Two Weeks in January by Barry B. Wright

Part One: Sheila

“I just don’t get it.”

I remember thinking those very words, hours, maybe minutes, maybe even seconds after I first met her. I was engaged at the time and comfortably secure in the direction my world was heading. But, unbeknown to me, I was about to learn an important life lesson.

This story begins two years before I met her because, as it turned out, I had to meet someone else first.

After I graduated from high school I had no idea what I wanted to do. My dad had died two years earlier after a lengthy illness and, quite honestly, there wasn’t a lot of money. My mom worked for Murray Printing and I worked part-time packing groceries for customers at Loblaw’s.

By the end of that first summer after graduating from high school, I had managed to land a full-time job working for Canadian Kodak. How that came about surprises me to this day because the Company was known to rarely hire outside the family members of their employees. During my first year there, I was trained on five different jobs. The one job I enjoyed most was working in the Film Processing Department in the testing lab alongside an ex-vet, Gord Kee, who trained me. Fondly, I can still smell his steaks cooking on the hot-plate every Friday evening during cleanup.

I had better not digress too much here except to say that Gord was an endearing individual whose wife worked on the same floor as us except in Film Finishing. I mention this in passing because the person I was to eventually meet also worked there during the summer while a student. Her father, I learned later, was the superintendent of Film Emulsion located in a different building.

One day, I met a student who was on his work term from the University of Waterloo. His program rotated through four months of study and four months of job experience until graduation, roughly five years. During our conversations, I learned that University of Waterloo was the pioneer for this Co-Op program in Ontario. Based on his description, I liked ‘the sound’ of the University. So that got me thinking. Until then I had only considered University of Toronto. Since I had had extensive training at Kodak I thought I would have a secure money source between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next. And, if I majored in chemistry, all indicators pointed to Kodak hiring me full-time after graduation. I thought my future was securely fixed. So, I applied to their Science Program and forewent the Co-Op program.

Life doesn’t always work out the way you planned. Helen Keller had it right when she said: “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature…Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

My choice, and circumstances outside my control, sent me along a different path.

During my first year at the University of Waterloo, and I must admit largely due to my instructor, Peter Brillinger, I discovered that I preferred to study mathematics. To all you ‘ughers’ reading this, mathematics is quite a creative field. Really! Anyway, what can I say? I’m a nerd and damn proud of it. The other drawing card for my decision was the newly constructed Faculty of Mathematics, fondly known as the Fortress or The Stanton Building (after one of its founders). It was the very first in Canada. Graduates would receive the unique degree of Bachelor of Mathematics. That uniqueness clinched my decision to transfer from the Faculty of Science to Mathematics.

My choice was not well received in the Testing Department at Kodak. Also, unexpectedly, Union negotiations with Kodak changed everything for students. How you may ask? It meant that all students would not be considered for employment until sometime in July (much too late for students like me) and there would be a dearth of overtime. Needless-to-say with that new information I had to change gears quickly.

I don’t remember how it all came about but I landed a position working for Loblaw’s between school terms at their egg packing warehouse at the bottom of Bathurst Street, near the waterfront. Part of my job was to ensure there were no broken eggs in the carton before packing them; if the egg carton had been compromised I removed it and placed the unbroken eggs into a new carton. Egg cartons which passed inspection were then packed in a box ready for shipping. In a nutshell (or should I say, “an egg shell?”) the job was super boring. I was the only guy, youngster, and a pampered one at that, on the line. To break the tedium, I would from time to time let the cartons jam on the conveyor belt so that I could dive in for the rescue. Most times my ‘egg carton rescues’ were successful. But when they weren’t…well…to everyone’s chagrin, the machine had to be stopped to clean up the mess.

The Floor Manager, Bob, was a tall, lean, discerning Eastern European. His eyes had a tendency to send well-deserved butterflies into a frantic frenzy in my tummy. Though I could not have used the descriptive then I would describe his eyes now as ‘Putin eyes.’ There was no hiding anything from him. He knew exactly what I had been up to. Unobtrusively, he pulled me aside to have a chat. I neither remember him ever raising his voice in anger nor mincing his words. Stern, his message was clear and succinct. Though the women on the line reminded more of my mother, he always referred to them as ‘his girls.’

“The girls’ livelihood depends on that line running,” I remember him saying. “Most are the only breadwinners for their family. There’s a quota set every day that must be met. Too many missed quotas mean someone on the line loses their job.”

His pinching words had severely bruised my conscience. Simply put, I felt terrible. And, he knew it.

Shortly after cleaning up the mess which I created, the egg department closed for an hour’s lunch.

Guilt ridden, I felt a great need for privacy to wallow in my embarrassment. But, here is where logic somehow got misplaced. I trudged off, lunch bag in hand, to the least likely place to get it, the lunchroom four floors above my work area.

I must add that before the summer was finished Bob and I often played chess during lunchtime breaks. During those special moments, he chatted about his homeland, Poland, and his studies to become a medical doctor. When he immigrated to Canada his medical degree was not recognized; with no money and a family to support, his life took him to this place. What amazed me was he held no discernible bitterness. His focus was on his son and daughter and helping them to achieve goals that he was prevented from reaching.

Why I decided to go the lunchroom on that day of all days, I did not have a clue. Perhaps I thought I could hide in one of its dark corner pockets that did not exist. Whatever the reason, it all came down to feeling sorry for myself.

Behind the lunch counter was a very attractive young girl taking orders. I had never seen her before. She had full lips and, according to regulation, her auburn hair was contained in a netted hat. As I remember it, her welcoming demeanor and smile added sunshine to the day.

My decision to dissolve into a corner quickly dissipated. I glanced around for the nearest receptacle and, finding one, I surreptitiously dropped my lunch bag into it before joining the line to place my order.

Mired in what felt like thick molasses, me, time, and the others trudged forward. Friendly chatter made it bearable. Most of it, though, was directed at her. “How are you doin’, Sheila?” “Hey, Sheila, have you heard this joke?” And on it would go. At least now I knew her name.

When I arrived to place my order, I was speechless. Words on a dove, so to speak, that had flown the coop. I’m sure I must have had that ‘deer in the headlights’ look.

I glanced quickly at the menu on the wall behind her and ordered a lettuce-cheese-tomato sandwich, exactly what I had just thrown out.

By the time she had made my sandwich and I had paid her, I had learned through my awkward attempt at casual conversation that she was a student at the University of Toronto, studying History.

Unfortunately, time does fly and this was no exception. My hour had come and gone. After a quick goodbye and glancing back to ensure she didn’t see me, the sandwich she had made joined my lunch bag as I rushed pass the receptacle.

Breathless, I arrived at my position on the assembly line before the bell rang to herald start-up in the Egg Department.

Careful not to become overly consumed with my thoughts, I schemed how I was going to meet Sheila again.

Joan Sledge: The Mucky Duck by Barry B. Wright

mucky-duck

V

Ouch! It was totally unexpected. Her home form lockers should not have been anywhere near mine. Yet, there she was, five lockers down from me. I couldn’t help but think that it was going to be an ugly school year.

She smiled. I smiled back. She spoke to me but I neither remember what she said nor what I said to her. The exchange was cordial enough but awkward, similar to strangers forced together in a social setting out of their control. But, we were far from being strangers. Or was I wrong?

When Chris was present, he became the center of Joan’s attention.  As for me, I became nothing more than cellophane. I did not exist. Passing each other in the hall, as we frequently did each school day, I wondered: Do you know I’m there?

