Cold Mac & Cheese and other musings

October 12, 2010

NaNoWriMo approacheth….

Filed under: Creative Writing,Fiction — D.J. Lutz @ 11:45 pm
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50,000 words in 30 days? Who is stupid enough to try that?

Me. Maybe I’ll have a coherent novel at the end this time. Yes, I have tried this before…

At least this year I already have characters, a plot and (soon) possibly an outline.

I better get more coffee.

And some wine.

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October 10, 2010

Time to get writing again…

Filed under: Fiction — D.J. Lutz @ 7:56 pm
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If you look to the right, you will see “pages” listed. There I store my completed stories (although there is one poem from Cat, too.) Are they ready for publishing? No, not really. They are good stories but they ramble at times, sometimes they get off topic, most often they are just plain disjointed and lack good character development.

But they serve a purpose. No one, at least I don’t think, starts out writing the perfect novel on their first try. Why would I be any different? I keep the stories for two reasons: one is that they are, even with their faults, decent stories and maybe I can rewrite them someday and two, there are some people that actually like them. Finally (did I mention I have trouble counting?) I hope to someday look back on these stories in a way that allows me to say “Gee, look how much better I am now!” Wishful thinking, perhaps…

So now I am starting a new story. Instead of serializing it, I am writing it off-line. I will post weekly to update my progress and to chronicle how the writing has been going. Kinda a “see, you aren’t the only one having those writer’s block problems!”

This week’s goal: identify main characters (give them names, too) and come up with the overall story premise.

March 11, 2010

Dead Man’s Hand – III

Filed under: Creative Writing,Fiction — D.J. Lutz @ 2:06 am
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Curiosity having gotten the best of them, the intrepid Sunday afternoon poker club, minus one, arrived at the office entrance, just as the late Drake Shellman was being wheeled out to the ambulance. A sheet covered his body, little left to the imagination with dark red blood seeping through the fibers of the white sheet. The death had been a violent one.

“Geez, what the hell happened? He was only gone for a minute or two…” This was Bert, thinking out loud, not speaking to anyone in particular. He had seen plenty of blood as a manager at the Boot & Saddle, being a rough and tumble country bar and all, but he had never seen anything like this.

Trevor Lancaster chimed in a reality call. “If anyone finds out you’ve been skimming money from your bar, you could end up in the same boat, amigo.” Trevor’s British accent made his use of Spanish sound extremely sarcastic.
“Well, let’s just keep that down, will you? The less the cops know about any of us, the better. You’re no saint, either, you know…”

Seeing the gaggle of wide-eyed geese, Corporal Barrett approached them. Still not convinced it was just a plain suicide, he decided to throw a bone and see who went after it.
“It’s a shame. This guy must have had some real problems to want to do something like this…” Waiting for a few seconds, Barrett leaned slightly in towards the four men. “You guys know him? Any relatives around?”

“Yeah, we know him. That’s Drake. This is his place. I work for him on occasion, doing odd jobs mostly. He’s got a wife, ex-wife I think; she co-owns the marina with him.” Larry Oliver, currently living a life of carefree vagabondsmanship, had taken the lead in answering. He was cut short by the more formally dressed man, Bud Spencer.

“Yes, officer, we do know him, quite well. We get together on my yacht, every Sunday afternoon, to play a few hands of poker. (abruptly) No gambling, of course, just a friendly game. And Drake’s wife is named Sylvia. She’s not an ex, at least not yet. They’re legally separated. She’s on her way here now.”
Trevor looked stunned. “How did she know to come here? Did you call her?”
“Yes. After we heard the shot, I assumed something was wrong and called her. Relax Trevor, at least now your affair won’t have to be such a secret. I noticed that you didn’t call her. That’s telling.”

Trevor, by now hopping mad and itching for a fight, made a move toward Bud. Corporal Barrett grabbed Trevor’s arm, twisting it behind his back, with just a little more force than was necessary.
“That’s enough, boys. I think what we need to do now is settle down. I’ll take a statement from each of you. You first, Sluggo.”

Taking Trevor by the twisted arm, Barrett led him to the squad car. Listening more with amazement than taking notes, Dallas Barrett learned that almost every one of them had a motive to kill Drake Shellman. One by one, he took their statements, never letting them know that suicide would be the likely ruling.

Calvin Baxter returned to the office, Kay at his side. After learning of the circus atmosphere self-created by the motley card club, he chuckled. “No honor among thieves, I guess.” Barrett looked at him, replying “No kidding. All we need now is a dancing bear.”
Almost as if on cue, a very nice sedan pulls into the parking lot. The door opens and out steps Sylvia Shellman. Looking like she just came from the beach, she tosses her wet hair behind her head and adjusts her sun dress, slightly damp from the wet bathing suit underneath. Conversation stopped as she approached.

Sylvia ignored her dalliance, Trevor and instead went into the arms of Bud. He who has the biggest yacht wins, I guess. “Look officer, I’m sorry if the old man is dead, but we never had a happy marriage anyway so for me it’s no big loss. You want a suspect, look at one of these three,” pointing to Trevor, Larry and Bert.
“You little…” Trevor began. Calvin intervened before the exchange to hold.

