Fateful Choices: Part Four of a murder with a twist by B. B. Wright

Half a Mo' Hitler

Fateful Choices: Part Four of Five
Under Lock and Key

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

A Short Story of Fiction by B. B. Wright

 

Entering the summer of 1939, the people of Bournemouth endured a time of suspension greater than the contemplation of the worst as Nazi Germany’s army went on menacing maneuvers. Bournemouth was too busy having a good time to worry about Hitler and said so on signs strapped to the boots of vehicles: Half A Mo’ Hitler Let’s Have Our Holidays First.

Two weeks had passed since Arthur Brodley’s murder on May 21as Chief Inspector Collier poured his tea and sat behind his desk to review his notes on the case.

The autopsy report: assailant had attempted to strangle Brodley first before bludgeoning him with a torrent of hammer blows to the head.

The lab results on the cigarette butts: outstanding.

Brodley’s granddaughter, Valerie: grandfather’s safe contained a large stash of money and a copy of his will. Grandfather had a fondness for entertaining prostitutes; hair curler may have been used during such an occasion.

He lingered here for a moment before writing: Will??? Who benefits??? Then he continued reviewing his notes.

Interviews with local prostitutes, including Brodley’s regulars: dismissed idea of hair curler as part of their routine.

He placed a large question mark beside hair curler.

‘Philly’ Morris, one of their regulars, had suddenly come into money. And, lots of it.

He circled Morris’s name several times.

Mrs Stoddard (aka ‘Queenie’) provided no additional information on day of the murder. Suggested I might learn more by attending one of her séances.

In the margin, he scribbled:??? Possibility??? Then, he crossed it out.

Placing the opened side of his notebook face down on his desk and sitting back in his chair, Collier began to mull over the events since the murder when the buzzer on his intercom intruded.

“Yes, Sergeant?!”

“…Jock Mahoney…owner of Hollies Pub…and Quentin Hogg…mortgages at the bank are here, sir.”

“About?” There was a momentary silence. “Did they say what it was about, Sergeant?”

“The Arthur Brodley murder, sir.”

“Hmm…Send the gentlemen along. And, you come along too, Sergeant.”

Mahoney and Hogg reiterated what had already been learned from the local prostitutes, namely that Joseph ‘Philly’ Morris, a person normally strapped for money, had suddenly come into a lot of it and had been spending it freely. According to Quentin Hogg, two days after the murder Morris had waltzed into the bank and had paid off the considerable arrears on his mortgage. Mahoney referred to Morris as a loser and chronic liar and that neither he nor his pub regulars who played the horses believed that ‘Philly’s’ recent affluence had come about from a win on the horses.

Twenty minutes later Sergeant Snowden and Chief Inspector Collier were on their way to the residence of Joseph Phillip Morris.

While the Sergeant remained with the vehicle, Collier went to the front door and knocked. Unkempt, toothless and in a vile mood, Joseph Morris opened the door but refused entry to the Chief Inspector. During questioning, it wasn’t long before Morris launched into a  diatribe against Brodley because he had turned him down for a small loan. As his bilious onslaught continued there were several references to Brodley’s safe. When Collier asked Morris if he minded providing samples of his fingerprints, Morris ordered him off his property and slammed the door in his face.

Collier crossed his arms on the roof of the Wolseley and looked across at Snowden. “Well Sergeant…I’m sure he’s our man…Now to prove it.”

Upon his return to the station, Collier was greeted with good news. The lab results on the cigarette butts had arrived from the London Home Office and their smoker had been a secretor. The analyst, Sidney Greenstreet, had identified the smoker’s blood group as AB, the rarest type, found in less than 3% of the population.

Collier placed the report on his desk and sat back in his chair and let out a long sigh while Snowden looked on.

“Is it what you were hoping for, sir?”

“It’s even better than expected, Sergeant.”

“But…then…why that troubled look?”

“Because, Sergeant, I need a specimen from Joseph Morris and, given his attitude, it may be next to impossible to get.” Picking up the lab report, he began to flip through it in a cursory manner then stopped. “…Unless…Hmm…that just may work. Sergeant, ask Constable Dubin to come in.”

During his interview of Jock Mahoney, Collier had not only learned that Joseph Morris was a regular at Hollies Pub and an alcoholic but that he was also a chain-smoker. So, when Constable Dubin entered his office he wasted no time laying out his plan to ensnare Morris. He instructed the constable to drop into the pub—out of uniform—shortly after eight that evening and befriend Morris by plying him with drinks, cigarettes and talk of horse racing. He reassured Dubin that there was enough money in petty cash to cover his expenses. When the pub closed at ten and the patrons had gone, the constable was then to gather up the cigarette butts in the ashtray left by Morris, place them in a bag and return to the station where he would be waiting to drive the package directly to the London Home Office that evening.

Once the Sergeant and the Constable had left his office, Collier began to initiate the next step in his plan. Picking up the phone receiver, he dialed the number of his long time friend, Sidney Greenstreet, to convince him to remain well after hours at the Home Office to analyze the contents of the package.

The next day Collier returned with the answer he hoped for: Morris was indeed a secretor with blood group AB.

Now, it was time to turn the screws on Morris.

Sergeant Snowden and Chief Inspector Collier returned to Morris’s residence mid afternoon that same day to confront him. Morris angrily insisted that he had nothing to hide and opened his house to a search. During their search they found a set of curlers similar to the one found at the crime scene and a bundle of brown paper bags, the kind that had been wrapped around the murder weapon. When Morris was asked about the items he shrugged and told them that he kept the curlers for his lady friends who stayed over from time to time and that the bags were leftovers from when he had been a grocer. When Morris boldly proffered his hands for finger-printing to demonstrate confidence in his innocence, Collier gladly accommodated him.

When Collier entered the station later with samples of Morris’s fingerprints, sitting on the bench opposite the duty desk was ‘Queenie.’

“Inspector…” she called out.

Collier hadn’t seen her when he entered but he immediately recognized her modulated and fruity voice. He turned and smiled: “Mrs Stoddard, please, just one moment and I’ll be with you.” He turned to Sergeant Snowden and instructed him to bring the fingerprints to Leonard Scoffield for comparison in the Brodley Case. Once Snowden went through the set of doors leading to Scoffield’s office, he turned his full attention to Mrs Stoddard. “Now, Mrs Stoddard, what can I do for you?”

“Nothing…Inspector…It’s what I can do for you…I see you’ve found your murderer. The thumb print will clinch ‘Philly’ Morris’s arrest.”

Collier’s forehead furrowed.

“How…?”

She held up her hand to stop him from going further as she stood up. “It doesn’t matter, you wouldn’t believe anyway. Just remember, you don’t always get what you want, Inspector. Life is full of surprises with all its twists and turns. Your life will be full and successful but not before much sadness. You know where I live, Inspector, if you care to learn more.”

Dumbfounded by what had just transpired, Collier was watching her leave the station when Leonard Scoffield came excitedly through the set of doors that led down the hallway to his office.

“We’ve got him, Alex! The right thumbprint matches the print on the beer glass.”

And, they embraced each other in jubilation.

Forty minutes later, Collier had the pleasure of locking the vitriolic ‘Philly’ Morris behind bars.

 

Dear Readers:

I hope you are enjoying Fateful Choices? So, do you think you know how it will end? I am willing to bet that the finale in September will surprise you. Until then, thank you for following me and I look forward to our time together again soon.

B. B. Wright

 

Fateful Choices: Part Three of a murder with a twist by B. B. Wright

policebaker

Fateful Choices: Part Three
21 Darlington Road

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

A Short Story of Fiction by B. B. Wright

 

The call came through to his home at 4:00 A. M. Putting on his slippers he grabbed his robe from the foot of the bed and while struggling to put it on in the darkness he encouraged his wife, Lila, to go back to sleep. By the time he reached the bottom of the stairs the phone was into its fifth ring. Turning on a small table lamp on the telephone table in the alcove under the steps he cleared his throat and picked up the receiver: “Chief Inspector Collier…”

The call was concise and disturbing to say the least. Arthur Brodley had been rushed to the hospital shortly after midnight as a result of a severe beating and had died within the past half hour. Sergeant Billie Snowden was quick to advise him that the crime scene had already been secured.

“Who called it in Sergeant?”

“His granddaughter, Valerie…She found him in the lounge.”

“Did you get her statement?”

“Constable Dubin did, sir.”

“Did she say if anything was missing?”

