she wanted to be a part of taking back this cherished portion of the city from the Heathens and whatever other gangs tried to do business there.

Whenever someone organized a cleanup of the river walk, she was first in line to volunteer.   If she saw homeless folks setting up camp along the path, she found them beds in one of the city’s too few shelters.

Today’s visit to the path brought Ng about a quarter mile east of the spot where Aspen and Tex had met Raptor much earlier that morning.  Wally was at her side and Detective Eli Stanhope stood over a body bag as he awaited her arrival.

short story, mystery, Modern Philosopher“Good to see you, Ng,” Stanhope greeted her with the exhausted smile of a career homicide detective who had seen way too many corpses.  “Congrats on your promotion.  I see that one of the perks of the new job was inheriting Bruno’s intern.”

Stanhope laughed.  Ng smiled.  Wally rolled his eyes.

“Thanks, Stanhope.  I appreciate your reaching out on this.”

Stanhope nodded.  “I saw your memo with the sketches of the suspects and info about the terrorist group with the wooden crosses.  Knew this one had to be yours.”

“Do you mind?” Ng asked as she squatted down to get closer to the zipper on the bag.

As she did that one of the police divers emerged from the river and shook his head in their direction.  Stanhope gave the guy a wave.

“Guess that means this stiff is the only one,” he replied with the nonchalance of someone no longer affected by death.  “You got lucky.  The river is usually frozen this time of year.  If it had been, whoever did this probably would have buried the body, and we might not have found it for a few months.  The intern knows a thing or two about losing a corpse.  Am I right?”

Ng slowly unzipped the body bag to reveal the corpse of the man in Aspen’s fourth sketch.

“Who found it?” Wally asked and totally ignored Stanhope’s dig like a rookie was supposed to do if he ever wanted to stop being the target of barbs from the veterans.

“A good citizen who decided to get in one last kayak workout before the big freeze,” Stanhope replied.  “Perfect timing because it looks like it’s going to snow any second.”

Wally nodded and looked up at the gray sky.  The clouds continued to threatened snow, but had yet to make good on that promise.

“He’s beat up pretty badly,” Ng observed.  “I suppose some of that could have been from being dropped off a bridge into the river, but I’d guess this man was tortured.”

Stanhope nodded his agreement.  “He got worked over pretty good.  The Medical Examiner didn’t want to guess at cause of death before she got him on her table, but my guess would be he was strangled.”

Stanhope pointed to the victim’s collar, and Ng gently pushed it aside with her gloved hand.

There was a leather lanyard around the man’s neck, and from the end of it hung a crudely carved wooden cross.  The red marks and bruising around his neck indicated that the lanyard had been used to choke the life out of him.

“It’s possible one of the other numerous wounds on his body could have been the fatal one, but my money is on someone twisted the cross until the lanyard was so tight he couldn’t breathe.”

“The cross that just happens to be the symbol of the Crossers,” Ng said softly.

Stanhope nodded.  “Like I said, I read your memo, so I knew the wooden cross was significant.  Guess this group you’re looking for decided to tie up a loose end.”

Wally nodded his agreement with that assessment as he quickly shot a series of photos of the corpse with his cell phone’s camera.

“It’s pretty creepy that they dumped him so close to the spot where Aspen and Tex met with the Heathens last night,” Wally remarked.

short story, mystery, Modern Philosopher“I don’t think that was a coincidence,” Ng shared as she closed the zipper on the body bag and stood up again.  “Just like I’m not going to assume that the use of the hand carved cross means he was a Crosser or killed by a member of that group.”

“What are you thinking?” Wally asked.

“You okay if they take the body to the morgue?” Stanhope interrupted.  “No offense, but I want to get inside before the storm hits.”

“Of course,” Ng replied with a smile.  “Thanks again for reaching out, Stanhope.  You’re not half as bad as Bruno makes you out to be.”

That earned her a huge belly laugh from Stanhope, who then headed over to the vehicle from the Medical Examiner’s office.

Ng turned her attention back to Wally.  “What I meant was that I thought it very odd that Aspen’s contact found out so much, so quickly about the three men from out of state, but couldn’t tell her anything about the local suspect.”

The wheels began to spin in Wally’s head as he tried to piece it all together.  He knew it would take many years and countless more crime scenes before his brain could ever process clues as quickly as a detective’s, but that wasn’t going to stop him from trying.

“He does look like he’s been tortured,” he conjectured.  “That could’ve been done by members of the Crossers to punish him for screwing up the gun deal.”

“Which would mean that members of the group are in town and following every step of this investigation,” Ng replied.  “To this point, we haven’t had any indication of that.  Not that we have necessarily been looking, but you’d think we’d have a sense.”

“So why else would he have been tortured?” Ng challenged him.

Wally was caught off guard by the question.  He was used to Bruno’s method of knowing everything, not wanting any input from him, and then revealing information as his big brain cracked the case.

He took a moment to think because he didn’t want to say something stupid and risk having Ng decide to not give him another opportunity like this.

“Someone tortured him to get information about the other three suspects,” he blurted out when the answer became obvious.  “The Heathens lied.  They knew who he was all along, and once Aspen showed them the picture and told him about the case, they went and got him.”

“And they were the ones who punished him for this,” Ng deduced.  “Not because he blew the deal, but because he went behind the gang’s back to help another group move in on their territory.  They could have gotten enough out of him before they killed him to find out about the Crossers and the symbol they wore to identify themselves.”

Wally’s eyes lit up because this all made perfect sense.  “And that would explain why the cross was so badly carved.  It was a rush job to fit the narrative.”

Ng nodded and took a few steps closer towards the river.  She stared out at the water, which looked almost gray as it reflected the color of the sky.

“Like Detective Stanhope said, the river is usually frozen this time of year.  A group of terrorists from another part of the country wouldn’t know it was still thawed, so they wouldn’t think of dumping a body in the water in the middle of the night.”

“But the gang that asked Aspen to meet them down here would know,” Wally excitedly added because he was so thrilled to be a part of the detecting process.

“We’re also overlooking a very obvious clue,” Ng continued.  “Both groups would know to weigh down a corpse so it wouldn’t float to the surface and be immediately discovered.”

“So whoever killed him wanted the body to be discovered and for us to blame the Crossers!” Wally finished her thought.   “So what’s our next move?  Do we arrest Raptor for murder?”

Ng shook her head.  “I doubt we’ll find anything on the body that would link it to the Heathens.  My gut tells me Aspen’s buddy is sending us a message.  The Heathens want revenge on the Crossers for operating in their territory and using one of their fringe members, but they don’t want to get into a war with a bunch of terrorists.”

“They want us to settle the score for them,” Wally announced.

“We’ll make a detective out of you yet,” Ng informed him with a smile.

Wally allowed himself a moment to bask in the glow of that compliment.  This was entirely new territory for him, and he wasn’t quite sure how to react.

As he stood there, the first flurries landed on the river walk.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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Introverted Pilgrim Shenanigans

“Why must you be so stubborn?” Holly asked in frustration.  “Why won’t you just come to Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’?”

It was the Sunday before Thanksgiving and the best friends were engaged in a heated discussion while seated on their favorite bench along the river.

“Have you met me?” Aaron countered.  “I don’t like being trapped in a house for hours with strangers.  It would send my anxiety skyrocketing through the roof and could not possibly end well.”

Holly let out a loud, guttural growl and then took a long sip of her coffee as she did the mental calculations to determine if she could possibly hurl Aaron into the river from their current position.

“Trapped?  Is that how you feel when you have to spend time with me?  Are you feeling trapped right now?  Do you want to flag down a passing pedestrian and beg them to free you from captivity???”

Short story, humor, Modern PhilosopherAaron took a long sip of his Snapple and tried to figure out his best way out of this situation.

“You know what I meant,” was the best he could come up with under the circumstances.  Sometimes vague worked best, though, especially when Holly was this angry with him.

He had years of experience with getting Holly this upset, so he had a multitude of data to reflect upon when navigating such situations.

