The Vanishing Santa, Part 2

Captain Marc Hamel was a notorious workaholic.  He rarely left his office, but he knew about everything going on with everyone under his command.

He also had a well-known superpower.  He had the uncanny ability to sense Detective Bruno’s presence whenever his star employee was in the general vicinity.

“I thought you were taking the long weekend,” Hamel said without looking up from the file that he studied like it contained the answers to the meaning of life.

Bruno had not even made it to his boss’ door when he heard the comment.  It did not surprise the Detective that his Captain was addressing him when he wasn’t in the man’s line of sight.

“That ain’t never gonna stop freaking me out,” Bruno confessed as he leaned against the door frame.

“It’s your own fault, you know,” Hamel scolded him.  “After all those years of unrelenting Star Wars jokes, I’ve finally developed the Force.  And I’ve turned to the Dark Forces specifically to make your life a living hell, Detective Bruno.”

“The Dark Side,” Bruno corrected.

For all the Star Wars jokes made at his expense, Hamel had not taken the time to watch any of the movies.  All he knew of them was what he picked up in dribs and drabs when he asked someone to explain one of the wisecracks.

“What’s that?” Hamel asked as he finally looked up from the file.

“Nothing, Boss,” Bruno mumbled.  “I just gotta work on something personal.  Do ya mind?”

A look of concern crossed Hamel’s face.  “Is everything okay with Maggie?”

Bruno nodded.  “Other than seeing ghosts, she’s great.  This ain’t nothing major, just something for a curmudgeonly neighbor who demands my immediate attention.

Hamel chuckled.  “I always pictured you as the curmudgeonly neighbor to the people in your neighborhood.   If you want to work it, I’m not going to stand in your way.”

“Ya mind if I take the kid?  It ain’t gonna take much time, but I got no interest in doing the crap work involved when I’m supposed to be on vacation.”

Hamel smiled.  “That’s fine.  But if you keep asking to work with Officer Wainwright, I’m going to have to assume you’d like him assigned to you permanently as a partner.”

“I ain’t gonna say nothing cuz I know you can just use the Force to read my mind,” Bruno quipped as he left the office.

Hamel shook his head and turned his attention back to his file.

short story, Christmas, Modern PhilosopherOfficer Wally Wainwright was thrilled to be pulled off foot patrol to work with his favorite Detective.  Sure, Bruno rode him pretty hard and had a tendency to call him “Kid”, but he was also a great, albeit reluctant mentor, and they had become friends outside of the office.

Of course, their friendship had a lot to do with his new girlfriend’s hitting it off instantly with Maggie McGee, but Wally liked to think he was growing on Bruno.

Wally was even more excited to partner up with Bruno today because his body was still feeling the effects of all those after dinner drinks on Thanksgiving.

Drinks that had kept coming because Wally had refused to look like a wimp to his mentor, who also happened to be pouring the shots.

They were in Bruno’s car.  The Detective always had to drive because he was a control freak, and because he didn’t trust anyone else with his life.

Wally had changed out of his uniform for this assignment, and felt more relaxed as a result.  Even though he was relaxed, however, he knew to never let down his guard when working with Bruno.

“So we’re really looking for an inflatable Santa Claus?” Wally asked cautiously because he still thought that Bruno could be pulling his leg.

“Apparently whenever a corpse or a Santa Claus vanishes, I gotta partner up with you,” Bruno quipped.

Wally chuckled.  He didn’t mind the dig because he knew that if he hadn’t lost that corpse, he might not be working with Bruno and absorbing his insults right now.

“Thanks for asking me to tag along.”

Bruno gave him one of his icy, raised eyebrow looks.  “Don’t read too much into it, Kid.  I ain’t thrilled to be looking for a giant balloon on my day off, and I sure as hell ain’t gonna do all the leg work.  That’s where your overenthusiastic attitude factors into the equation.”

Wally chuckled and turned his head to enjoy the view.  He cracked the window in hopes that the fresh air would do something for his pounding headache.

“You don’t look too bad given all the drinking we did last night,” the rookie observed.

It was Bruno’s turn to chuckle.  “When ya decide to date an Irish lass who owns a bar, ya learn real quick that if ya wanna spend any time with her, ya gotta keep up with her in the drinking department.”

“Please don’t tell Michelle I shared this with you, but she had to call in sick today because she was so damn hungover.”

Bruno smiled like this news did not surprise him.  “ADA Ambrose ain’t seem like the Bailey’s type.  She got more a white wine spritzer kinda vibe.”

Wally nodded in agreement.  “She really likes Maggie, though, so she’d do anything to impress her.”

Bruno was going to make a snarky comment about how that sounded a lot like someone else he knew, but he decided to hold his tongue.  The kid had proven himself to be a more than adequate partner, so he’d earned the occasional reprieve from his constant wise ass comments.

“I gotta hunch the third time’s the charm,” Bruno said instead.  “My gut says we’re gonna find these skateboard punks here.”

“And you’re sure these kids are the ones who stole Santa?” Wally asked because he had a knack to question everything.

Bruno shrugged.  “I ain’t got no clue, but the grumpy old bastard who ruined my long weekend sure as hell gotta bug up his ass that these kids did it.  The head dipshit is a punk named Kyle, and we both know anyone named Kyle’s gotta be either guilty, or just a total prick.”

Wally pulled a notepad and a pen out of his pocket.  “I want to write that down.  Can you repeat that gem about individuals named Kyle?”

Bruno flipped him the bird, but cracked a smile while doing so.

short story, Christmas, Modern PhilosopherThey pulled into an abandoned area under the highway.  A gaggle of teens in baggy shorts, tee shirts, and beanies stood around a fire burning in an old garbage can.

“Which one of you upstanding citizens is Kyle?” Bruno demanded as soon as he got out of the car.

His logic being that whichever one was Kyle was going to take off on his skateboard.  Bruno wanted to be close to the car so he could chase him in it, while Wally got the privilege of running after him.

The kid in the Foo Fighters tee shirt grabbed his skateboard and took off without a word.

Wally sprinted after him, while Bruno jumped back into his car and sped off in hot pursuit.  Meanwhile, the other punks scattered in all directions.

Wally, the former college football standout, was in excellent shape.  Kyle might have had four wheels under him, but Wally had two long, strong legs and a set of lungs that didn’t even start to feel the burn until he hit about mile ten.

In other words, Kyle had no chance.

The chase lasted three blocks.  Once Wally got within arm’s length of the skateboarder, he reached out and shoved the kid off the board.

Kyle went flying, did a couple of forward rolls, and came to a stop five feet from the grill of Bruno’s car.

The Detective stood next to his vehicle, and as soon as inertia had stopped playing games with the suspect, Bruno stepped forward so he looked directly down at the skateboarder.

“I’m Detective Bruno and that’s Officer Wainwright.  I sure as hell hope you’re Kyle cuz otherwise, you’ve gone and ruined a nice pair of shorts for no good reason.”

Kyle looked down and noticed the tears in his shorts and the blood leaking from his knees and elbows.

Wally, who hadn’t broken a sweat and wasn’t even breathing hard, yanked the young man to his feet.

“What do you want?” Kyle asked in a panicked voice.  “I didn’t do anything!”

“Then why did you run?” Wally challenged while giving him a little shake.

He had no immediate answer, and Bruno wasn’t about to waste his afternoon playing games, so he just cut to the chase.

“What did ya do with the Santa Claus you stole from old man Kroski’s lawn?” Bruno demanded.

“They send Detectives after stolen Christmas decorations?” Kyle questioned.

Wally gave him another shake.

“Do us all a favor, and fight your natural instinct to be an obnoxious prick,” Bruno advised.  “I ain’t got no patience for nothing right now.  Just give us the damn Santa and ya can go play Tony Hawk with the other dipshits for the rest of the afternoon.”

Kyle stared at Bruno with a confused look on his face, but fought the urge to make any of the dozens of snarky comments bouncing around in his possibly concussed brain.

Wally’s tightening grip on his shoulder also most likely contributed to the skateboarder’s decision to come clean with law enforcement.

“I don’t have it anymore,” he said.

Bruno sighed.  That was not the answer he wanted.  He really hoped the punk would have the Santa handy, so he could return it to his neighbor, and get back to his long weekend.

