Must Love Alliteration

“You know how I really suck at dating?” Aaron asked after taking a long chug of his Snapple.

It was the last Sunday in August and the best friends were seated on their favorite bench next to the river.  It was a gorgeous morning and all seemed right with the world.

“I feel like that’s a trick question,” Holly confessed.  “My only actual knowledge of your dating skills comes from our one date, and that incident has been a topic of controversy between us over the years.”

She sipped her coffee and awaited clarification.

Aaron nodded to acknowledge that her concern made sense.  “Let me rephrase that.  You know how I am so unsuccessful at dating?”

Why, yes,” she replied with a bright smile.  “You complain about it all the time, so I feel like I’m basically an expert on the topic.”

short story, humor, Modern Philosopher“Well, I’m here to tell you that querying for an agent and a publisher is a lot like trying to find a date on those dating apps, but I might suck at this process even more.”

Holly raised an eyebrow.  “Interesting thesis.  Please back it up with solid research findings.”

Aaron took a pull off his Snapple bottle and then complied with her request.

“I’m horrible at selling myself, which is why I can’t find a date or someone to champion my novel.  I wish I could just put a printing press in my basement, churn out copies of the book, and then sell them on my front porch.  But the business doesn’t work that way.”

Holly nodded her understanding.  “Which brings up an interesting thought.  Imagine how much easier dating would be if you could set up a lab in your basement and create women.  Then you could just bring them up to your front porch and have a date there.”

She giggled at her wit.

He sighed and rolled his eyes.

“Do you want to hear more of my rant, or would you rather mock me?” he inquired.  “I’ll leave it up to you since I’m the one who normally dominates these Sunday chats.”

Holly made a play of really mulling over his offer.  Aaron simply ignored her and stared at the river.

“I’ll go with your ranting please,” she finally announced.

“Those dating sites are all about posting a good photo and writing an interesting bio,” he explained.  “Since I suck at promoting myself, my bio is usually something like: I’m a socially awkward introvert who isn’t good around people because I find them ridiculously annoying and never know what to say.”

Holly grimaced.  “That is rough.  I probably would swipe off your profile and look for someone a little more human friendly.”

“The irony being that I’m a writer so bending words to my will is supposed to be my superpower.  Instead, I just make myself sound like someone worthy of a restraining order.”

flash fiction, relationships, Modern PhilosopherHolly giggled again.  “I’m not laughing at you.  I’m just amused by the picture you’re painting because you really are good with words.”

“I make things worse by posting a photo,” he said as he hung his head.  “I know I’m not handsome, but I’m by no means gruesome.  The thing is, I can’t smile in a photo because my eyes squint, which makes me look stoned or sleepy.  As a result look too intense, which is the last thing you want when you’re trying to convince a total stranger to trust you and spend time with you.”

“Aww, I think you’re handsome,” Holly assured him as she patted him on the shoulder.  “However, I have seen your profile pics on social media and now I understand why you use that photo of a certain time traveler as your online image.”

Aaron sighed and took another long gulp of his Snapple.

“Querying is even worse,” he explained.  “I’m trying to convince these hot shot agents and publishers who don’t really need another client that they should give me a chance.  Instead of a profile, I’m sending a query letter, but it’s more of the same thing.  I’ve got to talk them into being interested in me, and instead of being a socially awkward introvert who wants to present himself as outgoing and fun, I’m a screenwriter trying to pass himself off as a novelist.”

“In both situations, I’m the weirdo outsider who is never going to fit in.  They don’t ask for a photo, but they want the first chapter or the first twenty-five pages.  I know my story doesn’t take your breath away in the first few pages.  I’m more of a grower, than a shower.  I slowly build and then sweep you off your feet with all the twists and turns and witty pop culture references.”

“But if I can’t get these people to look past the awkwardly written query letter and give the manuscript a chance, I’m going to spend the rest of my life home alone on Saturday night.”

Holly’s beautiful face contorted into one of sadness and concern.  She hated to see Aaron feeling so down on himself, especially when she believed in him more than anyone.

“You really are a great writer,” she said sincerely.  “I wish I could make the querying process easier for you, but it sounds like the only thing I can do is continue to encourage you and not allow you to quit.”

“Thanks,” he mumbled.  “At least with dating, I have this romantic notion in the back of my mind that I can always run into my soul mate at a bookstore or rear end her in my car.

“But it doesn’t work that way with an agent or a publisher.  There is no meet cute option in this business.  I really am screwed if I can’t figure out how to convince strangers that I’m worth their time.”

“Didn’t you say earlier that bending words to your will was your super power?”

He shrugged.  “Yeah, but I also said that situations where I have to market myself are my kryptonite.”

“Sounds like this scenario needs an unexpected twist to save the day for our hero, and I don’t know anyone who messes with a reader’s mind better with the surprise twists than you.”

Aaron stared at her for a long time and then finally smiled.

“I knew I kept you around for a reason.”

She chuckled and pulled a Mounds bar out of her purse.  “You also keep me around because I always have emergency chocolate for situations like this.”

He accepted the candy bar and caught her completely off guard by kissing her hand.

“I can do this!” he declared.

Holly was working too hard to hide her blushing to respond.

To my fellow writers in the querying trenches, I know it sucks, but don’t give up!

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The Undisputed Champions of Texas, Part 26

It is extremely rare that a man gets to witness the report of his own death, so it would make sense that his reaction to the event might be unpredictable or even out of character.

Tex chose to respond by jumping onto his hospital bed and singing the Foo Fighters’ classic DOA at the top of his lungs.

Never mind, there’s nothing I can do

Bet your life there’s something killing you

It’s a shame we have to die, my dear

No one’s getting out of here alive

This time

What a way to go, but have no fear

No one’s getting out of here alive

This time…

Aspen was also on his bed.  She jumped up and down on the mattress while somehow managing to dance along with her man’s best Dave Grohl imitation.

Overall, they appeared to be handling the news of Tex’s passing quite well.

short story, serial, Modern PhilosopherChamp, who had also witnessed the report of his own death, was a different story.  He chose to react by sitting on his bed with his head bowed while he mumbled to himself and occasionally lashed out with one leg to kick angrily at someone or something that only he could see.

Poor Michelle, who had been left behind to look after the trio while Wally and Ng went to meet Vlak, stared at her phone and did her best to block out the noise.  She was not succeeding, however, and was on the verge of storming out of the room to rethink her recent career and relationship choices.

Wally, Ng, and Vlak entered the room just as Tex reached the end of the chorus. 

“What the hell is going on?” Ng screamed loud enough to be heard over the chaos.

She produced an impressive amount of noise for such a tiny body, and everyone took notice.  Tex stopped singing.  Aspen stopped jumping.  Champ started philosophizing.

“Champ doesn’t like this one bit.  Champ doesn’t always believe in signs, but that dream about being a young boxer again and being told to run to fetch the angels meant something.  Now Champ hears on the television that he’s dead.  Champ is freaking out.  Champ is losing it!”

Agent Vlak slipped into the room and took it all in with a befuddled look.  Normally, he’d flex his Federal muscle and seize control of such a situation, but he had already deduced that this case was anything but normal.  He was going to patiently wait for the right moment.

Wally walked over to Michelle who hadn’t moved in her seat or looked up from her phone.

“Michelle, what happened?” he asked in concern.

Michelle shrugged.  “They saw the news conference on the TV and heard they were dead.  One might say they reacted accordingly.”

Champ stood up and put a hand on Wally’s shoulder.  “Champ’s not ready for the afterlife, Wally.  Champ has way too much unfinished business amongst the living.  Plus, Champ’s not sure Heaven is in his future.  Champ refuses to go to Hell!”

“At least you two are dead,” Aspen decided to join the fray.  “I’m still in serious condition and on the way to some FBI hospital.  And the worst part is they said the lone survivor of the crash was thirty years old.  Do I look that old?  I’m twenty-three!”

Vlak decided this would be the best time to make his presence known.  He cleared his throat and then took a step forward.

“Clearly, you are all alive and remain whatever age you actually are.  However, there are very dangerous people out there who probably want to kill you, so we’ve taken liberties with the truth in hopes of throwing them off the scent.  It was not our intent to upset you or to inspire you to break into song.  We merely wanted to keep you alive so that you can assist us in apprehending the parties who have made such a ruse necessary.”

