Angel Maker: Part Two by B. B. Wright

Pile of Hebrew prayer booksAngel Maker

A Short Story of Fiction by B. B. Wright

An Inspector Alexander Collier Mystery

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

Part Two

Chilling November Days

Diane Waumsley pulled her woolen hat over her ears and jacked up the collar on her coat to ward off the damp, chilling November wind when she stepped out of the vehicle. Before closing the car door, she leaned back in.

“Thanks Uncle Sandy. But…are you sure you don’t mind? It’s six…and…well …I could’ve found…”

Alexander Collier shook his head and smiled. “I appreciate your concern, Rebecca, but if I’d minded I wouldn’tve offered. I’m up much earlier than this most mornings.”

As was his habit, Collier was already dressed for the day in his 3-piece “London Drape” suit.

“But, Uncle Sandy,  it could be a week…Maybe more.”

“Be off with you. Your Auntie Lila’s waiting with my breakfast,” he lied, knowing that breakfast would not be on the table for at least an hour, “and I dare not test her mood so early in the morning.”

“Especially this Sunday morning,” she added, stretching across the seat and kissing him on the cheek. Her expression took on a more sombre veil as she asked: “Are you… sure you’re ready for today, uncle?”

Until two years ago, every Remembrance Day her uncle had shut himself away in his study and drank. Last year was the first time he had gone to watch the ceremony. She was proud that this year he would later don the uniform and participate in the march.

Remembrance Day ceremonies on the second Sunday of November each year had always been a difficult time for her uncle. He had never spoken about his experiences during the last World War—the so-called war to end all wars—but she had learned bits and pieces from her mom, his sister. Still, she never knew or understood why her uncle had not participated in the ceremonies. All she knew was hinted through family gossip and that it had to do with the loss of his brother, Joe, in 1917. As she grew up, she had come to accept that her uncle was a private man who contained many deep, dark secrets hidden in the antic of his mind.

He removed his Homburg hat and combed his fingers through his salt and pepper hair.

“This day…” His gaze drifted before returning his attention back to her. “Conjures up much that I would prefer to forget…But, it’s time,” he replied with a reassuring smile. “Now, wipe off that concerned look. Aye, I’m ready. I’ll do fine.”

Knowing that he had not touched a drop of liquor in two years, she felt reassured and squeezed his hand to convey her love and support.

“You’ll be coming to supper this evening?” She nodded. “Good. We’ve…invited your mom. I hope that’s okay?” he asked with a disconcerting look.

For a moment she didn’t know what to say and she slipped onto the passenger seat and closed the car door.

“I really don’t…”

“If your mom could have taken back her words…”

“What?! And have her lie instead?!” She interjected, unsuccessfully trying not to raise her voice and firmly folding her arms across her chest. “Obviously, she told you what she said?” she continued, her voice breaking slightly. He nodded. “I’m sorry uncle. But, then you also know that they were cruel, hurtful and anti-Semitic words against my fiancé.”

“I do… Wait a minute…did I just hear you correctly? You and Lanny are engaged?”

“A month ago.”

Taken off guard, he felt hurt to discover about their engagement this way.

“I take it that your mom already knows?”

“No! It occurred after our row.”

“I see…Well…Congratulations!”

He decided against asking why he had not known sooner preferring to wait for a more opportune time.

“I couldn’t be more pleased,” he continued. “He’s a fine young man. I should think supper should be interesting…very interesting, indeed,” he chortled. “Still, it will be a grand time to celebrate!”

He bit the corner of his mouth as he carefully thought out his next words.

“Surely, Diane, you know that your aunt and I would be the last to defend or support your mom in her beliefs. We support you. Always! And that having been said, you can’t solve anything without confronting it head on. I should know. At least tolerate her for this evening. Let’s see where it goes.” He shook his head. “Heaven knows how your mom came about to think that way, though I do have my thoughts on the subject. At least give it try.” He sighed deeply. “Did you know that Richard’s in Germany with Elsa.”

She looked at him quizzically.

He took in a few deep breaths before continuing. “He’s there to help Elsa get her family, her Jewish family, safely out of Germany. I’ve been trying to help through contacts in London. And, in light of what has just happened in the last few days, I’m deeply concerned for their safety.”

“Shouldn’t their British passports be safeguards enough?”