“What did ya do with it?” Bruno barked in frustration.  “And why the hell are ya stealing giant Santa Claus balloons anyways?”

“Some guy offered me twenty bucks to steal Christmas decorations and bring them to him,” Kyle answered without any hesitation.

“We’re supposed to believe that?” Wally asked and squeezed the suspect’s shoulder tighter.

“Why would I make that up?” Kyle countered.  “Why would I waste my time stealing something so stupid unless someone promised to pay me for it?”

“Explain.”

Bruno’s words were not a request, and to Kyle’s credit, he picked up on that.

“I asked this dude to buy me beer the other night outside the Circle K,” he responded.  “He came back with a counteroffer.  I could make twenty bucks a pop stealing decorations, bringing them to him, and telling him the address.”

The story was too ridiculous to be made up as far as Bruno was concerned.  And something about it set off some read flags.

“Who is this holiday entrepreneur?” Bruno asked as he realized his hopes for a long weekend were definitely down the drain now.

“His name’s Tex.  He’s one of the Astro Cowboys.”

“How hard did you hit your head, son?” Wally asked.  “What the hell is an Astro Cowboy?”

Bruno grinned, clearly pleased with his protégé’s line of questioning.

“I don’t know, but he made a big deal of bragging about it,” Kyle told him.  “That’s all I know.  Honest.”

“Where can I find Tex, the master criminal?” Bruno asked as he plotted out his next move.

“He lives in that old house on the corner of Wilson and Fifth, but he isn’t home until tomorrow.  He told me not to bother bringing anything else by until then because he had some gig out of town.”

Bruno nodded at Wally to let go of the suspect.

“We’re gonna check out this story, Kyle, and if you ain’t telling the whole truth, you’re gonna wish you’d cracked open your skull when you fell off of your board.  Am I clear?”

Kyle nodded emphatically.

“Get the hell outta here,” Bruno ordered.  “And they’re ain’t better be no more Santas vanishing in my neighborhood.  Understand?”

Kyle grabbed his skateboard, and ran off before he could answer, or Bruno could threaten him again.

“Do you really think it’s safe to send him out into the world bleeding and with a possible head injury?” Wally asked.

“I ain’t his mother,” Bruno grumbled.  “But maybe we should look her up, and arrest her for doing such a horrible damn job of raising him.”

Wally shrugged.  He was okay with that if Bruno was.

“You don’t want to hold him on burglary charges?” Wally asked knowing full well he could still chase down the skateboarder if Bruno changed his mind.

“Ain’t no point,” Bruno shrugged.  “We lock him up, we tip off whoever the hell else is involved.  And my damn gut tells me this ain’t just about some vanishing Santa.”

Wally nodded because he knew by now not to question Bruno’s famous gut.

“So what’s our next move?”

“Let’s figure out what the hell an Astro Cowboy is, and why he’s got a hard on for stolen Christmas decorations.”

Wally watched Kyle skate off down the block until he was finally out of sight.  Satisfied that the suspect had survived his watch, Wally made his way over to the car.

TO BE CONTINUED…

If you need another fix of Detective Bruno, and can’t wait for the next installment of this serial, you can read The Vanishing Corpse.  That 22 part serial, which first introduced the world to Detective Bruno, is available only on The Return of the Modern Philosopher blog.

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Redefining Normal

“Did you eat all the stuffing your little heart desired?” Holly asked as she settled in on her end of their usual bench overlooking the river.

Aaron returned the cap to his bottle of Snapple, and placed it on the bench between them.

“Not only did I eat all the stuffing my little heart desired, I also had all the stuffing my big, fat tummy desired,” he replied with a grin.

Holly giggled and reached out to pat his belly, which was neither big, nor fat.

“I’m glad you had a good Thanksgiving,” she said with a smile that lit up her beautiful face.

Aaron, still covered in goosebumps by her surprise pat of his stomach, reached for the Snapple and took another long swig to help him recover.

“How was yours?” he asked softly.

short story, humor, Modern Philosopher“My family asked about you, and seemed genuinely upset that I hadn’t found a way to drag you along for the experience,” she relayed and added a wink.

“I’m sure they missed having me around to tease,” he conquered.

Holly shrugged.  “All I know is that I wish you had been there.  Sometimes, it’s the best friend’s duty to draw the fire so that the disappointing daughter/niece/grandchild doesn’t have to be bombarded with non-stop questions about when she is going to get married and have kids…”

She took a long drink of her coffee, and Aaron gave her a reassuring pat on the shoulder.

“I should have been there to protect you and absorb the heavy blows,” he admitted.  “I won’t let you down the next time.”

“Thanks,” she whispered.

“But seriously, though, when are you settling down and having kids?” he demanded with a mischievous grin on his handsome face.  “You’re not going to have those looks and that figure forever, so you’d better lasso someone now before you have to settle.”

Holly turned and punched him so hard in the shoulder that he actually had to bite his tongue so as not to yelp in pain.  He’d never give her that satisfaction.

“Butthead!”

“I guess that makes you Beavis,” Aaron countered and stuck out his tongue.

Holly made another fist and cocked her arm.  Aaron quickly threw up both arms to protect his already aching shoulder.

“Truce!” he demanded.

“Fine,” she relented and lowered her arm.

“Open your hand,” he demanded.

Holly gave him a dirty look, but then unclenched her fist.  Only then did Aaron release himself from his defensive posture.

“Someone called me weird the other day because I said that I enjoy spending Thanksgiving alone,” he confessed glumly.

Holly immediately forgot she was fake angry at him for the needing to find a mate comment, and went right into overprotective mode.

“Who the hell was this?  And what gives them the right to decide what’s normal in your life?  You know I punch hard, so just give me a name, and I will make this person regret saying that!”

Aaron chuckled.  “Easy, killer.  She was just someone who always has something to say about anything going on within earshot.”

Holly growled.  “Sounds like the best thing she has to offer society is her opinion, and that’s unfortunate because everyone has one of those.  It’s been my experience that people who find it necessary to share their unsolicited insights into the lives of others are the ones who most need some self-reflecting.”

Aaron nodded in agreement.  “It’s no big deal.  It stung a little at first, but that’s only because I’m sensitive to anything I remotely perceive as a personal attack.”

Holly was clearly more worked up about this than Aaron was, and he appreciated the way she came to his defense, even though it was days after the fact.

“There’s nothing remote about it!” she answered.  “Someone who barely knows you made a snap judgment about your character based on her biased set of personal values.  I agree that you are very weird, but there’s nothing odd about an introvert wanting to spend a holiday alone.  People like that really make me hate people.”

Aaron smiled.  “Now you’re talking like me.  I might make an introvert out of you yet.”

Holly smiled and then took a long sip of her coffee.  She hated when people messed with Aaron’s self-confidence.  They said these off the cuff comments and then walked away, but she was the one who had to clean up the mess later.

flash fiction, best friends, Modern Philosopher“One of your most endearing qualities is that you wear your quirks like badges of honor,” Holly explained once her blood had stopped boiling long enough for her to collect her thoughts.

“That’s a hell of a lot of badges,” Aaron quipped.

“You see?” she quickly pointed out.  “Most people would shy away from admitting they had a list of quirks longer than Santa’s Naughty & Nice Lists, but you own it.  If you want to spend Thanksgiving on your own, stuffing your face with stuffing, then that’s your normal.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.”

Aaron nodded and let that one sink in for a moment as he stared out at the river.

“Do you think they call it stuffing because the person who invented it knew we would all be stuffing our faces with it?” he asked.

“You are so weird,” she replied and then let out a loud laugh that caused Aaron to laugh as well.

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The Spare Bedroom, Part 8

Becky motioned for John to enter the house, and then closed the door behind him.  She had no idea that she was grinning from ear to ear, but she did have a sense that she might be blushing.

“What are you doing here?” she asked as her smile grew.

“I stopped in town for gas and toiletries on my way to my hotel,” the handsome stranger began to explain.  “Don’t worry.  I planned to stop at the diner in the morning for my favorite omelette.”

“Well, as long as we cleared up that very important bit of information, why don’t you come in and sit down while you tell me the rest?”

Becky led the way to the living room, and motioned for John to sit.  He chose the couch where Paige normally sat, which allowed Becky to take her usual seat.