Growing up is darn right painful.

My feet dragged academically. Hurt had turned into anger. I had become consumed with thoughts of revenge. I found no solace in my brother Ron’s carelessly doted out wisdom: “Suck it up buttercup…plenty more yet to come.” Did he not know I felt diminished? That my heart was broken? That my life was in tatters?

Did Joan even care about the depths of my despair?

I’ve been told too often that time reveals all to those who are patient. But, I’m a kid. Isn’t that in part why I’m called a kid and not an adult? Being patient takes the fun out of things. Doesn’t it? Hmm…I felt as if I had followed the rabbit down the hole into a scary horror show of Alice in Wonderland. The idea of being late for a very important date escapes me because my life was at a standstill.

Life is full of surprises.

The school year trudged on and so did I. Then one day Joan approached me out of the blue. I was dumbstruck. Blood coursed through my veins so quickly that words were washed cleanout of my brain. I could only listen. During those precious moments together space and time stood still. There were no recriminations, no rancor, only clarity. By the time she had said what she wanted to say, I knew there was nothing I needed to add. A quick reminisce drew laughter and we parted as friends.

Though she was with Chris, a quick glance and a knowing smile as we passed in the hall, assured me that she knew I was there. I still loved her; I guess that was the saddest part: loving someone who used to love you.

Two weeks later, everything changed.

I had just exited Sam’s, the neighborhood variety store, when I noticed Joan walking toward me. Her head was slung low. I called out to her and waited. She barely glanced up as she scurried by me. “Joan,” I called out. “Are you okay? What’s the…?” She had already disappeared down the walkway at the side of the strip mall.

Why did I not follow her? It’s something I’ve always regretted.

Toward the end of the week I went around to her house. There was a For Sale sign on the front lawn. And the house was empty.

I never saw her again.

Time passed like tumbling tumbleweed in a strong northwest wind.

I had become an adult. I now could vote.

As a sophomore at a prestigious university, I had become, according to my parents, the proverbial know-it-all. I’m sure they would have frowned on my regular late night debates over pizza and beer. My defense: it was a yummy experience for fertile minds that provided fresh perspectives and clarity to the world’s problems. The debates were coed. Now that would have raised an eyebrow or two in my family. Mum’s the word was decided by me right from the start especially since I was interested in one of the participants. As of late, my active participation in the learning experience had waned. It leaned toward more lascivious endeavors. My daily state of being groggy and bleary eyed did not add to my hopes of remaining on the Dean’s List.

The lecture I was trying to follow was exceedingly boring. The professor contributed greatly to lulling my brain to sleep. The attention span of a gnat had suddenly become my norm. Not good, when the content of the class—thermodynamics—was a must go to in order to achieve my degree in chemical engineering. Glancing around the hall it was easy to deduce that I wasn’t alone in my struggle. But that was scant solace.

I took in a deep breath and attempted to refocus when a ball of paper ricocheted off my head, landing on the floor at my feet. A quick scan of the lecture hall turned up empty-handed. Bending down, I picked up the paper-shot and unfolded it. A drawing of a female stick-figure and the words “Do you remember me?” was scrawled on it. I must admit, it did not ring a bell. I took a cursory glance around the hall. There was no obvious source of the projectile. Unable to stifle a yawn or two, my attention refocused on the chalkboard several rows down.

Another balled-up paper careened off my head and onto the floor. But it disappeared from view under the feet of the exiting mass of people at the end of the lecture.

Gathering my textbook and binder, I began the steep climb to the exit. In the very back row, in the middle, a very attractive girl smiled at me. She beckoned me to join her.

I sat on the seat beside her. Though there was a familiarity about her, facial recognition eluded me.  “Do I know you? I have a sense that we have met before.”  The corner of her lip curled up slightly but she did not reply. There was playfulness in her eyes that could not go unnoticed. I held up the crumpled paper. “Was that you?”

She nodded. “Not a bad shot…eh? The second one would have solved the mystery I can see swimming around in your head. Though the student stampede may have put you in danger,” she chortled. “Put that down to bad timing on my part…like… in Mister Roberts’s class.”

That hint hit my memory banks like a lead balloon. “Alison!? Gee…It’s great to see you…but…but…”

“If your jaw drops any lower you’re going to hurt yourself.” She glanced at her watch. “When’s your next class?”

“Who cares…the rest of the day’s yours. Lunch? It’s on me.”

“Well, when you put that way…You got a place in mind?”

“The Mucky Duck.”

I’m not big on nostalgia but our walk across campus to the pub was most pleasant. When she mentioned Joan’s name my ears perked up. Unable to get a word in edgewise, Joan somehow got lost in the many twists and turns of Alison’s catch up tales.

As we sat across from each other waiting for lunch and nursing our drafts, I brought up Joan’s name again. I learned that she and her dad had moved to Montreal, Canada. Unexpectedly she and Alison had corresponded by letter for a short time.

“Do you still write each other?” I asked, hopefully.

She stared at me long and hard, took a swig of her draft and cleared her throat. “She stopped writing after… the baby was born.”

I could feel my whole body deflate like a punctured inner tube. The pain on my face must have been obvious because Allison hesitantly continued.

“Chris Brannon…as you knew at the time …Well…She was head over heels in love with him…and…She trusted him implicitly. Misplaced trust…” She took in a deep breath. “It’s the only kind way I can describe it.”

“Then… Chris… was the father?”  I reluctantly asked.

“One day while she and Chris were at Ted Lacey’s…No…She… never knew who the father was from that day. Her father, wanting to protect her, pulled up stakes and took her with him. He had a sister who lived outside of Montreal.”

We sat in silence for what for me felt like an eternity.

Finally, I asked: “Does she still live there?” When my meal was placed in front of me, I had lost my appetite.

Alison’s gaze skirted away from me. I could see that a teardrop had formed at the corner of her eye. She pushed her plate aside and reached across the table to hold my hands. Her grasp tightened. Her words did not come easily; they carried much pain. “About a year after the baby was born, I received a letter from her father. In it, I was informed that …she…had committed suicide.”

When Alison and I parted, it was dusk. We promised to see each other again.

Beside the entrance to my residence was a small copse of trees. Standing in front of them was a young girl smiling and waving at me. She was radiant and beautiful. She appeared to shimmer from the overhead light above the door. My pace picked up from a lumbering gait. But, by the time I got there, she was gone. I could have sworn it was Joan.

Joan Sledge: New Realities by Barry B. Wright

martin-45

iv

Some people are alive only because it’s illegal to kill them. In my book, Chris Brannon fell into that category. So, when I turned to face him and saw the way he looked at Joan and her at him, I couldn’t help myself.  My fist slammed squarely into his mocking face. It was with great satisfaction that I watched him hit the floor like a ton of bricks. Up until then, I prided myself in having a handle on life; now, that handle was broken. And I feared my hand was as well. From Joan’s expression, I saying “I’m sorry” just wouldn’t cut it. Anyway, it would have been one whopper of a lie. She’d have every right to scream “liar liar pants on fire, nose is long as a telephone wire.”

“As soon as his eyes are uncrossed he’ll be just fine,” I blurted out.

Now that was a dumb statement, I thought. The wiser choice would have been to have said nothing and hung my head in shame. If earth is the insane asylum for the universe, I had just become its most favored inmate.

Joan elbowed me aside and knelt beside Chris. Needless to say, I didn’t protest. Damn it! How could I? I had ruined her birthday party before it had even got started.