“And strangers?” she continued because she was all worked up now.  Her beautiful face had turned a shade of red usually associated with boiled lobsters in this part of the country.  “That’s my family you’re talking about.  You’ve known them for years.  They’ve been exposed to your quirks and phobias and still always urge me to invite you to the next gathering.”

“That right there proves that they aren’t making rash decisions, and it would be unwise to surround myself with such people for an extended period of time.”

He had meant it as a joke, but Holly did not take it as such.  She just gave him the glare that warned him that one more wrong word would result in his needing to be rushed to the emergency room.  And since she was his emergency contact, he might be left there for an extended period before anyone came to take him home.

“Choose your next words wisely,” she advised.

Aaron nodded and took another sip of Snapple.  He was buying time for both Holly to cool off and for him to stop saying such stupid things to the one person who cared about him.

“You know me better than anyone else,” he reminded her.

“Pointing out my faults is not going to help your situation,” she quipped.

Aaron thought he saw the hint of a smile on her lips, but he decided to tread lightly regardless.

“You know I can’t handle group settings,” he stated the obvious.  “Too long cooped up like that will quickly turn me from quirky change of pace guest to raving lunatic who has overstayed his welcome.  I can’t subject my best friend or her family to that.”

Holly stared at him for the longest time, and during this process, the red slowly faded from her face.

“I don’t know what to do with you,” she finally mumbled.  “You say you want to be less of a hermit and hint that you want to act like a normal member of society, but every time I offer you an opportunity to gently ease yourself out of your comfort zone, you turn me down.  And then you add another ten feet to the height of the walls you’ve built up around you.”

Aaron shrugged.  “What I say and what I can actually convince myself to do are two entirely different things.  Besides, all I need for Thanksgiving is some pepperoni and cheese, stuffing, cranberry sauce, apple pie, and a day’s worth of football to watch in peace and quiet.”

“Just what the Pilgrims had in mind when they came up with the holiday,” Holly replied with a shake of her head that conveyed serious disappointment.

“Don’t get me started on the Pilgrims,” he warned.

“Don’t use the Pilgrims as a means to deflect from your problems,” she countered.

“How about a compromise?” he proposed.  “Stop by with a big plate of stuffing on your way home and tell me all about what I missed.”

Holly shook her head.  “No dinner, no stuffing.”

“No dinner, no stuffing?” he asked in a whiny voice.

“No dinner, no stuffing!” she confirmed.

“Fine.”

“Fine!”

“Thanks for the invite, though,” he added.  “Please tell everyone I said hi.”

She simply rolled her eyes and took a long sip of her coffee.  She’d never understand him, but that didn’t mean she’d every give up trying…

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

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The Undisputed Champions of Texas, Part 40

Wally noticed that the sky threatened snow as the glass elevator carried him closer to the clouds and the top floors of the tallest building in the city.

On his first visit to the offices of Miles Fitzpatrick, the rookie had been in awe, even though he had to hide it from Bruno.  The only time he had ever seen a view of the city that rivaled the one the real estate mogul had from his desk was when he had been on an airplane.

This time, however, that façade would be shattered.  Wally understood that Fitzpatrick was nothing more than a narcissistic, misogynistic, racist, con man who had used his daddy’s millions and a series of empty promises, failed businesses, and shady deals to make himself more money than any human could possibly need in a lifetime.

What Wally had mistaken for ornate and tasteful was now known to be a tacky attempt at trying too hard to showcase his wealth and power.

Fitzpatrick might have a great view, fancy suits, and a movie star smile, but there was nothing to the man himself.  He was just a lot of hot air, name dropping, and crackpot ideas.  The only true skill Miles Fitzpatrick had was the ability to sniff out suckers and then wring them dry of every penny they possessed.

“You sure you’re ready for this?” Ng’s question snapped Wally out of his thoughts.

“Yeah,” he assured her.

Wally was still very new at being a police officer, and he saw this interaction with Fitzpatrick as a chance to gauge his growth.  He had admittedly been intimidated by the myth of the man the first time they met, and he was dead set on proving that he could treat him just like any other citizen during this encounter.

“Since you’ve already established a relationship with Mr. Fitzpatrick, I’m going to allow you to take the lead,” she revealed to Wally’s surprise.  “If I sense things are going south, however, I’m going to take over.  You good with that?”

Wally nodded.  Nothing could be better.

short story, mystery, Modern PhilosopherThe executive assistant chased them into the office yelling that they couldn’t see her boss without an appointment, but Wally and Ng ignored the poor woman.  After all, they were here on official police business and very well could be saving the man’s life.

“Officer Wainwright,” Fitzpatrick said with a beaming smile from behind a desk that was larger than some New England states.

“I told them they need an appointment, sir!” the frazzled assistant yelled in a desperate attempt to save her job.

“Wally’s an old friend,” Fitzpatrick inform her.  “Old friends can drop in any time.”

A look of relief washed over the woman’s face, and she quickly turned and made a beeline for the door before her boss changed his mind about her employment.

Fitzpatrick stood up like he wanted them to see just how good he looked.  His suit was expertly tailored and had cost more than his assistant took home in a week.  His hair was perfectly styled.  The watch on his wrist told the time with Swiss precision, but even more importantly, it told anyone who saw it how affluent its wearer was.

Of course, there was that fake, bright smile that seemed to mock the city’s residents from billboards strategically placed all over town.

“Where’s Detective Bruno?” he asked as if he was just now noticing that the absence of that larger than life presence.

“Detective Bruno is out of town on another case,” Wally explained as he stood behind one of the two chairs in front of the desk.  “This is Detective Ng.  You get the pleasure of her company on this visit.  Perhaps you will soon consider her an old friend as well.”

Fitzpatrick laughed at Wally’s bravado.

“You’ve changed since our last meeting,” the real estate mogul commented.  “And I mean that in a good way.  Stepping out from the big man’s shadow looks good on you.”

Wally said nothing and his poker face revealed even less.

“Please sit,” Fitzpatrick insisted as he waved at the chairs in front of his desk.  “So who are you here to accuse me of doing wrong this time, Officer Wainwright?  Or are you here to give me false information about a threat on my life?”

Ng looked to Wally in confusion.  He had purposely not given her all the details of his last visit because he didn’t want her to ban him from accompanying her.

Their observant host picked up on the glance and assumed he could use it to his advantage.

“Ah, young Wally didn’t tell you how he and the big, scary detective lied to me the last time they were here, did they?”

Fitzpatrick poured himself a drink from the bar next to his desk and then studied his guests.  He knew they wouldn’t accept his offer of a drink, but he had purposely not asked as a way to demonstrate that this was his turf and he was in control.

“That conversation has nothing to do with our current visit, Mr. Fitzpatrick,” Ng replied without skipping a beat.  “I’m going to let Officer Wainwright explain.

Wally let out the breath he didn’t realize he had been holding since Fitzpatrick had posed his question.  A sense of relief washed over him when Ng did not take over the interview.

“Mr. Fitzpatrick, have you received any threats lately?” Wally asked.

Fitzpatrick scoffed and threw back the remainder of the brown liquid in his tumbler.

“So you’re going with the same old song?  You couldn’t come up with anything original?”

Wally ignored the comments and continued.

“We have reason to believe there is a credible threat against you and the new housing development you’re planning across the river.”

“That’s not a mere housing development, my friend,” Fitzpatrick corrected him in the most condescending tone he could summon.  “The Platinum Aurora Village Condominiums are the future of housing for the movers and shakers, the history makers, and the record breakers.”

“Did Dr. Seuss write that for you?” Wally quipped.

Ng fought to keep a straight face while also finding a new respect for the rookie.

“Platinum Aurora sounds like the name of a cheesy science fiction flick from the seventies,” Wally added to his observation.  “Where do you get this stuff?”

This time, Ng shot Wally a sideways glance, which he pretended not to notice.

Fitzpatrick flashed that creepy, overly bright smile and rattled around the ice cubes in the bottom of his empty tumbler.

“The name and the tagline were created by the greatest marketing team this country has to offer.  We tested them in front of multiple focus groups, who absolutely loved them.  In fact, the marketing guys told me they’ve never seen anything test higher in the history of their company.  And that’s just not real estate ventures.  Highest scores across all categories.”

