Category Archives: Short Stories

Kevin and Jon get a new partner!

A new short story for you, inspired by my buddy in the photo.

 

The Mascot

Kevin Brodie was having a bad morning.

He had squabbled with his wife, Kristen Beach, about her parents’ upcoming visit. Then he’d discovered a hole in the shirt he’d pulled from the closet to wear. To top it off, their coffee maker had chosen this day to die. As a result, he’d been forced to drive through Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee, and he’d been five minutes late to work.

So he was not in his happiest mood when he strode into the detectives’ room at the West Los Angeles Police Station. His mood further soured when he found his partner, Jon Eckhoff, sorting through a plastic mail bin that was stuffed to the gills with envelopes.

Jon glanced up at him with a smirk. “We’ve got mail.”

“I don’t want to see it.” Kevin dropped into his desk chair and turned on his computer.

Ever since Kevin and Jon had become two of the featured detectives on the hit reality cop show Two Days to Solve, they’d received an avalanche of fan mail. Most of it was dealt with by the LAPD’s Media Relations Division, but they forwarded anything that they thought Jon and Kevin should see. Usually those missives consisted of letters from kids, who wanted to be cops when they grew up.

It was Kevin’s firm opinion that kids shouldn’t be watching Two Days.

Some people sent gifts. Some sent pieces of artwork; one particularly well-done pencil sketch of Kevin and Jon leaning against a patrol car was now pinned to one wall of Jon’s cubicle.

Some people sent stuffed animals, typically teddy bears in little police costumes. Jon had kept one; the others had been passed on to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

But Kevin had never seen anything like what Jon was removing from a large clasp envelope.

“What the hell is that?”

Joey

Traveling Joey in L.A. with #badauntiemeg

“That” was a stuffed…something. About ten inches high, kind of a yellowish-tan color. Round black eyes and nose, a curved smile, and a choker-style necklace of rainbow-colored beads.

Jon turned it over. “I dunno. A rabbit? But there’s no tail.”

“Rabbits don’t come in that color.”

Jon reached into the envelope. “Here’s a note.” He read it and started to laugh.

“What?”

Jon handed the note to Kevin, who read aloud. “Hello! My name is Joey. I’m a baby kangaroo, and I am Detective Brodie’s biggest fan!” He groaned. “Oh, my God…”

Jon was still snickering. “It gets better.”

Kevin read on. “I’ve had lots of adventures already, but I would LOVE to ride in a real police car. And I would be the happiest ‘roo EVER if I could solve a case with you!

Jon picked up the toy and tapped its nose. “He’s adorable. We should take him along with us. I bet he’ll be good luck.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes, I am. Why not? He doesn’t take up much room.”

Kevin sighed and read on. “Once we’ve solved a case, please send me home. Thank you so much!” The letter closed with an address in the suburbs of San Diego, and a hashtag. #gooduncles

“What does good uncles mean?”

“No idea.” Jon was fluffing the critter’s ears. “He needs a Kevlar vest.”

“Oh, for God’s sake…”

Jon gently removed the vest from his teddy bear. “Joey can borrow Barney’s vest while he’s here.”

Jon.”

His partner’s expression exuded innocence. “What?”

“Not in the car.”

“Oh, come on. How will Joey help us solve a case if he isn’t there?”

Kevin gritted his teeth. “He has to ride in the back seat.”

“Well, duh…” Jon was smirking, pleased at his triumph.

For the tenth time that morning, Kevin sighed deeply.

Their supervisor, Tim Garcia, stepped from his office, waving a slip of paper. “Kevin, Jon, you’re up. A stabbing on…” He stopped when he saw the stuffed animal. “What is that?

Jon held the toy up for Tim’s inspection. “Our new mascot. A baby kangaroo.”

Tim’s expression was incredulous. “Where… oh, never mind.” He handed Kevin the slip of paper. “There’s the address.”

 

The scene was just a few blocks southwest of the West LA police station, near Stoner Park. Not too far, but far enough that Jon had time to break into song as he drove. “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree, eating all the gumdrops he can see…”

Kevin rolled his eyes. “What the hell is that?

“You don’t know the kookaburra song? It’s Australian. I’m making Joey feel at home.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake. You are certifiable.”

Jon jerked his thumb backwards, indicating Joey. “He likes it. Look at him smile.”

“He’s always smiling.”

“Of course he is. We’re his good uncles.”

Kevin grumbled.

They arrived at an apartment building, where two patrol cars were already blocking the street. Jon parked behind them and turned on the flashers.

A uniformed cop, Ben Butler, met them at the entryway to the apartment building’s courtyard and pointed them to a second-floor apartment. Inside, Butler’s partner, Mike Shands, was on guard, and crime scene techs were already gathering evidence. Jon and Kevin donned protective booties and entered the apartment.

A woman was lying in the kitchen floor in a semi-fetal position, face down, in a wide pool of blood. Dark hair in a messy bun, blue t-shirt, jean shorts, barefoot. Kevin scanned the apartment; it was neatly kept. No sign of a struggle other than in the kitchen. A smashed coffee cup was lying against the far wall, a plate of food was upside down on the floor near the victim’s feet, and the knife block was lying on its side. One slot was empty.

A bloody knife lay beside the victim.

Jon knelt to get a closer look. Kevin asked Shands, “What’ve we got?”

“Domestic dispute, looks like. The victim is Beatrice Medina. She’s thirty-three, married but separated. Husband’s name is José Medina. We’ve been called to this address a couple of times in the past, but Beatrice never wanted to press charges. The neighbors say that José moved out a couple of months ago, but comes over about once a week to see their daughter.”

“There’s a kid? Where is she?”

“Next door.” Shands pointed to the left of the apartment. “The neighbor is watching her until social services gets here.”

“Who called it in?”

“The neighbor. A Mrs. Figueroa. The little girl heard her mom and dad arguing, then heard a ruckus, then heard her mom scream.”

Kevin’s heart sank. “The kid found her mom?”

“Yeah. Then she ran next door.”

“Did she see the dad?”

“Don’t know. She wouldn’t tell us. Has some loyalty to her dad, maybe?”

“Maybe.”

Jon stood up. “I’ll work on finding the dad. You talk to the little girl.”

“Okay.” Kevin asked Shands, “What’s her name?”

“Leia. Like the princess. She’s five years old.”

Jon and Kevin returned to their car. Jon logged into the car’s computer. “Okay, José Medina, we’re comin’ for ya.”

Kevin had an idea. He reached into the back seat and picked up Joey. Jon’s head whipped around. “What are you doing?”

“I’m gonna make friends with Leia.”

Jon started to laugh. “See? I told you he’d be good luck.”

“Shut up.”

Jon just laughed harder.

Kevin knocked gently on the neighbor’s door. It was opened by a grandmotherly lady in a housecoat and slippers. Kevin identified himself. “Hello, Mrs. Figueroa. I’d like to talk to Leia.”

“Of course.” She stepped aside to let him in.

Leia was small for her age, Kevin thought, with long brown hair and big brown eyes. She was on the living room sofa, hugging a throw pillow, sucking her thumb, and staring vacantly at the TV. Kevin said, “Hi, Leia. My name’s Kevin. Can I sit with you?”

She didn’t answer, but nodded slightly. Kevin sat a couple of feet from her and glanced at the TV screen. “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, huh? I like that.”

Leia turned slightly toward him, a “seriously?” expression on her face. Kevin said, “No kidding. I used to watch Daniel on Mr. Rogers when I was your age.”

Leia’s eyes dropped to Joey, and she removed her thumb from her mouth. “Who’s that?”

“This is Officer Joey. Want to hold him for a minute?”

Leia nodded. Kevin handed the kangaroo to her. She inspected it for a moment, then hugged it. “Why does he have a necklace, if he’s a boy?”

“Boys wear necklaces sometimes.”

Leia seemed to accept that. Kevin said, “Officer Joey is gonna help us figure out who hurt your mom. If you tell him what you heard, it’ll help him a lot.”

Leia balanced Joey on her knees and spoke to him directly. “It was my dad.”

Kevin leaned toward Joey as if he was listening, then said, “Officer Joey wants to know if you saw your dad in the kitchen this morning.”

“Yes. He was running away.”

“Do you remember what he was wearing?”

“No.”

“That’s okay. Is there anything else you want to tell Officer Joey?”

Leia regarded Joey solemnly. “My dad told my mom lots of times that he’d kill her someday.”

“I’m sorry, Leia.”

She glanced up at him. “Where am I gonna go?”

Kevin heard voices at the door, and spotted a familiar face. Bonnie Morrison, a social worker with the Department of Child Protective Services. She entered the living room as Kevin said, “This is Miss Bonnie, and you’ll go with her for right now. She’ll figure out where you’ll stay.”

“I wanna stay with my nana.”

Bonnie knelt in front of Leia and tapped Joey on the head. “Hi, Leia. Who’s this?”

Leia said, “Officer Joey. He’s gonna find my dad.”

Bonnie raised an eyebrow at Kevin, who said, “Joey is helping us out today.”

“Ooookay.”

“And we should get started on that. Leia, is there anything else you want to say to Officer Joey before he goes to look for your dad?”

Leia hugged the toy. “Thanks, Officer Joey.” She handed him to Kevin.

Kevin put Joey to his ear. “He says you’re welcome, and he’s enjoyed meeting you very much.”

“Me, too.”

Kevin stood up. “Bonnie, let me know.”

“Will do.”

Jon met Kevin when he was halfway to the car. “We got him. A citizen in Santa Monica spotted him jogging down the sidewalk on Idaho Avenue in a bloody t-shirt. She called it in. Santa Monica PD is holding him for us. What did the kid say?”

“That she saw her dad running away.”

Jon grinned. “She opened up to Joey, didn’t she?”

“Yes, she did. And now Joey has solved his case, and he can go back home.”

“Aww.” Jon took the kangaroo from Kevin and scratched its ears. “I’ll miss you, little buddy.”

“We’ve had him for three hours. Not even.”

“Uh huh. You just keep on pretending that you’re a hardass. I think it’s cute.”

Kevin growled. “When they find you dead in your kitchen, it’ll be my fingerprints on your neck.”

“Not if Liz beats you to it.” Jon turned toward the car. “Come on. Let’s go lower the boom on José.”

Kevin deposited Joey in the back, then strapped into the passenger seat. Jon started the car, pulled away from the scene, and began to sing. “Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong, under the shade of a coolibah tree. He sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled, ‘you’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me.’”

Kevin knew defeat when he saw it. He joined in the chorus, which made Jon laugh so hard he nearly hit a parked car. “Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda…”

In the back seat, Joey was still smiling.

Advertisements

12 Comments

Filed under Short Stories

An interview with Jeff and Val

Vegan_no-knead_whole_wheat_bread_loaf,_sliced,_September_2010

Veganbaking.net [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s early evening, just long enough after supper to be a decent time to visit. When I pull into the parking area behind Jeff and Val’s house, they come out to greet me. After the introductions Val says, “Let’s talk in the kitchen. I have tomatoes drying in one oven and bread baking in the other, and they’ll both be done soon.”

I follow them into the house and am greeted by the aroma of baking bread. “Aaaahhh. There is no better smell.”

Val grins. “Right? With two teenage boys to feed, I bake bread nearly every day. When they’re off to college, I’ll have to cut back. I’m not looking forward to that day.”