“I picked up the paper, saw your ad, and thought you might get a kick out of a somewhat familiar face popping in to look at the room,” John continued once he was situated on the couch.

“But how did you know it was my ad?” she asked intrigued.

“Small town,” he replied.  “How many Becky Rileys could their possibly be?”

She giggled.  She wasn’t sure why she did that, but something about this man made her feel giddy.  She made a mental note to get a grip.

fiction, mystery, Modern Philosopher“But the ad doesn’t give my address…”

He smiled.  “How many times should I point out this is a small town?  Of course, the news outlets did hourly remotes from your front yard and driveway every day for about a week when your husband’s indiscretions first surfaced.”

Becky blushed and buried her hands in her face.  She wasn’t truly embarrassed, but it wasn’t exactly a joy to be reminded of those times.

“I need a drink.”

Before John could say anything, Becky got up and vanished.  She quickly returned with a wine bottle and two glasses.

“Believe it or not, there was a time when opening a bottle of wine was a challenge,” she stated as she placed the glasses on the table, withdrew a corkscrew from her pocket, and promptly removed the cork from the bottle.  “Needless to say, those days are long past.”

She poured wine into both glasses, and handed one to her guest, before returning to her seat with her own glass in tow.

“Thank you,” John said before taking a sip.  “I really hope my stopping in like this isn’t an inconvenience.  I just had a sense the ad might have brought out the town’s zany underbelly, and I figured you could use a break.  Plus, I had to jump at the opportunity to see you again.”

Becky blushed a deeper shade of red than the liquid in her glass.

“I bet you say that to all the small town women you charm on your treks across the country,” she countered with a confidence she did not know she had.

The wine was definitely helping.

“I can assure you there isn’t a woman in every port,” he remarked with a charming smile.  “I very much keep to myself, so it was a pleasant surprise to want to actually chat up the attractive stranger I met after accidentally stealing her post-run resting place.”

Becky waved him off.  “You have an answer for everything, don’t you?”

Now it was John’s turn to blush.  “I get the feeling I’ve created a perception of me that is far from the truth.  I’m sorry for having disturbed you.”

He got up and placed his wineglass on the table.  Becky immediately leapt to her feet.

“You haven’t,” she insisted.  “I mean, you haven’t disturbed me or created a false perception.  I’m just not used to this.  I don’t talk to strangers.  After all I’ve been through, though, I’m trying to open myself up to new experiences.  One of which is apparently inviting handsome strangers into my home…”

John smiled.  “Not to split hairs, but I’m technically not a stranger.  We shared a moment by the waterfall the other day if you recall.  And must I point out that the mere act of placing an ad to rent out your spare bedroom requires you to invite strangers into your home?  Of course, I can’t speak to how handsome any of the others were or might be…”

Becky chuckled, and the tension quickly abated.

“Shall we try this again?” she suggested.  “You’re interested in renting my spare bedroom?”

She sat down, and he quickly followed suit.

“Yes, I am,” he replied as he reached for his wine.  “I spend so much time driving across the country, and every once in a while, it would be nice to spend a night or two in a warm, comfortable house, rather than in another cold, drab hotel or motel room.”

Becky held up her free hand to stop him.  “Hold up.  You drive everywhere?  Why don’t you fly?”

John shivered at the mere mention of air travel.  “I hate flying.  I’d much rather take my life into my own hands, driving at sea level, than put it into the hands of a total stranger, thousands of feet about the surface.   Far too many things can go wrong in that second scenario.”

He took a long sip of his wine as if to show just how much stress flying caused him.

“What exactly is it that you do for a living?” Becky asked.  “And what’s your last name?  I’m going to need to know something about you before I can consider you as a tenant.”

Becky made it sound like a joke, but she was serious.  Why she’d thought renting a room out to strangers would be easy, she’d never understand.  It was probably the wine’s fault.

“I’m John Smith,” he replied.  “Born into anonymity with such a name, and happy to keep it that way.  I’m what you might call a fixer.  I work for a very well known company that makes its money by forever expanding and buying up other companies.  My job is to travel to our various offices and fix whatever might be wrong.”

“That is sometimes as simple as replacing outdated machinery, or installing more efficient workflows.  Often times, however, it means figuring out who needs to be replaced and then staying on to keep things running smoothly until I can hire the replacement.”

“Wow,” Becky said with a whistle as she polished off her wine.  “That does sound both interesting and stressful.  Definitely not something I’d be able to do.”

John got up, took the bottle, and refilled Becky’s glass.

“Because of the nature of my job, I never know where I’ll be and for how long,” he continued once he was seated again.  “I also have to be concerned about privacy.  Former employees are never thrilled with me for letting them go, and current employees are always fearful that I might be arriving and putting their jobs in jeopardy.  The competition is also after me in hopes of either poaching me, or getting their hands on my confidential records, which, were they to fall into the wrong hands, could be the downfall of my employer.” 

“And I thought keeping a diner running was hard!” Becky quipped.

John chuckled, and for the first time, took a look around to familiarize himself with his surroundings.

“This is why I’m looking for a situation like this, Becky,” he said suddenly getting all serious.  “There are only so many hotels and motels where I can stay, and each time I check into one, I have to worry that the staff might have been bribed to tip off someone about my arrival, or to try to look through my things when I’m out of my room.  You understand, right?”

“I do have first hand experience with having my privacy totally disregarded,” she replied with a sigh.

“So that’s why I’m interested in renting your room,” John continued with a smile.  “You seem very trustworthy, and I don’t think anyone would ever come looking for me in the private residence of the only person in Lightning Bug Junction whose life has been splashed all over the news for the public to see.  It’s quite brilliant if I don’t say so myself.”

They both laughed at that one.

“I’m not sure how serious you are about people coming to look for you,” she commented.  “Would that really be a problem?”

John shook his head.  “It shouldn’t be.  All I ask is that if anyone ever did, you deny ever having seen me.  This also means you can’t tell anyone I’m renting the room, including your friends.  I’d ask that you pull the advertisement immediately, and if anyone asks, just say you had second thoughts about opening your home to a total stranger.”

Becky sipped her wine and took a moment to reflect on how well he seemed to have thought this out for someone who had only just seen her ad that evening.

Then again, when you had a job like his, you were probably always planning for such contingencies.

“I suppose I could fib to my friends…”

“Okay, I can see you have a moral dilemma with that,” he replied as he pulled an envelope out of his jacket pocket and place it on the table next to the bottle of wine.

“Your ad says you’re asking $500 a month.  That’s six months up front with an extra two thousand dollars thrown in for any inconvenience you might experience from having to tell a white lie to your friends, or dealing with anyone who comes asking after me.  I also noticed a two car garage in back, and would like some of that extra money to go towards renting out one of the spaces so I can keep my car out of sight whenever I’m here.  What do you say?”

Becky stared at the envelope.

“There’s five thousand dollars in there?”

John nodded.

Becky immediately did some quick mental calculations about how badly she could use that kind of money after Jake had cleared out their joint bank account.

“And you swear to God you’re not doing something illegal?” she asked hopefully.

short story, serial, Modern Philosopher“Cross my heart and hope to die,” he promised.  “If cash makes you uncomfortable, I can have my company cut you a check, but then we’d have to come up with a cover story for why you’re making that deposit.  I’d rather my staying here remain a secret, and cash is a lot less likely to draw any attention.”

Becky just nodded.  It was a lot to process.

“One last thing,” John added.  “I have a few bags I’d like to leave here.  Just some personal stuff like clothes and mementos from home that I like to keep with me, but I’m always worried will get lost or stolen when I drag them from state to state with me.  They won’t take up much room.”

“This is a lot to process, John,” she finally admitted.  “When do you need an answer?”

He shrugged.  “I’m headed to the West Coast after breakfast, but if you need more time, I should be passing through here again in a few weeks.  Like I explained earlier, I never know for sure how long an assignment is going to take..”

Becky nodded again and took a long sip of wine.

“Have you had dinner yet?” she asked.

John was not expecting that question.  “No, I was going to grab something at my hotel…”

“Why don’t you come back in an hour for dinner?” she suggested.  “I was going to make my famous chicken parm.  I do my best thinking when I’m cooking.”

“That would be great,” John replied.

