Welcome To the Neighbourhood

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Arlington Road

I ripped this off of some stuff going around the 'net. -Aaron



Klaus: The London job went off without a hitch, Leo. Once we land this plane, you will learn all about it

Leo: London job? What London job?

Klaus: Arlington Road, Leo. Remember the operation I called Arlington Road?

Leo: Yeah. The political thing named after the movie, right?

Klaus: Yes.

Leo: So what happened in London?

Klaus: When you watch the news, you will learn that up to four bombs went off in London, killing dozens and injuring hundreds. It will, of course, be blamed on 'terrorists'.

Leo: What was your modus operandi?

Klaus: My methods? Simple. The cover was a terror drill being conducted by a consulting firm we hired. They were given a scenario very similar to what eventually unfolded. We had them conduct the terror drills at precisely the same locations where we expected the bombs to go off. To add realism, we hired four young Arab-looking men.

Leo: Where'd you get them?

Klaus: We recruited them from mosques. Each of the men were given backpacks full of what we told them were 'dummy' explosives. They were 'red team', and we had several agents on the 'blue team'.

Leo: sort of like a cat-and-mouse excercise then.

Klaus: No, not really. The dummy explosives were delivered to the red team members the night before. They were given the train numbers and were told to board those trains. Also, they were told to carry identification in case they were caught. They could prove that they were a part of this excercise, the perfect cover. Red team members were given precise instructions not to lock their doors when they left. After red team left their homes, blue team were told that they were delivering the dummy explosives when the red team was already enroute to the targets.

Leo: So what's the point of that?

Klaus: To give the authorities something to discover.

Leo: So they left their doors unlocked so blue team could plant explosives in their homes, correct?

Klaus: Yes. Exactly. Part of the excercise required authorities to warn guests at the Great Eastern Hotel, near Liverpool Street Station.

Leo: Did it go off without a hitch?

Klaus: There was one error. One of the red team members was out with some friends the night before and likely slept in. He was running late and took a bus to the rendevous point. After he heard reports of the other bombs going off in the Underground, he likely tried to defuse the bomb. Already there are reports of an agitated man fiddling with his rucksack.




Related:
* 5 miles up
* Interview Interruptus
* Jocasta awakes
* Prosser meets the police
* Delta Smith
* Keith Prosser

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

5 Miles Up

The phone call had come at 3 a.m., exactly as Klaus had said it would. The call display showed no number, and Leo had a hunch that his phone records would show no such call had been made. It’s how it has gone down before.

Leo had just arrived at the small landing strip near the “Indian” Reservation. He always felt like such a bigot for referring to aboriginal peoples as “Indians”, but that is what they are called. Reserves. And they had Indians on them. It had taken him nearly two hours to get here, and the Cessna had already landed. Two men, armed to the teeth with what looked like an array of SWAT gear, stood outside the airplane and Leo had a hunch that this plane ride would be different from the others.

“Park the truck over there” said the man on the right. He had a terribly scarred face that looked like he had once flossed his teeth with barbed wire. He motioned to an area behind some large shrubs, 12 feet tall maybe. Leo started his truck, turned off the radio and maneuvered it in behind the shrubs.

“Cover it” said the other man, tossing Leo a large bundle of 3-D camouflage. “And make sure you tie it down well” snarled the scar-faced man.

Leo finished covering his truck with the large bundle of burlap and shredded rags and headed for the Cessna. It was black with a silver aluminum underbody and had a red, round circle on the tail. There was some sort of pattern, a rose or something in the detail, but Leo couldn’t pinpoint it. He didn’t want to look too untrusting. The number 8008135 was written in white just below it, Leo noticed just before getting patted down by the two guardsmen.

Leo was escorted aboard the plane. Inside it was sparse. It was cladded in riveted aluminum inside and featured two chairs near the pilot's cabin. The third chair faced the back of the plane and was situated inside a type of cubicle, also made out of metal. It had a television and a couple of speakers, and that was it.

Leo took his seat in the odd-looking cubicle and immediately noticed something. He couldn’t move his legs. As he sat down, the chair immediately latched around his ankles and knees, and one of the guards moved to secure a pin to keep the latch from opening. There were more even more straps.

“It will be a short flight” said 'scarface' as Leo had already designated him.

The chair was obviously there to prevent him from moving about the plane and the blinds were situated such that he could not see out the windows. Little use, though, as the window shutters were all pulled down.

After securing Leo’s arms, chest and legs to the chair, Scarface tripped the red switch on the cubicle, causing a high-pitched whine to emit from somewhere within its walls. Initially Leo had thought that the television was turned on, but it wasn’t.

“This will keep you from pulling any smart moves again, Leo” the scarfaced guard smirked.

Last time, Leo had figured out the flight path of the Cessna using his internal compass. It was something the tribes had taught him as a boy, and he honed it as a young man by riding in trunks of cars and guessing where he had been taken. His parents would yell at him whenever they caught him, but basically took it all in stride until he figured out that his father wasn’t bowling on Saturday evenings, but was in consort with a woman his mother had once called a whore.

The cubicle was obviously some device that Klaus had purchased or developed to prevent Leo from figuring out where he was being flown this time.

After the Cessna had climbed to 30,000 feet, the television came on and a figure appeared on the screen. It was Klaus.

“Get him his headset!” Klaus exclaimed, obviously yelling at the guards. Leo was surprised when it became evident that the headset seemed to have been made by minions of Dr. Moreau rather than Motorola. It was a hastily-prepared metal headband with nodes, pins, rivets, circuits and wires attached to it. As it was placed on Leo’s head, he noticed that the high-pitched hum of the cubicle had increased. It was louder.

“That’s to stop you from transmitting, Leo. It’s only you and I now, so let’s get down to business”.

“As we agreed, gentlemen” Klaus said, bluntly.

The scarfaced guard took a small red box out of his pocket and pulled out two needles. He handed one to the other guard, and they removed the protective cases from the needle tips. Within a split second, the needles plunged into their thighs and they collapsed in their chairs. Unconscious or dead, Leo hadn’t a clue.

“Leo, it’s just you and I right now. The plane is in auto pilot. It’s my new software, capable of flying any plane anywhere in the world from any one of my flight simulators. Your plane is actually being flown from Saskatchewan right now, Leo”.

Leo found that one hard to believe. And he’s seen a lot. Klaus seemed to be given to wild claims and meeting this way was his idea, ever since Leo hooked up with Jocasta. Klaus claimed that Jocasta could sense things, but that her perceptions did not extend to the upper reaches of the atmosphere. Leo and Klaus had been meeting five miles up ever since.

“I went to Zurich last week, Leo. I have sent the jewels to New York. They will arrive in one month. . . ”



Related:
* Interview Interruptus
* Jocasta awakes
* Prosser meets the police
* Delta Smith
* Keith Prosser

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Photo in the box

It’s been six weeks since we’ve moved and Gurpreet refuses to unpack all of her boxes. We’ve got a room full of what she calls “not necessaries” in liquor store boxes. I was hoping to be rid of Captain Morgan and his buddy Silent Sam by now. I tell myself that she’s just insecure about moving away from her parents. Moving away from home.

*

I don’t like moving. I know this now. I don’t like the packing, the unpacking, the focus on how much useless stuff I actually have. I don’t like not having my sisters around. They’re off living their teenage years and I’m not there to tell them that they’re doing it all wrong. Riti is just getting in to boys and Mahi refuses to get way from her studies. They need someone to make sure they do the right thing—without the iron fist of my mother. If only they would be home when I stop by.

*

I understand the lack of desire to organize your belongings, but it’s over a month already and she can’t be moved in until she has at least half of her boxes. Perhaps this was a mistake for her. This was swift and unprepared.

*

I did start unpacking. Honest. I did two boxes before I stopped. The third box made me not want to continue, though. I know he wants me moved in, but I haven't even moved out yet. How can you move out when everything you called home isn't able to be packed up into boxes small enough to load into a van?

*

I was hoping we'd find a place to own by the end of the year. Perhaps that is the stall. She thinks we'll be moving again and doesn't want to get fully settled. Maybe I should give up the house hunting until she's comfortable being in a place of her own first.

*



Do you have any photos, Mark? No, I mean of when you were a child. Where are they? Do you ever wish you had a copy of any of the pictures? Like the one of you in your grandfather's cowboy boots and diapers. I don't know; to look at? To frame? To go through and remember the smell of your first bedroom?






Gurpreet, did you bring any photos from your childhood? Can I see it? You were a bit of a mess, weren't you? That was your backyard? Nice. They all turn into supermarkets, don't they?

*

It was my mother's box. I must have grabbed it accidentally from the garage when I was loading up the van. on top was a sari she used to wear, before Riti was born. And a framed picture of me from the same time. There was a shirt Mahi wore in all her pictures that was shredded with love, and possibly garage mice. My dad's old hat that had seen better days was squished underneath a box of hair and teeth. Possibly the most creepiest, yet endearing, object a parent could possibly retain. It was my baby locks and the first few teeth of Mahi and myself. I don't know why she bothered labeling them with Ms and Gs in a black marker that was aging blue. My teeth were pristine. Mahi's were both laced with black from the time she fell face first onto the sidewalk when she was two and broke them. At the very bottom was my mother's attempt at keeping a baby keepsake book for me. I was too much of a handful by the time Mahi was born, and Riti stood even less of a chance, for any other attempts. It was feeble. She got through listing the shower gifts she received from co-workers and described my first birthday before quitting on me. I'm glad she chose to spend time with me rather than write about the toys my uncles would send from India for my first few birthdays. I know she's mad with me right now, and I would do almost anything to change that.

*

If I were more insecure I would think she wanted leave. Those weeks leading up to moving out were tense. I wasn't even allowed over to help her pack. It wasn't until our two month wedding anniversary that they invited me over for dinner. And that was probably just a ploy to make Gurpreet stay for greater than half an hour before fleeing from the tension. I didn't think I'd be a peacemaker as a husband, but apparently, if I'm not around there is a lot more burning glares.