“I’m sure. Where are the boys?”

Jeff says, “In their rooms doing homework. Supposedly.”

“Do you check up on them? Make sure they’re not texting their pals?”

“I’ll usually stick my head in once during the evening. They don’t goof off much, though. Colin’s in AP classes and Gabe’s in the International Baccalaureate program. They both realize the consequences if they don’t do well.”

“Gabe’s in IB? I’m surprised.”

Val says, “Getting admitted to the program you want at a UC school is so competitive now. Gabe’s set on UC-Davis and doesn’t want to take chances. It was totally his choice. We were a tad surprised too.”

Jeff adds, “But that’s Gabe. A tad surprising.”

I say, “It must be a rare quiet moment for you two.”

Val nods. “We have them more often now that the boys are older. But it’s not something we can count on daily. What can I get you to drink?”

I settle on a glass of wine. “How are the horses?”

Jeff says, “They’re great. We’re just starting to train them to pull.”

“You’re really going to plow with them?”

Val says, “That’s the plan. Not that we have much plowing compared to a big farm, but we prefer not to use gasoline unless we have to. And the horses repay us in lovely manure.”

The oven timer dings; the tomatoes are done drying. Val jumps to her feet and removes them to a cooling rack. I say, “The chores are never done, are they?”

“No.” Her smile is wry. “That’s the main problem with this lifestyle…we can’t really travel. We can get away for a while if a couple of my brothers come, but then they’re leaving my parents and other brothers in a pinch.”

“Your family’s farm is doing well?”

She crosses her fingers. “Yes, thank the gods.”

Jeff says, “It’s a tenuous existence.”

“I’m sure. And a ton of hard work.”

Val says, seemingly out of nowhere, “I hope Pete knows what he’s getting into.”

Oh. Do you think he doesn’t?”

“Not entirely. He has this elaborate plan which will be awesome, if it works.”

“Is that a big if?

“He’s not as worried about water as he should be. That corner of New Mexico is so dry.”

Jeff says wryly, “It’s not called the Chihuahuan Desert for nothin’.”

“You must have water issues here, too.”

“Yes, but it rains more here.” Val smiles. “It’s been a good year for rain so far.”

“Glad to hear it! Total change of subject. Do you enjoy being a Brodie?”

They both laugh. Val says, “That’s an off the wall question! But yes! I couldn’t have designed a better life for myself. It’s just far enough away from my own family that I don’t get sucked into my sisters-in-law’s dramas, and I’m surrounded by Brodie boys. And I love ‘em all! What more could I ask for?”

Jeff is grinning widely. I say, “You’ve hit it off with Kristen.”

Both Jeff and Val hoot with laughter. Val says, “Oh, God, yes. Isn’t she amazing? She’s perfect for Kevin, perfect for all of us. And so unlike the rest of her family!”

Jeff says, “Kristen is Val’s favorite sister-in-law.”

Val adds, “Yes, she is. Don’t tell anyone.”

“Ha! I won’t.”

The other oven timer sounds; Val scrambles to her feet again. “Time to take the bread out. Then I’m going to put the critters to bed. Give you and Jeff a chance to talk.”

“Are you sure? Isn’t critter care a two-person job?”

“Nah.” She removes the bread into a towel-lined basket. “When I come back, the bread will be cooled enough to eat. You all don’t cut it until then.”

I say, “Yes, ma’am.”

She laughs and scoots out the back door.

I say to Jeff, “Do you usually help?”

“Sure. But since you’re here…” He shrugs. “It’s not a huge job. Goats, chickens, and horses.”

The back door opens again and Val sticks her head in. “Someone wants to say hello.”

An oversized yellow Lab bounds into the room and skids to a halt beside me. I turn to him and ruffle his ears. “Ralphie!”

He wiggles all over in joy. Jeff says, “You had a Ralphie, I understand.”

“I did. Just like this guy.” I accept a few chin licks. “I miss him.”

“How old was he?”

“Sixteen.”

“Wow! He had a great life, then.”

“Up until his last few months, yes.”

“That’s one reason I’m glad to be doing less small animal work now. Imagine having someone crying in your office every day.”

I shake my head. “I thought about being a vet when I was a kid. I don’t think I could do it. Speaking of your practice, how are you doing now, four years post inheritance?”

He smiles. “Fine, now, but it took a couple of years for me to completely deal with the emotion of it. But it’s allowed Val and I to do what we want, it’s allowing the boys to go wherever they want to school and get started in life without debt… It’s all good.”

“The large animal practice is working out?”

“Oh yes. There are so few of us large animal specialists. I’m busier than I thought I’d be. All over San Diego County, and out into Riverside and Imperial too.”

“You’re putting in a lot of miles.”

He shrugs. “Yeah. But I have a route. I start early, drop the boys at school, then head out. Sometimes, barring emergencies, I’m back in time to pick them up from school.”

“They’re not getting their own cars?”

He’s emphatic. “No. They don’t need them.”

“Good for you. Your dad is a great backup, I guess.”

“Oh my God. We couldn’t do this without him. He’s handled the boys for us so often through the years.”

“You must be happy that they’re his only grandkids.”

That surprises him. “You know, I never thought about it, but yeah. It’s worked out for us. I owe him so much…”

“You’ll have a chance to repay him. To take care of him, eventually.”

“Yes. We’ve already discussed it, at least in general terms. He wants to stay in his house as long as he can, naturally, and when he can’t then we’ll bring him over here.”

“I’m sure he’d prefer that to a facility.”

“Yeah. Grampa likes his ALF but Dad… not so much, I think.”

“What do you think of Claudia?”

He smiles. “So far, so terrific. She’s laid back, happy in her own house, doesn’t make any demands. She was an only child and she says she needs her space.”

“It sounds perfect.”

“Yes. Dad never had his own space until Jamie left for college. He’s enjoying it, too.”

“How’s your relationship with Kevin these days?”

Another smile. “Better. Kev is calmer now… no, that’s not the right word. He was at loose ends after his divorce from Jennifer, even when he was dating Abby. Now he’s settled and it suits him. All three of us like to be settled.”

“What about Jamie moving off to New Mexico?”

He wrinkles his nose. “When he first mentioned it, I thought the idea was nuts. I’d understand Tucson; Pete has far more family there. But moving to Alamogordo, just for Steve? I dunno…”

“Have you seen their house?”

“Oh, yes. It’s fantastic. It has Jamie written all over it.”

“How so?”

He gestures in the direction of his dad’s house. “You’ve seen how cramped we were, growing up. None of us ever had any space or privacy. Jamie’s given himself plenty of space in the new house. I just wish he’d built it here.”

“Did you suggest that?”

He snorts. “Nah. I’m sure you’ve noticed, you can’t suggest much to Jamie.”

“Ha! Indeed. How are you and Pete?”

“Fine. I don’t see him as much as I used to. Seems like we’re always missing each other.”

“My readers say that I – meaning Jamie – need to be nicer to Pete.”

He frowns. “That’s a weird thing to say.”

“Why?”

“Pete’s the author of his own problems, it seems to me. Just my opinion, but he shouldn’t have left Santa Monica College. Working from home doesn’t suit his personality. He’s in his own head too much.”

“In retrospect, you’re probably right. It was the thing to do at the time, though.”

“I guess so. You know, I met Pete before Jamie did.”

That surprises me, but I suppose it shouldn’t. “Because he was Kevin’s partner?”

“Yeah. When the boys were little, I’d take them to LA about once a month, to give Val a break, and to hike with Kev and Jennifer. Pete was usually there.”

“Sure. How was he, then?”

“He was solid until he started graduate school. Then… He was in transition from the police force. It’s similar to now, when he’s in transition from full-time work to something else. He was solid when he was at SMC. Now he’s…tenuous. Shakier.”

“You’re pretty observant.”

Another shrug, with a smile. “When you don’t talk a lot, you notice stuff.”

“Ha! True.”

“Don’t get me wrong. Pete has been great for Jamie. Jamie was a mess there for a while, between Ethan and Pete. Now he’s back to himself.”

“So the Jamie we see now is the authentic version?”

“Yes. He’s got his confidence back. And that’s thanks to Pete, who’s provided Jamie the stability he didn’t have before. But there’s another thing. Jamie was a project for Pete in a way. Now that project is successfully completed, and Pete’s put himself out of another job.”

“So he’s out of two jobs.”

“Right.”

“I should have been talking to you about this from the start!”

He laughs. “I assume you have something planned.”

“Yes. Books 18 through 21 are an arc of sorts and Pete will be his authentic self by the end.”

“And that’s it, huh?”

“That’s it for now. The Jamie Brodie Mysteries ‘canon’ will be complete. But the readers haven’t seen the last of Jamie and Pete. I have to keep reassuring them of that…”

“You should give Kevin his own book.”

“Oh, yes, that’s already in the works. He may get more than one. Do you want a book?”

He splutters. “No, thank you! Val would love it, though.”

The woman herself enters just as Jeff speaks. “I’d love what?”

“Having your own mystery book.”

“Hm.” Val sits beside Jeff and props her chin on her fist. “Intriguing. You should have a book, too.”

I say, “I offered. He turned it down.”

Jeff shakes his head firmly. “Remember how upset we both were during the Gavin Barkley mess? And we were only peripherally involved in that. You really want to go through that again?”

Val acquiesces. “Ah. Maybe not.”

I ask Val, “Who would you like to see have their own book?”

Her answer is prompt. “Kevin.”

“He’s getting one. Who else?”

She and Jeff exchange an amused look. Jeff says, “You know who’d make an awesome amateur sleuth? My cousin Carly.”

I laugh. “I agree, we need to see more of Carly. I might have an idea there…”

Jeff grins. “Carly’s a hoot. I wish we’d grown up closer to her.”

Val refills my wine. I say, “Tell me about the day you two met.”

They both chuckle. Val says, “First day of freshman biology.”

Jeff says, “We didn’t exactly meet that day.”

“True. But I noticed you that day.”

I ask, “When did you start talking?”

Jeff says, “Our first exam was scheduled for about two weeks into the term. I was in the library studying.”

Val continues. “I walked in and spotted him at a table by himself. I plopped down and said, ‘Hey, you’re in my biology class. Want to study together?’”

Jeff grins. “As I remember, it took me a minute to form a complete sentence.”

Val says, “I thought I’d scared you. You just kind of nodded.”

“You had scared me. Kind of.”

I laugh. “It must not have taken long for you to figure it out. Val, I know you came home with Jeff for Thanksgiving.”

“I did. We rode down here with one of Jeff’s high school friends, crowded into the back seat of a Suzuki Samurai.”

“Oh, God…”

Val grimaces. “Tell me about it. But once we got to Dave’s, it was great. I felt welcomed immediately by everyone.”

I ask Jeff, “When did you meet Val’s family?”

“I met her parents at the start of the spring semester, when they brought her back to Palo Alto. We talked about animals.”

Val grins. “Get both Jeff and my dad talking about animals, and there’s not stopping them.”

I laugh with them. “You know, it’s getting late. Is there anything you two want to ask me?”

They exchange another look. Val says, “Why did you want to talk to us? It’s not like your readers see a lot of us.”

“Actually, a reader asked for this interview.”

That throws them both. Jeff says, “Seriously?

