Friday, November 30, 2012

Jeff Tsuruoka Week 23: Redemption or Bust - Red Right Hand

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Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Redemption or Bust - Red Right Hand

Part Eleven


Rosario Buendia's big red house was a madhouse of police activity.

Lights burned bright in every room of the house and state troopers hauled portable lighting wherever the already blinding white light wasn't deemed bright enough.

The front porch felt like a tanning bed.

State cops were everywhere, taking pictures and measurements, inspecting floors and doors and walls.

A pair of husky Latino paramedics carted off both of Reubens' wounded boys. Neither hood seemed to have regained consciousness. Each of them lay like a side of beef on a stretcher as they were carried out of the house and down to the ambulance.

One of the paramedics came back to have a quick, hushed conversation with Detective Thompson before leaving the scene.

Detective Nate Thompson, State Police. gave me the once over twice.

I returned the favor.

The deep crags in his cheeks and the losing rearguard action his hairline was fighting made him look older than he was. His habit of staring at you over the rims of his glasses didn't help with that.

“Think we can lose the cuffs?” I asked, more to break his concentration than anything else.

He waited a second and then nodded like he'd just solved the great mystery of life.

“I think that can be arranged,Jake.”

He signaled for the young officer guarding the porch steps to unshackle me.

“Thanks.”

I made a point of not rubbing my wrists.

Detective Thompson smiled. It only lasted a second.

“Got any more paramedics, Detective?”

“Why, are you injured?”

“Sheriff Jones is still in there. Got a big knife sticking out of his leg. He'd probably appreciate a little attention.”

“Orion's a stubborn man. He let 'em get the knife out and get the wound dressed but refused transport to the hospital. Don't worry. We'll get him down the stairs soon enough. In the meantime, we can talk.”

He handed me back my wallet and took my gun out of his jacket pocket. He gave it a good look, turning it over in his hands. He sighted it over the porch railing.

“Browning,” he said. “And a nice one. I own one myself.” He handed the weapon to me. “I like to take it out to the range on Sunday mornings.”

I holstered the gun and put an end to the pleasantries.

“Sheriff Jones said Marko Reubens took his hostage, Marisa Reubens, out the back window and off of the low roof. Any plans to try and catch him?”

If he was insulted he didn't show it.

“I wouldn't worry about that,” he said. “I've got my best bloodhounds on it. He won't get far.”

I couldn't tell if he was talking about dogs or people.

“Not good enough,” I said.

He looked at me like I ate the last Twinkie and put the box back empty.

“You don't seem real interested in catching Marko Reubens.”

“I'm more interested in you, Jake. May I call you Jake?”

“Everyone does.”

He nodded again.

“Shall we start at the beginning? I know who you are and what you are. I'd like to know why you're here.”

“You mean on this porch or here on the shore?”

“On the shore, for openers.”

“I'm on vacation.”

“Vacation? Vacation season's over.”

“I can't stand crowds.”

He patted me on the thigh.

“I know exactly what you mean. So this is what a big city private detective does on vacation? Goes out to the beach and gets involved in a crime spree? Doesn't sound like much of a break to me.”

“You have no idea.”

“Actually, Jake, I do. So let's cut the crap. What you and Marisa Reuebens did together at the Sunshade Motel is between you and her. It becomes my busines when the result of what you and Marisa Reubens did leaves a trail of bodies in your wake.”

“In my wake? Apparently you don't know as much as you think you do.”

“Well, that's why I'm here. As I'm sure you know, among those bodies is one of mine. So you're going to tell me everything I need to know about Vern Stroud's murder. Right now.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “You got Sheriff Jones' case files, right? I'm sure you read my statement.”

“I want to hear it from you, Jake. The more times one tells a story the more details come up.”

“All right. Here it is.”

I gave the man what he asked for, straight up.

Detective Thompson listened without interrupting me. He didn't take notes or ask for clarifications. He just listened.

I was impressed. The ability to listen is a lost art.

When I finished he took a minute to get it all straight in his head.

“Yes,” he said, “that's the way I pictured it happening. It's a shame you didn't see the shooter though. An eyewitness would have been a nice touch.”

“I'm sure Wayne will finger Riggs for you. You won't even have to ask nice.”

“Wayne?”

“The big guy-- the one I knocked out? That's his name.”

“I see. You know this... how?”

His expression didn't give much away but he and I both knew I'd just stepped in it.

I needed something to stall him with and I had nothing.

The sound of heavy footsteps and muttered profanity did the trick though.

“Just tell him, Jake,” said Sheriff Jones. “We're all in it now.”

He gimped through the front door, supported on either side by a red-faced, grimacing state trooper.

His pant leg was bloody but I didn't see any evidence of fresh flow. Those paramedics did a good job. Santo would be proud.

I got off the bench to make room for the sheriff.

The two troopers led him over and let him drop down to the bench.

“Thanks a lot, boys,” he said.

The troopers turned and went back into the house.

“Hello Nate,” said Sheriff Jones.

“Orion,” replied Detective Thompson. “How's the leg?”

“Oh it's all right, now that I'm sitting down. Getting up should be interesting though.”

The two men eyed each other. They may as well have been standing ten paces apart with tumbleweeds blowing by them in the street.

“Detective,” I broke in, “I'm sure your bloodhounds are real good at what they do but I'd sure feel better if I were out there searching with them.”

Detective Thompson looked at me over the rims of his glasses again.

“That woman's sure made her mark on you, Jake.”

I shrugged it off.

“She was counting on me. For what I'm still not sure but I'm willing to bet that not getting kidnapped was probably on the list.”

“I'd imagine it was,” said Detective Thompson. “Didn't go so well, did it, Jake?”

“Yeah. Your man Vern saw to that. What exactly was he doing in Caravan Bay, Detective? I told you mine. I want to hear yours.”

He started to speak.

“After we find Marisa,” I said.

The detective and the sheriff stared at me in dumb silence.

I stepped down off the porch.

“I can take Deputy Riggs' car if you don't want to go. Don't think he's using it just now.”

Detective Thompson stood up and climbed down. He was the picture of serenity but I could see the mushroom cloud forming over his head.

“We'll take my car. You coming, Orion?”

“You boys go ahead,” said the sheriff. “I think I'm just gonna sit here and bleed a little more.”

“Starting to regret refusing that ride in the ambulance?”

“Hell, Nate. I started regretting that five seconds after I did it.”

Detective Thompson nodded and waved.

“I'll see to it,” he said.

On our way to his car he collared the first unoccupied trooper he saw and instructed her to drive Sheriff Jones to the hospital.

“You know, Jake,” began Detective Thompson as he let us into his late model sedan, “I'm glad Orion decided against coming with us.”

“Why is that, Detective?”

“Please, call me Nate.”

“All right.”

He started the car and began to back down the driveway.

The man knew how to drive. He backed out at high speed, dodging cars and troopers, then threw it into drive and took off up the hill.

He turned on his radio and set it to the frequency his bloodhounds were using. A fast-moving river of incoherence rushed by. It didn't sound like anyone had a line on Marko's black SUV yet.

“I'm glad we're alone, Jake, because it gives me the opportunity to ask you, without having to employ a ruse or endure Sheriff Jones' grumbling about being left out of the loop, one simple but all-important question.”

“Yeah? What's that?”

“Jake, I need you to tell me what Marisa Reubens gave you.”

We took a turn onto a dark, wooded road I didn't see coming.

I kept my eyes riveted out in front of the car.

“Who's asking?”

He took his time formulating a reply.

“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean, who's asking? You or Marko Reubens?”

He slammed on the brakes and cut the lights.

My hand found its way up to the shoulder rig.

“Take your hand away from there, Jake,” said Detective Thompson. There was a hard edge at the bottom of his voice but showed no other signs of agitation. “Do you really think I'd have let you into this car with your gun on if I was planning to hurt you?”

He talked right over the response I didn't voice.

“Don't answer that. It's a rhetorical question. Jake, we don't have a lot of time here so I'm going to go with my gut, which says I can trust you. I can see how it looks to you, given what you know and what you've been through so I'm not going to allow myself to be offended by what you just implied.”

“I didn't imply anything. I said it straight out.”

“I like a man who speaks his mind. Shows real character. So I'm going to speak mine. I think Marisa Reubens gave something to you, entrusted something to you, before Vern picked her up at the Sunshade Motel.”

“You do, eh?”

“I do. I think so because Vern thought so. He assured me he was going to get it out of you.”

“Someone took something out of him before he could get around to it.”

“Indeed. You knew enough to go to Bog Island, even knew which cabin, so she must have told you something. What was it?”

I turned in the seat and faced him but didn't say a word.

“Look, Jake. You're not protecting anyone with your silence. You heard Orion back at the house. We're all working the same angle on this. Tell me what I need to know so we can go catch this guy and get Marisa back.”

Detective Thompson turned his headlights back on and continued down the road.

I sat back in the passenger seat and checked my temper. I counted to ten and released my breath.

“All right,” I said, “tell me something first. Vern was working on this, wasn't he? Offically.”

“He was, Jake. Unofficially official. He was working for me. We'd been hearing things about Marko Reubens showing up in places his brother used to hold sway. We knew it'd just be a matter of time before he showed up here on the shore. Vern knew that operation inside and out. He volunteered to go back in and I took him up on it.”

“You told Sheriff Jones that Vern was on vacation, that whatever he was doing out here was on his own hook.”

“Yes I did. I'd have brought Orion in when the time was right. I wanted to know what we were dealing with first. So I sent Vern in and awaited the results from his investigation.”

“But that's not all, is it?”

“You've got good instincts, Jake. No, that's not all. You're not going to like this next part.”

“He had a thing for Marisa,” I said.

“And her twin sister too.”

“You're right, Nate. I don't like it. But I don't have to. What's Rosario's part in this?”

“That's an interesting question. What do you know?”

The woods around us thinned out. I could see the lights from down the road. We were doubling back to Rosario's house.

“She's ex-Bureau, ostensibly because her sister married a known criminal.”

“Go on.”

“She was also working with Marko Reubens. I suspect in an ill-advised attempt to take him down.”

“And get rich at the same time.”

“Yeah. Wayne, Marko's goon? He said it was all about dough.”

“Jedediah Reubens' dough, Jake. And a sizable amount of it.”

“I witnessed her murder, Nate. Marko knew she was playing him.”

“Marisa is the key to all of this, Jake. Vern was after her, Marko needs what she knows, and even her own sister was using her. Now, I've told you a whole lot. It's your turn, so I'll ask you again. What did Marisa Reubens give you?”

“She left me a note,” I said. “It read, CABIN D, BOG ISLAND. M.”

“That's it?”

“Isn't it enough?”

“You still have this note?”

“Of course.”

“I don't have to ask if you and the sheriff have been out there. Find anything?”

I hesitated for just a second. Nate didn't call me on it.

“Yes. Yes we did.”

I told him about the address book and the locker in the warehouse. And the ledger.

“All right, Jake. What's done is done, so I'm going to ask you and I'm only going to ask you once, where is that ledger now?”

Detective Thompson's radio crackled back to life before I could answer the question. He shot me an enigmatic look and picked up the mike.

“Thompson,” he said. “Talk to me.”

I saw the lights before anything else.

At first that was all I saw. Bright lights moving somewhere out ahead of us. It took me a second to realize they were coming right at us.

Detective Thompson saw them too. He dropped the radio mike and attempted to swerve clear of the big black SUV.

He was too late.

Marko Reubens' SUV slammed into the driver's side of the car.

All of the windows on Detective Thompson's side of the car shattered. Sparks lit up the darkness as metal ground against metal.