All eyes in the room were now on the FBI agent.  Even Michelle had bothered to look up from her phone and rejoin reality so that she could stare at him in confusion and contempt.

“Who the hell is Mr. Positivity over here?” Aspen asked first.

Ng, the self-appointed ring leader of this circus, stepped up to make introductions.

“Agent Bailey Vlak, this is Assistant District Attorney Michelle Ambrose, Aspen Roark, Tex Bourbon, and Champ…you know, I never got your last name,” she said to Champ.

“Just Champ,” he replied.  “That’s all you need to put on Champ’s headstone, but I guess you don’t have to chisel that in quite yet because it sounds like Champ is still alive.”

Vlak offered his best smile.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you all…”

“Don’t waste their time with that scripted anecdote about your name,” Wally advised.  “They don’t care, and I don’t want to hear it again.”

“You don’t look like an FBI agent,” Champ challenged.  “Champ wants to know how we know this guy isn’t one of the people sent to kill us!”

Champ grabbed a pillow from his bed and held it in front of him like some sort of fluffy shield to protect him from an assassination attempt.

Judging from the way Vlak’s shoulders sagged slightly, Champ’s comment about his looks stung the agent more than Wally’s comment about his name.

“And why do you think anyone wants to kill us?” Aspen demanded as she hopped off Tex’s bed to get a better look at Vlak.  “All we did was take a stolen car for a joyride.  I hardly think such an action warrants the death penalty.”

Ng walked into the middle of the room and waved her arms above her head like a teacher trying to rein in an unruly class of kindergartners.

“Agent Vlak was giving a worst case scenario, and in the future, I’m going to ask everyone to think before they speak.”

Ng’s icy glare unsettled Vlak enough that he nodded and took a step back.

short story, mystery, Modern Philosopher“Yes, we told the press that two of you were dead,” Ng continued.  “We also lied about Aspen’s age and purposely did not give your names.  That’s because you are now in protective custody, and the less the public knows about the truth, the easier it is for us to protect you.”

“But do we really need protection?” Tex asked.

Aspen nodded to indicate that the exact same question was on her mind.

“Protection isn’t always from bodily harm,” Michelle decided to enter the fray.  “Right now, we want to protect you from the prying eyes of the press and the public while we sort out the best way to move forward with our case.   That case would be against not only the people who were running that warehouse, but also the parties who were scheduled to accept delivery of the arsenal hidden in the trunk of the car you took on your joyride.”

Michelle shot a look at Aspen when she used that final word.  Aspen hung her head as if to accept that the situation was maybe more serious that she had wished to believe.

“We’re also protecting you from other overreaching law enforcement agencies who might want to exploit your situation to help further their investigations,” Wally said as he looked directly over at Vlak.

“The FBI is here only to assist,” Vlak quickly jumped in to try to clear his name.  “We are not interested in pressing charges.”

“Not any longer,” Wally corrected. 

Michelle reached out to squeeze Wally’s hand in an attempt to get him to settle down.  She understood that he had to take on the responsibility of making the outsider’s life miserable in Bruno’s absence, but there was no point in alienating Vlak this early in the case.

“We’re sorry for not giving you a head’s up about the news conference, but we are juggling a lot of balls right now and that was one that got dropped,” Ng apologized. 

“I suppose some of this is our fault,” Aspen stated the obvious, but not at all ironically.  “We didn’t exactly give you much time to react to our actions.”

Vlak opened his mouth to say something, but one look from Wally was all it took to get him to change his mind about that.

“Playing the blame game isn’t going to make anything easier,” Ng explained.  “We are all on the same team, and our focus right now is getting you out of this hospital and to a safe house where we can keep an eye on you and plot out our strategy.”

That earned curious looks from the trio involved in the car chase.

“Champ isn’t sure he likes this safe house idea.  That sounds a lot like jail.”

“Yeah,” Aspen said with concern.  “I have a business to run.  I didn’t sign up for being stowed away in some dingy motel room while you build a case.  We have lives.”

Wally nodded in understanding.  “We get that.  I think you’re going to like the idea Detective Bruno and I came up with.  You’ll all still be able to go to work, albeit with an undercover officer close by, and it really won’t be much of a disruption to your everyday lives.”

“You might even think it’s fun,” Michelle volunteered.  “More like a sleepover with fun games, lots of take out, and long talks about legal strategy.”

Aspen, Tex, and Champ all eyed Michelle suspiciously.  Tex broke the silence by whistling the rest of DOA.  This time, though, Aspen did not get up to dance along with the tune.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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The Undisputed Champions of Texas, Part 25

Agent Bailey Vlak had been issued a standard badge and ID just like every other FBI agent.  However, he preferred to use his as little as possible.  He liked to assume that when people saw him, they instantly knew who he was and which agency he represented.

In his defense, Vlak did look like he had come directly off a conveyor belt somewhere deep in the bowels of FBI Headquarters where FBI agents were secretly manufactured.  Tall, athletic, and handsome, he had the textbook short haircut, no nonsense sunglasses, and dark suit that completed the unofficial FBI uniform.

While it wasn’t obvious to the naked eye that he had graduated from Harvard, it was clear the second he started talking.  If he didn’t immediately mention he was a Harvard man, his holier than thou attitude and way of talking down to people said it for him.

Agent Vlak was very proud of his name and the two stories that went along with it.  He enjoyed telling anyone who would listen about his first name because he believed it made him sound endearing and got people to trust him.

He never told the story about his last name because he assumed and counted on the tale preceding him.  This story was his favorite of the two because it made him seem like a bad ass, and had allowed him to assume a reputation that he had yet to actually earn.

So when he presented at the nurses’ station at the hospital he had been assigned to visit, he was acutely annoyed when the busy staff didn’t drop everything to see how they could be helpful to him.   Truth be told, he was already in a bad mood, which had been exacerbated by something he had heard when he had, only moments before, entered the hospital lobby.

Now no one was paying any attention to him, and he was ready to take extreme measures.

He pulled out his badge and ID and held them in front of him until one of the nurses slowed down just long enough to take a breath and notice it.

short story, serial, Modern Philosopher“You’re the FBI agent?” she asked as she scooped up a patient’s file and disappeared down to the other end of the station before he could reply.

Bewildered and frustrated, Vlak followed her.  He didn’t have the patience to wait for someone else to notice him.

“Yes, I am,” he shouted after her.  “I was supposed to question some suspects, but now I’m hearing reports that…”

The nurse held up a finger to silence him while she picked up a desk phone and quickly dialed a four digit number.

“This is the nurses’ station.  The FBI guy is here.”

She hung up the phone and walked away.

“Who did you talk to?” he yelled after her.  “Are they coming to meet me?  I’m an agent, not a guy, by the way!”

Vlak exhaled in exasperation and closed his eyes.  He tried to center himself and slow down his heart rate, but that was proving to be impossible.

The day had started at such an early hour with so much potential, but in the past hour, everything had gone completely to hell.  It was like someone was out to get him.

“Are you Agent Vlak?” a voice asked.

He opened his eyes to see a diminutive Asian woman smiling up at him.

“Yes, I am,” he answered with more than a hint of relief.

“Could I see some identification please?” she demanded, but with a sweet smile.

Vlak paused.  He wondered if this day could get any worse.  He pulled out his ID and badge and held it out to her.

“Thank you,” she replied.

“How come you’re not dressed like the other nurses?” he asked.

“Because I’m not a nurse,” Detective Ng explained.  “Follow me before you make any more foolish assumptions out here where other people can witness them.”

Before he could say anything, she turned her back and led him down the hall away from the nurses’ station.  Vlak quickly shook his head as if attempting to clear the cobwebs and then followed her.

short story, mystery, Modern PhilosopherShe led him into a room that was empty of patients, but was occupied by Wally, who sat on one of the beds.  She motioned for Vlak to close the door.

“Agent Vlak, I’m Detective Ng and this is Officer Wainwright,” she handled the introductions.  “We’ve been informed that you are here to work this case with us.”

Wally simply nodded his greeting.

Vlak smiled at the way she’d worded it.  He quickly processed the situation and realized it was time for some quality spin doctoring on his part.

“Look, I’m sorry about assuming you were a nurse,” he said with the warmest smile he could conjure upon his handsome face.  “It’s been a long and very confusing morning.  I’m Bailey Vlak, and it really is a pleasure to meet you.”