“Bring whatever it is you want to store here, so if I do say yes, you don’t have to make another trip,” she suggested.   “And you can park in the garage so no one sees that you’re here.”

“Okay then,” he said with a smile as he stood.

Becky grabbed the envelope off the table, and then rose to hold it out to him.

“You should hold on to this until I make up my mind,” she said.

John shook his head.  “I trust you.  If you decide against my offer, I’ll take it after we eat.” 

“Looking forward to dinner,” Becky said with a smile as she led the way to the front door.

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

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The Vanishing Santa, Part 1

Detective Arturo “Chip” Bruno chose the day after Thanksgiving to do something that was extremely out of the ordinary for him.

He smiled in public.

It surely had something to do with his current company.  Bruno walked hand in hand down the streets of his neighborhood with Maggie McGee, a tall, beautiful redhead with piercing green eyes.  If her appearance didn’t betray her ancestry, her heritage became obvious the minute she opened her mouth.

“I almost forgot to tell you,” she said excitedly in her thick brogue that hadn’t faded despite her not having set foot in Ireland in over a decade.  “I swear on the Holy Bible that I saw a ghost!”

Maggie quickly made the sign of the cross with her free hand as Bruno chuckled.

“Ya sure this sighting ain’t because of all the Baileys ya had last night after dinner?”

Maggie punched him playfully in the arm.  “Don’t be such a shit, Chip.  You know I can hold my liquor way better than you.”

short story, Christmas, Modern PhilosopherThanksgiving dinner had been a huge success.  Maggie and Bruno had played host to their friends Wally and Michelle, and the after dinner drinking had gone on long into the evening.

“Ya gotta clarify for me then,” Bruno requested.  “Are ya talking a friendly ghost like Casper, or some bad ass malevolent spirit that’s gonna require the Ghostbusters?  Cuz I ain’t afraid of no ghost, but I also ain’t got their number handy, and I don’t wanna go into work on my day off.”

Maggie squeezed his hand tight and rolled her eyes.  “I was at the bar this morning, helping to unload the delivery truck, when I swear I saw Irish Tony walking down the other side of the street.”

Bruno stopped dead in his tracks.  “These nicknames from your neighborhood don’t make no sense.  Why the hell do they call him Irish Tony?  I ain’t sure how much you know about all things Irish, but Tony ain’t no Irish name.”

Maggie giggled.  She wasn’t much of a giggler, but Bruno brought out that side of her.  It was one of the many things she loved about him.

“Such a wiseass!  They called him Irish Tony because he was Italian by birth, but adopted by the O’Connells when he was just a baby.  They raised him to be a fine Irish lad, but they couldn’t do anything to change the fact that he looked like a typical Italian.”

Bruno nodded like this all made sense, and since he was finally able to wrap his brain around it, he decided it was okay to start walking again.

“So if ya know the guy, why’d ya say ya saw a ghost?”

Maggie’s boyfriend might have comprehended the tale, but the Detective in him was determined to keep asking questions.

“Irish Tony moved to New York some fifteen years ago to get in touch with his Italian ancestry,” she explained.  “Maybe two years later, we’d heard he’d been killed in some Mafia dispute.”

Bruno grunted in understanding.  It was all becoming clearer now, and the post-dinner Baileys once again moved to the top of his suspect list.

“So now he’s gonna haunt his old neighborhood after all these years?” Bruno teased.

“I don’t know, Chip,” she answered with a sigh.  “He vanished before I could talk to him.”

Bruno raised an eyebrow to the comment.  “Vanished like he walked through a building, or got called back to a higher plane?”

“Vanished like he turned the corner, and I had to keep unloading the truck with a massive hangover,” she answered with a little sass.

Bruno wanted to continue to pursue his line of questioning because he was enamored with his suspect, but his train of thought was unexpectedly derailed by the gray haired man who yelled at him as he crossed the street to intercept the couple.

“You’re a cop, right?” the man asked in what seemed more like a demand than a question.

“Yeah,” Bruno answered with a sigh.  “You wanna confess to something?”

Maggie gave Bruno a gentle elbow in the ribs to remind him to mind his manners.

“No, I want to report a crime,” the man clarified as he reached the sidewalk and stood in front of them, arms crossed, to impede their progress.

“I’m happy to call it in for ya, cuz it’s my day off…”

The man, who was in his early sixties and half Bruno’s size, shook his head in emphatic disagreement and made it clear he was not going anywhere.

“I’ve asked around about you,” the man explained.  “I like to know who my neighbors are.  You are a highly respected Detective, quite possibly the best one in the entire city.  I want you to handle this.”

“He’s got you there,” Maggie whispered just loudly enough for Bruno to hear.

Bruno let go of Maggie’s hand as he slipped into his more serious professional persona.

“Fine,” Bruno relented.  “What’s the crime?  I’m sorry, but your name ain’t coming to mind…”

The old man smirked like this didn’t surprise him.

“My name is Edmund Kroski, Detective Bruno.”

Bruno and Maggie both understood that Kroski had added Bruno’s name to the sentence to establish that he had taken the time to get to know his neighbor, while the decorated Detective had not.

“This is Maggie McGee,” Bruno decided to turn the tables slightly by pointing out that Kroski had totally ignored Maggie’s presence to this point.

“A pleasure, Miss McGee,” Kroski replied with a nod and smile in Maggie’s direction.  “I wish we were meeting under better circumstances.”

“Same here, Mr. Kroski,” Maggie answered.

Without having to be told, Maggie took a couple of steps back to allow Bruno to take care of business.

“So what’s going on?” Bruno asked, suddenly all serious.

“Someone stole Santa Claus!” Kroski yelled loud enough for Bruno to hear if he had been standing on the next block.

fiction, serial, Christmas, Modern PhilosopherBruno rolled his eyes, and didn’t care that his neighbor saw the act.  It was his day off, and this clown had interrupted it with some crazy nonsense about Santa Claus getting kidnapped.

“Look, that ain’t gonna fall under my jurisdiction,” Bruno explained as patiently as he possibly could when all he wanted to do was explode.  “I’m gonna call dispatch, and they’re gonna send an officer who can drive ya to the hospital to talk to a nice doctor.  And ya can tell the doc about how Santa got kidnapped and maybe he can give ya some medicine to help ya deal with your sadness about that.”

Kroski’s face reddened and his eyes narrowed.

“I’m not a mental patient, Detective!  I didn’t say that Santa Claus got kidnapped.  What I’m trying to explain, to the supposedly great Detective, is that someone stole the giant inflatable Santa Claus off my front lawn!”

Maggie chuckled.  She quickly covered her mouth with her hand, and took a walk off up the block so that she would not be a distraction.

Bruno wished that he could follow her, but he understood that duty called.  Even though it was his day off, this guy knew where he lived and had the look of a dog that was never going to let go of this bone until the perpetrators were brought to justice and Santa Claus returned to his rightful place on the lawn.

“Ya sure it ain’t got stolen by a neighbor who didn’t take well to ya putting up your Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving was over?” Bruno challenged.

“Unlike you, Detective, I know my neighbors,” Kroski replied without hesitation.  “It was probably those damn skateboard hoodlums I’m always yelling at to get off my sidewalk.”

Bruno let the comeback sink in because he knew he probably deserved that one.

“Which house is yours?” he finally asked.

“It’s the green one across the street.  The one without the giant Santa Claus on the lawn!” Kroski snapped.

Maggie had by now wandered back to rejoin them.  She kept her distance, but gave Bruno a questioning look.  He returned it with a look that said he really didn’t have any choice.

“I don’t suppose this can wait until Monday?” Bruno took a shot in the dark.

Kroski shook his head.  “My grandchildren are coming for Christmas, Detective, and they fully expect to see Santa Claus waving at them as they pull into the driveway.”

“Looks like I gotta go to work today after all,” Bruno said to no one in particular.

The smile that had so uncharacteristically crossed Bruno’s face a little earlier was nothing but a distant memory as he surveyed Kroski’s empty front yard and formulated a plan of action.

TO BE CONTINUED…

If you’re eager to read more about Bruno and Wally’s adventures before the next chapter is published, check out The Vanishing Corpse, the 22 part serial that details their first case together.  That story is available exclusively on this blog!