My head banged into the window seconds before the airbags deployed.

Detective Thompson's car spun around twice and slid across the pavement, finally coming to rest at the edge of the shallow ditch on the side of the road.

Marko Reubens' SUV landed a little further up.

Broken moonlight and the yellow half glow of a faraway street light made the big vehicle look silver and shimmery.

The airbags started to deflate.

I tried to reach over and check on Detective Thompson but I couldn't get my upper body to do what I wanted it to do.

He was breathing. Every third breath was accompanied by a groan.

My head wanted to fall back against the window so I let it. Everything inside the car spun around me. I looked out the window and watched the road and the trees and the sky spin around me. I shook my head to clear my ears but the ringing I heard was the horn of Reubens' SUV bouncing off the foliage.

It was a lot easier to move once I figured out the seat belt was holding me in place. I unclicked and leaned over to see to Detective Thompson.

His breathing and groaning continued at a steady pace but that was all he was good for. It could be worse.

The faint banshee cry of sirens began to make itself heard beneath the steady blare of the horn.

Movement near Reubens' SUV caught my eye. The doors flew open and I could see legs working their way out of the vehicle.

I opened my door and fell right out into the ditch.

I struggled up to my knees and leaned against the car for support.

Then I started hearing voices.

Someone was calling Detective Thompson on the radio and her calls sounded increasingly desperate.

I tried to stand but my legs weren't having it. I tried again, and again. On the fourth try I hauled myself up out of the ditch with the help of the car and looked for the SUV.

One of its headlights was still functional and in its field of light I saw two people-- a man and a woman-- struggling in silhouette.

I drew the Browning and aimed it in their general direction. I tried to holler Marko's name but I didn't have the wind. My arm shook so bad I couldn't keep the gun straight. The two-handed grip was no better.

Even in silhouette I recognized Marisa. She was right there in front of me, blocking any shot I had.

Marko was fighting to keep a hold of her but she kicked free of him and took off into the woods.

Marko just stood there for a second and watched her go.

I sucked in as much air as I could and let I out as he stood up and started towards the tree line.

“Hey!” I yelled. “Marko!”

He spun in the direction of my voice and drew his gun.

That was all I needed.

I let him have it. Three shots. One of them hit. He doubled over but didn't fall and didn't drop his weapon.

I fired again and missed.

“Give it up, man,” I shouted.

He did not answer.

I kept the Browning on him and stepped around Detective Thompson's car out into the road.

Marko straightened up and fired three quick shots at me. The third one ricocheted off the road and grazed my shin.

It wasn't much of a wound but it was enough to drop me back down to the pavement.

Another bullet hit the blacktop just in front of my crotch as I backtracked on ass and elbows to the dubious shelter of Detective Thompson's car.

I stood up, rested my wobbly arm across the trunk of the car, and returned fire. Two shots. Should have been center mass. I was lucky to clip him on the hand.

He growled and inspected his bloody hand for damage as he edged towards the woods Marisa disappeared into.

I used the distraction to get out from behind the car and close the distance.

He fired once more-- and missed-- and staggered into the woods.

I moved to the edge of the road and got behind the thickest tree I could find. My ears were now ringing of their own accord, independent of the SUV's horn, and everything in my line of sight seemed just out of focus. The headache I hadn't quite gotten rid of for two days parked itself behind my right eye and sat there, throbbing in time to my elevated heartbeat.

For just a second everything went bright around me. I was in the woods and it was light out. Marisa was also there. I watched her walking between the trees, ringed in by flowers and autumn-colored leaves.

Noisy footsteps in the underbrush brought me back.

Marko Reubens wasn't worried about stealth. I could hear him stumbling around in the woods in pursuit of Marisa.

The police sirens were getting closer but they weren't close enough.

I couldn't wait.

Story of my life.

I took a couple of deep breaths to get myself centered and then went into the woods after Marko.

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Jeff Tsuruoka is an author in search of a writing career. He has found a home in the Flash Fiction circuit and is grateful to the blog hosts that give him the opportunity to get his work out there. You can follow him on Twitter @JTsuruoka and be sure to keep tabs on his weekly contributions to Daily Picspiration.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Michela Walters Week 23: Love’s Final Frontier

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Michela Walters’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Love’s Final Frontier

When he approached her, his head was turned down, gaze focused on his shoes. He held a present between his outstretched arms, still not looking her in the eye.

“Gary, you’re scaring me,” Anna said, taking the gift but setting it aside to tug her best friend of ten years into her arms. “Why won’t you look at me? What happened?” She rattled off a dozen other questions before he finally looked up with tears in his eyes.

He held onto her like a lifeline, finally letting her in on what had happened before breaking down and burying his face into her hair while she was tucked safely against his chest. “My grandparents died in a car wreck a few hours ago. Some drunk driver on his way home from a Christmas party.” His voice was an exhaled stream of words, like he’d been choking them back, as if doing so would keep them from being true. Through stuttered breaths he continued, “Do you want to know the crazy thing about that? My only thought was...what if that had happened to you? What if I’d lost you tonight?” His hand was gently stroking through her long wavy hair, soothing her when Anna should have been comforting him. But he wasn’t done yet. He shushed her attempt at condolences, telling her he wasn’t finished. “I know I could completely blow everything we have, but I can’t keep it to myself anymore, Anna.” He paused, pulling her away so he could look into her eyes, wanting to make certain that she knew how serious his declaration was. “I’m in love with you—ever since our drunk kiss after Colin Mackenzie’s Fourth of July party. I’ve fallen more and more in love with you every single day, and I can’t believe it has taken me five years to finally tell you.”

Anna’s eyes were wide with shock. Of everything Gary could have said to her in that moment, this was the most unexpected. She’d seen him date his way through college and much of their adult life. Of course she had similar feelings, but she’d never thought they’d be reciprocated.

Never.

“Are you going to say something?” he teased, trying to lighten the mood, but his eyes were deep pools of worry and rejection.

Shaking her head, Anna tried to lift the fog of his confession. “Sorry,” she replied. “Oh, God, I’m so sorry,” she repeated, realizing that he’d just lost both of his remaining grandparents in one fell swoop.

His crooked grin lifted. “Thanks, but that wasn’t exactly what I was looking for.”

Anna grabbed his hand and led him over to her sofa, needing to sit down so she could look him in the eye. She hugged him tightly, wanting to reassure him that all would be fine, but her proper upbringing made her respond to Gary’s grieving needs before addressing her own feelings for her handsome friend. She’d never admitted that she too had felt the kiss he was referring to all the way from the tingle in her lips to the knock of her knees that night. She had tried to chalk it up to being drunk and lonely, but in the sobering light of day, she hadn’t been able to deny it. Instead, she’d squashed the feeling deep into the dark recesses of her heart, thinking they would never see the light of day. She often wondered how she’d made it through the years and not become bitter and resentful for all the other women that passed through his embrace.

Shaking her out of her thoughts, Gary pulled out of her grasp and grabbed hold of her hands, stilling them from the fidgeting he knew would happen. She always played with her rings when she was nervous, spinning them around and around until you eventually got mesmerized by the movement.

Not wanting her to be focused on anything but him, Gary spoke calmly, trying not to spook her more than he already had. “I appreciate you trying to comfort me, honestly I do, but I didn’t come here looking for comfort.” His brusque words shocked even him, but he knew after an evening like he’d just had, honesty was the only way to go. Life was so short and fragile. What if he’d never been able to tell her how he felt about her? That would be something worth grieving over, but he hoped that after tonight, he’d never have to.

“I realize this was wholly unexpected, and I’ll give you all the time you need to process it.” Tapping her head teasingly, he continued, “I know how you like to overanalyze everything in that noodle of yours.”

Kate smiled at his reference to the constant inner dialogue that kept her up many a night, going over all that she’d done that day and what she could have improved upon. She was a perfectionist, and an over-thinking, analytical one at that.

“Why?” she finally asked, pulling her hands free. She needed the repetitive movement of those rings to calm her thoughts. She wanted to believe him, to explode with joy at his confession, but she’d been hurt by too many men in the past to be so willing to jump in without at least asking a few basic questions.

“Why what? Why do I want to risk ruining our friendship in the ultimate pursuit of happiness? Why do I think you’re the most amazing person I’ve ever known? Why did I drive over here when I should realistically be driving back home to see my parents? Why what?” Gary’s smile was broad, but his eyes were traitorous, flickering with his grief and apprehension. He knew when she began a line of questioning with a simple but unstructured sentence, her mind was moving in too many directions to compose a proper one. It also likely meant she was at least considering the possibility that he loved her.

She shook her head, grinning at his playful come back. He knew her so well, perhaps too well, come to think of it. “Why do you love me? I’ve seen you date women who are smarter, prettier, wealthier, and dare I say funnier than I am? So why me? After all this time, why me?”

Leaning down, he kissed her lips gently before whispering into her ear, “Because they could never measure up to you.”

Apparently that was enough reassurance for Anna. She pulled him into her arms and kissed the ever-loving daylights out of him. Five years of pent-up sexual frustration spilled out in that one passionate kiss, relieving her of the weight that had been solidly sitting in the middle of her chest and the thoughts that had relentlessly kept her up at night.

Finally pulling apart, the pair caught their breath; hands never ceased their movements over the other’s body, almost as if their hands couldn’t believe their good fortune either. They didn’t waste time stripping their clothes and working their way back to Anna’s bedroom in no time. They’d spent many nights sleeping in the same bed together, but never joined as one. Tonight that would all change. They weren’t shy or self-conscious; instead, desire and love spilled over and allowed the two to finally broach the last frontier of their long-standing relationship.

“I love you, too,” Anna eventually confessed, strewn naked across his impressively built chest. Something she hadn’t ever really allowed herself to appreciate until right then.

Just as the pair began to drift off into a satiated sleep, Gary had to tease her just one last time. Anna felt his chest shake slightly with a chuckle before her earlier expression was echoed back to her in Gary’s sleepy voice. “Why?”

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Michela Walters is a wife, mother and book enthusiast. She is currently attempting her hand at writing her first romantic fiction novella. You can read her other stories on her blog: michelawalters.wordpress.com

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sarah Aisling Week 23: Got a Secret . . . Can You Keep it? (Part 3)

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Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Got a Secret . . . Can You Keep it? (Part 3)

Jason walked Ciel to her door. The shadows were long across her front yard, but warm light spilled from the front windows of the large white Colonial, and the porch light burned bright.

“Just a sec.” Jason dug a scrap of paper and a pen from his backpack and crouched down, using his knee as a writing surface. He pressed the slip into Ciel's palm. “Call if you need me for anything . . . or you just feel like talking.”

“Oh . . . okay.” She swallowed down her surprise and tried to keep her eyes from bulging.

“Give me yours.”

After shoving her number in his jacket, Jason sauntered down the front steps with an awkward wave. Ciel closed the front door and leaned her back against it, breathing hard. Jason Greene gave her his number! She pressed the paper to her chest.

“Hello, dear.”

“Ah!” Ciel yelped and dropped her bag on the hardwood floor with a thump.

Her mother paused in the archway of the living room. “Are you all right?”

“I'm fine, Mom.” Ciel pushed away from the door, snagging her bag and slinging it over her shoulder in the process. “Anything . . . interesting happen today?”

Susan Cavanaugh fixed her daughter with an odd look. “Like what?”

Ciel shrugged. “Just asking. What's for dinner?”

That was more in line with what her mother was expecting. Things returned to normal, the awkward moment soon forgotten. Susan did press the back of her hand to Ciel's forehead and murmured, “You're a bit flushed, dear. I hope you're not coming down with something.”