Wally nodded like this all made sense.  He knew the best way to get Fitzpatrick talking was to let the man stroke his own ego.

“If that’s the case, then I guess it would be a very high profile target,” Wally volunteered.  “I bet a lot of people are jealous that’s this is going to be yet another Miles Fitzpatrick success story.”

“Now I remember why I liked you,” Fitzpatrick replied as he headed over to the bar for another drink.  This time he was feeling more generous.  “Can I get either of you anything?”

“Thanks, but not while we’re working,” Wally answered for them both.

Fitzpatrick walked over to the enormous ceiling to floor windows to look out at the breathtaking view of the city.

“I can actually check on it from my desk every day.  And that’s not gloating.  It’s a simple fact.  When you have a view like this, you can see just about anything worth seeing in this beautiful city we’re lucky enough to call home.”

Since his back was turned, Ng felt comfortable rolling her eyes.

“Obviously, you wouldn’t want to see anything bad happen to the Aurora Borealis before it’s built,” Wally purposely mangled the name.

Fitzpatrick quickly turned.  “Platinum Aurora.  Don’t worry.  It’s a common mistake.  Once the village is up and running, though, Platinum Aurora is going to quickly surpass the Aurora Borealis as the most recognized Aurora on the planet, if not the entire galaxy.”

Fitzpatrick smiled.  The man believed every word that came out of his own mouth.

It was Wally’s job to inject some reality into the conversation.

short story, mystery, Modern Philosopher“This project is going to be another brilliant feather in your cap.  It will also go a long way towards helping you win the hearts and minds of voters if the rumors are true about your plan to run for governor.”

Talking about Miles Fitzpatrick is the best way to engage Miles Fitzpatrick.

“You don’t know the half of it,” he bragged as he sat down again behind his desk.  “The groundbreaking is in two days, and we’re filming everything for a reality show.  It’s going to cover the entire process and will start airing right after I announce my plan to run for governor.”

“The network expects the greatest ratings of any show they’ve ever aired.  Those are their words, not mine.  The show will air every week like a free campaign add, putting me in more homes than any commercial ever could.  I wish I had known you were coming today because I would’ve had the camera crew here.  This would have been perfect.  A handsome, young officer showing up to make sure I’m safe.  The viewers would eat it up.  They’d love you.  The Commissioner would have to promote you.  Immediately.  Just to thank you for all the positive publicity you’d bring the department.”

Wally waved off the praise with a forced smile.  “I’m perfectly fine doing what I’m doing without the cameras.

“The cameras would love you.  Not as much as they love me.  That’s to be expected, though.  I’ve been doing this for a long time and the people already love me.  You’re new.  You’ll get there eventually…”

“I hate to cut you off,” Wally said as sincerely as he could muster, “but we need you to call off the groundbreaking.”

Fitzpatrick laughed.

“No way that’s going to happen,” the real estate mogul said flatly.  “Like I just told you, we’re shooting a TV show around the event.  Can’t be pushed.  Won’t be pushed.”

Wally shook his head.  “We have credible information of a threat on your life and the event.”

Ng wanted to say something about the use of the word “credible”, but she knew they wouldn’t have a shot with Fitzpatrick if they let on that none of this was verified.

“I get threats every day,” Fitzpatrick chuckled.  “If I canceled my plans every time someone threatened me, I’d never move out of this chair.  Not that I’d mind.  You’ve seen the view.”

“Have you ever heard of Crossing the Delaware?” Wally decided to try a different tact.

“Sure,” Fitzpatrick nodded.  “That was the show with the good looking brunette from Law & Order who played a medical examiner.  Her father was the coach from The White Shadow.  Now that was a classic show.  They don’t make them like that…”

“That’s Crossing Jordan,” Wally cut him off in frustration.  “Crossing the Delaware is a domestic terrorist group that has claimed responsibility for four incidents in the past year.  They’ve decided to make you and the Roaring Aurora their next target.”

Fitzpatrick didn’t correct Wally this time.  Instead, he just stood up and turned his back to them.

“If this is such a credible threat and there are terrorists involved, where’s the FBI?” he asked.

Ng cursed her decision to leave Vlak back at the station.

“The FBI is working other angles,” Wally replied without lying.  “I told them I had a relationship with you and you were more likely to listen to me.”

Fitzpatrick let out one loud laugh and then slowly turned to face them.

“Why would domestic terrorists target me?” he challenged.  “I’m as American as they come.  I support everything they do.  I’m one of them.  Those types love me.”

Ng’s phone rang and she quickly answered it.

“Because these are the kind of terrorists who believe in what America was, not what it’s become,” Wally challenged.  “They’re about protecting the little guy, and making sure families aren’t kicked out of their ancestral homes so that yuppies can live in style.  They don’t want to see the rich get richer.  They want the American Dream to be available to all.”

“That’s not a reality we’ll ever see in our lifetime,” Fitzpatrick said confidently.

“Excuse me a minute,” Ng interrupted.  “I need to take this.”

The men paused their debate.  Once Ng had walked across the office and out of earshot, Fitzpatrick leaned in and spoke in a much lower tone.

“I see that your girlfriend is planning to run for District Attorney,” he said with a sly smile.

Wally remained pokerfaced, but inside, he freaked out about the fact that Miles Fitzpatrick had taken the time to find out who he was dating.

“I’ve been a longtime supporter of her boss, and plan to support him again this time around.  The thing is, Wally, I can always be persuaded to support new blood.  I can just as easily throw my support behind ADA Ambrose.  That support comes with a lot of dollars and a built in base.”

Wally wanted to gulp.  He wanted to think about Michelle’s future.  He also wanted to reach across the desk and punch Fitzpatrick so hard in his fake, bright smile.

“This is America,” he said instead.  “You’re welcome to support whoever you want.”

Fitzpatrick upped the voltage on his smile.  “This is politics, Wally.  You scratch my back and I scratch yours.  Or I can decide to increase my support of the current District Attorney.”

Before Wally could reply, Ng returned.  The look on her face betrayed that something was up.

“We need to go,” she said.  “There’s been a development.  Mr. Fitzpatrick, please excuse us, but this conversation isn’t over.  We really need you to cancel that groundbreaking.”

Fitzpatrick shook his head and just smiled.

Wally and Ng walked to the office door in silence.  Just before they reached it, she finally told him what was going on.

“They’ve found the fourth guy in Aspen’s sketches,” she explained.

Her look and somber tone told Wally all he needed to know about the unfortunate status of suspect number four.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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The Unexplored Julia Stiles Timeline

“I watched 10 Things I Hate About You last night,” Aaron threw out there as a conversation starter before he took a long sip of his Snapple.

“Oh,” Holly remarked.  “Were you craving a little Shakespeare, but didn’t feel like cracking open a book?”

It was the Sunday after Election Day and democracy had survived.  The best friends saw this as a very positive sign as they sat on their favorite bench next to the river.

That comment earned her a sideways glance and a shake of the head.  “More like I wanted to torture myself with what could have been.”

short story, humor, Modern PhilosopherHolly’s interest was piqued as she allowed herself a drink of her coffee.  She liked it when Aaron talked about the past and filled in the gaps of the years before they met.

“That comment definitely needs some clarification,” she insisted.

Aaron nodded that she was correct.  “I’ve told you that the screenplay that got me ‘discovered’ in Hollywood was a horror/thriller, right?”

“Yes,” she quickly recalled the information from her memory.  “You got the idea from a song by The Police and it was about a popular high school teacher who might have murdered his favorite student.  I’ve said it before and will say it again: I would definitely watch that movie!”

“If only you ran a Hollywood studio,” he replied with a heavy sigh and took another drink of iced tea.  “I receive a substantial check for the option on the script, and the production company was motivated to make the film.  My managers at the time had just produced American Pie, so they were hot and eager for the next big teen film.  A director was attached and we got to the point where there were serious conversations about the casting.”

“So why didn’t the movie get made?” Holly asked.