He walked over to shake hands with Ng and Wally.

“Before you ask, yes, I am named after the character Jimmy Stewart played in It’s a Wonderful Life,” he launched flawlessly into his usual spiel.  “What can I say?  My parents absolutely loved the movie.  I’m just grateful they didn’t decide to name me George, or worse yet, Clarence.”

Vlak chuckled and waited for the laughter that always followed at this point.  However, he was met with only silence.

“Well, I’m just Wally.  Don’t think I’m named after any famous movie characters.  What about you, detective?”

Ng shook her head.  “I’m named after my mother’s favorite Aunt.  Thank you for sharing that fun fact about your name, though, Agent Vlak.  Are you cool with my talking about the case now, or is there an exciting story about your surname you’d like to share first?”

Wally fought to keep a straight face.

Vlak, to his credit, maintained his smile even though he was completely thrown by the reaction to his anecdote.  The George Bailey bit always killed.

“Of course, Detective Ng, but I have to admit I am very confused.  I’ve been driving all morning, and when I set out, I was under the impression that the FBI would be taking the lead…”

“Why didn’t you fly?” Wally asked before he could finish his sentence.

Vlak flinched like he wasn’t used to local law enforcement cutting off an FBI agent.

“I prefer driving,” he replied.  “It allows me to center myself and focus my thoughts on my way to the scene.”

“But that wasted precious hours that could have been spent working the case,” Wally persisted.  “Is it because you’re afraid of flying?”

Now it was Ng who had to fight to keep from laughing.

“Like I said, it’s just a preference…”

“I would imagine it would be a real career roadblock to have a fear of flying,” Wally continued.  “I mean, FBI agents often have to travel across state lines and doing that by car is definitely not the most efficient means.”

Vlak turned to Wally and nodded.  “I’m not afraid of flying, Office Wainwright.  I prefer to use my travel time to mentally work out the case, and I find that much easier to do while I’m driving.  There are simply too many distractions associated with air travel.”

“If you got some noise cancelling headphones…”

“Fine!” Vlak relented.  “I much prefer having my fate in my own hands down on the highway, rather than turning it over to come complete stranger thousands of feet above sea level.”

Wally smiled.  “I knew there had to be a deeper reason.  Thank you for being honest with me.  Sorry for interrupting.”

Ng sat down on the other bed and looked at Vlak expectantly.

“As I was saying, it was my understanding that the FBI would be taking the lead in this case, but about an hour ago, I received a call from my boss’ boss telling me that I was to work alongside the local authorities.”

“Taking a call while driving can be very dangerous,” Wally pointed out.  “Then again, if you had flown, you would have had to put your phone on airplane mode.”

“But if he’d flown,” Ng added, “he would have been here hours ago and would have already taken the lead.”

“That’s a good point,” Wally acknowledged.

Vlak chuckled.  “Look, I know what’s going on here.  I mean, I don’t know how you got this case taken away from me, but I do get that you are messing with me to make it clear that you’re not intimidated by my badge or my Harvard degree…”

Ng shot a curious look over at Wally, who just shrugged.

“I’m happy to play along and work this case with you, but can you drop the shtick and loop me in to what’s happening?” he pleaded.  “I walked into the lobby in the middle of a press conference and overheard that two of the suspects had died and that the third was in critical condition, but had already been transferred to the care of the FBI.  Please explain what the hell is going on before my brain shuts down in protest.”

“First off, Agent Vlak, the people you are referring to are confidential informants, not suspects,” Ng explained patiently, but with subtle hints of scolding in her tone.  “Second, all three are alive and well.  We’d simply like to lead anyone out there who might be seeking retribution to believe that two of them are dead, and the lone survivor has already left our jurisdiction.”

Vlak digested that and nodded.  “Brilliant.  Especially so if my theory is correct and the players involved are the domestic terrorist group I’ve been tracking.  They are not the type of people who would look kindly on anyone getting between them and their plans to re-order the country.”

Wally made a face at that turn of a phrase, but decided not to comment on it.  Bruno had taught him that sometimes it was better to keep thoughts to himself.

“When can I meet your confidential informants?”

Ng was pleased that he’d chosen “your” as his pronoun, but she still was not sold on the fact that Agent Vlak would go along with the plan.  He was giving off some severe maverick vibes.

“That can be arranged shortly,” Ng replied.  “I just want to make sure you are perfectly clear on the fact that they are not under suspicion for any crime, and are in no way connected to your terrorists.  They are also our confidential informants, so we will lead any conversations, we will make arrangements for their safety during this investigation, and we will have the final say as to how we move forward.  Do you have any issue with these ground rules, Agent Vlak?”

Vlak looked down at the tiny woman who was talking to him like she had his privates and this case in a vice grip that she would never relinquish.

“I am completely on board with that, Detective Ng,” he assured her.

Ng smiled.  “That’s great.  Let’s go meet them now.”

Ng hopped up off the bed and led the way to the door.  Wally, however, lingered.

“Hey, your last name sounds a lot like Vlad.  As in Vlad the Impaler,” he pointed out as he eased himself off the bed.  “Anyone ever point that out before because that’s pretty bad ass?”

Vlak just shook his head.  Not only had they been unimpressed by his George Bailey story, but they’d also taken all the steam out of the nickname he’d been given because of his last name.

“Can’t say that I have,” Vlak lied.  “You’re the very first.”

Wally made a face like he found that hard to believe, but he didn’t press him on it.  He just wished that Bruno was here because he had a feeling the detective would really have had a field day with uptight Mr. Harvard in the lame suit.

Agent Vlak sighed and followed Ng out of the room, hoping that things would look up soon because he could not calculate how they could possibly get any worse…

TO BE CONTINUED…

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The Undisputed Champions of Texas, Part 24

Captain Marc Hamel never seemed to leave his desk, where he could always be found poring over some file that he read like it contained the secrets to the meaning of life.

Even though he stuck primarily to that one place, Hamel always knew exactly what was going on with everyone under his command.  His subordinates jokingly credited that ability to his Jedi powers, and relentlessly peppered their commanding officer with Star Wars jokes and references.

Hamel played along with the ribbings because it made him feel closer to the people he seemed to go out of his way to keep at arm’s length.  Plus, he’d never seen a single Star Wars movie or TV series, so the witticisms were basically lost on him.

He was well aware, however, that he shared a name, albeit a different spelling, with the actor who played Luke Skywalker.

Detective Bruno had once asked his boss why he rarely left the confines of his office.

“Because of the people,” Hamel replied.  “This building is overrun with them.  They all want to talk to me, ask me questions, or request a favor.  Or needle me about some silly science fiction movie from the Seventies.  I don’t want to deal with that.”

Bruno asked the obvious follow up: “But ain’t they just gonna do all them things in your office?”

Hamel had smiled, which was rare for the man when he was at work, and answered without hesitation, “True, but I can throw them out of my office and then slam the door angrily behind them to make it clear they are not welcome to return.”

Bruno always had that conversation in the back of his mind whenever he entered Hamel’s office.

Part of Hamel’s supposed Jedi powers was his uncanny ability to sense Bruno’s presence even when the detective was not in his direct line of sight.

“I thought you were working with the FBI this week,” Hamel said without looking up from his file when Bruno darkened his doorway.

short story, serial, Modern Philosopher“I’m heading that way, sir, but first I gotta talk to ya about a time sensitive situation,” Bruno explained and waited for the invitation to enter.

Since he needed a favor, he had wisely not started their interaction with a Star Wars joke.

Hamel waved him into the office, and then finally looked up at him.

“This wouldn’t have anything to do with your protégé, his girlfriend the Assistant District Attorney, and a few associates of yours who allegedly, from the angry phone calls I’ve been receiving all morning, almost brought the Apocalypse upon our fair city, would it?”

Hamel smiled, but it was one of the menacing variety that dared Bruno to even try to reply with one of his trademark smart ass quips.

“Yes, it would, sir.”

Bruno’s short, wisecrack free reply, pleased Hamel.

“With my Jedi powers, I always know what’s going on,” he explained to his detective.

Hamel had made a habit of leaning into the whole Star Wars thing, and knew when to use it to his advantage.  Ironically, he had mastered its use to make it his own Jedi Mind Trick.

“Would you like to guess who the angry phone calls were from?”