She peered up at me. It was apparent to me that any love I thought she had for me had been washed away. Her face had turned a cherry red. It was as though she were being boiled. Her eyes shot arrows that her lips silently enunciated.

I needed no translator.

“Get my dad!” she screamed, venomously.

“You don’t understand,” I shouted, “Chris’s …” I stopped mid-sentence. I felt as if I’d been hit by a Mac truck. This was how she had spent her evenings. WITH HIM. Like a hurricane across an unprotected flat plain, my new reality swept in cruelly.

She glared at me. And I recoiled.

Love had lured me here. I was hooked in hopeless battle. How was I not aware?

Escape. Now! Gather your thoughts.

My mind churned with panicked possibilities.

A wall of pursed lips of saucer eyed guests gasped.

When had they arrived? How long had they been there? Had they witnessed my strife and persecution?

She continued to scream for her dad.

But, her dad had gone AWOL.

I glanced back at Joan and thought: we had been in a time and space separate from the rest.

No more.

I cleaved my way through the startled onlookers. I did not care who I knocked aside. My mind did not need to dwell on their faces. I knew them all.

“Where is my guitar?” I demanded. “Where is my FUCKIN’ guitar?”

“Here asshole,” Ted Lacey bellowed, holding it up threateningly like a wood splitter.

Chris and Ted belonged to a gang known as the Lacey Gang. They had bullied me and others since kindergarten.

Ron? Were my eyes deceiving me? No!

 I never felt so happy to see my brother’s face.

Like a bear trap, Ron clamped down on Ted’s arm with his grip

“Put it down or I’ll break your wrist. Now! And carefully,” Ron threatened.

Ted did what he commanded without hesitation.

Ron waved me over. He stared at me long and hard before speaking. “Take the guitar and get the hell home. Dad’s waiting for you. Oh, and one more thing nerd-head. Your language… I think I’d better wash your mouth out with soap later.”

I was about to ask why he was there when out of the corner of my eye I saw Chris making his way toward us. Ron had seen him too. Grabbing me by my shirt sleeve, he positioned me behind him. “Scram! I’ve got some business to take care of here.” I cringed when I saw him pull out a set of brass knuckles. An attitude of tangle with me at your own risk, my brother always had this scary aura of invincibility. Now I knew why.

To say I ran home was an understatement. I flew. Faster I bet than Jesse Owens. That journey was filled with no small degree of trepidation. Every moment I expected members of the Lacey Gang to pop out to exact revenge.

Dad met me at the door. Relieving me of the guitar, he allowed time for me to catch my breath. Then the harangue began. Boy, did he chew my ear off. I was grounded for two weeks. Based on how I felt at that moment, two weeks for taking his old guitar was no big deal. Stupidly, I told him so. Anyway, Joan had hurt me more deeply than he ever could. Silence hung over us like a heavily soaked blanket. I dared not breathe. He had a strange habit of curling over his tongue when angry. Vexed, his stare cut straight through me. I waited.

“Bill, leave the boy alone. Talk later when all’s cooled down,” my mother encouraged from the kitchen.

Like turning off a switch, my dad mellowed.

“What happened to your hand? You’ll need ice on it.” Gently he examined it.

After he had put together an ice pack and wrapped it around my hand, he gave me stern instructions not to remove it and sent me to my room.

Two hours later I was called down to supper. I had just reached the bottom step when there was a heavy knock at the front door. A chair scraped along the floor in the kitchen and dad appeared. With a quick nod of his head, he directed me to take my seat at the table, while he answered the door.

Curious, I decided to linger.

Two policemen met my dad at the open door. Between them was my brother.

“Jesus…” I murmured under my breath.

A bulging piece of liver for a nose and slits for eyes, Ron quietly listened to the conversation, nodding occasionally. Whatever they were agreeing to seemed to be going well. The three of them shook hands as my brother brushed passed me on his way upstairs.

“They won’t bother you anymore,” he whispered through swollen lips. His painful smile revealed a bloody hole where teeth once securely sat.

Supper was tensely quiet. After a very brief exchange of words between my parents, mom won out and took a supper tray up to Ron’s room. By the time she had started down empty handed, dad had already banned me to my bedroom.

My parents had never raised voices at each other until that night. Nor did they ever do it again. Lying in my bed, above the kitchen, I heard the angry muffled tones of my dad, punctuated by my mom’s crying.

Clasping my hands behind my head I reflected on events leading up to today. I felt cast away on a stormy sea where not even the shore wanted part of me. There were too many questions still to be asked and answered.

The night was long.

Haunting shadows became my nightmare.

How do I mend a broken heart?

Joan Sledge: The Birthday Party by Barry B. Wright

The Family Within the Green Door

III

Damn my brother! Until our little talk, breaking up with Joan had never crossed my mind. Unfortunately for me, that possibility has managed to weasel itself into my daily thoughts. Now it’s stuck in place with Crazy glue. I thought the summer was filled with promise. In a way, I guess, I still do. Except now it’s tainted. Damn him anyway!  Caught in a conundrum to tell her or not, I finally decided on the latter. I had convinced myself that all this nasty stuff needed to play itself out.

Joan and I continued to spend our afternoons together. In my mind forever was still part of our equation. Often I brought my F.W. Woolworth guitar. My parents bought it for me three years ago. Though I wasn’t very good, Joan insisted on me playing and singing Honey Comb and Dream, her two favorites. She howled when I sang Hound Dog. I welcomed her laughter; it was contagious. We continued to share our dreams. I pretended to capture hers and to lock them in my heart. Gleefully, she giggled every time I did it. The lilt of her voice and the sweet scent of her perfume continued to affect me in ways I have never felt before. Oh, how we kissed.

Our time together melted away too quickly. And, with it, so did my concerns about breaking up.

Joan’s home was different from the others in the neighborhood. It was the only one with a green door and a small green window beside it. Beyond the door I was told there was an anteroom. I guess it made sense since her dad ran his clinic from the home. Sadly, I had heard that the community didn’t think much of him as a doctor. They said he had lost his marbles, had become queer in the head, since his wife’s untimely death. Except for the Duffy family, a family of twelve, his practice was non-existent.  But, I liked him. He and Joan had come out a couple of evenings to watch me play ball. Though my team got trounced on both occasions, her dad always had a kind, supportive word or two to share. For me, that made him a double thumbs up sort of guy.

Except for those two occasions and, I must say, I found this strange, she was never allowed out in the evening. She made it plain that it wasn’t a topic she cared to discuss. Wisely, I guess, I did not pursue it. Sometimes, it’s best not to know the answer. Still, it continued to tweak my curiosity.

Standing at her door, I took in a deep breath and knocked. Until today, sitting on the swing chair with her on the back patio is the closest I had come to being inside her home. I felt nervous and self-conscious. Why I felt this way, I do not know. The guitar slung over my shoulder suddenly felt awkward and heavy. Precariously, I shifted the position of both gift and guitar and waited.

The pleasantness of her father’s smile welcomed me at the door. Normally his eyes were awash with playfulness and wisdom but today I discerned a hint of sadness. A steely proud man whatever the problem, he elicited the bearing of a military officer and the demeanor of an English country gentleman. Proud, strong and fair, his words were soft, reassuring and precise. He took my gift and pointed me along the grey hued hallway toward a room at the end. The living room and what I took to be his office because of the amply filled floor to ceiling bookcases were both heavily curtained. Layered in shadows and pockets of darkness, they offered no welcoming threshold. Though I could not account for it, the pores of this old house oozed with sadness. I felt like I was an interloper in a history that I could not possibly understand; yet its tentacles reached out for me.