Aaron shrugged.  “Because Hollywood sucks?  Anyway, I was dead set on Julia Stiles playing the lead.  The director liked the idea as did the producer and my managers.  She was a big deal at the time because of 10 Things I Hate About You, so having her attached would have really pushed the project towards getting the green light.”

Holly simply nodded.  She had heard the story about how close he’d come to selling his bank robbery script to Dr Dre, but this tale of his close encounter with success with an earlier screenplay was news to her.

“Being a writer must be so hard,” was all she could think to say to comfort him.

flash fiction, screenwriting, Modern Philosopher“For some reason, I thought it would be motivational to watch that movie last night and think about what could have been if Julia Stiles had agreed to be in my movie,” he confessed.  “I’ve been feeling a bit discouraged about trying to get my novel published, so I figured a little reminder of how close I’d come previously might give me that little push I needed.”

“That makes sense,” she replied.  “Did it work?”

“Yes and no,” he answered after a bit of hesitation.  “It did remind me that people were once foolish enough to pay me large amounts of money for my writing, but at the same time, it re-opened that old wound about how writers never really control their fate.  If some agent won’t answer my query and agree to read my manuscript, it will just rot on the shelf next to the Julia Stiles screenplay.”

Holly really had to fight the urge to lunge across the bench and give him a huge hug of support.  She knew it would make Aaron feel uncomfortable, and it might keep him from opening up like this to her in the future.

“It seems pretty obvious to me that you need to focus on the fact that you not only almost got that screenplay made, but also had two of your scripts made into movies,” she told him.  “And before you rush to tell me that one movie was only released in the Europe and the second one never actually made it to the big screen, relish the fact that two production companies thought enough of your writing to make movies out of it.  Someone will feel the same way about your novels.”

Aaron stared at her for what seemed like an eternity, and then finally smiled.

“You’re right,” he conceded.  “This is why I keep you around.  Your pep talks are priceless.”

“Plus, I ply you will fun size Mounds bars when I know you need a pick me up.”

She pulled a mini Mounds bar from her pocket and tossed it to him.  His eyes lit up like those of a child on Christmas morning.

“It is kind of cool, though, to think about how different my life would be if Julia Stiles had starred in a movie based on that screenplay,” he stated as he popped the chocolate into his mouth.

“You’d probably be hanging out with her on a bench in Southern California every Sunday,” Holly quipped and then chuckled.

“Ha! Considering how difficult I am, she probably would have come up with a list of 100 Things I Hate About You by now.”

“You think it would only be a hundred?” Holly countered.

They laughed loudly and Aaron quickly forgot how down he was about the fate of his novel.

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The Undisputed Champions of Texas, Part 39

Agent Vlak enjoyed the spotlight.  He wasn’t quite at the point where he craved it, but he certainly considered it one of the best perks of his job.

So far on this case, he had dropped back and been a helpful and supportive member of the team.  That was not by choice, however.  He had been outmaneuvered by the locals, who had somehow managed to have an in with someone much higher up the ladder at the Bureau.

Vlak was not a fan of this, but a Harvard man knew how to read a room and remain several steps ahead of people he was sure had only community college degrees on their office walls.

This morning, Vlak was positively glowing.  All eyes were on him as he stood at the front of the room and explained how the FBI, and he as their conduit, had broken open the case.

“Your friend’s asset certainly came through,” he proclaimed as he slapped three mugshots up on the magnetic board.  “We now know the identity of the three men who pursued your confidential informants the night they innocently drove off with a car packed with assault weapons.”

Wally rolled his eyes at Vlak’s dig, but did not comment.  Ng stepped closer to the board to study the mugshots and compare them to Aspen’s sketches.

“How come the vaunted FBI facial recognition program didn’t pop these names when you ran Aspen’s sketches through it?” she asked politely with just a hint of accusation.

Wally smiled, but remained silent.

Vlak grinned like the Cheshire cat because he had an answer for that.  He was always prepared to explain why the FBI was superior.

short story, mystery, Modern Philosopher“As you can see from the photos, the suspects usually have much longer hair and facial hair.  Plus, they have darker complexions.  They were clean cut during their time here, presumably to fit in better and draw less attention.  While Aspen’s sketches were excellent, they couldn’t capture the proper shading and bone structure.”

Ng examined the sketches more closely.  Vlak was right.  Aspen’s drawings were very close to what the men looked like, but they weren’t exact.

“Not bad, though, for guys she saw only briefly before she fled for her life,” Wally finally contributed something to the conversation.

Vlak nodded.  Now that the spotlight was on him, he had to make sure to remain agreeable so that he didn’t piss off people and lose their attention.

“Agreed,” Vlak replied.  “They are members of a Los Angeles gang whose name loosely translates from the Spanish to ‘the Devil’s favorite sons’.  They are low level members of the gang, so it’s unclear why they were entrusted to travel halfway across the country to deal with the Crossers.  It does seem likely, however, that the groups crossed paths in Southern California, where Crossing the Delaware last claimed credit for a terrorist attack.”

“That would fit nicely with Aspen’s theory that the Crossers and the Devil’s Sons decided they had a winning working relationship and would partner up again on the next job,” Ng concluded.

“Makes sense,” Wally agreed.  “If the Crossers truly are mobile, and not staying in one area to which they are accustomed, it would take time to make connections with the local talent and source out their dirty work.  But if you partner up with the same group, you make your life a hell of a lot easier.”

“And we need nothing more during these troubled times than for domestic terrorists to have an easy time executing their agenda,” Ng grumbled.

Vlak worried that he was losing the spotlight with all this conjecture, so he yanked it back onto him.  “As we speak, the Bureau is utilizing its massive assets to track down these suspects and bring them back here for questioning.”

Ng wandered over to the nearest desk and leaned against it.  “What I want to know is how come Aspen’s friend was able to identify those three so quickly, but couldn’t come up with anything on bachelor number four.”

“Especially since he’s supposed to be local with ties to the Heathens,” Wally added.  “You’d think they would’ve come up with him first.”

Again, Vlak felt the room slipping away from him.  “I’m sure we’ll figure that out once my fellow agents arrest the three amigos.”

Wally shot Vlak a look.  “That sounds oddly racist, Agent Vlak.  I’d think you’d be more sensitive about comments like that.”

Vlak opened his mouth to respond, but wasn’t quite sure what to say.  Instead, Ng filled the silence with questions of her own.

“What we need to ask is ‘Why here?’  What makes our city a target for these terrorists?  If we can figure out that, we won’t have to wait for the FBI to make arrests.  To be honest, I don’t think we have the time to sit around and hope they deliver.”

short story, humor, Modern Philosopher“Champ thinks he knows the answer.”

The familiar voice came from the doorway.  Wally and Ng turned towards it with delight, while Vlak growled under his breath and cursed the annoying locals who kept stealing his thunder.

“Champ, what are you doing here?” Wally asked as he walked over to greet his friend with a handshake.

“And how did you get here without your protection detail knowing?” Ng added with a worried raise of her eyebrow.

Champ slowly made his way into the room and towards the big board at the front.

“Champ doesn’t need a babysitter,” he explained.  “Champ told the cops he needed to stretch his legs and if anyone tried to follow him, they’d learn that his right hook was still as good as it was from Champ’s days in the ring.”

Wally chuckled and followed Champ as he walked towards Ng and Vlak.

“Champ is also tired of being left out and treated like damaged goods,” he growled and locked eyes with Vlak.  “Champ is pissed that he got tricked into staying back while Aspen and Tex put themselves in danger.  Champ might have a beat up heart, but his heart is bigger than anyone else’s when it comes to his friends.”

Ng looked to Wally to signal that he should handle this one.

“I couldn’t agree with you more, my friend, but Aspen was pretty insistent.  You know how she can get when she makes up her mind about something.”

Champ rolled his eyes.  “Champ loves Aspen, but he can see that she has all of you wrapped around her pretty little fingers.  Tex I can understand, but the rest of you should be able to stand up to her and tell her who is in charge.