“In her statement she said that his rings, watch and gold chain were missing.”

“Did anyone check his pockets after his arrival at hospital, Sergeant?”

“I did, sir. They were empty.”

“Good work, Sergeant!”

“Should I await the preliminary autopsy report?”

“Let’s not worry about that for the moment. Give me time to shave and have a bite to eat…Say an hour? …Yes…pick me up in an hour.”

Collier had barely noticed that his wife had passed him in the hall as he slowly returned the receiver to its cradle. The rattling of pots and pans and clatter of dishes sent him along the hallway to the kitchen’s entrance.

“Lila…I’m sorry. Please…go back to bed.”

“Shush,” she replied crossing over to him. She reached up and put her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek. “I need to be here; so that’s that. Now go get yourself ready while I make breakfast. We certainly don’t want to start your day off on the wrong foot, now do we?”

He wrapped his arms around her waist lifting her off the floor and twirled her around in a complete circle before putting her down. “I love you. What you ever saw in me I’ll never know. I’m just glad you saw it. I don’t deserve the likes of you.”

“You’re right, you don’t,” she sighed, eliciting a broad smile. “Nevertheless, you got me. Now, don’t you be too long or you’ll try my patience.” She playfully slapped him on the backside as he headed out of the kitchen and returned to the stove to prepare his usual breakfast of poached eggs, sausage, toast and homemade preserves.

Sergeant Snowden had barely parked the Wolseley in front of Chief Inspector Collier’s home when the front door of the house opened and he stepped out. The Sergeant quickly scrambled out of the driver’s seat to open the back passenger door for him.

“Good morning, sir,” greeted  the Sergeant cheerily as the somber looking Chief Inspector walked toward him.

“I wish it was, Sergeant. I really wish it was. Thanks for being on time.”

The weather report forecasted a warm and sunny spring day. As the sun awoke from its nightly slumber, a gold hue spilled out from the horizon and was carried by the gentle rhythm of the waves toward the shore, while the sides of the coastal road broke free from its veil of grey and darkness to expose a plethora of colorful spring flowers nestled within a landscape of richly shaded green and chalk-like stone.

All of Nature’s dressing up went unnoticed by both Chief Inspector Collier and Sergeant Snowden. Collier’s mind was focused on capturing some thoughts in his notebook before he arrived at the Brodley residence while Snowden struggled to keep alert after a sleepless night on duty.

Fifteen minutes later, Snowden came to a stop in front of 21 Darlington Road and waited for the attending constables to usher a small group blocking the drive to one side. Once the entrance was cleared, he drove onto the crushed stone drive and parked the Wolseley in front of the two-storey house and exited the vehicle to open the door for the Chief Inspector.

Collier glanced back at the small crowd gathered at the entrance to the drive as he stepped out of the vehicle and his forward motion stopped abruptly. “Well I’ll be damned…”

“Sir?”

“Murder always draws out a strange mix of onlookers, doesn’t it Sergeant? Get the names of the people in that group and any pertinent information you can. By the looks of their bedroom attire I’d say they’re neighbors and nosey ones at that to be out at such an early hour of the morning. My bet, Sergeant, is at least someone among them has seen or heard something. Once you’ve finished interviewing them, please encourage them to go home. I saw Mrs Stoddard, the one they call ‘Queenie,’ among them. Ask her to join me inside.”

The oak doors to the lounge were wide open as Collier stood at the threshold with fountain pen and notebook in hand, recording his initial, salient observations of the murder scene:

1) Safe opened and empty (contents???)
2) Brown paper bag, crumpled and twisted on floor (wrapped around murder weapon???)
3) Cigarette butts strewn across carpet and sofa ( murderer’s???)
4) Toppled beer glass on table (finger prints??? murderer’s???)
5) Hair curler????

He let out a long sigh as he watched the crime scene investigators, lead by Leonard Scoffield, go about the meticulous business of gathering and recording evidence. Closing his notebook, he returned his fountain pen to the inside pocket of his jacket. Before returning his attention back to the room, he looked out the glazed leaded square bay window at Sergeant Snowden speaking to the crowd and estimated that their numbers had increased markedly. “What are your thoughts on all of this, Leonard?”

Leonard was in his forties, medium height, with curly black hair, bushy moustache and an aura of stern faced dignity that easily melted away like a sunburst when in the company of a friend. “Hi, Alex! I didn’t notice you were there. Nasty business, this is. In my opinion, it smacks of robbery as the apparent motive. How’s that lovely wife of yours doing? Joyce and I were talking about you two the other day. We haven’t had supper and a game of cards together in awhile, old chum.”

“Be careful with the “old” there Leonard,” Collier replied, smiling. “Lila’s just fine. And, it’s our turn to provide supper. Wednesday work for you?”

“Wednesday works.”

“Good. Now that that’s done, have you found many finger prints?”

“Lots of them but no likely murder weapon yet. By the amount of blood, the murder weapon was wrapped in that paper bag to finish him off.”

“Any prints on that beer glass?”

“A thumb print but it’s a good one.”

“As you well know,” Collier said, pointing to the beer glass and cigarette butts, “Arthur was a teetotaler and non-smoker.”

Leonard agreed with a nod. “I see where you’re going, Alex. My thoughts too. Probably the murderer’s?”

“It’s a very good likelihood. Be sure to collect all those butts. I want whatever saliva is on them tested.”

“Tested? What do you hope to find?”

“The blood group of whoever smoked them. It’s a relatively new technique—developed 14 years ago—that uses a person’s secretions such as saliva and urine.”

“I think I’d better catch up on my scientific literature,” Leonard chortled with a broad smile. “To my way of thinking old…chum, blood group and saliva are disconnected. As for urine, I’ll hold off on that.”

“A hair curler on the scene strikes me as strange, unless it belonged to the grand–daughter. I understand she found him?”

“That’s right. I’ve already taken her finger prints as part of the elimination process. I’m sure, Alex, that it’s not her thumb print on the beer glass. Presently, she’s staying at the aunt’s. As for the hair curler, she denied that it was hers.”

“That’s something I’ll have to explore with her later. Any idea what was in that safe?” His eyes drifted to the front window to watch Sergeant Snowden coming up the drive to the house alone.

Leonard shrugged and scratched the back of his head. “Your guess is as good as mine on that one, Alex.

Collier excused himself in order to meet the Sergeant at the front door. “I thought you would have had Mrs Stoddard with you, Sergeant.”

“I would have if she had been there, sir. You must have been mistaken.”

“Mistaken?!” Tipping his head slightly downwards, he glared at the Sergeant. “Sergeant, I don’t…” He bit his lip. “Never mind…Please make a note to call her into the station before day’s end. Now…did you learn anything out there?”

“Yes sir, I think I may have several pieces of useful information,” Snowden replied.

“Good! Tell me on the way to the hospital. I think it’s time to learn what the autopsy report reveals.”

Fateful Choices: Part Two of a murder with a twist by B. B. Wright

pierapproach1950 Bournemouth

Fateful Choices: Part Two

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

The Prediction
A Short Story of Fiction by B. B. Wright

 

Anger and disappointment blinded Joseph to the tranquil beauty of the parkland and public gardens alongside the Bourne River. It was 8:15 and he needed a drink but the few pence he had in his pocket were barely enough to buy him cigarettes. Seeing a bench ahead, he picked up his pace. When he was opposite the bench, he stopped, sat down and pulled out the packet containing his last two cigarettes from his shirt pocket. With a well rehearsed jerk of the hand, he popped up one of the cigarettes and placed it between his lips and lit up. He drew the smoke in deeply and exhaled donut swirls into the gentle evening breeze before he placed the last cigarette into his shirt pocket. Tossing the empty packet into the bushes, he hunched over, forearms across his knees, and pondered that evening’s misfortunes between the bursts of welcomed nicotine in his bloodstream.

He had only wanted ‘Queenie’ to tell him his future but from the moment she had laid down the tarot cards her demeanor changed; she became withdrawn—trance-like—and solemn and abruptly ended their session.

He had tried to elicit from her the vision she had seen but the commotion outside their door had taken precedence. The towering and booming voice of Arthur Brodley, a person for whom Joseph had worked for on several occasions over many year doing odd jobs, was mixed in heated discussion with ‘Queenie’s’ husband, Lawrence.

But, as quickly as the ruckus in the hall had arisen it just as quickly dissipated  and its tempo dropped to a whisper. Their receding footsteps along the hallway, the unlocking and locking of a door returned silence to the Stoddard household.