Collier shrugged. “Ninety per cent of the new reality in Nazi Germany is perception especially when it comes to Jews. If Richard and Elsa disappeared, they would be difficult if not impossible to trace. That’s why I’ve got the Foreign Office doing the best they can to keep close tabs on them. That may be the best and only safeguard my son and Elsa have got.”

“Have you heard from them?”

“Not since Kristallnacht on the ninth. I’ve been told that they went into hiding. So, your aunt and I are waiting it out. No news is good news…I guess.”

He adjusted his position to fully face her.

Contrary to his skepticism and logical disposition he had prearranged a visit (his second visit in two years) before breakfast with the psychic, medium Elizabeth Stoddard (a.k.a. ‘Queenie) to talk about his son. And, time was running short. Her book Psychic Glimpses, tucked away in his inner pocket, pressed uncomfortably against his chest each time he moved and acted as an unwelcome reminder.

“Diane, let’s get back to you for a moment. I understand how you feel about your mom, I’m not happy with her either, but shutting her out doesn’t solve anything.”

“It’s worked for me,” she retorted.

“Really?” he asked, raising his eyebrows in disbelief. “So does that mean you’re now not coming to supper?”

Her expression softened as she thought through her reply.

“I’d like to bring Lanny with me, if that’s okay?”

A broad smile creased his face as he shook in head in despair. “Diane…Diane…I wonder at times if you’re really listening. Of course you may. It wouldn’t be a celebration without the two of you present. And, I won’t take no for an answer.” He adjusted his hat back on his head.

“Good, then it’s settled. I’ll…we’ll come. Thank you, Uncle Sandy.”

The two them held hands tightly in silence before she finally exited the vehicle.

As she watched her uncle drive off, she was surprised to see him turn left at the intersection rather than continue straight through which would have been the direct route home. Giving a slight shrug, she turned and ran across the road toward the hospital.

Normally, she would not have begun her shift until 4:00 P.M. and supper with her mom would not have entered into the equation but the shift switch as a favor for her friend, Gillian, had changed all that. Fearful of sleeping through the alarm, she had had a broken sleep and felt tired. The thought of supper now with her mom made her feel frustrated and edgy and she resented this additional concern being added to her day.

Ninety minutes early for her shift, she still hoped to be running at full tilt by the 7:30 patient briefings.

Her stomach growled as she made her way up the steps to the hospital. Mentally, she chastised herself for not accepting her aunt and uncle’s invitation to breakfast. Maybe, she thought, it would have been a more ideal time and location to talk about her impending supper with her mom. She had forgotten that her cousin, Richard, was dating a Jewish girl. And, she was more than surprised to learn from her uncle that the two of them were now in Germany.

She hadn’t grasped the urgency of their mission.

Preoccupied, she misjudged the next step and stumbled but quickly regained her balance.
Composing herself, she looked at the few stairs remaining to the front door of the hospital and attempted to focus her attention on the day ahead but hunger pangs began to press her immediate needs like a thirsty day in the desert without water. Pushing aside The Observer newspaper that peeked out from her oversized purse, she began to rummage along its bottom.

“Ah! There you are you little rascal.”

Pulling out a Rowntree’s Chocolate Crisp, she quickly unwrapped it and continued to traverse the remaining distance. Though, she had her toast and egg sandwich, sliced and wrapped, and digestive biscuits, the chocolate bar for the moment took precedence—a kind of reward for her just being here at this god-awful time—and she wolfed it down.

After she had changed into her nurse’s uniform in the locker room, she tucked The Observer under one arm, picked up her bag with the egg sandwich, biscuits and thermos of tea and headed to the stairwell for the walk up the three flights of stairs to Ward CH3.

She looked forward to using her extra time before patient briefing for getting her head together and to satisfying the grumbling needs of her stomach in the small lunch room off the hall leading to the nursing station.

When she opened the door from the landing onto the Ward, she was stunned to find the staff in frenzied panic. Whatever had happened, the staff was functioning at critical levels.

Her newspaper fell to the floor when she grabbed the upper arm of one of the nurses she recognized running by.

“Judith, what’s wrong?” Diane asked, alarmed.

“Oh, Diane…She was my patient, under my watch…she’s missing! Please! Let me go!”

Judith pulled away and disappeared into one of a series of patients’ rooms lining the hall on either side before reappearing and heading to the next.