Wally chuckled.  “That’s easier said than done, especially when she’s the only one coming up with any good ideas on how to catch the bad guys.”

This time, both Wally and Champ shot Vlak a look.

Vlak decided he didn’t want to deal with the negative vibes being sent his way, so he turned to face the board and pretended he was studying it intently.

“I don’t think Aspen’s intent was to upset you,” Ng took a shot at calming Champ.  “She was genuinely concerned about you, and couldn’t get past what happened the last time you tagged along when they got into some misadventures.”

Champ waved off that theory and sat down behind the desk next to the one where Ng was.

“Champ can handle himself,” he clarified.  “Champ will not be put in timeout anymore on this investigation.  Does Champ make himself clear?”

Ng and Wally nodded in unison.

“You said you had an answer about why the Crossers had picked our city as their next target?” Wally nudged Champ out of his angry place and into one where he could feel helpful.

“That’s right,” Champ agreed.  “Champ might be left on the bench, but Champ is always paying attention.  Do you remember why Tex had to move into the apartment above Maggie’s bar?”

Wally nodded.  “Sure.  He was staying at a friend’s house and the grandmother sold the place, so he had to move out.”

“And why did the owner sell a house that had been in her family for generations?” Champ asked like a professor springing a trick question on an unsuspecting undergrad.

It took Wally a moment, but he remembered the answer.  “Because a developer was buying up the entire neighborhood so he could knock down the houses, and build expensive condos for rich folks who normally wouldn’t be caught dead in that part of town.”

Wally smiled to indicate that the answer was correct.

The reply also piqued Vlak’s interest, so he turned back around to follow the conversation.

“Word on the street is that while some homeowners sold willingly, most had to be persuaded to give up places that had been the only homes they’d ever known,” Champ explained.  “Champ hears many of them ended up selling for pennies on the dollar once the developer started using underhanded methods to force them out.”

Ng excitedly picked up on Champ’s train of thought.  “The rich stomping on the poor, while they only get richer.  The little guy being defenseless to defend his family home against the ruthless real estate titan with infinite power at his disposal.  That sounds like a narrative that fits perfectly into the Crossers’ playbook, doesn’t it Agent Vlak?”

Vlak nodded emphatically.  “That would definitely be a cause that would catch their attention.  They would surely see it as a conflict that would need to be settled in a unique manner that only they were capable to provide.”

“Who’s the person responsible for this condo development?” Vlak asked even though it pained him to know that someone not from the FBI would be providing the answer.

“Please tell me it’s who I think it is,” Wally practically begged of Champ.

The old boxer’s weathered face lit up in a bright smile.  “Champ is pleased to announce that it is our old friend Miles Fitzpatrick.”

Wally pumped his fist in excitement like he’d just made the interception that had sealed the Super Bowl title.

“Let me guess,” Vlak quipped, “someone you know is intimately linked to this man.”

Champ and Wally nod in unison.

“The bastard paid Champ to squat on some land so he could drive down the price for a deal he had going,” Champ provided the answer.  “That very place was where one of Champ’s good friends ended up dying, and that led to Wally meeting Detective Bruno, and then the two of them meeting Champ.”

“Of course it did,” Vlak replied.

He was upset that the spotlight was long gone for the moment, but at least he finally had a very concrete lead in the case.  Vlak understood that if he was even part of the team that caught these terrorists, a group that some in the FBI didn’t believe even existed, he would have a spotlight akin to multiple suns shining on him for the rest of his career.

So Vlak smiled and allowed Champ to bask in the glow of the big reveal.

“Bruno’s going to be pissed he missed a chance to question his buddy Miles, but I promise to do him proud,” Wally announced with a grin.

“I’ll be coming with you,” Ng informed him.  “Miles Fitzpatrick is a powerful man with very powerful connections.  I’ve heard he plans to run for governor in the next election.  We need to approach him carefully.  Do I need to point out that the man is not a suspect?  He’s potentially the target.”

“I understand,” Wally confirmed.  “But he’s still a major league prick, and it’s not going to bother me one bit to watch him squirm.”

Ng eyed him warily, but didn’t say anything.  After all, what else could she expect from a rookie who had spent so much time with Detective Bruno?

“You want me to come?” Vlak asked because he did like the idea of talking to such a high profile person even though he knew he’d just be a third wheel for the conversation.

“No,” Ng replied without hesitation.  “Introducing the FBI into the equation will up the stress level and potentially make him less cooperative.  Let’s keep it local for now while you liaise with the Bureau on our other three suspects.”

Vlak nodded his agreement.

“Champ, you did really well,” Wally declared as he slapped his friend on the back.  “We’re going to drive you home first and ask that you don’t slip your protection detail again.  Now that we know this threat is real, keeping you safe is out top priority.”

Champ nodded in understanding.

“Champ gets it,” he agreed.  “Besides, Champ wants to go back and brag to Aspen and Tex so that they remember he’s a vital part of the team, too.”

“Let’s go save this city and one of its most vile residents,” Wally summed up their next move in a way that would have made Bruno proud.

Wally put out his first and Champ bumped it satisfyingly with his own.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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Tell Me One Nice Thing About You

“Do you want to know why I am so looking forward to Wednesday?” Aaron asked before he took a huge gulp of his Snapple.

It was the Sunday before Election Day, and the best friends were seated on their favorite bench next to the river.  It was unseasonably warm for a November morning in Maine, but neither of them was complaining.

Holly shrugged and guessed.  “Because you really enjoy Hump Day?”

Aaron chuckled.  “While that is true, I’m longing for this Wednesday because it means that Election Day is done.  And when Election Day is done, there’s no more campaign ads.”

Election Day, humor, Modern PhilosopherHolly nodded in agreement while she sipped her coffee.

“I could not agree more.  They’re all over the TV and radio.  And when you go outside, there are campaign signs stuck in every available piece of grassy land.”

“The thing I hate about the ads is that they’re never about why I should vote for a candidate,” Aaron continued with an edge to his tone.  “They don’t discuss their qualifications or reference their record while in office.  All they do is tell me why I shouldn’t vote for their opponent.”

“The only thing that passes for a qualification in a political ad is a shot of the candidate holding a gun, firing a gun, or daydreaming about what it would be like to have all the guns,” Holly agreed.

“Tell me one good thing about you,” Aaron pleads.  “Is that too much to ask?  It’s like going on a dating site, and instead of telling me why I should date you, you list off all the reasons I shouldn’t date the other women on the site.”

“You’re really thinking about asking out Mary?  Well she lets her kids stay up late on school nights!  And you know how you were complaining that you can’t get good New York Style Pizza anywhere around here?  That’s Tricia’s fault.  You just have to trust me on it.  And do not even give Alicia’s profile a second glance.  She allows Martian spies to live in her unfinished attic whenever they visit the planet to plot their impending invasion.”

Holly laughed at Aaron’s examples.

“And I thought those ads blaming Governor Mills for inflation, skyrocketing gas prices, and the rising cost of groceries were bad,” she quipped.

short story, best friends, Modern Philosopher“I know, right?” Aaron said with a shake of the head.  “Did you see the ads that accused Governor Mills of closing down schools?  They forget to mention it was because of a pandemic, that students were attending classes online, and every state was doing it.  The ads make it sound like Mills was a business owner from Dickensian times who closed down the schools so that children could be forced to work in her factories all day.”

“Those were simpler times, though,” Holly quipped.

“So far, the only politician I’m eager to vote for is the one who stood along my running route, answered my questions, and then gave me a donut,” he remarked.  “Wake me up when it’s Wednesday.”

He then feigned going to sleep.  Holly rolled her eyes and took another sip of her coffee.

“I sometimes try to guess what you’re going to rant about during our Sunday chats,” she confessed.  “Today, I was sure it was going to be about turning back the clocks, claims of false time travel brought about by daylight saving time, or the perils of messing with the space/time continuum.”

Aaron grinned as he took another drink of his Snapple.

“You weren’t too far off, I suppose,” he conceded.  “Because of this stupid turning back the clocks deal, which I absolutely hate, I have to be subjected to an extra hour of campaign ads this weekend.”