“Alright,” Corporal Barrett began, “now that we know you all had something against Drake Shellman, there’s something I need to tell you…”
“Wait a minute.” Calvin’s mind was racing ahead. “How are these folks all connected?”
Dallas Barrett, scratching his chin like a man in deep contemplation, looked up at Calvin. “Here’s the short version. This here is Mr. Bert Tracey, manager of the Boot & Saddle. He’s been skimming profits from his own bar for years to pay for his poker games. Drake knew it and was blackmailing him.”
“Nice…” Calvin replied.
“Then we have Trevor Lancaster. He’s a big shot from England. Works for Consolidated Unlimited.”
“They’re the guys that want to develop that new mega resort property here, right?”
“Exactly. He was having an affair with Mrs. Shellman, trying to get a foot in the door to grab the deed to the marina land. That leaves these two, Larry Oliver and Bud Spencer.”
“And what’s their story?” Calvin was riveted by the whole, sordid ball of twine that had twisted this cast of characters together.
“Larry seems to be an innocent bystander, although he recently spent time relaxing at the graybar hotel so he may not be all that he seems. Currently he does oddjobs around the marina.”
“Last, we have Bud Spencer.”
“Mr. Yacht?”
“Right. Seems that when Mrs. Shellman found out that the Brit was playing her, trying to sweet talk her into selling her interest in the marina, she found Bud Spencer ready, willing and able to provide her “comfort” in her time of need. Hell hath no fury, you know…”
Calvin, looking at Sylvia and Bud, who had by now slipped off to the side of the office for some private time, offered “Must be another one of those “times.”

“Bottom line is that, barring something unexpected in his will, if he even had one, Sylvia Shellman is now the sole owner of the marina and she can do with it what she wants.”

“You gonna tell ‘em that the old guy did himself in?”

Corporal Barrett thought for a minute. “Yeah, I guess so. I was hoping that the crime scene would yield up a clue that pointed to murder. I mean, really, enough people wanted to off the guy, you know.”

Gathering the entire cast of characters, Officer Barrett announces that, while their stories are interesting, very interesting in fact, the investigation is pointing to suicide. All smiles, Sylvia chimes in.
“I have an announcement, too! I am selling the marina.”
Trevor interjected. “To Consolidated?”
“No. You lose Trevor. I am selling to Mr. Spencer. He represents a consortium of investors that want to develop their own resort AND casino.”
Looking at Kay, the new sole proprietor of the marina looked at her and told her she could keep her boat there as long as she wanted, until construction began.
“Not necessary, thank you. I am selling it “as is” to the first buyer with enough cash in his pocket.” Grabbing hold of Calvin’s hand, she added “I think I might jump ship to a better boat, anyway.”

“Corporal Barrett?” It was one of the crime scene investigators. “We need to talk.”
The two went off to the side, about ten feet away, and started talking in low tones. Every once in a while, Barrett would look up at the group. Calvin studied their reactions, trying to see who was going to go running. Clearly there is now more to the case than at first realized.

“Trevor Lancaster, you have the right to remain silent…”

November 8, 2009

Cat & Tiger 5

Filed under: Creative Writing,Fiction — D.J. Lutz @ 6:01 pm
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Cat & Tigre 5

After leaving the funeral home, Cat began to interrogate her grandfather. “How did you know there was a gunshot wound? I mean, with all of the trauma caused by the truck’s grill, there was no way to tell the two impact wounds apart.”

“All a matter of physics, my dear granddaughter. You see, as I looked at the blood pattern on the grill, it did not match up with the overall injuries exhibited by the body.”

“How so? There were lacerations all over that body. How does that “not” match up to being hit by a Mack truck travelling at seventy miles per hour?”

“Exactly. One would expect that being hit by a truck would cause massive injury, right?”

Cat was still perplexed. “I still don’t get it, papa. Aren’t we seeing what we expect to see?”

“Where did you see the blood splatter? The grill? Anywhere else?”

Cat thought for a moment. “Let’s see, there was blood, obviously from the head, at about the midway point up the grill; there was also quite a bit of blood down low, by the right tire and axle. Oh yes, plus a lot of blood on the mud flap.”

“So,” Elias began sounding like a college professor about to give his student the answer to a riddle, “With all of that trauma to the body, there should be blood everywhere, right?”

“Yes, that would make sense…”

“”But there is a gap. A gap of over five feet. Five feet with no blood, yet the body was mangled almost to the point of no recognition. There should have been blood all over that grill. But there wasn’t, was there?”

Cat was beginning to understand where Elias was going with his line of reasoning. She then tried to fill in the blanks. “So if the truck’s grill caused enough lacerations to create the blood to spray halfway up the grill, then why didn’t the grill cause more damage? There should have been blood all over the grill. Am I on the right track, here?”

“I think so. I believe that the girl was hit by the truck, there really is no question on that one, and the body’s impact with the grill certainly must have caused massive internal injuries. But I also think that the body did not start tearing apart until it had fallen under the wheel, getting caught under the axle.”

“That would explain the massive blood and tissue we found down at the wheel well.” Cat went on, “So the blood on the grill was out of place. Not consistent with injuries cased by the wheel and axle. The blood on top at the grill came from a different cause, and now it looks like a gunshot wound? Man, this I getting weird. How does someone get shot right before they are hit by a Mack truck?”

Elias smiled. He had the answer. “Well I think I can figure out the how, just not the who.”