‘Queenie’ stood at the open door to the room that they had shared and had insisted that he leave immediately and he had promptly complied.

She’s no focken goude, he thought. I coulda had me a drink if I hadna gone and seen her. She’s just plain no focken goude.

He looked at the cigarette between his fingers that was about to burn him and used it to light up his last smoke before grinding the butt out with his boot.

“Hmm…Brodley,” he mumbled.

Joseph was not a man to believe in coincidence especially when he was in ‘Queenie’s’ company and whatever part of his future lay in those unread cards he was convinced the answer somehow resided with Brodley. Emboldened by the thought, he decided to drop by Brodley’s house by weekend’s end.

He glanced at his watch.

The Friday night crowd at the pub should be just about ripe by now, he thought, for me to nick a snort or two.

On Saturday morning, a frazzled and clearly upset Mary Elizabeth ‘Queenie’ Stoddard appeared at the police station. Sergeant Billie Snowden who was manning the desk rolled his eyes the moment she came through the door. His shift had just started at 9 o’clock and her untimely appearance interfered with his ritual of a tea and scone and a read of the Saturday Echo.

“Good mornin’, Mrs Stoddard. What brings ya out so early on tis beautiful mornin’?” He asked as he spread the clotted crème from a small butter cup beside him on one half of the scone.

“It’s a matter of life and death.”

Scooping a dollop of strawberry preserve from its jar with his teaspoon, he placed it on his half of scone. “What’s ‘a matter of life and death?’”

“Is the Chief Inspector here?”

“No he isn’t, Mrs Stoddard. He’s not expected for at least another hour. Maybe I can…”

“Help? No,” she interjected, “I’ll wait right here for the Inspector.” And she sat on the bench against the wall opposite Snowden and crossed her arms and stared at him.

As it turned out, her wait was almost two hours.

Chief Inspector Alexander Collier, a lean, broad shouldered man of average height, had barely stepped through the door when a surreptitious nod from Sergeant Snowden directed his attention to Mrs Stoddard. Without breaking his step, he pretended not to notice her and continued down the hall. Opening the door to his office, he turned to close it and was met by Mary Elizabeth looking up at him.

“Mrs Stoddard…how stealthy of you. You must have been on me heels all the way and I hadn’t even noticed it.”

She poked at the pipe in his jacket pocket. “You know smoking isn’t good for your health, Chief Inspector. And nor is lying.”

“Hmm…Here, sit down,’ he said with a smile and directed her to one of two chairs in front of his desk. “Can I get you a tea?”

“I’d love one. At least you’re better than that big oaf out there who offered me nothing.”

“I’ll talk to the Sergeant so it won’t happen again.”

He walked to the tea trolley behind his desk and checked to ensure that the kettle had enough water in it before he plugged it in. His tea cup and saucer were on his desk from the day before. “Well there! That won’t be long.” Clearing off the crumbled napkin and crumbs from his desk and returning his tea cup and saucer to the trolley, he shuffled a few papers and folders to one side before sitting down. “Now, Mrs Stoddard, what can I do for you?”

“As you have heard, I can see into the future.”

“I’ve heard,” he replied matter of factly.

She ignored the tone in his reply. “In some cases I cannot measure time. I can just see ahead. I am a telephone myself—to use a simple expression. It allows me to predict the future.”

“Telephone?! Ah…yes…a connection to the spiritual world. Still…you’ve been convicted three times for fortune-telling.”

“I am an honest spiritualist. I am not a swindler!”

“The law thinks otherwise.”

The high pitch whistle from the kettle interrupted their conversation. Swiveling his chair around, he poured the boiled water into the teapot, swirled it around and placed its lid back on before he returned to face her. “We’ll let it steep for a few minutes.” He reached for his pipe but thought better of it remembering her comment earlier. “Mrs Stoddard…why are you here?”

“To report a murder.”

“A murder!”

“Yes. Arthur Brodley’s murder.”

“Arth…Maybe you should have some tea now, Mrs Stoddard.”

He prepared her tea to her liking with two sugar and one cream and handed it to her then sat back in his chair to listen.

She took a sip and sat in silence for several moments before continuing. “It hasn’t happened yet.”

“I know it hasn’t. I saw him not more than a half hour ago.” He gave her a long hard stare. “Mrs Stoddard…I really have a busy day ahead of me.”

Tightly clutching her purse on her lap, she replied: “You don’t believe me, then?”

“I don’t believe in your psychic powers, Mrs Stoddard. I’m pleased you haven’t crossed the law here in Bournemouth but to me what you have just said is no more than voodoo, hokum, psychic trash. I can’t act on the whim of a…”

“Spiritualist?” she interrupted. She placed her cup and saucer on his desk. “Then, its best I take my leave since I can see it would be a waste of my time trying to convince you. No need to stand.”

As she opened the office door to leave she stopped and turned back to him.

“Is he a friend, Chief Inspector?” she asked.

“Arthur Brodley? I guess in a way. Yes.”

“Then I would find a way to protect your friend before it’s too late.”

Leaving the office, she quietly closed the door behind her.

For a brief moment, he stared at the closed door, tapping his fingers on his desk, before he returned her cup and saucer to the trolley behind him. Swiveling his chair snugly back into position behind his desk, he let out a long sigh and pushed the button on the intercom and called Sergeant Snowden in to review the day’s roster..

Fateful Choices: Part One of a murder with a twist by B. B. Wright

Bournemouth East Cliff from Pier

Fateful Choices: Part One

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

A Short-Story of Fiction by B. B. Wright

 

The English south coastal resort of Bournemouth in 1939 had a population of 130,000. The natural beauty of its cliffs and the wide sweep of its bay embraced a magic carpet of sand while the Bourne stream—fringed with parkland and public gardens—stretched into the heart of the coastal community. Bournemouth’s outstanding characteristic and attraction was its breadth of view and openness.

Perhaps that’s why psychic, medium, spiritualist, mental healer, psycho-analyst, folklorist, Mary Elizabeth Stoddard (a.k.a. ‘Queenie’) and her husband, Lawrence Stoddard who was said to be a ‘powerful deep-trance medium,’ arrived there in 1934 to set up residence. But, then again, maybe that wasn’t the only reason they moved from Gloucester to this tourist location. Within the first six months of setting up shop, so-to-speak, their business had surpassed their wildest expectations.

In April 1939 the local pub was abuzz with the mysterious fire and capsizing of the S.S. Paris (the largest liner under the French flag at that time) and the expected war with Hitler’s Germany.

The bartender, Jock Mahoney, reached under the bar and slapped March’s Bournemouth Echo with the banner headline face up on the bar’s surface and pointed his pudgy finger at it: Spiritualist Prophesies Sinking Of S. S. Paris. “Last month’s paper boys! Read and weep! Told you blokes she’s the real deal. Kept this to rub your faces in it.”

“Nothing more than a lucky guess Jock,” chortled Quentin Hogg from the far end of the bar.

“Then how she’d know it was goin’ to be a fire that sunk the Paris in the port of Le Havre? Tell me that ‘Hogg-face?’” retorted Mahoney. “And, unless the rest of you soused heads missed the obvious, how she’d know it would be the Paris?”

Joseph Phillip Morris, who was often called ‘Philly’ by pub regulars, had just purloined a whiskey chaser to accompany his pint of ale from the inebriated person beside him when he leaned in to the conversation: “Maybe tha’ focken bitch,” he hiccuped, “is a spy for tha’ Hitler fella.”

The conversation stopped dead as everyone turned to look at him.

“Hey, Philly?!” Quentin Hogg called out.

Joseph took a draw from his cigarette and purged the smoke through his nostrils before he straightened to a wavering position to focus his attention at the far end of the bar. “Wha’ canna I do fa’ ya Hogg?” Unsteadily, he used the cigarette in his mouth to light up another. For a moment he stared at his deeply stained nicotine fingers holding the used cigarette until Mahoney slid an ashtray under his nose and he quickly butted the cigarette out before it burnt him.

To most of the people there, Joseph ‘Philly’ Morris was a loser. The clientele of this pub he frequented had come to know that and, as a result, could barely tolerate him. A chain smoker and alcoholic, he had an ego bigger than he should ever have dared to have.

With a Cheshire cat-like smile, Quentin winked mischievously at those who could see him at the bar and nudged the person beside him with his elbow. “What’s that secret formula you use… you know… the one for picking football winners?”

A quiet chuckle rippled among the patrons listening in.