“Yup.”

Val says, “Huh. Well. Okay, then.” She jumps to her feet. “How about a slice of warm bread?”

“Oh, yes, pleeeaase…”

4 Comments

Filed under Books, Short Stories, Writing

Hurricane Frances

IMG_2841-EFFECTS

Not Hurricane Frances.

 

Happy Boxing Day! Here’s a snippet that I wrote during hurricane season, as Hurricane Frances was approaching the coast of the Carolinas. I realized that Jamie’s entire family was in the path of the storm, and this conversation was the result. Hurricane evacuation is an art that, unfortunately, all of us in the southeastern US know how to perform. Some better than others.

A reminder of family relationships: Carly Brodie Moody, a pharmacist, is the youngest daughter of Jamie’s Uncle Doug and Aunt Linda. She lives in Wilmington, NC, and is married to Mike Moody, a physician’s assistant. They have no kids. Carly and Kevin are the same age.

Doug and Linda’s middle daughter, Lindsey, is married to Jake. They have two kids, Zoey and Oliver, and live in Greenville, NC. Lindsey is two years older than Carly and Kevin. Lindsey is a known worrywart.

Will Brodie is the oldest son of Dennis Brodie, Doug and Dave’s middle brother. He lives in Chapel Hill, NC. Tanner Brodie is Dennis’s third of four sons; Tyler is Dennis’s youngest. Tanner lives in Jacksonville, NC; Tyler and his husband Blair live in Washington DC. Dennis and his wife Toni live in McLean, VA; Dennis is a rear admiral in the Navy and works at the Pentagon.

Sarge, who is grandfather to Jamie, Kevin, Carly, Lindsey, and Will, lives in an assisted living facility in Jacksonville, NC. Doug and Linda also live in Jacksonville. “Grampa’s house” is the original family home in Beaufort, SC.

Carly is a fan of Double Stuf Oreos. Who isn’t?

 

The conversation is as seen from Jamie’s phone, so his texts are on the right. Carly’s are in blue; Kevin’s are in red.

I apologize for the spacing, but couldn’t figure out how to fix it.

September 11, 2018

5:45 pm EDT

Wilmington, NC

Hey guys we’re loading up to evacuate. Going to 

Mom and dad’s tonight then caravan to Uncle

Denny’s tomorrow. Pick up Lindsey and crew

on the way.

Be safe. Is Grampa going with you?

Yeah, other old folks are going to a shelter and

he said hell no. LOL

Is Will going?

Nah. He’s safe in Chapel Hill.

Tanner is gonna ride it out at mom and dad’s.

Why??

Mom isn’t comfortable leaving house empty. He

offered. Better him than me haha. They have

hurricane shutters that roll down and sandbags.

He should be safe on second floor.

You’re taking the animals, right?

 

Duh of course. Wouldn’t leave them behind.

Mike is saying come on. Gotta go.

Let us know when you get to Doug’s.

Will do.

September 11, 2018

7:38 pm EDT

Jacksonville, NC

Hey guys we are at dad’s safe and sound.

Dad is over at the ALF helping Grampa pack.

He doesn’t have much stuff does he?

No but lots of photos and shit.

He needs to scan those.

I keep telling him. Gonna just have to do it

for him I guess. When the power comes back

LOL

What time are you leaving tomorrow?

As early as we can get Grampa. Probly like

6 am.

Is Lindsey freaking?

OMG yes. She’s trying to take her whole house.

Jake keeps telling her no. She keeps texting me

to be on her side but I keep telling her no too.

How are Zoey and Oliver?

Oh they’re fine. Big adventure. Helping Jake carry

stuff to their second floor.

Is anybody checking on Grampa’s house?

Dad and Mike went down on the weekend and

boarded the windows and moved everything that

they could upstairs. There are no trees that can

hit it and it’s lived through 125 years so fingers

crossed.

Text when you’re on the road tomorrow.

OMG it’ll be 3 am in CA!

So we’ll see it when we wake up.

LOL OK.

September 12, 2018

6:18 am EDT

Jacksonville, NC

We’re outta here. Grampa is grumbling

about having to leave but not too bad.

September 12, 2018

7:47 am EDT

Greenville, NC

OMFG I’MMA KILL MY SISTER

Y?

She isn’t READY. WTF has she been doing

all night?? And y r u awake??

Going to pool early to swim. WTF has she

been doing?

NO IDEA. Jake and Dad are both yelling at

her now.

Greaaat. She’s not riding with you is she?

They’re in their own cars like us.

Small mercies.

LOL exactly. Will you help me hide her body?

HAHAHAHA. Later. Drive safely.

September 12, 2018

9:13 am EDT

Roanoke Rapids, NC

Is Lindsey still alive?

Haha no thanks to me. Jake is ready to

strangle her now. She wanted to turn around

and get something she forgot.

FFS.

Srsly.

You are NOT texting and driving, right?

Duh, no, Mr. Popo. We’re at a Hardees.

I am eating a deeelicious fried chicken biscuit.

Bet you don’t have ‘em there.

<biscuit.jpg>

Nope. Just tofu.

Tofu biscuits? Gack. You are pullin’ my leg.

LOL yes I am.

Don’t y’all have to go to work?

Eventually. Is Grampa OK?

He’s fine. Telling hurricane stories. Oops,

we’re loading up. Later.

September 12, 2018

12:48 pm EDT

Hampden-Sydney, VA

OMFG this is taking FOREVERRRRR

Taking back roads?

Uh huh. Interstates are jammed.

Then why are you bitchin’?

‘Cause I can. Shut up.

Temper temper.

You shut up too.

Ha ha. Where are you?

IDK, somewhere west of Richmond.

On US 15 until we get to Manassas.

I’m just following Daddy.

Hardees again?

No Wendy’s this time. The trouble with

staying off interstates. There aren’t any

Cracker Barrels out here.

<frosty.jpg>

Got your hurricane snacks?

No Toni said she’d have stuff. Bet I still have

to go to the store when we get there tho.

But we brought all the booze so Tanner

wouldn’t drink it. It’ll keep me and Jake from killing

Lindsey.

Toni doesn’t strike me as a Double Stuf gal.

Noooooo. Y’all at work?

Yup

Yup

Well then y r u talking to me? GET TO WORK

Yes ma’am.

September 12, 2018

5:17 pm EDT

McLean, VA

PRAISE JESUS WE MADE IT

No casualties?

Not yet. It’s early tho.

September 12, 2018

6:23 pm EDT

McLean, VA

Where are you and what are you doing?

Mike and I are on the way to the store.

Toni didn’t have Double Stufs. Or near

enough margarita mix.

Where’d you park all the cars?

Mom and Dad’s both in the garage.

The rest in the driveway. Uncle Denny’s

parking on the street ‘cause he has to

go to work still.

Pentagon isn’t closing up huh?

Guess not. ‘Murica.

September 12, 2018

7:44 pm EDT

McLean, VA

EATIN’ MY DOUBLE STUFS

DRINKIN’ MY MARGARITAAAA

You’re gonna eat all your snacks before

Florence even gets there.

Double Stufs and margarita? Ptui.

Nawwww this is GOOD SHIT.

<doublestuf.jpg>

Hey Jamie, Carly’s drunk.

YOU SHUT YOUR FACE KEVIN BRODIE

Truth hurts.

Wish you guys were here. Be more fun with

you.

Never been to a hurricane party.

You have to visit in the fall sometime and

GET EVACUATED WITH US

Hm, maybe not.

Don’t know what you’re missing. Oh,

Grampa says hi. He’s helping me eat the

Double Stufs

<grampa.jpg>

Should he be eating those?

He’s 93. He can eat what he wants.

EXACTLY. You’re the murder popo, don’t

be the food popo too.

I find that term offensive.

5-1-5-0 SOMEBODY CALL THE POPO

Shut up.

LOLOL what is that from?

It’s a Dierks Bentley song.

Who?

OMG HOW DO YOU NOT KNOW HIM

HE IS A GOD

So he’s a country singer.

He kinda looks like you, Jamie.

<dierksbentley.jpg>

Huh.

Still getting mistaken for you know who?

Yeah. It’d be nice to get mistaken for

someone who’s actually alive.

😦  That is so sad.

Tell me about it.

Now I’m crying.

You are gonna be hunnnnggg over.

Nah. I’m GOOD at this. I have SKILLZ>

Uh huh

Srsly. Never misunderestimate the talents of a

Southern woman.

LOL

LOL

And I’m a Brodie. We HOLD our liquor.

Fuck yeah.

September 13, 2018

9:46 am EDT

McLean, VA

Hey you guys awake?

Yeah, how’s your head?

It’s FINE. I told you. I shouldn’ta eaten

all those Double Stufs tho.

You’re gonna gain ten pounds this week.

Nah. Going for a run soon as Mike is ready.

Then gonna find a dog park. The boys need

their exercise too.

<dogs.jpg>

Awww. Wish we could introduce your

pups and Ammo.

<ammo.jpg>

He is soooo gorgeous. Sweet baby.

He’s a Marine. Don’t let him hear you

say Sweet Baby.

Marines need cuddles too.

Where’s the cat?

<cat.jpg>

LOL. King of the jungle.

“Peel me a grape, human.”

Right? Little bastard. Oops, Mike’s ready.

Later.

September 13, 2018

11:32 am EDT

McLean, VA

<dogpark1.jpg>

<dogpark2.jpg>

<dogpark3.jpg>

Looks like fun.

You bet. Wear ‘em out so they’ll sleep.

Just like kids.

How are Zoey and Oliver doing?

They’re with us. Having a blast.

<zoeyoliver.jpg>

Wear ‘em out so they’ll sleep.

Exactly. Tho if they don’t it is Not. My.

Problem. 😀 Gotta go. Restock on

DoubleStufs.

Good grief.

LOL

September 13, 2018

3:14 pm EDT

McLean, VA

OMG this freakin’ hurricane is taking

FOREVER to get here.

What’s the rush?

Every day it lingers is another day I have

to spend cooped up with Lindsey. Who has

not moved from the Weather Channel since

we got here.

<lindsey.jpg>

She had better not be giving

ME that finger.

Naw that’s meant for me. LOL

Is she crushing on Jim Cantore?

Nooooooo

I think Reynolds Wolf is hotter.

RIGHT? Where’s Kevin?

Probably at lunch. Or a meeting.

Do cops have meetings?

Just like normal people.

If I was the person leading the meeting

I’d be afraid someone would shoot me.

LOL

LOL

September 13, 2018

6:38 pm EDT

McLean, VA

<dinner.jpg>

Hi everyone

Hi everyone

Hi back

Mom has been cooking all day

Takes her mind off Flo

Get Lindsey to help her.

HAHA she’s too busy watching to see if

Cantore is standing in her front yard.

Greenville isn’t even in the danger zone.

EXACTLY

September 14, 2018

10:20 am EDT

McLean, VA

FINALLY. Getting down to BUSINESS.

Is it making landfall?

Yup. At Wrightsville Beach.

How far from Wilmington?

Not far enough. But our house should be OK.

We put on a metal roof last year and cut

down all the trees. Our idiot neighbor

stayed so he will let us know.

RIP trees

I know. Not ALL the trees, just the ones that

could hit the house. And we are elevated

so should be OK.

Has Lindsey calmed down?

