Friday, April 30, 2010

Nighttime Interruption #fridayflash

They all woke up to the rumbling of the ground shaking. Children instantly began crying, pets scurrying for cover and shivering in fear. The adults knew better. When the ground shook, they had to get outside, in case the structures fell in upon themselves. 

“Everyone, to the square!” A bellowing voice from outside, the town crier nimbly ran through the streets, shouting as loud as his ample lungs could carry. “Everyone, to the square!” 

The square was already filling as the houses emptied. They needed to do a head count, so as they filed into the meeting space village elders organized them into groups based on the streets they lived on and had them count themselves and look for neighbors. 

A cry went up from a far group of younger families. “Our child!” a mother cried out. “She was right there with us when we left, but she’s gone! You must find her!”

One of the elders, a tracker and law enforcer, ran over to the family and then took off the way the family had come, retracing their steps. He was alert for any signs of where she went, eyes sharp and ears open for even the smallest of clues.

Aside from that one missing child, everyone was accounted for. So the village leader ascended to the top of the small stage and addressed the crowd.  The leader was small and frail next to the younger elders, but when he spoke it was with the gravity of his station.

“Something terrible has happened,” he said, looking over the crowd. “No doubt you felt the earthshake. This was not an isolated incident. It was not like other earthshakes we have felt in the past.

The tracker ran down the empty streets. There was nothing here. Nothing moved but the grass. He called out the name of the missing child. There was no response. He ran faster down the street, trying to search everywhere at once.

“The earthshake was not natural. It was brought down from the heavens, and with it comes a strange fire and storms gathering on the horizon such as we have never seen.”  A murmur rose up from the crowd. The leader raised his thin arms to calm the village. “We are doing everything we can to find out what happened. We have already sent out scouts in the direction the strange fire came from, to ascertain the danger.”

The tracker stopped short when he heard a sound. There was something hiding nearby! He slowly approached, calling out the name of the child. There was a pause, the sound of breathing, and then movement. The child scurried out of the tall grass near a house. 

“Whatever happens,” the leader said, “I assure you that we will confront it together. We are, after all, a tribe. And a tribe works best when it works as a unit.” 

“Oh thank goodness,” the tracker said. The child looked up at him. “Your parents are waiting. Don’t worry, everything will be all right.”  The child blinked its large eyes, one hand reaching up and scratching at a patch of scales near her head. She obviously wasn’t of age to speak yet, but she followed after him dumbly, tail dragging in chagrin.

“Now, if you’d like to wait and see what is going on, I encourage you to wait for the scouts to return with me,” the leader said, clawed fingers extended. One of the elders lit a fire, as the moon was being obscured by a sudden wall of clouds that had crept over the horizon. In the firelight, the leader’s feathered arms glowed resplendent.  “I’m sure soon we will have our facts straight, and this will all be behind us.”

The crowd waited. The tracker returned with the child. The parents nuzzled they’re returning child. They were happy again. The tracker accepted their thanks gladly. He almost felt sorry for the haggard parents. Four children already, and the mother held an egg in her arms.

The clouds continued to thicken. On the horizon, there was a faint glow, red and threatening against the heavy cloud ceiling that hung over it. As inevitably as a sunrise, it approached the village, which watched on in wonder.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Mob Lawyer (part 1)

The sun was rising bright and early in Colston City when the beat up old station wagon pulled out of the parking garage and onto the street. The sun was still struggling to get up over the horizon. Inside the car, Hiroki was struggling to keep awake.

“I can’t believe you got me out of bed on a Saturday. You know I need a day off sometime.”

“This is your day off,” Benjamin Camen said from behind the wheel. He didn’t seem phased by the hour. In fact, he looked fiercer than usual. “You have days off from school, because it’s exhausting. This job doesn’t have time off, because it’s empowering. When work comes, we do it. Or did you want to go back home?”

“No,” Hiroki said. Camen had called his bluff. He wouldn’t give this up for anything. How many teenagers got to be the assistant and protégé of Colston City’s most notorious detective.

“Good,” Camen said, and reached back into the back seat of the station wagon. He tossed a foil-wrapped package at Hiroki. “Cereal bar. Eat it.”

“I’m not hungry,” Hiroki said.

“Eat it anyway. I don’t want you fidgeting when we meet with our new client because you suddenly woke up enough to realize you were hungry.”

Hiroki took the cereal bar and opened it, picking it into pieces and eating them slowly as he looked out the window. The city was much more empty than he usually saw it. With Camen, he saw all sorts of sides of this city that he didn’t otherwise know.