“What’s that got to do with the sinking of the Paris?” bellowed Mahoney, perturbed by Quentin’s hijacking of the conversation.

“Be patient, Jock. Don’t get your knickers in a twist. There’s a point or two to be made here. When done, I expect a round for everyone from you except for that scoundrel at the other end of the bar.”

Regularly, Joseph had been tolerantly allowed to interject his slurred wisps of ‘erudite wisdom’ about the home team to this well-informed and loyal pool of men of the Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic Football Club but, at the moment, he silently sat in a drunken stupor shrouded in cigarette smoke trying to figure out which man on either side of him was the scoundrel that Quentin referred to.

“Philly?! “

“Huh?” Joseph blinked a few times before Quentin came into view.

“Isn’t your secret formula ‘Queenie?’” asked Quentin.

“How da know tha’?…She’s no focken goude! “

Everyone’s eyes were now fixed on Mahoney, who slowly slid the newspaper from the top of the bar to the shelf beneath.

“Now tell me somethin’ else, Joey. Who’d ya bet on when the home team played in March?”

Joseph drew in the smoke and blew it out as he looked up at the ceiling. “Tha’ be March you said?…Hmm…Notts Co. Stupid woman…she got it wrong again.”

The two men sitting beside him slipped off their stools and moved further down the bar.

“Well, what doya think there, Jock? Have I made my points? A free pint for everyone?”

Reluctantly, the burly figure of Jock Mahoney nodded and began to service the rush to the bar.

It had not mattered that the home team had won in March because Joseph had committed the unforgivable act of betting against the home team. For all present, his revelation was particularly heinous because the game was against their arch-rival, Notts Co.

By the middle of May, Joseph had been shunned by even among the slightest of few who might have given him a pardon. The week of May 15th had been an unusually difficult time for him to find odd jobs and by the Friday of that week he had already paid out his last shilling for cigarettes and beer.

Joseph’s wiry and unkempt figure sat alone in an uncontested far corner booth of the pub. Several empty mugs cluttered his table as he slung over his last pint of frothy dark ale. Lifting his mug he toasted his imaginary companion opposite him and took a large swallow. Licking off his beer mustache, he lit up another cigarette and drew in deeply before exhaling. “You know…I’ve got me a new strategy.” He removed a piece of tobacco from the end of his tongue and took another swig of beer. “Strategy for wha’ you ask?” Why for picking football winners! Wha’ else? Not a sausage! ‘Queenie’s’ no focken good! Here’s my secret.” Sliding his half pint to one side, he bent forward and whispered his strategy to his imaginary companion.

For the first time, Joseph was just sober enough to appreciate that his alcoholic haze had made him feel untouchable by the sneering glances of the men around him. Yet, the truths those men carried about him stung deeply and had already left its imperviously permanent mark that could not be ignored. Success! That’s all he wanted to feel! To no longer feel the failure that had dogged him most of his life!

He sat back and looked at the remnants of beer in his mug and made a decision. He didn’t care that Friday would be outside his usual routine to see her. He didn’t care that she was “no focken good.” He had made up his mind to see ‘Queenie’ that evening.

Perhaps, he thought, she would get it right this time.

At 7:00 that evening, Arthur Brodley placed the Bournemouth Echo he was reading on the table beside him and got up from his armchair to get ready for his eight o’clock appointment.

He was a stout man with thinning hair and a thick, white mustache. His appearance belied a man much older than his sixty-four years. A widower, he had attended a séance every Friday evening at 8:00 o’clock at the Stoddard residence since Mary Elizabeth (a.k.a. ‘Queenie’) and her husband, Lawrence, arrived in Bournemouth five years ago.

Though Arthur Brodley had paid a hefty price on each occasion for the Stoddards’ services, he was convinced that it had been money well spent because it provided precious time with the spirit of his late wife, Nancy.

 

 

 

An Unexpected Gift: Part Two of Two

white picket fence one

An Unexpected Gift
A Short Story by B. B. Wright

Two months had passed since Tom’s death and, like a leech, the numbed emptiness Sylvia felt continued to suck out purposefulness from her life; while the humdrum of her daily life had become imprisoned within a brew of forlorn desperation and debilitating remorse. Life’s self-scripted past echoed its hallowed naked emptiness and negative untruths while it subversively gained unheralded success and, unwontedly, supplanted what should have been the bright promise that adheres to a day’s sunshine with the unlit, windowless cellar of a cloud-filled soul that stumbled about looking for its light.

Two days from what would have been their 10th wedding anniversary, she knew this happenstance meeting with Thackeray, their family lawyer, would have profound impact. There were practicalities that had to be addressed surrounding Tom’s will. But with those practicalities came finality; Tom’s finality; their finality. They were practicalities for the moment she felt a need to shun. Now that there was a strong likelihood that those smothering practicalities were about to invade, she steeled her mind to push back. She needed more time. Time to preserve memories of Tom and her and to keep them fresh a little longer before time’s kneading and transformative nature stole them and unceremoniously dropped them into its evolving mystic dream-scape.

Recognizing that it was pointless for her to hide from Thackeray, she took in a deep breath and marched down the beach to where he was helping Pepper dislodge something from between the rocks.

“Pepper! Get over here!” She commanded, pointing down to her side.

Thackeray was a very lean and tall individual who always had a sullen look pasted on his long, hollowed-cheeked face and a sneering smile that easily discouraged open friendliness. Known as a ‘bit of a snore,’ his colleagues nicknamed him ‘Sealy’ because of his ability to put the courtroom to sleep during dissertation.

Thackeray pulled down his toque tightly over his ears and pushed up his high-back collar as he turned to meet Sylvia. “I’m pleased that Pepper had the foresight to finally bring us together,” he called out, reproachfully.

“Your point is taken, Thackeray,” Sylvia said coldly, coming to a full stop a few feet away and snapping her fingers to get Pepper’s attention. “Get over here!”

“Sylvia? You…did get my calls?”

Pursing her lips, she glanced up at him as she attached the leash to Pepper’s harness and straightening up she let out a long exasperated sigh. “Time, Thackeray! I need time! Surely, you of all people understand that. Susan’s been gone—How long?—a year…a year and a half?”

Susan was Thackeray’s late wife.

“Actually, it’s been almost three years,” he quietly replied, looking away.

When his attention finally returned to her, there was earnestness in his expression and in his voice.

“Sylvia, we must talk.”She stared at him in silence.“I don’t mean here…at my office.”

Sylvia shook her head and began to walk away ignoring Pepper’s resistant tugs on the leash.

“Sylvia! At least let us set a time!” he implored, picking up his pace but choosing to remain a short distance behind her.

Stopping, she turned to face him and said: “What can be so urgent about a mundane will? Damn you! Can’t you let me grieve a little longer?”

“His will is by no means mundane, Sylvia,” he retorted. He cleared his throat. “As you know, the month before Tom’s death he added an addendum to his will.”

“I…I…didn’t…” She could feel her shoulders sag from his unexpected revelation.

“Oh…he told me…I thought…hmm… You and Pepper finish your walk. After you’ve taken him home, drop by my office. Say, two o’clock?” He mustered up his best empathetic smile before continuing: “An hour should give you enough time, don’t you think, Sylvia?”

His closely set eyes mounted on either side of his beak-like nose stared intensely at her as might a hawk relishing his prey. “Well?”

Sylvia stared at him in dismay and slowly shook her head. “You haven’t heard a damn word I’ve said…I need more time to…”

“Three, then… There, it’s done,” he insisted, ignoring her entreaty.

No longer a moot point from his perspective, Thackeray tipped his head and said “Goodbye” and abruptly headed off in the direction of his office on Slaughter Circle.

Slaughter Circle was home to a cluster of high-end office towers at the far end of the Park on the other side of Sykes Street and running perpendicular to it. His office was in the tallest of five office towers closest to the main street.

Dumbstruck and transfixed in place, Sylvia watched as Thackeray’s beanpole of a figure quickly diminished to no more than a dot in the distance.

Fifteen minutes before the appointed time for her meeting with Thackeray, Sylvia—as per usual—bypassed the elevator and began to ascend the back stairs to his fifth floor office.

The stairwell was encased in glass on three sides with each section providing a different view that blended seamlessly into the next; one section contained a portion of the Town of Milsburg; the next section highlighted the rough hewn beauty of the surrounding landscape; while the last section contained the awesome expanse of Georgian Bay sandwiched between the carved out rocky shore and distant skyline.