Yeah, it's called Jasonitis, Ciel thought giddily.

Ciel forced herself to wait until after dinner and homework before rooting around in the back of her closet for Janice's journal. She curled up on her window seat and opened the leather-bound volume.

The pages were thick, creamy quality paper, the sort that begs for beautiful words to be penned upon them. It was no surprise to Ciel that Janice wrote in a beautiful, looping hand. The entries were undated, which made it difficult to discern a timeline. The best Ciel could tell, this journal spanned the past three years. There were numerous entries about Janice's stepmother and various altercations they'd had. Many of them seemed to be over Janice acting and dressing promiscuously, a handful were related to some incidents of shoplifting from a new age shop downtown, and there were mentions of “evil stepmother” forcing Janice to do “menial chores” around the house.

Ciel's forehead scrunched up as she read, to the point she had a tension headache. Maybe it was just her, but the hatred Janice had for her stepmom seemed harsh based on the events so far. She paged ahead until she reached the part where Janice started seeing Professor Jeffries.

I knew when he offered me a ride home in his sleek black sports car, he had more in mind than a teacher-student relationship. That's okay, 'cause I'm totally into him. When he pulled off to the side of the highway, I knew what was coming. He hung his head and tried to look ashamed, tried to make me believe he's never done this before. I call bullshit on that. He's slick, gotta give him that. His hand even shook as he brushed a lock of hair back from my face and told me how pretty I was, how different. Special. He told me not to be nervous, that nothing would happen if I didn't want it. He said it was imperative that nobody ever find out he had feelings for a student that went beyond professional or his career would go down the shitter. I'll keep his secret because I want more.

We've been going to Paul's special place for a few weeks now, and all we've done is kiss and grope a little. I want more, can never get enough of him. I wish he'd believe me when I swear not to tell. Wicked bitch stepmother wanted to know where I was so late. Keep wondering and stop telling me my clothes are too slutty when you wear blouses down-to-there and skirts up-to-here. Just because you're a whore doesn't mean I am. I'm a one professor kinda chick.

Finally! Dear God, Paul and I finally did it. It was so special. I wish he could've been my first, but he was certainly the best. I can't describe how it felt to have those hands all over me, the scratch of his stubble against my skin, to be filled by a real man. He says he loves me. Maybe he's not as full of shit as I thought.


Many of the following pages went into such stark detail about everything Janice and Paul Jeffries had done together that Ciel 's face turned bright red. Out of respect for Janice, she skimmed ahead, but sometimes she couldn't help herself when a particularly heated passage caught her eye and made her heart pound. Janice and Paul Jeffries had a torrid affair that spanned months, one that could most definitely get him fired and land him in jail. He certainly lost all inhibitions once they had sex for the first time and seemed to forget Janice was a sixteen-year-old girl.

Ciel came upon the first section of missing pages. Three pages were torn out, jagged stubs caught in the binding of the journal. She burned with curiosity, wondering what might have been in those pages that was of interest. The section following was more of the same; it seemed Janice was consumed by thoughts of Professor Jeffries and lived for the moments she could be alone with him. Another larger chunk of journal pages was missing that must have included when Ciel and Janice started hanging out because the next section mentioned their friendship already in progress.

Evil bitch stepmother can go straight to hell. Where does she get off telling me what do to anyway? I don't know why my dad puts up with her shit. She's not my mother, will never be my mother. She's so pissed because she can't loot my treasures anymore. Ha! Keep looking. You'll never find them. Ciel has become a really good friend. I even told her about Paul. She's really innocent, and I bet she's never done it yet. That's okay. Sometimes I wish I was more like Ciel. She's so . . . sweet, honest, and good. It's been a long time since anyone would say those things about me. I can trust her with my secrets, more than any of those skanks on the cheer squad that pretend to be my friends. I wish I'd given her a chance sooner.

Ciel is shocked that someone as sophisticated as Janice would want to be anything like her, but she's happy to know Janice trusts her and considers her a trustworthy friend.

I can't believe she grounded me! That bitch! Paul seems to forget that I have to answer to my parents. He threw a man-tantrum because I couldn't get out to meet him last night. Then he did something he's never allowed before. He told me to ask for a pass to go to the nurse during Study Hall and meet him in the basement instead. He pulled me into a janitor's closet and unzipped his pants, tossing a pile of rags on the concrete floor so I didn't hurt my knees. Then he let me take him into my mouth and suck him off. He guided my head with his hands so I'd know what he likes. I gagged a little, but he slowed down, and then it wasn't too bad. After, he didn't want to kiss me and seemed disgusted. He said it wasn't me, just the circumstances. For the first time, I kind of felt like a tramp. I don't want to feel that way again.

The last few entries are more of the same. Janice was grounded, and Professor Jeffries looked for creative ways to get off. When Janice didn't cooperate, he went from calling her selfish to outright begging. Ciel would never look at him the same way—that was for sure.

When Ciel looked at her bedside clock, she realized hours had slipped by while she was reading. Despite the late hour, she drew a hot bath and sank into the fragrant, steamy water to think.

She hadn't learned anything from Janice's journal that could help the police find her friend. If she turned it over, the only thing it would accomplish would be the ruination of Professor Jeffries. Ciel wouldn't mind that at all, but she thought Janice might. The missing pages of the journal . . . now those might be important.

It was all too much for a sixteen-year-old to shoulder on her own, and there was nobody to confide in. Maybe she could talk to Jason sometime, but she would never tell him Janice's secrets. No, those she must keep to herself.

In the morning, when Ciel flew down the stairs for breakfast, she heard the murmur of voices in the kitchen. She stopped short in the doorway, her socked feet nearly slipping out from under her.

Detective Hoffstra lounged at the table with a half-empty cup of coffee in front of him.

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Sarah Aisling hails from the East Coast of the US and loves living by the ocean with her incredibly indulgent husband and precocious daughter. She’s currently editing her upcoming novel, The Weight of Roses. When Sarah isn’t being enslaved by her characters, she can be found with her nose in a book, obsessing over nail polish or anything leopard, biking, hiking, camping, and spending time with friends and family. Twitter: @SarahAisling Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SarahAislingAuthor Website: www.sarahaisling.com

#DailyPicspiration

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

J M Blackman Week 23: Ransom Barbie AKA Playthings

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J.M. Blackman’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Ransom Barbie AKA Playthings

When I went into my daughter’s room, it was in its usual disarray. The floor was barely visible beneath a layer of toys, leggings and hair fastenings—many of which I wasn’t sure whose they were. And she of course was smack dab in the middle of it, completely oblivious to the world crowding in around her.

She had her favorite set of dolls spread around her, but I had to stop, nearly crushing Tinker Bell when I noticed one of her favorite dolls taped to the floor with electrical tape, four concise strips keeping her prisoner to the beige carpet.

I sat by Ana. “What happened to her?” I pointed to the imprisoned doll.

“Sierra?” Ana asked, squeezing the doll’s fashionable top hat back on her head. She looked like a time traveling heroine out of a steampunk, ready to dive into action at any moment. “She’s different.”

“OK,” I laughed. “But what happened?”

“She tried to leave.”

I could play along. “And you had to make sure she didn’t?”

“Well, I want to keep playing with her. I love her.” Since when did she start sentences with well? Was that normal for an 8-year-old?

I tapped my chin. “But does she want to leave?”

Ana finally looked at me, tilting her head. “I guess so.”

“Well,” I started and heard where my daughter got it from. “How would you feel if you wanted to leave and someone strapped you down?”

“But I’m a girl, not a doll.”

“That’s true, but just because you’re a girl doesn’t mean someone wouldn’t think they have the right to keep you. It just seems unfair, to me,” I said, putting my hand to my chest. “To keep someone from the life they want to live…as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.”

“It would hurt me.”

I straightened the twisted legging around her left leg. “How so, sweetheart?”

“I’d miss her.”

“You wouldn’t be happy for her?”

“Why?”

“Because she was happy and got to do what she wanted to do, just like you.”

She furrowed her brow, shook her head. The lip came out. “No.”

I knew the end of a conversation when I heard one. I raised my hands. “Hey, I was just sharing a different point of view. Remember? Like we said?” Her father had said sometimes I treat her too much like a little person, that she was a little girl and I had to accept that she wasn’t a little me. Not yet anyway. “They are your dolls, Ana. It is your choice.” I kissed her forehead and the lip receded, though the frown remained. “I’ll get lunch ready, so if you could make a path to the door so you can come out in five minutes, I would greatly appreciate it.”

“Yes, ma’am,” she said, setting the free dolls up to sit upright. I left her to it.

When I went to retrieve her for lunch, she had done as I asked and there was literally a pathway to the door. I almost snorted I laughed so hard, which of course made her happy.

She bounced to the door and grabbed my hand. “I let her go.”

“Who?” I’d forgotten what we were talking about.

“Sierra.”

Oh, ransom Barbie. “Well, that was very nice of you. Where did she go?” I saw the loose strips of tape on the floor now.

“Out the window.”

“Ana,” I chided, walking quickly to the window. “I told you not to throw things out the window. You could hurt someone. And you’re breaking your valuables.”

“I didn’t throw her, mommy. She went out the window when I untaped her. And she told me to tell you thank you. She was so nice, mommy.”

I frowned out the window. There was nothing below in the driveway. Perhaps she had went into a bush. “Did she now?”

“Yes, she said it was very…um, obliging.”

I stopped and looked at her. “Obliging?” The hell?

“Yes.”

“Where’d you learn that word?”

“Sierra said it. I just told you.”

It wasn’t a mystery I was going to solve right then. I closed the window and tiptoed back to the safe path in the middle of the room. “Right. And how did Sierra leave? By rope?”

“No, in her flying machine.”

I nodded along. It was a more creative story than usual. Maybe a little too creative. “Oh? Well, I hope she travels safely. When will we see her again?”

Ana looked sad then. “We won’t. She said she had to go home, to her kingdom and it was a long way from here. She said she’d miss me.”

I hugged her. “I know she will. Come on, let’s eat.” I glanced back at the closed window.

I should have checked the sky.

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J.M. Blackman is a Language Arts teacher, author rep'd by Gina Panettieri and a feminist. She endeavors to review nearly everything she reads and is a happy wife. She's a SFF enthusiast, loves dark humor, and has an unhealthy need to protect the image of Batman.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Jen DeSantis Week 23: One Final Kiss

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Jen DeSantis’ Choice: 1

Title: One Final Kiss

Partners, in sickness and health. Those were the vows and Paul had kept them every day of their sixty-two year marriage. He’d kept them gladly, for Cecile, his beautiful Ceely, was truly his other half. Without her, Paul would never be whole again.

Now death wanted to cut in on their dance card and Paul didn’t know what to do with his vows any more. Every morning for the past seven months, he would go into the makeshift hospital room that their den had become and he would greet his bride. She was as beautiful to him as she had always been, but the toll that the disease took on her pained him greatly.

“How is it today, Ceely?”

He never named it. Pain was the white elephant in their room; cancer the forbidden word. Ceely always smiled, her face too thin and her eyes bloodshot with medication.

“Oh, it’s just the same, Pauly.”

Just the same. Until it wasn’t any more. Until the morning he asked her, “How is it today, Ceely?” and she just looked up at him with her eyes sunken in her skeletal face and said, “Please.”

She cried then and he cried too, because he knew that the elephant in the room had finally won.

“Please,” she said again. “I need to go now.”

They’d talked about her final days before and how she wanted to go. She’d asked and he’d gallantly told her he would ease her pain. But now that the time had come and the needle was in his hand, he was scared.