Hamel motioned for Bruno to step closer to his desk, which was a bad sign because it usually meant he was going to yell at whoever was unlucky enough to be standing before him.

“If I gotta guess, I’d say the Mayor, the Commissioner, and all them ritzy City Council types who live in the neighborhood where the chase occurred,” Bruno replied.

“That’s why you’re my best detective,” Hamel praised him sarcastically.  “You can always figure out who or what is causing my migraines.  While your answer was correct, it was also incomplete.  You forgot all the rich political donors who lost precious beauty sleep because of the screeching of tires, the crashing of cars into trees, and all that noisy gunfire.”

“Remarkably, the Archbishop weighed in as well,” Hamel added.  “Not that any of this happened anywhere near a church.  I think he was worried that the Mayor and the Commissioner would use the incident as an excuse for their poor play when he beats them at golf this week.”

Bruno wanted to say so many things, but he bit his tongue.  He needed Hamel on his side, and he was pretty sure his boss was going to be pissed when he found out what he’d done.  So he wisely stood there at parade rest and kept his mouth closed.

“Your silence is unsettling.  Say something,” Hamel finally commanded.

“There ain’t no way that Champ and Tex had any criminal intent.  Ya met them at the Christmas party, and ya know how they helped me clear two huge cases.  They might be flawed and all, but they ain’t no crooks.  They certainly ain’t linked to some domestic terrorists.”

“How did I know you were going to say that?” Hamel asked with a heavy sigh.

“Jedi powers,” Bruno let slip out before he could catch himself.

Hamel chuckled.  This was the Bruno he was accustomed to and he felt more comfortable dealing with him when he was giving off a little attitude.

“These are the two that you’ve set up with jobs at Maggie’s bar, right?”

“That’s right, sir,” Bruno confirmed.  “I’d never let no one that close to Maggie if I thought they was any kinda threat.”

Hamel nodded and motioned for Bruno to sit.  Bruno took the seat, but he was eager to move this along because they were working against the clock, even if Hamel didn’t realize it.

“As ya gotta know by now, the FBI is on its way to take over this case, and I mighta…”

Hamel held up a hand to stop him.

“Before you say anything else, I am ordering you to use your current contact with the FBI to see if you can prevent them from taking the lead in this investigation.”

Bruno let out a long sigh of relief.  He also wondered if his boss actually did have Jedi powers because the man had just read his mind.

“Now that I’ve given that order, why don’t you tell me what you’ve already done in my name without my knowledge, so I can back you up and confirm that I made that decision whenever the powers that be decide to rain fire and brimstone upon me when the FBI gets pissed?”

Bruno smiled.  He really did like working for Hamel, who wasn’t a prick like some of the other brass he’d crossed paths with during his career.

“I mighta asked my contact, who ain’t no fan of the uptight prick who’s on his way here, to go above that agent’s head.  I told her we was working in conjunction with Gangs on an operation ya personally approved to infiltrate a new player in the city.  The CIs ain’t gonna talk to no one but your people, and ya plan to stash them in a safe house where they will continue to answer only to this department and not the Feds.”

Hamel raised an eyebrow and then allowed a slight smile to grace his tired face.

“Do you really think that’s going to work?” he finally asked.  “After all, domestic terrorism would seem to trump whatever case the local police department is trying to build.”

“Ya met my FBI contact,” Bruno reminded him.  “She ain’t only way higher up on the FBI food chain than this agent, but she also knows she owes me for blowing off my case when I went to her the first time.  She’s gonna make it right.  Plus, like I said, she hates this other agent.”

“Let’s not forget that you’re headed out of town to meet her to work that case.  Do you really think Officer Wainwright is ready to deal with the FBI without you?”

Bruno hung his head slightly because this was where his grand, spur of the moment plan had hit a bit of a speed bump.

“I ain’t got nothing against the kid’s ability to hold his own with some prickly Harvard grad in a sharp suit.  He puts up with me just fine on a daily basis.  My worry is the ass hats up in Gangs who we’re gonna need to play along to make this work.  They ain’t my biggest fans, and ya ain’t never gonna catch me singing their praises.”

Hamel smiled brightly.  “Leave that to me.”

Bruno’s face lit up.  “If you’re gonna go all dark side on those losers in Gangs, can I watch?”

“I have something else in mind,” Hamel broke the disappointing news.  “While I go talk to the Gang Unit, I need you to get Officer Wainwright over here, arrange for officers to guard your friends’ room at the hospital, and figure out what we’re going to use as a safe house.”

“I’m also going to need to speak to someone in public relations at the hospital.  And I should probably talk to Wainwright.  Tell him to expect a call from me because I have questions.”

Bruno shot out of his chair, energized and ready to put this all in motion.

“What do ya wanna do if the FBI shows up before we’re ready?” Bruno asked.  “I don’t imagine he’s gonna be thrilled and a coupla beat cops won’t know how to stand up to an angry Fed.”

“ADA Ambrose is there, right?” Hamel asked.  “I’m sure she’s fluent in FBI, on top of being damn vicious when need be.  Tell her she has my permission to do anything necessary to hold him off, and I’ll smooth it over with her boss when he inevitably gets his panties in a bunch.”

“Aye aye, Captain,” Bruno said with a smile and a sharp salute.  “May the Force be with ya!”

Hamel rolled his eyes and charged out of his office like a man on a mission.  For a man who hated leaving his office, he sure was in a rush to interact with those people he spent so much time trying to avoid.

humor, serial, fiction, Modern PhilosopherWally paced nervously next to Bruno’s desk while they waited for Captain Hamel to return.

“What’s taking him so long?” he asked anxiously as he glanced at this watch.

Bruno looked up from the report he was trying to write.  He was about to go out of town and didn’t want to leave behind too much paperwork to bitch about upon his return.

“Relax, Kid,” Bruno declared.  “Why don’t ya sit?  Ya know, ya look like hell.  Don’t ya know ya gotta dress all nice for an important meeting with your boss?”

Wally sat down next to Bruno’s desk in a chair he borrowed from another detective.  Even though he worked often with Bruno, he was still just a patrol officer and did not have a desk in the Detectives’ Bullpen.

“You’re hilarious,” Wally replied.  “You know I’ve been up all night trying to keep our mutual friends out of the Federal penitentiary.

“Ya know ya get a lot more sassy when you’re tired,” Bruno pointed out without looking up from his report.  “I was just bustin’ your balls to try to get ya to calm down.”

Wally exhaled deeply, but it didn’t get rid of all the anxiety.

“I don’t understand how you can be so calm when our friends are in trouble,” he leaned in so that his scolding wouldn’t be overheard.  “What’s so important about this mystery case of yours that it supersedes the health and welfare of two people you claim to care about?”

That was enough to get Bruno’s attention, and Wally flinched when Bruno snapped his head around to give him his full, angered focus.

“Look, I know ya ain’t thrilled that I haven’t told ya about this other case, but ya don’t need to act like a jealous girlfriend,” Bruno growled.  “It’s not like I’m cheating on ya with the FBI, but I just can’t tell ya about it right now.  It’s for your own good, especially now that ya gonna be dealing with this FBI prick.  I don’t want him shaking ya down for info.”

“And, yeah, I care about Champ and Tex.  That’s why I stuck my neck out here where the Captain coulda lopped it off with a damn rusty machete and really made it hurt.”

Wally made a face and reached up to rub his neck without even realizing he was doing it.

“I’m sorry for doubting you,” Wally replied.  “I’m just exhausted and stressed, and I don’t feel right about leaving Michelle alone to deal with the FBI agent…”

Bruno chuckled.  “It’s the FBI agent ya oughta be worried about…”

Before Wally could ask him to expand on that, Hamel appeared at the front of the room and waved for them to follow him into his office.

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

“Ya want me to close the door?” Bruno asked as he followed Wally into the office.

“Leave it open,” Hamel answered with a shake of his head.  “Sit down.”

Wally and Bruno took seats in front of the desk.

“You get everything squared away with guards on the room at the hospital?”

“Yes, sir,” Bruno answered.  “About the safe house…”

Hamel raised a hand to stop him.  “Let’s table that until our contact from the Gangs Unit joins us.  Officer Wainwright, Detective Bruno assures me that you have his full confidence to work this case with the detective from that unit.  Can I count on you, or do you need me to pass this off to someone with more experience?”