Sunlight and dancing dust particles flooded out from the room at the end of the hall. My pace quickened. That’s where Joan waited.

She kissed me full on the lips. I felt my face flush with embarrassment when I realized that her father had entered with me.

“Um, happy birthday,” I exhaled, words stumbling out awkwardly.

Her father snickered as he placed my gift on the dining room table.

Her face beamed. “Oh, good, you did remember to bring your guitar. See, dad, I told you he wouldn’t forget.”

I don’t know why she asked me to bring it. She knew I wasn’t very good. “Where can I put it so that it will be safe?” I asked, scanning the room for a secure location.

“Let me,” her father volunteered. “When you’re ready I’ll bring it to you.”

Taking the guitar from me, he examined it. Glancing at me in astonishment, he said: “I’m looking forward to hearing you play.”  I must have looked dumbfounded because he continued. “Don’t be so humble. It’s okay to be a prodigy. Joan never told me how accomplished you must be.” Positioning his fingers on the struts he played a few chords. And he took in a deep breath. “A Martin D-45…my, my…this is a rock star among guitars. You must feel privileged to own such a guitar?”

Mouth agape, not knowing what to say, I nodded.

“Be assured, it will be placed in a safe location, promise.”

My askance glance at Joan when he left must have said it all because she began to giggle.

“Do you have any idea what that was all about?”

Shaking her head and shrugging she took my hand. “It must be something special.”

“What makes you say that?”

“The way he was handling it—kid gloves and all that like a newborn baby. Well is it?”

“Is it what?”

“Special?”

“Nah, it’s just an old guitar of my dad’s. That’s all.”

My overly casual treatment of the subject belied a growing uneasiness. Grounded two weeks for the broken window was still very fresh in my mind. It sucked. And I did not want a repeat. I would have asked my dad except he was out of town on business. I had no way to reach him. Still… I could have cleared it with mom. “Anyway, who’s coming?”  I asked, trying to divert my decision..

Her reluctance to readily answer my query surprised me.

Tugging my hand she led me out into the hallway toward the kitchen.

Was this a diversionary tactic? Anyway, what was the big deal about who was coming?

“Close your eyes. Don’t open until I tell you,” she instructed.

I smacked my head against the door frame. “Gee, Joan”

“I’m sorry,” came her quick reply as she more judiciously maneuvered me into the kitchen. “You can open them now.”

Vigorously rubbing my head, my eyes followed the direction of her extended index finger to the middle of the kitchen table. On it was strawberry shortcake decked out with fourteen unlit birthday candles.

Strawberry shortcake was my numero uno of desserts. But it wasn’t hers. Hers was chocolate cake—double chocolate to be exact.

Was I about to walk the plank? And this was her way to help soften the plunge?

“Ah…I’m a little loss with what’s going on.” My index finger couldn’t resist scraping some cream with a large strawberry on it and inserting it into my mouth.

She slapped my hand. “Shame on you! Others are to eat that. And take that sheepish grin off your face. It won’t help you.”

Obtaining a knife from the drawer, she smoothed out the location of my infraction.

“There, that’s better,” she said, eyeing me out of the corner of her eye. Several seconds passed before she spoke. “We need to talk.There’s something you need to know.”

“There is?”

She bit hard on her lower lip. I’ve got to know her well enough to know that that was not a good sign.

“You first,” I managed to say. I could tell by the question mark on her face that my reply had momentarily readjusted her trend of thought. Not known to her, I had decided that this was as good a time as any to discuss what was troubling me.

If she had had a pet, right then a there I would have sworn she was about to tell me it had died. Huge gobs of tears filled her eyes.

Whatever it was she was about to say, in that moment it was lost forever.

Following her stare into the space behind me, I came face to face with my nemesis, Chris Brannon.

Joan Sledge: Brother’s Advice by Barry B. Wright

Holding Hands Silhouette

ii

There is nothing like the first love. I remember reading something about it. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the book. I do wish I’d paid closer attention.  Never felt feelings like these before. When I’m with her my senses are so charged up I think I will explode. Who knows about stuff like this? I’d ask my closest bud, Tony, but he still thinks girls are yucky. I can’t imagine that my parents would know the slightest thing about it. It’s too personal to share that kind’a stuff with them anyway.

Whom do I go to, my brother, Ron? Until recently, his social interactions with me were an unequal mixture of grunts and beatings, the latter being favored. He told me I wasn’t worth spit. It was something about not standing up to him, and earning my right of passage.

A guy can only take so much before reaching the end of the road. I reached it about a week ago. Boy! Did I get pummeled! At least now I only receive grunts. But, I keep my guard up nevertheless.

Still, our truce is timely. Six years older than me, surely my brother must know something about such matters?

Standing outside his closed bedroom door about to knock, old memories came to the fore. I broke out in a cold sweat.

Here goes nothing, I thought.

“Is that you runt?” he called out.

“How did you know it was me?”

“Are you kidding? Wimpy knock, wimpy brother. So bugger off.” His command was punctuated with a resounding fart.

The pit of my stomach churned in ways I had never felt before.

He must have heard my heart pounding in my chest because he yelled out: “Well, are you coming in or not?”

“I’m thinking about it. Anyway, you told me to bugger off.”

Unexpectedly, his door swung open and we were face to face. Hooking his fingers inside the front of my T-shirt, he pulled me in.

Silence reigned for several minutes. Feeling captured, I sat obediently anchored on his bed.

Drawing up his chair, he turned it around, sat down and rested his arms across its back and stared at me.  “What d’ya want?” he asked, continuing to scrutinize me.

My mouth moved but nothing stepped out.

“Hey!  Give it here!”

Reluctantly, I followed his direction to make eye contact.

“That’s better. I just want’a see if I’m right.”

“Right? Right about what?” I asked, somewhat confused.

“Pull my finger and I’ll tell you.”

“Must I?” I hated doing this.

“Yipe.”

The pungency of his fart was worst than any outhouse I’d ever been in. “What the heck, Ron…That’s awful! “ I complained while waving my hands in front of my face. I would have left right then and there but my legs were wedged between his chair and the bed.

Once he stopped laughing, he took on a more serious demeanor. “How’s it goin’ between you and Joan, anyway?”

“I love her. What can I say? She’s perfect.”

“Oh…I see. She’s your first.” He shrugged. “Watch your backside.”

“What do you mean?”

“She’s a pretty piece of stuff; other guys are going to want her.” He straightened up in the chair. “Have you…you know?”

“Kissed her? Of course I have…many times.”

His forlorn askance glance told me that I had completely missed the target of his query.

“Move it,” he said, removing the chair and gruffly sweeping me off the bed with his arm. Reaching under the mattress, he pulled out a Playboy magazine and handed it to me. “Mom and dad can’t know. Do you hear me?”

I nodded.

“Okay then, read and enjoy. It will tell you all you’ll need to know. But, I want it back in clean condition. Oh, another thing…” He pulled out his wallet from his back pocket and retrieved a small square package and handed it to me.

It felt squishy and I could feel the outline of something circular contained in it. “Aww…?”

“It’s a condom. It’s for your banana.”

“My banana?”

“It’s for your hard-on, nitwit. Once you’ve figured out what to do with it, you’ll need it.”

I shoved it into my pocket.

Ron left the bedroom, stood in the hall listening, then returned. “Strange. I thought I heard… dad. What I’m going to tell you is super hush, hush. Mum’s the word. Got it?”