*

Penpal

“Shit yeah.”

Oh great, Penpal's a poet.

“I seen ‘er come out the trees ‘n’ fall on ‘er face, man.”

I just bet you did, you cracked up son of a bitch.

“She was all cryin’ and bleedin’ an’, an’...”

And what, you worthless piece of trash?

"An' dat's when dat bigass hairy dude came out b'hind 'er."

So you can read, then. That was in the paper, Penpal.

"This motherfucker was naked as hell, man, an' 'e 'ad... uh..."

What, old man? Aces full of queens?

"The guy 'ad fuckin' tennacles, man! No shittin' ya!"

Okay, that wasn't in the paper. Paul Stevens chewed on his tongue for a second, and tried hard not to smile at the old-time cart-pusher.

"I know it's crazy, man, but I bin clean for a month!"

That's true; we checked your gear when you stumbled into the station, and it hadn't been fired up for a few weeks at least.

"Tennacles! What de hell is dat?"

Stevens leaned forward and put his weight on his elbows. Penpal flinched at first, but didn't back away.

"Look, Penpal. Imagine you're me," said the burly detective with as much bored compassion as he could muster. "You've got a known user who frequently gets picked up for disturbances and petty theft."

The old man's wide, panicky eyes shifted floorward.

"He claims some hairy half-man, half-octopus slithered onto the Seawall."

Penpal cleared his throat uncomfortably and sat on his hands.

"Then he says this," he looked at his notepad for effect. "He says this 'mutant-dude', to quote him directly, raped an old lady right there in plain view of seven passers-by."

"No man, this hairy dude didn't slither!" Wringing his hands, Penpal shook his head violently. "Naw, 'e kinda... floated in the air, man."

Stevens tried to look surprised. It wasn't difficult.

"Floated?" Just like Jocasta said. But...

"An' man, 'e didn' rape 'er!"

"No?"

"She was screamin' an' kickin' fer a minute," Penpal's voice dropped to a phlegmy whisper. "But then she went all quiet, man. I hid behin' a tree, an'... an' 'e..."

"Go slow, friend. What happened next?"

Penpal went as white as a sheet, looked to either side and leaned forward. He's terrified, and not of me. What the hell is going on here?

"Turn off the machine, man?"

Stevens reached over and hit the stop button on the desk recorder. We have got to update our equipment around here, for Christ's sake. Penpal leaned ever closer, and waved a bony grey finger to invite the detective to do the same. Stevens could feel the man's hot, unclean breath on his neck. I want danger pay for this shit.

Penpal whispered so low, Stevens had to strain to hear it.

"Come again, Penpal?" How the hell did he know that?!?!"

The bum repeated his statement slowly, and Stevens nearly fell down trying to get out of the room.

He closed the door and barked at the officer sitting behind the one-way glass. "Get Penpal locked up and put a guard on Jocasta Smith."

Officer Park only blinked. "What'd he say, boss?"

"NOW!"

As the junior cop fumbled for his cell phone, Stevens leaned on the glass to watch Penpal chewing his own bicep. "This crazy bastard's for real, and so is that bullshit Smith told us in the hospital."

His badge hooked into his belt, a shoulder holster loose underneath a mid-grade tweed jacket, he had one forearm above his head pressed against interrogation glass, the other planted on his hip. Stevens knew he was filling every police stereotype imaginable at the moment.

"There isn't anything cliché about this case, Paul," Stevens said to the empty room. Just like the god damn movies.

Penpal got up and moved to the glass, eerily putting his ugly, unwashed mug just four centimetres from the detective's ponderous face.

"And you, you wacky old fart, I don't blame you," Stevens said with wonder. "Anyone'd be nuts after seeing a Greek monster put a syringe in someone's eye."

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Tessa makes her move...

5:30 p.m. Friday

I have always been a pacer. Nerves are my battery power. Back and forth, back and forth. It's past dinner on Friday night and I'm supposed to go and get my pills from Jacob, but, I'm so freaking nervous. I feel like he could tell that I'm nervous and that makes me even more nervous. Nervouser? Is that a word?

5:32 p.m.

Maybe I'll sit for a minute, muster some courage. Maybe I'll just see what's on. OH! This is the episode of Oprah I've been waiting for, I better nuke some pizza and grab a throw blanket. I'll go over after Oprah. I couldn't possibly be expected to miss the 'Releasing Your Inner Sexpot' episode?

6:02 p.m.

Ok, I have to go now. Maybe he has plans for tonight and he's waiting on me. Maybe if I wait a few more minutes he'll go and I can just go and see him tomorrow. No, I have to do it tonight. I've wanted to be near him for months and now I have the opportunity I can't just be a wuss and go and wuss out, all wussy-like. I'm not a wuss. Ok, I'm just going to go and get changed and go over there.

6:34 p.m.

CRIPES. I don't have one thing in here that fits me right. Is my ass getting bigger? Maybe the sundress. No, that's too obvious. I have to look like I just stopped by and am wearing what I was wearing before, but good, better than good. Easy and beautiful. Maybe my tight black pants and that sparkly tank? No, that's not it, too hooker. Jeans it is. Jeans and my safety shirt, the one that makes my boobs look big and my stomach flatter. That's it.

6:48 p.m.

I can't cover this pimple for the life of me. He's going to stare at it and think I'm disgusting. I'll wear a band-aid and tell him I cut myself making a sandwich. Making a sandwich? I'm such an idiot. I'll just keep my face facing a little to the left. Maybe he won't see it. That's impossible, it's massive, it's like the size of my face. CRAP. *sigh*

6:56 p.m.

Ok... *sigh*... just walk. Left, right, left, right. Ok, now knock. KNOCK. Ok.

*Knock, knock, knock*

Oh, ok. I did it. Oh god, I'm so nervous. What do I say? I never thought of what to say. Maybe he's not there. Oh god, I hear something. Does he have a dog? Maybe he's in the shower. Maybe he didn't hear me.

*Knock, knock, knock*

*Thump, thump, thump. Click. Clank.*

Oh my god he's coming, oh my god, oh my...

"Hey Tess"
"Uh, Tessa, but that's ok"
"Oh, right, sorry again"
"It's ok, really"
"So, what's up hun?"

Oh my god, did he just call me hun, my face is getting hot. I hope he can't tell I'm nervous. Oh god, is he looking at my pimple? Face to the left...

"Um, well, I wanted to..."
"OH! The pills, right"
"Yeah"
"Listen, about that, I couldn't get them"
"Oh... oh, well... that's ok"
"If you don't mind my saying, I don't really think you need them anyway"
"Oh, ha... thanks, but they're not for me"

Good way to start Tessa, tell a lie. Dumb-ass.

"Good, cause honestly hun, there's no need"
"Ah, thanks"

Give him that look, bashful but sexy, head down, eyes up, keep your face to the left...

"Ok, well, thanks anyway"
"Hey, don't mention it"

Ok Tessa, walk away now, you're staring. He'll think you're weird. Go!

"Hey Tessa... have you eaten yet?"

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Stevens Trudges Forward

Detective Paul Stevens disliked the guy immediately. During his 18 years on the force, Stevens had gleaned considerable skill in sizing people up at a glance and these days, people rarely surprised him. As the he sat next to his wife on the plush leather sofa, Stevens knew that the skinny marriage counselor sitting across from them in the tailored grey suit with the red suspenders and platinum tie pin would prove no exception.

As was obvious from the elaborately decorated office, business was booming in the troubled marriage trade. The seventh floor office was lavishly carpeted and extravagantly decorated with fragile antiques. The room contained nearly a dozen large paintings; Stevens assumed that all of them were ridiculously expensive, for he couldn’t think of any other reason for them to be so brazenly abstract, ugly and stupid.

If this guy gave even half a shit about the couples that came to him for help, Stevens thought, he’d at least have the decency to stick his golf-ball-sized gold Piaget in his desk drawer before his clients walked in the door.

The dark grey clouds outside matched Stevens’ mood as he stared out the window while the counselor droned on. “As I tell all my clients, the path to a healthy, nurturing relationship and a fruitful marriage is paved with open and honest communication. Neither of you should ever feel ashamed to express your true feelings to each other.”

The grizzled detective chuckled at the statement’s inadvertent irony. The reason they were sitting here, after all, was because his wife Eileen had chosen to “express” her true feelings by systematically packing up her key belongings and moving in with her sister on the other side of the city. The timing couldn’t have been worse. This Jocasta Smith thing was plaguing him. In all his years as a cop Stevens had never seen a case like it.

On the surface the case was a straightforward rape -- Leo the middle-aged landscaper gets a sudden hard-on for some mature woman action and plies old lady Smith with a batch of Seconal. The party ends a few days later with Stevens taking statements and trudging through ankle-deep dirt, moss and muck in forest in Stanley Park, searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack.

But for Stevens, too many things didn’t add up. First, the timing was all wrong. Smith was missing for more than three weeks. She couldn’t possibly have survived that long drugged and passed out in the forest without succumbing to exposure. So where had the woman been all this time?

The second problem rested with the case’s only suspect, Leo Oliver. So far Stevens could find no specific motive, nor any physical evidence connecting the man to the assault. The rape kit results at the hospital were inconclusive; furthermore, Leo himself kept repeating the same vague story and swearing that he couldn't remember anything else. Stevens hadn’t pushed for a polygraph yet, but regardless the veteran cop sensed some truth in the man’s statement. When the uniforms picked him up, Oliver’s physical condition was nearly as bad as his alleged victim’s. And he had been genuinely scared.

Then there was the “thing” Smith kept rambling about. She was sure that it raped her, but it definitely wasn’t Leo. It was sort of like a bear, but sort of not. Sort of like a man, but sort of not. Sort of floating, but sort of not. Stevens just couldn’t put the all the different pieces together. Yet.