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

Thankful For What?

This couple knocked on my door tonight.

They were dressed as Pilgrims.  Full blown first Thanksgiving kind of garb.  The guy had a clipboard, the woman just offered a smile.

I’d normally tell strangers to get the hell off my porch, but they had me intrigued.

“Did your time machine break?” I asked as a witty ice breaker.  “I’m not really the Mr. Fix It type, but I could probably call you a mechanic.”

The woman’s smile vanished.  Clearly, they were not going door to door in search of the best joke in the neighborhood.  Had they been, their search surely would have been over.

Instead, they wanted to know what I was thankful for this year.

I countered by saying I wanted to know where they got their groovy outfits.

They repeated their question (I must admit, the way they spoke in unison freaked me out a bit).

Thanksgiving, humor, Modern PhilosopherI added to mine.  I now needed to know if they rented the costumes, or had them on hand.  If it was the latter, did they wear them anytime other than Thanksgiving?  Were they comfortable?  Were they into some sort of not so puritanical role play?

The man angrily replied that while they had only one question, I had several, so the sharing of information would not be fair.

I was impressed.  I didn’t think Pilgrims were solid negotiators.

At list that’s now how the History books depict them.

I promised to answer their question if they would answer one of my choosing.

They stepped away to discuss my offer in private.  While they were on the end of the porch, I kept trying to picture myself in a Pilgrims outfit, and determined that I could definitely pull off the look.

After all, I look good in black and hats.

When they returned, the woman said they had agreed to my terms.

I told them I was thankful that I was off on Friday.  My reason for this being that I’ve really soured on people over the past year and a half, and an extra day off meant another day I didn’t have to leave my house and interact with my fellow humans.

I was damn thankful that I’d have four straight days home alone, with a fridge packed with Thanksgiving leftovers, and a ton of shows to watch on my DVR.

They seemed very impressed with my answer.  Once the man was finished jotting down his notes on his clipboard, he told me I had earned the right to ask them one question in return.

I gave it a little thought, and then decided to go with:

When the hell are you going to get off my porch, and leave me alone?

Hopefully, they won’t be back next year.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

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The Vanishing Turkey

“What do you mean there ain’t no turkey?  How the hell do you lose a turkey?” Bruno demanded angrily as he stared at the spot on the counter where the turkey should have been.

“I don’t know,” Wally replied with a slight panic in his voice.  “It was there on the counter when I went to take a shower, and when I got back, it was gone.”

Bruno raised an eyebrow like this was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard.

“And you checked the whole apartment?”

“Of course,” Wally answered.  “The turkey isn’t here.”

“I could see if this was a corpse cuz I get that you lose them all the time, but this is a damn turkey.  The thing ain’t got no head, it can’t fly, and its insides have been scooped out,” Bruno admonished his hopeless host.  “I ain’t gonna take the heat for this.  You gotta explain this one on your own!”

Wally, who had been keeping a straight face during the Detective’s tirade, finally broke down into hysterical laughter.

“I’m just messing with you,” he admitted.  “The turkey is in the fridge.”

short story, Thanksgiving, Modern PhilosopherWally opened the refrigerator and removed the enormous bird that was destined to serve at the centerpiece for their Thanksgiving feast.

“Don’t mess with me like that, kid,” Bruno warned.  “I ain’t gonna kill you this time, but the next time you gimme heart palpitations like that, there will be blood.  And it ain’t gonna be mine.”

Wally chuckled and placed the turkey on the counter.

“Technically speaking, this is a corpse,” Wally felt the strong urge to correct his mentor, and then immediately regretted his words.

Bruno gave the rookie a very stern look.  “I get that ADA Ambrose has the hots for you, and you somehow managed to get Maggie thinking you’re the cat’s pajamas, but I still ain’t sold on you, and I’m the only one in that holy trinity whose vote really matters cuz I got a gun.”

Wally laughed.  While he still found Bruno to be extremely intimidating, he was now ninety-nine percent certain that the grumpy Detective wasn’t going to shoot him simply for pissing him off.

The young officer glanced over at Bruno, saw the disapproving look on the man’s face, and decided to readjust that calculation to ninety-five percent certainty.

“Michelle and I are very excited about Thanksgiving dinner at Maggie’s,” Wally decided to butter up the man he hoped would someday take him on as a full time partner.  “Thanks again for the invite.”

Bruno shrugged.  “You ain’t gonna hug me now are ya?  This was all Maggie’s idea.  If it was up to me, I’d just stay home, watch football all day, and not have to play nice with others.”

“Well, let me apologize in advance for your having to put on pants, leave your dimly lit house, and spend a few hours socializing,” Wally teased.  “I’m not sure what Maggie sees in an old fart like you, but she is amazing, and you should count your blessings that she wants to be seen in public with you.”

“Trust me, kid, every night before bed when I say my prayers, I wrap it up with a major thank you to the Big Guy for giving Maggie the temporary insanity that makes her think I’m some kinda catch.”

They both laughed at that one.

“And what did ya mean ‘put on pants’?” Bruno demanded.  “How do you know I like to watch TV in my boxers when I’m home alone?”

Wally made a face like that was an image so disturbing that he’d be having nightmares about it long after the Thanksgiving leftovers were gone.

“I set up cameras in your place so I could get to know you better,” Wally replied without missing a beat.  “Captain Hamel thought it would be a great idea since you’re so closed off, and he even signed off on my request to use the equipment.”

Bruno growled and then drummed his fingers on the counter in frustration.

flash fiction, humor, Modern Philosopher“You’re lucky Maggie and ADA Ambrose know I’m here, kid,” Bruno threatened.  “Cuz I could make you vanish so good that they’d be making podcasts decades from now trying to figure out what the hell ever happened to that pain in the ass rookie beat cop who had his fifteen minutes of fame when he tagged along with that famous Detective who solved the Vanishing Corpse case.”

“You know you love me, you big softy,” Wally poked the bear with a big smile.  “Besides, our lady friends are best buds now, so even if you don’t want to team up with me at work, we will be spending plenty of time together in our off hours.”

Bruno rolled his eyes.  “Now you understand why I work so much overtime.”

“You know, when we go around the table on Thursday saying what we’re thankful for, I’m going to do a solid five minutes on how grateful I am for having met you,” Wally informed him.  “The speech is about ten minutes long now, but I’ve still got a couple of days to whittle it down to a tight five.”

“Jeez, kid, I ain’t never gonna get used to your horrible sense of humor, but let me give ya a little tip,” Bruno advised.  “Maggie loves turkey, and if delay her enjoying this majestic bird on Turkey Day with some rambling, wise ass speech, you’re gonna see her Irish come out.  You’d better hope ADA Ambrose is strong enough to tear Maggie’s hands away from your throat because I ain’t gonna lift a finger to save ya when she leaps across the table to strangle ya.”

Bruno flashed a very menacing smile, and Wally found himself involuntarily reaching for his throat to make sure no one was trying to strangle him.

“Thanks again for stopping by the store to get the bird,” Bruno said with a wink as he lifted the turkey off the counter.  “Remember, it’s one o’clock sharp.  Don’t be late cuz I’ve already warned ya about how pissed off Maggie gets if anything comes between her and her turkey.”

Wally just nodded, and made a mental note to pick up Michelle early so that they arrived at Maggie’s no later than 12:45.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING FROM DETECTIVE BRUNO AND THE GANG!

Posted in Holidays, Humor | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

More Stuffing For Me

“I have to ask you a question,” Holly warned him after taking a long sip of her coffee to warm up on a chilly November morning.  “I think I already know the answer, but I’m going to ask anyway…”

Aaron gave her a funny look as he sipped his Snapple.

They were seated on their usual bench overlooking the river.  It was a gray, overcast morning and there was no one else around.

“I know what you’re going to ask,” he assured her.  “You want to know how I got to be this handsome.  To be honest, genetics deserves most of the credit, but I do have a daily moisturizing routine that keeps my skin feeling soft and looking young.”

She giggled and punched him in the shoulder.

“Goober!  Someone’s feeling cocky and confident today,” she observed with a smile.

Aaron shrugged.  “I was just giving you an honest answer to what I was so sure that was going to be your question.”