Their client was in the Terrace Heights part of town, secluded houses tucked away from the main road dotting the mountainside. There was money here, and you could feel it in the insistence on space and privacy in a city as big as this. Camen buzzed in at the gate, a female voice coming in over the intercom.

When they parked at the house, Hiroki was paying a lot more attention. This was a nice place and he suddenly felt very out of place standing in the driveway in a beat up old car and Camen ambling up to the door like he owned the place.

A woman answered when he rang the bell. She was small in both size and bearing, looking up at Camen with hesitation. He had that effect on people. His presence was intimidating all by itself, but his size didn’t help. “Mr. Camen?”

“Yes ma’am,” he said with an easy smile, extending his hand. She shook it, her own hand disappearing in his. “I’m Benjamin Camen. You can just call me Ben if that’d make you feel better.” He gestured over to Hiroki. “This is my assistant, Sugoi. He’ll be taking your statement and helping out on the case, if you don’t mind.”

She led them into a well-furnished parlor, decked out in dark woods and hundreds of thick leather books. It had a masculine feel that was at odds with the delicate looking woman before them. “Please, sit,” she said, and Camen collapsed heavily into the nearest chair while Hiroki took the one closest to that, reaching into his bag and pulling out his laptop.

“So, to begin with, why don’t you tell me your name and why you called today?” Camen said.

“Well, my name is Patricia Wallace. My husband’s name is Samuel Wallace. Sam’s … well, Sam’s gone missing.”

“If he’s missing, you should go to the police,” Camen said.

“I thought about that, but I don’t want this spread all over town as gossip. My husband is a junior partner at Barston & Chase. He has a reputation to uphold. And I think that he might have gone missing because of another woman.”

“You believe your husband was having an affair?”

“I know he was having an affair,” she said with a shrug. “Men like my husband always want something more than they can get at home.”

“You knew about this and did nothing?”

“What was I going to do, get mad?” She shook her head. “He would have done it anyway, and I love my husband despite his faults. Accepting it made it easier to keep him at home, he wasn’t feeling pressured to live a double life and sneak away.”

“Until now, of course,” Camen said.

“I know it has something to do with that woman. She’s been calling more frequently, sometimes four or five times a day. Every time my husband answered, he seemed agitated. Yesterday he didn’t come home from work. His secretary says he left for a long lunch.”

“Why suspect the other woman, then?”

“Where does a man go when he has a long lunch scheduled but nobody written in to meet with? It’s not like this was the first time he wandered off for a mid-day liaison.”

“So you suspect…?”

“That this woman wanted something else from him. Something that made him upset. And he went to see her and something happened. Either they ran off together or she … hurt him.” Patricia Wallace looked ill at ease, sitting there in her missing husband’s study. She picked at the hem of her shirt. “I just need to know what happened. I don’t suspect that Sam would run off without saying something. He’s not that type of man.”

Later, when the terms had been decided and the details given, Hiroki and Camen stood on the deck of this beautiful house. Camen had asked to be excused to smoke, and here they stood overlooking the forest that surrounded them.

“What do you think?” Camen asked.

“She might have killed him herself,” Hiroki answered, trying to draw conclusions for himself. Camen always asked him what he thought, a training exercise to sharpen his skills.

Camen puffed on his cigarette, smoke wreathing around him. “She did it? She doesn’t look like the murdering type to me. She seems resigned to the way her life was. Besides, why call us?”

“Makes it look like she’s trying to find her husband when a body floats up in the bay next week or next month or whenever it does. The police will buy the argument that she wanted to be discreet. It’s not like you aren’t dragged into secret investigations all the time.”

“Clever, but I still don’t think she did it. And if she did, we should probably still check out the mistress and his office. You need to do your usual digging on Mr. Wallace, see what you come up with.”

“Of course,” Hiroki said. “Don’t I always?”

“Be careful,” Camen said. “There’s something she didn’t mention that’s worth paying attention to.”

“Which is?” Hiroki said, trying not to look annoyed that Camen suggested he wouldn’t otherwise be careful.

“Barston & Chase are mob lawyers. Their money isn’t exactly clean or safe. So for all we know, this might have nothing to do with the mistress and everything to do with business. There’s more reasons to step out on meetings that don’t get put on a calendar than a woman on the side.”

Camen put out his cigarette on the wood of the railing, then flicked the butt into the forest. Hiroki watched it tumble end of end before it disappeared into the trees. “You shouldn’t do that. Hits some dry foliage, you could burn down this entire place.”

“This isn’t California, it’s too wet for that. Besides, I put it out first. And besides again, its not your place to question my methods. I let you come along only so long as you agreed you’d be a good boy scout and do as I said.”