He remembered those vows: till death do us part. It was the parting that scared Paul. Sixty-two years of loving and laughing and living. He couldn’t imagine a morning that didn’t include her smile.

He steeled his lips together and held the cannula steady in his hand as he placed it flush with the input valve. Paul injected the dose of morphine. It would kill her in minutes and it would be painless.

Ceely’s face softened almost immediately and he covered her frail hands with his own.

“Love. You.”

Her voice was a dying whisper as her eyelids grew heavy. The tears fell from Paul’s eyes, silently and steady, as his wife passed out of her pain. When her chest finally stilled, he placed a gentle kiss on her temple and closed her eyes all the way.

“I’m coming, baby,” he murmured against her forehead.

Death may have parted them momentarily, but Paul would not keep her waiting long.

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Jennifer DeSantis is a Horror and Paranormal Author and host of the #FridayPictureShow. She lives near Philly with her family. In her spare time is an aspiring ninja.

#DailyPicspiration

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Jeffrey Hollar Week 22: Family Business

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Jeffrey Hollar’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Family Business

The last rays of sunlight had faded behind the hills to the west many hours before consciousness returned to Cordelia. Sentience and vitality returned to her slowly…grudgingly. She felt oddly weak and disoriented. Her thoughts were confused and jumbled as if she had sustained some trauma of the brain, though she and her kind were certainly not susceptible to such. This was…disturbing in a way Cordelia had long since been unaccustomed to feeling.

Had their haven been attacked? Was Trevor in an even more debilitated state than she? She feared he must be, else he would have tried to aid her…would be here now. Her brother was reckless, irresponsible and irrepressibly cavalier about most things but he was her other half…her twin…her companion in the life of the Chosen.

Full strength returned to her and she tensed herself for what she might find outside the shelter of her coffin. Raising the lid with swift determination, she sprang out to land nimbly some distance away. Her brow furrowed as she saw absolutely nothing out of place. Trevor’s coffin stood on its plinth next to hers, appearing as normal. She did not sense his presence anywhere within their home and that worried her considerably.

While she and her brother were twins, she was the eldest by a span of minutes. As such, the ways of the Chosen recognized her as the elder and, by extension, responsible for her brother’s conduct. Of late, he had been most difficult to oversee. She had not shared Trevor’s enthusiasm for relocating to this urban cesspool. There was far too much environmental contamination, rampant disease and…wrongness for this place to be a fitting home.

Trevor saw it, instead, as a chance to experience adventures and opportunities they had been denied in a more pastoral setting. The lights, the sounds, the masses of human cattle held an undeniable appeal to him that, coupled with his reckless nature, were a recipe for disaster in Cordelia’s opinion. He fed too often and far too carelessly. Where she cautioned discretion, he practiced excess. Where she advised stealth, he advocated grand displays of their superiority. She had been warned, by the Council, to rein Trevor in or face significant…consequences.

An unpleasant aroma wrinkled Cordelia’s nose and tugged unpleasant memories to the forefront of her mind. He wouldn’t have done such a thing! He dared not do such a thing! Sighing, she knew he had. Confirmation came seconds later as she bent, gingerly, over her coffin and sniffed the still air. Fury boiled in her as she scented the lingering stench of Holy Water!

Trevor had done the unthinkable and soaked her coffin before sneaking out to gallivant. The discovery of how he might have procured an item so anathema to their kind concerned her not in the least. Knowing, as did all of the Chosen, sprinkling such on a vampire’s coffin would enfeeble and disable them until the accursed fluid evaporate, he had done this indignity to his own sister. There would be punishment for this sacrilege and such would be visited upon him by her.

She went out into the night as a primal force of constrained rage and undeniable purpose. She had allowed her sibling too many opportunities to moderate his conduct and that was at an end. This time there would be no forgiveness, no acceptance, and no chance at contrition. There would only be punishment…swift, sudden and emphatically final.

She knew his tastes, his proclivities, his haunts and so the process of locating a single individual in a city of millions took surprisingly little time. Aided by the supernatural bond they shared, she homed in on him with the unerring skill of a consummate predator. When she was as close as she dared be without alerting him to her presence, she cloaked herself in shadows and plotted her next move.

Trevor was, typically for him, playing with his food. The human female was dressed, if such it could be considered, most provocatively and had, it seemed, proven beyond her brother’s limited capacity to resist. Her pale skin was flushed and sweaty from, what Cordelia presumed, was a heightened state of sexual arousal Trevor was so adept at inducing in cattle. Cordelia could scarce contain her disgust. In her mind, coupling with humans was akin to bestiality. They were food animals…NOT suitable partners for carnal activities.

Unable to watch this abomination continue, she knew she must act soon. Once Trevor began feeding on this one, he would not stop until he’d left her a shriveled, dying husk. She quirked an eyebrow upward, reflecting there had been far too many such bodies scattered about of late. The human constabulary had redoubled their efforts to find the source of these, thus placing her and all of her vampiric kindred at increased risk of discovery.Enough, she chided herself. The time for action was now.

Crouching low, she tensed her legs and released the energy in an incredible leap of nearly fifty feet. She landed on the trunk of the vehicle containing her brother and his hapless female victim. Her heavy boots left deep impressions in the metal as she launched herself into a dive. Seizing the woman by one slender wrist, she used her preternatural strength and a bit of good old-fashioned leverage to fling her bodily out of the car. The woman landed gracelessly but safely some distance away and lay unmoving. Absently, Cordelia noted the beast was still breathing. Her enhanced senses detected the beat of the heart within the inert form. Good…the woman would survive with naught more than a bruised body and bruised pride. All in all, a better outcome than Trevor had planned for her.

Trevor surged to his feet, his eyes glassy and unfocused. His fangs had been extended to feed and remained so, with combat being their purpose now. He roared his challenge to the sky before leaping to the rocky gravel of the drive-in’s lot. His head swiveled side to side, seeking the source of this disturbance and, in that moment, his sister struck.

Moving nearly too quickly for even one of the Chosen to track, she stopped abruptly as she struck Trevor full in the face with a backhanded blow. She followed the initial contact it with a snap kick to his knee. Though considerably more resilient than mortals, even vampires can suffer temporary debilitating injuries. As Trevor’s assaulted leg collapsed, he went to one knee, dazed and dismayed.

Though only seconds had passed since Cordelia landed her first hit, she knew Trevor had the potential to recover and meet force with force. Wasting not so much as a breath to consider her actions, she finished the deed. Grasping her kneeling brother’s neck in a steely embrace, she bent his head backwards, exposing his throat to her.

Dipping forward, she locked her teeth in the veins of his neck and tore his throat out with savage finality. Spitting out her brother’s flesh, she placed the toe of her boot to his chest in a bone-shattering kick that laid him on his back. Bending over him, she watched as the light of his unnatural existence quickly faded. Blood bubbled at his lips as he made a vain attempt to speak. His inability to complete the action bothered Cordelia not in the least as nothing he had to say mattered to her the least bit in that moment.

Confirming the human was alive, albeit still unconscious, she returned to her brother’s body. She wrestled his bulky form over her shoulder and, with bounding leaps, vanished back into the embrace of the night.

She would miss the companionship of her sibling and the special bond they had always shared as twins, but when all was said and done, the good of her fellow Chosen trumped the life of a single miscreant. She would shed no tears for Trevor’s destruction even had she still possessed the ability to do so.

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Jeffrey Hollar is half Klingon, half Ferengi, visiting Earth in an attempt to negotiate a merger. He is currently working on a novella and a collection of zombie stories with his wife, Lisa McCourt Hollar. Jeff writes almost daily for his blog, The Latinum Vault, found at http://www.jeffreyhollar.com.

#DailyPicspiration

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Cara Michaels Week 22: Rainy Days Are Here Again

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Cara Michaels’ Picture Choice: 2

Title: Rainy Days Are Here Again

Ahead of me, the sun peeked through the curtains of clouds shrouding the city in rain. I held my umbrella overhead, shielding my head and shoulders from the worst of the heavy, cold drops. Nothing stopped the splashing as they hit ground like miniature bombs, their blasts soaking my legs and shoes. A woman ran beneath the stony arch of an overpass, closing her umbrella, chasing the promise of the sun.

Me? I loved the rain. Nothing like a good soak to freshen the air and earth. I whistled as I walked, laughing to myself as people scurried like rats on a sinking ship. A bell jingled to signal my arrival as I ducked into a shop advertising ‘new age’ and ‘wiccan’ blah, blah, blah. Modern names for practices older than humans. Things needed labels in this world, compartments, kept neat and just so. I rolled my eyes, stomped my wet feet on the mat just inside the door, and left my umbrella to shed some water weight.

A cheery ‘Be right with you’ came from somewhere in the back of the tiny storefront, filled to the brim. Cluttered, but in a well-loved sort of way, as though the owner couldn’t bear to part with things, even though no one wanted to buy them. Knowing the owner, I knew he’d buy a bigger shop before he gave up his treasures.

Seamus Finley, proprietor, scholar, and tea addict came out of the back room, nose buried in a book decades older than him. Possibly centuries.

“Something new for the collection, Seamus?” I asked.

His blue eyes found me over the top of the tome, crinkled at the edges with a smile the book hid. He closed the book with care, letting me see his face.

“New to me,” he said. “Fascinating account of the Dark Ages.”

“Hopefully more about the volcano and less about the woeful lack of surviving literature,” I said, “because let me tell you, the eruption impressed even me.”

He’d changed much since we’d last met. Of course… I tapped a finger against my bottom lip… that had been thirty some years ago? When he’d been fresh out of university?

“This is a pleasant surprise. I’d say I should have known a three-day rainstorm portended more than a persistent weather front, but… I doubt I would have guessed you with any amount of auguring. It’s been a long time.”

His hair ran more to gray than black now, his body grown a bit thicker with age. Still handsome, though.

“Academic maturity looks good on you,” I said, my lips curling into a smile.

“And you, Shannon, look lovelier, if such a thing is possible,” he said.

My smile grew. “You remember me fondly, then.”

“Is there any other way to remember you?”

“Ah, well, I suppose it would depend on whom you ask.” I laughed, more delighted than I’d known I would be to see him again. I should have paid more attention to the time, to the years passing by.

“Dare I hope this is a social visit?” he asked.

“I’m mixing business and pleasure, as they say.”

“Of course.” He nodded.

“You are one of the few practicing druids left, Seamus,” I said. “And the only one I personally know.”

The moment passed almost before I saw the flash of disappointment in his eyes. I hoped the pleasure part of my visit would make up for it.

“What can I do for you?” he asked.

I clapped my hands together. “There’s this sun god following me, you see… And I’ve been asked—quite devotedly, I might add—to keep the storm going a few more days.”

“You’re going to drown us,” he said.

“Oh, nothing so dramatic.” I sighed. The storms never lasted, no matter how much energy I poured into them. Always, those pesky sun gods got the call to stop the rain already. “Though I can’t say what comes of this won’t make the headlines.”

Business took five minutes and a minor invocation. Happy as could be, I settled into a rocking chair, a steaming mug of Irish breakfast tea with milk and sugar cradled in my hands.

“This is perfect, Seamus.” I sipped the strong brew and hummed. Without preamble, I called upon my strongest gift—the renewal of life—and directed it toward my host.

Seamus coughed on his tea.

“What have you done?” he asked, gaze locked on his hands, youthful and strong. He stared down into his tea, breath catching at what he saw reflected. Goodness, I’d forgotten how handsome he’d been. “Give a man some warning, Shannon.”

“I believe Seamus may have retired and left his business to a younger relative,” I said. “Or if you’d like to relocate, I can assist. Favor for a favor and all.”