Now, on top of the increasing pressure for answers from Smith’s daughter -- not to mention that fucking reporter MacIntosh -- Stevens had to sit here and deal with a wife who felt angry and ignored and some pencil-necked psychotherapist who loved to listen to the sound of his own voice at $185 an hour. Stevens turned his attention to one of the paintings near the window. To the cop, the painting looked like the purple tail of a seahorse sticking out of the mouth of a dancing green-and-white hippopotamus outlined by skewers of vegetables amidst a cloudy aquamarine sky. But he supposed it could have been something entirely different.

“Paul?”

Stevens snapped his gaze away from the painting. “Pardon?”

“I said,” continued the counselor, “did you want to address that statement?”

“Sorry, which statement was that exactly?”

Eileen glared. “The one where I said I was tired of you not fucking listening to me.”

His wife didn’t give him a chance to respond before turning back to the counselor. “You see what I mean? I’ve been patient. I’ve been understanding. But I’m tired of being the mistress that comes second to your goddamn job.”

“So the job is the problem?” Stevens said.

“Stop being an ass. You’re the problem.”

“I’ve been a cop for as long as we’ve been married, Eileen. How come now it’s suddenly such a big deal?”

“It became a big deal the moment you started obsessing over your cases. You never used to be this bad. You used to leave all that drama at work, where it’s supposed to be. Now you come home all irritable and lost in thought. God help me whenever I try to ask you what’s wrong. Lord knows how you refuse to actually talk about anything.”

“You know I don’t discuss my cases. Why do I have to keep telling you that?”

“Since when does police work revolve around ghosts hiding inside bears and shapeshifting shamans and things? The few hours a day you come home, you either fall asleep on the couch or you bury your nose in one of your precious animation books.”

“It’s not animation, Eileen. It’s animism. It’s a completely different thing.”

Eileen made a disgusted sound and waved her hand in the air. “I don’t care what it is. I have to put up with a hell of a lot being a policeman’s wife. I shouldn’t have to deal with all this hocus-pocus spirit malarkey.”

The counselor leaned forward. “Is that what’s bothering you inside, Paul? Are you perplexed about the supernatural?”

“Look, it’s just a fucking case, all right? I thought we were here to discuss our relationship. That’s the thing that happens to be perplexing me at the moment.”

“Well Paul, as I tell all my clients, sometimes in order to isolate the problems in a relationship we have to take a few unexpected detours.”

Stevens held his breath for a moment as he clenched and unclenched a massive fist. He finally said quietly, “Is the hour up yet?”

“That’s right,” sniffed Eileen. “Bury it all away. Keep it inside. Typical.”

“I’ll tell you what’s typical...,” said Stevens. His sentence was interrupted by the shrill ring of his cell. Stevens fumbled to dig out the phone from his jacket pocket.

“You’re kidding me, right?” said Eileen. “This is a joke, right? You’re not possibly thinking of actually taking this call.”

“I believe there’s a sign in my waiting area, Paul, that suggests turning off all cell phones and pagers for the duration of our sessions. As I tell all my clients…”

But Stevens was no longer listening. He quickly scanned the number on the call display. Finally, he thought. This is exactly the call I’ve been waiting for.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

bump

Bump.
"Shit, Az, watch it Keith's been bitching about the noise."
"Urrpp, fuck 'im. Fuckin fachist. You know, you know, you know..."
And Az was out on her feet. Wes leaned her up against the wall and leaned againt her to hold her up while he flexed his shoulder and arm, it had gotten sore hauling her up the stairs.

He looked at her and saw how the norms looked at her; long scraggly dark hair that was usually matted at the back and allways hiding her face. She didn't bath often enough and distained anything girly that could be construed as maintaining her appearences. Her clothes were replesent with food stains and dog hairs. He never could figure where she picked up dog hairs cause she didn't have a dog, no one she hung with had a dog (as far as Wes knew). She never stayed in the same apartment for more than a couple months (that's when the rent would start bouncing and the neighbours would start complaining about the noise and the smell of garbage). She was incapable of holding any sort of work. She would get fired from vounteer work. Her breath smelled like asse. And, she was his sister.

Az started out as Sandra, with a soft a, and when she read "The lion, the witch & the wardrobe" she became fascinated with Azreal. She memorised everyline he said in the whole series. That may have been an indication of her future obsessive-compulsive behaviour. Wes started calling her Az as a joke and it just stuck.

Wes is 3 years her junior and has always been the older of the two. Az never seemed to grow past her fourteenth birthday. She has always retained her rebeliousness and found a devine calling at getting under everybodys skin and on their nerves. She had a talent for being an olympic caliber pain in the asse at the best possible times.
The summer of her fourteenth birthday was probably the turning point in their lives. Az was becoming a young adult and she was spending all of her time with friends, always skiping school, her tutors, band practice, dinner. Wes had gone to summer camp, after spending 2 months begging, pleading, and whining to his parents. It was kinda fun, some of his friends from school were there and one kid from the block was there with his crybaby little brother. The would spend all night devising ways of making the little baby cry or squeal to the camp counselours. But it was also kinda sucky, you had to do what you were told and if you wanted to anything that wasn't on the list of scheduled activities you had to get permision and beg on of the CC's to supervise. That and the lake was freakin cold.

When camp was finally over Wes was busting to tell everybody how awsome it was, just to rub their noses in it. All his friends were jealous of him cause of all the stuff he did at camp (although he did freely embelish most of it). Except for Az. She was like a different person. She was never a girly-girly like their mom or some of her friends, but now she seemed to ab trying to push people away. Her closet was almost empty. His mother said she had come home one night and burned everything in her closet in the bar-b-que pit and almost everything in her drawers before they had noticed and stopped her. She wouldn't say why and wouldn't talk to her friends anymore. If they came to the door she would say something sarcastic and mean then slam the door in their faces. She seemed to get pleasure out of actually hitting them with the door if they wearn't fast enough. And she would throw books at Wes if he came into her room.Their parents tried to pretend this was a phase and thought they hid their little conversations about "maybe getting her some help" from him. But he always heard, people forget kids hear everything.

Before they could get her to see a therapist, she got arrested for attempting to set a stray cat on fire. She hadn't actually done it, she just doused it with gas and was threatening to throw a match at it. The story was that she was trying to impress some of the "bad" kids in the neighbourhood but went too far. They only wanted to be seen as "bad" not actually be "bad". He read the pamphlets his mom hid in the side-board about schziophrenia. He understood what it was, but he couldn't get "why"?

Since then, he's always tried to look after her.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Interview interruptus

Henry MacIntosh came back from his interview with a headache. The story should have been easy enough to write: yet another woman victimized in a sex attack in Stanley Park. There had been a string of reported sexual assaults in and around the park over the last few months. Several women had reported a man had groped them as they jogged past, and one woman was grabbed by the wrists by a man who attempted to pull her off a trail and into some bushes. All had fought their attackers and gotten away safe. But this time, it wasn't a youthful jogger and the victim wasn't so lucky.

Henry sighed deeply and took a giant gulp of the lukewarm coffee on his desk. The office brew was awful stuff, but it was either that or spend ten bucks a day on his five-cup habit. With the baby on the way, there were more pressing uses for that fifty bucks a week, or so Penny insisted. No one goes into journalism for the money, but if it wasn't for Penny's salary Henry'd be lucky if he could afford to eat every second day on the lean, and often late, cheques he picked up freelancing. He still wasn't sure how they'd afford the drop in income when she went on maternity leave. Henry was on a temp gig at City Scoop, a new free bi-weekly locally referred to as the Pooper Scoop for its shitty content. He was filling in for a reporter who was herself on mat leave. Penny was hoping the paper would keep him on permanently after the contract was up but Henry was secretly glad there was an end in sight to the daily grind.

Henry set his tape recorder on the borrowed desk. It was made out of laminated particleboard and aging poorly. The thin strips of wood finish were peeling at the corners. When Henry wore knit sweaters they sometimes got caught on the edges, not only catching the yarn and pulling holes in his sleeves but also further destroying the desk's cracking facade. Henry prudently rolled up his sleeves and began reviewing the notes for his story.

Jocasta Smith was found in Stanley Park two days ago, a week after she was reported missing and nearly a month since the date she was believed to have disappeared. The 65-year-old woman appeared to have been sexually assaulted. Witnesses called police when they spotted her emerging naked from the trees, visibly battered and bruised, in the middle of the day.

Henry supposed he could write it that way. But there was so much more to the story.

Police had a suspect in custody, a man she apparently had a date with the day she disappeared, a Mr. Leonardo Oliver. Oliver was in town trying to establish a B.C. arm of his Winnipeg landscaping business. How he and Jocasta met was still a mystery - Jocasta's daughter cut short the interview and herded him out the door as soon as Jocasta started talking about the bear ...

It wasn't that unusual for the timeline in this sort of thing to be a bit fuzzy, Henry supposed, especially when a person wasn't immediately reported missing. As far as he understood, it took three weeks for anyone to suspect something might have happened to the elderly woman. No, what was getting to Henry was Jocasta's tale itself. It was, well, just plain weird.

He plugged headphones into the tape recorder and pressed play.

"... not sure just what it was, just a big dark shadow ..." Jocasta's voice was a bit distorted by the tape, hushed and brittle. Henry stopped the tape, tossed the headphones back on the desk and rewound to the beginning of the interview. There was no way he was going to write in the story that she thought a fucking bear raped her. Henry wasn't about to speculate about a mystery rapist either. There had been no official response to the media on the issue. The police would only say they were investigating, and the doctors that examined Jocasta were, of course, forbidden to discuss what they found.

The blinking cursor in the blank Word document seemed to mock him. Clippy the Office assistant squirmed on the bottom right corner of his screen. Three hours to deadline. The figures in Henry's bobblehead collection stared at him from atop the computer monitor. He tapped each one on its nose, first the emaciated chihuaha, then the Christmas elf, the pig with the maple leaf eyes (Canadian bacon, eh) and finally his three prized Canucks players, Bertuzzi, Naslund and Jovanovski. Creepy little fuckers, he thought, looking at the grinning, nodding gallery.