In the past she would have raced to the fifth floor, like she and Tom often did; but, today she found it a tough slog. It wasn’t that she was incapable of a faster pace; it was that her heart wasn’t into it.

Since it was a weekend, the building and stairwell were vacant and, as a result, it afforded her a degree of quietude for reflection before meeting with Thackeray. As she looked out onto the panoramic view from the third floor landing, she began to revisit the possibilities for Tom’s decision to change his will when she was distracted by the intrusion of a metal door slamming shut on one of the landings above her and someone sobbing.

Silence.

Though the vista beyond the windows redirected her attention like a magnet, it could not dispel the growing discomfort over her meeting with Thackeray and what the changes to Tom’s will would mean. But, as quickly as those concerns arose they just as quickly dissolved because of her trust in Tom and their inviolable love for each other. It was as if he had whispered into her ear: “Everything will be okay, Sylvia. Don’t worry.”

Taking in a deep breath and slowly letting it out, she refocused her attention on the surrounding landscape and felt uplifted by its renewed clarity and freshness; a consciousness that had eluded her since Tom’s death.

The intrusion of the unmistakable echo of high heels quickly descending the steel staircase tarnished this moment for Sylvia. Pursing her lips, she leaned against the rail and, folding her arms across her chest, awaited the unwelcome interloper.

A young woman in black skinny jeans and red pumps and who was not older than twenty came into view. Her dark brown hair was crimped pomp and tightly locked in braids which flared out copper-like feathers on the end. A tattoo on her neck peeked out from her white cowl cold shoulder top. In her arms she carried her coat and a legal sized folder.

Preoccupied and oblivious to Sylvia’s presence, she walked into her almost knocking her down, dropping both folder and jacket in the encounter. “Are you alright? I really didn’t see you there. I’m really sorry,” she said scrambling to pick up her folder and coat and warding off assistance from Sylvia. Her thick black upper eye-liner and dots on the lower lash-line had coalesced to give the appearance of raccoon eyes.

Sylvia had barely said “I’m alright” when the girl preempted further discussion by descending the next flight of stairs.

From the smudged makeup, Sylvia was certain that that was the person she had heard sobbing earlier and, as she watched her disappear below the next landing, she could not help feeling that there was a familiarity about her but, no matter how hard she tried, she was unable to put a finger on it.

Well at least she said she was sorry, Sylvia begrudgingly thought.

When she heard the first floor door open and close, Sylvia shrugged in resignation with the current unlikelihood of recalling the girl’s name or the how, when, where, and why of an earlier meeting—another priority ill-afforded at the moment—and continued on to her meeting with Thackeray.

“Sylvia? Sylvia?! Are you listening?!”

“Huh? Oh…my mind must have drifted elsewhere. I’m sorry Thackeray.”

Her cheeks flushed from embarrassment, Sylvia shifted uncomfortably in the green leather chair opposite him trying to regain her composure. Tilting slightly forward she picked up the gold coin that Thackeray had pushed across his desk to her and began to examine it. Uncertain of what to say next, she returned it to his desk and looked at him quizzically:

“Um…what’s that coin… have to do with Tom’s will?”

“A lot,” he replied. And for a long moment he looked at her long and hard. “You really didn’t hear a thing I said?” He sat back in his chair and folded his hands together. “What if I were to tell you that that coin you were just holding may be worth a million dollars. Ah! Now, I finally have your attention.”

“Surely, you can’t be serious?!”

“I’m very serious.” Sitting forward, he rested his elbows on his desk and planted his chin on the hand over fist platform formed by his hands. “Tom found a whole cache of uncirculated mint condition coins a month before he died. He found them on the trail on your property. You know: the one that leads into the woods and down to the shoreline.”

“I…never knew…”

“That may have been more my fault than his.” He stood up and walked over to the window behind his chair and looked out. “Tom thought that they were probably worthless. Fake. And, quite frankly, so did I.” He turned to face her. “I mean, what are the odds of going for a walk along a path you’ve used for years and finding a can poking out of the ground that’s a treasure trove of gold coins? Come to think of it…I guess pretty good odds,” he chuckled with a shrug. Regaining his seat, he rocked back and forth a couple of times before continuing. “Tom knew his time was short. That’s why he made that change to his will just in case the coins had value. He swore me to secrecy until we heard back from the Canadian Numismatic Association. Unfortunately, I didn’t notify them until a week or two after Tom’s death.”

“So they’ve been appraised?”

He nodded: “They have.”

“Earlier you said that Tom had found ‘a whole cache’ of coins?”

He cleared his throat, coughed and said: “There are exactly 1427 coins with an estimated worth of 10 million dollars.”

Speechless and dumbfounded, Sylvia’s lower jaw dropped leaving a gaping hole normally occupied by her full lips.

“Would you like a glass of water, Sylvia? Or…maybe something stronger?”

“Wa…water will do… just fine, Thackeray.”

He left the room and quickly returned with a glass of water and carefully placed it into her hands before returning to his chair.

Silence reigned between them until Sylvia finished the water and placed the glass on his desk.

“Now, you’re not to worry about your share of those coins. I’ll take care of that.” Adjusting his reading glasses, Thackeray turned to the next page in Tom’s will and perused it before looking up at her over the rim of his glasses. “Sylvia?” He bit on his lower lip before continuing. “Are you okay?” She nodded. “Um…He did include another change that I’m about to read out. It will be disconcerting to say the least.”

“I’m still trying to get my head around those coins,” she chortled. “I doubt that there could possibly be anything more unsettling.” Smiling at him, she said jokingly: “So go ahead, Thackeray, and give it your best shot.”

And give his best shot he did.

An hour later, head slung low, Sylvia walked up the walkway to her house and onto the porch. She was devastated by what Thackeray revealed. She could hear Pepper barking excitedly on the other side of the door as she put her key into the lock.

A girl’s voice called out from the shadows on the porch: “Mrs Canfield?”

Startled, Sylvia spun to confront her. “Who are you?! Step out so I can see you!”

When she stepped into the glow of the porch light, Sylvia immediately recognized her as the person in the stairwell.

Sylvia drew in a deep breath and slowly let it out. “It’s been awhile since you last saw Pepper.”

“It has. I remember the day you first came to visit him.”

“Your… dad… planned that carefully.”

“I didn’t know who he was until today.”

“I know.”

“Come in and get reacquainted with Pepper. We have much to talk about.”
.

‘An Elemental Moment’ by B. B. Wright

An old crib dock

The image of this crib dock is courtesy of http://www.lescheneaux.org

 

“That’s where the crib dock used to be,” he said, pointing at the single, well-worn cedar post that reached upwards from a rock cluster on the shore. “Your great-grandfather made it with the help of his neighbours.”

His chair faced the large living-room picture window that overlooked the fresh waters of the rocky shoreline of Georgian Bay, two hours north of Toronto. On the arm of his chair sat his 8 year old granddaughter, Emma, whose arm was draped across his shoulders.

When he looked up at her, he could tell by his granddaughter’s expression that she had no idea what he was talking about. “Do you see that photo album on the top shelf of the bookcase, Emma?” he asked, nodding to the right. “The one second from the left? Would you please get it for me? It contains a picture of what used to be there. It will help me explain what a crib dock is.”

Photo albums, tightly squeezed together and sequentially positioned according to year by a homemade insert in each binder’s spine, occupied the entire top shelf of the white, 3-shelf bookcase that ran half the length of the wall.

Emma tugged at the album several times before finally dislodging it. Wrapping her arms around the heavy binder she began to walk back when a number of photos held together by string fell onto the floor. “Ugh!”

Seeing her hesitation and understanding her dilemma, her grandfather stood up and walked over to her and picked up the package of photos. Squinting, his thumb gently brushed across the top photo. “That’s strange.”

“What’s strange, grandpa?” Emma asked, lifting her knee for the umpteenth time to help keep the binder in her grasp.

The tips of his fingers glided across the photo in silence before her question finally registered. “Eh?”

“Are you alright, Grandpa?”

“Uh-huh,” he acknowledged, still preoccupied with the photo. “It’s just that I… thought these were lost. Strange they would have been in there. I wonder…?”

The binder Emma was carrying crashed to the floor startling him.

“What the…Oh!…How thoughtless…I’m sorry, sweetheart…I should have…” Dropping to one knee, he wrapped his arms around her.

In part, he wanted to hide the tears that washed across his eyes but more importantly he needed to hold the single most important gift that encapsulated the daughter he once had.