“I thought you said maturity looked good on me?”

“And it does. I just need to be sure you can keep up with me.” I set my cup on the counter and leaned across the glass to kiss him softly. “Care to close shop early and take a walk?”

“Just promise,” he said.

“Go on.”

“Don’t stay gone so long next time.”

I smiled. “Deal.”

We left the umbrella behind and headed out, hand in hand. I’d argue that I hadn’t made a proper rainstorm since that Noah fellow, but hardly anyone listened to me these days so this would have to do. The sun had faded and my clouds held sway once more. At my side, Seamus hummed...

“What’s that tune? I like it.”

“Singin’ in the Rain,” he said. “It’s a classic film.”

“Indeed?” I blinked the drops from my eyelashes. “I’ve never heard it.”

“Came out the year I was born.”

I smiled so hard my cheeks ached. I’d wait a bit longer before I asked him to join me for more than just a walk. Maybe after I convinced him to take me to lunch.

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Cara Michaels is the author of the Gaea’s Chosen sci-fi romance series and host of the #MenageMonday flash fiction challenge.

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Friday, November 23, 2012

M L Gammella Week 22: Another When Part 4

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M L Gammella’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Another When Part 4

My blood ran cold as I heard her move through the house. It was too soon! She wasn’t supposed to be home from work yet.

“Henry? Are you home, dear?” her sweet voice called from the living room. “I got a call from your office that you came home early.”

My office? Why was my office calling Margaret? And why would they tell her I was coming home early?

I tried to think back to what happened that day. There was so much going on those days leading up Margaret’s death. Her death that was unjustly pinned on me. As if I would ever hurt her.

The house creaked as Margaret climbed the stairs. If I didn’t move soon, she’d find me. I looked around quickly to find a hiding place or a quick exit. Our bedroom looked over the street. There was no way I could sneak out without being seen.

I slipped my shoes off and shuffled a connecting bedroom through the master bathroom. We had converted the bedroom into an office for me just a few short years after we bought the house. It was an important step for Margaret and I, we were planning on starting a family and I wanted to be home more. The person or persons who took her from me before we could.

With barely a snick, I shut the door behind me, locked it, and leaned against it. I listened carefully as Margaret's footsteps crested the stairs and approached their bedroom door.

"Henry?"

Ah, her sweet voice, so close. My heart broke with her so close yet so far away.

The handle to the office jiggled as she tried to open the door.

"Henry? Are you in there? Henry?"

I held my breath and closed my eyes and willed myself not to respond, despite every fiber of my being that wanted to throw open the door and take her in my arms.

"That is so weird." I heard her say as she turned and went back the way she came.

My shoulders slumped with relief as I let out my breath. Thank God. I stepped away from the door and looked around with concern, ice filling my veins. My office was a mess. There were piles of papers strewn everywhere and drawers pulled out of filing cabinets. This was not my doing and Margaret wouldn't have done this either. I was too OCD about keeping everything neat and organized.

Someone had been in my house. Someone was looking for something. By the looks of it, they hadn't found it yet ... and that someone would be back. I knew this because I never once came home and found my office in such disarray. Someone would be coming back to clean up their mess. I had a strong suspicion that whoever that was also had something to do with Margaret's death.

Unanswered questions of the mystery were starting to line up. I started making a mental list of who would know about my home office and would try to find something out of it.

Carefully, not to disturb the mess around me, I grabbed a blank sheet of paper and began jotting my notes down. I stuffed the paper and a pen in my jacket pocket and looked outside. Margaret was outside in the backyard, watering the garden.

I slipped my shoes back on and raced down the hallway, down the stairs, and out the door before Margaret was finished. The front screen slammed shut just as I heard her open the back door. I ran as fast as I could down the sidewalk. One of the neighbors had a car in the driveway that I ducked behind in case Margaret was looking out the front of the house. I could only imagine that she heard the screen door slam.

After a few minutes of catching my breathe, I stood up and glanced at the house with longing one last time. I would be back, just not sure how soon. With a resolved step, I retraced my earlier steps and made my way back into town.

Later that night, in my rented bed in my dingy hotel room, I dreamed of a life where Margaret was still with me. We laughed together and lived together, way past the age I was now. Her brilliant red hair faded to a pale yellow but she was still the most beautiful woman I had ever known.

I woke a few hours later with tears coming down my face. The dream just further strengthened my resolve. I would see that dream become reality.

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M L Gammella lives in Ohio with her husband and their three pets. She is currently working on her first novel, a paranormal suspense based in Maine. Please follow her at @MLGammella and visit her website at Onward to the Written Word.

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Sydney Logan Week 22: Goodbye

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Sydney Logan’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Goodbye

We can’t stop touching.

Our hands and fingers linger along each other . . . memorizing.

As if I could forget.

I’ve dreaded this day for weeks. Knowing he was leaving, and knowing there was absolutely nothing I could do to make him stay.

It’s his duty, he says. It’s his honor.

It’s my heartbreak.

His phone vibrates, telling us it’s time.

Without a word, he slips out of bed and heads to the shower. I want to join him. It will be our last chance for nearly eighteen months. But I don’t. Instead, I look around our bedroom, and I spot his uniform hanging just outside the closet.

Perfect and pressed and ready.

I’m not ready.

I sit on the edge of the bed and look at his suit. When he reaches the base, he’ll trade it for camouflage fatigues, and he’ll no longer be my fiancĂ©.

He’ll be a Marine.

Who am I kidding? He’s always a Marine. But when he’s home, it’s so easy to forget that he has the heart of a soldier. When he’s here, he’s just my boyfriend. My future husband. The father of my unborn children.

I’m crying when he walks back into the bedroom. Slipping behind me, he envelops me in his arms, and I cling to him. He clings to me, and I close my eyes ...

. . . and wish that Afghanistan wasn’t so far away.

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Sydney Logan recently released her debut novel, Lessons Learned. She lives in Tennessee with her wonderful husband and their very spoiled cat. Please visit her website at www.sydneylogan.com.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Kimberly Gould Week 22: Hope of Spring

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Kimberly Gould’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Hope of Spring

It was a happy time, rebirth. The season of death was over and new blooms had opened on the trees. Everyone was happy. Except me. The pink blossoms seemed to mock me.

“Shine all you want. You’ll blow away in the next wind,” I told them snidely.

Families picnicked under the branches, but I wanted to throw myself from the roof of the temple. What was the point of any of this? Why did everything keep spinning when it should all grind to a halting end.

I didn’t want to be happy. I didn’t deserve all the blessings life heaped upon me. Certainly Karma would send me back as some poor diseased cripple that is loved by no one and given nothing. It was only fair after letting the gifts I had waste away. But what good were they? No one saw my calligraphy. No one cared about my haiku. No one noticed the mousy third daughter of a middle man. I had neither the concerns of the rich nor the pains of the poor. I was loved by my sisters and mother. Even Father seemed to care for me. Yet, I couldn’t care for any of them. It was all pointless.

“Nabiki-chan!” Chiba-san called. He trotted up to me and put a fallen blossom in my hair. “Don’t frown so much. You have all year to frown. Today, you must smile.”

I met his dark eyes, my chin trembling with all my pent up emotion. He ran his hand over my cheek and I gasped, looking around to see if anyone was watching us.

“Please? For me?”

My heart fought my mind and won. My lips curved upward.

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Kimberly Gould is the author of Cargon: Honour and Privilege and the upcoming Thickness of Blood. She can be found most places as Kimmydonn, including Kimmydonn.com

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Samantha Lee Week 22: Horse of a Different Colour

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Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Horse of a Different Colour

"Again, love?"

She smiles and nods her head vigorously as she reaches for the remote control. "Definitely, and possibly again after that," she declares, then laughs when I groan. She has not laughed in a very long time, not in truth, and I smile now to hear it. "I really, really like this movie," she tells me.

I flop down beside her on the couch and pull her close until she's nestled tight against my side, her head resting on my shoulder. "Why?" I ask her, wanting to understand, wanting to know. She is a mysterty to me, even after the decades we have spent together, still there is always something more to her for me to discover.

"I understand Dorothy," she says. "I think we have a lot in common."

I glance around the room at her half dozen cats and raise an eyebrow. "And her little dog too?"

She smiles and swats half-heartedly at my arm. "I've never been to Kansas either, Tru; I wasn't being literal. I just meant that...well, the whole wanting to go home but not being able to because you're trapped in a foreign land with a wicked witch out to get you...I can relate to that. Except Dorothy gets to go home in the end."

She sounds sad; a common habit of hers lately. She will not talk about what is bothering her, not to me, not to her wraiths, not at all. Her moods have always been sudden and unpredictable, as likely to smile as weep, to lash out as bottle up. It made life interesting, to say the least, and added a sharp edge of danger to our relationship I personally found rather exhilarating. Unfortunately, it also left me at a loss when she withdrew into herself and left me with a morose and quiet version of her usually vibrant and eccentric self.

"How many times have you watched this?" I ask, settling in as Judy Garland begins to sing of places over the rainbow.

"Today? Um...seven? Eight maybe?" She shrugs. "I don't know. I guess a lot."

"Are you going to tell me what is bothering you, lumina mea?"

With her left hand, she fiddles with the Anubis charm that lays against the hollow of her throat. It is a nervous gesture, one I have seen her do countless times. She sighs, shakes her head, then sighs again. "I understand Dorothy," she says again. "I don't understand the Cowardly Lion."

I blink. "The...Cowardly Lion?"

"Yes, I don't understand his...his motivation."

"I thought he wanted courage."

"Dorothy helped the Scarecrow off his perch and oiled the Tin Man...they're indebted, I understand that. But the Cowardly Lion...he had no reason to put himself at such risk on the behalf of a virtual stranger. He snarled and growled at her, yes, but that is his nature. I can understand curiosity driving him to tag along for awhile but once the danger was made apparent...I don't understand what keeps him around."

"This is what has been bothering you these last few days? The motivations of a fictional character?"

She blushes and ducks her head, her hair falling forward to curtain her face. "Yes."

"Why?"

"The horse of a different colour."

"The beast that is forever alternating between colours as it pulls Dorothy and her companions through Oz when they first arrive?"

"Through the Emerald City, yes."

"What does the horse of a different colour have to do with the Cowardly Lion?"

"Nothing. He was just a horse who couldn't decide what he wanted to be and consequently spent his days going in circles around a limited area, always shifting and changing while remaining virtually in place."

I do not need one of those degrees mortals are so fond of collecting to understand what she sees represented in the horse; it is obvious the parallel she is making to herself. However I still do not see the connection to the Cowardly Lion and I tell her so.

"Oh, I was watching the horse changing colour and it got me thinking about following leaders and that made me think about the Cowardly Lion which got me thinking about...um..."

Ah, and now I see what is bothering her. I smile and gently nuzzle my cheek against her hair. "It got you thinking about how I am your Cowardly Lion?"

She clears her throat and shifts uncomfortably before nodding in confirmation. "The...the wraiths are like my Tin Men - I get them moving again - and the Fae are like my Scarecrows - I get them unstuck - but you...you're just here."

"I did try to kill you," I remind her, teasing, "perhaps I seek redemption."

She snorts and offers me a smile, small and hesitant, but a smile nonetheless. "If I recall, I kicked your butt. Repeatedly."

"And as I recall, Dorothy kicked the Cowardly Lion's butt."

"But..."

I wait. We have been with her long enough now to know when to wait, when to push, when to let it go. This is a time for waiting.

"But at the end of the movie," she says quietly, "at the end of the movie, when the witch is defeated and the Cowardly Lion has been given his courage...do you think he's still called the Cowardly Lion once the Wizard gives him his courage?"