“Yeah, well, you said I could speak up in private.”

“Sure, kid. But last and most certainly not least,” Camen said as he turned away from the railing to head back into the house and continue digging into Samuel Wallace’s personal files, “is I never claimed I didn’t want to see this all burn straight down. Don’t act like it’d be such a tragedy.”

Hiroki paused for a moment, looking down at the forest below them, then headed in after Camen. There was investigating to do. He could worry about the mental stability of his boss on his own time.

Monday, April 26, 2010


tap tap tap

He looked up from the notebook he was scribbling in. The pen jerked across the paper, a deep gash marring the pristine page.

Pretty fucking jumpy eh Gary?

Just writing.

Yeah that much is obvious.

The other man stepped into the enclosed porch and shut the screen door behind him. Mosquito season and the bloodsuckers where sieging the sagging old manse. It had survived a civil war it would survive another summer surely.

Gary cracked open the notebook again, the tattered spine creaking as the glue stretched. The faint sound of wind in the grass, the insect army outside, and the sound of a book straining to be opened. Quiet didn’t begin to suffice.

Good day?

The other man settled into the chair.

Gary clicked his pen. The retort was answer enough. He began to scribble silently again on the paper. The ink was laid down in deep channels cut into a new world by the metal nib. The page beside it bore all the scars of a thousand other like tattoos scratched into it.

Barbara told me I could find you here. Said you were finally working on your book again. Glad to see she wasnt mistaken. You have an obligation Henry or did you forget?

Gary didn’t stop writing. His hand was tight and savage, choking curls of Es and As and Os like strangulated gasps. Ts and Is with all the subtlety of a stabbing victim. It was a mess to read, put down at the blood screaming speed of newborn thought. The dry sound of the nib digging into the paper was uncomfortably loud. 

You know after such a long time this is going to be an event. You could get interviews. Maybe some TV spots. People will want to know where Gary has been these past long years and whats so special about this notebook full of chicken scratches that came unexpected in the eleventh hour of an authors decline.

The pen hesitated on the page, the writing stopping mid-sentence. Gary set the pen down and reached over for the tall glass of tea. He took a long drink and set it down again, hand wet from condensation wiping against his pants before he picked up his pen again. The ice, melting in the heat, clinked softly on its own accord in the glass.

Yeah I know I wasnt invited. What do you want from me? Its my job to check in on you from time to time. I just had to make sure the rumors were true. It was starting to spread and if you werent here to do this I needed to be able to cut them off at the knees before people were expectin something you never meant to produce.

tap tap tap

Gary tapped the back of the bed against the notebook. Far away, the wind carried the sound of a truck driving along the road a quarter mile distant. The sound of gravel crunching and a motor revving was jarring in this natural quiet. Gary stopped tapping. 

“I’m writing something. When it’s done, if it’s done, you’ll be the first to know. I can’t give you any more assurance than that.”

He clicked the pen open again and began to write in his same hurried, haggard hand. The other man waited for more, but when it wasn’t forthcoming and the scratching of the pen seemed to sink into the ambient noise along with the insects at the screen, he seemed to give up.

Well thats all right. Ill try to downplay the excitement a little. Keep it at a simmer. I dont suppose you know how long thisll take?

The sounds of this place, insistent and unrelenting, crashed around him with a tranquil road. 

No I suppose you wouldnt. Ill check back in a month say and see how far its come. Dont worry about anything We take care of those who do right by us. And you certainly have.

He stood up, making to leave. He extended his hand in farewell. Gary glanced up, just for a second, but didn’t make to move. Instead he just kept writing. The other man shifted uncomfortably, wiping his hand against his shirt where it left a faint sweat stain. This accursed place was getting to him. He was leaking like a sieve here away from temperature controlled rooms where he dwelt.

Um all right I guess Ill be going.

The other man turned and walked back to the door. It squeaked loudly when it opened, thudded back into place softly right behind him. The bugs swarmed over him as though he were a sacrifice meant to appease them. He swore loudly, slapping his own skin, as he hurried back to his car.

Gary watched him go. The engine started. Tires spun on gravel and soon the car was headed back down the dirt path that made up his driveway. When they finally hit the distant gravel and the sounds of the world around him drowned out the other man’s retreat, Gary allowed himself a long sigh.

He took another sip of his iced tea. It was delicious, painfully cold in this heat. It was all the fuel he needed. Bending his neck to one side until it gave out a crack of protest, he began to write again, the nib tearing its manic path across the page.

The mosquito siege continued.

The day wore on.

The ice cubes melted away.

And the write wrote.