By now the crime solving duo had arrived at their next stop, the middle of Prosper’s business district. Not that it had much business, but that is what the highway sign read as you left highway 58 proper. The main road was also one of the few paved roads in town and it was still without a traffic light. No need when the biggest danger was a rabbit running across the road on occasion, or when one of the laborers had a few too many and stumbled off the porch of the local tavern.

Elias parked his truck in front of the post office, a one room building about the size of one of those dreaded weigh stations that truckers seems to always enjoy. “I have to check the mail for your grandmother. She is expecting some new seed packets. She told me something about starting an herb farm, but I’m leaving it alone; she can do it herself. Maybe it will keep her occupied, which is a good thing I guess. Then she won’t hang around the barn as much. I can’t ever seem to get much work done when she is there; always cleaning, or nagging me to clean something.”

“Now papa,” Cat scolded, “you know you love her and you would miss her not being in the barn so much, so stop your complaining!”

“I suppose you are right. Who knows, with an herb garden maybe we will start getting better cooking?”

Cat laughed. Her grandma’s cooking was already the best, in her opinion. A few new spices would only make it more awesome.

“Listen, after I check the mail I have to go visit the mayor. I want to talk to him about some of Drake Talbot’s plans for his horse farm.”

“What does he want to do? Sell? It’s a beautiful area, does he need the money or something?”

“Not really,” Elias sighed, “he seems to have more than enough money as it is. I think his real plan is to bring a WalMart to Prosper. He keeps trying to get the town council to support his idea of making Prosper into a “living” historic town, where tourists can come and see life as it was a hundred years ago.”

“And how does that bring a WalMart to Prosper? WalMarts aren’t that historic, you know…”

“It’s the old chicken and egg theory. You can’t bring in tourists unless you have services available that they expect, like hotels, restaurants…and WalMarts. No, Drake has a “grand” plan, as he calls it. Bring in a WalMart, just off the highway, by the bus station in fact, then lobby for a few fast food places in the same complex. Once he has Prosper established as a good place to stop, he wants to have a hotel put up, making this a good place to stay overnight.”

Cat then jumped into the monologue. “And since he owns all of that land, he can sell to the developers who will put up the hotel and the shopping area. He’ll be richer than he already is!”

“You almost have it right, Cat. He won’t sell; he will lease. Drake is a smart cookie. He knows that owning the land will be key to his success in part two of his project. With the success of the WalMart, the retail stores next to it, and the hotel, Drake’s land value will be huge. Huge enough to use as collateral on loans to buy up and develop all of the buildings on Main Street. Then he will “Modernize” the area by recreating the look and feel of Prosper back in the 1920’s.”

“But I still don’t get it, papa, even if he does own all of that property, the town’s economy is gets back on track, people will have jobs. Is this necessarily a bad thing or what?” Cat was trying to figure out what the negative was. Face value, it seemed like a very good idea.

“I can’t really debate with the mayor about Drake’s plan to develop his own land. He owns it, he can do with it as he wants. But I can voice my opinion about Drake buying the entire business district. Think about it, the town council will be essentially creating a monopoly without realizing it. And Drake has given everyone the impression that he wants to “recreate” Prosper into an old-time railroad town, where tourists can come and by antiques and such.”

“Papa, a lot of people buy antiques. Prosper might end up on one of those travel shows on television. Tourists could come by the thousands.”

“Yes, my dear girl, they could. But Drake has also applied for a liquor license with the state ABC board, and that little fact has not come up yet in the council meetings. Drake Talbot, it appears, wants to not only bring in retail stores and hotels, but he also wants to make this a party town with his own micro brewery and distillery.”

“How do you know this?”

“An old Army buddy of mine works for the ABC. He is normally a field agent, out there trying to bust moonshiners west of Roanoke, but he has been working a desk for a while, trying to recuperate from a gunshot wound he received when they got too close to a still. Anyway, he saw the applications and gave me a call.”

“What’s your bottom line, papa. Is it the development, Drake getting rich, or the hidden plan for a brewery that has you all tied up in knots?”

“Listen Catalina. Your parents, my son and his wife, were killed by a drunk driver. Actually, there were two more people in the car, Sam and Alice Smythe, so four people lost their lives that day due to a drunk driver.”

“Smythe? You mean Sherriff Smythe’s parents?”

“Yes. Their car had to swerve to avoid a drunk who had crossed the white center line. Lost control, hit the shoulder and slid down an embankment, hitting a tree. All four were killed instantly. You and Branson were at our house; we were babysitting while your parents and Sam and Alice went to Richmond for the weekend.”

“So more alcohol being served in Prosper means more chances for another accident. That’s why you don’t want Drake to move on with his plans.”

Elias thought for a minute, then leaned over slightly, looking around as if to check if someone were listening in. “There’s more to it than that. The police report shows that the car did indeed go into the ditch, hitting the tree. It also shows that a second vehicle was seen driving erratically down 58, at about the same location and at about the same time. The Sherriff at the time concluded that the swerving car, which was never found by the way, caused the accident. He didn’t really do much of an investigation.”

“Bad police work. It happens unfortunately.” Cat added.

“If the Sherriff had bothered to look at the car he would have found that the brake linings had been cut to allow for a slow bleed of fluid. Someone knew when that car would be out of brake power and ran them off the road.”