The tape recorder clicked when it had finished rewinding. Henry donned the headphones. His voice always sounded tinnier and more nasal than he heard it in his head.

"Ms. Smith, I appreciate your being willing to talk with me ..."

"Remember, 10 minutes only," the daughter, Delta snapped. "She's very shaken up. Remember, momma, you don't have to tell him anything you don't want to. Are you sure you want to give this interview?"

Henry remembered thinking the pain in the daughter almost seemed more acute than in the mother. Jocasta, oddly calm, just nodded.

"Thank you Ms. Smith," Henry heard himself say. "So, let's get started. What happened?"

"Well, Leo came over to cook me dinner ..."

Related stories:

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Jill and Ronnie

Ronnie nearly dropped her canvas grocery bag as she struggled to turn her key in the main door deadbolt, narrowly avoiding the sight of a half dozen pink grapefruit rolling across the dusty green faux-marble tiles of her apartment building’s atrium. Keith, the building manager, had welcomed her to call him if her key continued to be stubborn, offering to gladly get her a replacement. But nonetheless, nearly six months since moving into the three storey building at 344 North Avenue, Ronnie quietly persevered against the inconvenience. She didn’t want to bother the man, especially since he had seemed so preoccupied the other day when Ronnie had passed him in the corridor. She also didn’t want to give Keith the wrong impression. Mitchell had warned her on countless occasions to never trust handymen and contractors. Technically she was a married woman, after all.

The glass door had barely closed behind her when she heard the commotion down the hall. Ronnie turned the corner to the hallway just in time to see Jill Hudson, clad in her leather motorcycle wear -- Jill called it armor, Ronnie recalled -- pounding mercilessly on the door to her apartment. The tumult echoed through the empty corridor as Jill kicked the door twice with her heavy boots then bashed it once with her knee before yelling, “Fuuuuuuuuuuuck!” Then Jill spun around, leaned her back against the door and slid downward until she finally sat on the stained carpet, crumpled and breathless, her helmet and knapsack dropped on the floor beside her, two clenched fists covering her face.

Ronnie hadn’t moved even an inch before Jill sensed her presence and snapped her head up, quickly wiping away the moisture from her eyes. Jill stared at Ronnie. "What?" The acid in her tone made the word sound like a growl.

Ronnie instinctively clutched her shopping bag to her chest, as if she suddenly wished she could hide behind it. “I-I was just…are you okay?”

“I’m just fucking peachy,” Jill said. “I’m even better now that I’ve locked myself out of my goddamn apartment.” Jill closed her eyes and slammed her head back into the door, sending another sharp thump resonating through the hallway.

Ronnie took a few tentative steps forward. “Um…perhaps you could ask Keith to let you in?"

“Yeah, THAT’S gonna go over real fuckin’ well.” Jill said with a chuckle. “He’s not in his office anyway. I already checked.”

Ronnie said nothing more. She stood silent for a moment, then tightened her fingers on the straps of her bag and strode forward past the heap of angry black leather that was her downstairs neighbour. She had gone only a few feet before Jill called out.

“Veronica, wait. I’m sorry.”

Ronnie turned around. Jill still sat on the floor, staring at an imaginary point on the carpet in front of her. “I didn’t mean to sound like such a bitch.”

“Please,” Ronnie replied. “Don’t worry about it. It sounds like you’re having a pretty bad day.”

Jill made a muffled acknowledgement before falling quiet again, still staring at the floor.

Ronnie felt compelled to break the awkward silence. “If you want, maybe you could come upstairs and wait in my apartment until Keith gets back.”

Jill looked up. “You sure?”

Hardly, Ronnie thought. She mustered only a small nod and a vague shrug of her shoulders in reply.

“That’d be great,” said Jill. “Thanks.” Her heavy leather creaked as Jill rose and swung her knapsack over her shoulder. She slipped her silver helmet under her arm. With her lumbering motorcycle boots, Jill stood nearly a foot taller than her neighbour.

Ronnie offered a wan smile before turning to lead Jill up the corridor. Neither woman spoke until Ronnie had flipped the lock to her small apartment and opened the door. “Make yourself at home,” Ronnie said. “I’m just going to put these groceries away.”

Jill removed her boots and walked into the small bachelor suite, which displayed more than it concealed about its solitary occupant. The apartment was cramped, but tidy and well-lit; natural light spilled easily into each corner of the room, despite the dullness of the overcast sky hovering outside the glass sliding patio door and the large window next to it. Aside from the worn grey carpet, the suite was decorated tastefully; soft linens of medium browns, taupes and terracottas complemented the sharper burgundies of the matching sofa and loveseat, which barely fit along the inside walls. All of the furnishings appeared thoughtfully coordinated, save for only a behemoth leather armchair which engulfed an entire corner of the room.

Aside from a compact stereo unit in a rectangular, chrome-bordered shelving unit, the living and dining areas were crammed with walnut bookshelves, each lined with double rows of both hard- and soft-cover titles that ranged in genre from historical romance to how-to manuals on subjects like cooking, Yoga and scrapbooking. Atop each bookshelf, tiny ceramic elephants and other assorted figurines competed for space against ornate pewter picture frames, most of which contained images of a heavy-set, dark-skinned man with a mustache. In none of the photographs was the man smiling.

“Nice place,” said Jill, casually scanning the titles of one of the rows of self-help books.

“Thanks,” said Ronnie, as she emerged from the small kitchen. “I hope to get a bigger place soon. I’ve got quite a bit of stuff.”

“I know what you mean. My place is overflowing with crap. I never seem to get rid of anything.”

Ronnie gestured toward a black cordless phone beside the sofa. “I’d better call Keith. I"ll leave a message to let him know you’re here and have him call when he gets in.”

Ronnie scanned through her meticulously scribed address book and made the phone call to the building manager. Focusing on the task allowed her to momentarily calm her racing pulse. Why does this woman make me so nervous?

Jill unzipped her leather jacket, revealing a plain white t-shirt underneath. “Thanks. This is really nice of you, letting me in.”

“Can I get you anything?” Ronnie asked.

As Jill dropped her jacket onto the floor, Ronnie noticed her younger neighbour was far more slender than her armor made her appear. Lithe and athletic, Jill was different from the heavier, slightly rounder Ronnie who, though only overweight by perhaps a dozen pounds, constantly felt as if she would never win in the ongoing battle with her 32-year-old metabolism.

Jill considered the question thoughtfully as she dropped heavily into the cushions of the sofa. “Got anything that would make me really, really drunk?”

Ronnie stammered. “Um, no. I don’t really…I mean…I don’t usually have alcohol in the house.”

“I was just kidding.” Jill grinned. “Relax, will ya? You’re not about to be murdered or anything. I don’t need nothing. If it weren’t for you I’d still be sitting on my ass in the hallway, remember?”

Ronnie smiled and sat upright in the adjoining loveseat, fidgeting with the wrinkles in her floral summer dress. “So what happened to your keys?”

“Beats me. Had ’em this morning. Got back, fucking things weren’t in my pocket. That Wes guy from the first floor let me into the building, but I can’t get in my apartment unless I kick the door down, which I really felt like doing. Until you came along, that is. I think your timing saved Keith a shitload of work and me a great big carpentry bill.”

Ronnie smiled and looked downward. Her eyes fell on Jill’s jacket resting on the floor.

“Nice, eh?” said Jill.

Ronnie nodded. “I didn’t realize it was so thick.”

“It’s supposed to keep me from turning into a road pizza if I hit the pavement when I’m riding. Some people don’t wear ’em, but I’m not stupid. You ever seen what a guy looks like after sliding along the street for half a block? Trust me, it ain’t pretty.”

Ronnie said nothing.

“Want to try it on?” said Jill.

“Oh no, I couldn’t.”

“Hell, yeah. Try it on.”

“No, Jill. Thank you, but…”

Jill stood up and held the jacket open as if she were a valet. “Stand up.”

“Jill, please…”

“Veronica, I said, ‘Stand. Up.’”

Ronnie rose slowly and turned around, allowing Jill to gingerly slide the coat up over her back and arms. Ronnie was surprised to see her reflection across the room in the glass door of the stereo cabinet. She stood still while Jill adjusted the jacket’s fit, manipulating the various zippers and laces. Finally, Jill stepped back and surveyed the result.

“It’s definitely you,” she said.

The jacket felt like nothing Ronnie had ever worn before. She marveled at its weight, running her hands over each of the sleeves and absorbing the scent of the smooth black tanned cowhide. She could feel the thick padding hug her shoulders, elbows and kidneys. The jacket’s soft, inside mesh caressed her bare arms and the stiff racing collar tickled the underside of her chin. This was not just a jacket, Ronnie thought. This was strength; this was power. And she liked it.

Jill slowly reached forward, casually brushing some imaginary dust off the shoulder of the jacket. Jill then allowed her finger to slowly trace the path of the silver zipper down the front. “You know,” she began quietly, “maybe if you’re not busy this weekend, the two of us could…”

A sharp knock at the door interrupted Jill’s sentence. Ronnie blinked her eyes as if snapping from a trance and quickly slid off the jacket, thrusting the garment toward Jill as Ronnie backed away.

An instant later, she had opened the door to see Keith’s burly frame standing in the hallway. “I got your message,” he said flatly, then turned and headed down the corridor. Ronnie stood silently, holding the door open.

Clutching her jacket, Jill slipped on her boots and stepped into the hallway before turning to face Ronnie.

“Thanks, Veronica. I appreciate the help.”

“No problem,” said Ronnie quietly. “And you can call me Ronnie if you like.”

Jill studied the face of the woman in the doorway. “Nah. I like Veronica,” she said, and then strode off down the corridor toward the stairs.

She found Keith waiting outside her apartment, leaning against the wall beside the door.

“Now,” he said. “About your rent.”