She rolled her eyes, and he smiled.  Holly took a moment to savor that smile because she didn’t think her best friend smiled enough.  Which was a shame because he looked so handsome when he did so.

Perhaps that was the true secret to his good looks…

“My actual question was if you’d like to join me at my parents’ for Thanksgiving,” she asked shyly because she knew he was going to say no, but she still held out hope that he’d surprise her.

Aaron chuckled.  “That’s sweet, but you know I can’t do that.”

“Can’t or won’t?” she challenged.

short story, humor, Modern PhilosopherShe gave him the evil eye as she took another drink of her coffee.

“You know my introvert’s survival instinct prohibits me from attending any large gathering, especially one that puts my social awkwardness on display,” he reminded her.

“If you don’t start hanging around people, you’re going to become feral,” Holly warned.  “When that couple passed us on the path earlier, you were about one second away from hissing at them.”

“Well, thank you for scratching me under my chin at the exact right moment to prevent me from committing that faux pas.”

He laughed, but she did not.  She loved Aaron’s quirks, but hated that he had become so much more anti-social since the start of the pandemic.

“This is my family,” she reminded him.  “Not a bunch of strangers.”

“Do you know what the Introverts’ Code says about the holidays?” he asked as he took another sip of his iced tea.

She sighed.  “There’s a code?”

He nodded.  “The Code says that holidays are stressful enough for an introvert, but become exponentially more so when you add people to the equation.”

“Put that on a tee shirt, and it will be a best seller for Christmas,” she quipped.

“Don’t think I haven’t already suggested that on numerous occasions,” he replied without hesitation.  “As for your family, they all think I’m weird and only tolerate me because they assume you’ve taken me in like some stray dog.  What was it that your Aunt Gina, the lover of The Big Bang Theory, said to me the last time I attended one of your family’s holiday gatherings?”

Thanksgiving, humor, Modern PhilosopherHe raised an eyebrow and gave her the death stare until she relented and replied.

“She said you kind of reminded her of Sheldon,” she said softly.  “Because you had all his weird quirks, but weren’t nearly as intelligent.”

“Bazinga!” Aaron declared and slammed his hand down on the bench to emphasize his point. 

“What if I were to promise that Aunt Gina would be on her best behavior?” Holly persisted because she really wanted to spend the holiday with him, and hated the idea of his being all alone.

“You can’t deliver on that promise,” he pointed out.  “Just like you wouldn’t be able to promise your family that I wouldn’t be a socially awkward weirdo who’d hide in the shadows, avoid any interaction, and spend all his time plotting his escape.”

Holly sighed again.  “You’re right.  I’m stupid for trying to force you kicking and screaming out of your comfort zone.”

“There would be biting as well,” he added.  “Look, if I were to go to your folks’, I’d have to worry about what to wear, having to drive there and find a place to park, trying to make small talk, not offending anyone, and basically not embarrassing you.”

“If I stay home, I can wear sweats, sit on the couch all day watching football, and eat whenever the hell the mood hits.  There’s no stress involved, no forced awkward interactions, and I don’t have to worry about using my outside personality.  Everyone wins when you think about it.”

Holly pouted.  “Not me.  I have to put up with my family without my best friend there to distract me and make me smile…”

He didn’t like to see her pout, so he reached out and put a comforting hand on her leg.

“I promise to text you random, snarky comments about your family and the world in general.”

A smile formed on her beautiful face.

“That’s sweet,” she admitted.  “And you can make up all the excuses you want, but I know why you really don’t want to attend my family’s Thanksgiving.”

Aaron raised an eyebrow again.  He knew her too well.  This definitely was a set up for a joke made at his expense.  But he owed her that much because he knew he was disappointing her for turning down her well-intended invitation.  So he played straight man for the person he cared about most.

“And what’s that, smart ass?” he asked.

“Because you don’t want to have to share the stuffing.”

They both laughed because it was totally true.

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The Spare Bedroom, Part 7

Becky had grown up as an only child.  As a result, she had come to love the idea of having a big house all to herself.

Sure, here parents lived there, too, but make no mistake about it: Becky was their little princess and she had free reign over that kingdom.

Becky was a huge fan of not having to share her room, clothes, or toys with a sibling.  As the only child, she always got to watch whatever she wanted on TV, holidays were all about her, and she had her parents’ undivided attention.

Why would she ever want to give up such perks?  Becky actually felt sorry for friends and classmates who had brothers and sisters.  She couldn’t wrap her brain around how they had to share things and compromise.

Being on her own was definitely the way to go, and she wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

short story, mystery, Modern PhilosopherWhen she started dating Michael in high school, Becky had to flirt with sharing her space for the first time, but even that was no big deal as Michael always let her have her way.  As an added bonus, he had to go back to his house at the end of the day, so she still had her much treasured independence.

The first fight she could ever remember having with Michael was a pretty big one, and directly related to her desire to be on her own.

He had thrown out the idea of their getting a place together after graduation, and Becky had laughed.  In her defense, she really thought it was a joke.  Why would she ever want to do something like that at 18?  They’d never be able to afford anything other than a tiny apartment, and the mere thought of sharing such a cramped space with another 18 year old seemed ludicrous.

Of course, Michael had been totally serious about the idea, and deeply hurt by her reaction.  They eventually got past the incident, but it would come back to rear its ugly head again right after graduation.  And that time, the consequences had been so serious that Becky feared she would never see him again after he ran half a world away to deal with his pain.

During that first fight, when Becky had made it clear that she didn’t want to share a living space with anyone, a hurt Michael had snapped back by asking how the hell she expected to get through college with a roommate then.

Becky hadn’t even considered that going to college would mean suddenly having to share a tiny dorm room with another student.  Back then, she hadn’t exactly been the “big picture” type.  All she’d considered was that college would mean even more independence, and it had never occurred to her that it would actually be the end of her complete freedom.

Luckily, Steffi, the roommate assigned to her by the University, had been like the sister she never realized she had needed.  They quickly became inseparable, and for the first time in Becky’s life, she understood the benefits of having a sidekick.

Now there was always someone there to talk to, help with homework, gossip with about the annoying guys across the hall, and vent to about the professors.  A roommate meant always having a shoulder to cry on, a sidekick when she went to a party, and an extra wardrobe to borrow from when she couldn’t find the right thing to wear.

Becky had roomed with Steffi again sophomore year, and they were still in contact all these years later.  They stayed in touch on social media, sent cards every Christmas, and visited whenever one of them was in the other’s part of the country.

After sophomore year, things had gotten serious with Jake, and Becky had a whole new kind of roommate experience.  One that would last over two decades until the bastard decided to embezzle a large sum of money and run off with his floozy assistant.

So now Becky found herself alone again, and debating the merits of continuing that way.  At first, after Jake’s betrayal, she had relished the return to solitude.  She didn’t need anyone around to witness how much she cried, how she never changed out of her pajamas, and just how much ice cream and wine she had consumed during those dark days.

Lately, however, the big, empty house had been taunting her.  Every room was another reminder of what Jake had done, and how he’d tossed her aside for a newer, perkier model.

She had taken to asking Paige over often.  It was nice to have someone to talk to again, and to hear laughter inside the walls that had become a silent prison.  Best of all, having Paige in the house meant there was someone else to drink the wine. 

But Paige had her own house and family.  She couldn’t always spend time there, although Becky suspected that, if given the choice, Paige would choose to hide out with her best friend and avoid her husband and small army of children.

Becky wished she could conjure up the attitude that had served her so well in her childhood, but no matter how hard she’d tried, she eventually started to feel lonely in the house.  Damn Jake not only for abandoning her, but also for getting her addicted to sharing her space!

She finally made the decision that had been a long time coming.

She placed the ad to rent out the spare bedroom.

serial, crime, Modern PhilosopherJanice seemed like the perfect roommate.  She was slightly younger than Becky, and also going through a divorce.  Perhaps most importantly, she did not hesitate when Becky had offered her a glass of wine when she came to check out the spare room.

“Your house really is beautiful,” Janice had gushed more than once during their tour.

“Thank you,” Becky had replied each time, but the last time, now that she had a little wine in her, she had decided to expand upon that pat answer.