“No, sir,” Wally quickly snapped.  “I mean, yes, sir you can count on me.  No, sir, you do not need to pass this off to someone with more experience.”

“I’m sorry ya gotta work with whatever prick Gangs sends down,” Bruno lamented.

“That’s not going to be a problem,” Hamel informed them.  “On my way up to Gangs, I called Officer Wainwright and had him give me the details of what he’d learned from our Confidential Informants.  For the record, that’s how we’re going to refer to them from this point forward.  They are not suspects or witnesses or persons of interest.”

Wally and Bruno nodded.

“I found it very interesting that all this was going on at the warehouse, but I hadn’t read a single thing about it in any report from Gangs,” Hamel continued.  “So I had things rearranged up there.  Officer Wainwright will be working with the new head of the Gangs Unit on this case.”

Bruno raised an eyebrow to that.

“Hello, Arturo,” said the familiar voice from the doorway.

The mention of Bruno’s Christian name caused both of Wally’s eyebrow’s to rise.

“Well I’ll be damned,” Bruno shouted as he leapt out of his seat to greet the new arrival.  “How the hell are ya, Joyce?”

“Much better now that I’ve been promoted,” she replied.

The woman in the doorway was maybe five feet tall if the measuring device was being generous.  She was thin, athletic, and had a smile that lit up the dim office.

“Detective Joyce Ng, meet Officer Wally Wainwright.  Ya ain’t gotta call him by his name, though.  He’ll answer to Kid or pretty much anything just so long as ya give him attention, tell him he’s a good cop, and scratch behind his ears a coupla times a shift.”

Ng nudged Bruno in the ribs and went over to shake Wally’s hand.

“It’s nice to finally put a face to the name, Officer Wainwright.  Despite all his bluster, Arturo has spoken very highly of you.”

Wally blushed.

“I’d hate myself if I didn’t ask,” Wally blurted.  “But he lets you call him Arturo?”

Ng and Hamel laughed, while Bruno shook his head.

“Don’t get no crazy ideas, Kid,” Bruno warned.  “That’s an old joke between us.  We used to be partners back in the day, back when they used to force me to pair up.  Anyways, even though it’s only two damn letters, I could never say her last name right.”

“So I said, my ears cannot take much more of this,” she jumped in.  “Just call me Joyce.”

“Of course, she then insists she’s gotta call me by first name,” Bruno finished the story.  “I eventually figured out how to say Ng, but she’s still gotta bust my balls about it.”

“And you used to be partners?” Wally asked in disbelief.

If ever there was an odd couple of detectives it was Bruno and Ng.  He was tall and imposing, she was tiny and outgoing.

“Believe it or not, there was a time when I barely spoke a word because this guy had me convinced that the less I said during a shift, the better a detective I’d be.”

“I just like silence, and she bought it for a while,” Bruno quipped.

Wally was pretty sure his head was going to explode.  In what universe was Bruno outgoing and funny?  When did he have inside jokes and complete another colleague’s sentences?  What was happening?  Maybe the exhaustion was catching up with him and messing with his perception.

“I gotta warn ya, Kid, ya better not wise off to her like ya do to me,” Bruno advised with a smile.  “She’s like that guy in the Lethal Weapon flicks.”

“Oh, so you know martial arts?” Wally asked.

The room fell silent.  All the smiles vanished.

“That’s a damn racist thing to say,” Bruno hissed.  “Just because she’s Asian, she’s gotta be a black belt?  Maybe she only drinks sake and eats fried rice, too?”

Bruno, Ng, and even Hamel glared at Wally, who looked like he wanted to curl up into a ball and somehow vanish into the carpet.

Ng burst out laughing first.  Bruno and Hamel soon followed.

“I actually am a black belt, and this wise guy knows I love Chinese food and would eat it every day for lunch if I could,” Ng told Wally.  “But the Lethal Weapon reference was to Danny Glover’s character.  As in I’m too old for this shit, so don’t mess with me.”

Everyone laughed again.  Even Wally managed to chuckle.

“Enough razzing the rookie,” Hamel decided it was time to get down to business.  “Detective Ng was just as stunned as I was to learn about the criminal activity our Confidential Informants have uncovered at the warehouse.”

Ng nodded and jumped in.  “Let’s just say the previous head of the Gangs Unit had gotten lazy.  He liked to blame everything on the Heathens and focused all our assets on them.  As far as he was concerned, there were no other gangs operating in the city that were worth investigating.”

“And that’s why he’s the former head of that division,” Hamel added.  “I’ve brought Detective Ng up to date as much as I can.  Officer Wainwright, I’m going to ask you to fill her in on the rest on the way to the hospital.  I assume you’re clear on the safe house plan?”

Wally looked to Bruno for confirmation.

“Yeah, Wally knows my plan, but we ain’t married to it if you wanna suggest something else,” Bruno said to Ng.

“Excellent,” Hamel agreed.  “Detective Ng knows the part of the plan I haven’t looped you in on yet, so she will share that with Officer Wainwright on the way.”

Hamel checked with watch.  “You better get going.  My plan involves the hospital holding a press conference I requested, and one pissed off FBI agent needs to be looped in before he gets even more upset.  Definitely keep me posted.  I don’t want any more surprises.”

“That ain’t gonna be no problem since I’m headed out to handle that other thing,” Bruno replied.

“Oh, I am worried, Detective Bruno,” Hamel quipped.  “Detective Ng credits you with teaching her everything she knows.”

Ng smiled slyly.  “I’ll be sure to do you proud, Captain.  And then I promise to return here to Dagobah to complete my Jedi training with you.”

Bruno snickered and Hamel rolled his eyes.

“Get the hell out of my office, all of you,” Hamel commanded.

As soon as the office cleared, Hamel took a deep breath, opened the file on his desk, and went back to reading it.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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The Undisputed Champions of Texas, Part 23

A silence fell over the hospital room once Aspen reached the end of her story.

There was so much to digest, and everyone wanted to make sure there wasn’t going to be anything further.  After all, she’d cut off the narrative right before the action sequence.  Perhaps the group was interested in hearing her take on that part of the evening.

Aspen smiled and let out a heavy sigh, as if to confirm that she was finished.

Wally was the one who broke the silence.

“So you’re the Chalk Angel?” he asked in a mix of excitement and awe.

“That’s your take away from her story?” Michelle countered with anger and disappointment.

Wally was caught off guard by her question.  He was having a fan boy moment and did not understand why his significant other wasn’t just as stoked to be in the presence of a legend.

“I prefer Art Girl,” Aspen corrected him with a sly smile.

Clearly, she was enjoying a moment of notoriety after operating anonymously for so long.

“I’ve seen your pieces all over the city, and have always admired them,” he confessed as the words gushed out of him.  “Would it surprise you to know that Bruno was never impressed?  He just loved to point out that graffiti is a crime.  Well, I don’t see it as graffiti.  It’s art!”

“Thank you, Wally,” Aspen replied with a sweet, genuine smile.

“I think you’re missing the point here…” Michelle fought to get the conversation focused on the legal ramifications of what had just been revealed.

But Wally wasn’t done just yet.

short story, serial, Modern Philosopher“Does this mean Maggie knows you’re Art Girl?” he had to know.  “She let you do that awesome mural in the alley of her bar and she’s always going on about how much she loves it.  She’s the one that refers to you as The Chalk Angel, you know…”

Michelle rolled her eyes and resigned herself to waiting for the object of her affection to get his little pseudo-celebrity art crush out of his system.

Aspen shook her head.  “I don’t think she knows.  She was closing the bar one night and caught Art Girl improving the sidewalk in front of the yoga studio.  We got to chatting, and she invited me to use the alley whenever I felt inspired.”

“She is going to freak when she finds out it was you all along!” he declared.

Tex, who had grown a little uncomfortable with another man giving so much attention to his girlfriend, decided it was time to change the subject.  Unfortunately for Michelle, it was not to the topic she preferred.

“Do you really hate my cowboy hat that much?” Tex asked in a pained voice from his bed.

Aspen had been worried that this was coming, but had hoped they could discuss it in private.

“It has its moments, but I think it’s time for a new look,” she turned to give him her full attention.  “There are exciting things in your future, and they don’t include that hat.”

“Champ agrees!” the other patient chimed in from his bed.

“The cowboy hat plus the nickname are really too on the nose,” Wally offered his two cents.