“Now you have me intrigued, papa. Why didn’t the Sherriff do a proper investigation?

“Rumor of the day was that the drunk guy had been a customer at the Gas Pump. That was the name of a local roadhouse. As a matter of fact, it was the only place in the area that served alcohol so it was a natural assumption. Because of the accident, the Sherriff was able to get the town council to revoke the Gas Pump’s business license. The company that owned the place ended up filing for bankruptcy, which allowed Drake the opportunity to buy the land and lease it to the bus company. His horse farm backs right up to that property, so at that point, Drake owned all of the land on that side of the highway.”

“But how does that fit in with the accident, you know, the brake linings?”

“Drake had a legal problem at the time; he was thought to have had an affair with a local school teacher. Drake’s wife, Linda, had filed for divorce because of it. Sam Smythe was her lawyer.”

“Couldn’t she have just gotten another lawyer?”

“She did and the divorce went through as smoothly as a could be expected. Drake was actually kind of generous to Linda. Almost like he was giving in just to get her out of his life.”

“Did Drake and the school teacher get together then?”

“No, she was also married. I think she ended up moving out of state. The point is, I think Drake had something to do with the accident. I don’t know why he wanted to do it, but I too many things don’t add up. I looked into the matter myself, but couldn’t get many details. Ever since then, I have been watching Drake Talbot, trying to figure out his next move.”

“Sounds like an obsession, papa…”

“You were too young to remember your parents, as was Branson, so I am not surprised that you don’t hold the anger that I have, but if I can do anything good in this lifetime, it will be to solve the murder of your parents and the Smythes.”

“Papa, that all happened twenty five years ago. There is no evidence left. Maybe you should just let it go and see someone about your grieving. Does abuela feel the same way?”

“No. She still thinks that the accident was just that, an accident. She lost part of her soul that night, but has moved on. I can’t take her back to that evening unless I have iron clad proof of something.”

“When we get back to the barn, I’ll have to show you something. It’s in the hidden area that we started looking at yesterday.”

“Okay. So you go see the mayor. I think I will stop in the café and ask around to see if anyone had seen the girl before. Maybe she is from the area? Certainly her parents are worried about her. There has to be closure on this before the body gets cremated.”

Elias looked at the Stonewall Café across the street. There were a two young farm hands sitting outside the front door, nursing long neck beers, playing cards. It wasn’t even noon yet and they had already started drinking. It would be worse inside. “I don’t know, Catalina, that place has a bad reputation. Lots of guys, not many girls. And the girls that are in there aren’t exactly the church-going types. Maybe I should go in there with you?”

“Abuelito,” Cat reminded him, “I am not a little girl anymore. I have been through Marine Corps boot camp and worse, so a few borrachados are not going to scare me. If anything, they will be the ones needing help!”

“Suit yourself. I shouldn’t be more than an hour. We can meet back at the truck.”

With that, Elias went into the Post Office, hoping but not expecting to come out empty handed. Cat shut her door, gave the café a quick once over glance and then started walking across the street.

Cat was fairly attractive by anyone’s standards. She was used to being stared at by the guys, so the new attention she was receiving didn’t concern her in the least. As she stepped up onto the front porch, one of the young men swiveled in his chair to face her. “I don’t think inside this place is such a good place for a bonita like yourself. Why don’t you stay out here with us? We can “protect” you from the others.”

“Thank you for the offer, but I don’t think I will be needing any protection today.” She looked at the young laborers. Neither one looked old enough to shave, let alone handle themselves in a bar fight. “Playing for pink slips?”

“Yeah, my friend and I did some work in Roanoke and got paid with a car, that sexy grey and black Charger over there. Winner gets the pink slip; loser gets to walk.’ All of a sudden, his beer was foaming, foaming over the top the bottle. “Hey man, what did you do that for?” His drinking partner had just poured salt into the beer he was holding, causing a massive amount of foamy spillage. “Leave the poor girl alone. If she wants to go in there, we can rescue her later, if there is anything left. Go ahead, chica. Be our guests.”

He waved Cat in through the front door. As she went inside, she heard the one boy out front tell the other “You need to learn to keep your damn mouth shut or we’ll both get fired or worse.”

Cat filed that event away for future reference.

Inside the Stonewall Café, Cat found about a half dozen customers, all male, all drinking. There was a barmaid, pretty, young-ish but certainly not naïve to the world of gin joints. She had a look about her, one that told you that she had been around the block once or twice and to just order your drink and stop thinking about asking her out on a date.

The customers looked like typical bar flies. They each had probably finished their first beers a few hours earlier, judging by the amount of cigarette butts in the ashtrays. They were probably on round three or four by this time.

“Can we buy you a drink, bonita?”

One of the young men, perhaps the leader of this derelict brain trust, had decided to see what Cat was all about. The game had begun. Fortunately for Cat, she was a very experienced player in this type of game, as they boys would soon find out.

“No thank you. I don’t normally start drinking until noon, but you go ahead, start without me.”

“Chica, we already have started. You are behind. You need to catch up.”

“Maybe later. Say, I don’t suppose anyone here has seen a young girl, probably 18 years old or so? I am thinking she might be a runaway; probably passing through. Maybe she stopped here looking for a bite to eat? Awfully thin girl, black hair. Anyone seen her?”

The café became silent. Cat had struck a nerve.