“It’s just too much house for one person,” she admitted solemnly.  “It would be nice to have someone else around.  Especially someone who understands want I’m going though…”

Janice nodded and sipped a little more of her wine.  “I didn’t want to mention it, but this is a small town, so it’s hard not to know what happened with your husband.  I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you,” Becky said as she sat down on the bed.  “I definitely didn’t see that coming, but I’m ready to put it all behind me and move on with my life.”

Janice nodded again and slowly walked across the room, running her hand along the wallpaper as she moved.  “I admire that attitude.  My husband didn’t embezzle any money, or run off with another woman.  He just told me he was bored with me and needed his freedom.”

Becky’s jaw dropped and Janice flashed a self-depreciating smile as she looked around longingly for the bottle of wine.

“What an asshole!” Becky declared as she walked over to refill Janice’s glass.  “I don’t know the guy, and I’m just starting to get to know you, but I’m pretty confident that he’s the one who is going to end up losing out in this scenario.”

Janice smiled.  “You’re so sweet.  You know what?  I love this space, and you are clearly someone I’d like to get to know better.  Did the ad say it was $500 a month?”

Becky smiled.  She hadn’t expected to click with the very first person who’d answered the ad, maybe it was her gut, or perhaps it was the wine, but something was telling her Janice was the one.

“That’s right,” Becky confirmed.  “When can you move in?”

“Well, I’d just have to bring the kids by first to make sure they feel comfortable here…”

Becky raised an eyebrow.  “Kids?”

Janice nodded.  “Don’t worry, there’s only three of them, they’re very quiet, and I only have them Monday through Thursday.  They’re with their idiot father on the weekends.”

Becky took a long gulp of wine, and then considered taking her next sip directly from the bottle.

“How old are they?”

“Eight, nine, and ten,” Janice replied as she eyed the far wall.  “I’m thinking I could set up bunk beds along that wall, and put another bed right next to mine.  It might be a little cramped, but it will work.  So how many bathrooms do you have again?”

fiction, small town, Modern PhilosopherThe next person who replied to the ad was an older gentleman, who was a History professor at the University.  When he’d asked Becky if the spare bedroom was soundproof, her first thought was that he was a light sleeper and wanted to ensure he wouldn’t be bothered by sounds outside of the room.

Her next thought, which had immediately popped into her head, and maybe it was because of the wine, or perhaps because Paige had encouraged her to read a Harlequin romance from her personal collection, was that the professor liked to bring young coeds home for kinky sex.

When he began to take measurements along one of the walls, Becky had demanded to know exactly what the man had in mind.

That was when he proudly told her about his drum kit, and how just an hour of playing a day allowed him to work off all the stress of his day, and make him feel thirty years younger.

The third visitor had been rejected when she’d asked if she could install several padlocks on the door to the spare bedroom.  Becky had not let her curiosity get the better of her, and had simply sent away the woman without inquiring as to why those locks would be necessary.

So when the doorbell rang just as she was about to sit down with a glass of wine and the Harlequin romance that had turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable, Becky seriously considered ignoring it.

She knew Paige had a family thing and Michael was at the diner, so it could only be that creepy scarecrow from Ephrem/Regis looking to hassle her about Jake, or another of the town’s disturbingly large oddball population coming to see the spare room.

Becky sighed, and against her better judgment, got up to answer the door.  To her astonishment and delight, there was a familiar and very handsome face smiling at her from the porch.

“I’m told you have a room for rent,” said John, the attractive stranger from the park with the very unique taste in omelettes.

Becky smiled brightly.  “I do believe that is true.”

She motioned for him to enter.

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

 

Posted in Humor | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Close Enough

“Are you sure it’s okay that I sit here?” Holly asked with trepidation as she stood at her end of the bench and waited for his answer.

“Yes, Holly, you can sit there,” Aaron replied like he was a bit put off by the question.

“I just wanted to be sure,” she explained.  “I know how you are about your COVID precautions.”

He took a sip of his Snapple while she settled in to her usual seat.  There was definitely a tension in the air, but maybe that was just the crisp November weather that had finally arrived in Maine.

“I appreciate it, but you don’t need to tiptoe around me,” he assured his best friend.

“I figured you might still be stressed over the events of the week, and I didn’t want to make it any worse,” she told him and then took a long drink of her coffee.

short story, humor, Modern Philosopher“You want to know what my first reaction was when I got the phone call?” he asked.

She nodded.  She definitely wanted all the details, and had patiently waited for their Sunday get together to hear them.

“When the CDC person told me I’d had close contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID, I called him a liar,” Aaron confessed.  “I told him the only person I allow close enough to me for any period of time is my best friend Holly, and if she had tested positive, I would have been the first person she’d call.  So I told him to shove his crank call where the sun don’t shine, and then hung up on him.”

Holly’s beautiful face lit up in a smile.  “Thank you for knowing me that well.”

He shrugged like it was no big deal.  “You would have been scared to death to tell me, but I know you would have been up front about it.  And you would have delivered the news face to face, all be it from well over six feet, because you’d want to be there for me to deal with my meltdown.”

Holly chuckled and took a sip of her coffee.

“So how did the CDC finally convince you that the contact was real?” she asked.

“They had someone from work inform me, and that person also set me up for an immediate COVID test,” he replied with a sigh.  “I didn’t have any symptoms, and I’m never around anyone without a mask, but it still scared the crap out of me.  I figured with my luck, I’d be the one person whose vaccine and booster made him more susceptible to catching the virus.”

Holly flashed a caring smile.  She knew how much anxiety he dealt with on a daily basis, and could only imagine the overload this news had caused.

“I’m glad everything turned out okay,” she said sweetly.  “Thank you for letting me know the second you got your results.”

“You were the only one I wanted to talk to about it, and I also needed you to be aware since we do spend time in close contact without masks,” he replied.  “I wish I could have been as calm about it as you were, but you did talk me back from the ledge several times between my testing appointments when the stress levels got out of control.”

flash fiction, best friends, Modern Philosopher“There’s no way I would have let you agonize through that alone,” she assured him with a comforting smile.  “And I wasn’t worried because I knew that you take every precaution, and would never let me sit this close if we weren’t sure we were both safe.”

“Why can’t I be normal like you?” Aaron whined and hung his head.  “I’m so sick of being so anxious all the time.  It’s exhausting.”

Holly reached out to put her hand on his shoulder.  Aaron had to struggle not to squirm from her touch as the goosebumps suddenly sprouted up all over his body.

“You are normal,” she corrected him.  “Everyone handles stress differently, and whatever the reaction, that’s the status quo.”

Aaron looked over at her and laughed.

“Clearly, you weren’t a Psych major, and that makes absolutely no sense, but I do appreciate the effort.  You’re very good at soothing the savage beast within me.”

Holly blushed.  “I take my job as the Aaron Whisperer very seriously.”

“Thank you for your service,” he replied with a wink that made her blush a little deeper.

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The Spare Bedroom, Part 6

There wasn’t much crime in Lightning Bug Junction, which is one of the reasons why Jake’s misdeeds had sparked so much interest among the locals.

The low crime rate also meant that Sheriff Travis Nadeau was almost always available when a phone call came in about a problem in town.  Especially if that call came from the bank.

Of course, even a call from the only lending institution in Lightning Bug Junction wasn’t enough to disrupt the Sheriff’s breakfast routine at Becky’s Country Kitchen.  This was why the caller had waited until she figured he was done with his meal and morning chat before she dialed his number.

short story, mystery, Modern Philosopher“You said there was a problem?” Travis asked, hat in hand, as he entered Paige’s office.  “Everything looks a-okay out on the floor.”

“Have a seat, Travis,” Paige pointed to the couch that sat across from her desk.

The Sheriff did as he was told.  Having known Paige since childhood, he was used to her bossy ways and knew that his badge and gun did not outrank Paige’s authority in the overall scheme of things.

The office was nicely decorated and gave off a warm, cozy feel rather than any sort of cold, business vibe.  There were several photos of Paige and her family on her desk, and the walls were adorned with awards and photos of Paige with smiling customers/neighbors/friends.

She finally looked up from her computer to give her guest her attention.

“I think it’s time we put our differences aside and help our friend,” she announced.

Travis smiled.  “Now when you say ‘put our differences aside‘, do you mean I should forget that you broke my heart in high school and have treated me with indifference ever since?”