Before the conversation could disappear any further down this rabbit hole, Michelle stepped into the middle of the room and silenced all the chatter with one long, shrill whistle.

“I can’t believe I have to say this, but can we please focus of the parts of the story that are going to exonerate the three of you?”

Michelle had their attention now.

“How could there be any chance of us going to jail?” Aspen asked now lacking the cockiness of the narrator due to the sobering effects of reality.  “You heard what happened.  That incident tonight was entirely self-defense.”

“Champ is definitely not going back to jail!”

Despite Champ’s proclamation, all eyes were now on Michelle.

“Which part of your rambling narrative are you referencing?” the Assistant District Attorney asked as she focused her icy glare on the three defendants, one at a time.  “Was it the part where you admit to defacing city property for years?  Or the part where you confess to breaking and entering?  Maybe it’s the part where you steal a car and kick off of a high speed chase that caused extensive property damage and led to gunplay in residential neighborhoods.  Which of those parts proves your innocence beyond the shadow of a doubt?”

At this point, Michelle’s glare was focused solely on Aspen.  To her credit, the young woman did not squirm or crack under the withering gaze.

“I suppose it would be the part where my lawyer stresses that three innocent citizens ended up thwarting a plot to deliver forty assault rifles to a known domestic terrorist group,” Aspen countered as she stared right back at Michelle.

None of the men in the room dared to interrupt or point out that the number was actually thirty-nine.  The ladies had the floor, and they were perfectly fine sitting out this one.

Michelle finally nodded.  “That works even better if we can prove that the police had prior knowledge of your actions.  Of course, they can’t admit that they knew you were going to lead a dangerous, high speed chase, but they can attest that you were working in a confidential informant type capacity.  Using your unique ability to blend in and get close to criminal activity, you were able to provide information that the police could not attain on their own.”

Aspen smiled and nodded her agreement.  “It’s pretty plain to see that Tex used his relationship with Wally to make these necessary inroads with the department.  In fact, that’s why we called Wally from the car to request back up.”

Wally’s confusion was evident.  “But this is the first I’m hearing of any of this…”

“Is definitely not something you’re going to tell the FBI when they arrive,” Michelle completed his sentence for him.

Wally was not comfortable with this.  He got up from his seat and walked over to Michelle.

“Can we talk?” he whispered for her ears only.

“We’re in way too deep at this point,” Michelle said loud enough for everyone to hear.  “I assume you are interested in keeping your friends and favorite urban artist out of jail?”

Aspen smiled brightly at the mention.  Wally remained straight faced.

Champ was ready to play hero again.  “Champ is sure he mentioned this all to Wally, but if he didn’t then you can’t hold the others responsible for an old man’s faulty memory.  Champ’s been punched in the face way more times than can possibly be good for his brain.”

Michelle smiled in Champ’s general direction, but then fixed her gaze on Wally.

“Didn’t you tell me over dinner the other night that Tex had talked to you about his desire to seek out the skateboard gang you interrogated as part of the Irish Tony case?” she asked.

“The Vanishing Santa case,” Wally mumbled.  “That’s what Bruno calls it.”

That elicited chuckles from the three troublemakers in the room, but nothing from Michelle.

“And didn’t you say that when you asked Tex why he would want to do that, he informed you it was because he thought they possessed knowledge about a ring of thefts that had plagued the city for the past several months?”

Wally chuckled.  “Sure, but he just was hoping to collect on the rewards that are posted on every bulletin board, tree trunk, and street light in town.”

“Just answer yes or no, Officer Wainwright,” she replied in her clipped, serious courtroom voice.

“Yes,” Wally answered obediently.

“Before this conversation with Tex, did you have any prior knowledge of a new gang of thieves that might be operating in your jurisdiction?  Again, answer only yes or no please.”

“No,” he stated.

“And what did you advise Tex to do?” she pressed.

“I can’t answer that one yes or no,” he pointed out innocently.

The others chuckled.

“You can expand on your answer in this instance,” she allowed.

“I told him to be careful because those kids were nothing but punks,” Wally admitted and then he smiled.  “And I asked him to report back to me if they told him anything useful.”

Michelle smiled.  “Thank you, Officer Wainwright.  That will be all.”

Aspen applauded.  “That was better than Law & Order.  I’d love to see you work in court.”

“Sadly, you might have that chance up close and personal unless we can convince the FBI otherwise,” Michelle stated the obvious.  “Luckily, we do have a little wiggle room now that we’ve established the police were aware of your intentions.”

“We need to get a team down to that warehouse to arrest that crew and collect whatever else they were storing in there,” Wally suggested and pulled out his phone.

Both Aspen and Michelle went to speak at the same time, and then politely stopped to allow the other to go first.

short story, mystery, Modern Philosopher“Please, you tell him,” Michelle offered.  “After all, it was your story.”

Wally looked to Aspen for an explanation.

“There’s no way there’s anything left at the warehouse,” Aspen explained.  “They’ve had hours to clear out.”

“That’s my fault,” Michelle took the blame as she paced the room that really wasn’t large enough for the activity.

“I should have trusted my gut and questioned you guys right away,” she lamented.  “Why the hell did I listen to what my idiot boss ordered me to do?”

Wally stood directly in her path to both block her from pacing any further, and to steady her by placing his hands on her shoulders.

“This isn’t on you,” he assured her.  “He gave the orders not to question he suspects.  He’s the one who is going to look like an idiot in front of the press when the FBI raids that warehouse and finds it empty.”

She smiled at him to let him know she appreciated his words of comfort.

“But where does that leave us?” Tex asked from his bed.  “Without the warehouse and the guys who were chasing us, our story doesn’t hold much water.  In fact, it maybe makes us look guiltier…like we made up an elaborate lie in an attempt to avoid going to jail.”

All eyes turned to Michelle for the solution to this problem.

“We need Bruno to use his mysterious pull with the FBI to buy us some time,” she decided after quickly calculating all the moves in her head.  “Wally, can you call him, give him the condensed version of Aspen’s story, and then ask him to get Captain Hamel on board?”

“That I can do,” Wally confirmed and then hit a number on his phone as he walked out of the room so he could speak in private.

Michelle then turned her attention to Aspen.

“Something tells me you have a few ideas,” she stated with a smile.

“As a matter of fact, I do,” Aspen replied with a sly smile.

“Does this mean Champ’s going to prison?” the old man asked from his bed.  “Because Champ would much rather take his chances with the angels than go back to jail.”

“Don’t go packing your bags just yet,” Michelle advised.

Aspen nodded in agreement because she knew she still had a card or two up her sleeve.

Of course, she certainly wouldn’t mind a little help from that legendary Bruno magic she’d heard so much about from Tex and Champ…

TO BE CONTINUED…

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Art Girl Was Here

Those of you who read my serials know that Aspen Roark, in the persona of her alter ego Art Girl, considers the streets and sidewalks of the city in which she lives to be her personal canvas for her colorful and creative chalk art.

The city in my stories is intentionally unnamed because it doesn’t exist.  It is a mix of places where I’ve lived or visited, and some of it exists entirely in my imagination.  However, the river walk where Art Girl began her rebel urban art project is quite real.

In fact, it is the very path on which I run every day.  It’s also the path where Aaron and Holly meet every Sunday for their conversation.

That is why I was absolutely giddy when I discovered this on this morning’s run:

art, humor, Modern PhilosopherI quickly scanned my surroundings, but I did not see anyone in a flowing green cape and mask fleeing the scene.  Clearly, Art Girl was long gone, and Aspen was probably already behind the counter at The Infinite Sheep, dealing with the morning rush.

I thought this was very fitting because Aspen was on my mind all weekend.  Not only did I write and post the latest chapter of The Undisputed Champions of Texas (it’s another chapter narrated by Aspen), but I also decided I loved the character so much that she needed to be in the first novel.

Since no one has been smart enough to snatch up and publish that manuscript yet, I was able to add a couple of key scenes to the tale.

Now, the very first time Bruno and Wally visit the river walk in the story formerly known as The Vanishing Corpse, they come across a piece of chalk art.  After Wally chases down Kyle the skateboard punk in the story formerly knows as The Vanishing Santa, he discovers a Christmas themed piece of chalk art in the middle of the street.

Would it surprise you to find out that Wally loves the art, while Bruno points out that graffiti is a crime, regardless of how colorful it is or how cute the damn animals are?