“Who’s missing?” Diane called out, picking up the newspaper and stuffing it under her arm as she scurried after Judith who had disappeared into another room.

“Did you see anyone on the stairwell?” Judith asked when she reappeared.

“No…but…”

“Search the two rooms on that side and I’ll finish up along here.”

“Judith? Whom am I looking for?”

“Rebecca…Rebecca Grynberg,” Judith replied breathlessly, unable to fully avert her eyes from Diane.

“Rebecca? But…how? When? She was too ill to…”

“We know. We all know. Please, Diane, do what I asked. We’ll talk… later.”

For a brief moment the two of them stood in silence facing each other until Diane broke the silence.

“Then…if you all know…that…Judith, what are you not telling me?”

“We think she may have been taken.”

“Taken? Then, the police must have been…?”

“No! The administration told us to thoroughly check the hospital first,” Judith interjected.

Diane’s lunch bag crashed to the floor along with The Observer as if to punctuate the uncomfortable awkwardness that had suddenly been thrown up between them.

Judith knows I’m the niece of Inspector Collier, Diane thought. And, she still expects me to blindly follow these dumb orders? I can’t. “How long do you think she’s been missing?”

“No more than two hours.”

“Two…?! Let’s quickly finish up here so we can call the police.”

“We?! No! You can’t do that! I just told you admin…”

“Maybe you can’t Judith but I can and will!”

 

Dear Reader:
I do hope you are enjoying the story so far. There is much yet to learn about Inspector Alexander Collier and his family as well as the times he lived in.

The procedure used to eventually solve Rebecca’s murder would have been impossible in the United States because of the Fourth Amendment.

The unprecedented growth of discovery, technological and scientific (medical) advances we take for granted in our modern age often blinds us into thinking that this is always the way it was. The link (at “nurse’s uniform”) to the interview with Mildred Brown Shaw R.N. says otherwise. Her experiences, as a nurse in the United States during the 1930’s, provides rare practical insight to nursing during this period and what Diane Waumsley may have experienced during each of her shifts in Ward CH3.

Thank you for giving your valuable time to follow this series. Hopefully you will continue to enjoy the series as much as I do writing each episode.

Best Regards
B. B. Wright

Angel Maker: Part One by B. B. Wright

Palladium Cinema

Angel Maker

A Short Story of Fiction by B. B. Wright

An Inspector Alexander Collier Mystery

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

Part One

All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Men

A heavy grey mist had settled over Bournemouth and since it was well past the ten o’clock closing for pubs and the last of the trolley buses had been docked for the night, very few people wandered about on its damp, cold streets. The doors to the 550 seat Palladium Cinema had been locked for at least an hour and the marquee which had highlighted that evening’s show of The Divorce of Lady X starring Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier had been plunged into darkness.

Fish and chips news wrappers and other detritus carelessly tossed aside from earlier that day blew about like tumbleweed. For an ephemeral moment the front page of the Guardian was pasted against a wall by the wind to expose once again what should have been a troublesome headline:

Germany’s Day of Wrecking and Looting
Gangs Unhampered by the Police
Synagogues Burned Down in Many Cities

A young man with a potato sack across his shoulders hurried along Fisherman’s Walk. Lamplight splashed his shadow across the Guardian headline like a stain as he turned into the alley beside the Cinema. He felt the limp, small body he carried in his sack stirring as the chloroform he had given her was beginning to wear off. Quickening his pace, he continued down the alley to the back of the building.

He laid the sack down in a sheltered area in the glow of the light from the lamp above the back door to the Cinema. Untying the sack he took out his knife and slit the sack open from top to bottom. Folding the blade in, he returned it to his pocket.

He liked his prey young, very young and their innocence made what he was about to do to her that much more pleasurable. She was more than just a receptacle to feed his needs; she was an unblemished treat of virgin purity. He sat down beside her and waited for her to wake; he stroked her hair and ran his hand along her white legs and up under her gown. He needed her conscious. He enjoyed their struggle and pain; it made him even more excited.

He had strangled his last victim but, tonight, he had planned a different thrill for himself.

Astride her and fully satisfied, he released his grip on her and stood up and fastened his pants. He watched her as she curled up into a fetal position, whimpering. And he smiled.

“Do you believe in angels?” he asked her softly.

Her nod was hesitant.

The sight of blood on her gown between her legs etched terror on her face as she looked up at him.