“Silly old grandpa…silly me,” he whispered and only when he felt her begin to squirm under his hold did he finally let go.

Placing the package of photos on top of the binder, he stood up and returned to his seat.

Regaining her position on the arm of the chair, Emma wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him. “I love you, grandpa.”

“Me, too,” he replied, pressing her arm between his shoulder and face to hug her back, his eyes never leaving the packaged photos atop the binder on his lap.

Emma reached across him and picked up the photos. “Who’s the baby, grandpa? Is it me?”

Retrieving his reading glasses from the side-table he put them on and gently took the photos from her. “No, it’s not you, sweetheart. That’s your mom!”

“My mom?” she asked, incredulously.

Undoing the string, he gave her the photo so that she could scrutinize it more closely.

“Who’s the young man holding her?”

“That’s me, sweetheart,” he chortled.

She gave him an askance look before looking at the photo again. “Where was it taken, grandpa?”

“Here…that is to say, further down the shoreline.”

He put the album and the loose photos along with the string on the coffee table in front of him and invited her to sit on his lap.

“Your mom was almost two years old then and I remember I wasn’t in your grandma’s good books that night.” A smile creased the side of his mouth.

“Why?” she asked, snuggling up to him.

“It was a wild and rainy night and your grandma didn’t want me to take her out,” he chuckled. “I appeased your grandma by wrapping your mom in that blanket over there on the back of the couch.”

“So, who took the picture?”

He looked at her with a big smile and expressive eyes and waited for her answer.

“Grandma?”

Nodding, he said: “Uh-huh. You see, the sheer size and roar of the waves as they thundered ashore that night were the biggest I’d ever seen on Georgian Bay and I wanted your mom to experience it. I guess I must have made a pretty good case for it because your grandma relented and came along.”

He gently tweaked the end of her nose eliciting a giggle from her.

“The truth is that your grandma didn’t need much justification. She saw it as an opportunity to test her photographic skills. As you already know, she was a well known photographer in the area. Some of her work still hangs in the gallery in Meaford City Hall.”

Emma sat straight up on his lap: “Could we go see them tomorrow?”

“I don’t see why not.”

Letting out a satisfied sigh, she snuggled back down with the picture held close to her face. “Tell me more about that night, grandpa.”

“Well…together, the three of us laughed for pure joy when those thundering white capped waves threw great handfuls of froth at us. We could barely hear ourselves speak. I think we all shared the same spine-tingling thrill of the power of nature that night. Many years later, your mom told me that she looked upon that night as her first real adventure in life.”

“Can we do that some time, grandpa?”

“If you’re here and the timing’s right.”

“Phone me. Dad will drive me straight up. Please.” She pleaded.

Hesitating, he remembered her mom as an adult telling him how that night had taught her to accept the world’s elemental things and not to be afraid of the wind, the darkness and the roaring surf.

“That’s a long trip for your dad driving up from Toronto. But, if it’s okay with your dad.” And, he nodded.

She wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a big kiss on his cheek.

For a moment they sat in silence until Emma turned over the photo. On the back was written: I had a lover’s quarrel with the world –R.F.

“Who wrote this grandpa?”

“From the handwriting, it was your mother. The initials R.F. tell me it was probably taken from something Robert Frost wrote, one of her favorite poets.

Subliminally, on that stormy autumn night when she was almost two, her mother had begun a journey to learn the lesson that we all must learn and that she had exhaustively tried to teach others. Namely, that we all play a part in the mysterious partnership within life’s complex cycle of events and knowing that made us responsible as part of its community to protect it. Though she had reached the highest levels within her field, she had found it the most difficult lesson to teach.

It’s funny, he thought, how when you’re dead people start listening.

“I wish I had known her,” Emma replied, sadly.

“Me too sweetheart…me too. Maybe this album and the others on the shelf will go a long way in helping you do just that.”

“I’d like to be a marine biologist just like her some day, grandpa?”

“Well then, we had better get started. Get your coat and boots on and let’s discover what lies along the shoreline.” He noticed her eyeing the binder and loose photos on the coffee table. “I haven’t forgotten. They too will be part of your adventure.”

 

An Unexpected Gift: Part One of Two

white picket fence oneAn Unexpected Gift
A Short Story by B. B. Wright

November’s rain and bone chilling dampness blanketed the Town of Milsburg in the Region of Grey-Bruce. For many inhabitants of this Region which was located two hours north of Toronto on the fresh waters of Georgian Bay, the Grey part of the Region’s name had taken on a life all of its own. Grey days outnumbered sunny days twenty to one and sunny days fell into that apocryphal meteorological category of overcast with some sunny periods. That is, sunny periods seen in the blink of an eye that heavily depended on whose blink you were talking about.

Cozy in her blue, soft brushed polyester pajamas, bought for her by her late husband, Tom, Sylvia Canfield snuggled down in bed and, turning onto her side in a fetal position, she pulled the comforter tightly up around her and chided herself for not programming the thermostat to come on earlier.

Beside her, Pepper, her black terripoo dog, stood up, shook himself out, turned around a couple times before flopping down with a hard thud against her back.

Once assured that Pepper had settled into his cozy spot, Sylvia closed her eyes and began to slowly drift off to sleep.

On the edge of REM sleep, she was jolted awake by Pepper who had become annoyingly restless.

Plying his doggie thing of standing up, turning around and slamming up against her with increased frequency, Sylvia turned intending to throw him off her bed when Pepper jumped off and ran to the bedroom door and began to scratch frantically at it.

“Ugh! Okay! Okay, Pepper! I’m getting up,” she said, disgruntled by the thought of leaving her warm bed.

She pushed her thick blonde hair back from her face and swung her legs over the side of the bed.

In her mind, the intent and urgency of Pepper’s plea left no doubt that time was of the essence.

But, by the time her feet on her five foot-two frame hit the cold wooden floor searching for her Haflinger woolen slippers, Pepper had managed to nose the door open and was on his way downstairs.

“I don’t know where you think you’re going without me,” she grumbled as one hand searched for her slippers which had somehow got kicked under the bed while the other hand fumbled in the darkness for her dressing gown that should have been draped over the chair at the end of the bed but was found instead on the floor.

One sleeve of her dressing gown in place, she rushed through the open bedroom door while unsuccessfully attempting to snag the other sleeve. Switching on the hall light and gathering up her gown so not to trip, she bounded down the stairs to the kitchen after Pepper.

“A dog in need could be an accident indeed and this morning isn’t going to be one of them,” she murmured repeatedly, hoping her words would provide inspiration and reassurance.

Moments later, Sylvia let out a long satisfied sigh as she adjusted her robe in place and watched Pepper rooting about outside searching for the best place to do his business.

He seems so undeterred by this foul weather, she thought. And, she envied him for that.

Forcing her hands into the side-seamed pockets of her blue, full snap-front robe, her shoulders crunched inwards to a sudden chill.  A burst of warm air from the vent she stood beside traveled up her leg and she moved closer to it.

By the time her toast popped up in the toaster and the whistle on the kettle heralded, Pepper was back in the house shaking off the rain drops and looking for something to eat.

Savoring each morceau of generously spread homemade strawberry jam on her buttered toast, she leaned forward slightly at the kitchen table to watch Pepper eating from his chow bowl.

Though still tired and sleepy, Sylvia felt a sense of comfort and satisfaction as she watched him.

Putting down her slice of toast, she picked up her tea mug and blew across the tea’s surface and welcomed the warm, moist steam on her face and the heat from the cup cradled in her hands.

Her attention drifted to the kitchen window and the inclement weather and she hoped that Pepper wouldn’t pester her too much for his ritual walk.

In the background, the weather report from the radio assured its listening audience that the rain would stop late morning; the clouds would lift and sunshine was expected for most of the afternoon.

Winds off Georgian Bay could be biting this time of year but the promise of sunshine was the trump card that made her walk with Pepper that much more palatable and likely.

Unnoticed by her, Pepper had finished his meal, slurped down some water, and, leaving a trail of water droplets behind him from his soggy beard, made his way across the room to her and sat on the floor in front of her.

A single soft bark was all Pepper needed to get her attention.

“Good Pepper! You used your quiet voice just like we taught you.” And, she fed him a small piece of her toast to reward him. Placing her cup on the table, Sylvia adjusted her position on the chair and patted her lap to encourage him to jump up onto it.

Immediately, she regretted her invitation because his wet face, licking tongue, and affectionate energy were overpowering until she got him to settle down. Once she could comfortably pat him, she became more accepting of his occasional gestures of affection.