I smile. "No, they probably call him the Courageous Lion, or maybe just Lion."

"I think...I think I'd want people to keep calling me the Cowardly Lion."

"And why is that?"

"I don't think his mother named him 'the Cowardly Lion' so he must have other names, maybe a lot of other names, and...and maybe he liked the other names but Cowardly Lion is the name he had when he found himself - that's the name that has the power because that's the name he bore when his story changed."

I shift so I can see her face more clearly. Her expression is hesitant, unsure. She is deflecting, trying to get away from the earlier topic but I will not let her. There is something to be learned here, something important, something I need to know and we need to discuss.

"What happens at the end of the movie, lumina mea, when the witch is defeated and the Cowardly Lion has been given his courage?" I lift one hand and carefully trace a finger along her lips before cupping her cheek and pressing my forehead against hers. "Tell me."

She closes her eyes. "Dorothy goes home alone," she whispers.

I understand what she's saying, what she's afraid of. I press my lips to hers and kiss her, softly at first, then building heat and strength until I feel her breath quickening and there is no question of my passion, my desire.

When I pull back, her eyes snap open and she looks at me with summer skies trapped in her gaze. I love her eyes, can never get tired of seeing them, always changing, always new but familiar. "I am not the Cowardly Lion to your Dorothy, lumina mea."

"You're not?"

"No, I am not, and you are forgetting - Dorothy does not go home alone."

"She doesn't?"

"She has Toto, remember? The dog she was willing to give up everything to protect, the dog she braved a tornado for, the dog that braved a witch for her, that stayed with her loyally before and after, beginning to end. I am not your Cowardly Lion, if anything I am your Toto."

She laughs again, finally, and runs her hands through my hair then wraps her arms around my neck.

"And you, lumina mea, are my horse of a different colour," I tell her. "You are always changing, always shifting, always becoming something else but, when all is send and done, you ultimately remain what you always were, what always will be."

"And what is that?" she asks, her voice unsure, her eyes searching mine.

The answer is simple and absolute. I smile when I tell her, pulling flush up against me and bending my head close to hers, my lips so very, very close to hers. "Mine."

She smiles and I am in Eden, I am home, I am hers, and she...she is mine. Always. Forever. Mine.

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You can read my blog - Calliope's Domain - over at calliopedomain.blogspot.ca

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Jen DeSantis Week 22: Medea

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Jen DeSantis’ Choice: 2

Title: Medea

The man-child pleased Medea for a time. She’d taken him to her bed and he was good at passing the time, but he had strayed. He’d found another to fill his nights and Medea found her bed growing cold.

Her thoughts grew colder still as she planned the man-child’s demise. While he dallied with the other woman, Medea watched through the muslin. Her face twisted and contorted in rage, her true nature rearing its ugly head.

A scream broke the night’s silence as Medea’s former lover and his bitch saw her through the gauze.

“Goddess, defend us,” the mewling woman cried. “What is it?”

Medea laughed, her slender fingers gripping the fabric. She smiled as her nails cut through the netting and she saw their faces clearly. The woman cowered beneath the blankets, her naked form writhing next to her lover, angling away from Medea as she advanced.

“Do you not know me, my love?” Medea asked.

The man-child’s eyes widened in horror and recognition as he placed the voice.

“Medea?” he whispered.

“Witch!” the woman cried, holding up her hand in fear.

She tried to hold back Medea’s rage with her feeble hand, but it was no use. Medea would have her revenge.

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Jennifer DeSantis is a Horror and Paranormal Author and host of the #FridayPictureShow. She lives near Philly with her family. In her spare time is an aspiring ninja.

#DailyPicspiration

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ruth Long Week 21: Burn For Her

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Ruth Long’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Burn For Her

A spark neglected makes a mighty fire. ~Robert Herrick~

Bristow stood on the back of the ladder truck, pouring over blueprints. The building to his left was fully engulfed but the one to his right was still salvageable. Side by side burns didn’t fit the pattern. And since it was his job to find patterns and prevent further fires, he was beyond frustrated.

A half-dozen arsons in one month had shredded his reputation and put his career in limbo. The city was living in terror, the county fire chief had all but put a target on his back and the governor’s office had him in their crosshairs. Damn it! Why couldn’t he catch this guy? What was he missing?

A white shirt from the sixty-third prescient approached, handed him a missive and disappeared into the fray. He opened the envelope, and slid out a piece of paper that read, ‘Go out of service and prep for a hot drill in the occupancy.’

Shoving the paper into his pants pocket, he jumped to the asphalt, opened the back door of the truck and grabbed his gear, breezing through the doff and don in less than the prescribed minute.

Slinging a second bag and tank over his shoulder, he headed towards the building on the right. Didn’t know what he was walking into, but he wasn’t going to pass up a chance to negotiate with this guy.

A bulky man with sallow skin and ginger hair stood in front of the main door, fully outfitted in fire gear, helmet tucked under his arm. “Captain Bristow. So glad you could join me. Come in.”

Bristow was no hero, but he crossed the threshold, and found himself in a spacious reception area.

The ginger perched on the edge of a desk. “Take off your helmet but leave the tank running, Captain. That’s good. Here’s the thing. I’m feeling unconscionably sentimental today. Bad for me but good for you.”

“I’m listening.” And he was, intently, even as he was scanning the area for movement and mentally scrambling to figure out who this was,

“Gotta say, I’m a bit miffed you don’t seem to recognize me. We’ve known each other a long time, Captain. Going on nearly fifteen years.”

Bristow’s heart stuttered. Fifteen years. His first year with the department. He’d been twenty-five. Just back from active duty. If he’d thought four years in the military was rough as it got, the tyranny of arsons that summer taught him otherwise.

“I see you’re taking that walk down memory lane, Captain. Good times, weren’t they?”

The worst year of his life. He’d nearly quit the department. The loss of lives and structures had ended in one huge fireball, the mother of all arsons, and nearly killed him. That he’d saved a life in those last few moments was the only thing that levied the horror.

“By now, you’re probably arriving at the moment we met. Do you remember? It was face to face, over the body of a college student. A rather pretty young thing, wasn’t she. And you were so chivalrous, carrying her out of the building, careful as if she were a delicate china doll.”

He could still see her, crumpled on the floor like a broken and discarded toy, dark hair streaming across her shoulders, bare feet bloody and pierced with shards of glass. He’d carried her down three flights of stairs and out of the building.

“But she wasn’t the sweet helpless little baby-doll you expected, was she? Oh, you should have seen your face when you found out! Dark as it is right now, just remembering. She was the devil’s daughter, wasn’t she? And the bitch of it was that you burned for her, didn’t you, Bristow? Didn’t you?!”

God help him, he had. Hadn’t ever given into it. Hadn’t ever gotten over it.

“Now that I have your gut twisted up nice and tight, I’m gonna blow your mind. I helped save her that day too. Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true. And just as surprising is the fact that I didn’t set that fire. Man, if you could see your face right now! You thought it was me all this time, didn’t you?! But it wasn’t. It was the devil’s fire.”

No! That couldn’t be true! Why would the man light a building knowing his daughter was inside?

“Makes you sick inside, thinking about it, doesn’t it? I lost all respect for him that day. Probably was a good thing for us all. Kept me from burning all these years.”

Bristow could hardly get the words out. “How do you know all this, Watts?”

“I was there that day, tailing him. Wanted to learn from the master. Steven Knox. Arsonist extraordinaire. But that afternoon, he did something different, deviated from his usual behavior. He went upstairs, into one of the dorm rooms and put his hands on one of the girls. I didn’t understand at first. Started to believe that he was just some pervert using fire to cover his trail. Fires are one thing. Females are another. No way was I going to let him hurt her.”

“What did you do?”

Anger flashed in Watts stony blue eyes. “What any person in their right mind would do. Killed him, of course. The girl was unconscious, so I didn’t have to worry about witnesses. Only unpleasant thing about it was listening to him babble about how imperative it was that he eradicate his seed. I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to hear his neck snap. After, I started scanning the firefighters, looking for someone brawny enough to carry Knox’s baby girl to safety. You know the rest of that little scenario.”

Yes he did. All too well. The rush to the hospital. The days at her bedside. The revulsion of learning who she was and yet being unable to leave her alone and vulnerable to the inquiries and indignities. The pain of going his own way once the hospital and courts were finally done with them.

“I gave her to you, Bristow, and how did you repay me? By walking away from her. I don’t get it. What? You don’t like girls? You couldn’t get past her DNA? You were worried it was just Stockholm Syndrome? You know what? I don’t really care what it was because the bottom line is, you blew it.”

Was he really going to stand here and let this psycho lecture him while the building burned down around them? “Enough with the chit chat, Watts. Even if it all went down the way you say, and you didn’t have anything to do with the Gaspar fire, I know you set this one and the five that came before it.”

Watts smiled. “So I did, my friend. You have to give me credit for holding out this long. Only thing you care about is this job, so I was forced to burn you out of hiding.”

“What makes you think I won’t drag you out that door right now and hand you over to my superiors?”

His smile cracked into a jagged laugh. “Just a little thing I like to call love, and she’s waiting for you, three floors up, just like old times. But before you go, I gotta know something, Jim. Are you willing to burn for her? Because that’s the only way you’re getting up those stairs. I put her in your hands once upon a time but you cut her loose. So I’ll ask you again. Will you burn for her?”

His windpipe was constricted. “Yes.”

“If you go up those stairs, it means I’ll walk away a free man. You still want to burn for her?”

His skin was icy as the dead of winter. “Yes.”

“If you go up those stairs, you leave that second gear bag and tank here. You still willing to burn for her?”

His chest was a bloody mess skewered on splintered ribs. “Yes, damn you.”

“I hope so, Jim, because if you don’t step up, or if you back down this time, I’ll be the one to stand in for you and neither one of us wants that, do we? So, tell me. Will you burn for her? Because I will if you don’t.”

Bristow jammed on his helmet, automatically checking the tank time. Fifteen minutes to find her and get out of the building. When he looked up, Watts was gone.

He took the stairs fast as he could, fighting the weight of the gear, his body protesting every ounce of it, his mind shrieking against every moment lost. The fire was turning, was bearing down on him and it was all he could do to hold the panic at bay.

He burst through the third floor door and ran down the corridor, kicking in doors and searching for her, finding her at last, draped across an old desk, alive but unconscious.

He stripped down, ignoring the heat searing his skin and the smoke clawing at his lungs, and suited her up in his gear, tank and all. Lifting her over his shoulder, he headed back down the hall.

His skin was blistering and his lungs screaming before he hit the stairs. Rubble hampered his progress down the steps and by the second landing he could only keep upright by leaning against the wall, though it scorched his shoulder and forearm.

He made it to the ground floor before collapsing.

Strong hands lifted him, propped him against the wall and fed him air from a fresh tank. “Stay with me, Captain. There’s a good fellow. Steady now.”

Bristow opened his eyes, saw Watts’ face, tried to push him away.

“Don’t fight me, Jim. Let the oxygen feed your body. Better now? I had to stick around to make sure you followed through, didn’t I? Stop fussing. Adriana is fine. See? And you’re going to make sure she stays that way, right? Because we have a deal, don’t we? You burn for her or I will.”

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A reader by birth, paper-pusher by trade and novelist by design, story-telling in my passion. If you enjoyed reading today's story, please consider checking out my blog bullishink.com, joining my creative community sweetbananaink.com or participating in the madcap twitter fun @bullishink.