I pinched my forefinger and thumb together and drew it across my mouth.

“I’ve got a film. Just knock if you need it. A little word of wisdom: first love’s no big deal. You’ll be over it by summer’s end. Just remember nerd-head, that there’s plenty of fish in the sea. Now get out!”

 

A few minutes later I was practicing grounders by throwing my Indian rubber ball off the back wall of the house. My first League game was tomorrow and I had managed to secure the position of Short Stop on the team.

I was surprised to see dad’s Ford Fairlane pulling into the drive. He has never been home this early. I called out but he didn’t hear me and entered the house directly.

Until my tête–à–tête with Ron I never thought of the possibility of Joan and me breaking up. Why would I? It’s never happened to me before. What does Ron know anyway? Why did I take that damn Playboy? It’s probably a setup. If mom and dad find out, I’ll be up a creek without a paddle. I can see it now: baby brother caught red-handed in the act of a taboo ritual. “Shit!  I’ve got gel all over the inside of my pocket. Why did I squeeze it so hard?”

Anger can sure change the intent of an action because when I released that ball I knew immediately that I shouldn’tve. I was already in flight when it crashed through the dining room window; four yards away, I was well hidden behind a bush.

Boy! Dad was pissed!  Scared, I huddled lower and watched as he surveyed the damage. Under the circumstances, the last thing I expected to feel was giddiness. Nevertheless, I did. I think it came about when I foolishly marveled at the break neck speed with which I had hopped over those fences. The reality of my situation soon brought me to my senses. The promise and optimism of my summer had… well…to say the least…definitely gone sideways.

Punishment of some kind was a certainty. Only its severity was in question. So, I settled down to wait. My chances would be better, I thought, once my mother came home.

Dusk was beginning to settle in when the worried calls from my parents and hunger pangs drew me home like a magnet.

Part Twenty-Two of Angel Maker: Out of Dawn’s Awakening by B. B. Wright

bournemouth-1277469_960_720The sun’s rays were just peeking above the horizon when Sergeant Snowden parked in front of Inspector Collier’s home.  Twenty minutes earlier than usual and without his second cup of tea, he was grumpy. What made matters worse, the local newspaper, The Echo, was not yet out, and that meant no cross-word puzzle to work on while he waited. He took notice of a black limousine, five doors down on the opposite side, containing three men. Glancing at his pocket watch, he mentally recorded the time. The sleepy slumber of the neighborhood encouraged him to do the same. And, with a disheartened sigh, he crossed his arms and settled back to wait.

He wondered why the Inspector would want to go to 29 Edgestone Road. That 2-story, stone clad house to blokes like him peered down with the self proclaimed majesty of a pompous, overbearing lord. In short, as far as he was concerned, the house and occupants fitted well together. That’s why he never understood how Collier and Suzanne Moodie had come to meet and fall in love; he was from the Working Class, and she…well she was from the snooty Privileged Class. He could only put it down to the old adage that love knows no boundaries.

Still… he mused.

As for her brother, Reginald, now that was a different story. He had been Collier’s Divisional Commander. And, based on the tidbits he had heard, Collier had held him in low regard. What little he had had completely dissipated in the mud mired madness of senseless slaughter and butchery during the assault at Passchendaele. Britain lost thousands from their best assault divisions; among them was Collier’s brother, Joe. Salt was rubbed into this grievous wound when he learned that General Douglas Haig, chief architect of the carnage and a close friend to the Moodie family, had awarded Reginald the Victoria Cross for Valor. Knowing it was not deserved, Collier had vociferously voiced his displeasure. Sickened by Reginald’s sense of entitlement, along with that of his family, he broke off all contact with Suzanne. She had continued to profess her love for him but, as the story went, Collier would have none it. He had moved on. It was around that time that he had begun to date Lila.

Before returning to the Front, Collier was unexpectedly promoted to Captain. He suspected the Moodie family had a part to play in it. Whoever was behind it or however it came about, the end result was that Collier spent the remainder of the First World War, out of harm’s way, in Military Intelligence, Section 6.

Snowden clicked his tongue. An uneasy smile formed at the corners of his mouth. Suzanne Moodie had never married. And, since her brother’s death, she was now the sole proprietor of 29 Edgestone Road. Unrequited love carried lots of baggage: bitterness and cynicism: melancholy and despair. And, whatever the reason for Collier’s visit, he did not want to be stuck in the middle.

He glanced at the black limousine ahead. Only two silhouettes now appeared in the vehicle. Were they part of the surveillance Collier had told him about? He decided to investigate.

The door to Collier’s home swung open and Lila stepped out. “Sergeant,” she called out, waving invitingly. “Come in, will you, and have some tea. The Inspector is running a wee bit behind this morning.”

Briefly, Sergeant Snowden continued to eye the limousine while acknowledging her entreaty with a wave of his hand. Fate had smiled on him. And the decision to turn back was an easy one. He would receive his much needed second cup of tea.

Werner melted into the shadow as the officer entered the Collier home and the door closed behind him.

He had been watching the three men in the black limo all night. They worked on two hour shifts. One of the men had entered the back seat to sleep forty minutes ago.

The sun’s rays continued to rise and scatter across the horizon.

Patiently, Werner waited.

Pavel was supposed to be one of these three men. The photograph and description left by Otto had been seared into his mind. Werner licked his lips. Today, he would dole out Nazi justice for the murder of his comrade, Klaus Becker.

He attached the silencer to his weapon. The key elements were stealth and swiftness. He wanted to be gone before the neighborhood was aware of what happened.

When a bright shiny ball formed by the sun reflected off the middle of their windshield, he casually walked to the front of the vehicle and fired.

Pop! Pop!

Dead fish eyes of the two men in the front seat stared back at him.

Pavel was not among them.

The third man did not do as expected and remained hidden. Werner crouched beside the front wheel and waited. He did not have to wait long. A splay of bullets pierced the back door. Werner grunted satisfyingly. The hole-pattern in the door told him the man was lying on the floor. Not wanting to lose his brief advantage, he quickly crawled under the vehicle and let loose a deadly spray of bullets along its floor-board.

Rising to his feet, he guardedly peered through the window.

The man’s bloodied head lay in obscured darkness. He concluded that the man was too thin to be Pavel.

The street had come alive with people.

No time to verify, Werner turned and ran along the alley from whence he had come. His car was parked on the street two alleys away. He glanced over his shoulder. No one followed. Still, his instincts told him he was not alone. He stopped. Blood vessels pulsated in his temple while he watched and listened.

Surprisingly, he discerned no immediate danger. Still, his instincts remained pricked as he began to walk.

An odd uneasy, deep rooted discomfort settled over him as he sat behind the wheel of his car. Experiential knowledge of any kind of feeling was never his long suit. He readily accepted his emotional impoverishment. Anyway, it had suited well the life he had chosen.  So when he shifted into gear, gun ready at his side, he was fully prepared for whatever life was about to dole out to him.

Slowly, he drove along the street. His eyes skirted side to side. Intermittently, he checked the rear mirror.

The neighborhood was slowly awakening.

Where was Pavel? Otto had told him that he would be there.

He saw no unusual activity.

Ahead, police cars herald their approach.

He waited for them to pass on the main road and, then, drove in the opposite direction.

Joan Sledge by Barry B. Wright

Holding Hands SilhouetteI

Spring had arrived early and, along with it, hopes that our home team, the Milwaukee Braves, would take the World Series again. Last year was the first time they had won the pennant since moving from Boston in 1953.