In addition to all that, I also wrote a prologue for the current serial.  This won’t appear on the blog, but it will be a part of the novel I create from it.  In the prologue, we now meet Aspen when she is four and a half and then jump to a surprising moment that links the current story to The Vanishing Corpse.

To think, Aspen didn’t even exist when I started this serial.  Then she was only intended to be a minor character.

Now look at what she’s become.  She’s so important to the story that she’s somehow managed to emerge from the page and enter real life!

This is why I refuse to write with an outline.  Cool things happen when I just make it up as I write…

How much does real life influence your writing?  Have you ever had a character come seemingly out of nowhere to become a major part of a story?  Do you think Art Girl is trying to send me a message from the pages of my serial?

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No Visiting Hours

“Something really annoying happened yesterday,” Aaron broke the silence with a teaser that was sure to get his friend’s attention.

It was another warm Sunday in Maine, and the best friends were seated on their favorite bench along the river.  Aaron took a hit of his Snapple, while Holly sipped her coffee and pondered her response.

“Let me try to translate,” she said excitedly.  “I’ve gotten very good at speaking Aaron!  Something annoying means that something unexpected happened because you hate change.  Although, it could also be something involving people because your fellow humans are basically your archenemies.”

“Present company excluded, of course,” he clarified with a smile.

Holly giggled.

“You know me very well,” he congratulated her with a pat on the shoulder.  “This incident involved both people and something unexpected.  So you can understand why it annoyed me so much.”

Holly nodded and took another sip of her coffee.  He clearly had a story to tell, and she knew to just sit back and let him roll with it.

short story, humor, Modern Philosopher“So I finally get out of bed and head outside to feed Outdoor Kitty,” he began.  “When I open the screen door, however, a piece of notebook paper that was wedged between the door and the frame falls to the floor.  I’m immediately intrigued and annoyed.”

“Obviously,” Holly agreed.  “My first guess would be that it’s either a flyer from some religious sect inviting you to join them for their next meeting, or a plea for support from a politician.”

“It was neither,” Aaron informed her with a smile.  “I’m actually slightly excited because the hopeless romantic in me hopes it’s a note from an ex-girlfriend who wants to reconnect.”

“While that sounds like something out of a movie, I’ve heard the stories and know that exact scenario has happened at least twice since I’ve known you,” she observed.

“Exactly,” he confirmed her statistics.  “So I picked up the paper and hoped to see a familiar handwriting or name on the page.  Much to my chagrin…”

“Now that’s a word you don’t hear enough in everyday conversation,” she interrupted.

“Agreed,” he concurred.  “Anyway, it was from some stranger.  It said her grandparents used to live in my house, and she’d love the chance to see it again because it meant so much to her.  She left her phone number and asked me to call if I didn’t think the request was too weird.”

Holly chuckled.  She could only imagine what Aaron thought about that request.

flash fiction, humor, Modern Philosopher“So how did you process her request?” she worded it delicately.

“I crumbled it up and tossed it in the trash,” he replied like she should have known the answer.

For the record, Holly had figured that this would be his reaction, but she wanted to hear it from him.  That would be much more entertaining.

“I’ve seen horror movies.  I read crime novels,” he rambled on as she’d hoped.  “Letting a stranger into your house is how you get robbed and/or murdered.  And the murder is never something quick and painless.  It’s always grisly.”

“I don’t even let my friends into my house, so why the hell would I allow some stranger to enter?  Because she wrote a cheesy letter meant to tug at my heartstrings?  If the house meant that much to you, you should have convinced grandma not to sell it, or snatched it up yourself when it was on the market.”

Holly considered playing devil’s advocate and tossing out ideas like maybe grandma died, or perhaps the writer of the letter was a child at the time and couldn’t scrape together the down payment.  She decided to hold her tongue, however, because if she put the thought that someone died in the house into Aaron’s head, she risked his having nightmares for weeks or refusing to set foot in the house until he was sure that grandma’s vengeful spirit had been driven out of the place.

She went down another path.  “Well, I certainly appreciate that I’m one of the very few people you allow inside your home.”

He took a long sip of his Snapple and gave her a sideways glance while he processed her words.

“Just don’t ever let me catch you posting pics of my house online,” he threatened.  “If you do, your privileges will be revoked, and you will be allowed no further than the front porch.  If that.”

Holly saluted that she accepted these terms.

“If you really think about it, a stranger should be more afraid of being trapped alone inside your house with you, than you of the stranger,” she teased.

“Keep it up, and I won’t even allow you in the driveway, smart ass.”

Holly smiled.  There was something about Aaron that really appealed to her, and she often wondered if that meant there was something wrong with her…

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The Undisputed Champions of Texas, Part 22

If I wasn’t already crushing on Tex, I totally would have been after our walk through the city as Art Girl and Van Goghing 2 Spaceman.

I mean, how could I not be into a guy who was willing to respect my dress code and follow me down the weirdo path simply because I asked?  Bonus points to Mr. Handsome because he carried my backpack without any prompting from me.

We had the streets to ourselves, which I’m sure put him at ease.  I have relieved to learn that the visor on the space helmet could be raised, which allowed for easier conversation.

Our destination was a part of town that I only frequented when in disguise.  It’s not that I had anything against the warehouse district, but there wasn’t much to do down there.  Of course, there was plenty of open black top for Art Girl to use as a canvas, and that was how I’d stumbled upon my discovery.

I’m pretty much invisible when I’m creating my chalk art, and that’s mainly because there’s never anyone around at that hour.  So I was definitely intrigued when I noticed a steady stream of traffic into one of the warehouses at three in the morning.

I figured one night was a coincidence, but three nights in a row aroused the curiosity of my inner kitty cat and made her purr at the possibilities.

“So what are we looking at?” Tex asked after we’d set up camp in the shadows with a perfect view of the warehouse entrance.

“That one there,” I indicated by pointing.

I loved the way my new cape flowed with the motion of my arm.

“I don’t see anything,” he replied as he raised and then lowered the visor on his helmet.

“It’s still a little early,” I told him.  “We might as well create while we wait.”

I motioned for my backpack and smiled because I was really feeling creative and maybe was kind of eager to show off my skills to Tex.

short story, serial, Modern PhilosopherA little after three, we saw the approaching headlights.  I turned off my headlamp while Tex extinguished the camp light.

Four SUVs pulled up in a line in front of the warehouse.  Someone got out of the lead vehicle and used a key to open the front door.  Once inside, he opened the gate so the vehicles could enter.   Then he closed the gate again.

“Like clockwork,” I announced.  “It’s always around three o’clock.  A few cars pull up, they go inside, and then everyone leaves an hour or two later.  There are always fewer vehicles when they leave, though.  That makes me think they are transporting items to be stored inside while also stockpiling vehicles.”

Tex had his visor up now since it was dark and there was no one around to see his true identity.  He looked confused.

“Would you be disappointed if I admitted that I don’t quite follow what this has to do with us?”

I had to smile.  He was so damn adorable when he was vulnerable.  I wanted to kiss him, but then I remembered that Danny Ocean would never mack on a crew member in the middle of the planning process.

“I don’t know who these guys are, but that warehouse is without a doubt their stash house,” I explained.  “I bet it’s packed with stolen cars and goods that they’re just waiting to unload.”

Tex shrugged.  “But what do we do with that?”

I sighed.  I couldn’t be upset with him, though, because I understood that not everyone thought like a master criminal.

“Your plan to find missing things for the reward was creative, but you were thinking on too small a scale.”

I pointed down at the warehouse.  “Think of the rewards we could collect if we lead your Detective friend and his sidekick down here and show them all the stolen cars and whatever else these guys are keeping in there.”

I was giddy.  I’d finally said it out loud and my idea seemed more real than it ever had when this information was just kicking around in my head.

I was definitely disappointed that Tex didn’t immediately react with equal or more excitement.

“What makes you think Detective Bruno and Wally would care about this or even believe us?” Tex countered.  “We’re not exactly reliable sources.”

Even though I was bummed at his lack of enthusiasm, I was prepared for his questions.

“First off, the cops aren’t going to like it if we go to the press with our information when they turn us down.  Imagine the headlines: Twenty-three Year Old Caped Crusader Cracks Crime Consortium; Cops Clueless.”

