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.

Consequences by B. B. Wright

Unsplash Four

“Where are you going?” I dared to ask as I watched her put on her boots.

“Out,” she retorted.

I glanced at the window. “Winter’s on the war path. Are you sure that’s a wise choice?” A cavalcade of chills rippled up my backside. “You’ll barely see beyond your nose. You’ll get lost.”

She peered at me through a curtain of auburn hair. Whatever she was about to say I could tell she was sizing me up for impact. You get to know those things after living together for a year. We planned to marry in the spring.

I slowly backed away. My only comfort at that moment was the pleasant warmth of the fireplace against my backside.

“Maybe that’s what I want…to get lost.”

My heart sank.

She cocked one eyebrow. “Anyway, what’s wrong with my nose?”

Ugh, I thought, I’m caught in a double whammy. Diplomacy should have shot to the top of my list but my genetics lack dearly there. I have always been told to speak from the heart. Begrudgingly, though, I have learned that my fate is generally more akin to the poor bull in the china shop. Well here I go into the valley. Mine is not to reason why, only just to do and …die? Hmm.

“I’m sorry…I shouldn’t’ve done it.” I tried to muster a smile. “Judith, we can work this thing out. Stay. There’s a nice fire. Your favorite wine is on the counter. And goodies are in the fridge. What do you say? Huh? Oh, and by the way, there’s nothing wrong with that cute pug nose of yours”

Figuratively speaking, an iron curtain suddenly thwacked between us.

“If you think you can placate me with a romantic fire, goodies, wine and appending my appearance to a boxer or pug dog, you’ve got another thing coming.”

Ouch! Calling her a pugilist or a flat nosed wrinkly faced pooch was not my intention.

“Button nose, I meant button nose.” My legs felt like they were being seared by the fire.

She brushed aside her hair and stared at me. “Babies, young children and maybe some teens but adults, no, adults don’t have button noses, Arthur. Now, let me finish.” She held up her hand to silence me. “What’s happening has nothing to do with any of this and you know it. You broke the honesty and trust between us the moment you read my diary. You did it without my permission. And then you had the gull to lie to me.”

Tears bubbled up in the corner of her eyes.

I drew up a chair beside her and sat down. “I’m sorry. I’m such a schmuck.”

“Yes you are.” She looked at me long and hard.

Words stuck in my throat. I could only shrug and shake my head. An eternity of silence passed between us. Her demeanor softened.

“Arthur, please help me. I’m trying to comprehend why you did it.”

I stood up and walked to the window in the living room. Winter’s fury continued to rage outside. “I could say I was thoughtless, in an unthinking sort of way.” I turned to face her. “But, unthinking it was not. Foolish, yes, but my actions… were deliberate. The truth, sometimes, can be a bad thing. This is one of those situations.” I returned to the chair beside her and sat down. “Judith, I have loved you from the first moment I saw you. And still do, even more so. Yet…I allowed doubt to get in the way of that love.”

“Doubts about me?”

“Yes,” I sighed.

“I see… I don’t know what to say.” Taking off her jacket, she neatly placed it over the back of her chair and walked to the kitchen counter. She offered up the bottle of Bordeaux.

I nodded.

When she returned, she handed me my glass and suggested we move the couch so that it faced the fireplace. After we had done that I threw a couple of logs on the fire and joined her. For a long while neither of us spoke. We sat sipping our wine.

There are four essentials to a healthy relationship: trust, honesty, communication and cuddle time (non-sexual touching). And I, being the idiot I am, demolished the first three. What can I say? The curiosity bug had bitten me. To be honest, I have always wondered what she wrote in her diary every day. It had become just too damn tempting not to have a peek. When I saw her with that other guy… well… that just broke the camel’s back. Jealousy did the rest. Who was he? Huh-huh! I thought. There is justification! As I saw it, I now had my moral compass to rifle through her diary.

“Arthur?”

“Uh-huh.”

“What kind of doubt?”

Taking in a deep breath, I curled my leg up on the couch and faced her. “Who was that guy I saw you with last Wednesday outside SideKicks Café?”

I could see a smile curling up at the corner of her mouth. “So that’s your excuse.”

“You deny it?”

