It Happened One Morning by B. B. Wright

The Path Ahead

It Happened One Morning

A Short Story by B. B. Wright

Black coffee is my elixir for the morning blahs. Definitely not a morning person, I am quite happy to hermit myself away in the den to suck on my over-sized mug of coffee and to read the morning newspaper quietly. It’s not that I’m a growly bear or anything close to it because I think of myself as being quite amiable and pleasant to be with during this time. I just don’t engage in conversation other than the pleasantry of an occasional grunt or nod. You see, in order for conversation to be even remotely considered by me, the cobwebs layering my brain must be fully dissolved and my body must be working more or less on all cylinders. Generally, this occurs after I have finished my third mug of coffee. I say “more or less” because conversation is often hindered by feelings of exhaustion brought about by the number of times I have had to pee. But, nevertheless, at precisely that point in the morning, I am ready, willing and able to gleefully meet the world head-on.

I had poured my first mug of coffee and picked up the morning paper from the hall table when I was distracted by a knock at the door. The bucked tooth Cheshire cat smile of Molly Beaverbottom beamed back at me through the leaded glass window of the front door. Unable to hide, I half-heartedly smiled back and opened the door.

Dressed in an undersized rainbow-colored tracksuit that did nothing to flatter her figure, she said: “Good morning, John. Where’s Julie?”

Juggling my coffee mug and paper with one arm, I used the other to thumb over my shoulder toward the kitchen.

Molly was someone I never relished talking to no matter the time of day. Her voice reminded me of nails scratching on a chalkboard and her chatter had the unpleasant sound of a very pissed off squirrel. Okay! Okay! I’ve exaggerated somewhat. But, I think you get my point.

As I watched Molly waddle down the hallway toward the kitchen, her thighs made the strangest flapping sound, almost like farts, which caused me to giggle. And, for the first time, I thought her surname was well claimed.

I had barely stepped into the den and shut the door when there was another knock at the front door. At first I ignored it until its persistence beckoned me to do otherwise. Slamming my morning paper down on the table beside my LAZ-Y-BOY chair, me and my Marvin the Martian mug exited the den.

Six boisterous and rather intimating women, whom I have never met before, barreled through the open front door causing my coffee to splash over my new shirt, down my pants and onto the floor. Without salutations and blind to the spillage, my mug initially had somehow captivated their attention. Uncomfortable to say the least and feeling like a stranger in my own home I was about to thumb them in what I thought would be the correct direction, when Molly, playing the part of The Pied Piper, whistled this herd toward the kitchen.

“JULIE!” I shouted, not making any attempt to hide my displeasure.

Julie’s cherub-like face appeared around the door of the kitchen: “Yes, dear?”

Oh how I sometimes hated her sweet angelic face and her lilting melodious tone. Especially now.

“May we talk for a moment?” I asked.

Stiffening my resolve, I had every intention of giving her a piece of my mind.

She glanced behind her, said a few words to whoever was nearby and came down the hall to me.

“Ummm…” I stammered.

As always, my resolve turned to mush when she looked up at me with those damn hazel eyes of hers.

“There’s paper towel under the sink in the guest bathroom,” she began. “I’d suggest you change your clothes. Bring them directly to the laundry room and give them a good scrubbing before putting them in the washing machine.”

“Julie? What’s going on?”

“You mean the girls? It’s my new yoga club. We’ve decided to meet here in the mornings, Monday to Friday. It would mean, though, that you would have to give up the den.”

“I would?”

“Yes. It’s the only room large enough to lay out our mats? And, I couldn’t very well ask them to do that in our dirty and dusty unfinished basement. Now could I?”

Julie’s logic per usual was impeccable. She had a way of blending in touchy history with a stinging remark without actually coming right out and saying it.  But her point was crystal clear to me.The history in this case was my misplaced promise to her to build a games/family room in the basement.

Guilty as charged and without any further thought, I gracefully relinquished the den.

“Later we’re going for a run along the path you and I used to run in the mornings. You know the one that…”

“That leads into the woods and comes out along the Port Credit River. Yes I know the one,” I interjected.

“Do you think you might want to come along?” she asked.

“I’m not in the greatest shape, Julie.”

“None of us are. That’s why we’re doing it. Who knows? Maybe your example will draw out their husbands.”

“M-a-y-be. Let me think about it. In the meantime I’d better clean up this mess and get dry clothes.”

“Before you do that, would you mind getting some dishes down from the cupboard over the fridge?”