Paige raised an eyebrow.  “Whatever translation works for you, Sheriff.”

Travis chuckled.  “I’m long over you, Paige.  I’ve even gotten past the fact that you pretended I didn’t exist for the entirety of our senior year.  I just avoid you now because that seems what’s best for my sanity, and the overall well-being of this town we both love.  Not to mention the two close friends we share like a divorced couple dealing with their kids.”

“Then I’m glad that’s settled because I need you to do something for me,” Paige announced like she hadn’t even really listened to what he had just said.  “Even though she’s putting up a brave front, Becky is still a mess…”

“I just saw her at the diner, and she looked fine,” Travis contradicted her.

Paige shot him an icy glare that must have brought down the temperature in the office by at least ten degrees.  He swallowed hard, and leaned back on the couch as if he hoped to put even more distance between himself and Paige.

“It’s not helping matters that the psycho scarecrow from Ephrem/Regis keeps popping in unannounced to harass her about Jake’s whereabouts,” Paige explained.  “Polish up your badge, put your hat on nice and straight, and march down to his office and demand he cease and desist.”

Travis laughed.  “You really think that guy is going to listen to me?”

“Quite honestly, no, I don’t,” she answered without hesitation.  “I’d much rather send Michael in there to threaten him.  I’m sure the Marines taught him a thing or two about being sinister and intimidating, but he doesn’t have a badge to hide behind and turn his threats into a firm request to abide by the law.”

“Badge or not, my polite request to leave a resident alone isn’t going to carry much weight,” Travis insisted.  “A company that powerful thinks…no, it knows…it’s above the law.  He’s just going to laugh at me and tell me to go fine someone for jaywalking.”

“Maybe if he’s bored, he’ll call in a half dozen lawyers, who all make more in a month than I do in an entire year, to explain that he’s well within the law to check in on the spouse of a former employee during her time of need.  Then all seven of them will kick me out of their giant skyscraper and refuse to validate my parking.”

Paige rolled her eyes, pulled her purse out of her desk drawer, and extracted a ten dollar bill.

“This will cover your parking,” she announced.  “Do you want me to throw in another ten so you can buy yourself some balls while you’re in the big city?”

Travis sighed and slowly rose from the couch.

“I’ll go talk to the creepy scarecrow in the fancy suit, but I’m doing it to help Becky, and not because you told me to do it,” he declared with his arms crossed defiantly over his chest.

“Whatever works, Sheriff,” she replied with a dismissive wave.

Before he could reply, she had already turned her attention back to her computer, so Travis put on his hat, and then marched out of the office in silence.

short story, mystery, Modern Philosopher“I got your message from last night,” Michael said as he poured himself a coffee and sat down at the counter next to Becky.  “You sounded tipsy, but also concerned.”

Becky shrugged and sipped her coffee.

The breakfast rush had ended, and she was taking a break before getting ready for lunch.  Michael knew she would be free, so he had planned his visit accordingly.

“I’d be happy to go talk to that guy from Jake’s company,” he volunteered.

Becky smiled, and reached out to pat his hand.

“Thank you.  That’s sweet, but I don’t want to give him any reason to add you to his hit list.  Besides, I think Paige plans to make Travis have a chat with him.”

They both chuckled at that idea.

“I just don’t like the idea of your being alone in the house with someone like that dropping in unannounced whenever the mood hits,” he explained.  “I could move in.  Nothing permanent, of course.  But maybe if he sees there’s someone else around, he’d be less likely to try his not so subtle attempts at intimidation.”

“Wouldn’t that give the town gossips something to chirp about?” Becky countered with a chuckle.  “Just after they finally stopped talking about Jake, we can wind them right up again by having my old high school sweetheart shack up with me.”

Michael blushed and took a long sip of his coffee.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” he insisted.  “Stop teasing me when I’m trying to help.”

Becky smiled sweetly, and then lifted the cover off the display that held the muffins.  She pulled out a blueberry one, and placed it in front of him.

“Please accept my peace offering,” she said as she batted her eyelashes at him.  “I know you’re just looking out for me, but I am serious about the negative effects such a move could have.  This is a small town, and now that its had a taste of scandal, we can’t give it more to allow it to develop an addiction.”

“I just don’t like your being all alone in that big house,” he insisted as he broke off a piece of muffin and popped it into his mouth.

“Neither do I,” she agreed.  “That’s why I’m finally going to run that ad to rent out the spare bedroom.”

Michael raised an eyebrow to that, but was too busy chewing his muffin to say anything.

serial, crime, Modern PhilosopherAlex Foley had a very large office with an amazing view, but the first thing Travis noticed about it upon entering was that there was nothing on the walls, hardly any furniture, and the only thing on Foley’s modest desk was a blotter that was actually a huge calendar.

“Love what you’ve done with the place,” Travis quipped as he sat down in one of the two chairs that faced the desk.

“Thank you,” Foley replied with his dead, black eyes focused on his visitor’s every move.  “I choose to keep things spartan to discourage visitors and prevent any distraction while I’m working.”

Travis looked around at all the emptiness.  “How do you work when there’s no computer, or phone, or filing cabinets?”

Foley pulled on the sleeve of his extra long, extremely expensive suit jacket, and then flashed the kind of disturbing smile that was bound to haunt Travis’ nightmares for weeks.

“We both know you haven’t come all the way here to discuss my work habits, Sheriff Nadeau,” Foley said in his distracting British accent.  “I assume you’re here to speak about Rebecca.  Has there been a break in the case?  I’m told the tip line has brought in numerous calls…”

Travis shot him a funny look, not expecting Foley to turn around the questioning on him.

“No, there hasn’t been a break in the case,” Travis huffed.  “And speaking of that, I don’t understand why your tip line somehow leads to my office being flooded with phone calls.  My Sheriff’s Department is not a subsidiary of Ephrem/Regis.  At least not the last time I checked.”

Foley smiled.  Again, the look was more disturbing than anything else.

“I’ve been meaning to address that, Sheriff,” Foley stated and produced an envelope from a drawer somewhere in his desk.  “A thank you from Ephrem/Regis for your service during this trying time.  We in no way meant to inconvenience you, but greatly appreciated the work you’ve done following up on all those phone calls.”

Foley slid the envelope across the desk, and nodded for Travis to open it.

With great great trepidation, Travis grabbed the envelope and opened it.  The check contained within was not at all what he had expected.

“This is an insanely huge amount of money made out to me,” he said as his hands shook.

“Ephrem/Regis generously compensates all employees and independent contractors,” Foley explained as his dead, black eyes widened at the talk of money.  “We find that happy employees don’t tend to embezzle money from the company.”

Travis dropped the check like it was burning his hands.

“I can’t accept that,” he announced, and then turned his head to look out the window as if merely looking at the check was somehow a sin.

“I don’t understand, Sheriff Nadeau,” Foley replied.  “You’ve earned this.  Like you said, you have been overwhelmed with calls from our tip line.  It’s only fair that you be paid for your time.”

Travis shook his head vehemently.  “That makes it look like I’m on your payroll, taking some sort of a bribe, and working with you to trip up Becky.”

Foley raised one of his scrawny arms to scratch his straw colored hair in confusion.  “I don’t understand.  Would you feel better if I had the check made out to the Sheriff’s Department or to the Town of Lightning Bug Junction?”

Travis surprised even himself by jumping up out of his chair.  Once he was up, though, he just decided to go with it.

“I don’t want your dirty money.  My town doesn’t need your dirty money.  I came here today to tell you to keep away from Becky Riley.  The next time you decide to trespass on her property and harass her about anything, I will arrest you.  Do I make myself clear?”

Travis stared down defiantly at his host.

“Crystal clear, Sheriff,” Foley added with a slight nod of his oddly shaped scarecrow head.

“I’ll see myself out,” Travis told him as he walked across the big, open space to the door.

When he got to the door, he turned back to Foley.  “For the record, Becky had nothing to do with your former employee’s crimes.  You’re just wasting your time by pursuing that.  She’s had a rough enough time as it is, so just leave her the hell alone.”

Foley nodded.

Travis exited and slammed the door behind him.

Foley extracted a cell phone from his jacket, and hit a number on the speed dial.

“I think we have a problem,” he announced to whoever was on the other end of the call.

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

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