She shook her head. “I’m disappointed in you. No, I won’t deny it. What I don’t understand is why you didn’t just ask me? Instead, you let your imagination run away with you.”

She stared at the fire, rolling the goblet between her hands.

“You’re leaving me for that other guy?”

She turned so sharply to face me I recoiled. “That other guy was my brother, you jerk.”

Part Eighteen of Angel Maker: The Noose Tightens by B. B. Wright

1180476-snow-covered-country-road

Inspector Collier turned onto the road outside the gates of Lambert Manor. Earlier, light snow had fallen making the road slick. An inky, cloud spattered and brooding sky blotted out the moon. Gusts of wind rattled windows in the Wolseley. His unfamiliarity with the country route made driving conditions treacherous. He slowed down. At each turn, light from his headlights splashed off the embankments but on the straightaway barely sliced through the moist-laden darkness. The route’s edge had become his only means of navigation as it shimmered at the periphery of the car’s beams. Beyond the shoulder lay deep, unforgiving gullies. A film of perspiration had formed on his forehead

Captain Hall turned on the overhead light.

“Oi,” complained Collier. “Turn off that damn light.”

The car swerved one way then the other before sliding to a stop.

He reached up to turn the light off when her hand locked onto his wrist like a trap. Gently with strength she redirected his intent.

If Collier could have spit bullets he would have done it right then and there. Biting down on his lower lip, he let his eyes say it instead.

For a long moment neither said a word. Finally she broke the silence.

“I’m sorry.” She looked out the windshield before turning back. “I was thoughtless. But, I thought if I could decipher the code before we got back to the Station…Well…it would speed up things.”

“What code?”

“The one I found in Werner’s bedroom.” She pulled up her collar and wrapped her arms around herself to ward off the chill.

“You took it? Was that wise?”

She smiled. “No, I didn’t take it, at least not in a manner of speaking. It’s here.” She pointed to her head.

“Uh-Huh. Okay. Is he likely to know that someone has been rummaging through his things?” He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“Not likely, there wasn’t enough time. The paper the code was scribbled on was in plain sight. So either he hadn’t decoded it or he had and hadn’t yet dispensed of it in the fireplace. I think his sweet tooth got the better of him. Remember? That’s how I met him, in the pantry.”

“I remember. You took a bit of risk doing that.”

“Perhaps,” she replied with a dismissive shrug. “It’s interesting, you know.”

“What is?”

“When your quarry doesn’t know he is the quarry and that he’s been found by the hunter.”

“Well…” About to rebut, Collier rethought it. “So, what did you think of him?”

She stared at him for a long moment before replying. “I felt as if I’d been licked all over by a cat and now I’m in need of a bath.”

Collier shivered from the image she had just conjured up. “Evil, aptly described.”

“Since we’ve stopped and the light…well…it’s on, do you mind?” She held up her notepad and pencil retrieved from her shoulder bag.

He cleared his throat and surveyed the weather outside. “Weather doesn’t…appear…to be…getting worse. I guess not. But, are you sure it can’t wait…”

His words trailed off when he realized she was no longer listening to him. He watched with great interest as she wrote numbers grouped in threes on her page.

“How could you possibly remember all of that?” he asked, pointing at her notebook.

“I have an eidetic memory.” She hesitated. “It has its good side and bad side.”

She scrutinized the coded message for a few seconds before shaking her head in disgust. Hurriedly, she began to translate it:

INTEL HIGHEST PRIORITY
GLEIWITZ CONFIRMED
PREPARATIONS FOR FALLWEISS CONCLUDED 20 AUG.

When she was completed, she hammered the point of her pencil into the page. “There! Now, why anyone would continue to use a QWERTY code is beyond me. No matter. This here, I think, ” pointing to (………) “R “Q “I ! “is the signature of the sender. And, based on our Intel, there’s a very good likelihood that signature belongs to an Otto Imhoff—a key person in Werner’s sleeper cell. Beyond that we know nothing else about him. The informant who was to pass that information on to us disappeared. And, the NKVD whom we believe do know won’t—to say it politely—share with us.”

“The Russians are part of this?”

“As it turns out, the NKVD is important to getting your son and his fiancé safely home. Whether you know it or not the Soviet Union has the most active and best-resourced intelligence organization in the world. Our asset is that they hate fascists. But, more often than not we are at cross-purposes. And there, Inspector, lies the rub.”