A cornucopia of scent wafted through the open window. Riding its gentle warm breeze like sweetness from heaven were spicy dianthus, the heavy scent of gardenia, nicotiana, lily-of-the-valley and lilac. My mom had taught me well and as she had promised, identifying those blossoms and more had become as easy as printing and writing my name.

This was my senior year and I felt especially grown up. Graduation was two months off. Though next year meant travelling to another school to complete grade eight, it was not without some degree of trepidation. Still, for the most part, I eagerly looked forward to it.

Chin saddled against the heel of my hand, I was locked in a daydream. Baseball tryouts were still a month away and the newly formed Duffield Baseball League portended tougher competition. So, when the snow had melted and the ground barely dry, I eagerly began to practice with my Indian rubber ball. I was always amazed by its speed as it coursed its way through the uncut grass. Agility in catching and accuracy in throwing were paramount as the ball bounced off the narrow section of wall beside the dining-room picture window. A nasty hop the other day left me with a shiner. Boy, did I get a ribbing from my friends when they found out.

Mister Roberts was one heck of a great teacher but somehow today his voice was surreal and did not resonate with me.  Dipping the nib of my pen into the ink well, I neatly scratched his notes into my notebook from the chalkboard. I casually glanced around. My peers’ expressions said it all. I was not alone in my mental truancy.

Mister Roberts stopped teaching. Bracing himself against the front edge of his desk, he faced us with his usual toothy smile. “No sense me trying to teach you science when you’re not thinking about it. Huh? So let’s stir things up.” He glanced out the window. “What a beautiful day. Real learning begins out there.”

My attention suddenly piqued.  The collective mental slothfulness of the class began to evaporate like falling dominoes.

He picked up a book from his desk and began to read:

“Who has seen the wind?

Neither I nor you:

But when the leaves hang trembling,

The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?

Neither you nor I:

But when the trees bow down their heads,

The wind is passing by.”

Tilting his head slightly, he asked: “Hmmm…Now, what does this poem by Christina Rossetti have to do with science?”

The class shared a dumbfounded collective except Karen who waved her hand wildly in the air.

“Go ahead, Karen,” he said.

“Observation,” she replied.

“You’re right, the first step in the Scientific Method.”

He went to the back of the classroom and returned with a large brown empty cardboard box from the supply cupboard and placed it in the middle of his desk. “Soon we will be going outside.”

The energy level in the class jumped a few notches.

“Quiet down and listen,” he instructed half laughing and beaming a large smile.

Suddenly, a frown etched across his face; his demeanor became unusually stiff as his attention was directed behind us.

I could feel the energy being sucked out of the room.

The class turned.

Time and backbones noticeably became rigid.

The principal stood in the open doorway. His stern and uncompromising appearance sent a chill up and down my spine. An unpleasant twist gathered in my gut.

Conditioned on how to acknowledge his presence, the class in unison said: “Good morning, Mister Monkman.” He barely acknowledged our greeting.  And, without so much as either a smile or an apology for interrupting the class, he waved our teacher over to him.

Beside Mr. Monkman stood the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. To say that I was mesmerized did not do that moment justice.

“Finish copying the notes from the board, class,” Mr. Roberts said, joining them in the doorway. “Once done, write down and explain the skills and tools you will need to do an effective job in observation.”

The three of them stepped out and closed the door behind them.

Every guy’s gaze—that’s fifty percent of the class—was fixed on the window in the door. That’s fifteen pairs of eyes including my own vying to be noticed by her. But, I was sure she was looking at me. I smiled and nodded. She returned it. I gave a circumspect wave. She did the same.

A ball of paper ricocheted off the side of my head and rolled onto my desk. This ticked me off. I knew it came from Alison. Lately, her favorite pastime was bonking me on the head. Once, every day for a solid week, she had left a yucky clump of her hair on my desk. I cringed with the thought of what came next. And I didn’t have to wait long.

Straddled between her desk and Diane Dawson’s, Alison performed a bizarre series of acrobatics. My glare was assailed by a screwed up face and a rude thrust of her tongue.

Ignoring her, I drew a bead line between my nemesis, Harry Brewer, who continued to smile, nod and wave, and the door. One conclusion resulted. And, it did not favor me.

Miffed, I had barely about faced to cocoon myself in a huff when a cacophonous sound of cascading desks followed by a resounding thump turned the room into chaos.

The pain was immediate. The desk beside me had wedged itself against my ankle.  Everyone around me scampered to the door.

Splayed out on the floor between overturned tables and empty ink wells was Alison in a puddle of ink. Her red hair had turned a weird color of blue. Each time she  wiped the tears from her face, she increasingly took on the appearance of a boxer who had been severely pummeled in the ring.

Not without great effort I restrained myself from giggling as I could feel Mr. Monkman’s cold stare squarely on me.

“Don’t move, Alison. Stop touching your face,” urged Mr. Roberts. “Someone, get the nurse.” He retrieved a bundle of paper towels from the back cupboard and fastidiously layered them around her to sponge up the ink. “Now, Alison, please remain still while I clear away these tables.”

Mr. Roberts’ tall muscular frame made easy work of uprighting the topsy-turvy desks on top and around her. I felt a great deal of relief when he removed the desk against me.

“You alright?” asked an unfamiliar voice.

I turned towards its source. Her face was so close to me that I was swimming in the deep blueness of her eyes. I had lost my words.

I felt flush with embarrassment when she used the back of her hand to lift my jaw into the closed position.

“A fight?” she asked pointing to my eye.

“Ah-huh.” I lied without hesitation. There are lies and there are dumb lies. This was the dumbest. But, at that moment, I felt a need to puff myself up. Some might say like a peacock during mating season, and, quite honestly, they would have been correct.  “I’ll tell you about it if you’ll let me walk you home today.”

She smiled. “Okay.”

“What’s your name?”

“Joan…Joan Sledge.”

A low hum settled over the class. The nurse had arrived and was examining Alison. A few minutes later she gave the class thumbs up. Alison was A-1 okay. Nevertheless, she and Mr. Monkman escorted her to the school dispensary. A full week would pass before we saw her again.

By the time graduation rolled around, I had fallen head over heels in love with Joan as she with me.

Time seemed to sprout wings as grade seven ended. And, like a spring board, we were launched into summer. Little did I know at the time that heartache and mystery awaited me at its end.

 

Part Twenty of Angel Maker: Third Party Malice by Barry B. Wright

Man in the Shadows Two

Happenstance had changed Lynn Hall’s life. Her lifelong goal—a career in Foreign Service—had come to an abrupt end four years ago when she stumbled and shot herself in the leg during a hunting expedition in the Kizilcahaman District of Ankara, Turkey.

She glanced at ‘Cuthbert,’ her wooden prosthesis, lying on the table beside her.

The past according to her way of thinking was better left where it was, in the past, and forgotten. Still, the memory she wished forgotten clung steadfast and fresh as yesterday. This vulnerability was concealed by a carefully crafted façade.

Captain Hall was a controlling and cerebral person; emotion of any kind made her uncomfortable. It wasn’t that she eschewed empathy, quite on the contrary; it was more that she had never connected it to herself. Feeling sorry for oneself was a luxury that she could ill afford especially since war appeared more imminent.

Sullenly, she stared at the inflamed stump below her knee. Unaware of the tears that streamed down her cheeks, she continued to gently apply the soothing cream to her stump. Strange, she thought, as she examined it. My eyes have always been either closed or directed elsewhere. Why did I do that?