“No one here has seen anyone like that. Why? Is she in trouble?”

“Not exactly. She’s dead.”

“Too bad for her. Sometimes people get themselves into situations where they end up getting hurt. Maybe this was one of those cases. You can’t be too careful.”

Cat stared down the ring leader. “I suppose you are right. There are times when you really don’t know what kind of person you are dealing with. So I’ll ask again, who knows her and what was she doing in Prosper.” Cat was starting to use her Marine voice, her policewoman’s attitude.

The man stood up. His friends started to slowly back away from their table. If this had been the old west, there could have been a fast draw contest. Cat had already seen that he did not appear to be armed; but then again, neither was she.

The man moved around the table slowly, placing himself directly in front of Cat. His breath smelled like four-day old scrambled eggs, Cat tried not to inhale. “I think we already said that we did not know this person. Did you not understand my English?”

Cat was about to reply when she sensed that someone else had moved up behind her. A pair of arms reached around her waist from behind, grabbing her to prevent any type of escape. Cat instinctively gave the assailant a left elbow to the solar plexus. She then lifted her right foot slightly and drove her heel into the instep of his foot, followed by throwing her fist behind her right ear, connecting to his nose. The man in front of her was momentarily stunned by the fast sequence of events that was putting his partner down on the floor. Before the body hit the deck, Cat gave the boss man a quick punch to his gut, causing him to gasp for air. As he bent over slightly, she put her hands on his now lowered shoulders and pulled his torso down, allowing Cat to knee him in the face. As he went down, she grabbed a straight back wooden chair and pinned him to the ground. She sat down, looked up and asked one more time. “One of you knows something, probably all of you. Now who’s walking out of here with their manhood still functioning?”

The boys looked down at their crying jefe. Cat had strategically placed the chair so that one of the wooden legs was pressing into that special part of a man’s anatomy. With her sitting on the chair, their fearless leader was totally incapacitated and writhing in unimaginable pain. Instinctively, they all had moved their own legs together; some were having sympathy pains as well.

“Look lady, if you want to know about runaways, you got to go see Mr. Talbot. But if you are smart, you will stay away from him. We just wanted to have some fun, you know, but ah…he is a mean man. Very mean.”

“And he always travels with his body guard.” the barmaid chimed in. “Don’t give him a break, just shoot him first and do us all a favor.”

Cat had heard enough. She stood up. Leaning on the chair, she could hear more gasping from her “tough” guy. “Thank you for your hospitality and…you might want to get this guy some ice.”

As Cat walked through the front door, the card game stopped once again. They had seen the action from outside and were now hoping that Cat would keep on walking. Cat looked down at the cards the one boy had in his hand. “Throw that one and pull from the deck.”

Cat kept on walking, across the street and toward the government building. There were whoops of joy emanating from the card game. Clearly Cat had given sound advice. Reaching the red brick office building, obviously a government edifice with its’ flag pole prominently displayed out front, she met Elias and the Mayor walking out from the lobby. The meeting was apparently over, with Elias being shown the door. “I’m sorry, Elias, there is nothing I can do. The council wants to revitalize the town and Drake is the only investor we have. I understand your concerns, but I don’t think his plans will be voted down.”

“Thanks for listening, JB. I’ll get back to you if I come up with any new ideas.”

As they walked back to the truck, a gray and black ’69 Dodge Charger drove by, glass pack exhaust pipes sputtering loud enough to cause birds to take flight. “Thanks chica!” the driver shouted as he floored the gas pedal, spinning the wheels for just a second as the muscle car picked up speed on its’ way down the street.

“Friend of yours?”

“Not sure yet. I either made some new friends or really pissed a bunch of people off today.”

“You are definitely related to me. No question about it. Welcome to the club!”

+++++++++++++

Cat was getting hungry. Her adrenaline was off its’ high and her brain was telling her that it was time to eat. “I don’t suppose we are going by any type of restaurant soon, are we? And I don’t recommend the Stonewall. Has a bad smell to it…”

“Your grandma was planning on working on her greenhouse today, so I don’t think she will be cooking until tonight. Why don’t we drive over to Richmond? It’s only a half hour or so and I know a guy that has a diner there.”

“Sounds like a plan. Oh, how was your meeting with the mayor? It didn’t sound like it went the way you had planned?”

Elias shrugged his shoulders. “Well,” he said with just a bit of resignation, “it went about the way I expected it to go. But it’s still early in the game. Got to play all four quarters before you can call it done. JB Smythe is a good man, he just likes facts, evidence, you know…proof before he makes decisions.”

“Well papa, that sounds reasonable. I mean, one shouldn’t go full bore into something without all the facts, should one?” Cat turned her head toward her grandfather. “Did you say ‘J.B. Smythe’ was the mayor’s name? I thought Branson’s parents were killed in the car accident along with my folks?”

“J.B. is Branson’s uncle.”

“So if Drake Talbot had something to do with the car accident, then J.B. would want to know about it. Man, this is getting to be a regular soap opera.”

“That’s what I went in to tell J.B. All I need to do is find proof that Drake is somehow connected to the car accident, then I think his development plans will be shelved until his trial is over. That will give me time to discover all of the players in this game. I think this is bigger than we know, girl.”