Not yet. Still convinced it’s gonna make a

sudden swing to the north. I swear.

Never knew she was so sorry in an

emergency. You’d never know she was

raised by a Marine.

Or that she was a Brodie?

YUP.

What about Doug’s house?

Dunno. Flooding would have to be super

bad for them to flood but it’s gonna be

super bad so ??????

Tanner will hold back the waves.

LOL. Just hope he doesn’t do anything

STUPID.

I hear ya. Have you seen Ty?

Not yet, he and Blair are coming for

dinner tonight.

Oh God.

LOL yup.

September 15, 2018

9:32 am EDT

McLean, VA

OMFG THEY’VE CLOSED I-95

AND I-40

Whaaaaa??? Both of ‘em?

Shit.

Exactly. I”ll NEVER get home.

Is there water over the road?

Must be.

Did you hear from your neighbor or

Tanner?

Yeah. Both said power was off but houses

are OK so far.

Is Lindsey finally convinced that their

house will be OK?

Yeah. But now we’re all glued to the TV.

Get outta there for a while. Go

back to the dog park. Something.

Watch some Dierks Bentley videos.

You remembered his name!!

Duh I’m a popo. I remember shit.

LOL

One week later…

September 22, 2018

7:32 am EDT

McLean, VA

PRAISE JESUS WE’RE GETTING

OUTTA HERE

Three hours later

Yes! Are the roads open?

Another hour later

Not entirely. I-95 still closed. Gotta

take the scenic route.

<scenic route.jpg>

It’s scenic, all right. Not.

Where the hell are you?

Charlotte. Jake and I are going to

Grampa’s to make sure it’s OK and

de-board the windows. Might have to stay

there a couple of days.

Be careful

Ditto

ALWAYS.

4 Comments

Filed under Short Stories, Writing

An interview with Dave Brodie

Historic Forestville, Minnesota - White Picket Fence

Tony Webster from Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

By the time I turn onto the curiously named Sleeping Indian Road, it feels as if I’m in the country, although I know that there are housing developments within shouting distance on either side of me. The road winds up slightly through farmed land. About a mile later, I turn left into the driveway. White rail fencing lines the drive until I reach the house. I park beside the silver Toyota Tundra truck that’s already there; when I get out, I spot Val’s Percheron horses in the distance. They spare me a glance then return to their grazing.

Dave is on the front porch, waiting. “Hi there. Any trouble finding the place?”

“None. It’s gorgeous up here.”

“It is. I’m still blown away by the view every time I step out the door.” He opens the screen door and waves me into the house. “Come on, I’ll play tour guide.”

I smile as I walk through the rooms that I know so well. “Do you know how I decided that this was your house?”

“No…?”

“I found it on Trulia. It was for sale, and from the description it looked just right. Three blocks from the beach, fenced yard, three bedrooms.”

He laughs. “You chose well. It’s been nearly perfect for us. The boys were kinda cramped growing up in the same room, but it forced them to compromise.”

I stop at the door to the back yard and run my fingers over the height chart. At the bottom, written in black marker: Jeff, age 1. At the top: Kevin, age 18. I study the marks and ages. “Kevin was taller than Jeff and Jamie, at the same ages, from the beginning.”

“He was. He grew three inches between his sophomore and junior years of high school.” Dave laughs. “We couldn’t keep him fed.”

“I bet.”

“You don’t have kids, do you?”

“No, but I’m close to my nephew. He’s two years younger than Jamie. Not to change the subject suddenly, but I noticed that you got a new vehicle.”

“Oh, yeah, that truck is a couple of years old now. The Volvo lived far longer than I expected, but I finally had to have it humanely destroyed.”

“Ha! A pickup is better suited for farm life, anyway.”

“Yes. And I almost never have more than one person with me. Either Claudia or one of Jeff’s kids.”

“How are the kids?”

“Oh, they’re great. Colin will stop by after school. He comes over here to study before dinner.”

“I guess it’s noisier at his house.”

He chuckles. “You could say that. Gabe’s a pistol, just like his mom. When they’re together they’re either talking or arguing, but they’re never quiet.”

“Is Gabe still thinking of taking over the farm?”

“Yes, but he’d have to have some other source of income, and he hasn’t quite wrapped his head around that yet.”

“A teacher’s schedule might work with farming.”

“True. Or maybe he’ll marry someone with a well-paying job. When Gabe puts his mind to something, he’s typically successful. I reckon he’ll figure this out, too. How about some iced tea? We’ll sit on the back porch.”

“Is it sweet tea?”

He grins. “Would I make anything else?”

 

The back porch is shaded, with four rocking chairs of the type sold at Cracker Barrel stores. Not that there are Cracker Barrels in California. I say, “You must have questions for me.”

“Not too many.” He gazes out across the field at the horses. “Based on what the boys have told me about their chats with you, I see what you’re after.”

“Do you? Because sometimes I’m not sure myself.”

He gets tickled at that. “Have you made continuity mistakes?”

“Oh, yeah. I’m going back to fix them eventually. I don’t think any of them are with the immediate family, though…although I admit, I can’t remember.”

He cuts his eyes sideways at me. “I feel bad for Pete.”

“I know. Readers have said, ‘You need to be nicer to Pete.’ It’s true. I’m working on that, I promise. But he still has a few lingering issues.”

“Yeah.” Dave frowns into the distance. “I try to talk to him about himself, but he’s hesitant to open up. I know it’s because I’m Jamie’s dad, but I also know that his own dad isn’t gonna help out in that department. But the little probing I’ve done…he’s not done dealing with his past. Whatever it is, it’s coming.”

“Yes.” I leave it at that.

He tips a smile in my direction. “I do have one question. You sure are familiar with the Carolinas. You must have connections.”

“I do. My entire family lives there, west of Charlotte. I lived there for a couple of years, and also lived in Charleston for a few months. I mean, Charleston, South Carolina. I lived in Charleston, West Virginia for years.”

“Now, that is someplace I’ve never been.”

“Did you ever visit Huntington? I lived there, too.”

“No. Julie always said we’d go after the kids were grown.”

“If it’s any consolation, you’re not missing a whole lot. And I say that as someone who loves that town.”

He laughs. “Have you been to Beaufort?”

He’s referring to Beaufort, South Carolina, where he grew up. “Yes, as a teenager. I don’t

16_Beaufort_SC_6398_(12367436195)

Beaufort, SC. bobistraveling [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

remember much about it, except that it felt like the perfect small Southern coastal town. Kinda quaint.”

“That’s about right. I have to tell you, your description of eastern North Carolina, when Pete went to meet Doug and Linda for the first time, made me chuckle for days. It is the ugliest part of the state.”

“Right? I mean, where my dad lives is no great shakes, but at least you can see the mountains and it doesn’t smell like hogs.”

He muses for a moment. “I’ve spent my entire life living on one ocean or the other. Can’t imagine living inland.”

“It’s different. I prefer the coast. So… tell me about Jamie as a kid.”

He smiles, remembering. “He was never any trouble from the day he was born. He was a happy baby. Even his terrible twos weren’t all that terrible. I never had to worry about him in school, I never had to worry about his friends… he was just a terrific kid.”

“In spite of him being gay?”

“Yes. He announced to me – us – that he was gay when he was five, you know.”

“I know. Did you believe him?”

“I believed that he believed it. Did I know that his wanting to have a boyfriend wasn’t just a ‘girls are icky’ phase? Not entirely. But as he got older, I’d ask him about it. Was anyone at school calling other kids names? Was anyone at school being picked on? What was going on in his head as a result? If he was gay, I wanted to make sure that he didn’t grow up thinking less of himself because of the attitudes of idiot teachers or kids or parents he might come in contact with.”

“There must have been kids in his school that were bullied.”

“Yes. And eventually, Jamie felt comfortable enough with himself that he could stand up to the bullies. Of course, with Kevin lurking over his shoulder, no one was gonna tangle with Jamie.”

“Sarge’s reaction was a blow to him.”

“Yes.” Dave shakes his head. “I’d been afraid of that. But it still hurt him badly.”

“How did you come to be so understanding? I mean, you’re a few years older than me, you grew up in the South, Sarge was your dad…”

“It was my years in the Marines. There were guys who’d clearly joined the Marines because they were trying to prove something to someone. A father, usually. And if that was the reason they’d joined, they were miserable. As you can imagine, Marine boot camp is not for the less than totally committed. I felt terrible for them, but I was just their weapons instructor. There wasn’t a lot I could do for them individually.” He grins. “Of course, we also had an equal number of badasses who’d wanted to be a Marine since birth, and just happened to be gay. Those guys – and women – were awesome.”

I say, “Robbie Harrison.”

“Oh, God, poor Robbie. He’s the perfect example. His parents were terrible, especially his father. Robbie drank himself out of the Naval Academy… he was messed up for years.”

“He’s getting a happy ending, more or less.”

“True. No thanks to his family.”

I smile at him. “You are the best dad ever.”

He grins. “If so, it’s thanks to you.”

“Did you have any idea before Jamie’s announcement? Or was that a complete surprise to you?”

He considers that. “It was a surprise, but it also explained something. Neither Jeff nor Kevin, as kids, ever cared what they wore. Jamie was picky about his clothes from the time he was old enough to choose.”

“No kidding? How so?”

“He only wanted to wear certain colors. Green, yellow, brown, tan. He hated blue and red. You said you have a nephew of a similar age; you must have some idea how hard it was, 35 years ago, to find boys’ clothes that weren’t blue or red.”

I laugh. “Oh, yes. Fortunately my nephew looked good in both red and blue. I’d have thought that Jamie would have worn mostly hand-me-downs.”

Dave shakes his head. “By the time a piece of clothing had been worn by both Jeff and Kevin, it was pretty much shot. Kevin, in particular, was always tearing the knees out of his jeans or grinding in grass stains that wouldn’t come out. And Jeff was a tree climber, so he did his share of damage. Jamie wore a few leftovers, mostly pajamas, but his school clothes were almost always new.”

“So when you took him school shopping…”

“That’s the thing. I had to take him school shopping. Jeff and Kevin would wear whatever I brought home to them. Jamie had to have a say.”

I chuckle. “What did Sarge think about that?”

“He grumbled a bit about letting a five-year-old choose his own clothes. My response was, ‘Do you seriously want to pick this battle?’ He conceded the point.”

“Jamie notices clothes. The first thing he comments on, when he meets someone, is what they’re wearing. I thought that was a habit he’d picked up from Scott…maybe not, huh?”

“Oh, no.” He laughs. “He’d fuss at Ali if she wore a shirt and pants that didn’t match. He’d see some random man in a restaurant or on the street and whisper to me, ‘Daddy, that tie is ugly.’ And he’d be right.”

“But he never wanted to design anything, did he?”

“Nah. He never demonstrated any interest in that. I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but all of my sons are lousy artists. Jamie couldn’t have sketched a shirt and tie even if he did want to. Which he didn’t.”

I sip my sweet tea, which is perfect. Cracker Barrel quality, if not better. “I think my readers know Jeff less well than they do Jamie or Kevin. What do you want to tell them about Jeff?”

Dave smiles fondly. “Jeff always preferred animals and books to people. Except for the family, he still does. He was a voracious reader, growing up. He learned to read earlier than either of the other boys, well before he started school. He doesn’t have as much time to read now, obviously, but he carves out an afternoon every weekend, usually on Sunday, when he comes over here and sits in that chair you’re in and reads. Val instructs the boys not to bother him. It’s his only private time.”