-----

Previous posts in series:

Ronnie

Prosser Meets the Policy

Lee's Roommate

Jill Hudson

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Alice



Darkened city streets linger with the ghosts of the day, night has fallen and the pitter patter of rain fills my ears. Its 3 am and i am alone as i glide down the alleyways. They are absent except for a few stray cats, homeless and others like me wandering the night content in the emptyness. I pause occasionally to look in dumpsters and find treasures that others have tossed away. Some of the things i find i dont understand why they are unwanted, like the green corona shirt slung to the side of the wet dumpster with nothing wrong with it. Perhaps some drunk decided to get naked and run down the alleyways, or some one was ridding themselves of an old lovers clothes, who really knows either way if its useful to me i will stowe it into my bag and move on.

The rain is lightening so i pull down my hood and enjoy the light sprinkle; almost refreshing. Everything smells better after the rain comes. I stop an lean against the entrance to the alleyway, pull out my pack of cinnamon dentyne and place the remaining piece in my mouth. I adjust my bag that is growing heavy and change the tunes on my walkman. A trip to the store would be in order. As the sounds of Damaged Goods- Gang of Four hit my ears i hit the pavement and cruise towards my destination. Alone with the thoughts inside my head.

With the music cranked, flying down the alleys i dont hear the approaching car untill it is too late. To avoid the collision i jump off and roll across the ground, nearly missing being run over. Wheels screech and a tall balding man, dressed in a suit jumps out yelling at me, calling me all sorts of names, shaking with anger that i may of scratched his fancy new car with my board and no care as to weither or not i am ok.

"Fucken Kids!" he exclaimes as he gets back in then drives off.
I pull myself to the curb and sit looking at the new rips in my thights. I sigh and pull out the duct tape and repair them grumbling to myself about the human race.


I enter the 7-11 with the whirr of the automatic doors, not looking up as i know Mike is there watching me as usual. He knows what im about to do but never says anything just stares at me like a wounded puppy. He thinks i dont know about his affections for me but in fact i do, the matter is that i dont care. Though i know his wife does. I have seen them arguing a few of the times i have stopped in here and overheard enough though i pretend i dont know anything. It is easier that way. I head to the coffee, pour myself a cup of the dark roast, fashion on the lid and catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection of the window. Red dreads in a chaotic mess with bits of leaves stuck in it from the fall amoungst the metal bits i have carefully intwinded amoung them. A smudge of dirt across my cheeck and smeared eyeliner making me look like a raccoon about to become roadkill. I make faces at myself in the reflection, how charming i think before i walk past mike and out the door without paying. Sure you'd think hed stop me or care that i was stealing coffee, but it has been our routine. The first time he stopped me and got mad at me, making me give him the 80 cents or whatever it was. Now he just realizes its easier to just not bother me. I sit outside on my board sipping the coffee, as i lean forward to dig something out of my bag any passerby can see reflected in the windows mirrored mylar the words stuck in duct tape on the back of my jacket " wake up". Depending on my mood that can mean several things, something about socitey and the blindness they live in, or just literally wake the fuck up. Make whatever of it that you can, i often change the message as i see fit. I cant find what im looking for so i give up and lean back against the wall, brush my hair out of my face and take a deep breath.


I remember when things were different, when mom was still around and dad didnt drink so much. We used to be happy, we used to be a family, now it is just him and i. I wouls rather spend my days alone wandering the city then sitting in our house listen to him crying about her. Sometimes i think about getting out of this city and trying to find her, though im still unsure what she would say to me when i did find her. The thoughts linger there in the back of my mind. All the what if's, the how come's and the why's. One day i woke up and she was just gone, though i dont remember what set it off, it seemed like a dream. Its been 4 years now and ive grown used to it i guess, solitude and having to figure out things on my own. In many ways i dont mind but at the same time i feel there is something missing, alot of questions floating around with no answers.


I am startled from my thoughts by an old lady standing in front of me. White hair in a tangled mess under her oversized sun hat. Smears of blue and pink makeup, done half hazardly almost like a clown though i know that is not the intent. She is dressed in a pink ballgown and has no shoes on, she moves slowly pushing her cart with a duck in it out of the way. There is a sign on the cart saying "dont pet the duck, he might not bite, but i do!" Its clare, she bends down, taps me on the shoulder and tells me that "they are here", who they are i dont know but each time she has a message seemingly for me. Everyone i talk to tells me shes crazy, im not sure she is though. The things she says seem to ring true when i think about them. Its like she is more connected to the collective conciousness them most people. Often her messages tell me something that has not come to pass and sometimes she tells me things i have not said out loud to anyone. I thank her and she moves on down the street. I watch her wander further and further away as i sip at my coffee. I shrug my shoulders as she passes out of sight and get up to move on. It has gotten much later and twilight morning hours are apon us. I decide to skate to the skytrain station at main and go sit and watch the sunrise as there is a good view from there.


When i arrive at the station it is just opening up and the skytrain officer eyes me up as i purchase a ticket and climb the escalator. The station is empty except for a few groggy eyed people heading to their workplace, i assume and the hungover heading back to the burbs after a weekend of partying. I take a seat on one of the benches and sit and watch people wander past. They pace and grumble while waiting for the train to come, always in a hurry. I turn up my walkman and wait for the sun to rise. Below on the street i can see the traffic starting to build up as mondays early morning rush beggings, squiggie punks trying to make a few bucks off the cars, and homeless sleeping in the park covered with wet cardboard boxes and liter from the night before. The rain has fully stopped and the sky is becoming bright. As the sky changes from a mellow light to the bright light of day i realize i have been sitting there for way to long. I stand up board in hand and head back down the escalator. Time to head home, its not far and my neighboorhood streets are still fairly empty. I skate, relaxed and content as i know sleep will come soon. As i look at my shadow i see my hair sticking out of my hood, it looks like the intennae of some strange cockroach as i glide down the street blowing in the wind.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

A girl named Sparrow

I sat nervously at the table, nursing a latté and admiring her honey-coloured hair. Her eyes sparkled tentatively, hesitant freckles dotting the bridge of her nose.

It was an hour before I realised, she spoke without pause, seeming not even to draw breath. Those eyes, that nose – they were the only shy things about her.

“Everyone keeps talking about this ‘SkyTrain.’ I was like, ‘I haven’t seen it, and I drive,’ you know, like, ‘where is it? I see the sky, sure, like, but y’know, where’s this train you speak of, dude?’”

It was like those Tibetan throat singers who chant continually, using mystical, alternative breath control to keep a constant, droning tone for 30 minutes.

“I turned off the stove, you know, like totally turned it off, and everything, and went to watch this completely hilarious show on TV, that I like never miss, and by the time the show was like, half-finished, the fire alarm went off, and I was like, ‘what is that?’ You know, totally ‘Am I hearing something?’ because we’ve like never had like a practice drill or anything, so I went downstairs, totally to the street corner and everything and I was utterly freezing for like an hour before the fire department decided it was time they came and like wouldn’t let us back in until around like four a.m. or something like that and they like asked to speak to me, like, oh my god, I was like, ‘Like I’d date a fireman,’ y’know, and my roommate was like, ‘Like a fireman would date you,’ and she’s such a bitch sometimes, and like it was hilarious, you know, cos the cookies kept cooking even though the oven was totally off, you know?”

Constant, droning tone.

Like bagpipes.

“Spooky, don’tcha think?”

It had been so long since I’d been invited to take part in the conversation, I’d forgotten how to speak altogether. My larynx had devolved into a vestigial organ, without use or purpose. Teams of scientists had formed committees, written papers and wasted millions in government grants trying to establish the biological function of what remained of my voice box. The sternocleidomastoid muscles – the ones that wrap forward from the base of the jaw to the front of the sternum – had atrophied so dramatically that moving my head from side to side took both hands and nearly all of my effort.

At one point, what had once been my vocal cords had become little more than nerve ganglia – they inflamed and threatened to burst; a top ear, nose and throat surgeon had to be flown in from Bavaria to perform the tricky operation, cleverly transposed from a text book appendectomy. Through weeks of intense physiotherapy, however, I’d learned to communicate using a complex system of hand gestures, clicking noises and knuckle cracking; while I’d waited several lifetimes for her question, she didn’t have to wait long for a response.

Click crick wave, snappity crack clap.

“That’s so sweet!”

Shake click.

“That reminds me of this vacuum cleaner I had a while back, like, so worthless, you know...”

And that, Sparrow, is how I met your mother.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Scion

He looked out north over Burrard inlet and tried to remember why he preferred his Yonge St. office in Toronto. It was a wet, uninspiring Vancouver day as the rain lazily fell from the sky on the inlet and the city and Stanley Park in the distance on his left. The clouds merged into the North Shore mountains like a blanket of raw unbleached grey wool. He put his hands in the pockets of his navy blue suit pants and stared across the water to the rotating capital letter ‘Q’ that signified the Lonsdale Quay public market. It was a grey day but the inlet wasn’t sufficiently broad to obscure this popular landmark from view as the dutiful citizens of metro Vancouver chugged across the void on the equally long-suffering pair of SeaBuses that linked the expanse for the benefit of the commuting public.

The Cordova Street office was big and open but the concrete honeycomb nature of the design made the whole floor seem cold, damp and enclosed. He raised his hand and rested it against the floor-to-ceiling window and sighed wearily.

“I almost wish I could bring the whole operation here, Lowell,” he said with his back turned to the other man. Lowell sat on the corner of the desk with his suit jacket off, his wine-coloured tie loose and his shirtsleeves rolled up in wide bands. The thin red stripes in the fabric jogged off at an angle incongruous with the rest of the cleanly pressed shirt.

“Almost? Say what you mean Ted,” he responded.