He attempted to discern the full translation but was unable to since most of it was in shadow. “Any idea what GLEIWITZ CONFIRMED means?”

She nodded. “Thanks to ‘Queenie’ we do. But I can say no more.” She closed her notepad and returned it along with the pencil to her bag. “Queenie has an important job to do this night if our plan is to work.”

He sighed deeply. “You appear concerned.”

“Not about that.” She opened the car door. “Switch spots.”

Before Collier could complain she had made her way around to the driver’s side and pulled him out, taking his place. “Hurry up,” she shouted, patting the passenger seat. Once he was seated, she turned and smiled at him. “I thought it best.”

Putting the vehicle in gear the back wheels spun. Then, with a sudden jerk, the wheels gripped the road and the Wolseley sped off.

“I don’t know whether I told you, Inspector, but I used to drive racing cars State side. So, you’re in good hands. Anyway, from where I come from, I’ve had a lot of experience driving in this slop.”

Unnerved by her driving, Collier held on tightly to his seat as they slid, yet again, into another bend in the road.

__________

Humpty Dumpty once on Lambert’s wall stood
His intent to bring a great fall within;
All the King’s horses and all the King’s men
Couldn’t stop Humpty from killing all within.

Werner Gruener felt a great deal of satisfaction as he walked through the gates of Lambert Manor. The Robert McTavish disguise discarded, he was ready for the next leg of his mission.

History Tends Everything by B. B. Wright

reflection in a window

Aaqif rolled onto his side and reached out. The impression left by her body was filled with cool warmth and the lingering sweetness of her scent. He feigned sleep. Through the slits in his eyelids he watched her at the bedroom window.

She glanced at him. Then, she turned back.

Etched on the window pane was the mirror image of her face as she peered upon a landscape she did not see.

Seating his head upon the palm of his hand, he called out her name softly: “Zahra.” Had she heard him, he wondered. “Penny for your thoughts.”

“Only a penny?” She sighed, continuing to gaze out the window. The usual lilt in her voice was broken and joyless. “Our pasts, Aaqif, swallow us up. Nothing will be forgotten or forgiven. Too many years, too many years say it is so.”

Scrambling out of bed, Aaqif embraced her. “Shush…shush my love.” She trembled in his grasp. “What is wrong? I’ve never seen you this way before.” He drew her tighter to his breast.

“I’m afraid… for us,” she sputtered between gushing sobs.

Aaqif led her to the edge of the bed and they sat down. Several minutes passed without a word being spoken. Only her soft whimpering resonated through the silence.

“Do you remember the days I wept love poems for you?”

She swept her cheeks dry with her hands. “I pretended that I had not read them.”

“I knew you did. Your eyes couldn’t hide the truth.” He cupped her face in his hands and stared into her eyes. “You told me you burned them. Did you?”

“They are safely tucked away in here and here,” she replied, touching her head and chest. Her demeanor suddenly changed, almost panic driven, as she wrapped her arms around him. “Sheikh Nimir al Nimr…his execution… has changed everything for us.”

He sighed. “Only, if we allow it.” Gently, he kissed her forehead. “Breathe deeply. Now, again. And, again. Better?” She nodded and smiled. “You’re right, we are our pasts. But, Zahra, that’s our advantage. Don’t you see? We both share a deep understanding of those pasts. It means today and all of our tomorrows will be whatever we want them to be. Nothing will smash our love, Zahra, nothing. Not even the execution of the Sheikh.”

She stood and walked to the window and scanned the streets and tenement buildings below before sitting on the sill facing him.

“Are you okay?” he asked. “You look…distracted.”

“Okay?” She shrugged. “I’m not sure.”

“Zahra? We must give it a try. We can’t give up now. I know our histories do not smile kindly on us, yet here we are, you a Shiite and me a Sunni. Now, I call that hope.”

The cityscape and its activity below the window captured her attention again and she lingered for awhile before replying. “Are we being naive?”

He bit hard on his lower lip while he gathered his thoughts. How to answer her? He too shared her diet of fear. “Our love crosses our history’s divide. In that lies the wisdom no matter how soon death may be. Tomorrow we will leave Spain and travel a thousand light years away to begin a new life.”