“You could always turn off the TV and write,” she suggested.

“If I do that, then the bad guys win,” he informed her.  “Our forefathers fought the Revolutionary War to give us the right to vote and the right to watch TV whenever we want, especially on Sunday during the football season.”

“That’s not exactly true, but close enough I guess,” Holly sighed.

They turned their attention to the water and enjoyed a few quiet moments without any political ads.

Don’t forget to vote on Tuesday!

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The Undisputed Champions of Texas, Part 38

Tex wished he had brought his guitar.  It was something of a security blanket because he always felt confident and in control when he played it.

Plus, having it would have given him something to do.  It was midnight and he was sitting on a bench that looked out onto the river.  Aspen was the only other person around at this hour, but she was in full Art Girl mode in the middle of the path that ran along the water.

In the ten minutes they’d been there, she had already created a colorful piece of art that would brighten up the dingy walkway.  Tex knew not to interrupt her when she was drawing, so he just watched her and tried not to think about how uncomfortable he was.

The people with badges had been adamant that they bring back up to this second meeting with Raptor, but Aspen had put her foot down.  When he made up her mind even people with guns could not get her to change it.

Because of Aspen’s stubbornness, they were now all alone on the river walk.  Raptor had not yet made an appearance, and Tex was getting antsy.

If he’d had his guitar, he could have calmed his nerves by playing a few songs.  Instead, he sat in silence and thought about the one he was trying to write for Aspen.

So far, all he had was two lines of a chorus bouncing around in this head…

I dream outside the box

When I’m with you…

It wasn’t much, but it was the beginning of something and the fact that he couldn’t get it out of his head meant he had to surround those two lines with many more.

short story, mystery, Modern Philosopher“What are you thinking about, Handsome?”

Aspen’s voice startled him out of his lyrical daydream.

“Just wondering how you always manage to stay so cool and in control in the crazy situations we often find ourselves in lately,” he replied with a smile.

Aspen put down her chalk and walked over to join him on the bench.  Tex got a kiss before she answered his question.

“I hardly think I’m always cool and in control,” she remarked as she rested her head on his shoulder.  “If you recall my behavior in the car during that chase, I was anything but calm.  I think I freaked out enough to cover the next dozen stressful situations.”

Tex chuckled at her simple analysis of the most stressful situation he’d ever experienced.

“I think you’re allowed a free pass for that night,” he assured her.  “But ever since then, you’ve been in like this Zen state.  I’m quite impressed.”

Despite her mask and the hood pulled over her head, it was still obvious that Aspen blushed at those comments.

“I had plenty of time to rein in my emotions while I was in the waiting room with Wally, praying that you and Champ were okay.  The hospital reminds me of my Nana, and she liked to implore the tiny version of me to grow up to embrace terrifying situations and make myself feel at home with the unknown.”

“But she probably didn’t mean that you should help law enforcement track down a gun running gang and a domestic terrorist group with help from your frightening friend in the city’s most feared gang,” Tex pointed out with a smile.  “I think she meant visit Europe, make the first move when you meet a handsome guy, and maybe try exotic entrees at new restaurants.”

Aspen laughed.  “I don’t remember much about my Nana, but something tells me she wanted a life more like this one for me.  Besides, I did make the first move when I saw you playing guitar on that corner.  So I’m living the best of both worlds.”

The answer put a smile on Tex’s face and relaxed him.  He kissed the top of her head.

I feel safe inside these walls

When I’m with you…   

flash fiction, mystery, Modern Philosopher“Is it okay if I interrupt this tender moment?”

Raptor’s voice came out of the darkness somewhere behind them.  Aspen immediately sat up straight and Tex adjusted on the bench as the stress and tension ran through his body again.

Raptor emerged from the shadows to stand on the path in front of the bench.  There was no one with him, but that didn’t mean there weren’t others waiting in the dark if needed.

Aspen smiled and sprang to her feet.  “You weren’t interrupting anything that we can’t pick up again at another time.

Raptor smiled and admired her flowing green cloak.  “A new look for Art Girl?  I like it.”

Aspen did a quick spin, so he could see the cloak in all its glory.

“I decided she needed to evolve,” she explained.  “Were you able to find anything for me?”

“Straight to business…”

She shook her head and pointed to the chalk drawing on the path behind him.

“Not at all,” she corrected him.  “We’ve been here for a while and I wanted to finish my latest work.  Figured we’d get this out of the way and then get to the small talk.”

At this point, Tex has gotten to his feet and stood at her side.  He wore the cowboy hat tonight, so he’s got a bit of an edge to him, intended or not.

“I checked with my underworld contacts as Tex suggested,” Raptor paused for a laugh, but got only a nod from Tex.  “The three men who followed you are from a gang in Southern California.  I’ve written down their info for you.”

He pulled a folded piece of paper from the pocket of his leather jacket and handed it to her.  She didn’t bother to look at it, and simply slipped it into the pocket of her cloak.

“Thank you.”

“From what I was able to piece together, they jetted the second after they cleared out that warehouse,” Raptor continued.  “Word is they were afraid of the imminent repercussions from the gun deal that never went down because of your joyride.  Apparently, there are some bad ass individuals waiting for those guns.”

Aspen nodded like this all made sense and because she wanted Raptor to know that his revelation about the disappointed customers did not come as a surprise.

“Any idea where they went?” she asked.

Raptor shook his head.  “Maybe back to Cali, but that might not be an option because the bosses back there won’t be happy with their failure.  They just ain’t here anymore.”

“Good thing we know some Feds then,” Aspen replied.  “That whole crossing state lines thing only gets them more motivated to do their job.”

“Any word on why guys from California were doing business here?” Tex swallowed his nerves enough to get out an excellent question.

Raptor shrugged.  “Maybe this bad ass client did business with the gang out there and needed something done here?  That fourth guy, the one you thought was a Heathen, I’m still working on a name and location, but the thinking is he was the local connection.  Maybe a relative of one of those three, and the reason they thought they could come into our territory and fill this order.”

Aspen nodded like this made sense.  “The buyer likes the work the gang does in California, mentions that they have something planned for here, and asks if the gang can recommend local talent to help with incidentals…”

“That would make sense,” Raptor agreed.  “Especially if that Voo Doo guy lied about being a Heathen.  Anyone could do a little digging and find out we controlled the alternative business channels in the area.”

Tex let out a low chuckle.  “Alternate business channels.  I like that.”

“And I like your hat,” Raptor told him with a slight nod.

Aspen couldn’t tell if the guys were bonding or about to go at it, so she decided it was time to shine the spotlight back on her.

“But what would the client be planning here?” she asked.

That earned her another shrug from Raptor.  “You didn’t ask me to look into the client, so I don’t know what they’re into.  All I heard if they are not the type you want to cross.”

Aspen nodded as she pondered his words.

“You’ll keep looking for this fourth guy?” she pressed.  “Something tells me he’s the key to finding the other three.”

“I’m on it, Art Girl,” Raptor promised.  “Unless you hear otherwise, meet me here again, same time, in two days.  I’ll keep pushing my underworld contact for info.”

“It gets funnier every time you say it,” Tex quipped.

Raptor flashed him a big grin.  “Alright, Cowboy.  Art Girl, it’s been a pleasure.  I look forward to checking out the finished product.”

He nodded at the drawing on the path behind him.  “Got some alternate business channels to check right now, but we’ll talk again soon.”

“Thanks, Raptor,” she answered with a big smile.

A moment later, Aspen and Tex were alone again.

“Do you really think he liked my hat?” Tex asked.

Aspen laughed and then walked over look at her latest artwork.  She was still laughing when she sat down on the path to complete the piece.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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This Is The Way We Do Halloween

“Any special plans for Halloween?” Holly asked.

It was the Sunday before Halloween, and the best friends were seated on their favorite bench next to the river.  Since it was Maine, there was a sinister, yet fun vibe in the air in anticipation of the holiday.

“I’m just going to work and treating it like any other day,” Aaron replied and then took a sip of Snapple.

“Are you going to wear a costume?”