“Anytime you mix money, land, alcohol and women, you get agendas. Drake must have one, but a guy like him just wants to be the big fish in the little pond,” Cat surmised. “I think we may end up tangling with really dangerous people that are much better connected than Drake. We should be careful.”

“That,” Elias explained, “is why we are going to The Ink Well.”

The trip to Richmond didn’t take that long. When it was a race weekend, traffic could back up for miles in every direction, but this was the off-season. The Ink Well was just a few miles from the raceway, kind of tucked away in am older residential section of town. If you didn’t live there, you would never even know it existed.

Pulling up to the diner, Elias peered inside the diner from within the truck cab. “Looks like my friend is working the grill today. Hope you are hungry!”

“I am starving. I hope the food is better than the curb appeal..”

“Oh, just come on. Better than C rats,” referring to the fine military dining he had so often received while in Viet Nam.

Walking through the door, they were greeted with a shout of “Incoming!”

Cat ducked down, a habit of years of training. Elias remained upright, quickly reaching his arm up to grab the bottle of hot sauce that had been thrown from behind the grill.

“Still got it, I see. Bravo Zulu, old man!” The disheveled old cook standing at the grill had thrown the bottle at full force. Had Elias not caught it and Cat not ducked down, the bottle would have hit her right in the face.

Cat looked at her grandfather. “If this is the welcome you get at friendly places, what happens at the restaurants that hate you?”

“You seemed to have done alright at the Stonewall, so I don’t want to hear it,” Elias retorted with a slight chuckle noticeable. “Come on, let me introduce you to Sarge.”

They walked past the vintage, spring operated cash register, to the red Naugahyde bar stools, lined up in front of the counter like soldiers waiting to attack the cook. Cat was letting her imagination get the best of her; she snapped back into the here and now.

The cook extended his hand, greeting her with “Esteban Alvorado Jimenez, at your service. But please, call me Sarge.”

“Cat Melendez, mucho gusto…Sarge.”

Cat shook his hand, realizing too late that his hand had been touching raw hamburger meat. As she pulled away, she looked down and saw that Sarge had a tattoo on his right forearm. Some kind of Asian kanji; not Japanese, not Chinese, but something she was not familiar with, something that looked a bit old, too.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Let me get you a clean towel.” Sarge was embarrassed that he had soiled his best friend’s granddaughter’s hand with ground beef. “No problem, really. I needed to wash up any way so I’ll just go to the ladies room and take care of it. Back in a few seconds.”

Elias took up residence on a bar stool. While he and Sarge were talking, Cat found the ladies room. On the way out, she noticed that there was a pay phone hanging on the wall between both restrooms. In this day of cell phones and laptop computers, she had thought the pay phone had gone the way of the Susan B. Anthony coin. No matter, Sarge wouldn’t have one if he didn’t need one. Maybe his clientele could not afford cell phones. Maybe she will ask about it after lunch. Sarge had been grilling some onions in butter when they had walked in and the smell was awesome.

It was time to eat!

November 2, 2009

The Cat & El Tigre – 1

Filed under: Fiction — D.J. Lutz @ 1:31 am
Tags: ,

Judging by the long and drawn out squeal, the air brakes on the old, weather beaten bus were in serious need of repair. Finally coming to a halt in front of the darkened bus station, the front door opened causing a small, light brown cloud of dust to swirl inside, enveloping the first few rows of passengers. Muffled hacks and less stifled comments were heard throughout the bus. Small town America at it’s finest. The paved highways had over time weathered smooth, still marked with fading lane stripes, but in this part of Virginia, the side roads were dirt, and one could consider a single set of tire ruts to be a blessing from above. A young woman, olive drab, military issue duffle bag in hand, carefully walked down the front steps of her carriage and out onto the sidewalk. Waving the diesel exhaust from her face as the bus departed, she looked up at the station sign. “Welcome to Prosper, Virginia – home of the best tasting tobacco and the finest horses east of the Mississippi and south of the Mason Dixon Line.” Discharge papers in one hand and divorce papers in the other, Catalina Melendez knew she was finally home.

It was approaching dusk, the sun fading ever so slowly into the trees off to the west. The only road that showed signs of recent use was “paved” with crushed limestone, delivered years ago courtesy of the County Sheriff and his volunteered work party. Looking south, Catalina could see the far end of the rugged, white-rock road meeting the horizon. She anxiously waited for a pair of old round headlights to appear, knowing that her grandfather would soon be there. Time to put her troubles into the past and move onward to a better future, she thought. She hoped.

A faint set of lights and a billowing cloud of dust appeared, probably two to three miles down the road. The driver, whoever it was, was traveling at a speed much faster than her grandfather’s old farm truck could possibly muster. As it came into view, Catalina saw that it was not a truck at all; rather, it was a newer model sedan, black with dark tinted windows. As the car approached the intersection, the driver slowed, then changed course mid turn. Catalina sighed, yet another macho boy with a fancy car, thinking he could sway her with his toys. She had spent enough time in the Marines to have developed a sixth sense about these things. Not that there weren’t pretty girls in the Corps, there just were not that many of them in her unit, the Provost Marshal’s Office, more commonly known as the Military Police. The passenger window rolled down and a strikingly handsome man with a matching voice asked “Can I offer you a ride into Prosper?”