“Newspapers do love alliteration,” he confirmed.

How cool is it that he knew what alliteration was?

“Overnight, the city would be overwhelmed by wannabe superhero vigilantes out to break the next case and get the publicity,” I continued.  “That’s a nightmare the police do not want.  We’re also going to bring them some proof of life for our plan to ensure their participation.”

“What sort of proof?” he asked with trepidation.

There he was being so adorable again!

“We’re going to come back tomorrow, not in disguise because would risk drawing attention to us, and we’re going to sneak into the warehouse and take pictures of what’s in there.”

I smiled brightly.  He swallowed hard.

“We know they only come after three o’clock,” I jumped in to reassure him.  “We’ll come late enough so that the streets are empty, but long before the bad guys come out to play.”

I could tell he wasn’t one hundred percent sold, but he would look like a real chicken shit, no offense, if he backed out now.  He really didn’t have a choice.

And before you pass judgment on my master plan as not being at all criminal, just hear me out.  How bad ass would it be to let other parties take all the risk and do all the work, and then walk away with the profits?

You know Danny Ocean would be impressed with that concept!

short story, fiction, crime, Modern PhilosopherSince Tex didn’t have to work the next night, we agreed to meet at midnight in from of the yoga studio.  I made him promise not to wear his cowboy hat because it would be too conspicuous.

“I told you not to wear that!” I said as I pointed accusingly at the atrocity upon his head when he emerged from the alley between Maggie McGee’s and the yoga studio.

“I know, but it’s my lucky hat,” he insisted.

I wanted to argue that the hideous hat hadn’t brought him much luck when his former band almost burned down that club, or when Detective Bruno busted him for stealing Christmas decorations, but I didn’t want to mess with the evening’s karma.

I just kissed him instead.

“Champ really thinks this is a bad idea!”

Both of us were caught off guard by the voice out of the darkness.  Apparently, Champ had been lurking like a creeper in the alley and neither of us had noticed him.

“You told him?” I asked with a heavy sigh.

Tex shrugged.  “I had to.  I needed to talk to someone about it.  I don’t want to look like a wuss in front of you, but I’m not exactly confident about this plan.”

That was not what I wanted to hear.  Danny Ocean never had to put up with this type of crap, and his crew was way larger than mine!

“Fine, you can stay here and braid each other’s hair,” I grumbled.  “I’m still going.”

The truth was, I really was going alone if that was my only choice, but I was hoping and praying that Tex was going to drop the Cowardly Lion act and tag along on the walk.

He looked over at Champ and then back at me.

“I’m not letting you go alone,” he finally decided.

“Champ’s not letting the two of you go alone then,” he announced as he fell in step behind us.  “Champ has the entire walk to change your minds, and if that doesn’t work, then Detective Bruno and Wally are more likely to go along with this half-assed plan if Champ vouches for it.”

“It’s not half-assed!” I insisted without turning around to look at Champ.

Despite his threats to spend the walk trying to talk us out of things, Champ stayed pretty quiet.  I think he just wanted to be there as back up, and was relieved we’d allowed him to tag along.

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

As I suspected, the place was deserted when we arrived.  I tried the front door, and it was locked.

“Don’t worry,” I lied.  “I have a plan.”

I really didn’t, but I also knew that luck played a part in most criminal endeavors.  I’m somewhat tiny, and the gate at the front of the warehouse didn’t exactly look brand new.

“Help me scooch this up a little,” I ordered.

I had no idea if there would be any give in the gate, but if there wasn’t, we were going to have to resort to smashing a window.  That was kind of my last resort since it might draw attention, and at the very least, would leave behind evidence that someone had been there.

Alerting the bad guys of our existence was for sure not on my To Do list.

To my extreme relief, Tex and Champ were able to lift the gate just enough for me to roll through the gap and into the warehouse.  I then used the flashlight on my phone to locate the button that raised the gate.

I closed the gate once the guys were inside, and we turned to survey our surroundings.

“Champ doesn’t think it’s a good sign that the lights are on.”

I was so pumped to have gotten this far that the lights being on hadn’t even registered with me.

“They probably leave them on to make it seem like someone’s around,” was how I explained it.  “They’re criminals, so they have no intention of paying the electric bill, which means that they don’t really care that the lights are on all day.”

“Champ doesn’t think that’s very good for the environment.”

I didn’t disagree, but I really didn’t want to get into a conversation about the misuse of electricity when we were supposed to be casing the place.

It was a large space, but it was mostly empty.  There were a few dozen boxes piled haphazardly, but it looked more like a flea market after closing than a major criminal endeavor.

There were several cars, but they were all of the minivan or older SUV variety.  Not exactly the kind of cars a crew would steal if the goal was to break the bank.

Tex noticed this as well.  “Looks like a parking lot for soccer moms.”

“We should have a look around,” I suggested.  “They’re obviously not going to leave all the high priced items out front.”

Truth be told, even I didn’t really believe that logic.  But we’d come this far, and I wasn’t just going to give up.

“Champ’s not going anywhere,” he announced defiantly.  “Champ will guard the door.”

That was fine with me.  No offense, but you weren’t invited and I didn’t want a party crasher getting in the way during my big moment.

Tex nodded, adjusted his cowboy, and looked to me for guidance.  I immediately reached out and took his hand.  It was more of an “I want to feel safe” gesture than anything else.

We cautiously made our way deeper into the warehouse.  The silence was eerie, but also comforting because it meant no one else was there to confront us.

Once we made it past the first half dozen or so soccer mom cars, things improved exponentially.  I’m not sure which of us saw it first, but both our faces lit up at pretty much the same time.

Tucked away, behind a row of boxes was the coolest sports car I’d ever seen.

“Maybe you were right,” Tex admitted as we rushed over to it.

He opened the driver’s door.  “The keys are in the ignition.  These guys must be really confident that no one knows about this place.”

I have to be honest.  I believe in jinxes and karma and the kind of stuff that other people just laugh off as nonsense.  Cross my heart and hope to die, the second Tex said that, I cringed.  I just had this feeling that he’d spoiled our luck.

“Hey!  Who the hell are you?”

The voice was menacing, unexpected, and came from someplace very nearby.

“There’s someone in the warehouse.  Come on!”

Even over the sound of my heart trying to pound its way out of my chest, I could still make out multiple footsteps headed in our direction.

“Can you drive stick?” I asked Tex.

I didn’t wait for his answer, though.  I just jumped into the car and crawled across the driver’s side to get to the passenger’s seat.

Tex was quickly behind the wheel, turned the key, and had the car in reverse just as we saw the three men running towards us.

The car lurched forward, smashed through the pile of boxes, and then Tex worked his magic to avoid crashing into the minivans and SUVs.

“How did you learn to drive like that?” I screamed as I held on for dear life.

“Everyone has to take a turn driving the band van,” was his reply.

Tex leaned on the horn in hopes that Champ would understand that we were in the car and needed him to open the gate.

“They’re coming,” I informed Tex as I glanced out the back window.  “Looks like one car.”

Tex lowered the window and thrust out his arm to motion for Champ to open the gate.  I don’t know how he kept control of the car with only one hand, but I don’t question miracles.

By the time we got to the gate, it was open enough for us to make our escape.  Tex slowed down just for a sec so Champ could jump into to the backseat.

I was relieved that Champ didn’t want to have an entire conversation about the merits of leading a bunch of very angry men on a high speed chase in a stolen car, or the best routes to maximize gas mileage while also avoiding getting overtaken and murdered.

Tex just floored it and you know what happened after that.

Can I just point out that aside from a few hiccups like hospitalizations, near death experiences, and the impending arrival of the FBI, my plan was a success.

We’d set out to get proof for the police that we had stumbled upon a major crime ring.

Mission accomplished!

Is it too early to talk about a reward?

TO BE CONTINUED…

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The Undisputed Champions of Texas, Part 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re damn right I looked awesome!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tex sighed and took a large gulp of his Snapple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I chuckled.  “It won’t be a problem.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least that’s been my limited experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Obviously,” he responded.

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

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

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

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

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

I mean how could she not?

TO BE CONTINUED…

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A Key Disappearance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron sighed and accepted his fate.

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

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

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

She giggled.  He rolled his eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

“The mystery deepens,” she commented.

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

“But no keys?” Holly asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All excellent questions,” Holly assured him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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