“Yes, I thought so,” he continued. “Now there, there, Rebecca. There’s nothing to be afraid of.” He reached out to touch her but she pulled away. “I am an angel maker. That’s right. And, tonight is your lucky night.

He came closer and went down on one knee next to her.

“Have you ever played broken propeller before?” he whispered into her ear.

She shook her head and pulled herself in even closer.

“No, of course you wouldn’t’ve. I just invented it. Tonight you will be first to play it with me. But I must secure you to ensure the game is played correctly.”

He forced her to straighten out and took a rope from his pocket and wound it around her several times so as to fix her arms tightly to her sides. Then after several failed attempts, he finally stuffed her underpants into her mouth.

“That last bite hurt, Rebecca.” And, he slapped her hard across the face making her unconscious. “No!…No!…That won’t do! Damn! You must be awake to play this game!”

Several minutes passed before she regained consciousness.

“Good! Now we can play my game. But, first I must remove your ribbon so that your hair hangs loose.”

Removing it, he placed it in his pocket.

He grasped her slender ankles and began to swing her around and around, the speed increasing with each turn.

“Humpty Dumpty splat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great bawl. Broken propeller,” he yelled out and let go his grasp.

The lamplight over the door highlighted it all until the moment her small foot sliced through it sending everything into darkness as her head cracked against the brick wall.

He stepped closer to observe her lifeless body.

“All the King’s horses and all the King’s men, definitely can’t put poor little Rebecca together again. Now you are an angel.”

Pulling out his knife, he cut off a thick strand of her hair and placed it in a locket and returned both to his pocket.

His trophies of her hair and ribbon in hand, he returned to the loneliness of his flat to wait. He had no idea when the urge would erupt again or who would be his next prey. Yet, somehow in his socially inept mind, living on the edge of society, he understood it would not be long because he had already recognized that the time between killings was becoming shorter.

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.”

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

Flock or Not: That’s What It’s All About

Flock or Not: That’s What It’s All About

A Poem

by B. B. Wright

 

A group of sheep is a herd or flock;

the shepherd is never a flocker.

A volery of birds is a fleet or flight

also a pod, congregation or parcel.

While small birds’ in groups

a dissimulation is called,

a mouthful to remember indeed!

Though these words are few,

soon you’ll learn new,

to describe a flock, congregation or parcel.

A gaggle of geese look up from the ground;

while in flight a skein, a wedge of their kind take notice

of Albatross—feathered giants indeed—

in flock or rookery combined.

“Spectacular!” the geese exclaimed,

in confidence of the sighting just seen.

Until the screech from the ground

where a party of jays

made the whole thing turn upside down.

“What do jays know?” was the harsh, self-assured, raucous reply

from the murder of crows nearby.

“There’s no mystery in this!”

screeched their unison entreat,

“It just simply is.”

A committee of vultures circled the gathering

waiting for the ripe time to come down.

“Look!” alerted the fall of woodcock:

“a wake, a kettle ‘uptown.’

An exaltation of larks

drowned out the woodcocks;

while an unkindness of ravens

on their way to the barn

scared a gulp of swallows in turn.

Grouped in charms, chattering, drums or troubling

—whatever their group is called—

humming wings and twittering squeak,

the hummingbirds’ nectar reply

was to counsel the geese

and give the jays peace

the hardest wisdom to buy.

In the front of the court

a murmuration of starlings and a host of sparrows patiently sit looking on;

while a pitying of turtledoves and a rafter of turkey hope the trial will not last long.

When the learned parliament of owls finally arrived,

with white gowns all newly preened;

before they could “hoo”

a prorogue was ensued

from the charm of warbling finch.

When the bouquet of pheasant nodded support

— simply not expecting a hitch—

that’s when the ostentation of peacock

yelled “Foul play!” and called it “A BITCH!”

But,

when the owls consorted

with a sord of mallards

the tidings of magpies flew away.

Debate and rebuttal and erudite rubble

crumbled the mumble astray;

until egos did stumble

and they did fumble

apparently lost in melee.

An answer came out

—expedient no doubt—

and here’s what they had to say:

“Agreement lies far to the south…there’s simply no other way.”

Askance looks

—filled with doubts—

their dilemma chirped underway.

“Hoo, hoo-hoo, HOOH should go,

mallard or owl this day?”

“That answer is easy,”

quacked the team of ducks,

bunched up with their newly born.