“Absolutely not!” he shouted so quickly that he almost spit out iced tea at her.  “I’m not going to do something that would draw even more attention to me and seemingly invite people to start up a conversation.  Costumes in most social situations are wrong, but they is definitely no place for them at work.”

“What if you work at a costume shop?” Holly countered.

Aaron rolled his eyes, shook his head, and took another long pull on his Snapple like Holly’s question had driven him to drink.

short story, Halloween, Modern Philosopher“Did you at least buy candy to pass out to trick or treaters?” she chose as her follow up.

“What trick or treaters?” he replied defensively.  This was clearly a touchy subject.  “Every year, I buy tons of candy in anticipation of all the costumed tykes who will show up at my door.  And every year, I’m severely disappointed when only one or two kids makes an appearance.”

Holly shrugged.  “That sucks because I know that deep down you like Halloween.  There are certain streets in town where kids congregate.  The ones where the homeowners go overboard on the decorations and then pass out king size candy bars.”

“I can’t compete,” Aaron declared.  “King size bars do not fit into my budget.”

“But you did get some candy, right?” she asked hopefully.   “I know you had been mumbling threats of skipping trick or treat altogether.

Aaron sighed and shook his head.  “I must confess that Halloween candy was not on my list when I entered the grocery store, but I relented and purchased two bags, rather than the usual four or five.”

“Sounds like you were possessed by the spirit of Jack Skellington just in time to save Halloween,” she replied with a giggle.

“It must have been the Pumpkin King, for only he would be powerful enough to change my mind about Halloween,” he agreed.

flash fiction, humor, Modern Philosopher“So I take it you went to a costume party last night as per usual,” he tossed out there.

“I did,” she confirmed.  “As usual, you were also invited.”

“I appreciate the annual offer, but this costume rejecting introvert, who currently feels majorly let down by Halloween, is never going to attend a costume party,” he stated the obvious.

“Your loss,” she replied.

“Did you meet anyone?  I’m sure there were plenty of guys in suggestive costumes, who were also  hopped up on liquor and ready to knock your socks off with only the cheesiest pickup lines.”

“I don’t go to Halloween parties to meet men,” she quickly answered.  “I enjoy the anonymity of it all.  I can hide behind my mask, work the crowd, and avoid the meat market side of it all.”

Aaron shrugged and took another sip of his Snapple.

“You must really like your costume, seeing as how you’re still wearing it and all.”

Holly stood up and did a quick spin for him so he could see her Mandalorian costume from all angles.

“I think it’s pretty awesome,” she said once she was seated again.  “There was even an awesome Grogu costume that you could have worn.  We would’ve won Best Couples Costume for sure.”

“Baby Yoda costume wear I when freezes over Hell does,” he quipped.  “Did you at least take off the helmet while you were at the party?”

Holly slowly shook her head.  “I can never reveal my face to another.  Even at a Halloween party.  This is the way.”

“This is the way,” Aaron replied.  “And you tell me I’m the weird one.”

Mandalorian Holly simply nodded and turned her attention to the river.

Happy Halloween!

Posted in Holidays, Humor | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

The Undisputed Champions of Texas, Part 37

The bartender at The Scorpion Pit was known as Zorro, and it was his job to decide who got served and who was kicked, sometimes quite literally, to the curb.  That didn’t prevent his fellow Heathens, however, from getting involved in the screening process.

Aspen walked confidently to the bar and ignored the stares of the regulars.  Tex followed, but didn’t do as good of a job of not noticing the dirty looks.  He did manage to keep his mouth closed and his thoughts to himself, though.

“I’m looking for Raptor,” Aspen told Zorro with a charming smile when he finally decided she was worthy of his attention.

Before Zorro could reply, another Heathen intervened.

“You’re in the wrong bar,” he hissed.  “The Yuppie pansy bars are on the other side of town.”

Aspen turned her attention from Zorro to the helpful man with the neck tattoo.  “Didn’t I see you there last week on Karaoke night?  You did a spot on Barry Manilow.”

All the Heathens within earshot laughed.  Neck tattoo guy growled and took a step forward.

Zorro slammed a bottle of beer down on the bar before the man could get any closer to Aspen.

“Here’s a beer, Battle Axe,” Zorro slid the bottle towards the man.  “Go take a lap and cool off and let me do my job.”

Battle Axe stared at Aspen, who to her credit, did not back down or even blink.  Then he snatched the beer off the bar and vanished into the crowd.

“I apologize,” Zorro said with a smile.  “The regulars are a bit mistrusting of new faces.”

“Well, if you’ve got to live up to a name like Battle Axe, you can’t exactly meet everyone at the door with a hug and a bouquet of roses,” Aspen quipped.

Zorro chuckled.  Tex remained extremely tense and silent.

“You asked for Raptor.  Does he know you?”

Aspen grinned.  “Tell him Art Girl is here and needs a favor.”

Zorro shrugged.  It wasn’t even close to the strangest message he’d ever been asked to relay, so he just nodded.  “Wait here.  I’ll see if he’s available.”

short story, mystery, Modern PhilosopherHe made his way down the bar and Aspen turned to Tex.  She squeezed his hand to make sure he was still alive.

“You okay?” she asked.

“I’ve played some seedy places in my day, but this would be the shittiest of all the shit holes,” Tex said grimly as he surveyed the bar.

The place was packed.  Everyone wore the Heathens’ colors and appeared to have some combination of body ink, piercings, or visibly bruised/bandaged flesh.

“I’m sure your rendition of You Oughta Know would bring down the house,” she whispered in his ear and then giggled.

That finally brought the hint of a smile to Tex’s face.

“Let’s agree to go for tetanus shots tomorrow if we get out of here alive,” he whispered back.

The crowd parted and a familiar face stood in front of them.

“Do I know you?” Raptor asked.

He looked meaner and more homicidal than Aspen remembered.

“Give me a sec,” Aspen replied as she held up a finger.  She then took her mask out of her bag and put it on her face.  Then she pulled the hood of her sweatshirt over her head.

Raptor smiled.  “It really is you.”

“I should hope there aren’t impostors wandering into dive bars and claiming to be me,” Aspen answered with a chuckle.

“Can I get you a drink?” he asked.

Aspen shook her head.  “Thanks, but we need to talk business.  Do you think we could go outside where it’s less…” her voice tailed off as she searched for the right word.

“Contagious,” Tex finished her thought.

Raptor gave him a dirty look, but then smiled.

“Sure.  Just tell Art Boy to ease up on the insults.”

Tex opened his mouth to say something, but Aspen squeezed him hand to indicate that he really needed to shut the hell up.

flash fiction, detective, Modern PhilosopherAspen was pleased, and a little surprised, that Raptor didn’t bring any backup outside with him.  Then again, what kind of threat could Tex and she pose to someone like him?

“It’s been a while,” Raptor pointed out the obvious once they were on the sidewalk in front of the bar.

“It has,” Aspen replied as she took off her hood and put her mask back in her bag.  “Let me start with introductions.  Raptor, this is Tex, not Art Boy.”

Tex was surprised when Raptor extended his hand, but he recovered quickly to shake it.

“You an artist, too?” he asked.

“A musician,” Tex clarified.

“I suppose some thanks are in order,” Aspen continued once the men had felt out each other.  “That little problem I had a while back miraculously vanished and I always had a sense that you were the one responsible.”

Tex looked confused.  Raptor smiled slyly.

“Are we talking about the art critic with the power washer?” Raptor asked.

“Yes, we are,” Aspen answered with a roll of her eyes.  “The man was a nuisance, and I couldn’t believe he had so much support in the community.  Thank you for making him see the error of his ways.  At least I’m hoping that’s what happened to him…”

Aspen looked to Raptor with a slight grimace on her face.

“Relax, Art Girl,” he assured her.  “He received a visit from some passionate patrons of the arts who convinced him that this city wasn’t big enough for Art Girl and his problem with her.  He simply chose to relocate.”

“You mean relocate to another city, and not to a shallow grave, right?” Tex needed clarification.