Prying my way into the kitchen through the jocular squeals gathered at the fruit bowl table, I poured myself some coffee and looked around for the antique step-up Julie and I had bought over thirty years ago. I remembered that she often stored it in the pantry cupboard and, finding it there, I pulled it out and I set it up in front of the fridge and began to climb. When the top step disintegrated under my weight everything went into slow motion, from my fall, to Marvin the Martian smashing on the floor, to the startled look on the women’s faces.

Real time hurt began the moment I crashed onto the floor. Before  passing out, I remembered the weirdly contorted configuration of my leg still stuck through the top step.

A quick call to 9-1-1 and eight hours later I reentered our home in a leg cast and on crutches with Julie’s help. I was told by the doctor that I had broken my leg in three places and that I was to keep my leg elevated as much as possible. It was going to take several months of healing and rehabilitation once the cast was off before I would walk properly again.

Since the television was in the den along with my LAZ-Y-BOY chair, I had, without trying, recaptured the peace and quiet of my enclave.

Julie’s care for me during this period was nothing short of exemplary.

Two weeks into my convalescence, I had found a reputable company to build the room Julie had designed for the basement. “Her dream basement,” as she often called it was now underway.

As for the yoga club, well…somehow that had died as quickly as it all started. Maybe it all had to do with me keeping a promise to her and to myself? I’ll never know. But, I will not engage in hypotheticals.

I now get up two hours earlier to have my three cups of coffee and read the morning paper. Thanks to Molly Beaverbottom, I have another Marvin the Martian mug which she bought while vacationing in Florida and sent to me. Maybe I’ll make a strong effort to have her and her husband over for supper once they return. Who would ever have ‘thunk’ I would have entertained such an idea. Life’s funny in a strange sort of way, isn’t it?

Why get up two hours earlier, you may ask? Because rain or shine now, once Julie wakes up, she and I go for our run every morning on the path into the woods and along the Port Credit River. She has even got me into yoga. And to my surprise I like it. I even feel and look better for it.

The days pass by too quickly now. Our pace has slowed down and is more carefully measured. But when all is said and done, what is important to me is that Julie and I are together helping each other achieve their best in life.

Angel Maker: Part Eight by B. B. Wright

Nazis Enter Austria

Angel Maker

A Short Story by B. B. Wright

An Inspector Alexander Collier Mystery

Inspector Alexander Collier Mysteries will often provide a choice for the reader. If you want to obtain a greater understanding and/or a ‘feel’ for the period follow the embedded links (high-lighted and underlined) sometimes found in the text of the story.

Part Eight
Dicey Premise

Collier had unwillingly missed another Remembrance Day. He had hoped for new beginnings to his healing process but circumstance and devotion to duty steered him along a different path. The trauma of trench warfare and the emotional ties associated with the death of his brother at Passchendaele remained raw in his psyche and continued to insinuate itself into his well hidden daily nightmare. The killing he had done and seen had taken a piece of his soul that he knew he would never get back again. A product of his past, he was slowly learning how to live beyond just existence within its memories. But the glowing embers across Europe woefully interjected in his transition by casting its ominous shadow across the landscape. Feeling the fresh air of his hopefulness being sucked away from him he watched as the world plummeted into the stale, tangibly evil and sociopathic morass of failed yesterdays.

Aware of the orgy of anti-Jewish disorders in Germany and the wrecking and looting of Jewish shops and burning of synagogues, he worried for his son, Richard, and his fiancé, Elsa. The news out of Vienna was no better when he learned that Jews waiting outside the British Consulate in the hope of getting visas were all arrested—ten thousand in all—and sent to a concentration camp. Nationality did not matter. If you were either Jewish or a Jewish sympathizer, irrespective of your nationality, you became part of the roundup.

As it turned out, only one of Mrs Stoddard’s (a.k.a. ‘Queenie’) predictions had come true. Namely, Collier did find out from the Foreign Office that his son had likely been imprisoned either at Lemberg or at Posen near the Polish border. But, they had been unable to corroborate it. Collier had concluded that they really knew nothing about either his son or about Elsa and her family.

When he had inquired about Captain Hall, Collier had been unceremoniously cut off. When the Foreign Office had called him back a half hour later, he found himself the interrogatee to a barrage of questions none of which he could comfortably answer without revealing that his source was a psychic. And that he had no intention of doing. At the end of it all, Collier had concluded that Captain Hall did exist but learned nothing more. Whoever this Captain Hall was left no doubts in Collier’s mind that the Foreign Office had no intention of sharing it with him. And that pricked his curiosity even more since he now wondered how ‘Queenie’ could have known that name.