A hush, like hoar-frost,

suddenly settled over

the cacophonous pod that day.

“Hmm!” said the chief owl, glaring down his nose

at the paddling of duck on the pond.

“Hoo-hoo can a bunch of ducks like you

and your brood of duckling know?”

His oppressive eyes and threatening ways

gave the ducks a stuttering blow.

Until,

a dole of doves

settled in

to defiantly stand in a row.

“Hoo, hoo-hoo, HOOH!  Okay!” the chief owl yawned,

“If you must. Let’s hear what you have to say.”

A young duckling stepped forth

to firmly take hold

her bold intention precise:

“Your answer is clear! Stay here!” she exclaimed,

stamping her web-foot twice.

“But…” stumbled the owl,

trying to recover

from someone as outspoken as she:

“the… Kingdom of Penguins…

with their waddle on land and their raft in water

have wisdom greatly revered.”

“I don’t give a damn!” the duckling exclaimed

“Look around you silly old owl!”

With a paradoxical look the parliament shook,

and clearly shrugged an answer in vain;

while moans and groans as if in pain

mixed with the congregations’ disdain.

The duckling strode forth

and with her mother’s support

the duckling took center stage.

“Wait!” she cried out,

with a surprising rapport,

for someone as young as she.

With the tip of her wing, she took them all in

especially the parliament to her lee.

“The paradigm shift

is real easy to see

if only you would all listen, please.”

When the siege of herons called out their support,

the volery of birds settled down.

“Here’s my question to you,” she slowly began,

earnestly looking around.

A slight murmur arose

among all the rows

until silence reposed profound.

“How many agree ,”

she preceded her challenge,

“raise a wing if you concur,

that a flock or rockery

of Albatross in flight

is a spectacular sight to see?”

Opinions and thoughts never really sought,

the pods hesitated ever so slight.

A glance to the left,

A glance to the right,

the center led the flight.

All wings raised

—except the jays—

for what they knew was right.

The chief owl humbled,

but still shrewdly insightful,

did not let his goals go astray.

“Answers all, lie within?” He thought,

this scrupulous circumspection could  pay.

His trap now laid

the duckling displayed,

scooped up so the flock could see.

His position without doubt

would now have real clout

sea to sea to sea.

Then laughter broke out

his parliament backed out

screeching pee-hoo-hoo

pee-hoo, pee-hoo at he.

When the chief owl looked down,

it was with a frown,

his white gown was all brown

below where the duckling had peed.

His plans now a shamble

by his selfish gamble

revealed by an innocent duckling like she.

When the duckling got down

she stood her ground

and the pod drew near to hear.

“Our rights are our might

—never surrender—

to someone the likes of he.

Though choices may be slender

your vote must be rendered

to ensure your destiny.”

When Yesterday Becomes Tomorrow: Chapter Six

holding GlockWhen Yesterday Becomes Tomorrow

by

B. B. Wright

“Whoa!”  Jeffrey Deaver’s outstretched arm stopped the forward motion of his companion in his tracks. For a moment, the two of them stood frozen in the door frame facing down at Ethan’s Glock pointing up at them from under the kitchen table. “Ethan?” Getting no reply, only a cold stare from him, Jeffrey let his revolver dangle from his forefinger. “I’m going to put my revolver on the floor and kick it over to you.” Turning to his companion he said: “You do the same, John.” The two revolvers slid across the floor, stopping a few inches short from where Ethan continued to keep his gun trained on them.

“Both of you take two steps in. Jeff, you turn to the right and you there, directing John with the tilt of his Glock, to the left. Now face the wall and take the position.” Arms outstretched, Jeffrey and John leaned into the wall in front of them and spread their legs apart.

Louise gave a slight tug at Ethan’s arm lying across her. “Ethan. The captain’s here to protect me.”

The bridge of Ethan’s nose pinched together as he glanced over at her. “Protect you? Protect you from what?”

“From you asshole!” bellowed Jeffrey. “Who else?”

“From me?!”  He turned and glared at Louise. “Do you know what the hell he’s talking about?”  Getting no answer, he nodded for her to follow him as he slipped out from under the table and stood up. When she was standing beside him, he turned and faced her. “Well? What in heaven’s name is he talking about?”