Catalina peered into the car, not wanting to get too close as to appear interested. Seated behind the wheel was a fairly well-dressed Hispanic man, probably in his late thirties, clean shaven, a bright smile highlighting straight teeth. This was not the normal countenance of an average guy from Prosper, at least as Catalina remembered from her youth. The lads from this area were either migrants or tradesmen working the tobacco farms. Neither career was particularly well paying and those who worked the jobs looked the part. Work clothes were washed once a week; rips and tears were repaired on Sundays, usually by the matron of the household. No, this man was definitely not from the fine village of Prosper, Virginia.

“Excuse me, I didn’t catch your name,” replied Catalina. He may have been a few years older, but he was certainly still within her comfort zone for dating. No ring on the finger; that was a good sign. She had just come out of a marriage that, among other things, had problems with rings staying on fingers. Why return the favor to some other woman? “Carlos. Carlos Delvargas at your service, madame.” He tried to use a formal tone, an unsuccessful attempt at an English accent. Catalina giggled, amused at his attempt to break the ice with a perfect stranger.

“Do you always stalk the bus stops, looking for young ladies in need of transportation?”

Carlos grinned. “Only when I see someone as beautiful as you.” After a brief hesitation, Carlos came clean. “Actually, this is the first time I have used that line. I was hoping it would have at least a small chance of working.”

“Well, Mr. Delvargas, I appreciate the offer for assistance, but I have made other arrangements. Perhaps some other time.” Catalina smiled, then stopped herself, realizing that she was beginning to act like a school girl meeting the handsome gym teacher for the first time.

Before Carlos could reply, an old red truck pulled up behind the sedan. Elias Melendez did not look happy. “It seems that I have to go now. Thanks again for the offer.” Catalina gave a small wave and started towards her ride. Carlos leaned over to the passenger seat, “I never did get your name…”

“I never told you,” she replied, opening the door to the truck. Carlos knew it was time to move on, slowly accelerating onto the highway in an effort to reduce the dust. “Abuelo! Thanks so much for coming to get me!” Catalina knew that seeing her grandfather would officially signal the start of Cat Melendez, free woman. She gave him a hug and a peck on the cheek, causing Elias to blush slightly. His smile quickly turned to a frown, however, when he focused on the black sedan heading down the highway.

“Do you know that man?”

“No, abuelo. He pulled up right as I got off the bus. I suppose he was just driving by and thought I might need a lift into town. He seemed nice enough, though. Do you know him?” Cat knew his name and the kind of car he drove, but nothing else. Maybe her grandfather could give her a head start on arranging an “accidental” meeting later on.

“Oh yes, I know him. We all know Mr. Delvargas very well here in Prosper. Do not get any ideas about associating with him or his crowd. They are all up to no good.”

“Well, he didn’t look like an ax murderer to me. And he must be doing fairly well for himself to drive such a nice car…” Cat’s grandfather cut her off in mid sentence, “Listen to me, that man is not as he appears to be. He is a dangerous man who would cut off his mother’s tongue if he thought she might talk to the police.”

“Fine,” Cat replied with a bit of resignation. “Let’s just get home and you can tell me more about Carlos some other time.” This seemed to appease her grandfather, making the rest of the trip more pleasant for both of them. The last thing she wanted to do was cause trouble with the only family she had left.

Catalina could smell the black bean poblano stew the moment she got out of the truck. If there was one thing she could count on, it was her grandmother Marta’s cooking. To call it old school was an understatement, yet the flavors and aromas brought back such happy memories; she instantly reaffirmed her decision to leave the Marine Corps to return home. It was a difficult time, those last few months in the service. Ironically, her career as a military police officer was not only going well, there was talk of new opportunities coming her way. However, as her marriage went from bad to worse through no fault of her own, those opportunities evaporated as fast as they had arrived.

When you marry someone you work with, you inherently take on new risks, and risk implies that there is a chance of losing. Cat saw the writing on the wall when her husband’s friends stopped looking at the facts and started taking sides. She had started her career in military law enforcement as all police officers do, as a gate guard on the base. Not the most glamorous or challenging job in that you aren’t constantly in the throes of murder investigations, but an important job all the same. The safety of the people, the facility and often the secrets they contain depends on a complex web of security and it all starts at the gate.

Cat Melendez had been responsible, respectful and dutiful in her quest to maintain the Corps’ ethos of ‘the few, the proud…’ In fact, she eventually volunteered for the Marine Security Guard program, and after serving in the US Consulate in Morocco, she was assigned to the embassy detachment in Honduras. Normally, a tour with MSG would have helped accelerate advancement in responsibility and promotion in rank, however things did not turn out that way once she returned stateside. Cat Melendez had fallen in love and that would turn out to be the beginning of the end.

Cat had received orders transferring her to the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, North Carolina. Checking into her new command, Cat encountered what Marines often call a “poster child” sitting at the front desk of the Provost Marshall’s Office. A sergeant with six years service under her belt already, Cat knew she would be received with a bit more respect than the new “boot” showing up for their first tour of duty, but she was intrigued by the first words she heard spoken to her – “Baby, you and I are going to be married someday.”

While many women would have been taken aback by such a forward and somewhat egotistical statement, Cat saw only what she wanted to see. The man at the desk sparked a flutter in her stomach and yes, this man, Sergeant Paul Candless, had the look of a Marine typically featured on recruiting posters. His chiseled jaw, blue eyes and aura of confidence made her feel a bit light on her feet. This, she thought, could be the start of a very good tour of duty.