“No. You’re right. I wish I could just bring it all here. Since Brenda and I …. Since the divorce, it has all seemed so pointless. At the office in T.O. I am just going through the motions and that is no way to run a business, Lowell. Sure I’m just the senior partner. They don’t really need me to do the day-to-day, but I need to be at headquarters and that is Toronto.” He looked back towards to middle of the room, to Lowell and the tastefully appointed executive office. “Still, even when it’s dark here, it seems light, you know?”

“You will always have an office here Ted,” Lowell reassured, “even if it is just for your visits. Besides, I prefer you far away. It gives me a job. Not much need for an executive regional manager if the Chief de Chief is across the hall, eh!”

“Regional manager.”

“Huh?”

“It’s regional manager, Lowell. Don’t give yourself pretensions. I’ll decide what I haven’t got much need for and what I do, and right now you are my regional manager.”

“Uh, right, Ted. I just meant that…”

“That’s fine Lowell. Go home, will you. You don’t have to baby-sit me. I’ll be fine.”

Lowell left and closed the lightly varnished oak door behind him, wondering how he could repair what he had thought was an increasingly personal relationship with Mr. Theodore M. Oliver of Oliver, Beauchamp and Cohen: Barristers and Solicitors specializing in patent and copyright law.

Ted didn’t know why he did that. He didn’t know why he reached out and pushed away simultaneously. He didn’t feel bad for Lowell. He was what he was and part of him just had to ingratiate himself. He felt bad for himself. He had almost no one now. Just work, Just the work and…the others.

Ted turned again and looked back across the water to North Vancouver. It always seemed to him like he was coming home. Even after all those years since law school and articling in Toronto and his career. When he had his chance to go out on his own and start his own firm, that was in Toronto too, but his home was here somehow. He had insisted on starting a branch in Vancouver and it was he alone who oversaw its operations.

Theodore Oliver grew up in Vancouver in unique circumstances. His father was a carpenter and had enlisted in the Westminster Regiment during the war. He was killed at Monte Casino, fighting the Germans up the spine of Italy. Ted and his infant brother had been sent to live with his father’s employers when his father was shipped out. His mother had died during the birth of the younger son. It was a singular arrangement. Don Carlos and Isabelle Castel-Franco had fled Spain for exile in Vancouver during the Spanish Civil war and had lived in a sprawling Victorian mansion, renovated by the talent and skill of Ted’s father.

Ted and his brother Leo had lived there with their father and lived there still after his death. Playing among the heavily religious and grotesquely divine paintings, sculptures and icons, he and Leo had and austere and cloistered upbringing. Whether it was in deference to his father’s Protestantism or the Castel-Franco’s indifference, they were not subjected to what Ted first thought of as their guardians’ Catholicism. The Castel-Francos were patrons more than parents, funding the best schools, the best tutors, piano lessons, membership in the Locarno Sailing club, a bachelor’s degree at the University of British Columbia. And then the law and Toronto. The only truly human part of their interaction had been the food. The Castel-Francos spent almost all of their free time and social energy on food and entertaining. On her death, Isabelle had even written out the family recipe for Spaghetti Castel-Franco (Cadiz Seafood Pasta). He remembers it written out in her immaculate hand.

1 lb minced large scallops
2 heads fresh parsley, minced
10 large cloves garlic minced
1 TBLS dried oregano
1 cup fresh sweet basil, minced
2 TBLS good extra virgin olive oil
2 pats butter
1 lb Golden Grain Vermicelli
4 heaping TBLS grated parmesan or reggiano cheese plus more for passing at the table

At the time he had read the cooking instructions that followed with tears in his eyes. This was as personal as he could imagine Isabelle to be at the time. It was only later that he would read more in her cursive, careful hand.

Where Theodore was diligent and dutiful, Leo was impulsive, moody and rebellious. From an early age he seemed disconnected from the Castel-Francos. He mocked their nobility and chaffed under the school uniforms and choreographed success that they bought for him. Ted never understood it but guessed it was the working man ‘proletariat’ gene in his father that made the teenaged Leo break out and head east. Ted had always kept in touch and treated Don Carlos and Isabelle with gratitude and tenderness but Leo had never looked back. Ted hadn’t heard from him in thirty years, not since he told Leo that Isabelle had died and Don Carlos the year before. Leo didn’t care. He barely cared about the $800,000 they had left him as a legacy. Leo had paid for his rebellion though. He hadn’t got them. He missed out on the others and the book.

Ted watched the rain streak down the window and he turned to the desk and called down for the car to pick him up. He threw his blue wool overcoat over his shoulders, cleaned his glasses. Out of his desk he withdrew an old leather folder with his initials embossed in gold on the bottom corner and an image of a rose embossed in the centre. It had been given to him by the Castel-Francos’ lawyer after Isobel had died. Still, in it was the now-yellowed letter and the cold chain with the rose pendant. He cherished the letter but he would need the chain tonight.

Jocasta awakes

I woke up naked, shivering on a mass of sodden leaves, a giant yellow slug oozing over the ground right next to my face. I lay on my side, knees tucked up to my chest, hands folded over my heart. My nipples were stiff with cold, my skin covered in goosebumps. My limbs felt like hard plastic, like the dolls I played with as a child whose arms and legs would crack if you tried to force them to bend. I ached all over.

The slug oozed closer to my face. Disgust urged me to sit up, and I heaved my stiff old body up onto my knees. I immediately wished I had heaved more gently. The dizziness nearly made me fall back down, but I put a clumsy hand out just in time, nearly squishing the banana slug. Suddenly I had a vivid picture in my head of slug guts squishing out from under my palm. I vomited on the slug.

My head was pounding, but I forced myself to stand up. I saw beetles and wood bugs crawl among the leaves where I had slept. I combed my tangled hair with icy fingers, shaking loose ants and bits of plants. I wondered when I let down my hair.

I looked down at my body, streaked with dirt, plant stains and blood from dozens of shallow cuts. I wondered what happened to my clothes.

My brain felt as though it was moving at the pace of that slug.

Blackberry bushes ringed the glade. From the looks of some of the cuts, I guessed I must have blundered through sometime the night before.

I tried to remember how I came to be there, but my scattered memories were pearls from a broken necklace. I despaired of ever stringing them back together.

Sizzling scallops in a pan; Leo seared them before adding them to the seafood fettucine. An old family recipe, he said. He cooked me dinner, even did the dishes before pouring us each a second glass of red wine. We talked about feeling lonely, about missing family that's far away.

Leo's eyes, dark mirrors gleaming in the candlelight. I half-expected to catch my reflection in his gaze. For no reason I can say, he reminded me of my ex-husband just then, though Leo's shoulders are narrow and Richard's are broad, though Leo is short for a man and Richard so tall he had to double over to kiss me.

I didn't want to leave without washing the wine glasses. We'll do them later, he told me.

Outside, a balmy night, too warm for early spring. I looked up at the full moon. It seemed to dominate the sky. I thought then, as I always do, that the sky looks strange with so few stars. I pleaded with Leo to take me someplace where the sky wouldn't seem so empty.

We wandered through the shadowed city. Hungry eyes stared at us from nests of salvaged blankets in alleys and under awnings. One feral man staggered past Leo and me on the sidewalk, muttering curses. Leo put his arm around me. I felt safe.

Walking past Lost Lagoon. A skunk watched us from the edge of the pond as we entered the woods. Inside it was black. I stumbled over every root and rock, but Leo was surefooted. He held me steady and led me through the path.

Deep among the trees I was blind, but Leo's warm, thick fingers were a comforting pressure on my arm. He kissed me among the pines. It had been a long time for me, but my body listed towards his just as it did for Richard when we were young.

Suddenly I was alone. I called out for Leo but he didn't answer. I heard twigs snap underfoot, somewhere to my left. I tried to follow the sound, but I tripped over the uneven ground and my ears played tricks on me. I started to sob. A big black shadow appeared before me.

"Leo?" I whimpered. "Is that you?"

I heard a low growl and I ran.



Related stories:

A Family Emerges: Mark, Gurpreet and Rajah Ashworth

Lee mentioned he was going back at the end of his schooling when they first moved in together. He liked Canada, but after being a student for the 6 years before and with another 2 remaining, he missed his parents and older brother. It wasn’t as though Mark had no notice when he packed his boxes. And there certainly wasn’t a custody battle to be won.

Mark had saved up nicely by having a roommate while working full time as a roofer. As one of six children in his family, he wasn’t interested in ever living on his own. The silences of the first few nights in which Lee had class or volunteered drove him to wander the streets until Lee was scheduled for return. Mark was certain that Lee’s sudden desire to get a golden lab puppy was not a selfish act. Mark only needed to be convinced as to why Lee’s dislike of dogs vanished so quickly.

When the young pup arrived, they had settled on the name Stalin until Mark’s then-girlfriend insisted that the puppy was far too affectionate and loved for such a violent name. Instead, she began calling him Rajah and the name stuck. Not only did Rajah create excuses for Mark when he was tired of being alone, but also ensured that there was no “alone”.

Mark spent the months after Lee’s announcement that he was graduating at the end of spring looking for another person to move into the ground floor of the house he lived in, only minutes from the school. After repeated failed attempts to get someone to move in at the beginning of the summer, he realized that the only person he wanted to live with was his girlfriend. She wouldn’t be available in the month and a half’s notice he was ready to offer her.

Her family would want marriage before she moved out; and ideally not with Mark. Mark had some rough spots when he and Gurpreet were first dating. He went out of his way to please her parents, but it wasn’t ever enough. She and her parents came to a deal in which she could see Mark, but not talk about him to her sisters unless it was about “just a friend”. It was an arrangement that she appreciated, but Mark protested. Gurpreet won out in the end and Mark was restricted from affection with her in her house.

The proposal was brief and over a coffee on Sunday morning. There would be an elopement with a Marriage Commissioner when he had a spot available in the week. Lee and Jill were to be present as witnesses. She still wanted the full wedding in a year’s time and that only her family was to know of the technical marriage.

With her parents unable to undo what was done, the fact that it was done to appease them and the excitement of the eldest daughter getting married, the blazing anger only lasted the weeks in which Gurpreet prepared for moving out.