On the same day that ‘Queenie’ had told Collier about the Jewish family and the fate of their two children, he and Constable Dubin had gone around to the boarding house late that evening. But, to his chagrin, none of the families living there met the criteria she had related to him. He and the constable had then driven to the Stoddard household only to find it in darkness with the front door open. Within minutes of entering the home, they had quickly ascertained that neither ‘Queenie’ nor her husband was present. Their bedrooms and consulting rooms in disarray, whatever their reason, the notorious couple had vanished into the night in great haste. Fearful for ‘Queenie’s’ safety in light of what she had told him, Collier had sent Leonard Scoffield’s forensic team to the Stoddard household the next day to sniff it out for clues. Except for a porcelain doll and a child’s blanket found in one of the bedrooms, nothing of useful consequence had been discovered.

By the time Collier had finished that day’s investigation, he had broken a promise along with one of Lila’s ten commandments: “When you make a commitment, follow through with it.” Not showing up for dinner—especially this dinner—was the major gaffe on his part. And the Hyde who met him at the door had every right in his opinion to hold back nothing in her stinging rebuke of him. He had retreated into silence so as not to inflame an already volatile situation with weightless excuses. After all was said and done, he reluctantly accepted the fate that she had meted out and moved his belongings into the guest room. Other than the very casual of conversation, real communication in his household had become mute. He had learned later from his very irate niece Diane that her mother, his sister, had delivered a tongue lashing to all present that evening before taking her “anti-Semitic ass out the door.” It was a dinner that never was and he rightly blamed himself for allowing it to occur.

The coded message left by ‘Queenie’ turned out to be easy to decode. On reexamination, it had become painfully obvious to Collier that it was the QWERTY code; a code often used in his youth to keep messages exchanged between friends secret. For him, the circled one in the crossword had been the giveaway because it told him where to begin the alphabet: namely to place the A under the Q. If it had been a two or three circled then the A would have been placed under the W or E, respectively.

QWERTYUIOPASDFGHJKLZXCVBNM
ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
AOSS DTLLTFUTK ITOS IOZSTK
KILL MESSENGER HEIL HITLER

When Collier had finished decoding, a cold chill ran up his back. It meant that another murder had been committed and it had not yet been discovered.

A month had passed and still there were no leads in the murder investigation of seven year old Rebecca Grynberg. The Divorce of Lady X, which had been showing at the time at The Palladium, had been replaced by Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes staring Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave. People had become distracted by the approach of Christmas and by the heightening tensions with Germany as the possibility of war grew more likely since Hitler’s successful diplomatic coup over their Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, for control of The Sudetenland in October. As a result, the news worthiness of her murder had slipped from the front page of The Echo to languish in the inner folds of the paper.

In a way, the police were happy to see this shift in attention since it gave them a reprieve from the enormous public pressure to solve this heinous crime. But, the shift in public attention neither lessened their efforts nor did it allay the emotions that ran hot in the precinct. It was these pitched emotions that Inspector Collier feared could potentially shroud good police diligence with lapses in judgment stained by expediencies and improprieties. As a result, he tightened his grip on the investigative process.

Accepting what ‘Queenie’ had told him about the murderer being a resident of Bournemouth, Collier began to formulate a method to catch him. He knew its application would be exhausting for his limited personnel; if it worked, though, its science would be irrefutable in a court of law. Unfortunately, the premise was dicey since it was based on the comment of a psychic. Nevertheless, he decided to forge ahead with his plan.

To catch this murderer, Collier had decided to widen the search and to fingerprint the whole adult, male population of Bournemouth over the age of sixteen. Using the electoral register as a guide, the police would go house to house fingerprinting. Anyone who had left the area or who had travelled abroad would also be included. So as not to alert the murderer, The Echo and surrounding newspapers would be asked not to report on it.

Collier had not had a good night’s sleep since becoming a nightly outcast to the guest bedroom. He had hoped with Christmas approaching and with the family traditions surrounding it that civility would once again reign within their household. But, Lila had still not budged from her position and remained non-communicative. With no resolution in sight, Collier unwillingly resigned himself to the impasse. Though possible solutions seemed few and far between, he nevertheless knew he had to find a solution, and soon. So, he decided that he would phone Lila later to tell her that he needed time to think through their situation and in order to do that he would be staying overnight in his office. He had already decided to risk the gossip likely to erupt when he used the local Bathhouse to clean up the next morning.

Rocking to and fro in his chair, Collier shifted his attention back to his plan to capture the murderer when his intercom buzzed. Rolling his chair closer, he flipped open the switch. “Yes…Sergeant?”

“There’s a Captain Hall here to see you, sir.”