She slipped off the sill and took his hands in hers. “It won’t be far enough.” She crossed her arms and returned to the window. “Our families’ reach is long. Their dogma fuels their journey.”

“What is it that garners your interest there?”

“Death and hope burnt into a desert filled with loneliness.” She looked through her reflection to the two men on the street below. When he arrived at her side, she pointed out the answer to his query. “That is my husband and my brother.”

.
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I Will Visit With You by B. B. Wright

Sail Boat in Mist OneToday, I have finally returned. I thought it had only been three years since I was last here but my neighbors, John and Ruth, just told me it’s been eight. They said they had pictures to prove it.

My askance expression must have been the reason that they pressed their point so vehemently. Ruffling their feathers was definitely not in my agenda nor, I must add, was perusing photos I knew too well.

Still, John’s Type A personality pressed the issue forward as he entered his cottage returning in short time with the photo album. He thrust it in my direction. I backed away. Or should I say, rolled away. Not wanting to be rude nor in need of their pity, I mustered a smile and, in the most pleasant way I knew how, suggested that I would gladly look at their photos upon my return from the beach. Though, in all honesty, I possessed no such intention.

More crow-like than human John and Ruth looked down their beaks at me. It was as if they could read my true intention. I would have sworn at that very moment if they had been party to a murder of crows they would have poked my eyes out. Grasping the wheels on either side of my wheelchair I slowly maneuvered onto the flat stone pathway. Still smiling of course, I glanced back and gave them a begrudging but cheery wave and hastily escaped toward the beach, my crutches rattling at my back.

At the path’s end I stopped and locked the wheels. Lifting my legs one at a time I dropped my sandaled feet onto the pristine, plump white sand. Before me, the fresh water of Lake Huron stretched out in either direction and touched the horizon like one vast ocean.

The refreshing coolness of the onshore breeze washed over me. I was mesmerized by the lazy to and fro pendulum of the lapping waves upon the shore, sweeping in and then out again.

But, I know there is a witch beneath the Lake’s rolling surface. She can turn waves from minutes to hours when the gales come slashing. Today, at this moment, she is kind.

Pushing myself up and onto my crutches I take time to catch my breath. The ha-ha-ha-ha of seagulls overhead floods my mind with memories. Thirty meters in front of me, the dock stretches lonely into the water. Punching my walking aids into the sand, I will myself forward. Aft of me, deep, wavy lines through the sand bear witness to my journey.

My boat is shrouded in mist. At the helm, the gossamer image of my friend Tom waves me on; tattooed on his face, as always, was his huge, welcoming smile. Busy at the stern, wearing his Greek fisherman’s hat—he was sensitive about his baldness—Jock glances over his shoulder and nods.

They are no more.

Sadness clouds my very being, my eyes bubble with tears. I think of all the memories I have and all the things we did back then.

Keow the seagulls call. Keow.

My eyes bubble with tears. My mind floods with memories.

The sweet gentle sound of water lapping against the boat’s hull is a gesture from God to my ears. I stop. My heartbeat knits into the tapestry of surrounding, soothing sounds. And, I let them wash through me.

El Niño is responsible for the unseasonably warm weather this time of year, the strongest in fifty years. It occurs when the Trade winds stop moving. Perhaps that is why the Lake is busy with all size of tankers this day.

Ensconced on the deck of my boat—our boat, I sighed in great relief. Much effort was expended by me, a feat worthwhile indeed.

Slurp. Slurp. The boat bobs in the water. And, like a small child in his mother’s arms, I found solace in her cradled rocking.

Why we didn’t turn back that day when the first wave broke over the railing, I do not know. When the rigging screamed out in distress it was too late. The storm was upon us; the witch beneath us was angry and she swallowed us whole.

I do not remember more. I don’t want to remember more.

Memories of my chums lie deep within me; as I breathe so do they.

Why me? Why should I have lived and they not? This is my guilt.

I can only hope the one verse from Amazing Grace, don’t ask me how I remember it,  is true, namely:

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

As time goes by and until the evening tide comes in, I will visit with you, my dear friends, by this dock in the bay watching ships roll by and away again.

Merry Christmas dear friends, I can feel your warmth wrapping around me. Your home-fire, my succor, is a beacon to lead me safely home again.