To her confused sisters, it looked as if she eloped to a good friend.

Admin note

A few people have expressed concerns about keeping track of who's doing what in terms of story threads. I've made a post (now linked from the sidebar, along with Troy's character chart and plot convergence) where we can leave a comment "claiming" a character or plot thread we're working on right now.

This method okay with everyone? If it's not working after a bit we can try something else, but I want to try and keep the main blog page story-focused as much as possible.

The other thing I was thinking about is that maybe when we write a story that draws from previous stories we can include permalinks back to the originals at the end of each piece. That way it's easier for people to follow the story threads backwards. What do you think?

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Ronnie

Ronnie had never liked the nickname her husband had given her. All her life she'd gone by Veronica, but within a week of dating he'd started calling her "Ronnie" and she was too infatuated with him to say anything. Now, six years since their wedding and eleven months into their trial separation, she still uses the name as a reminder of him. As if it'll bring him back.

She'd moved into the neighbourhood five months ago, as a necessity. Her husband had left her with both the house and the mortgage, and she had been unable to continue payments with her single salary. The bank had forclosed on the mortgage, and she had had to move into a bachelor suite with as much of the furniture as could fit inside. She had gotten rid of the dining set and many of her books, but had kept his leather rocking chair because its smell reminded her of him. Because she could still picture him sitting in it and reading his newspaper, as he had done every evening.

Ronnie felt that his leaving really was only a trial, a trial for her to become a better person. She realized that she hadn't been as good a wife as she could've. So now that she had this free time she busied herself with self-improvement. She took classes on cooking, on sewing, on many of the things she'd seen her mom do as she was growing up. She practiced yoga every day in her apartment, pushing aside the furniture to make room for her mat. She wasn't losing the weight she had wanted to, though, so she started cutting back on food, and the pounds had dropped. She was tired a lot, but she thought it was worth it for when her husband came back to her.

Having lived in her apartment nearly half a year, she still had yet to know her neighbours. The building manager Keith liked her because she paid her rent on time, but because of this he'd never had any reason to call on her and so their conversations were reduced to greetings in the hallway. She smiled at everyone she passed on the street (she had read somewhere that men preferred their wives to be cheerful at all times) but she didn't want to bother them with talk. Mitchell had liked her best when she stayed at home with him, so she'd lost the art of making friends. All of her friends had been his first, and she hadn't heard from them just as she hadn't from him.

The only other person she knew by name in the building was Jill, who had introduced herself when Ronnie first moved in. Ronnie had been polite in return, but she otherwise declined the younger woman's invitation for Irish coffee. Not that Jill didn't seem like a nice person, but Ronnie couldn't understand her. What sort of woman doesn't want a husband? What sort of woman would have muscular arms, and ride around on a motorbike, as if she were a man? Ronnie was well aware of homosexuals, and Jill had declared herself one when they had first met, but still her presence had a negative effect on Ronnie's emotions.

Ronnie refused to admit to herself that it was envy she felt.

Character Concordance

Here's the Character Concordance (last update: 5:26 pm May 30, 2005)

Here is the Plot Convergence (last update: 5:26 May 30, 2005)

Cheers,
Troy

The Book

Oak Island, Nova Scotia. April, 1901

The Oak Island Money pit. It lies on one of two islands at the mouth of the Gold and Gapreau rivers, the only place in Nova Scotia where oak trees grow. Some say pirate treasure is buried here; others, the secrets of the Knights Templar and the myth of the Holy Grail, the legendary chalice used by Christ at the Last Supper from which the nectar of everlasting life flows. On April 1, 1397, a Scottish Lord named Henry St. Clair, or Sinclair, of Rosslyn, landed his boat near this place, beating Christopher Columbus to North America by almost 100 years. The Miq’Maq Indians have his legend incorporated into their history; he is known as Glooscap.

"Glooscap was the first,
First and greatest,
To come to our land -
Into Nova Scotia...
When the Master left Ukakumkuk,
Called by the English Newfoundland,
He went to Pictook or Pictou,
Which means the rising of bubbles,
Because at that place the water is
Ever strangely moving,
There he found an Indian Village
A town of a hundred wigwams."


- Frederick Pohl, Prince Henry Sinclair

The men sat in their sweat lodge underneath the Oak trees this evening, pounding on drums and wailing to the Great Spirit in search of a sign. Their Chief, who had taken ill, lay near the heated rocks to the left of the small shelter, which now sheltered the stout Chief and six of the tribal leaders for this evening’s rituals. The moon, full, was obscured by clouds and a dense, chilled fog. Although the sweat lodge contained seven of them, they felt a sudden blast of cold move up and down their bodies as a black bear walked through the door of the makeshift hut. As the bear entered the wigwam, none of the elders felt the remotest sense of alarm. The bear was tremendous; as the light of the fire was glimmerring off of his black coat, the Chief heard these words:

“The child”.

The bear sniffed the dirt below its feet and snorted loudly. Its eyes welled up with rage. Then, without warning, the bear took on a human form.

North Vancouver, that same evening:

The bloodline. Few people, save for the Inner Sanctum of the Brotherhood knew about it, and the spring festival of Walpurgisnacht, which fell on April 30 was fast approaching. This night, far away from the events in Oak Island, they gathered in the grotto, a small clearing amongst the old-growth cedars, just a few hundred yards from what is now known as Lynn Canyon. The site was ancient; the trees harnessed the energy of the wind and sea currents and flung it upwards to the stars. A fire roared amongst the stones in the middle of the grotto and thirteen hooded figures surrounded it, each clutching a cedar bough as they hummed in unison. One hooded figure read from a heavy book and then broke into a chant. The rest followed.

Regina, caeli, laetare, alleluia:
Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia,
Resurrexit sicut dixit, alleluia.
Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.

Gaude et laetare, Virgo Maria, alleluia,
Quia surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia.


When they had finished, they had a moment of silence.


The hooded figure who read from the book began to read; this time in English.

“Let us pray.

O God, who gave joy to the world through the resurrection of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ; grant, we beseech Thee, that through His Mother, the Virgin Mary, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.”


Regina Caeli. The song was Gregorian, but to the Inner Sanctum it had a dual meaning; that of the Great Queen of the Sky, Isis. The monks were there to dedicate an altar unto the Queen mother and celebrate the birth of their resurrected Savior, the child.

“The woman travails” spoke the figure with the book. “Bring her”.

Two thuggish-looking men who did not care about their anonymity enough to wear their hoods dragged the young girl, sixteen perhaps, towards a stone slab on the North side of the grotto. She would have birthed hours earlier, but the two men had bound her thighs together with leather straps and she groaned in agony, concerned more for the survival of the child than her own life. The men had failed to remember that, during the Inquisition, the binding of a birthing female’s legs together was seen as an excellent form of torture by their order's enemy; the Jesuits.

Back in France, she was of the nobility, and had come to Canada to escape persecution by the Church. She married a man from Montreal in a marriage arranged by her father. The man’s name was Pascal Falcon, who was himself French. Their persecutors had caught up with them in Montreal two years ago and he had moved her to Vancouver to safety.

After they untied the leather lashes binding her legs together the birth was swift; the fact that the child did not cry after being born meant only one thing. After burying the child in the Church graveyard, the Brotherhood disbanded; the book passed hands several times amongst would-be Bretheren who could never understand its secrets and for almost one hundred years lay in a wooden crate somewhere in the back of an elderly woman's attic, mistaken for a hymn book.

Until she found it, two years ago to this day.

Day 122

May 27, 2005
Sunny with light showers in the afternoon

I've finished the puzzle tonight. I also finished the last of the pizza. I'm going to run down to the hobby shop on 6th tomorrow and get another puzzle. I would have a garage sale to get rid of the growing number of puzzles if I could do it elsewhere. Anywhere but here.

I wanted to find home again. This is not it. Mom's not here. I'm not here.

I've been thinking about Lee since running into Mark. He went home after school. I went to Cardigan. Sure, Sandy was good to my mother and I. The Noonans were probably the kindest people I'll ever meet without judging their sincerity. "Uncle" Bradley, while not my uncle, was like the father I was supposed to have. It was a "swell" community. It's hard not to talk as if it weren't 1924 about the people of Cardigan. The place was locked in the past. Everyone knew you.

Coming back west was some sort of attempt to find something that wasn't in Cardigan. Anonymity? I don't have that here either, even though I've tried. Mark is bound to tell everyone that he saw me. I always got the news from Lee, via him, before. I miss the lot, but I'm not ready to talk to anyone. What do I tell them? That my mother killed herself while I was out getting vegetables from the market? That she was a very ill woman, but told no one, not even me? Everyone knew my mom.

I wanted to get my line unlisted, but I'm not sure how much I have to do. I checked superpages and I'm listed. Address, phone, everything. And "E. Brennan" was just another thing we had in common. I couldn't find a way to get it removed from there. And then there is the business with the phone books... if anyone still uses those. I don't even know if I'm in any of them. Why couldn't I have thought of any of this when I was learning how to even get a phone line?

I guess I'm going to go down to 6th tomorrow and get another puzzle.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Prosser Meets the Police

“You Keith Prosser?"

Keith sized up the beefy man standing in the building manager’s doorway before responding. The man was an inch or two shorter than Keith, but easily outweighed him by a good thirty pounds. He had short brown hair and looked to be in his forties, although the man’s trunk-like forearms suggested he could easily knock down most guys half his age.

“And you are…” Keith let his voice trail off, waiting for the man to fill in the blank.

“Detective Stevens, City police.” The man flipped open a leather wallet, revealing a gleaming gold badge. “You called about a missing person?”

“Ah, right,” said Keith. “That was me. Let me grab my keys and I’ll show you the apartment.”

The detective didn’t move as Keith grabbed his keys and slipped on his shoes. Nonetheless, Keith noticed the cop’s dark eyes swiftly taking in his surroundings.