She already knew the answer in its fullness.

Placing the lid back on the jar of cream, she stopped what she was doing and sat back in the chair.

Time washed through her until no more tears could flow.

She glanced at the wall clock. Two hours had passed.

Gathering up several tissues she wiped away her tears, throwing the soggy ball into the wastebasket. With a deep sigh, she rewrapped her stump and attached ‘Cuthbert.’

Standing at the bedroom window and seeing her reflection she smiled and said “I’m okay now.” And she knew that she meant it.

A light knock at the door startled her. At first she thought it was her imagination until she heard it again. It was three in the morning. Had she awakened Inspector Collier and his wife? They had been kind enough to open their guest room to her overnight. Her face flushed with embarrassment.

In a barely audible tone, she called out: “Yes?”

The door opened slightly and Lila poked her head into the room. “Are you alright, dear? I don’t mean to be nosey but I…thought… I heard you crying.”

“Everything’s okay, Mrs. Collier,  I didn’t mean to…”

“Shush, no need to apologize.” Tucking her dressing gown across her chest and readjusting the waist strap, she broadcast a large smile. “I’m often rumbling around this house at the strangest hours, especially when Sandy’s not home.” She fell into a brief silence. “Nasty stuff about our niece…I’m going downstairs to make myself some tea and have one of those custard tarts. Should I count you in?”

Captain Hall nodded.

“Jolly good then,” Lila replied rubbing her hands together. About to leave, she stopped herself in mid flight.  “Would you mind starting the coal fireplace in the living room?”

“Consider it done, Mrs. Collier,” Lynn assured her, without the slightest hint of hesitation.

“Lila…please call me Lila.”

Lynn was stoking the fireplace when she heard the front door open and close. The rattling of dishes and the high pitch whistle of the kettle suddenly stopped. Splintering floor boards and low exchange of whispers melted away along the hall toward the kitchen at the far end of the house. Unable to decipher whether the exchange of words were happy or sad, she forced herself to concentrate on the fireplace. Hopeful that the news about their niece would be good, she crossed her fingers and continued to poke at the fire. The tray of goodies being placed on the table behind her startled her.

“Oh…I…” Lynn almost lost her balance attempting to stand. A sharp burning sensation traveled up her stump leg and briefly settled in her hip. She smothered the sensation to flinch.

“We didn’t mean to startle you,” Lila injected, proffering her hand.

“I’m alright, really I am.” She fussed with her clothing. “It’s so not like me to let my mind drift off like that.”

“We have good news.Though the doctor thinks it’s best to keep her in the hospital a few more days, Diane is alright. ” Lila wrapped her arm around Sandy’s and gave it a tearful hug.

The explosion at the Cricketer’s Arms had taken an emotional toll on both of them. From the moment the Inspector had learned that his niece had been found among the rubble, he had never left her side.

Arms fully extended, Lynn embraced them.

Happy tears flowed between them until Lila, stepping away and wiping her face with her apron, said: “I’d better finish what I was doing. I’ve decided we’re going to have a picnic right here in front of the fireplace to celebrate.”

“Picnic? At three thirty in the morning? You’re daff, girl,” replied Sandy in astonishment.

“Maybe so, Sandy, but nevertheless it’s going to happen.” She grabbed a large multi-colored knitted blanket from the back of the couch and thrust it in his direction. “You, two, move the coffee table back and place this rug neatly in front of the fireplace.” Satisfied that it had been done to her liking she turned to Sandy. “Remember, Sandy, what you agreed to in the kitchen. You’ve got five minutes. And I’ll set the timer to keep you honest. So make your minutes count.” With a large smile on her face, she scurried out of the room and down the hall to the kitchen.

Flummoxed, Lynn searched the Inspector’s expression for clarification.

Lila bellowed from the kitchen: “You’re on the timer now, Sandy Collier.”

During the ordeal of the last twenty-four hours, uncharacteristic bags had formed under his tired eyes. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his pipe and pouch of tobacco. After he had filled his pipe and lit it, he began.

“Does the name Pavel ring a bell? A balding, possibly Eastern European, heavy set fella in his early forties with thick, round glasses.”

Captain Hall stared at him long and hard before answering. “Pavel Sudoplatov comes close to that description.”

“Who is he?”

“He’s a NKVD operant. Up to recently, he worked only out of the Rotterdam area. But, about a month ago, one of our agents sighted him in London. We put a tail on him but he shook it off a week ago.”

“Any idea why Pavel would have been with the hospital administrator, Klaus Becker?”

“Is Becker alright?”

“No, Captain Hall, he isn’t. Klaus is very much dead.”

A brief silence reigned between them.

“Do you remember me telling you, Inspector, that the NKVD and British Intelligence are often at cross purposes? He nodded. “Well, this is one of them. And it’s a doozy SNAFU.

The timer in the kitchen went off.

“Otto Imhoff,” she continued. “I mentioned his name during the drive home from Lambton Manor the other night?”

“Wasn’t his coded signature on…?”

“That’s right,” she interjected. “Klaus was a double agent and he had discovered Otto’s identity. On the day of the explosion, he was supposed to transfer the dossier on Otto to me. Earlier that very same day, I received this envelope. In it was a letter with a riddle.” She handed him the envelope.

He carefully examined it. “Do you normally open at the side?”

“Yes. Why are you asking?”

“This envelope has been opened and resealed. As you can see here there are two distinct glue lines along the seal. By the way, how did you know it was from him?”

“By these triangular three dots, Inspector, in the upper right corner of both the envelope and note.”

He carefully scrutinized the riddle:

 

You have everything you need to solve this. There are 100 lockers each hiding a single word. You and 99 others are each assigned a number 1 to 100.

# 1 opens every locker

# 2 closes every 2nd locker

# 3 will change the status of every 3rd locker (that is if the locker is open, it will be closed; if the locker is closed, it will be opened.)

# 4 will change the status of lockers 4,8,12,16,20,24,…

#5 will change the status of lockers 5,10,15,20,25,30,…

Etc.,

# 99 will change the status of locker 99

#100 will change the status of locker 100

The words in the lockers that remain open at the end will help you crack the combination lock on my locker.

 

“Was this his normal manner of communication with you?

“No, it wasn’t.”

“Have you already solved this riddle?”

“I have, Inspector.”

“”…combination lock on my locker” Then, do you know where the locker is?” he asked, returning the envelope and letter to her.

She shrugged. “First time I’ve heard about it. I’ve been his contact barely a year. And the few meetings I’ve had with him, four to be exact, were at carefully chosen out of the way places.”

He chewed on the end of his pipe. Pulling aside the curtain on the living room window, he peered through the slit.  “Hmm… Perhaps you hadn’t chosen carefully enough.” He stepped aside to allow her to survey the street.

The figure she saw, as if on cue, disappeared into the shadows of the housing opposite.

She sat on the far arm of the couch, her shoulders slumped and facing away from him.

“There’s no time here for self-chastisement, Captain. Accept it, and move on.” He heard her sigh and watched her straighten up. “Let’s assume, like you, that they’ve already cracked this riddle. Then the locker location is the only thing missing.”

“Klaus was too careful to leave that kind of information lying around in his apartment,” she added as an afterthought. She heard the rattling of dishes coming down the hall. “If Otto was onto Klaus…”

“Then, there’s good likelihood that both the NKVD and Otto have you under surveillance.” Collier tapped his pipe on the ashtray and returned it to his pocket. “And, they think you will lead them to the locker.”