“He doesn’t spend it all reading professional journals and such, does he?”

“Nope. Usually nonfiction bestsellers. He’s one of the public library’s top customers.”

“I suppose he always wanted to be a veterinarian.”

“From day one. We had dogs, from before Jeff was born, so we were always taking them to the vet. Jeff was fascinated. As soon as he was old enough, our vet gave him a job cleaning kennels and comforting the animals that were recovering from surgery. We figured that would either make or break his career path. Turns out to have made it.”

“Does he have friends?”

“He and Val socialize with his partners in the business and their families. Fortunately, they’re all close friends in and out of work. He has a few high school friends still in town, but doesn’t see them much.”

“Tell me about Val’s family.”

He laughs. “They’re crazy. In a good way. Val has four brothers, and they and their wives are all just like Val in personality. And Colin and Gabe have eleven first cousins on Val’s

Harvesting_(Green_Gulch_farm)

photographer: Joshua Wickerham * photographer_url: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/kafka4prez] * flickr_url: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/kafka4prez/43530193/]

side. When they’re all in the same house, it’s chaos.”

“I bet. And they’re all farmers?”

“Yes. Val’s parents have 100 acres up near Tulare. All of the sons farm on it, 100% organic. All of Val’s sisters-in-law have outside jobs for health insurance purposes.”

“It sounds like a terrific life.”

“It’s damn hard work. But they enjoy it. And, so far, they’re still able to make a living from it.”

“Fingers crossed that they can keep it up.”

“No kidding.”

I drain my tea and decline Dave’s offer of a refill. “What do you think is ahead for your boys? And what are your hopes for them?”

“My hopes are the same as they’ve always been. That they’ll be happy and loved.” He gazes into the distance, thinking. “I expect that Jeff will keep working until he can’t anymore. He and Val aren’t going anywhere. They may end up living in this house, depending on what Gabe does.”

“What about Kevin?”

He smiles fondly. “My just right boy. Now that he has Kristen, I don’t worry about him as much.”

“Are you pleased that he’s leaving police work?”

“From the standpoint of his own safety, yes. But I’m not sure the social work gig will last.”

“Why not?”

“At West LA, he and Jon work…what? Six to eight murders a year? Now he’s going to be dealing with a different grieving family almost every single day. There were two hundred and eighty-two homicides in Los Angeles last year, and that’s a low number for them. Kevin’s a tough customer, but he’s not armor-plated. All that grief…” Dave rubs his chin. “I suspect that eventually Kevin will realize that he has $38 million in the bank, and it’s not necessary to continue to surround himself with suffering.”

“What do you think he’ll do?”

“Well, he’s going to teach at the LAPD Academy. He’ll enjoy that. And he still owes Mel quite a bit of paralegal work.”

“True. Do you think he and Kristen will stay in LA?”

“Yes. They’ll probably sell the condo and live at the house, but they’ll stay.”

“What about Jamie?”

Dave tips a smile at me. “Where do you think Jamie will end up?”

I laugh. “Not fair! To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. Although, I promise, he and Pete will always be together.”

Pete and Jamie's lot

Pete and Jamie’s lot in Alamogordo (photo by me)

“I’m glad to hear that. But I have some concerns about this move to Alamogordo.”

“So does Jamie.”

“Yes.” Dave sighs. “I suspect that if they hadn’t built that fantastic house, Jamie would consider changing his mind. But they did build it, and they’re determined to live in it.”

“What’s your primary worry?”

He chooses his words carefully. “From listening to Pete, I think that he believes that once he and Steve are living in the same town, that they’ll grow much closer. That their relationship will mirror Jamie and Kevin’s. And… I have serious doubts about that.”

“Why?”

“You know, Val and I got to know Steve well during those three years that he was helping out with Colin’s homeschooling. He’s brilliant, and he was a wonderful teacher for Colin. But he is intensely focused on his work, and he’s not terribly interested in anything else.”

“Or anyone else?”

“Oh, he’s personable enough. I’m sure he can maneuver through social occasions on a surface level without raising any flags. But underneath, he’s always thinking about physics. He and Colin clicked so well because Colin understood him and wanted to learn more.”

I say, “Pete has no interest in physics.”

“No. And another issue…the main reason that Kevin and Jamie are so tight is that they’re so much alike. Not just in interests, but in personality. Pete and Steve share a few interests, but they are nothing alike in personality.” Dave sighs deeply. “I’m concerned that this will be just another disappointment for Pete.”

“Hm. It would help Pete to realize this before he and Jamie move.”

Dave gives me a look. “Yes. If you could arrange that…”

I smile. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thank you.” He points toward Jeff and Val’s house. “Here comes Colin.”

“Ah, good. I’ll say hello to him, then I’d better get moving.”

We stand as Colin approaches. I say, “Wow, he’s tall.”

“He’s a half inch taller than Jeff, and still growing.”

Colin steps onto the porch and lowers his backpack. I hold out my hand. “Hi, Colin. I’m Meg.”

He shakes my hand firmly. “Hi, Ms. Perry. It’s nice to meet you.”

“You, too. Grampa Dave and I were just reminiscing about when Steve Ferguson taught you science.”

“Oh, yeah. That was fun.”

“Are you still heading for CalTech?”

“No, ma’am.” Colin sits on the porch rail, dangling his feet. “Uncle Steve was kinda upset when I told him, I think.”

“You can’t worry about what other people want you to do. You have to travel your own path.”

“That’s what Dad said.”

“Smart man. So what’s your plan now?”

“Environmental engineering. The program at USC has a concentration in water management.” Colin spreads his hands. “Space is awesome, but most of us are stuck here on Earth, and there are serious problems to solve. The fires last year really made me think about the drought… The more I learn about environmental engineering, the more I want to do it.”

“That sounds amazing. Good for you.”

He grins shyly. “Thanks. I’m super excited about it.”

I grin back. “I can tell.”

We chat for a while longer, then Colin starts his homework. Dave walks me to the car. “Thanks for coming.”

“Thank you for having me. I’m so glad I finally had the chance to meet you. My readers love you.”

He laughs. “Do they?”

“Some of them wish they’d had you as a dad.”

“Well.” He doesn’t quite know how to respond to that. “I wish I could oblige. Anyway. Thank you for my family. I’m a lucky guy.”

“You’re welcome.” I shake his hand. “I’ll see you again.”

“I hope so.”

He waves as I drive away.

 

4 Comments

Filed under Short Stories

An interview with Jon and Liz

The entrance to the condo building on South Beverly Glen Boulevard is unremarkable. Lots of glass; a hair salon to the left and a lingerie boutique to the right, both opening to the sidewalk. I punch the code that Liz provided into the box; the door responds with a satisfying thunk as the locking mechanism temporarily disengages.

I tug the door open then pull it closed behind me. I’m in a wide entryway. On my right, the sales office and mail room; on my left, the manager’s office and a concierge. On both sides, banks of elevators. I walk past them all and emerge into a courtyard… if you can call a space with a 25-meter pool a courtyard.

The pool deck is occupied by a few scattered folks; one man is swimming laps. I skirt the area on a gravel sidewalk lined with foliage, which partially screens the pool from me. Above me, rising 22 stories, are balconies. Around me are paths branching from the main walkway, leading to the front doors of first-floor condos.

I head for the back of the complex. Liz Nguyen and Jon Eckhoff’s condo is in the center of the rear section. I locate the correct path and approach, noting that I can see into the condo. There is a screened gate across the front door, but the door itself is standing open.

I ring the bell anyway, rather than call out. Immediately, Liz appears from the left. “Hey! Did you have trouble finding us?”

“Not at all.” I wait while she unlocks the gate, then step into the foyer. “Your directions were perfect.”

She locks the gate behind us then turns and, to my surprise, hugs me. “I’m so glad you’re here! We’ve been looking forward to this ever since you first met with Jamie and Pete.”

“So have I. And all of my readers. They can’t wait to see Jon in his natural habitat.”

She snorts a laugh. “I bet. Allow me to show you his natural habitat.”

“He’s not home yet?”

“No. He called; he’ll be about a half hour. Come on in. Can I get you anything to drink? We thought we’d order pizza for dinner.”

“No, thanks, I’m good for now.”

193px-Libraryatthebarn

By Ryanf1475 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50059913

She leads me into the great room. On the left is a kitchen bar separating the cooking space from the rest of the room. On the right, a sofa, loveseat, two chairs, a TV on the wall… and bookshelves. Every free bit of wall is covered with shelves; every free bit of shelving is weighed down with books. Books are stacked on end tables and coffee tables. It’s nearly overwhelming.

I say, “Holy shit.”

“Right?” Liz waves her hand at the room. “I used to have art on the walls. Can you believe this?”

“I should believe it. I created it. But… jeez, it’s like a natural disaster. You don’t get the full effect until you see it in person.” I examine the titles on the nearest shelf. History, sociology, anthropology, political science, and psychology predominate. “At least he’s not hoarding John Grisham.”

She laughs. “No. He’s totally a nonfiction guy.”

I scan another shelf. “These aren’t organized at all. How do you stand it?”

“Well…” She grins conspiratorially. “I thought, while you’re here, that you might address that with him.”

“Ha! Let me do the dirty work, huh?”

“He won’t listen to me. But you can make him get organized.” She shakes her head. “For a guy who’s so meticulous about his appearance, he’s such a slob with his possessions.”

“Who dusts all of these?”

She rolls her eyes. “Who do you think?”

“Hm. Well, I can change that, too.”

Her eyes light up. “Can you make him be quiet when he gets called out early in the morning?”

“I don’t know… that might be too far out of character.”

She sighs. “I was afraid of that. Sure you don’t want anything to drink? Wine? We can sit on the patio and chat.”

“Sure.”

Cold glasses of chardonnay in hand, we move to the patio through a sliding glass door that opens onto a private space, lined with redwood fencing and greenery, just large enough for a round table, four chairs, and a gas grill. I say, “This is perfect for two.”

“Yup. Not a lot of room for entertaining, but we don’t entertain much.”

“Your parents bought this for you when you moved back to LA?”

“Right. They didn’t have to drain the budget for my education – I had scholarships for Stanford and worked as a grad assistant at Berkeley – so the condo was my master’s degree present.”

“Must be wonderful, being an only child.”

“It is. Thank you for that.”

“You’re welcome. You must have questions for me.”

“Oh, yes.” She kicks off her flats and tucks her feet underneath her, suddenly serious.

Elbling

By Felix Engelhardt (originally posted to Flickr as Elbling) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Are we done with Jon’s drinking problem?”

“Yes.”

She heaves a sigh of relief. “Praise the gods. That was not a good time.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

She waves away my apology. “Jon wouldn’t be who he is without it. And I thoroughly enjoyed his conversation with his mother, telling her that he’d quit because I asked him to.”

“Ha! I bet. I can’t wait to delve more deeply into his family.”

She rolls her eyes. “Better you than me. Although I guess I’ll have to be there…”

“For most of it, yeah.”

“It’s okay. I can handle the Eckhoffs. I hope you’re planning to spend more time with my family, too.”

“Yup. As soon as I’m done with Jamie.”

She looks surprised. “You’ll be done with Jamie?”

“Oh, not permanently. But the core story will be told.”

“They’re not moving to Scotland, are they?”

“Not unless they have to. Have you heard from them since they’ve been gone?” Jamie and his entire family are on vacation in Scotland.

“Yeah, he texted me a couple of days ago. Some idiot’s trying to blackmail them.” She gives me the side eye. “I suppose you know about that.”

“I might.”

She snickers. “Will Jon transfer to Homicide Special?”

“That’s the plan. Can’t let all those clichés go to waste.”

“Oh, my God. Lt. Hopkins.” She shakes her head. “Jon had so much fun that week. Poor Kevin.”

I laugh. “I had fun with Lt. Hopkins, too. But yeah, poor Kevin.”

She grows serious again. “Kev and Kristen aren’t going to move away, are they?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

Please don’t do that.”

“The only way that’ll happen is if all of you are escaping. And it’s hard to imagine that short of The Big One, California won’t continue to be safe and friendly. Hell, if the rest of the country blows up, I may join you.”

She grins. “That would be fun. Weird, but fun.”

“Agreed. What else do you want to know?”

“I’m worried about Pete.”

That surprises me. “Worried how?”

“It’s hard to explain.” She frowns, her gaze fixed beyond me. “Since he left SMC, he’s… different. He gets fixated on things, kind of? He never used to do that. Like, if you get him engaged in a conversation about off-grid living, or his plans for New Mexico, he won’t shut up. But… I don’t know. It’s as if his world is narrowing. I don’t think that being alone all day at home is good for him.”

“Too much time for introspection.”

Yes. Exactly.”

“Has Jamie mentioned this?”

“Nope. I don’t think he’s noticed. And Jon doesn’t see it. So maybe it’s just me.” She gives me another sideways look.

“I can’t discuss it.”

“Uh huh. Understood. I won’t…”

We hear a key rattle in the lock of the front gate. I raise an eyebrow at Liz, who simply says, “I won’t.”

“Thank you.” With that, we stand to greet Jon.

He strides into the foyer, beaming. “Miss Margaret! Welcome to our humble abode!” He hugs me, then pulls Liz into a “mwah” kiss. “How the hell are ya?”

I can’t help but laugh. His personality is that infectious. “I am well, thanks.”

“Outstanding.” He peels off his suit jacket and drapes it carefully over the arm of the sofa, then sheds his tie.

I say, “Nice suit.”

He grins. “Thanks. Someone at West LA has to dress professionally.”

“Uh huh. Doesn’t Tim wear a suit?”

“He wears a sportcoat. Not the same at all.” Jon rolls his sleeves up. “You ladies ready for pizza? I’m famished.”

We order pizza. While we wait, Liz pours more wine, and we reconvene on the patio. I note with approval that Jon is only taking tiny sips. “What’s going on at West LA, with Kevin on vacation?”

He snorts. “Not a damn thing. Boooooring. Jill’s working through an online certificate program in forensics, Max is in a continuing ed thing downtown, and Tim and I are going through the Bart Hightower murder book for the eighth time, making sure we haven’t missed anything.”

“Ah. When does that go to trial?”

“David Gillespie is scheduled for October. What happens to Robert Camilletti depends on the outcome of Gillespie’s trial.”

“David and Robert are still blaming each other?”

“Yeah. We’re pretty confident that David pulled the trigger, though. Robert was right – his fingerprint wasn’t on the trigger. We’ll see what the jury says.”

“What’s happened at the monastery?”

“Ha! Get this. Trent Gillis was elected as the new abbot.”

“No shit! Maybe he’ll be good at that.”

“I think he will.”

I ask Liz, “How is Clinton doing?”

“He seems okay. The past few weeks, especially, he’s more like his old self.”

“Have you been to dinner with Clinton and his sister yet?”

Liz laughs. “Not yet. You should be there for that one, shouldn’t you?”

“Heh. Probably.”

We finish our pizza, chatting about UCLA and LAPD matters, then Liz gives me a significant look. I say, “Okay, Jon, I have a task for you. Liz and I will help.”

He’s immediately suspicious. “A task?”

“Yes.” I stand. “We are going to organize the books in your living room.”

His mouth forms an O. “But…”

“But what?”

“But then the books in the office won’t be organized in the same way. So why start?”

“Okay, maybe we’ll include those.”

Liz is grinning. Jon stares at me. “This will take all night.”

Liz says, “It’s Friday. Where else do you have to be?”

I say, “It won’t take all night. This is gonna be quick and dirty. Large categories of subjects, not LC call numbers. Come on.”

He sighs. “I have to change.”

“Okay. Liz and I will formulate our plan.”

Jon disappears into the hallway leading to the master bedroom, shaking his head. Liz and I repair to the living room. I say, “What do you think? Separate piles for history, anthropology, etcetera?”

“Sure.”

Liz and I quickly establish categories in the center of the living room floor, with one book each representing its subject. Jon returns, barefoot, wearing jeans and a Two Days to Solve t-shirt. Dressed down, he looks five years younger. I say, “They have t-shirts already?”

“Yeah. Handed them out to all of us when they left. So what are we doing here?”

We show him the pre-placed categories. He says, “What if a book fits in two places?”

Liz groans. “This is why we never get started with this project.”

I say, “Then pick the one where you’ll remember to look for it.”

“Uh huh. How are you two gonna make that decision?”

I grin. “You are going to have to trust us.”

“Oh, God….”

An hour and a half later, we have all of the books from the living room shelves on the floor. There are stacks sliding off stacks, and the boundaries are starting to blur, but we’ve made excellent progress. I say, “Okay. Now to the office.”

Jon grumbles. “It’s weird that you know where our office is.”

“No, it’s not, I created it. Come on.”

There are twice as many books in the office. We empty two walls of shelving, then pause for cold pizza and a beer. Liz says, “We’ll have to start reshelving some of these, if we’re not gonna start walking on books.”

We’re all aghast at the idea of walking on books. I say, “Okay, Jon, what subject do you want in the living room?”

“Um…history, I guess.”

“Okay. I’ll start shelving the history pile. You two keep bringing books from the office. Let’s get back to work.”

Jon groans. “You’re a slavedriver.”

Liz just grins.

I don’t worry about the order of the books I shelve, even though my librarian nerve cells are twitching to put them in alphabetical order. I figure Liz can tackle that later, if she wants. In a half hour I’ve depleted the history pile in the floor. Jon adds an armful of books to the criminal justice pile, and looks at me hopefully. “Should we start reshelving another subject?”

“How many more history books do you have in the office?”

“Oh. Never mind.”

It’s nearly midnight by the time all of the books are off the floor and back on shelves. The living room is full of history, anthropology, and sociology. The office holds criminal justice, psychology, philosophy, and other. We are sweaty and exhausted. I stand back and spread my arms. “Look at this. Better, right? And there’s still some space at the end of each shelf to add another book or two.”

Jon brightens. “See, Lizzie? Room for more.”

I hold up a finger. “One or two more. Once the shelves are filled, you have to start following the one in, one out rule.”

He sighs deeply. “Okaaaaaay.”

“And another thing. As of right now, you are responsible for dusting these. Every week. And you might as well dust the office and living room in their entireties while you’re at it.”

“Okaaaaay.”

Liz is smirking. I say, “I’ll know if you don’t.”

Another sigh. “I know.”

Liz says, “Want anything to eat or drink? Water? Beer?”

“No, thanks. I’d better get to the hotel.” I’m staying in a dorm on campus, which is empty for the summer.

“I’ll see you at the library at noon, then.” Liz hugs me. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Me, too.” I hug back. “Thanks for everything. I’ll see you tomorrow.” I’m finally getting my tour of YRL.

Jon says, “I’ll take you to campus.”

I watch as he dons his shoulder holster. “Do you wear the gun even when you’re not on duty?”

“Yup.” He gives me a significant look as he shrugs a windbreaker over his shoulders. “You never know, right?”

“Right.”

We take the elevator to the garage, where Jon unlocks Liz’s car and opens the passenger door for me. It’s a short trip to campus, so I don’t waste time. As soon as Jon has backed out of the parking space I say, “You must have questions for me, too.”

“Yeah.” He glances at me, suddenly serious. “Will Liz get tired of me eventually?”

“Get tired of you?”

“Yeah. I mean…” He frowns at the gate as it rises. “I’m so hyper. And my hours on the job can be lousy. I don’t know why she puts up with me.”

Jon. You and Liz are golden. Trust me. You two will be together until you’re old and gray. And in case you hadn’t noticed, she’s a tad hyper herself.”

“You have a point. But…”

“But what?”

“My family.” He shakes his head as we turn onto Beverly Glen Blvd. “My parents still think we’ll have kids.”

“But if they don’t like Liz, why do they want you to have kids? You need to sit them down and explain the facts of life to them. What about your brother?”

“They’ve been trying for years and can’t. Seth and Sarah have spent a fortune on fertility treatments. My parents have helped pay for them. No dice.”

“That’s sad. But it doesn’t mean you have to reproduce.”

“I know.” His expression is sad. “Liz will always be a pariah to them, won’t she?”

Abc1069

By 1069abc – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34551201

“Probably. Why don’t you start to pull away from them a bit? Being with them only stresses both of you out. It messes with your Zen.”

“I know we should stay away.”

I punch him lightly in the arm. “Come on, Detective. Strengthen your resolve. Tell ‘em they can accept you and Liz the way you are, or they can see far less of you. Their choice.”

He nods, intrigued. “I will.”

“Good man. What else do you want to know?”

We’re at the stoplight at Beverly Glen and Wilshire, which turns green. Jon looks both ways before pulling out to turn left. “Will this social work deal work out for Kevin?”

“It’s funny that you ask. I’m not sure yet. But he is quitting the force, at least actively.”

“I hate to go to Homicide Special without him.”

“I know. But I have a treat for you to make up for losing Kevin.”

He lights up like a little kid. “Ooooh! What?”

“Susan Portman. You and she will be partners, and the two of you will become legends.”

Jon hoots with laughter. “Oh my God, that is awesome.”

“See? There’s life after Kevin. What else do you want to know?”

We’ve reached the dorm; Jon pulls to the curb and cuts the engine. “Why did you decide to write gay mystery? Why is Jamie gay?”

The question takes me aback. “Whaaaaat?”

“I’m curious. We’re all curious.”

“You’re the first to ask, though.”

“Well, all is relative. Jamie figures it’s because he’s gay. End of story.”

I shrug. “That’s right.”

He shakes his head. “Nunh unh. There has to be more.”

I consider my answer. “Well… I wanted to explore a long-term steady gay relationship. How do two guys navigate a marriage? Especially when one of them isn’t content to take on the housewife role? And, you know… het couples are boring. Meh. No offense.”

He laughs. “None taken. It has been interesting to watch Jamie fight off traditional roles. He’s told Liz about some of what Pete had to work through.”

“Yes. It’s still a struggle for Pete… not so much the heteronormative stuff now, but the navigating part.”

“It’s a struggle for Jamie too. He’s so frickin’ independent.”

“True. Plus, he’s not used to having a dependent partner. All but one of his exes were independent types.”

Jon drums his fingers on the steering wheel, frowning slightly. “Pete’s been changing since he left SMC.”

“Yeah, Liz and I discussed that. It’ll be addressed.” I yawn. It’s waaaaay past my bedtime.

Jon notices. “Oh, it’s late. I’ll walk you in.”

As we enter the lobby I say, “Time for one more question.”

“Can I have a dog?”

I burst out laughing. “Maybe.”

Maybe? What does that mean?”

I grin as I press the elevator button. “Good night, Jon. Drive carefully.”

He laughs and pulls me into a hug. “Yes, ma’am.”

 

6 Comments

Filed under Short Stories

New short story: Moving Day

Here’s your first short story of the summer! Dave’s house has been relocated to the lot beside Jeff’s farm, as planned in Cloistered to Death, and it’s time to get the house ready for habitation in its new location.

 

Moving Day

Saturday, May 26, 2018

“Wait.” My sister-in-law, Kristen Beach, pointed as I zipped past the Highway 76 exit, the first after leaving Camp Pendleton, headed south on the 5. “You missed the exit.”

Kristen, my brother Kevin, and I were in my new Jeep, on our way to my dad’s house. Dad had chosen to relocate our childhood home, lifting the house from its foundation in one piece and trucking it slowly east, to the lot beside my brother Jeff’s farm. The actual move had taken place on Wednesday. Today we were coming down to help Dad, Jeff, and the rest of the family move Dad’s belongings into the house.

I said, “No, I didn’t. I want to go by the lot first.”

She turned and gave me a sideways look. “Are you sorry your dad did this?”

“No. We just want to see. Right, Kev?”

Kevin was in the back seat, where he’d been absorbed in reading material for one of his social work classes. “Um. Right.”

Kristen’s expression read, Yeah, sure. “Uh huh.” But she didn’t pursue it further.

That suited me. I wasn’t in the mood to dissect how I felt at the moment.

I took the next exit, Mission Avenue, and drove east, then turned left on South Tremont Street. My dad’s address for 44 years. We cruised slowly down the street and pulled in at the curb where our house used to stand.

June Arbogast, my dad’s neighbor for most of those 44 years, was on the lot. The Arbogasts had bought the lot from Dad, with the intention of gardening on it and having more room for their grandkids to play. She straightened up, shading her eyes, then smiled when she saw us. “Jamie, Kevin, hi! It looks weird, doesn’t it?”

Kevin said, “Yes, ma’am.”

I pointed to the holes in the ground, where fence posts had stood. The fence had been removed to allow the house to be transported. “Will you replace the fence?”

“Yes. We don’t want the kids to be chasing balls into the street, or people roaming through to steal oranges.” She waved at the orange tree, which used to shade my dad’s bedroom window. “Your dad’s moving in today?”

Kevin said, “Yes, ma’am. They got all the utilities hooked up yesterday.”

Moving_a_house,_LA

Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

“Good.” She shook her head. “That was a strange sight, I have to say, watching your house go around the corner up there.”

I said, “I bet it was.” It wasn’t a sight I’d wanted to see. “We’d better go. We just wanted…”

She smiled sympathetically. “I understand. You stop by any time you want.”

Kevin smiled. “Yes, ma’am. We will.”

Kristen had kept quiet. We got back in the car and I pulled away from the curb, shooting her a glance. “What?”

“Nothing.”

“It’s Dad’s life. He has to do what’s right for him.”

“Agreed.”

“Stop looking at me.”

She laughed.

 

My husband, Pete, would join us later today. He – and our dog, Ammo – had been in Arizona for the past month, helping his sister, Christine, at her family’s ranch while her husband, Andy, recovered from a broken ankle. Andy was still in a walking boot and unable to ride horses for at least another two weeks, so Pete would drive back to Tucson on Tuesday. But Ammo would come home with me.

When we got to Jeff’s, Kevin passed the property and pulled into the next driveway – at the end of which stood our house. My dad’s house. I said under my breath, “Wow.”

Kristen said, “It fits.”

“He needs to paint it now.” The pale gray color, which had fit the setting well in town, didn’t look right out here. “It needs to be green or blue. Or brown. Or something.”

Kevin laughed. “I bet that’s on the agenda.”

Dad’s belongings were stored in Jeff’s barn, in an empty stall. We’d helped move most everything last weekend. He was having new appliances and furniture delivered tomorrow; he’d gotten rid of his living room furniture, which was admittedly pretty shabby. Once those trucks arrived tomorrow morning, we could start carrying boxes into the house.

Today was reserved for painting the interior of the house.

We parked to the side of the drive and clambered out. I walked up to the front porch, skirting the newly-poured sidewalk stretching from the driveway, and peered in the front living room window. It was strange to see the house empty. Kristen followed me as I went around to the back, where another batch of concrete forming a patio was curing. She said, “I like the additions.”

“Me, too.”

“Satisfied?”

“For now.”

We struck out across the field between the house and Jeff’s property. When we got there we were enthusiastically greeted by Ralphie, Jeff and Val’s yellow Lab, and Phoebe, their border collie. Dad; his girlfriend, Claudia Stratton; Jeff; Val; and Colin and Gabe, Jeff’s kids and my nephews, were in the kitchen, where Val was in the middle of canning something.

Val was always in the middle of canning something. Kristen went to investigate. I hugged Dad and Claudia. “When do we start painting?”

Dad said, “We were just waiting for you to get here. The rollers and paint are already over at the house.”

I said, “I like the patio and sidewalk.”

Kevin said, “Me too. They turned out well.”

Dad grinned. “They did, didn’t they? I’m going to get a new grill as soon as the concrete is solid. Next weekend, probably.”

Kristen asked, “When are the horses coming?” Jeff and Val’s plan was to use the bulk of Dad’s two acres as pasture for two new draft horses.

Jeff said, “After we get back from Scotland. They’re bought and paid for, but the owner’s holding them for us until we’re ready.”

We were taking a three-week family vacation to Scotland in July. Kevin said, “Plus, you have to get the fences up.”

“Exactly. The installers are coming Monday to start that job.” A large fence would ring the back of Dad’s property for the horses; a smaller fence would surround the house and yard, keeping the horses out of Dad’s garden beds.

Val lifted a rack of jars from the canning boiler and turned off the burner on the range. “That’s it. You guys fill that cooler with what you want to drink, and we’ll go.”

Kevin and I filled the large cooler with ice and drinks – water, Coke and beer – and we set out back across the field, Kevin and I lugging the cooler between us. Jeff locked the dogs in the house, and he, Val, Dad, Claudia, Kristen, and the boys trailed after us toward Dad’s house.

We carefully climbed onto the front porch without stepping on the new sidewalk and left the cooler there. Dad opened both the front and back doors, and we went around the house opening all the windows. Dad had already spread drop cloths. He said, “Okay. The paint for each room, with rollers and brushes, is already in the room it belongs to. Claudia and I will take the kitchen. You guys can divide up the rest however you want.”

Jeff said, “Val and the boys and I will take the living room.”

It was the biggest room in the house. It made sense. Plus, the boys would probably need supervision. Colin was 16 and Gabe was 14, and should be old enough to paint within the lines. But we could never be too cautious.

Kevin said, “We’ll take the back bedroom and bathroom.”

I said, “That leaves me the front bedroom.” Dad and I had already painted the guest bathroom a few months ago, when I’d evacuated to Oceanside during the Skirball fire in Bel Air.

Dad said, “Sounds good. Whoever finishes first will tackle the office.”

We assented. Dad made a circular motion above his head with his finger. “Let’s roll!”

We scattered to our assigned rooms. I had two gallons of eggshell finish paint for the walls of the bedroom and closet and one gallon of semi-gloss for trim. When I cracked the lid of the first eggshell can, I found a light yellowish coral color. When the evening light came in the front window, which faced west, this room would glow.

I poured the paint into the tray and got busy. This room had been my childhood bedroom, but I discovered that I wasn’t being assaulted by memories. Dad had converted our room to a guest room once I’d gone away to college. I’d slept in it plenty of times as a guest room since then.

Two hours later the bedroom walls were complete. I went to the porch to grab a Coke, just in time to see our car turn into the drive. Pete and Ammo were here.

He parked, waved, and went to the back seat to release Ammo, who bounded toward me

Aquincum_tegula_with_footprint_of_dog_IMG_0923

By Bjoertvedt [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

joyfully. I yelled, “Ack! Ammo, stop!” But it was too late. Dad’s new sidewalk would now have the faint impressions of four doggie paws.

Pete hustled after him. “Oh, shit. I didn’t know that was there.”

“It’s okay. Dad won’t care. It adds character.” I ruffled Ammo’s ears then pulled Pete into the house for a hug and kiss. “Welcome home.”

“Thanks.” He kissed me back. “What are we doing?”

“Painting the guest bedroom. Come see.”

He followed me to the room. “Oh, I love this color. What’s left?”

“One of us has to go back in the closet.”

He gave me a look. “Huh??”

“To paint, doofus.” I grinned. “We both won’t fit in the closet. Do you want closet or trim?”

“Oh.” He laughed. “The closet, I guess.”

“Okay.” I drained my Coke and we got to work. An hour later Pete and I were both finished. Dad and Claudia were done in the kitchen, and came to inspect our work. I said, “Where are we going to wash out the rollers and brushes?”

“Out in the yard. Wrap ‘em in the drop cloths and we’ll carry them outside.” Dad grinned. “It looks great.”

“Thanks. I love the colors you picked.”

“Me, too.”

I experienced a moment of panic. “You didn’t paint over our heights, did you?”

Every year on our birthdays, Dad had measured our heights against the frame of the door leading from the kitchen to the back yard. He said, “Of course not. But I have taken detailed photos of that entire door frame, just in case this place ever burns down.”

I sucked in a breath. “Don’t even say that.”

Dad patted me on the head with a grin. “Don’t worry.”

 

We hadn’t taken a break for lunch, and we were all ravenous. Back at Val’s, we dug into chicken salad she’d made that morning, with grapes and bits of apple, and thick slices of warm sourdough bread with butter.

Kevin asked Dad, “Have you been sleeping at the house?”

“I did last night, once the water and power were on.”

Pete, ever the psychologist, asked, “How did it feel?”

Dad grinned. “I woke up in the middle of the night, wondering where I was. It took a few seconds. But the view of the sunrise from my bedroom is glorious.”

Kristen asked, “What’s left to do? Window treatments, I know.”

“Yes. I thought about installing them myself, then decided to let the pros do it. They’re coming on Monday.”

Claudia said, “Tomorrow, after the furniture and appliances come, we’re going shopping for new bedding and towels to coordinate with all the new colors.”

I said, “Jeez. It’s almost like a new house.”

Dad gave me a close look. “It’s the same house, sport. We’re just spiffing it up some.”

Of course it was. I said, “Yes, sir.”

 

Kevin and Kristen were spending the night at Jeff and Val’s. Pete and I had brought our own air mattress, to sleep in the front room that we’d painted earlier in the day.

After a couple of hours, Claudia went home – she had dogs to walk and feed. Once it was nearly dark, we said goodnight to the rest of the family and picked our way by flashlight across the field to Dad’s house. We’d closed the windows when we left; now the odor of fresh paint assaulted our nostrils. We went around re-opening windows and turning on ceiling fans, and the smell soon started to dissipate.