_____

Tom had first brought her to meet the litter of terripoo puppies during their third year of marriage.

It had been 3 months after her miscarriage.

Shortly after the miscarriage, an invisible curtain had fallen between them as she struggled against the depression that had seeped into her life. Laughter—a constant companion before the miscarriage—had become silent and foreign.

She often looked back on this period and wondered if she would have survived without Tom’s steady support.

On the day he took her to meet the puppies, intuitively she knew why he had taken her.

As the six puppies cavorted around her while she sat on the floor, she found it impossible to remain aloof from their unconditional loving natures; slowly she began to interact with them.

Mysteriously that day, laughter, that had been so unattainable and deeply buried within her, bubbled to the surface.

While playing with the puppies, she noticed for the first time that a black one had already carved out Tom’s attention.

Later, she learned that Tom had already named him Pepper.

Pepper, Tom’s first dog, had not only brought out the endearing little kid in Tom but Pepper that day, alongside his brothers and sisters, had helped to initiate her road to recovery and her reconnection to Tom.

Sylvia looked upon the next seven years as the happiest in her life. Though she had learned that she would be unable to have children, somehow it no longer mattered as her life had become filled to overflowing with travel, teaching, writing her first novel and being with Tom. She and Tom had even discussed adoption.

Then, last summer arrived and with it Tom’s diagnosis.

When Tom was dying of cancer neither she nor Pepper left his side.

Pepper, normally a quiet dog except when strangers came onto the property, had become unusually restless during Tom’s final hours.

When Tom finally died, Pepper’s prolonged forlorn howling sent a soul-chilling dagger through the night.

_____

Sylvia’s eyes bubbled up with tears as she recalled that night two months ago and she cradled Pepper closer and buried her face into the soft, downy fur on his head.

She knew it was just her imagination but, for a brief moment, she could have sworn that she had felt Tom’s presence. And, she held Pepper even closer.

As the morning dragged on, the rain finally stopped as it had been forecast and the sky cleared up.

Placing Pepper on the floor she said: “Well little friend, if we’re going for a walk I’d better wash up and put on warmer clothes.”

Pepper playfully zigzagged in and out around Sylvia, occasionally leaping up at her, while she pretended to try and catch him. This continued for several minutes until he bounded up the stairs barking and headed in the direction of her bedroom.

Two hours later, Sylvia was glad she wore her ankle-length black Spanish Merino coat as she walked along the pebbly beach at Macleod Park, roughly ten minutes from where she lived. The sunshine had brought a handful of people to the park but most, she surmised, were discouraged by the cold north wind blowing off Georgian Bay.

She pulled the long hair Tuscany collar, that doubled as a hood, over her head and watched Pepper running ahead, sniffing this and that as he went along.

Normally, she would have had Pepper on a leash but, with so few people in the park today, she thought it would be safe to let him run free.

Pepper rarely ran too far ahead. Often, he would scurry back with some prize or other he had retrieved and laid it at her feet. Occasionally, Sylvia would gather up his newly found toy and play fetch and retrieve but more often than not, she deflected his attention elsewhere while she discarded it.

She was glad that she had decided to wear her woolen mittens as the cold wind nipped at her cheeks.

Picking up a flat stone from the beach she tried to skip it in the rough water but was unsuccessful. Undeterred, she tried several more times until one stone completed a triple skip.

And, she giggled like a young girl.

Looking around for Pepper, she found him further along the shoreline than usual and, with his nose planted so close to the ground she surmised he was following the scent of something.

_____

The Town of Milsburg began to change about ten years ago. Whether it had changed for better or worse was open to debate. The local bakery coexisted with Tim Horton’s—contrary to expectations—and the tax base was given a sizable boast from the influx of people from the Greater Toronto Area hungry for land on which to build their dream home. Those who came had come for a chance of respite and an opportunity to play in at least one of the four seasons. This would have been all fine and dandy if the outsiders had been willing to leave well enough alone. But, when the smell of money to be had reeked across the landscape, the tenor of country living—though kicking and screaming—was corralled in and redesigned to give a contrastingly new meaning to what was meant by country living.

Country living had become defined along narrower lines that emphasized the self-centered blindness of entitlement. This philosophical shift irked the locals to their very core as they felt these city dwellers had bullied their way into their life-scape.

Real-estate that had once been enjoyed by all—especially along the shoreline—became prime real-estate gobbled up overnight, only to be traded for a hefty price-tag when the time was ripe.

Three new high-rise condominiums had been completed along the shore-line last spring so that there were now five: two at one end of Macleod Park and three at the other.

The number of upscale shops along Sykes Street which ran parallel to Macleod Park had tripled. These shops mainly catered to seasonal dwellers and tourists; while the locals stayed with the familiar to support their friends, their family and their way of life.

Begrudgingly, the locals slowly came around to tolerate these unwelcome changes and to accept them as part of life’s natural flow which included  the unfortunate  disappearance of familiar faces and the arrival of strangers in their place.

At the corner of Sykes and Lombard was a century old Tudor-style building, the Boar Inn and Pub where the  locals—mainly the fifty plus group—came for a few pints, a game of darts, a good chin-wag and sing-along, and plain good food, usually British fare. The younger group on Friday and Saturday nights wouldn’t be caught dead there and willingly drove the forty minutes along the coast to the joie de vivre atmosphere of the Town of Collingwood to celebrate the weekend at the Admiral’s Post Pub, Lounge 26 and the Copper Blues.

Gregarious people, Sylvia and Tom were easily assimilated into this community and had become staunch contributors to the community’s cohesiveness.

Though Sylvia and Tom had come from the city, they were part of the melt of local citizenry who looked upon the urban influx as nothing more than pesky insects that defined one of the four seasons

_____

Pepper was busily trying to pull some sort of object out from between two large boulders on the shoreline with the help of a man.

If Sylvia could have disappeared she would have that very moment. The man helping Pepper was none other than Thackeray Thomson, their family lawyer.

Tom and she had always been on good terms with Thackeray but she was embarrassed by not having returned his many phone calls. His voice messages had been very clear and explicit: “…There is a pressing matter with respect to Tom’s Will. Please call as soon as you hear this.”

Author’s Corner: An Interview with Sherry Foley

Picture of Sherry Foley

Welcome to Author’s Corner, Sherry!

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I write full time and when I’m not writing I’m reading. Reading is called research you know, at least I tell myself that so I don’t feel guilty curling up with a good book.   I love to garden, travel with my husband, cheer my kids on at their games and cook. 

Q: What did you want to be when you were a child? Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? And, if you did always know, how did you go about nourishing that dream to fruition?

A: I wanted to be a grown up and be independent. Before I could read I was making up stories with imaginary characters. After learning to read and write I put the stories on paper. I kept writing and imagining readers curled up somewhere so engrossed in the lives of my characters that they took a break from theirs.

Q: You once wrote: “Concentrating on the positives erases the negatives and keeps the grumpies away.” I love this piece of wisdom. It is such a winning philosophy. But, I know that this is not always easy to do. How do you make it happen for you?

A:  I’m an optimist by nature and I always focus on the blessings instead of the negatives.

Q: Are you a pantser, a plotter or a little of both? Give us some idea how you plan the overall structure of your novel and your approach to each chapter.

A: I’m a total pantser. I think up a name for the hero and imagine his personality, do the same for the heroine and decide what their conflict is and begin writing.  I end each chapter with a cliff hanger and go to the next to find out what happens. I never know where the story is going. I like the adventure. 

Q: How do you go about getting the ideas for your stories?

A: My imagination bank is HUGE. I dream up a story I would enjoy reading.

Q: What is your favorite part of writing?

A: I like all the aspects of it including the editing too. I think of it as polishing the final look.

Q: Do you have a least favorite part to writing?

A: No.

Q:  When you are in the midst of writing a novel, what does a typical day look like for you?

A: I start out rereading the part I wrote the day before as it gets me back into the story and I write from there. I write at least 3,000 words and if I don’t have any errands to pull me away I try to write 5,000.  I stop whenever I feel like I’m trying too hard because I know it’s going to be what I will end up deleting the next day.

Q: How likely are people you meet or know to end up in one of your novels?

A: Very likely. I’m always people watching, eavesdropping, honing in on the gestures people make along with body language.  All of these things can be used to help you lift the character off of the page for the reader to experience.

Q:  Do you prefer to read in the same genres you write in or do you prefer to mix your readings with other genres? Why?