She was smitten, as her abuelita would say.

Later, Cat would assume duty as one of the Sergeants-of-the-Guard and often worked with Paul. Their friendship grew into dating, until one day he popped the question. The wedding was at the base chapel, with a Navy chaplain officiating. With no living parents, Cat asked her grandparents to be there for her. Her abuelo, Elias, was to give her away. Marta was all smiles, happy to see the young woman she had raised as her own child finally get married. Elias, on the other hand, had a scowl about his face the entire time. Cat asked him if he was upset she wasn’t getting married to a Hispanic man. “No,” he replied quietly, “race has nothing to do with it. There is something else, something we don’t know yet. I’m just not getting a good feeling about the whole affair.”

Cat was soon caught up in the moment, having to toss bouquets and eat wedding cake. She had forgotten about her grandfather’s apprehension. Much later, and too late, Elias’ suspicions would be found true and accurate.

Cat was eventually selected for promotion to staff sergeant and as a result offered a position working as an investigator with Criminal Investigations Division, CID as it was more commonly known. Finally, this was the kind of work she had signed up for. Her career was starting to take off.

Late nights and weekends working stakeouts took their toll on her marriage. Cat started hearing rumors about her husband and younger, female Marines, always from different units. Asking around the squadbay, Cat saw the “good old boys” network spring into action. No one would speak to Cat about her husband’s extramarital activities. “Forget it, they’re just rumors,” the guys would tell her. It was “the old MPP,” the unofficial, unacknowledged and unwritten Marine Protection Program. Instead of viewing Cat Melendez as a capable police officer, she was now considered “Paul’s flesh anchor,” the woman that was keeping Paul settled down and unable to sail forward doing whatever he wanted to do. It was as if she was back in Morocco, where independent women were not tolerated at all, regardless of citizenship.

Paul had been counting on Cat working long hours with CID. He now had the best of both worlds by being married, with all of the financial benefits that came with it and the bachelor life several times a month. Life became a grand party, only Cat had never received her invitation. As the stories of wild parties, booze and naked women made their way through the squadbay, Cat became more and more distant to her fellow Marines. She started spending more and more time at CID, which only made the problem worse. Finally, her commanding officer asked for her to stop by for a chat.

The CO was a fair and honest man. He knew that Cat wasn’t really at fault here, but he also knew that the working relationships she had with the other Marines in the unit had deteriorated to the point that just her being there would cause further division within the ranks. Paul had too many drinking buddies. Cat was assured that Paul’s activities were known and that he would be charged with adultery and conduct unbecoming a Non-Commissioned Officer. Paul’s career was ending quickly. The CO went on to explain that, even though Paul’s fate was due to his own choices, the other Marines would more than likely blame her for his convictions. For her own safety, the CO was transferring Cat to another base, to do another job.

The courts martial came and went. Paul was discharged under “less than honorable” conditions. The uncontested divorce came soon after. There wasn’t much property to divide up, just the contents of a large barracks room. No kids, fortunately. The last time Cat saw her ex-husband was when he had packed his seabag and headed south on 95. He knew he couldn’t get a gig with a defense contractor; his poor discharge would make obtaining a security clearance damn near impossible. Paul thought there might be lucrative possibilities in the private personal defense industry. “Just gotta find someone important enough, and rich enough. They always need bodyguards, you know.” Cat envisioned her ex getting a security job, but then reality set in. “Probably hit on the client’s wife or girlfriend and get whacked,” she thought to herself, smiling.

Meanwhile, Cat was being transferred to the Naval Air Station in Grand Prairie, Texas, just outside of Dallas. Not only was she going back to gate guard work, but she was now at a Naval Reserve base that only had decent traffic on drill weekends. Accustomed to being a leader, Cat Melendez soon found out that a Marine staff sergeant, an E-6 paygrade, was not considered a supervisory rank by the Navy. Only senior E-6s, the “lead petty officers,” were to have positions of authority. Every enlisted sailor’s goal was to make Chief, E-7, and as such the Navy always seem to give the LPO’s the chance to lead in order to “boost the resume” and increase the chance for promotion. Such was life at the Naval Air Station.

Cat felt abandoned by the only family she had outside of her abuelos. Her parents had been killed by a drunk driver when she was a small child; she had no siblings. Now she didn’t even have the Corps. There were a few Marines stationed with her, but it just wasn’t the same. No camaraderie. At the end of a shift, everyone went their own separate ways. The big city lights and distractions of the Dallas-Fort Worth “Metroplex” lured many a military man and women to be sure. The only good news came when the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Lone Star State’s version of state troopers, came on base during the course of an investigation. When they heard that Cat had worked with CID, they asked if she could assist, to which she readily accepted.

The few weeks working with DPS were motivating, probably the high point of her tour in Grand Prairie, but enough was enough. When Cat learned of an opening with the Virginia State Police, she took the chance and asked to be discharged at the end of her contract. With the police academy holding classes only once a year, she had several months to wait before donning a uniform again. So for now, she decided that living with her abuelos, Marta and Elias, in their double wide trailer, eating her grandmother’s cooking, was just fine. And…since she has already met a new man, how bad can life be in Prosper, Virginia?

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