Raptor laughed.  “This guy is a riot.  I love your art, but not enough to commit murder.  All it took was a pointed conversation and possibly a display of random items that could be considered pieces of art or as weapons that could inflict severe bodily harm.”

Tex nodded.  He didn’t need the explanation to go any further.

“Thank you, Raptor, sincerely.  That guy could have been the end of Art Girl.  I’m here tonight to repay you for that favor, while also asking you for another one.”

Raptor raised an eyebrow.  “I’m intrigued.  What do you need?”

Tex looked over at Aspen and his heart rate suddenly slowed.  She was clearly in total control of the situation and had this dangerous gang member eating out of the palm of her hand.  Even though he was beyond stressed, he began to calm down because he could see Aspen had this.

“We’re in a bit of trouble with the police,” she began and then paused to see how Raptor would react to that.  When nothing in his body language or facial expression changed, she continued.

“Did you hear about that wild car chase a few days ago?” she asked casually.

“The one with the shoot out that ended with the first car crashing and two people dead and the third one seriously injured?” he countered.  “I think everyone saw that.”

Aspen smiled and looked over at Tex, who gave her a reassuring nod.

“He was one of the dead and I’m the one who’s seriously injured,” Aspen revealed.  “At least that’s the cover story the cops and the Feds came up with because they think someone might actually want to kill us.”

Raptor’s face went blank.  He looked from Aspen to Tex and then back to Aspen like he was expecting one of them to break and start laughing.  But neither of them did.

“Are you serious?” he finally asked.

Aspen and Tex nodded in unison.

“We went for a joy ride that got a little out of hand,” Aspen joked.

“I’ve never been so scared in my life,” Tex confessed.  “At the same time, though, it was this insane rush to be behind the wheel and trying to outrun death.”

Raptor’s jaw dropped.  “Hold on!  You were the driver?  No way…”

Tex smiled slightly and nodded.  Suddenly, he felt this weird rush knowing that this bad ass gang banger was possibly impressed by something he’d done.

“That’s right,” he finally clarified.

Raptor paced a few steps back and forth as he tried to process that information.

“You’ve got to be messing with me,” he insisted.

Aspen shook her head.  “What could I possibly gain from doing that?  The cops caught us because we were in no condition to run after we crashed.  The goons chasing us got away, so we were left holding the bag when they found all the guns in the trunk.”

“We did mention the Feds were involved, right?” Tex asked with just a little bit of cockiness in his voice because he was suddenly feeling his oats.

“So you just randomly picked a car that just happened to be loaded with assault rifles, when you finally got this itch to break the law?” Raptor asked in confusion because nothing about this made any kind of sense.

Aspen smiled and nodded.  She’d expected Raptor to have some doubts, but she really needed him to calm down and accept the truth if she was going to get what she needed out of him.

“You know I like to draw in quiet, out of the way places,” she said in her most soothing voice.  “So I scoped out this great spot in the warehouse district that had an amazing view.  I noticed the same guys driving into the same warehouse at the same middle of the night hour on multiple occasions.  They’d go in with multiple cars and only leave with one.  It made me curious to know what was going on inside.”

Raptor nodded like this made a little sense.  It was enough to get him to stand still.

“Then I had this crazy get rich quick scheme about collecting the rewards on all the lost items you see posted throughout the city,” Tex picked up the narrative.  “My theory was that these guys were thieves and storing all the missing stuff in that warehouse.”

Raptor shrugged.  “The idea has merit.”

“I also got to thinking that an operation like that would be handled by the Heathens, but none of these guys were wearing your colors,” Aspen added.  “So that made me even more curious.”

“She can be very convincing when she wants to be,” Tex confided to Raptor like they were old friends.  “The next thing I knew, I was sneaking into a warehouse in the middle of the night to see what the scary guys were hiding.”

“We were snooping around, they caught us, we hopped into one of the stolen cars, and got the hell out of there,” Aspen explained.  “We had no idea what was in the trunk, but it made sense later seeing as how they tried to kill us to get the car back.”

Raptor nodded and he pieced it all together in his head.

“You said you were doing me a favor here,” he pointed out.  “How is getting me involved in this little bit of crazy a favor?”

He smiled, but there was still some definite attitude accompanying his question.

“First, I wanted you to know that there might be a new gang moving in on your area,” she answered without hesitation.  “Aside from the obvious gun running going on, that warehouse was filled with stolen cars and all kinds of boxes.”

“Second, the Fed working the case assumed the Heathens were behind it because all his spreadsheets and pie charts told him that you guys are behind all the major crime in the area.  I convinced him that I knew the Heathens always sported their colors, and none of these guys ever wore anything purple.”

Raptor smiled.

“Maybe the biggest favor is that the cops are convinced at least one of the guys involved is a Heathen, and I want to give you a chance to help us ID them and prove none of them are members of your gang.”

She reached into her bag and pulled out the sketches.  She handed them to Raptor, who handled them like they were precious works of art.

“These are Art Girl originals?” he asked as he admired her work.

Aspen smiled and nodded.  “The first three guys are the ones who chased us.  The last guy is the one I always saw around the place when I was doing my street art.  He’s the one that two members of the Gang Unit swear is a Heathen.  They said he goes by Voo Doo.”

Raptor put the fourth sketch on top of the pile and stared at it.

“I don’t know this guy,” he finally said.  “I can’t swear I’ve met every Heathen , but I pretty much know all our members by sight and this guy isn’t familiar.  Plus, Voo Doo doesn’t ring a bell as far as names go.”

“That’s what we figured,” Tex jumped in.  “We’d really like to get the cops off our backs, though.  Is there any way you can use your underworld contacts to find out who they are?”

Raptor gave him a look.  “Underworld contacts?”

Aspen chuckled.  “Here’s what I’m thinking, my friend.  There’s definitely a new crew in town, and if they are looking to move that kind of weaponry, it means they are serious about making a move on your territory.  If you can get us a name, we can pass it on to the cops, who can do your dirty work for you.  They arrest them, thereby wiping out the competition, and the Heathens don’t even have to lift a finger or break a law in the process.  It’s a big win all around, right?”

Raptor thought about it for a moment and then a huge smile lit up his scary face.

“I like the way you think, Art Girl.  I can put my people on this, kick over a few rocks, and see what crawls out.  I bet I can get you a couple of names pretty quick now that you’ve given me the motivation to track down their punk asses.”

“I knew you’d be able to help,” Aspen said excitedly.  “Didn’t I tell you that, Tex?”

Tex knew she was laying it on a little thick, but he went along with it because Aspen was way smarter than he was and always at least three or four steps ahead of him.

“That you did,” Tex confirmed.  “You totally said that Raptor would be able to help.”

“And If I can get you those names, are you going to be able to convince the heat that the Heathens had nothing to do with this?” Raptor needed to know.

Aspen shook her head emphatically.  “All they care about it having someone to pin this on.  Guns like that demand arrests.  As long as heads roll, the cops and Feds will be happy.”

Raptor looked down at the sketches again and nodded.

“Give me a day to shake the bushes and I’ll get back to you,” he promised.

“But how will you reach us?” Tex asked with sudden panic.  “You don’t know who we are or where we live, right?”

Raptor liked the uneasiness in Tex’s voice and it brought a devilish smile to his face.

“Meet me at midnight at the first place we ever talked,” Raptor instructed.  “I should have something for you.”

Aspen nodded.  Tex took a deep breath and tried to slow down his heart now that it seemed apparent that the Heathens did not know how to track him down.

“Can I ask a favor before you go?” Raptor requested.

“Anything,” Aspen replied immediately.

“Could you do us the honor of gracing us with an Art Girl original?” he asked with a sheepish smile.  “This isn’t exactly the prettiest neighborhood and a little color would be nice.”

Aspen smiled and sat down on the sidewalk.  “I’d love to.  This is why I always carry my chalks and my alter ego.”

She spilled out her chalks onto the sidewalk, put on her mask, and raised her hood.

“I think rainbow scorpions and space monkeys would make the best friends,” she announced and quickly began her sketch as Tex and Raptor watched like adoring fans.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Posted in Humor | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments