Tag Archives: short story

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.”

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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.”

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New short story!

This takes place back in December, and actually precedes the story Retirements that I posted here on New Year’s Day. I couldn’t not comment on the fires that had such an enormous impact on both Westwood and Oceanside, and thereby on all of the Brodies.

Enjoy.

Dragons

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The first indication that something was wrong came at 5:12 am, 48 minutes before my phone alarm was due to sound. Instead, my phone rang. Insistently, it seemed. The ringtone was the theme from the old TV show Hill Street Blues. Kevin was calling.

I was instantly awake, adrenaline flooding me, dreading news of some family disaster. Pete grunted and rolled over, pulling the pillow over his head. I answered, “Hey, what?”

“You probably shouldn’t go to work today. There’s a fire up by the Getty and the smoke is blowing right over UCLA.”

Not what I was expecting, and I was momentarily confused. “What? The Getty is burning?”

“No, the fire’s still east of the 405.” Kevin was outside; I could hear wind whipping past his phone. “Most of Bel Air is being evacuated.”

“Holy shit. Including your house?” Kevin and my sister-in-law, Kristen Beach, owned a house in Bel Air that was originally Kristen’s and a condo in Westwood that was originally Kevin’s. They spent weeknights at the condo and weekends at the house.

“Yeah. Everything between Sunset and Mulholland, and the 405 and Roscomare.” Kristen’s house was not far north of Sunset, on a cul-de-sac called Ashdale Place.

“Can you get to the house?”

“No. It’s okay. There’s nothing there that we can’t lose, and I doubt the fire will make it that far south. I hope.”

“Where are you?”

“At Sunset and Bellagio, directing traffic. Anyway, it’s smoky as hell out here. Your asthma would flare up in a hot second. You need to stay inside, regardless of what UCLA does about closing or staying open.”

“Okay. Be careful.”

“I will.” He hung up.

I dropped my phone on the bed in front of me. “Well, shit.”

From under Pete’s pillow came a muffled grunt. “Huh?”

“There’s a wildfire across the 405 from the Getty. They’re evacuating half of Bel Air.”

He scrambled to a sitting position, which sent the pillow tumbling to the floor. “What?

I repeated what Kevin had told me. “He says I need to stay inside.”

Pete sniffed the air tentatively. “I’ll check outside.” He swung his feet to the floor.

Our yellow Lab, Ammo, scrambled to his feet. Pete hurried down the stairs ahead of me and edged through the back door. He returned in a few seconds. “Jesus. The smoke is terrible.”

“Can you see flames?”

“No.” He glanced down at Ammo, who was dancing around his feet in anticipation of a walk. “I guess you have to go out, buddy, but you won’t want to stay long.”

“Do you need a filtration mask?” We had a box somewhere, bought for times when the outdoor air quality would affect my asthma. Like today.

“Nah. I’ll breathe through my shirt.” He hooked Ammo’s leash to his collar, and they eased out the door.

I got a whiff of smoke and tried to think. Even if we stayed home all day, Ammo would need to relieve himself several times. Inevitably, the smoky smell would insinuate its way into the house. I went upstairs and closed the doors to our bedroom, the guest bathroom, and our office/second bedroom, then dug into our hallway linen closet and found the filtration masks. I carried the box and two beach towels downstairs with me, and stuffed one of the beach towels along the bottom of the front door. It was well sealed with weather stripping, but I thought it better to practice an overabundance of caution.

Pete and Ammo returned in just a couple of minutes, Pete coughing and Ammo snorting and pawing at his nose. Pete said, “It’s getting worse.”

I held up the second beach towel. “While the back door is closed, let’s use this.”

“Good thinking.” He bent to unleash Ammo. I passed him to shove the towel against the door, and sniffed. “Ugh. I can smell it on you.”

“I’ll take a shower right now.”

“I closed all the doors upstairs. Let’s keep them closed.”

“Right.” He trotted upstairs.

I went to the living room with a banana and orange juice, turned the TV to the local news station, and gasped at the sight of the entire hillside along the 405 in flames. It looked as if drivers were headed into the mouth of hell. I grabbed my phone and began to text – first to my supervisor, Dr. Madeline Loomis.

Hi Dr. Loomis, I’m going to take a sick day. Pete went outside and says the air quality is terrible.

She responded immediately. Yes, I’m watching the news right now. I haven’t heard what the U. plans to do but can’t imagine they’ll hold classes.

I wasn’t so sure about that, but answered, Let’s hope not.

Indeed. Take care.

You too.

My next text was to Ali Fortner, who lived with her wife, Mel Hayes, about a mile southwest of the Getty. Hey, are you smoked in? You’re not going to work today, are you?

We’re smoked in here, but our current job is in Pasadena, so I could go to work. But I might not be able to get back home. If the fire jumps the 405, we’ll have to evacuate.

OMG. Surely it won’t.

Dunno, but I don’t want to leave Mel here alone to handle that by herself. I can send Drew, Melissa, and Amanda to the job. They all live east.

Drew, Melissa and Amanda were three of Ali’s employees. Sure. Keeps the client happy and you out of danger. Kristen’s house is in the evacuation zone.

Shit, that’s right. Were they there?

No, at the condo. Kevin’s on traffic control at Sunset and Bellagio.

Poor Kev. You’re staying inside, right?

Oh hell yeah. If you all have to evacuate, come here. Keep us posted.

Will do.

My next text was to Liz. Are you awake?

Of course. Jon was called out for traffic control. He’s at the 405 on ramp at Wilshire.

You going to work? I’m not.

Probably, unless the U cancels. Fingers crossed. I don’t wanna go out in this.

Seriously. Later.

I texted Kristen next. Talked to Kevin a while ago.

Yeah. He told you about the house?

  1. He thinks it’ll be okay.

We’ll see. Fire’s entirely out of control right now.

Yeah, I’m watching TV. Awful.

You’re staying home, right?

Yup. Already texted Dr. Loomis.

Good.

Pete trotted down the stairs, rubbing his hair dry with a towel, and stopped short at the sight of the burning hillside. “Holy shit. What are they saying?”

“It’s out of control. Ali said they have to be ready to evacuate. I told ‘em to come here.”

“Yeah.” Pete dropped onto the sofa beside me. “You should probably go to your dad’s for the rest of the week. Take Ammo with you. That way neither you nor he has to stay cooped up, and I don’t have to go outside with him here.”

“Great idea. But that’ll leave you without a car.”

He waved that off. “I shouldn’t need one. I’ll call the neighbors if I have an emergency.”

I called my dad as I watched a Breaking News notification crawl across the screen. Santa Monica-Malibu Unified District Schools will be closed today.

My dad answered, “Hey, sport. I just turned on the news. How bad is it?”

“Terrible. Can Ammo and I come for a visit?”

“Of course. What about Pete?”

“He’s gonna stay, in case Ali and Mel have to evacuate. They’ll come here.”

“Okay. Will you start out now?”

“Um – I’ve gotta shower and pack. I’ll leave within the hour, I guess. I’ll text you.”

“Okay. See you in a while.”

 

Forty-five minutes later I was on my way, heading west on Santa Monica Blvd. I wanted to avoid the interstates until I was as far south as I could go on surface streets. I turned onto Lincoln Blvd. – the Pacific Coast Highway – and headed south.

It was a gorgeous day for a drive, if I didn’t think about what was behind me. Once I got through the rush hour mess around Long Beach and made it to Seal Beach, I relaxed and enjoyed the scenery. Sunset Beach, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach…until finally I hit Dana Point and had to join the 5. Capistrano Beach and San Clemente zipped past, then I was in Camp Pendleton and nearly home.

I dropped from the 5 onto Mission Avenue and zigzagged my way through town. When I got to my dad’s, he was waiting on the front porch with a welcome hug. “Hey, sport. Have you had breakfast?”

“Ammo has. I haven’t.”

He grinned. “Then we’d better rectify that. Blueberry pancakes?”

“Sounds fantastic.”

While Dad cooked, I called Pete. “Hey, we made it. How is it?”

“I haven’t been back outside, but from the TV it looks terrible. Sam texted and said that UCLA is holding classes this morning.”

“What??”

“I know. Her professors emailed to say they were canceling classes. I bet UCLA will concede to common sense before noon.”

“I hope so. Is the fire still east of the 405?”

“Yeah, so far.”

“Good. Stay inside.”

“I’ll have to water the garden at some point, but I’ll wear one of these masks.”

“Okay. Love you.”

“You too.”

After we ate and cleaned the kitchen, Dad and I took Ammo for a long walk. Back at the house, we both got Cokes from the fridge and parked ourselves on the sofa, the TV turned to the local news channel. Dad opened his laptop and I texted Kristen. Did you go to work?

Yeah, but now they’re sending us home. You’re at Dave’s?

Yup. Watching the news. There are fires up by Sylmar and Santa Clarita, too.

I heard.

Have you heard from Kev?

About an hour ago. He was still at Bellagio.

OK.

 

I spent the rest of the day glued to the TV, between walking Ammo and checking my work email on my phone. UCLA announced that classes were cancelled for Thursday. That was good news for me; I wouldn’t have to use a sick day tomorrow.

Dad made a late lunch/early dinner – shrimp and grits, my favorite – and we bucked tradition by eating in front of the TV. I couldn’t look away.

At about 6:30 that evening, Kevin called. I put him on speaker so Dad could hear him.

His voice was raspy. Dad said, “You sound terrible.”

“I’ve been breathing smoke all day. This must be how dragons feel after torching villages.” He coughed. “They brought us masks eventually, but they didn’t help much.”

I asked, “How is it?”

“Zero percent contained, but it hasn’t jumped the 405, and I don’t think it will. Several houses have burned. The Getty is running its outdoor sprinklers full force.”

“I guess they have filtration systems to keep the smoke out.”

“Yeah.” I heard him moving around. “I’ve gotta take a shower and get the smoke smell out of my hair. Just wanted to let you all know everything was okay.”

Dad said, “Take care of yourself.”

“Yes, sir. Jamie, you stay there.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

 

Friday, December 8

I spent Thursday alternating between watching TV, jogging with Ammo, and helping Dad paint the guest bathroom. The Skirball fire in Bel Air, as it had been named, wasn’t growing, but wasn’t under control yet. Schools all over west LA and Santa Monica were still closed.

I woke on Friday to a text message from UCLA, reporting that classes would resume today. I texted Dr. Loomis to tell her I wouldn’t be in; she told me not to worry about it.

I climbed out of bed and threw on some clothes. I heard Dad’s shower running, and decided to let Ammo do his morning business in the back yard. We’d have time for a long walk later. I unlocked the back door and stepped onto the patio – and stopped cold.

I smelled smoke.

Ammo, fortunately, didn’t prolong the elimination process. I hustled him back inside, where I found Dad on the phone, worry painted across his face. He was saying, “Are you coming here? Sure, that works. Okay. See you shortly.” He hung up.

I said, “I smell smoke.”

“Yes. That was Jeff. There’s a fire spreading out around Bonsall. The farm is under evacuation orders.”

“Oh, no.” Jeff and Val, and my teenaged nephews, Colin and Gabe, lived on two acres in the hills of East Oceanside, not far from the border with Camp Pendleton, on the curiously named Sleeping Indian Road. They were just under two miles from the town of Bonsall. “Are they coming here? What are they doing with the animals?”

“The boys are coming with the dogs. Jeff and Val are taking the cats and goats to the clinic.” Jeff was the large-animal veterinarian at Miracosta Animal Hospital, which he owned with his best friend from vet school, Ben Khaladjian.

I said, “I’ll get out sheets and blankets for the boys.”

Forty-five minutes later Val parked at the curb in front of the house. Dad and I helped her carry in boxes and bags of personal belongings, their jumbled contents speaking to the haste with which they were assembled. Ralphie, Jeff and Val’s yellow Lab, greeted Ammo joyfully. Phoebe, their border collie, joined the butt sniffing fray, and the living room was suddenly overwhelmed with canines.

Only Colin was with Val. Once we had everything inside, we gathered in the kitchen. Dad asked, “Where’s Gabe?”

“Helping at the clinic. Some of their patients are being dropped off as people evacuate.”

I asked, “What did you do with the goats?”

“They’re in the largest dog run at the clinic.” Val went to the kitchen and retrieved a bottle of Coke. “I’ve gotta get back. Colin?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Colin was scrunched between the kitchen wall and the dining table. He looked miserable.

“Behave. And try not to worry.” She planted a kiss on his forehead. “At least one of us will see you all this evening.”

Dad walked Val out. I asked Colin, “What’s going on?”

He dropped onto the sofa. “Gabe is an asshole.”

Hoo boy. “What’s he done?”

“He keeps asking questions. What will we do if the house burns down? What will we do if the barn burns down? Do Mom and Dad think that the fire will reach us? He won’t stop.”

Colin was near tears. I sat down beside him. “Everyone deals with danger in their own way, Col. Gabe’s way is to gather as much information as possible. Your way is…different.”

“Gabe didn’t want to stay at the clinic. Dad made him.”

“Your dad understands better than anyone your need to get away from your little brother.”

“I guess.”

I put my arm around his shoulders, and he leaned into me. I hugged, then released him. “What are you working on for school?”

He sighed. “I have math and chemistry homework, and exams next week. I have to study.”

“Then why don’t you? It’ll take your mind off everything else.”

“Yeah, I guess.” He dug into the backpack at his feet and began extracting notebooks.

I said, “You can study in Dad’s office, if you want.”

He looked up at me. “I’d rather stay out here with you.”

“That’s fine, too.” I activated the closed captioning on the TV and muted the sound. Ralphie and Ammo settled at our feet; Phoebe sprawled in the center of the braided rug and promptly went to sleep.

The rest of the day dragged by. Colin eventually fell asleep, curled against the arm of the sofa. I tried to read, but couldn’t concentrate, since I was continually sneaking peeks at the TV screen.

The second time Dad came in from walking the dogs, he was shaking his head. “Jamie, it’s getting worse. Not that I want you to leave, but you might be just as well off at home at this point.”

“I’ll talk to Pete this evening and see what’s going on.”

 

At dinnertime, the only family member to arrive from the veterinary practice was Jeff. Colin had moved to the kitchen table, where he had homework papers spread out. Dad let Jeff in the back door and I heard him greet Colin, then he came into the living room and dropped onto the sofa, his head falling back, face pointing to the ceiling. “Oh. My. God.”

I said, “Are Val and Gabe staying at the clinic?”

“Yeah, they have air mattresses in my office.” Jeff lowered his voice. “I told Gabe that he could come with me if he could keep his mouth shut for five minutes. Five minutes. He couldn’t do it.”

“Colin was really upset when he got here.”

“I know.” Jeff sighed. “Yes, Gabe is thirteen, but he has to learn to consider the feelings of the rest of the family. Right now he’s like Val’s youngest brother. He barrels ahead with whatever he’s thinking, regardless of who else is listening.”

“I told Colin that Gabe was dealing with stress by gathering information.”

He huffed a laugh. “Yeah, I suppose there’s some of that.”

I nodded at the TV. “From what I can tell, you all are safe so far.”

“Yeah. We should be okay.” He rubbed his eyes. “A bunch of horses up at San Luis Rey died.”

The facility at San Luis Rey trained thoroughbreds. Hundreds of incredibly expensive racehorses lived there. “Oh, no. They weren’t your patients, were they?”

“No, they have their own vet. But I’m going down to the Del Mar Fairgrounds tomorrow, where the horses and other large animals are being sent, to help their vet out.”

“Are Val and Gabe at the clinic alone?”

“No, Ben and Carrie are both there.” Carrie Olmstead was Jeff and Ben’s newest partner. “We’re overflowing with people’s pets. The waiting room is full of dog crates.”

“Think anyone will get any sleep?”

“Not much.”

 

After dinner – Dad made Manwiches, one of our favorite comfort foods – I called Kevin. He answered, “Hey.”

If anything, he sounded worse than yesterday. “Hey. There’s a fire out at Bonsall. Jeff and Val are evacuated, and we’re getting some of the smoke. If it’s no worse there than here, I might as well come home.”

“It’s still terrible here. The fire isn’t growing, but the air quality is in the red zone. I can’t imagine why UCLA held classes today.”

“Because it’s the end of the semester and there’s no time for makeup days. Were Santa Monica schools still closed?”

“Yeah. Right now the plan is for them to open on Monday, though.”

“Okay. You sound awful.”

“No shit.” He cleared his throat. “Today was my last day of traffic control, though. Patrol will handle it from now on. They’re starting to lift the evacuations.”

“Is your house okay?”

“Yep, it’s fine.” I heard Kristen’s voice in the background. “Gotta go. Kris has a pan of boiling water for me to stick my face in so I can breathe steam for a while.”

“A poor man’s sauna. Go for it.”

We signed off. Dad said, “Still bad up there?”

“Yeah. Kevin sounds like he’s been gargling glass shards.”

I called Pete. He answered, “Hey, how’s the farm?”

“Safe, so far. Jeff and Colin are here this evening. I just talked to Kevin. The air quality here isn’t great, but he thinks it’s probably worse there.”

“Yeah, it’s still awful. Stay where you are. Maybe tomorrow it’ll start to improve.”

“Have you been getting lots of work done?”

“Sure. I’m caught up with grading papers, and I’ve been cooking all day. Now I’m glued to the TV.”

“It’s a fascinating psychological phenomenon, this inability to look away.”

He huffed a laugh. “Yeah, I’m sure there are hundreds of studies on it already. Ammo’s doing okay?”

“Oh, yeah. He, Ralphie and Phoebe are having a grand old time. This house is not big enough for three dogs. I don’t know how we managed it, growing up.”

“You were smaller back then. You didn’t take up as much space.”

I laughed. “Yeah, okay. Sleep tight.”

“You, too.”

I hung up with a sigh and looked around the house. The dogs had grand-old-timed out and were slumbering on the living room rug, each having staked out his or her favorite piece of it. Colin was back at the kitchen table with his homework. Jeff was in Dad’s study, talking to Val. Dad was in the shower.

I retrieved my book – Quid Pro Quo: What the Romans Really Gave the English Language – and tried to ignore the flickering TV screen.

 

Saturday, December 9

By Saturday morning I was afflicted with a serious case of cabin fever. After breakfast, Jeff and Colin headed for the Del Mar fairgrounds, and I decided to brave the outdoors long enough to drive to the YMCA. It was in the direction of the fires, so the smoke would be worse there, but I’d only be outdoors between the car and the building.

Even so, by the time I got to the Y my lungs were reacting to the smoke. I hustled inside and showed my membership card from the Santa Monica Y, then took a puff from my rescue inhaler before I went to the pool.

After an hour of swimming laps I felt considerably better. Once I was dressed I decided to stop by the veterinary clinic, to see if I could help.

I was greeted in the waiting room by a cacophony of barking. There were at least thirty small dogs, all crated, lining the walls and bench seating. Denise, the receptionist, was on the phone, a finger jammed into her free ear. She was saying, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Steele, but we are overflowing. No, ma’am, none of the evacuations have been lifted, so no one has picked up their pets yet. I wish I could help, but we simply do not have room. Okay. You’re welcome.” She hung up and rolled her eyes at me. “Hey, Jamie. Can you believe it?”

“No. This is crazy.”

“Tell me about it. And that woman is upset because she’s going on vacation, and the kennel where she was going to board her dog is full. She’s not even one of our patients.”

I started to reply, and the phone rang again. Denise said, “Val’s out by the dog runs. Go on back,” and answered the phone.

I went through one of the exam rooms – also containing crated dogs, these two considerably larger – and encountered Ben Khaladjian, Jeff’s partner, studying an X-ray mounted on a viewing box. He turned in surprise. “Hi, Jamie. I didn’t realize you were in town.”

“Yeah. The air quality is far worse in LA than it is here. I thought I’d see if you needed any help.”

“Nah, we’re okay. All the techs are in. We’ll have to pay some overtime, but it’s worth it.”

“No kidding. I’m gonna say hi to Val, then.”

“Okay.” He turned back to the X-ray.

Val was in an oversized dog run, hip deep in goats, scooping goat chow into dog dishes. Gabe was wielding a garden hose, cleaning out the back half of the run while the goats were occupied at the front half. I said, “Looks like everything’s under control.”

Val straightened up. “Yeah, we’re managing. What are you doing out and about?”

“I went to the Y to swim. Hey, Gabe.”

“Hey, Uncle Jamie.” Gabe turned off the hose. “Are you going back to Grampa Dave’s?”

“Yup.” I raised an eyebrow at Val, not knowing whether I should offer to take Gabe with me.

She considered for a minute then said, “Okay, Gabe, you can go. Colin can spend the night here tonight. Get your backpack.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He hurried in the direction of the offices.

I asked, “Is he behaving?”

“Better than yesterday. We’ve been running his little ass ragged, which has helped considerably.”

“Good.” I coughed.

“Uh oh.” Val frowned at me. “You need to skedaddle.”

Gabe reappeared, hauling a backpack. I said, “Skedaddling. See ya.”

As we drove west, I noted that Gabe was more subdued than usual, and he didn’t look my way as he spoke. “I miss Colin.”

“Gabe, listen to me. When Colin asks you to please stop saying something, you’ve gotta do what he asks.”

“I wasn’t saying anything bad. I was just speculating.”

“Yes, but you were doing so at a time when the entire family was under enormous stress, and your speculation was only making things worse. When your parents tell you to keep your mouth shut, you keep your mouth shut. Period. No arguing.”

“But…”

I held up a finger. “See what I mean?”

He slid down in his seat, pouting. “Yeah, okay.”

By the time we got to Dad’s, I was coughing again. Dad shook his head at me as I came through the back door. “You shouldn’t have gone out.”

“I’ll be fine, now that I’m back.” I used my inhaler again and took a deep breath. “See?”

“Uh huh.” Dad turned to Gabe. “Hey, pal. Do you have homework?”

“Yes, sir.”

Dad pointed to the kitchen table. “Then get busy.”

“Yes, sir.” Gabe plopped into a chair with a dramatic sigh and started rooting through his backpack.

I went to the living room and called Pete. “How is it?”

“Still nasty, but improving slightly. What’s going on there?”

“Jeff and Colin are at the fairgrounds tending to farm animals, and Val’s still at the clinic. I stopped by there on the way home from the Y. You’ve never seen so many dogs in one place at one time.”

“You went out? Why?”

“Because the only exercise I’d had for 24 hours was moving from sofa to kitchen table. Anyway, I brought Gabe back with me.”

“You shouldn’t have done that.”

“What? Picked up Gabe?”

He snorted. “You know what I mean.”

“I was outside for a total of maybe two minutes. Besides, the smoke is blowing more in the direction of Pendleton than toward town. I’m fine.”

“Uh huh.”

“I’m going to come home tomorrow. UCLA has already reopened.”

“If it’s considerably less smoky there…”

I said, “It’s not less smoky enough to keep me here. You can drive me to work. You’ve been keeping the smoke out of the house, right?”

“Of course. Let’s see what it’s like here tomorrow morning before you set out.”

I rolled my eyes, not that he could see me. “Okay. I’ll talk to you this evening.”

 

Sunday, December 10

After deliberations and consultations, I started in the direction of Santa Monica on Sunday at 11:00. I retraced my steps, leaving the 5 at Dana Point for the PCH. I stayed on Lincoln all the way to Arizona Avenue this time, where I turned right and headed home.

When I got out of the car my initial thought was, I should have stayed at Dad’s. The air quality seemed significantly worse to me here. But was I going to mention that to Pete?

Hell, no.

I let Ammo pee against the garbage bins, then he bounded up the steps to the back door ahead of me. Pete let us in and hurriedly re-stuffed the beach towel along the bottom of the door. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” I showed Pete my inhaler, from which I’d taken a puff as Ammo peed. “It hasn’t left my side.”

He kissed me hello then surveyed me with a critical eye. “You look okay…”

“Good grief. I’m fine. What’s going on here?”

“As you can probably smell, the fire isn’t out, but it’s 85% contained. All the evacuations have been lifted. What’s going on in Oceanside?”

“Jeff and Val are still under evacuation orders, but the containment percentage is growing and the fire itself doesn’t seem to be spreading.” I dropped my duffel bag on the landing of the stairs that led to the second floor, and snagged a Coke from the fridge. “Colin and Gabe are speaking civilly to each other again, so Val took them to the beach this morning to play Frisbee and burn off some energy. So to speak.”

“Maybe they’ll be allowed home tomorrow.”

“I hope so.”

 

Monday, December 11

Asthma is a bitch. This time, she won.

Pete drove me to work on Monday morning, dropping me at the back of the library building, as close as he could get to the front door. I hustled inside, only to find – to my deep dismay – that the first floor smelled like smoke.

Dr. Loomis apologized when I went to her office to say hello. “We couldn’t keep the smoke out on Friday. Every time the door opened, it rolled in. I’m afraid it’s gotten worse over the weekend.”

I said, “My office has been closed since Tuesday evening. It should be fine in there.”

And it was. I kept the door closed but unlocked, and posted a note. Come on in. I was fine until 11:00, when I had an appointment with a grad student in the first-floor research commons. I should have suggested moving to the third or fourth floor, but it didn’t occur to me.

I ate lunch in my office, Liz and Kristen joining me, and felt better afterwards.

But then it was time for my reference shift. On the first floor.

Liz was concerned. “I can handle reference by myself. You should stay up here.”

“Nah.” I took a puff from my rescue inhaler. “I’ll be okay.”

But I wasn’t.

When Clinton appeared at 1:30, he frowned at me. “Jamie, should you be here?”

Liz poked me in the shoulder. “See?”

I waved them both off. “I’m fine.”

“Hm.” Clinton wasn’t convinced, but he didn’t argue. “The word of the day is amphiptere.” He bowed and walked away.

Liz read the definition. “A winged serpent found in European heraldry. A type of dragon.”

I chuckled. “Kevin said last week, after his first day on traffic control, that he knew how dragons must feel. Breathing smoke all day.”

“Exactly.” Liz studied me. “Your color isn’t right.”

“What? My color is fine.”

“No, it’s not. Take a deep breath.”

I pulled my shirt up over my lower face and inhaled deeply. Or tried. I didn’t get far. My attempt produced a coughing fit. “Damn.”

“Uh huh. Why don’t you go to the ER before you fall over? Save an ambulance charge?”

“But…”

Liz picked up the handset on the desk phone and punched in a number. “Hey, Kristen. Would you mind coming out here and escorting your stubborn brother-in-law to the emergency room? Thanks.” She hung up and gave me a smug look. “You won’t argue with her.”

I sighed, to the best of my ability. “Fine.”

Kristen appeared, her purse already slung over her shoulder. “Do you have your wallet?”

“Yeah.”

“Then let’s go.”

I meekly obeyed.

Unfortunately, we had to cross campus to get to UCLA Hospital. By the time we arrived in the ER, I was considerably shorter of breath than I had been when we started out. I sat down and tried to breathe while Kristen took charge, and was soon in a cubicle, donning a gown and allowing an IV to be started.

The nurse attached a nasal cannula for oxygen and adjusted the flow. “The doctor will be here in just a second.”

“Okay.”

Kristen smirked at me. I stuck my tongue out at her.

A short, young guy in scrubs appeared at the end of my gurney. “Mr. Brodie? I’m Dr. Waverly.”

He looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him. I said, “Hi.”

“So, your asthma is kicking up?”

“Yes.”

He reached into his hip pocket and produced a notepad and pen. “When were you first diagnosed with asthma?”

What? I knew how this was supposed to go. Treat first, ask questions later. I said, “I was

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six.”

He made a note. “Uh huh. How frequent were your attacks as a child?”

Oh, shit. I remembered now. Back in 2012, when I’d been here with a cologne-induced asthma attack, this guy had been an intern. He’d tried to take an extensive history then, too. But if he was the doctor now…

Kristen, bless her, took over. “He’s having an attack now. Why the hell does it matter about his childhood?”

Waverly’s tone was condescending. Major mistake. “Establishing a history of the disease is essential to understanding the current problem. Ma’am.”

I’d have laughed if I’d been able. Kristen said, “Oh, for fuck’s sake. I’m going to find someone who knows what she’s doing.”

Waverly said, “Now, wait just a minute…”

Fortunately, I saw another familiar face walk past. I mustered all of my remaining breath and squeak-hollered, “Eric!”

Eric Padilla, Los Angeles Fire Department paramedic/firefighter and one of my ex-boyfriends, stopped and turned. “Jamie? Is it your asthma?”

I said, “Yeah,” and pointed to Waverly.

Eric was obviously familiar with Waverly’s tactics. “Ah. Be right back.” He hurried away.

Waverly glared at Kristen. “As I was saying. How frequent were your attacks as a child?”

“Three, four. Times. A year.” My ability to speak was diminishing. I seriously needed a nebulizer.

Eric returned with a woman, tall and imposing, with flaming red hair, already slinging her stethoscope from around her neck. “For God’s sake, Jim Bob. You’re gonna let him die while you ask him questions? Get outta my way.”

Waverly was incensed. “This is my patient.”

“Not anymore. Mazeroski wants to see you.” She stuck the bell of the stethoscope on my chest and grinned at me. “Hi. I’m Dr. MacMillan. Breathe.”

I breathed. Waverly stomped off. I was vaguely aware of Eric and Kristen introducing themselves to each other. Dr. MacMillan straightened. “I’ll get a nebulizer. Be right back.” She disappeared around the curtain.

Eric was saying to Kristen, “He’s a moron. He’s already flunked the internal medicine boards twice. He’s gonna kill somebody someday.”

I said, “Not me.”

He laughed. “Not today, anyway.”

“What are. You. Doing here?”

“Restocking the unit. Usually we do that at County, but they were out of saline and D5 today.”

Paramedic jargon. If I concentrated, I could interpret what he’d just said. Instead I waved my hand at Kristen. “Kevin’s wife.”

“So I understand. Small world. Cody Mendoza is my partner now.”

Oh.” Cody Mendoza, another LAFD paramedic, was the boyfriend of Jill Branigan, one of Kevin’s fellow West LA detectives. “Cool.”

Dr. MacMillan returned with the nebulizer setup. “Hanging in there?”

I grunted. She set about attaching the mask to my face. Eric said, “Gotta go. Jamie, feel better. Kristen, good to meet you. Tell Kevin I said hello.”

Kristen said, “Will do.”

 

As my lungs absorbed medication, Kristen called Pete. He showed up a half hour later, shaking his head. “I knew it.”

Kristen related the details of our afternoon, so I wouldn’t have to, then checked her watch. “Gotta get back to the library. You are not coming back to work this week.”

I attempted a protest. “But…”

Dr. MacMillan was in the cubicle, checking my IV settings and making notes. “She’s right. You may return to work when the air quality index falls below 100. Not before.”

I sighed. It was getting easier to sigh. “Yes, ma’am.”

Kristen left, and Pete perched on the stool that she’d been occupying. “You should have stayed at your dad’s.”

“Shoulda, woulda.”

“I know.” He rubbed my shoulder. “Lucky thing Eric was here, huh?”

“Uh huh.” I asked Dr. MacMillan, “Is his name. Really Jim Bob?”

“His first name is Jim. Jim Bob is the only nickname he has that I can repeat in polite company.”

“Gonna have that. Tattooed on. My chest. No Jim Bob.”

She laughed. “Sounds like a plan.” She handed Pete a sheaf of paper. “Discharge orders and prescriptions. Who’s your PCP?”

“Weikal.”

“Good. Make an appointment with him ASAP when you get home.”

“Can I go?”

She gave me a look. “Your peak flow is only at 72%. You know it has to be over 80. I’m just getting the paperwork out of the way.”

“Okay.”

She said to Pete, “I bet he’s a handful.”

Pete rolled his eyes. “You’re not kidding.”

I said, “Hey!”

She laughed and lightly smacked the bottom of my foot. “Behave. I’ll be back.”

 

The air quality in the basin remained lousy, even after the fires were contained. The semester ended before the air quality index dropped below 100, so I didn’t go back to work until January.

It occurred to me that, after we moved to New Mexico, my asthma should improve to the point of vanishing.

I was eagerly anticipating that benefit.

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Filed under Short Stories, Writing

A new story for the new year!

Happy New Year! May the coming year be better days for all of us.

There are changes coming to West LA Homicide for 2018. This story kicks them off.

Retirements

December 30, 2017

Pete tugged the red cotton sweater over his head and fiddled with the collar of the red-and-white striped button-down shirt underneath it, gazing worriedly into the full-length mirror that hung on our bedroom wall. “Does this look okay?”

The shirt collar was folded upside-down in the back; I stepped in to straighten it for him. “Of course it does. What are you nervous about?”

“I’m not nervous.”

I scoffed. “Right. Try again.”

He didn’t look my way. “I’m gonna be seeing a lot of people I haven’t seen in years. I just want to look my best.”

“Then you have nothing to worry about. Because you look great.”

We were attending a retirement party for Elias Pinter, a homicide detective with the LAPD’s West LA Division. I knew Elias and his partner, Jill Branigan, thanks to my involuntary involvement with several murder cases over the past few years. My brother, Kevin, and his partner, Jon Eckhoff, were the other two homicide detectives at West LA; they’d be at the party, too.

Pete had been a patrol officer in the West LA Division for ten years, five of them as Kevin’s partner. He’d left the force in 2007 to get a Ph.D. in psychology. I knew there were several cops still at West LA who’d been there during Pete’s tenure, and that he hadn’t always enjoyed friendly relationships with all of them.

A year or so before Pete left the force, his then-boyfriend had purposely outed him to the police department by calling human resources to ask about same-sex partner benefits. Once it was known that Pete was gay, several of his homophobic brothers in blue had turned on him.

With that in mind, I asked, “Are you afraid of coming across as too gay?”

He turned sharply, staring at me. “What?”

“There are still cops there who used to harass you, right? And you’ll be there with me…are you subconsciously worried about that?”

No.” He turned back to the mirror, and reconsidered. “Maybe. But I shouldn’t be. After all this time…”

I said, “It was a lousy year of your life. It’s understandable.”

“But I’ve been back to the station plenty of times.” Pete and I had sat behind a one-way mirror for interrogations more than once, when our expertise could help to determine whether people were telling the truth. “It never bothered me then.”

“Yeah, but those were work-related situations, and we didn’t stray from the detectives’ room. This is the first time you’ve been back in a social situation.”

He smiled, but it was a half-hearted effort. “You know me too well.”

“There’s no such thing as too well.” I smacked him on the butt. “Quit primping and let’s go.”

He laughed and followed me down the stairs.

 

When we arrived at the station, we found Kevin and his wife of two and a half months, Kristen Beach, and Jon and his wife, Liz Nguyen, getting out of a car. Jon grinned. “Perfect timing! Make yourself useful.” He handed me a wrapped box.

I wasn’t prepared for the weight of it, and staggered for a moment. “What the hell is this?”

Kevin said, “A bowling ball. I thought I told you.”

He had. Pete and I had contributed to the purchase of Elias’s custom-made gift weeks ago. Apparently, Elias was an outstanding bowler. I said, “Right. I forgot.”

Kristen handed Pete a tote bag that rattled. “Here’s the champagne. Don’t drop it.”

The party was being held in the room that was used for roll call and briefings every morning. The room was still half-heartedly decorated for Christmas. A drooping string of

Buffet_Food_Platter

By Paul Williams (originally posted to Flickr as Buffet Food Platter) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

colored lights was draped over the whiteboard on the front wall, and a spindly artificial tree – decorated with tacky ornaments and handcuffs – stood in the corner. Folding chairs lined the walls. Two tables at the front of the room groaned with food. There were multiple coolers and plastic tubs holding ice and drinks; Liz and Kristen commandeered two of the tubs for the champagne, and Pete helped them shove the bottles into the ice.

People were still filtering in. I scanned the room, and spotted a familiar face in one corner. Max O’Brien, until today, had been a homicide detective at Pacific Division. As of tomorrow, he was Elias’s replacement. Max’s first partner at Pacific had been Jon; since then, Max had been partnered with a woman named Susan Portman. As with Elias, I’d met Max and Susan on murder cases.

Max was with his husband, an ER doctor whom I’d met back in October at Kevin and Kristen’s wedding. I crossed the room to them. “Hey, Patrick. Max, welcome to West LA.”

Max grinned. “Thanks. I understand we’re gonna be on TV.”

I laughed. “Whether you want to or not, right?”

Kevin and Jon had been recruited by LAPD brass to appear on the reality TV show Two Days to Solve, where cameras followed a team of homicide detectives as they worked a murder case. Max and Jill would surely be caught up in the filming.

Patrick said, “It almost makes me wish he was staying at Pacific.”

Max elbowed Patrick. “Nah. It’ll be fun. Besides, the cameras won’t be in a car with Jill and me.”

I said, “Kevin’s not looking forward to it.”

Max said, “I bet he’s not. He agreed to it for Jon’s career, right?”

“Right.” Appearing on the TV show would boost Jon’s chances of being promoted to the elite Robbery-Homicide Unit downtown – also known as Homicide Special – when the time came. “I understand Susan’s headed to Homicide Special now.”

“Yup. We had her going-away party two nights ago.” Max laughed. “It was somewhat less sedate than this one will be.”

I snickered. Susan, when she wasn’t catching killers, was typically out in the desert on her Harley with an informal gang of other tattooed lesbian biker cops from around the Southland. “I can’t wait to watch as Susan transforms Homicide Special.”

Patrick shook his head, grinning. “They won’t know what hit ‘em.”

A commotion drew our attention to the front of the room. Elias and his family had arrived – his wife and two grown daughters, with their husbands and kids in tow. I knew that one of Elias’s daughters was with LAPD’s Human Trafficking Section. I couldn’t imagine how emotionally draining that must be.

There was a bit of noisy mingling, then a whistle blew. All the cops faced front. A man at the door – I couldn’t see well, but thought it was the new West LA captain, Dan Kazuma – called out, “Welcome, everyone! We’ll let everyone fill their plates and get settled, then we’ll formally embarrass Elias. Don’t be shy, there’s plenty of food.”

Patrick said, “I’m hungry. Let’s eat.”

 

I found Pete leaning against a wall, sipping a can of Coke. He brightened when he saw me. “There you are. I’m hungry.”

“You didn’t have to wait for me.” I glanced around. “Where are Kev and Jon?”

“Up there.” Pete nodded to a spot near the food tables, where Kevin, Kristen, Jon, and Liz were talking to Jill Branigan and her boyfriend, Cody Mendoza, a firefighter/paramedic. I’d met him at Kevin’s wedding, too.

I asked, “Has anyone hassled you?”

“Not yet.”

“Good.” I rubbed my hands together. “Bring ‘em on.”

“Oh, God. Don’t even say that.”

By the time we reached the food, most of the seats were taken. I had to trust that Kristen and Liz would save chairs for us. I loaded a plate with as much as it would hold – ham, potato salad, green beans, baked beans, cole slaw – and scanned the room. I spotted Kristen, who waved at me, and we headed toward her.

Kevin was in deep conversation with a cop I recognized, Ben Butler, who’d been Jill Branigan’s partner when she was still in uniform. Jon was chatting with another cop I’d met at Kevin’s wedding, Marcellus Bivins, a vice detective. I sat beside Liz carefully, so as to avoid dumping my plate, and waved my fork at the room. “Looks as if the whole division turned out.”

“All the ones that aren’t on shift, anyway.” Liz nodded to a small group of women across the room. “And those guys’ wives came.”

“Do you know them?”

“I’ve met most of them.” Liz wrinkled her nose. “There’s a loose, informal organization of cops’ wives. They’ve been inviting me to their meetings, but they always met during work hours. A couple of weeks ago, they had an outing on a Saturday, up in Griffith Park, so Kristen and I went. It was illuminating. To say the least.”

“What happened?”

“First thing we noticed, everyone was white. I was the only person of color there. Second, everyone had kids. There weren’t any other childless wives. Then, once they found out who we were, the unspoken assumption was, ‘Oh, your husbands are detectives, you think you’re better than we are.’” Liz rolled her eyes. “And you should have seen the looks Kristen got.”

“I can imagine.” Kristen was statuesque, stunning, and carried herself exactly like Kevin did, with a commanding confidence that was as intimidating as hell even when she wasn’t trying to be. Half the people at UCLA were afraid of her.

“Mm hm.” Liz had eaten a forkful of potato salad. She swallowed it and said, “Then we figured out that all they were doing was bitching about their husbands’ schedules and

Potato_salad_with_egg_and_mayonnaise

By Zeamays (Originally uploaded to Wikipedia, here.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

gossiping about the wives who weren’t there, some of whose husbands are apparently cheating on them. Then, a couple of them asked us what church we belonged to.”

“Oh, no.”

“Oh, yeah. I told ‘em that I was Buddhist, of course, so they pinned their hopes on Kristen.” Liz laughed. “She said, ‘I’m a Deist.’ I’m pretty sure they didn’t know what that was. One of them said, ‘Oh. How interesting.’ We didn’t stay much longer.”

I snickered, then lowered my voice. “Pete was concerned about the homophobic cops that used to hassle him. So far, no one’s approached him. Maybe they’re not here.”

“Maybe.” Liz scanned the room. “I don’t even know who that would be.”

I followed her gaze around the room. “Is it just me, or is there some segregation going on here amongst the ranks?”

“It’s not just you.” Liz shook her head. “The detectives’ unit doesn’t suffer from it, but I know that some of the street cops are a little bit racist.”

I sighed. “Do you suppose we as a society will ever get beyond that?”

Liz scraped the remnants of potato salad from her plate and licked them off of her fork. “Speaking as a woman of color? Nope.”

“That’s depressing.”

“That’s the Anglo-European colonial legacy.”

“Ugh.” I reached for her empty plate. “Want me to toss this?”

“Sure.”

I located the closest garbage can, in the corner behind the food tables, and tossed our trash. When I turned around, I was face to face with three guys. All were white, all were at least four inches shorter than me, and all had the overly broad shoulders and pimply necks that hinted of steroid abuse.

The ringleader seemed to be the guy in the middle. He was a bit taller than the other two, and his sneer was…sneerier. He said, “So you’re Ferguson’s boyfriend.”

I said, “I’m Ferguson’s husband. What’s your point?”

“Well, you know, we were just wondering. Which one of you is the woman?”

The two guys on either side of the speaker snickered. I laughed. “Seriously? That’s the best you can do?”

All three guys’ grins faded a bit. I said, “What’s your name?”

He scoffed. “I don’t have to give you my name.”

“That’s true.” I crossed my arms. “But I know who you are. You’re the asshole who used to hassle Pete, back when he was on the force. I’m sure he remembers your name.”

The two guys on either side looked as if they might be having second thoughts about participating in this confrontation. The guy in the center was apparently dumber. He puffed up his chest. “Who you callin’ asshole, faggot?”

I shook my head and addressed the guy on my left. “Honestly. They let him carry a gun?”

The guy I spoke to raised an eyebrow. The guy in the middle said, “Hey. He’s not talkin’ to you. I’m talkin’ to you.”

I kept my attention on the guy on the left. “What, he doesn’t even let you speak?

The guy frowned. “I can talk.”

The guy in the middle said, “Shut up, Rhodes.”

I said, “Rhodes, huh? Good. I figure I need at least one name for the report to Internal Affairs.”

Rhodes turned red. “His name’s Brendan Noonan. You don’t need to report me. I didn’t do anything.”

The guy on the right said, “God, Noonan, you’re a fucking idiot. We should have known better. Come on, Rhodes.” He turned to walk away.

Rhodes said, “You don’t need to report me.”

I said, “You’re right, I don’t. Have a nice day, Rhodes.”

He scurried away with the guy on the right, and they melted into the crowd…except that I spotted Jon and Jill Branigan, casually leaning against the wall about ten feet away, watching them go. I turned my attention back to Noonan. “Some friends, huh, Brendan? Deserting you when the heat’s on. What’s up with that?”

He snarled. “They’re pussies. So I asked you a question, faggot. Who takes it up the ass, you or Ferguson?”

I pretended to ponder, tapping my finger on my chin. “Here’s what I’m wondering…why do you care so much? Maybe you’re jealous. Or…ha! I know. You’re gonna fix a picture in your mind so you can jack off to it. It’s okay, Brendan. Lots of guys fantasize about getting fucked. It’s perfectly natural.”

Brendan wasn’t much of a boxer. He telegraphed the punch he threw at me so completely that I was able to block it, swiping my left arm up to catch his right forearm. He staggered, thrown off balance, and reached for the back of his waistband.

I didn’t hesitate. I hollered, “Gun!” I’d barely gotten the word out when a pile of cops, led by Jon and Jill, threw Noonan to the floor. Marcellus Bivins kicked him in the hand, sending the gun skittering into the center of the floor, where it was intercepted by Ben Butler.

And just like that, the room was silent, except for Noonan’s bellowing. Someone borrowed a pair of handcuffs from the Christmas tree; Jon snapped them into place and hauled Noonan to his feet.

A tall, grey-haired man whom I recognized as Lieutenant Banner, who managed the day-to-day operations of West LA Division, was immediately in Noonan’s face. “Noonan. What the fuck?

“He attacked me! I thought he had a knife!”

Banner looked over Noonan’s head at me. I said, “I did no such thing, sir.”

Jill said, “Eckhoff and I witnessed the entire confrontation. Noonan was unprovoked. He lost it, sir.”

Captain Kazuma pushed his way through the crowd. “What the hell’s going on here?”

Banner said, “Officer Noonan drew his weapon on an unarmed civilian, in this room full of civilians and children. Eckhoff, Branigan, if you’d escort Noonan to my office?”

Jon said, “With pleasure, sir.” He gripped one of Noonan’s elbows. Jill grabbed the other, and I saw Noonan wince.

Heh.

One of the women who’d been sitting in the wives’ conclave scurried after Banner, Jill, Jon, and Noonan. I figured she had the misfortune to be Mrs. Noonan. Captain Kazuma turned to the crowd. “Okay, folks, we’ll get this sorted out. In the meantime, there’s still plenty of food! Eat up!”

A hubbub rose from the crowd. Marcellus Bivins and a man I didn’t recognize had a word with Noonan’s co-conspirators, then guided them from the room. Several people lined up at the buffet table to refill plates. I moseyed back toward my seat, but was brought up short by Elias Pinter. “You sure know how to liven up a party, Dr. Brodie.”

“Thanks. I do what I can.”

He laughed. “In the future, when the old cops are sitting around reminiscing about epic retirement parties, mine will be at the top of the list. Thank you.” He slapped me on the back and headed for the opposite side of the room.

Back at my seat I was greeted by Pete, Kevin, Kristen and Liz. Kristen said, “For fuck’s sake. What did he say to you?”

I glanced at Pete, who had his arms folded, his expression guarded. I said, “Probably about the same as he used to say to Pete in the locker room, back in the olden days.”

Liz said, “What did you say that made him want to shoot you?”

“I suggested that his questions were prompted by homocuriosity.” I pointed to a cold can of Coke, unopened, that Kevin was holding. “I hope that’s for me.”

Kevin handed me the can; I popped the top and took a long drink. “Mm. Thanks. And I appreciate that you didn’t rush in to save me. I didn’t need it.”

I didn’t think you did.” Kevin shot Pete a look, and I thought, Oh. “But I never imagined that Noonan would be dumb enough to bring a gun to a retirement party.”

I said, “I think your captain might have an issue with steroid abuse among the rank and file.”

“Jill’s been saying that for years. I’m sure she’ll mention it to Banner.”

Liz said, “Well, you certainly created a flutter in the wives’ corner. And the woman who seems to be Mrs. Noonan is one of those that asked Kristen and me what church we attended, when we were at the picnic.”

I drained the Coke. “Sounds like she needs to attend to her own house before she worries about anyone else’s.”

 

Twenty-five minutes later, Jon and Jill reappeared and made their way to us. I asked, “What’s going on?”

Jill said, “Internal Affairs has arrived. They want to talk to you.”

“Ah. Okay.”

I followed Jill through the labyrinthine hallways to Lt. Banner’s office. To my surprise, I knew both IA officers. One was Detective Hines, who’d investigated Kevin’s shooting of Hunter Mitchell over four years ago.

The other was Lt. Nelson Hopkins, the cliché-spouting cop who’d recruited Kevin and Jon for Two Days to Solve, back in the fall. He brightened when he saw me. “Dr. Brodie, as I live and breathe! Who’d a’ thunk it?”

I said, “Hi, Lt. Hopkins, Detective Hines. Sorry about all this.”

Hines said, “From what we understand so far, it wasn’t your fault. Tell us what happened.”

I related my encounter with Noonan et al. Hopkins took notes; Hines listened, his expression grave. When I was done he asked, “There’s no history between you and Noonan?”

“No, sir. I’d never met him. But I suspect he’s one of the cops that used to hassle Pete Ferguson when he was an officer here. Pete and I are married now.” I shrugged. “Noonan must have seen us come in together.”

Hines asked, “And neither Rhodes nor Callaway said anything offensive to you?”

“No, sir. They deserted Noonan pretty fast.”

Hopkins snorted. “Rats leaving a sinking ship.”

I raised an eyebrow at Hines, who rolled his eyes ever so slightly and said, “Thanks, Dr. Brodie. If we have any further questions, we’ll let you know.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you.”

 

The rest of the party was uneventful. We toasted Elias with champagne, then he and his wife cut the enormous sheet cake and opened his gifts. I was pretty sure that the bowling ball was his favorite.

Elias and his family formed a sort of receiving line at the door, saying goodbye to guests as they left. Kevin, Kristen, Jon, Liz, Jill, Cody, Max, Patrick, and Pete and I stayed behind to clean up, and made short work of the mess. I was tying up the last garbage bag when a voice said, “Dr. Brodie?”

I straightened to see Captain Kazuma beside me. “Yes, sir.”

He held out his hand. “Dan Kazuma. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I apologize for what happened.”

I shook his hand. “No apology necessary, sir. It was my pleasure to deal with that problem for you.”

He huffed a laugh. “I’ve only been here for six weeks, but I already knew that Noonan and his buddies would present difficulties. It’s a relief to have them out of the way.”

“What will happen to them?”

“That’s up to IAG, of course.” Internal Affairs Group. “But Noonan will be fired, and he’s likely to have his pension reduced, if not stripped. Rhodes and Callaway will be reprimanded and transferred to someplace far less desirable.”

I nodded. “Sounds acceptable.”

Captain Kazuma eyed me. “You seem to be made of the same stern stuff as your brother.”

“Yes, sir. We were raised by Marines.”

“Ah. That explains a lot.” He gestured to the room, in which the others were replacing the folding chairs into rows facing front. “Thanks for your help with this, too.”

“You’re welcome. Kev and I were taught to clean up our messes.”

He just laughed.

 

Pete hadn’t said much since my confrontation with Noonan and his friends. As we walked home, I rattled on about Liz’s experiences with the cops’ wives, what Elias had said to me, seeing Lt. Hopkins again, my impression of the new captain… Pete didn’t say a word.

When we got to the house, he spoke. “I’m gonna change.”

Did he think I wouldn’t? “Um…yeah, me too.”

In our bedroom, he peeled off the red sweater and tossed it over the back of the recliner in the corner. I retrieved it, turned it right side out, and re-draped it neatly. “All right. What’s on your mind?”

He turned to face me, frowning. “I thought they’d confront me. Not you.”

“Are you disappointed?”

He looked startled. “What? No.” He considered for a moment. “Well…kinda. I’d planned scenarios in my head of what I’d say and how I’d handle them. I was ready for them. But then Noonan went for you.” He spread his hands. “I hadn’t imagined that.”

“You wanted to wade into the fray, didn’t you?”

“Yeah. Kevin stopped me.” He shook his head. “He was right. I’d have only made it worse.”

I said, “You told me once that Noonan – I assume that Noonan is the guy who tortured you at work – didn’t do it when Kevin was around. He was afraid of Kev, right? He most likely still is. He probably figured that if he tangled with you, Kevin would intervene. He didn’t know my name and didn’t realize I was Kevin’s brother, or he probably wouldn’t have approached me either.”

“No, he wouldn’t have. He’s a coward.” Pete crossed his arms and frowned at me. “He could have shot you.”

“Nah. He wasn’t fast enough.”

He shook his head slowly, his arms still crossed…but a smile was stealing across his face. “I can’t take you anywhere.”

“Uh huh.” I went to him and started to unbutton the red checked shirt. “I thought you said you were getting undressed.”

He laughed. “That is not what I said.”

But he didn’t stop me.

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Filed under Short Stories, Writing

I have a short story featured at Josh Lanyon’s blog today!

IMG_1595

Young Research Library, UCLA

Once again, Josh is turning over a chunk of her yearly Advent Calendar blog to other writers and artists. I wrote a story featuring Jamie and Liz at the reference desk, waiting out the end of the semester, when they encounter one of Josh’s characters from the Adrien English Mysteries.

You can find it here. Enjoy!!

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Filed under Short Stories

Free, new Jamie Brodie short story!

Introducing the first new short story since the release of Dirty Laundry! Jamie’s sabbatical has just ended, and he’ll be heading back to work after twelve weeks away. The story takes place (in real time) over last weekend, 9/23 and 9/24.

The next book in the Jamie series, Published to Death, begins on Jamie’s first day back at work – in other words, immediately after this story – but it won’t be released until November. Because reasons. Anyway. Without further ado, allow me to present It’s A Whole New Ball Game. Enjoy.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Home Sweet Home

At last.

Pete maneuvered the CR-V into the parking spot behind our townhouse and cut the engine. In the back seat our yellow Lab, Ammo, scrambled to his feet and tugged on his car harness, panting happily, his tail whacking the back of my headrest.

We were home.

We’d spent eight weeks in the UK and four in New Mexico. My sabbatical was over. The second draft of the book I’d written was with my editor, and I was due back at work on Monday.

We didn’t have much time to regroup. Pete’s 18-year-old niece, Samantha Fernandez, would arrive tomorrow evening with her parents, Christine and Andy, to move into student housing at UCLA. Pete was already four weeks into his new career as an adjunct instructor in Arizona State’s online psychology program, and his students’ initial papers were coming due. I had three months’ worth of email to plow through, and classes commenced on Thursday.

The coming week promised to be a whirlwind.

We unloaded the car and walked the dog. Back in the house, Ammo undertook an olfactory survey of each room, seeking scents that didn’t belong. Pete and I stood in the center of the living room and looked at each other. Now what?

I said, “Do you want to get groceries?”

“No. I don’t want to get back in the car until tomorrow. Do you want to unpack?”

“No. I’m not up for laundry tonight. Do you want to go through the mail?”

“No. I’m too tired to read it. Do you want to get something to eat?”

I wasn’t terribly hungry, but… “I guess. But not Indian food.” We’d eaten our fill of curry while in the UK.

Garnelen_im_Verkauf_fcm

By Frank C. Müller (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Agreed. Seafood?”

“Sure.” We’d been without seafood for four weeks. There wasn’t much to be had in Alamogordo.

We headed west on Wilshire toward the seafood market. Pete surveyed the businesses on either side of the street. “It’s like we never left.”

“It’s only been three months.”

“I know.” He kicked at a pebble and sent it skittering into the street. “Monday’s gonna be weird.”

I glanced at him. “Weird how?”

“Staying home. It’s the first day that you’ll go off to work and I won’t.”

“Are you having second thoughts?” Pete’s decision to leave his faculty position at Santa Monica College had been made under somewhat hasty conditions.

“Not at all. It’s just…” He shrugged. “Standing at the door, waving as you walk to the bus, saying, ‘Bye, dear, have a nice day…’ It all feels awfully housewifely.”

“Heteronormative, in other words?”

“Yeah. Except the roles that I anticipated before I knew better are entirely flipped now. You’re the breadwinner, marching to the office every day, and I’m the stay-at-home.” He frowned. “I never considered that it might feel like this.”

After five years of living with Pete, I knew better than to attempt an application of logic to his feelings. “Okay, what can we do to make it feel different to you? I’m not really the breadwinner; you will be working, after all. Earning your own money. How can we emphasize that?”

We stopped to wait at a crosswalk, and he gave me a sideways grin. “You are such a man of action.”

I laughed. “Yeah, right. I’m serious.”

“And it’s an excellent idea. I guess I could fiddle with the arrangement for my workspace. Maybe I can make it seem less like I’m at home.”

“There you go. And no slumming in your skivvies on the sofa. You have to get dressed and work in the office.”

The Walk signal appeared, and we crossed the street. Pete said, “I should draw up a schedule. Decide when I’m going to start and stop working every day.”

“Yes. I bet we could find a time clock app for you, if that would help.”

“It might. And I want to pay for my COBRA out of my own account.”

“Sure.” We maintained a joint bank account for joint expenses, and individual accounts for what we officially referred to as “other stuff.” I wasn’t able to add Pete to my own insurance until January.

We reached the restaurant, and Pete opened the door for me. “After you, sir.”

I grinned. Maybe holding the door for me would help Pete’s emotional state as well. “As you wish.”

 

Sunday, September 24

In A Whole Different League

After a lengthy trip to the grocery store, I spent the rest of Sunday morning unpacking and doing laundry. Pete switched his office chair to the opposite side of our desk, so he’d sit facing his bookshelves rather than the oh-so-comfy sofa bed. I located and downloaded an app to his phone that would allow him to clock in and out.

I was folding t-shirts when Pete came downstairs. “I’m not sure I care for the new desk arrangement. Maybe it’s the ex-cop in me, but sitting with my back to the room feels uncomfortable.”

“You can always switch it back.”

“True.” He took a bottle of water from the fridge and cracked it open. “I had another idea. Whichever of us packs your lunch for the coming day should pack one for me, too.”

“Ah, that’s smart. Eating out of plastic containers will make you feel as if you’re not at home.”

“Yeah. Now I just have to discipline myself to stay out of the garden while I’m supposed to be working.”

I smiled at that. “Hey, if your work is done? Clock out and go home. So to speak.”

“Thank you for working this out with me.”

“You’re welcome.” I hefted a tall stack of shirts and underwear. “You can repay me by carrying those to the bedroom.”

He grinned and accepted the armful of clothing. “I hope you don’t expect me to do laundry, since I’m gonna be home all day.”

“Ha! You’d better not. The laundry is mine.”

 

Having been out of the country all summer, Pete and I had missed a lot of baseball – and the season was coming to a close. My brother Kevin had tickets to the Dodgers-Padres game this afternoon, and Dad and my nephew Gabe were driving up from Oceanside to

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

By No machine-readable author provided. Imageman~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

join us.

Pete and I met the others at Dodger Stadium and hit the concession stands. We loaded up with Dodger Dogs and beer – soda for Gabe, of course – and climbed to our seats.

Dad went in first, followed by me, Pete, Gabe, Kristen and Kevin. The seats on the other side of Dad were occupied by four middle-aged ladies, all wearing Dodgers gear of various sorts. The one closest to Dad had a program open to the scorekeeping page and a pen in her hand.