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

JB Lacaden Week 21: Rick Reilly

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JB Lacaden’s Picture Choice: 2

Title: Rick Reilly

The wind had that bite that signaled the coming winter would be a bitch. I sat on the curb with my collar pulled up and a paper cup filled with coffee cradled in my hands. Steam rose from it. Behind me came the sound of leather on pavement.

“I have kids I love, Rick. I have a beautiful wife. I don’t want to die early but if I do, I swear it’ll be because of you,” the baritone voice belonged to Tom Adelman. He sounded pissed, tired, letdown. He sounded like he wanted to be anywhere but here. I don’t blame him. I really screwed up that night. “I remember telling you, just this morning to be precise, to drop the case and move on. The McHale girl committed suicide. End of story.”

Joan McHale, the girl found lying dead on a park bench with a bloody wrist and a crumpled note in one hand. Homeless Mike called it in. I was the one who responded. I was the first one there. Joan McHale, the way she looked that day, that was something I would never forget. Joan was a very beautiful seventeen year-old. She was the type to win prom queens and be head cheerleader. She was the type of girl that every guy would worship. When I found her, even in death, the first thing that came to mind was how beautiful she looked.

I stood up and faced Tom. He was an old man, far too old to be the chief of police. But retirement was on the very bottom of Tom’s list (I doubt if it’s even on the list). Being a cop is in the man’s blood. I wouldn’t have it any other way though. Tom’s a good cop and a better human being. I fear at the thought of him leaving the force.

Tom sighed as he massaged the bridge of his nose. Deep wrinkles ran abound on the man’s face—like dried out rivers snaking here and there. He opened his eyes and looked hard at me. “Let me ask you this, Rick. What do you think happens to a man, a cop no less, who’s caught breaking into another man’s house and rummaging through their belongings?”

I took a sip of coffee and relished at the feeling of warmth spreading inside me. “They go to jail,” I answered.

“Yes, they do. Shit, Rick. I ought to take your badge and lock you up. The guy’s family wants me to! I want to,” Rick ran a hand through his salt and pepper hair. Then his eyes landed on the paper cup in my hand. “Hey, is that my coffee?”

I gave a nod and took another sip. “The car’s not locked and I knew you would have coffee.”

Tom didn’t say anything. He grabbed the cup from my hand and took a huge gulp.

“Look, Tom,” I began to say.

Tom raised a hand, handed back to me the empty paper cup, and started walking towards his car. I followed.

Tom’s car was a brick red, 1981 Ford Fairmont. The car was as much a legend as the man who drove it. The two have been partners ever since Tom joined the force way back when God was planning creation. Tom opened the door but didn’t step inside.

“You’re one of the best cops I have, probably the best. You’re a smart kid but you’re way too stubborn,” Tom sounded tired, really tired. It was the first time I heard him sound like his age. Guilt flooded in my chest. Tom looked at me—the hardness in his eyes had melted. “You’ll stay on the force but, please, drop the McHale case. Not every dead body out there is a murder victim. Some just grew tired of living.” Tom gave me a weary smile and a pat on the shoulder.

I watched the car drive away and turn at the corner. The wind blew knives through me. I took one last look at the house I just broke into—the house of Joan’s boyfriend. I dug my hands deep into my pockets and I felt the papers I stashed earlier—torn pages from Joan’s diary. Pages where some interesting stuff were written, stuff that hinted at improbability of Joan committing suicide. I tossed the paper cup in a row of bushes behind me and I started to walk away.

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JB Lacaden dreams of someday being a published writer. He currently resides in Manila, Philippines. He's a lover of comic books, science fiction, and high fantasy. Check out some of his works at http://www.jblearnstowrite.com/ and follow him at @jblearnstowrite.

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Jeff Tsuruoka Week 21: Redemption or Bust - There’s a Red House Over Yonder...

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Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Redemption or Bust - There’s a Red House Over Yonder...

Part 10


Sheriff Jones tossed me one of those instant ice packs when we got back to his cruiser.

My battered and broken knuckles sang a song of joy.

“Thanks,” I said. I looked my now misshapen hand over. “I don't know why anyone ever does that.”

“What about me?”

Sheriff Jones and I both turned around to stare at Wayne in the back seat.

He sat on the edge of the seat, leaning forward to make room for his meaty arms which were cuffed behind him.

“You're a tough guy,” said the sheriff. “You'll be all okey.”

Wayne sighed in disgust and sat back as much as he could manage.

My hand was in worse shape than his face, a fact that had me resolving to book some time with the heavy bag when I got back to the city.

Sheriff Jones started the car and drove out of the industrial park.

“So, Wayne,” he said, “you sure you can't shed any light on this ledger here?”

I raised the account book we found in locker number 1386 so he could see it. On its face there was nothing special about it. The thing was standard issue, available at any number of faceless office supply stores around the country.

It was the hand-written, coded entries inside the ledger that piqued our curiosity.

“I told you back in the warehouse,” replied Wayne. “I got nothin'. Never seen that before in my life.”

He did say that when Sheriff Jones and I showed it to him after removing it from the locker.

I believed him. He was not one of Jed Reubens' men. He was Marko's.

“I'm willing to bet Marko's never seen it either,” I said.

Sheriff Jones grunted and hit the gas.

The radio piped up.

“Sheriff,” said Mitch, “I've got Detective Holliday on the horn for you.”

“Nate,” grumbled Sheriff Jones.

He thought about it for a second.

“Tell him you can't find me. Tell him I went out on a call and I haven't radioed in yet. Tell him... you know what, Mitch? I don't care what you tell him so long as you don't send him to me. Are we clear on this?”

“As crystal, sir.”

“Good. Now sit tight. Things are about to get interesting. Jones out.”

He turned to look back at Wayne.

“Time frame's just sped up. That Detective Holliday you just heard mentioned? He's with the state police. They guy you shot, the one in the SUV? He was a cop. One of theirs.”

We took the next curve at high speed, without Sheriff Jones turning the steering wheel.

“It's like this, Wayne,” I said. “You can start telling us everything-- starting with where Marisa Reubens is-- and if what you tell us proves useful he'll consider not throwing you to the wolves.”

Wayne leaned forward in the seat.

“That so, Sheriff?”

“If I'm lyin' I'm dyin', Wayne,” I said.

“I wanna hear it from him.

“I make no promises until I hear a little of what you've got to say,' said Sheriff Jones, “but cooperation now will be remembered later.”

Wayne settled back and kept his trap shut.

“You've got 'til we get to where we're going, Wayne,” said the sheriff.

“Where is that, exactly, Sheriff?” asked Wayne.

Sheriff Jones didn't answer.

“We should get off the road,” I said.

“I agree, Jake, and I'm open to suggestions.”

“Good, because I know the perfect place.”

...


Sheriff Jones pulled into the far end of the Sunshade Motel's parking lot and killed the motor.

The sun was starting to come down. Everything in sight was either bathed in golden yellow light or cast in long, deep shadow.

Aside from two pickup trucks and a Thunderbird parked in front of Beau's we had the place to ourselves.

The sheriff rolled down the windows and all three of us breathed in the intoxicating smell of grilled meat.

Wayne waited until the last possible second to make up his mind to talk. He was just getting going as we hit the Sunshade.

“Listen,” he began, “I'm no choirboy but I'm not a cop killer. You can't drop that on me.”

I asked him where Marisa was but the man had a one-track mind.

He bleated more about how he wasn't a cop killer.

Sheriff Jones shot me a stare that said, “Play along.”

“You were in the Mustang,” I said. “You came after us.”

“So? You see me shoot?”

Sheriff Jones kept his eyes the lot.

“Must've been your partner then. That doesn't help you much, Wayne. It makes you an accessory at best, puts you in for felony murder at worst.”

“Wasn't him either! We weren't carrying the kind of piece to make that shot.”

“The rifle I found on the back seat says otherwise.”

“That crazy ass, wrinkled up son of a bitch.” He spat the words out like a bad oyster.

Sheriff Jones sat up a little straighter and threw a sidelong glance my way.

“I'll take that to mean it's not your rifle.”

“Damn straight it's not my fucking rifle.”

I ran a hand through my hair and looked to Sheriff Jones. He was still watching the parking lot. His color was a little off and his teeth ground out a steady rhythm. I didn't blame him.

“Just tell us what happened, Wayne.”

“It was like you said. We were coming after Vern, were gonna cut him outside of Danforth.”

“Why? Was it you guys he called from there?”

He looked at me with abject ignorance on his face.

“All right,” I said. “What next?”

“What next? Vern turned into a cornfield for no apparent reason. Didn't have the foggiest fucking idea why. You, of all people, know the rest.”

“Who shot Vern?” demanded Sheriff Jones.

Wayne smiled. It was not a pretty thing to behold.

“I think you know, Sheriff.”

“Speak the name.”

Wayne hesitated for a second and then gave Sheriff Jones the name.

“Riggs, Sheriff. How 'bout that? Your cop killer's a cop.”

Sheriff Jones let out a deep breath and cracked his knuckles. An expression of extreme mayhem flashed across his face but he managed to force it back down.

He got out of the cruiser and motioned for me to follow him.

“Not your fault, Sheriff,” I said. It was only half true and we both knew it but it still needed to be said. “You think Riggs could've done the shooting?”

“The man's a crack shot so yeah, he's got the ability. God damn it. I kept that man on so he could retire. I heard the talk that he might've been a little hinky on the Reubens thing but there never was any proof. Nothing solid.”

He needed a couple of minutes to pull himself together. I let him have them.

When he came out of it the chagrin was gone but the anger was still there.

“What the hell was Vern into here?” he growled.

“Could be just like Wayne told me back in the cornfield. Dough. A whole lot of dough. Reubens' dough.”

He shrugged and looked right past me, deep in thought. I let him chew on it.

I went back to the car and leaned in the window to talk to Wayne.

“You guys gonna square me with the cop killing charge?” he asked.

“Where's Marisa?”

“No, no, no, pal. You gotta give to get.”

“The only thing you're gonna get is a broken jaw if you don't tell me where I can find her.”

He said nothing. Fatigue and machismo duked it out behind his eyes. Fear stood by, waiting to take on the winner of the match.

“You're gonna have to trust me, Wayne.”

“Her sister's place. Marko's got her up at her sister's.”

...


Evangeline and Santo arrived while Sheriff Jones and I were arguing over what to do next.

She shot us a curious look as she hopped out of the El Camino and unlocked the office door. Santo followed her inside.

I was all for getting back in the car and making Wayne direct us to Rosario's house.

Sheriff Jones disagreed and when he couldn't slow me down with logic and common sense he hit me with the badge.

“You're working on this with me at my discretion. Don't forget that.”

He gave me the cop stare. I wasn't looking at his face but I could feel it.

“Here's how it's going to work, Jake,” he said. He could have been talking to a third grader. “I'm going to take Wayne into one of Evangeline's fine motel rooms and we're going to have a conversation. He's going to tell me everything he knows about where Marko Reubens has Marisa, what kind of security, layout of the property and house. You know, the kind of information we need so we don't get our heads blown off the minute we get there? When I'm satisfied that I have enough intel to go on I'm going to call in some backup and deal with the situation.”

“I understand all that, Sheriff. What do you need me to do?”

“I need you to relax, Jake. I know that's asking a lot right now but that's what I need. I know you got stomped like a narc at a biker rally and you're running on nothing at this point but if you're going in with me I need you sharp. So have a drink, take a cold shower, do whatever you have to do to get your head straight or so help me God I'm going to cuff you and you can pass the evening with Wayne.”

Not what I wanted to hear, but it was what I needed to hear.

I felt a little like a third grader. An armed, strung out, pissed off third grader.