“If Klaus knew that he had been found out by Otto, and the riddle supports that, where did he conceal the information about the whereabouts of the locker? He must have thought it would be obvious for me to find. And something else, Inspector. Why did Pavel kill him?”

“Times up, Sandy Collier, open this door,” Lila called out.

“I fear that I may have put you and Lila in harm’s way. But, right now, there’s no time to explain, we must get to the morgue. I think I know where he hid it.”

 

 

 

 

An August Morning Better Spent by Barry B. Wright

Girl Under the Window

It was 4:00 A.M. Rain smashed against the bedroom window; howling winds pushed tree branches to and fro along the siding like fingernails across a chalkboard.

Too driven by daily routine to remain spooned against my wife, I carefully, so as not to disturb her, slid out of the comfort of our warm bed and into my slippers. Grabbing my dressing gown from the chair beside the door I put it on before heading downstairs.

I stared out the living room window. Ugh! Depressing, I thought. It’s more like the grey days of November than early August. An involuntary shiver seemed to emphasize that very point as the wind threw another bucket of water at the window.

Normally, I met each day with vim and vigor but today my oomph was beginning to poof.

I must change my perspective; I must re-focus. Some soft jazz and a shave and shower should do the trick, I thought. And, sure enough, by the time I returned to the kitchen for my granola, milk and fruit, I was loaded for bear.

To my surprise, my lovely wife, who usually slept late on weekends, was curled up on the loveseat under the side window in the living room. I could not pass without stopping to drink in her beauty. I had to touch her and smell her hair. Close to her, I knelt on one knee. Her eyes opened and she smiled.

“I didn’t mean to awake you,” I said stroking her hair.

“You didn’t. Go get ready while I fetch you your breakfast.”

As always, I had prepared my gear the night before and had left it in the mudroom. Unless I got a lucky break in the weather, which seemed unlikely, my forty kilometer cycle today would likely be a difficult one.

Fifteen minutes later, after she gave me a very warm, lengthy and lascivious embrace, I cycled away feeling somewhat flushed and reflective.

The tall trees on either side of the road afforded me a brief but pleasant respite from the sheets of rain. I glanced back at our home. Our bedroom light turned off; at the window was her outline; then, the curtains were closed.

The land opened up into flat fields on either side. Nature was furious and I was her prey. Cycling into head winds was grueling as rain pellets stung sharply and slashed at my face. I had prepared with my weather-proofed gear but, nonetheless, I felt soaked through and through. And, I had barely begun.

It wasn’t long before my senses came to a consensus that my mettle was not up to the challenge…today.

I turned for home.

The house was dark and quiet as I slipped out of my gear. I hung each item on a makeshift clothes line in the laundry room and dried myself down.

Butt naked, I ascended the stairs to the bedroom.

Climbing into bed, I snuggled up close to her and wrapped my arm around her waist. Her hand touched my thigh and followed it up. She moaned and backed in closer.

“We’ve got lots of time,” she giggled. “That silly husband of mine is out cycling in that mess and won’t be back for hours.”

For a flicker of a moment I froze, stunned by her remark. That is, until the light bulb in my head went on.

Part Nineteen of Angel Maker: Cricketers Arms by B. B. Wright

Bournemouth Pub Explosion in Angel Maker

Famished and well past noon, Diane Waumsley parked her bike outside the Cricketers Arms on Winham Road. Securing the bike with her combination lock, she entered the pub.

She wore a woolen sweater with a slight roll at the neck and flared pants. One pant leg had been tied off to prevent it from becoming ensnared in the bicycle chain. A bob of her long hair was enclosed in a loosely knitted snood which held it close to her nape.

It took a few moments for her eyes to adjust to the dim interior. There were booths on both sides and tables in front of her. The smell of spilt beer and fish and chips permeated the air. Her stomach gurgled. It was busier than she expected.

Someone at one of the tables called out: “Don’t be shy lass, come in and sit with me,” he suggested, patting his lap.

“Put a sock in it, Gordie. Leave the girl alone,” the bartender bellowed from the bar. “Or you’ll be out on your duff.”

It was a straight bar counter painted brown with thick yellow imitation graining on the front panels. Four yellowish white china handles with shiny brass atop stood up from its counter. Behind the bar rows of bottles and glasses reflected themselves on shelves along a large mirror.

The bartender-proprietor leaned on the counter. “What can I do for you young lady?” he asked, watching her approach him.

“Have you got a menu?” Diane asked.

A broad smile filled his face. “Nothing fancy here,” he replied. “That’s it…” he continued, thumbing toward the sign beside the bar. “But…”

The signage written in chalk read: Fish and chips, BLT and ham sandwich.

He came around the bar and erased the first two. “We’re fifteen minutes away from the two thirty closing,” he said with a shrug. He waited for her reply.

“Two, then, please, wrapped to go.” she replied.

A heavy set man strolled into the bar with a box under his arm. Before he sat at one of the booths he tilted his cap; the bartender-proprietor returned his salutation with a slight dip of his head.

“Two ham sandwiches it is. You must be hungry?” She nodded. Distracted by a group of men at the far table he yelled out: “Enough there… you blokes finish up and get on your way. As for the rest of you, the same goes. I want you all gone by the time I return. He smiled at her. “We’ll see what we can put together for you out back.”

Pressing his fists in on either side of his waist he put on the stiff, stern demeanor of a drill sergeant and waited until the tables began to clear. The pub almost empty of clientele, he disappeared along the hall beside the bar.

“Miss Waumsley? What a surprise. Please, join us.”

This unexpected and familiar voice took her by surprise. She glanced at the mirror. Klaus Becker’s reflection greeted her from around the arm of one of the booths. She turned to face the hospital administrator. Not knowing what to say, she nodded and smiled back. He continued to beckon her to join him. Half looking back for the bartender, she walked to his table.

“What a coincidence, we were just talking about you…I mean your uncle,” Klaus said cheerily. “Do you normally come here?”

“No, it’s my first time.” She glanced back at the bar. “Actually, I’m on my way to see him and I’m in a bit of a hurry.”

“Forgive my rudeness, this is my friend Pavel. He’s come all the way from Murmansk. Are you sure you don’t want something to eat, Pavel. Maybe I can get this establishment to put together something for you.”

Pavel declined.

On the table was a handsome box of chocolates with the Ukrainian crest on it. Klaus noticed Diane eyeing it. “Perhaps you and Inspector Collier might like some?” He reached out to undo the wrapping when Pavel’s hand stopped him.

“I do have another box, Klaus. If you’ll tell me where to have it delivered, I’ll send it around today.” He glanced at his watch. “Now, I really must go. Supper at Bournemouth pier this evening is set, Klaus. There’s nothing you need to do. I am very pleased to meet you, Miss Waumsley.” He said standing. “I’m sorry it had to be so short. ” As he shook her hand, his attention was diverted behind her. “I think your sandwiches may be ready. Remember to always do what the bartender tells you, it could mean the difference between life and death,” he chortled.

“Pavel, what a strange thing to say,” complained Klaus. “Explain yourself.”

“All I’m saying is that a great deal can be learned from listening. Unfortunately most people don’t listen but bartenders generally do.”

“Here’s to listening then.” Klaus agreed and lifted his glass of Burton in salute.

Pavel smiled, bade Klaus farewell, and exited the pub.

The bartender gestured to Diane for her to join him. After a brief conversation, he escorted her down the hall beside the bar.

Pavel was a safe distance along the street by the time he heard the sharp explosion. A timing device had detonated the bomb in the chocolate box.