As we sorted our food and drink, the woman on the other side of the scorekeeper raised her beer to us, spotting Dad’s Padres cap. “Hi there! Don’t tell me you’re Padres fans.”

Dad grinned. “Only half of us.”

The woman on the far side of the one who’d spoken said flirtatiously, “Which half?”

Dad laughed and pointed to Kevin. “Half of him,” – he pointed to me – “half of him, and all of my grandson and me.”

The woman with the scorecard said to me, “How do you get to be half of a Padres fan?”

I said, “We grew up in San Diego but have lived here for years.”

“Ah. Exactly the opposite of me.” She smiled. “I grew up here but have lived in San Diego for years.”

Dad asked, “And you’re not half a Padres fan?”

She chuckled. “I’ll root for the Padres when it won’t hurt the Dodgers.” She held out her hand. “I’m Claudia.”

Dad shook her hand. “Pleased to meet you, Claudia. I’m Dave.”

I took a closer look at Claudia. She was wearing a Dodgers cap over a blunt haircut – straight strands of strawberry blond hair, probably dyed, fell about an inch below the bottom of the cap. She had blue eyes with laugh lines in the corners, and just enough tan to look healthy. She was wearing a tank top and Bermuda shorts, and her arms and legs were toned. I stole a quick glance at her feet: socks and sneakers. Practical and comfortable.

Hm.

Gabe was chattering to Kristen about school; Pete was busy eating. I pretended to concentrate on my hot dog but continued to eavesdrop on Dad’s conversation with Claudia. He asked her, “What part of San Diego?”

“Carlsbad. What part of LA?”

“Oh, I live in Oceanside. My sons live here, in Westwood and Santa Monica.”

Claudia peered around Dad at me, just as I stuffed a bite of hot dog into my face. She grinned. “I certainly see the resemblance. Are you the dad of yonder grandson?”

I shook my head and tried to chew faster. Dad said, “No, yonder grandson’s dad is my oldest son. He didn’t come with us. Jamie’s my youngest, and Kevin, down on the end, is my middle boy.”

I snuck a surreptitious glance at Claudia’s ring finger. Empty. Claudia asked me, “How did you end up in LA?”

“I came to UCLA for library school and decided to stay. How did you end up in Carlsbad?”

“I spent the second half of my career in San Diego and decided to stay. What do you do?”

“I’m a librarian at UCLA.” I thought, I’ll ask the questions so Dad won’t have to. “Are you retired, then?”

“Yes, for two years. I was a pharmacist first, but when my husband died I needed more income. So I became a pharmaceutical rep, and San Diego was my assigned territory.” She held up her hands in mock surrender. “Don’t judge me.”

Widowed, not divorced. That was a plus. Dad said, “Hey, you do what you have to, right? My niece is a pharmacist.” My cousin Carly.

Stone mortar

By Nikodem Nijaki (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Claudia said, “Oh, nearby?”

“No, she’s in Wilmington, North Carolina.”

I asked, “How do you like retirement?”

“I love it.”

The first batter walked to home plate and the crowd began to cheer. Dad nodded at Claudia’s scorecard. “Do you keep score?”

“Yeah.” Claudia grinned at Dad. “I guess I’d better pay attention.”

Dad grinned back. “I guess you’d better.”

Pete had finished his first hot dog. He leaned over to me and whispered, “What’s going on over there?”

“Flirting.”

Excellent.”

For the next couple of hours I kept one ear on the ball game and one on Dad and Claudia. They mostly stuck to the topic of baseball. Claudia was very knowledgeable. Her parents had begun taking her to Dodgers games before she was born, and she was an encyclopedia of Dodgers history.

They didn’t talk exclusively about baseball, however. They exchanged last names – Claudia’s was Stratton. The women with her – Nancy, Kathy and Deb – had been her best friends since high school.

Claudia had two standard poodles. She lived in the southern half of Carlsbad. She had a vegetable garden, enjoyed travel and, after retiring, had taken up windsurfing.

During the fifth inning Pete leaned over and whispered, “How’s it going over there?”

“So far so good.”

After the sixth inning Dad excused himself and went to the men’s room. Claudia looked across his seat at me and smiled. “Your name is Jamie?”

“Yes, ma’am. It’s Jeremy, actually, but my oldest brother couldn’t pronounce that as a toddler, and his version stuck.”

She chuckled. “Are you married?”

“Yes, ma’am.” I steeled myself – this might wreck Dad’s chances – and pointed at Pete. “To this guy.”

I needn’t have worried. Claudia was delighted. “Oh, that’s wonderful. Congratulations.”

“Thank you.” I nudged Pete. “Pete, this is Claudia.”

Pete reached across me to shake hands. “Pete Ferguson. I’m glad to meet you.”

“Claudia Stratton. My pleasure.” She nodded at Kevin. “Is your brother down there married?”

I said, “No, ma’am. That’s his girlfriend, Kristen. May I ask – are you Dr. Stratton?”

She nodded. “I have a Pharm.D. Gone are the days when you can work as a pharmacist with only a master’s degree.”

“What kind of pharmaceuticals did you represent?”

“Anesthetics and IV pain meds. My customers were hospitals and outpatient clinics.”

“Glad to hear you weren’t pushing the overuse of antibiotics.”

She grimaced. “No way. Do you have a healthcare background?”

“No, no. I dated a paramedic years ago. And my oldest brother – Gabe’s dad – is a veterinarian.”

“In Oceanside?”

“Yes, ma’am. He’s the large animal vet at Miracosta Animal Hospital.”

Dad came back with popcorn and another soda for Gabe. “Did I miss anything?”

Claudia showed him the scorecard. “A walk and a strikeout so far.”

“Good.” Dad settled into his seat, giving me a sideways grin as he did.

Uh huh.

By the end of the game Dad and Claudia had exchanged phone numbers and arranged to meet for lunch on Wednesday. Claudia was the designated driver for her group; Nancy, Kathy and Deb were milling around the aisle somewhat drunkenly. Claudia shook her head, laughing. “I’d better corral these three before they cause an incident. Jamie, Pete, it was great to meet you. Dave – I’m looking forward to Wednesday.”

“Me too.”

Dad and Claudia shook hands, and she hustled her friends up the steps toward the exit. Dad watched them go; at the top of the steps, Claudia turned and waved. Dad waved back.

I said, “That went well.”

“It did, didn’t it?” Dad grinned. “We’ll see what happens Wednesday.”

Kevin said, “What’s happening Wednesday?”

I said, “Dad has a lunch date with the woman he was sitting beside.”

Kristen said, “I thought there was some getting-to-know-you going on down there.”

Kevin was astounded. “What? Who is this woman?”

I said, “Claudia Stratton, widow, retired pharmacist, lives in Carlsbad, windsurfs, knows how to keep score. I like her.”

Kevin shook his head like a dog shaking water from its fur. “What?

Pete said, “Claudia from Carlsbad. Try to keep up.”

Dad just laughed.

 

A couple of hours after we got home Dad texted me. Home safe, talk to you soon.

About an hour after that, Jeff texted me. Busy?

No.

My phone rang. I said, “Hi there.”

Jeff said, “So, Gabe is reporting that Dad has a new girlfriend.”

“Ha! Hardly.” I explained. “They never stopped talking through the entire game, and they’re having lunch on Wednesday. Signs are favorable, but it was only one afternoon.”

“How does she compare to Barb?” Dad’s last girlfriend, with whom he’d broken up a year and a half ago.

I didn’t even have to think about that. “She doesn’t. Claudia is in a whole different league, and she has dogs. But it’s way too early to speculate.”

Jeff sounded skeptical. “Hm. Okay.”

I laughed. “Relax. It’s probably won’t go anywhere.”

Jeff said, “Uh huh.”

When I hung up Pete said, “You don’t believe what you said.”

“I don’t believe what?”

“That Dave and Claudia won’t go anywhere.”

I crossed my arms. “You don’t believe in gut feelings, do you?”

“No.” Pete grinned. “But in this case, I’d say the evidence so far supports your gut.”

The buzzer sounded on the dryer, saving me from having to examine my guts any further. I said, “We’ll see.”

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Filed under Books, Short Stories

It’s short story release day!

dirty laundry

Dirty Laundry, the Jamie Brodie short story anthology, is released today! If you pre-ordered, you should already have it on your reading device. If you didn’t, you can buy it now! Here are the links for Smashwords and Amazon.

I’m not releasing this one in paperback. It would cost way too much. When I publish through CreateSpace, they set the minimum price based on the number of pages. This is over 300 pages and would probably be nearly twenty bucks. Too much.

Anyway. I hope you enjoy the stories!

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Filed under Books, Publishing, Short Stories