Louise pursed her lips and looked down at the floor. “Ethan…I…”

Ethan rolled his tongue around the inside of his mouth before pushing it against the inside and bulging out his lower lip. He looked over at Jeffrey and the other man. Biting on his lower lip, he let out a long sigh before turning his attention back to Louise.

“Look. Ethan. This position is getting kinda uncomfortable,” complained Jeffrey. “Do you mind?”

“Yes, I do mind! So, stay put!” Ethan stepped away from Louise to scrutinize the living-room through the opening to the dining-room from the kitchen side.  A spider web configuration around a hole in the upper corner of the large living-room window left no doubts in his mind that a bullet had entered through it. Maneuvering slightly to obtain a better view and not diverting his attention from the two men except for seconds at a time, his trained eyes followed the bullet’s trajectory from the window through the chandelier in the dining-room and into where the mirror had been on the back wall. He reflected on where he and Louise were standing when the shot rang out. He felt a cold chill travel up his spine as he looked at the now empty wall and then down at the shards of mirror on the floor. He murmured under his breath: “Jesu…the shooter saw me…my reflection … in that goddamn mirror.” He glanced over at Louise. “They were shooting at me. They had to be.”

“Ethan? What did you say? Are you alright?”  Louise asked, somewhat flummoxed by his appearance.

“Nothing important…I said nothing important. Here.” He said holding out his gun. “I hope Tom taught you how to handle one of these?”  Acknowledging that he had with a smile and nod, she took it. “Good!  Now, shoot the sonofabitch who so much as twitches.” And, he walked over to Jeffrey and began to pat him down. “You know Jeff, I think that bullet was meant for me. So, obviously there’s some kinda flaw in your reasoning, don’t you think?” Finished, he quickly moved across to John and repeated the process.

“What makes you think it was meant for you?” Jeffrey growled as he watched Ethan pat down John. “Maybe you set it up to look that way.”

““Look that way”?” Ethan rolled his eyes. “Look you overstuffed retired fathead, all you have to do is follow the trajectory of the bullet. If I had been two steps that’a way it would have hit me square in the middle of my forehead. Whoever it was, thought it was me not my reflection.”

Slightly flustered, Jeffrey replied: “I’ve only got your word on that.”

“There was a time, Jeff, when my word carried weight with you.”

Jeffrey shrugged: “Times change.”

Louise interjected: “Jeff, I think he’s telling the truth.”

“Maybe…you’re right…still, I need to see it for myself.” He motioned to straighten up. “So do you mind, Ethan?”

“Huh?”

“Do you mind?” he asked again, emphasizing his intent with the wave of one of his hands.

“Yes I do mind!  So stay the fuck there!” Satisfied that John wasn’t carrying any concealed weapons, Ethan stepped back and shook his head in dismay. “It wasn’t me who burst in here with guns drawn, Jeffrey.  As far as I know it could have been you or your sidekick who laid down that shot.”

“Really? Now, come on. Do you really believe that?”

“Like you said, Jeff: “Times change.””

“It’s getting fucking difficult standing like this,” Jeffrey replied, not trying to conceal his frustration. “By now you must have established that John and I aren’t carrying. Huh? So what’d ya say?”

Ethan turned to retrieve his Glock from Louise but found it aimed at his head. “Aah, I think Louise will have to make that call.”

“Louise? What the hell are you talking about?” Jeffrey glanced back over his shoulder. “Oh!.” He began to change position when a bullet from her gun slammed into the wall centimeters above his head. “Fuck! Okay! I’ll hold it!”

“Ethan, get over beside Jeffrey! NOW!” she commanded.

Pepper rounded the corner from the hallway barking and jumped up at Louise. The distraction was long enough for Ethan to twist the Glock from her grasp and regain command of the situation.

“Please sit there,” he directed her, pointing to the far end of the table as he backed up slightly.  “As for you two, stretch yourself out and join her. And, keep your hands flat on the table.”  Once the three of them were seated, he reached down and patted Pepper’s head. “Good boy! Louise? Where do you keep his treats?”

“In the pantry behind you, top shelf,” she replied.

Backing up he opened the cupboard with his free hand, found the box of treats and lifted it down and poured some into Pepper’s bowl. Ethan watched as Pepper gobbled it up. “By the way he ate it, it must be pretty good stuff.” Louise smiled back and nodded. He then looked at the three of them with a long, hard stare. “Well, I think it’s time to discuss what just happened and…why I’m here. Don’t you think?”