Trolling with Wordsworth by B. B. Wright

Trolling with Wordsworth

Trolling with Wordsworth

A Short Story by B. B. Wright

 

Hardly able to contain myself, I stepped down from the driver’s side and took in several heaping lungfuls of the sweet pine air. Memories of my childhood made me giggle in its rush.

“It feels so good to be here again. Don’t you think, Julie? It’s been far too long. Aaah-oooooooooooooh! Aaah-ooooooooooooooh!”

“What the hell are you doing?” She asked as she exited the passenger side of the vehicle.

“It’s my wolf call.”

“I guessed that. But w-h-y? Do you think that’s wise?”

Having a low tolerance for such tomfoolery, I assumed she was somewhat discombobulated by my attempt at mimicry.

“Wise? It has nothing to do with being wise. It’s all about letting go and embracing the moment, Julie. Anyway, there aren’t any wolves in the area…I don’t think. Do you hear it?”

“What? That distant howling?” And, with a dismissive wave, she headed to the back of the SUV.

“I don’t hear any howl…Oh…I see…you’re just joshing me. You’d think I would have learned after forty years of marriage.” Joining her, I said: “Julie, just stop and listen for a moment.”

“What am I suppose to hear?” she asked as she opened the trunk of the van.

“Nothing. Only the serenity of silence and nature. And those smells! Aren’t they wonderful?”

Her askance look bellowed ‘ARE YOU CRAZY OR SOMETHING?’

“Julie, why don’t we leave the unpacking till later, eh? And run down to the dock?”

“Run? Down that rocky path?” She asked, cocking her head in the direction of the pathway. “You’ve got to be kidding?! You are kidding aren’t you? You’re not are you?!”

“Okay! Okay! I get it! Not run then. We’d go… carefully. It could be a serendipitous moment. What do ye say?”

The call of a loon caught our attention and for a moment we stood in silence listening until Julie piped up with: “I’m starving, you know? It’s long past my lunch time.”

I broke out into a cold sweat.

Unfortunately for me, I’d been on the wrong end of Julie’s mood swings when, in the blink of an eye, I’d seen her change from Jekyll to Hyde. And, it always starts with “I’m starving.”

My thoughts are already rushing ahead to ‘circling the wagons’ and screaming: FEED HER! FEED HER, NOW! AND QUICKLY!

Tentatively I asked: “Julie? There is a barbeque at the dock and we could cook that partial package of wieners we have in the cooler on it?”

Immediately, she stopped pulling out her suitcase.

I had struck the right chord.

“Picnic?” she queried.

Breathing a sigh of relief and trying to contain my excitement over this totally unexpected possibility, I replied: “Yes dear…a picnic.” Eagerly, I pulled out the cooler and set it on the ground. “We can use the picnic table already down there to eat on.”

“We’ll need a table cover to put the plates on, John.”

“It should still be in the boathouse. Let’s go.”

Twenty minutes later, we had finished our lunch of hotdogs and salads. Or at least Julie had. As for me, I was tucking away my third dog while I watched her place the lids back on the salad containers.

The lake was as smooth as glass and it was early enough in the season that the lake wasn’t abuzz with motorboats and the general busyness of cottagers.This was the opportunity I was waiting for: a romantic row on the lake. I had even remembered to tuck a collection of Wordsworth poetry in my pocket for the occasion.

“Julie? Once you’ve put the salads in the cooler, why don’t we take a row on the lake?”

“That sounds wonderful, John.”

“Well…there is a hitch.”

“A hitch?”

“Ah…yes…You’ll need to do the rowing.”

Her look was less surprised than it was darn right scary. The kind of look which shouted: IF I COULD KILL YOU RIGHT NOW I WOULD.

“Only initially,” I continued. “You see I have a romantic surprise for you. And I’ll need to sit at the back of the boat to do it justice.”

After a few awkward moments entering the boat, the two of us took up our positions, she at the oars and me at the stern, and pushed away from the dock. Five minutes out, I retrieved my small, telescopic fishing rod from my inner pocket and unrolled the line with the fly I had tied from the previous evening. From my other pocket I pulled out the first page of poetry entitled Love from my shirt pocket and, as I trolled, I began to read it to her:

“All Thoughts, all Passions, all Delights,
Whatever stirs this mortal Frame,
All are but Ministers of Love,
And feed his sacred flame.”

A momentary tug at my fishing line interrupted my reading. Testing the line I decided it was a false alarm and I continued to read:

“Oft in my waking dreams do I
Live o’er again that happy hour,
When midway on the Mount I lay
Beside the Ruin’d Tower…”

And, I thought, this moment could not be better: Wordsworth and fishing.

“Isn’t this romantic Julie?”

“URRRRRGH !”