“I kind of expected someone in uniform,” Keith remarked, as he shut the door to his apartment. “I called you guys three days ago.”

The two men headed down the corridor. If Stevens had a response, he kept it to himself.

“Any sign of a crime?” said the detective.

“Well, no, I suppose. Nothing obvious, I guess.” Keith’s keys jingled as he separated his master to open the door to Jocasta Smith’s apartment. “One of the neighbours complained about a loud alarm clock. When I checked, the door was unlocked, but nobody was inside.”

Keith flipped the deadbolt and pushed open the heavy wooden door, allowing the detective to enter. Stevens had produced a pen and a small black book and was making notes. “Double-S in Prosser, right?” the detective mumbled over his shoulder, already in Jocasta’s kitchen.

“Yeah.”

Stevens made a cursory pass through the small apartment, pausing at each of the windows and studying the sliding glass patio door off the living room. “You touch anything?”

“I shut off the alarm clock,” said Keith, still standing near the doorway. “Aside from that, I just locked the place up and called you guys. I also called Mrs. Smith’s daughter. She was the only contact listed on the rental agreement. She’s on her way, I think.”

The detective crouched down to examine the two wine-stained glasses on the coffee table in the living room, then moved to the dining area where he used the end of his pen to move around a few papers strewn on the table. He scribbled something in his notebook before flipping the cover shut and stuffing the book inside his jacket pocket. He sighed heavily.

“Well Mr. Prosser, so far I don’t see a crime here. You sure the lady didn’t just take off on some bus trip to play some coin slots at a casino or something?”

“Well, I'm not certain, I guess, but…”

The cop continued. “She miss paying her rent?”

“No. She leaves post-dated cheques.”

“She normally tell you about it if she’s heading out of town for awhile?”

“Um, no, I guess.”

“You two close friends?

“No,” said Keith.

“So aside from the fact that she forgot to lock her door – you said when you called that she’s in her sixties, right?

“Yeah, somewhere around there, I think.”

“So aside from the fact that an elderly woman forgot to lock her door, we don’t really have any actual evidence of a crime here.”

Keith pursed his lips before continuing. “Still, shouldn’t we be, like, declaring her a missing person or something?”

“I’ll open a report and give you a case number, but really we should wait until a family member gets involved. You said the daughter’s coming?”

“Yeah.”

The detective placed a huge hand on Keith’s shoulder. “Until then, let’s just wait and see if the old lady shows back up, eh?”

Keith locked the door of the apartment as the detective produced a crinkled business card from his pocket.

“Give me a call if anything else happens, right? And tell the daughter to call me if she wants.”

“I will,” said Keith, shaking Stevens’ hand. “Thanks.”

Keith watched the detective stride down the corridor. The cop was out of earshot when Keith added, “...for nothing.”

Eason Riley

ONE

Eason Riley pulled off his heavy work gloves and used the back of his hand to wipe away the rills of sweat dripping from his brow. It was barely June, but already the two o’clock sun bore down relentlessly, conspiring with the red chips of the worn clay path to parent waves of sweltering heat from both above and below. Shirtless, Eason paused to absorb the warmth on his drenched skin, feeling much like the soiled leather gloves he held – still young and new, yet already dirty, stained and crusted.

The kitchen job would still be worse, he reminded himself. Either a line cook or a labourer – the previous month’s classifieds had ceded few viable options for a 20-year-old with nothing to offer except a strong back and one failed semester of college. All things considered, Eason was thankful to have landed the latter, a landscaping gig, even if it was bound to leave him unemployed again by autumn. To him, the sprightly smell of freshly cut grass measured a fair sight better than the enduring stench of greasy French fries.

Eason’s new boss had proven palatable enough. A stout, short man in his early fifties, Leo and his pear-shaped physique appeared to Eason more suited for life as an accountant or a desk-bound bureaucrat, rather than helming a 20-man landscaping company. He had hired Eason on the spot, asking only a half dozen perfunctory questions before sealing the deal with a solid handshake. He had then tersely outlined his expectations.

“I’m not paying you to think. I’ll tell you what to do; I’ll tell you when to do it. Be on time, don’t lose my tools, don’t break my equipment, and we’ll get along great.”

Eason followed Leo’s instructions as a corporal would a general. A dozen shifts later, Leo assigned Eason to handle “the garden,” a routine maintenance contract Leo had for a small, century-old cemetery about 25 miles north of the city. Twice a week Eason would drive alone in one of Leo’s doddering white pickups along a winding rural road to the site -- one visit Eason would push a mower; the alternate visit he’d weed between the narrow clay paths and rickety wooden fences, the job he was doing today. The work was drudging and monotonous, but Eason didn’t mind. He could toil at a moderate pace and take breaks when he felt like it. Plus he didn’t have anyone peering over his shoulder as he worked.

Eason swallowed a drink of cool water from his canteen and surveyed the grounds. The gothic iron letters arching over the gate formed the words “Whitewood Memorial Interment Garden.” Call it whatever kind of garden you want, he thought, taking another gulp of water. It’s still a fucking graveyard.

The graveyard was about forty yards wide by a hundred deep, a tidy rectangle enclosed by a dilapidated wooden fence and sloping gently upward at the back toward the forested hills beyond. Without the growl of his mower and only the sound of his work boots making crunching noises in the gravelly clay, Eason marveled at the heavy silence blanketing the place, which even the breeze flowing through the leaves of the surrounding trees respected.

Eason estimated the cemetery had about a thousand graves, the oldest ones dating back to the early 1800s; so far as he could tell, no one new had been buried here for over a quarter of a century. Most of the headboards were pine, though some of the newer graves had actual headstones. As he worked his way around the graves, adjusting rocks and tidily removing various weeds, Eason sometimes found himself studying the names on the markers of the various men and women interred below, wondering what kind of people they had been, what kind of lives they had lead.

Some were obviously landowners or other important citizens, as Eason recognized many of the family names from the myriad streets and avenues that served as arteries coursing with cars through the body of the nearby city. These names were etched in the largest of the headstones, the ones nearest to the road by the cemetery’s gate.

However, the majority of the graves, especially the older ones marked only by headboards, offered few clues about their occupants. Some of the boards had been cut into the traditional, flat simulacrums of crosses and hourglasses, but many were simply squared, not even rounded at the top. Most had names and dates carved into the wood, or sometimes awkwardly lettered in a scarcely distinguishable charcoal or ink, though some had merely initials. Indeed, some had no writing at all. Of all the graves, these were the ones that most fascinated Eason. They rested at the very back of the graveyard, in the oldest part. Over the decades, many of them had become oddly tilted and precariously angled, and some had sunken into the earth almost entirely.

Eason glanced at his watch and walked down the hill toward the cemetery gate where he’d parked the truck around seven o’clock that morning. He had accomplished plenty today; plus Leo certainly wouldn’t complain if Eason knocked off and got his butt back to town to punch out before adding any accidental overtime to his shift. But as he dropped his tools and bags of weeds into the bed of the pickup, a flicker of movement caught his eye.

At first, Eason seemed to sense her rather than see her, as the woman walked slowly among the headboards near the top of the graveyard. He blinked hard, drops of sweat stinging his eyes as he tried to focus. Over the past weeks he had worked dozens of hours alone among the graves, but this was the first time he had ever seen anyone visit.

From her movements, Eason judged the woman to be young. In her twenties, perhaps? Surely no older than her thirties, he guessed. She was slender and fair-skinned, wearing a white sleeveless blouse and light blue skirt that flowed gently to the rhythm of her strides. Locks of chestnut hair fell to the middle of her back from beneath a black-ribboned Newport straw hat.

Eason watched from beside the truck as the woman stepped gingerly along one of the oldest rows of the cemetery, studying each weathered headboard in turn, before finally pausing. She stood motionless for a moment, and then bent down, as if to tie her shoe. A moment later she rose, stared one final time at the marker, and then retraced her footsteps along the row, hastening her strides as she walked toward the cemetery’s broken rear fence.

Then, as quickly as she had appeared, the woman was gone.

TWO

Did I just see what I think I saw?

Eason slid behind the steering wheel of the truck and cranked the ignition, coaxing the reluctant engine to life. He let the truck idle, allowing the uneven clatter of the decrepit motor to chase away the silence of the spell cast only moments before. Then he turned the engine off again.

He had to take a look.

He lifted a rake from the back of the truck and started up the earthen path through cemetery gates. He walked casually, taking his time. If the woman should suddenly emerge again from the trees, Eason was ready to appear as if he were merely a worker lost in his landscaping duties. As he neared the top of the hill, he paused. The woman was nowhere to be seen. The graveyard had once again surrendered to the weight of the deafening sepulchral silence.

Eason followed the clay to the end of the cemetery, then turned to the right, walking along the wooden fence. Eason had never noticed a rear gate, but that fact hardly mattered. Over the years enough planks had fallen away from the rotting balustrades that a grown man could easily step through the fence in numerous places, which is what Eason now presumed the woman had done.

Beyond the fence, the trees began only a few feet away. Eason slowed as he neared the place where he had last seen the woman. Sure enough, on the other side of the fence, a narrow path led into the forest. Eason easily understood why he hadn’t noticed the path before. Aside from the broad, sweeping passes he made with the mower, Eason had rarely spent much time back here. Furthermore, the tree branches served as expert camouflage – the leaves allowed him to see only a few feet down the path before it was absorbed by the forest. Still, Eason could tell from the worn ground that the path had been around for a long time.

Eason returned to the cemetery’s clay walkway and walked along the corridor of leaning headboards, spotting immediately the marker at which the woman had stopped. The graves along this row were so old, so drawn into the earth, that without the boards one could hardly tell they were there. The woman had paused at one of the smallest of the graves. Compared to the others, this one appeared in miniature, hardly two feet in length from the headboard to the small wooden stob marking the bottom. The headboard was blank except for a solitary date carved carefully into the wood: 1901.

And on the grave lay a single, long-stemmed white rose.