A: I read widely in my genre and then throw in other genres just to stay current. It all influences the way your voice sounds.  I call it research so I don’t feel like it’s a guilty pleasure to curl up somewhere with a book when I could be writing. 

Q: What is the most difficult for you to write? Characters, conflict or emotions? Why?

A: Sometimes I struggle with emotion and have to revisit those areas a few times until I feel the level is right.  I’m more even keel than emotional so I have to be sure my characters are reacting emotionally enough in the scene. 

Q: Having achieved your goal to be a published author, what is the most rewarding thing?

A: Being invited to book clubs to speak and hearing the readers talk about your book.  I mean, I know my characters are not real, but when the readers talk about them like they are…it’s so exciting.  

Q: Is there a downside?

A:  No, I can’t think of anything. I love all aspects of it and feel fortunate to have it as my day job.

Q: Have you any strategies for writers who suffer from writer’s block?

A: I just keep writing and give myself permission to get the bones of the story down.  You can go back and put some flesh on it later and dress it the way you want to then.

Q: Of the three books we will discuss today, is there one you found the most fun to write? Why?

A: Switched in Death. I  loved writing the twisted personalities. The brain fascinates me. The way it works is still a mystery. The mind can convince one of anything, even if it’s wrong.  We all can justify things, but some take it to the extreme. Example: John Gacy.

Switched_in_Death_cover Sherry FolleyQ: What inspired you (Where did you get the idea from?) to write Switched in Death about a serial killer?

A: I was made fun of while growing up because I was the only one in class that didn’t have parents. Divorce was rarely heard of during that time period. I was raised by my grandmother. Kids can be so cruel.  I got to thinking about all of this bullying you hear about these days.  There has always been bullying, but it seems to be addressed more at the same time these poor kids are taking their lives over it. Words can never be taken back and we must be careful what we utter. They can heal. They can sever. I wanted to show that in Switched in Death.

Q:  Was the killer based on an actual serial killer or a compilation of several serial killers?

A: I just came up with the name Christina Mitchell and flipped it to Mitchell Christian.  One is the tortured child and one is the personality they would’ve had if they had not been verbally battered by others.

Q: In one or two sentences, what is the premise (logline, elevator speech) for Switched in Death?

A: A serial killer hunts for a murderer responsible for tremendous amount of deaths.

Q: Tell us about the hero (heroine) including strengths and weaknesses. (Please include how you arrived at the name Seth Banning.).

A:  My son Seth asked me one time, “Mom, do you think you might ever name one of your characters after me?” Seth Banning was born out of desire to show my son great things can be achieved from having noble character. Seth desires to play by the book and protect the lives of others.  He has allowed his past hurts to stand in the way of his future until Laney shows him some risks are worth the pleasure.  Laney believes in wonderful things for others, but doesn’t reach for them enough herself.

Captive_Memories Sherry FoleyQ: In your novel, Captive Memories, you quite nicely captured the emotional turmoil Brian Helms was living through after the loss of his wife. I think writers go to a ‘special place’ to do this. What was your ‘special place’ and how did you hook into it?

A: No matter what the betrayal is, we’re always left wondering if the person ever really and truly cared or whether it was all a selfish act on their part at our expense.

Q: In one or two sentences, what is the premise (logline, elevator speech) for Captive Memories?

A: Betrayal is hard to bounce back from, but the risk is worth it when love is found through some amazing circumstances.

Q: Tell us about the hero (heroine) including strengths and weaknesses.

A: Brian Helm’s heart has been broken by the one he trusted most. In order to self preserve he has built some pretty thick walls. When a disoriented Shawna McFadden wanders into his studio, not only do Brian’s cop instincts kick in, so does his long dormant need for love. Torn between her feelings for Brian and her fear of what might lurk in her past, Shawna will do anything to protect him, even if it’s from herself. When someone from her former life steps out of the shadows, Brian and Shawna find out what real loss—and real love—are all about.

A Captive Heart by Sherry Foley

Q: What was the most difficult thing you found in the writing of A Captive Heart? Why?

A:  It was my first story that I wrote and I was amazed at how much of yourself you pour into your stories.  You show your core, all walls down, and it leaves you very vulnerable.

Q: In order to capture the realism for the characters and the situations, writing often involves research and preparation before the novel is written. How did you prepare to write A Captive Heart?

A: I read a lot of books on writing, went to conferences and practiced learning POV.

Q: In one or two sentences, what is the premise (logline, elevator speech) for Captive Heart?

A:  When your life is at stake how far will you go?

Q: Tell us about the hero (heroine) including strengths and weaknesses.

A: Uncovering corruption within his own department, FBI agent Ian Mulherin watches the lines of justice blur as he finds himself in the middle of greed, betrayal, and double-agents tied to the Mafia. Realizing he is being framed, he must now protect Nicole, the innocent woman marked to be his victim, as feelings between the two of them begin to blossom. While the conspiracy tightens around Ian, he frantically races to clear his name, bring down the perpetrators, and protect the woman who has captured his heart.

Q:  What is next for you? I understand that you are working on a detective series. What can you tell us about it?

A: I have just finished the first book. The series is set in my hometown of Springfield, Missouri.  I celebrate the area with combining the past with the present into a lot of the mysteries.  I grew up hearing the local lore and incorporated some family stories into the mix too. The first case is very close to my heart. There was something that happened in our town when I was in grade school that kept me glued to the news every night. It was hard for me to get over it. I’ve told the story in a fictional way and written an ending that heals some of the memories.

Q: What is the most valuable lesson you learned on your road to publication?

A: If you fight self doubt you’ll write faster

Q: And, what advice do you have for future novelists?

A: Hold on tight to your dream and don’t let anyone rip them out of your hands.

It has been a pleasure meeting you Sherry. Thank you.

And, a BIG thank you goes out to all of you who dropped by to meet Sherry! Have a great day!

Just point and click below to find Sherry’s books:

wintergoosepublishing             

Amazon            

Barnes and Noble            

Books a Million

My Interview on L. A. Talk Radio

HilldaleOn Wednesday, November 6 at 4:!0 PT/7:10 ET, I was interviewed on the Hill & Dale Show at L. A. (Los Angeles) Talk Radio by Sharon Dale and Lucie Hill. It gave me an opportunity to discuss the writing of Betrayal of Trust, the environmental references that thread through the book and my upcoming article for The Environmental Forum.

I highlighted this environmental thread by quoting the following excerpt on page 5 of Betrayal of Trust:

He had worked the last 15 years to develop a new filtration system that screened out harmful pharmaceuticals from contaminating the water supply.

The above excerpt and its associated references throughout the novel attempt to draw the reader into asking three basic questions:

  1. How do pharmaceutical by-products get into our water system?
  2. What might be its effects? And, is there scientific research to support it?
  3. Is Edward Slocum’s concern about pharmaceuticals contaminating the water supply justified?

Unfortunately, no reader that I am aware of has addressed any of these questions and, as a result, I think the sequel (working title: Gold in the Furnace) must be more pointed in its intent to reveal this growing problem.

My article for The Environmental Forum: Pharmaceuticals in our Water System: A Time to Act will expand on the above questions and it will be posted on this site soon.

So now it is time to sit back and enjoy the Hill & Dale Show on L.A.Talk Radio.

http://www.latalkradio.com/Players/Hilldale.shtml?date=November+6,+2013&file=110613

The White Picket Fence

The White Picket Fence
white picket fence oneby
B. B. Wright

___

In rustling of leaves

and beauty of Fall,

stands a quintessential hominess.

A classic perennial charm,

few among the things,

that touch the heart

like the white picket fence.

A simple iconic structure,

its boundary effectiveness assured,

embraces warmth and welcoming

to the weary traveler

who, on homeward bound,

passes through its gate.

White picket fence two___

Time drains through days

as through the body flows.

Where change unnoticed before

slaps against each pore.

Convoluted ripples on fingers

should not be ignored

upon the white picket fence.

Teardrop stains, appeal profusely

upon ash grey blades

that dare to stay

atop on bottom rail.

white picket fence four___

Once resonant with purpose,

like rockets skyward bound,

its blades well tempered.

Winter’s clock winds down;

the fence inward leaning,

its limbs aimless bound

from the lowly picket fence.

Once a cozy curb appeal,

now a patchwork compass

pointing everywhere and nowhere;

its remnants lay about

while eyes’ blinded minds

flounder in Nature’s paradise.

white picket fence six