We raided the cooler for more beer; the ice was only half melted and the beer was frosty cold. Dad’s porch rockers from the old location were already placed on the front porch. Pete sat on the top step, his back against the post, and Dad and I took the rockers. Ammo settled at my feet. We kicked back and watched the last rays of sunset sink over the Pacific, a sliver of which we could see in the distance.

I said, “This view is fantastic. So much better than in town.”

Dad chuckled. “No comparison. And when the horses arrive, we’ll have them for entertainment too.”

Pete asked, “How much of the two acres will be given over to them?”

“One and a half. I’ve got a half acre surrounding the house. That’s plenty.”

I said, “You’ll have to borrow Jeff’s tractor to mow.”

“Yup.”

We drank in silence for a few moments. Pete asked, “Any regrets, Dave?”

Dad didn’t even have to think about it. “Very few. I hate losing the orange tree, and there were a lot of memories with that old lot – but this is the right move. And I know that Julie would approve.”

My mom, who’d died nearly 38 years ago, when I was six months old. I said, “I bet she’d have loved it up here.”

Dad smiled. “She sure would.”

 

After another beer for each of us, we went in. Dad said goodnight and went to his room; I heard the shower running a minute later. I said, “You want the shower first?”

“No, you go ahead. I’ll blow up the mattress, then I’ll shower.”

When I exited the shower, wrapped in one towel – we’d brought towels and sheets with us – and rubbing my hair with another, Pete was unhooking the battery-powered pump from the air mattress. “There you go. You can make it up however you want.”

“Thanks.” I nearly dropped my towel, before remembering that there weren’t any shades on the window, and turned off the light to don my pajamas in the dark. Then I turned the light back on, and began pulling sheets out of the bag we’d brought. By the time Pete came in, already wearing pajama pants, I had the bed ready to sleep in.

We hung our towels in the bathroom, turned off the light, and slipped under the duvet. Ammo circled three times at the foot of the air mattress and was soon asleep. I stretched out with a sigh. Pete said, “How are you feeling about this now?”

I tried to honestly evaluate my emotions. “It still feels odd, but it doesn’t feel wrong. When Dad first mentioned moving the house, I was a little freaked out. But now that I see it here – it’s still our house. Just in a different place. A better place.”

“This is a great location.” Pete reached over and squeezed my hand. “I predict that eventually, you’ll all be asking yourselves why no one thought of this before.”

I chuckled. “Probably. And it makes me feel great that Dad is here with Jeff and Val right over there. I mean, he’s still in awesome shape, but as he ages…”

“Right. And if Gabe decides to take over the farm, maybe he could live here and help out your dad. Or if he’s partnered up, maybe your dad could move over to Jeff and Val’s.”

Gabe, at fourteen, was showing every sign of wanting to follow in the footsteps of Val’s family, all of whom were farmers in the Central Valley. I said, “And if Gabe decides on another path, heck, Kevin and Kristen might move here sometime. Who knows?”

“Yep.” Pete squeezed my hand again then rested his hands behind his head. “Anything is possible.”

10 Comments

Filed under Short Stories, Writing

New short story: The Rest of the Story

Happy Easter, everyone. In Oceanside this morning, Dave and Claudia are having breakfast together…

The Rest of the Story

Claudia Stratton parked on South Tremont Street, in front of Dave Brodie’s house, and cut the engine. She stepped out of the car and sniffed the air. Bacon. Yum.

She climbed the steps to the porch. Dave’s front door was open, the screened gate across it closed. She called, “Yoo hoo…”

Bacon_(1)

By Renee Comet (Photographer) – English | Français | +/−, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24036670

Dave hollered, “Coming!” She heard something clatter, then he appeared in the entry hall, grinning as he unlocked the gate. “Sorry. I’d just taken the muffins out of the oven.”

“Perfect timing, then.” Claudia kissed him and dropped her purse and tote bag in the living room.

Dave locked the gate behind her. “Hungry?”

“God, yes.”

In the kitchen, the scent of bacon and blueberry muffins was heady. Claudia breathed in deeply. “Mmmm. Anything I can do?”

“Nope. Just pour yourself a cup of coffee.”

Claudia complied, then sat at the table as Dave set a plate of muffins and bacon in front of her. “Thank you. This smells wonderful.”

He passed her the butter. “Dig in. Happy Easter.”

“Happy Easter to you, too. What are Jeff and his crew doing?”

“Jeff’s on call, so they’re staying home. I think they’re transplanting tomatoes today.”

“Ahh. Can’t wait for tomato season.”

“No kidding.”

Claudia almost inhaled her first muffin then crunched a piece of bacon. “Did you take the boys to church when they were little?”

“On Easter and Christmas, yes. The impetus came from my dad, though. I wouldn’t have.”

Claudia considered, then decided the conversation was appropriate for Easter. “Do you believe in God?”

Dave shook his head and sipped his coffee. “No. Vietnam made me an agnostic. That old saying, ‘There are no atheists in foxholes?’ That’s BS. Foxholes create as many atheists as they convert.”

LRPs_directing_artillery

By Icemanwcs – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28018478

“I don’t doubt that.”

“Then Julie’s death finished the job. Convinced me that life is entirely random. I stopped believing that night.”

Claudia hesitated, thinking, Do I really want to ask this? Dave noticed. “Out with it.”

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. But…what happened that night?”

A deep sigh, his gaze fixed somewhere beyond the back door of the house. “I wasn’t worried yet. It was only 10:30. She’d said they’d be home by 11:00. I was feeding Jamie his last bottle before I put him down for the night. Jeff and Kev were already asleep.”

“How old was Jamie?”

“Six months to the day. We’d thrown a little six-months-old party that afternoon, just the family.” He smiled sadly, remembering, then the smile faded. “When the doorbell rang, I couldn’t imagine who it was. When I saw the state troopers, I couldn’t begin to process why they might be there. Then one of them noticed Jamie, and his face changed…and I think I stopped breathing. I don’t even remember exactly what they said.” He winced. “Everything went out of me. Right through my feet and into the floor. I just…folded up. And I dropped Jamie.”

Claudia sucked in a breath. “Oh my God. But he was okay?”

“Yeah. One of the cops caught him. The bottle hit the floor, he squawked, but then settled right down. The other cop caught me and maneuvered me to the sofa. Everything after that is kind of a blur. The cops were asking me questions, but I couldn’t answer any of them. It was as if I was underwater. I couldn’t hear right. I guess the one who was holding Jamie went into the kitchen, saw the list of emergency numbers on the fridge, and called the Arbogasts next door. So they were there, then Charlie Fortner was there. June Arbogast told me later that she put Jamie to bed. Then Jeff woke up and came to the living room. All the grownups there freaked him out, and he started to cry. Then I started to cry.” Dave had been holding his knife; he set it carefully on the edge of his plate. “And I didn’t stop.”

Claudia’s heart was breaking for him. She reached out; he took her hand and squeezed it. “Next thing I knew, my brother Denny was here. Somehow he finagled an overnight cross-country ride in the rear seat of an F-14. Landed at Miramar and borrowed a vice admiral’s driver to bring him here.” He snorted softly. “Your tax dollars at work.”

“It must have been a relief to see him, though.”

“Yeah. He took charge of everything. My dad arrived later the next day, and my oldest brother Doug the day after that.”

“When did you learn what had happened?”

“It was on the news the next morning. I didn’t see it, but Denny did. He told me. I didn’t know until then about the others. That Tracy was dead, too.” Dave drew in a deep breath. “I wanted to see Julie. I got it in my head for a while that it wasn’t true, that I wouldn’t believe it until I saw her. So Doug and Denny went with me to the medical examiner’s office.”

“Oh, Dave. How awful.”

“Doug and Den tried to convince me not to, but I had to.” He swallowed. “It wasn’t as bad as it could have been. She was…she had a cut, here.” He drew a line across the right side of his forehead. “And a few nicks from glass fragments. But otherwise, her face was untouched.” He picked up his knife again and examined it. “They wouldn’t let me see the rest of her. Months later, during the trial, I found out why. The engine from Tracy’s car had ended up in the front seat with her and Julie. They were both crushed. The pictures of the car that they showed at trial…” His voice faded.

Claudia was deeply regretting that she’d started this conversation…but maybe it was good for Dave to talk about it. She hoped so. She said tentatively, “It must have been instantaneous.”

“Oh, yes. The cops and the medical examiner all assured us of that. That was…I was glad to know that.”

“When did your dad come to stay?”

“Doug stayed for two weeks. During that time Dad went home, closed the house and packed his things, and drove his truck back here, cross-country. Once he was here and settled, Doug went back to Germany, and the rest of our lives started.”

“How were the boys?”

“Jeff was a mess. Poor little guy. He was almost three…every morning he’d wake up asking, ‘Is Mommy home yet?’ We had to keep reminding him that she wasn’t coming home. He kept that up for almost a year. I guess he finally got old enough to process it.”

“That must have been terrible for you.”

Dave shook his head. “Ripped my heart right out, every day.”

“What about Kevin?”

“He was confused for a few weeks. He asked where she was a few times. But he was only twenty months. It didn’t take him long to forget.”

“I suppose Jamie wasn’t affected.”

“No. He was a happy baby anyway, and he was getting plenty of extra attention…he was fine.” Dave smiled, remembering. “That state trooper, the one who caught Jamie? His

CHP_Shoulder_Patch

By California Highway Patrol – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29152153

name was Ray Peña. He had a boy the same age, Damon, and three older daughters. Ray lived in Carlsbad, but he stopped by a few times, just to check on me, I think. One time he was off duty and had Damon with him. Damon and Jamie played together and got along well, and Ray and his wife started inviting the boys over to play. Jeff was in a clingy stage and never wanted to go, but Kevin and Jamie would have a grand old time. Damon and Jamie ended up playing youth rugby together. They’re still friends.”

“What a nice man.”

“Yeah. Ray and his wife are fine people. He’s retired now, but if he’s up this way, he still stops by.”

“How long did Jeff’s clingy stage last?”

Dave chuckled. “Until he was about a month into kindergarten. Hoo boy, was that a fight. He did not want to go to school those first few weeks.”

“He was afraid you’d be gone when he came back.”

“Subconsciously, yes. Fortunately, Charlie Fortner’s daughter, Lauren, was in Jeff’s class, and she and Jeff became best buds. The Fortners, Jeff and Lauren’s teacher, and Dad and I all joined forces to help Jeff, and it worked. We knew he was better when he started asking if he could go home with Lauren after school.”

Claudia squeezed Dave’s hand again. “You and your dad did a terrific job. Your sons are a credit to both of you.”

He smiled. “Thank you. Sometimes I wonder how they would have turned out differently, if Julie was here.”

“Do you think it would have changed them significantly?”

“Probably not. They were born with their personalities. But maybe Jeff would have been a bit more confident, growing up. And Jamie wouldn’t have experienced as much pain from Dad’s rejection of him when he came out. Otherwise…not much difference.” He stood and reached for her coffee mug. “Refill?”

“Please.”

He set the full mug in front of her and wrapped his hands around his own. “We need to plan a trip East. My family is eager to meet you.”

“Likewise.” Claudia stirred cream into her coffee. “Can we visit Arlington while we’re there?”

Dave was sipping coffee; his eyes crinkled in a smile over the rim of his mug. “Absolutely.”

9 Comments

Filed under Short Stories