I nodded my head and preceded him into the office.

He took a room key from Evangeline and went back out.

I dropped into one of the wicker chairs.

“Orion's a pretty smart guy,” she said. “For a police officer.”

She'd changed into a black tee shirt and a pair of faded blue jeans.

Her knees cracked as she sat in the other chair.

My blood was still up but the blind rage I was riding had been cooled by Sheriff Jones' demeanor and my desire to not spend the night handcuffed to Wayne.

“Should've known you wouldn't stay cooped up forever.”

“I got a business to run. Besides, shame on me if I let a couple of second-rate dirtbags roust me out of my own motel.”

“Tough broad,” I murmured.

She grinned. “You're not supposed to call us that anymore, Jake.”

“What can I tell you? I'm old-fashioned. Haven't you noticed by now?”

She gave me some more rope.

“Okey, what am I supposed to call you instead?”

She thought about it. Hard. It didn't do her any good.

“Tough broad it is.” She laughed. “It does have a certain ring to it.”

“Been curious about something,” I said, “speaking of tough broads.”

“What's that, hon?”

I sat forward, elbows on knees, and looked right at her.

“What did Jed Reubens to do spook you so bad that you wouldn't even give me his name?”

She met my question with stony silence.

I countered with a hard stare.

“It goes back to my fighting days,” she said. “It shouldn't surprise you that Jed Reubens had a hand in the underground fight game. Lots of money to be made if you're the guy in charge.”

I nodded for her to continue.

“The fights were held in various clubs around the state. Jed had a stake in most of 'em.” She took a breather. “There was this one fighter, big German girl, who was supposed to get knocked out in the fourth round.”

“That's one way to make a lot of money if you're the guy in charge. Did you have to play that game too?”

“I'm sitting here talking to you, aren't I?”

“Point taken.”

“Anyway, this woman's big and strong and they told her to make it look good ,like they always do. She makes it through the first just fine. In the second she made it look a little too good.”

“Oh shit.”

“Oh shit is right. Knocked her opponent out cold. It was just one of those things, just enough power in the exact wrong spot. They were waiting for her in the locker room after the fight and when all the bouts of the night were over Jed and a bunch of his boys took all of us on the card that night into the kitchen-- at gunpoint.”

She closed her eyes and grimaced.

“They made one of us tie her hands in front of her. Then they dragged her over to the deep fat fryer and plunged her hands into it.”

“Jesus,” I said.

“Jesus had nothing to do with it.” She opened her eyes. “We never saw her again after that night. They took her with them. During the whole thing Jed never said a word. He just stared at us while she screamed and flopped around. When it was over he just walked out of there by himself.”

“This sort of thing happen often?”

“Variations on a theme.”

I reached over and took her hand. She didn't squeeze but she didn't push me away either.

“Thank you,” I said. “For trusting me with that.”

“You told me yours.”

“Good for the soul, eh?”

“Not really.”

We looked at each other and laughed.

The door chime went off as Sheriff Jones stuck his big head into the office.

“On your feet, Jake,” he said. “We're on the move.”

Evangeline let go of my hand and I stood up.

If Sheriff Jones thought anything of us holding hands he didn't say anything about it.

...


The sheriff's plan,revealed to me as he drove, sounded solid.

Wayne was very, very cooperative.

Sheriff Jones walked out of that motel room with everything he went in for. He called someone in to keep an eye on the Sunshade and off we went.

He also called in the state police.

“No choice,” he said. “I need the firepower.”

“You and this state police detective always butt heads like this?”

“Nate? Actually, he's a pretty good guy. We haven't had cause to work together much but when we have it's been fine.”

“So it's just this case he's got a thing for then? I wonder why that is. Was he in on the Reubens thing? The Jed Reubens case?”

“I'm sure he was. Everyone who could possibly get in on that bust got in on it.”

I felt his eyes on my while I was working it over.

“Don't even think it, man,” he said.

“Why not? You have.”

He grumbled something inaudible.

The route took us through yet another area I didn't recognize. The road had two lanes and was more or less straight.

The sun was almost all the way down. All of the color was gone from the sky. Everything we passed-- convenience stores, old houses, the odd gas station-- looked bleached out in the dying light.

At least there was something to look at other than corn and wheat.

“He have any idea what Vern was doing?” I asked.

“Not that he mentioned.”

“What'd he say when you let him in on things?”

“He told me to wait for them to arrive before we moved.”

We passed one last house and drove by a long stretch of nothing before heading up a wooded hill.

“We're not actually gonna do that, are we?”

...


Rosario lived in a two-story country house high up on a cleared knoll.

The bright red of the house's exterior glowed in the last of the day's light. The visible windows on the first floor were all dark but the lights were on upstairs.

If Wayne was on the level we'd find Marisa in one of those upstairs rooms.

A long, straight driveway led right up to the house.

Deputy Riggs' cruiser sat parked just off the front porch, next to a brand new black SUV.

From our vantage point in the woods we could see two outbuildings behind the house-- a small shed painted the same red as the house, and a low gray brick structure.

We parked at the bottom of the knoll and hoofed it up through the woods.

Wayne indicated there was some kind of roving perimeter guard but we'd been there fifteen minutes and hadn't seen a soul. According to Wayne there could be up to seven guys on the property, including Riggs and Marko.

The woods provided us with good concealment but all approaches to the house would have to be made over open ground.

I was just fine with that.

I drew the Browning and took a step forward.

“Where the hell are you going?” barked the sheriff.

I ducked back into the woods.

“You see another way to get up to the house?”

He had no reply.

“Didn't think so.”

I started off again.

“Damn it, Jake,” groused Sheriff Jones. He stepped out of the woods and caught up to me. “This is the stupidest thing I've ever done.”

I shrugged.

“Sometimes you gotta do the stupid thing.”

“All right, all right,” he said. “But can we at least do the stupid thing a little faster?”

We picked up the pace and made it up to the porch without getting shot at.

The near total absence of noise was unsettling.

It made the crack of a faraway rifle and the zip of the speeding round that much more terrifying.

The sheriff and I both hit the deck behind the two vehicles as a second shot thudded into the cruiser.

Sheriff Jones drew his service revolver and cursed.

Now we heard movement inside the house. Footsteps, moving fast.

“We gotta get in that house,” I said.

He nodded. “Before whoever that is comes out.”

“On three?”

“Yes, but I go through first.”

“You're not gonna get an argument from me.”

We counted off the numbers and made a break for the porch. Another rifle shot whizzed by us as we climbed up.

Sheriff Jones' big right foot made short work of the door. It disintegrated inward right as one of Reubens' men reached it.

The sheriff blazed the trail. He ran right over the first guy in line and sent the second guy sprawling and headed up the stairs before either man could pick himself up off the floor.

Both of them were in black suits, off the rack, and each was armed with a .357 Magnum.

A boot to the head put the first guy out of my misery but the second man was going to be a problem. He bounced up quicker than I was expecting to and put two shots into the wall behind me.

I returned fire and ducked into a doorway just off the living room the sheriff and I burst into.

Furniture-- two small sofas, a coffee table, at least one ottoman, and a collection of end tables-- was a hazard to navigation in that room so I used the doorway for cover and stayed put.

Footsteps boomed overhead but I heard no gunfire coming from up there.

Another bullet hit the wall just outside the door frame. I waited a second and then risked a peek out into the room.

I couldn't see the shooter but I heard him moving around.

My eyes found the framed floral prints hanging on the wall opposite my doorway. The room was pretty dark but there was just enough light for me to make out the reflection of the shooter sidling along the wall, moving in my direction.

I moved the Browning to my left hand and waited.

My pal with the .357 lunged into the doorway, ready to fire, and didn't see me as I stepped to the side and tagged him with a right cross to the jaw.

His head snapped around in a way that made my neck ache and toppled down to the floor.

I collected both men's guns and tried to concentrate on any sounds coming from outside while the fight was still raging upstairs.

I crawled over to the nearest window and took a look outside but it was too dark to see much of anything. I was fine with that. It meant that Riggs, or whoever was out there with the rifle, had just as much trouble spotting me in the house.

The noise from upstairs stopped.

I walked over to the foot of the stairs.

“You all right, Sheriff?” I called up.

The bad feeling I had got worse as it became clear I wasn't going to get an answer.

I took one last look towards the front of the house and started up the stairs. I was halfway up when Sheriff Jones answered me.

“In here, Jake,” he said.

I didn't like the sound of him. He sounded hesitant and slightly muffled.

I climbed the remaining stairs two at a time and when I got to the top moved, Browning first, in the direction his voice came from.

The room was big and well-lit, with white walls and a big window. A telescope sat on a sturdy metal rolling cart in front of the window.

A bed with rumpled sheets was placed by the far wall, beneath an open window.

Marisa was not on the bed.

Sheriff Jones lay slumped on the floor, leaning against a chest of drawers.

The hilt of a hunting knife stuck out of his right thigh and he was bleeding all over the white rug.

I ran out and cleared all of the rooms upstairs then returned to the sheriff.

Sirens wailed outside as I knelt to check out the wound.

It was bad but Sheriff Jones was lucky. The knife hadn't missed the femoral artery by much.

“Marko?” I asked him.

He nodded. “He was waiting for me at the top of the steps. Got stuck before I knew what hit me. He grabbed Marisa and went out that window.”

I went to the bed and knelt down to look out the window.

It was no more than a three foot drop to the roof of what I figured was an enclosed porch on the back of the house. From there it was an easy climb down to the ground.

“I guess we should've waited for Nate,” I said.

The sirens got louder.

Sheriff Jones let out an ugly laugh.

“Yeah. Here he is. Right on time.”

I holstered the Browning and left the two .357's on the bed.

“Sit tight,” I said. “I'm gonna go down and let 'em know we're in here.”

He nodded.

“You do that.”

...


When I got downstairs the living room was flooded with flashing red and blue lights.

Neither one of Reubens' henchmen had regained consciousness.

I looked out the window.

The black SUV was gone but the police cruiser was still there.

Doors slammed and someone I couldn't see barked orders to people I couldn't see.

I stood still and watched a little longer, long enough to see a man with a familiar wrinkly face grimace as a state police officer put him in the back seat of a car.

I took a deep breath and walked out of Rosario's red house with my hands in the air.

They swarmed me before I could get a word out.

I was face down on the porch inside of ten seconds, disarmed, and handcuffed.

“Hey, hey, hey,” I said. “I'm with you. Sheriff Jones is upstairs with a bad leg wound. He needs medical attention. Now. You got two down in that front sitting room. Knocked out, not dead.”

Two very large officers hauled me up and planted my ass on the porch bench. Two others entered the house.

A pair of paramedics rushed in a minute later.

I sat back as far as I could and let the fatigue have its way with me. I had the feeling I was about to have a whole lot of spare time on my hands.

My reverie was disrupted by the appearance of a heavy-set man in a State Police windbreaker and a pair of good slacks.

He stepped up onto the porch and looked at me over the rims of a pair of tortoise-shell glasses.

He had my wallet in his hand.

“Jacob Tunner,” he said. “The shamus.”

He moved to offer his hand for a shake but checked himself when he remembered I was in cuffs. He took a seat next to me on the bench.

“Nate Thompson,” he said, “Detective, State Police. I hope you're comfortable 'cause we've got a lot to talk about.”

----------------------------------------------------------

Jeff Tsuruoka is an author in search of a writing career. He has found a home in the Flash Fiction circuit and is grateful to the blog hosts that give him the opportunity to get his work out there. You can follow him on Twitter @JTsuruoka and be sure to keep tabs on his weekly contributions to Daily Picspiration.

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