Cold Mac & Cheese and other musings

January 18, 2012

If you are here…

Filed under: Uncategorized — D.J. Lutz @ 10:43 am

then you really need to be here:  Almost Out of Ink.

You see, we moved and CM&C is no more than an archive, rarely used. And besides, Almost Out of Ink is a lot more fun!


See you there – DJ


November 2, 2010

And the madness begins!

Filed under: Uncategorized — D.J. Lutz @ 2:16 am

All across the globe, thousands upon thousands of would-be novelists are typing, keyboarding, hunt and pecking, handwriting, perhaps even chiseling on slabs of granite the “Next Great Novel.”

Yep. I’m one of them.

You would think after having tried this twice before, I would know better.

Seems so easy when you sign up. Just write a novel that’s at least 50,00 words long…in thirty days…for nothing more than the sense of accomplishment that it will bring.

Well, here is my status report at the end of day one: 1,988 words. Pretty much the first scene. I think in scenes, not chapters, by the way…

In the past I would publish each day’s efforts, but that caused problems. As the story moved along, I would want to rewrite or edit previous tomes, yet that tended to confuse those that were following along. So this time, you get my observations on writing, but the novel will not be delivered until it is ready. Let’s hope that is this year…

Anyhow, thanks for the support. I don’t want your money (unless you have a lot of it and don’t mind giving it to me) just knowing that you are interested is good enough for me. And if you are not interested, why are you still reading at this point?

Hmmm. And they say writers are crazy….

October 25, 2010

Countdown to NaNoWriMo 2010!

Filed under: Uncategorized — D.J. Lutz @ 2:10 pm

Well, the outline is about as done as I want it to be. I have the basic premise of the story. Still not sure exactly how it will end, though. There is a famous (read: published) author out there that was once asked if he ever used an outline and his reply was something akin to “No, if I don’t know where the novel is going, the reader won’t either, which will make them want to keep reading…” A big paraphrase, but you get the point. My ending will present itself when the time is right…hopefully.

This story will be written using a dual storyline format. I have not tried this technique before, but it holds promise for this particular style of story. Basically, this entails one chapter in “present time” and the next chapter in “flashback.” The idea is that at the end, the last flashback chapter will end where the first “present time” chapter starts.

The subject? Here’s a one-sentence synopsis:

“A fortune teller comes to the aid of a fledgling private detective who has discovered deception, double-crosses and murder on his first case.”

March 14, 2010

CNU Writer’s Conference

Filed under: Uncategorized — D.J. Lutz @ 1:39 am
Tags: , , ,

I attended the Christopher Newport University Writer’s Conference this weekend. Located in Newport News, VA, the university is small enough to keep that intimate quality that benefits students and teachers, but also large enough to have an Arts Center of elegant quality. A perfect setting for a writer’s conference.

The main presenter was Brian Haig, yes, son of the late General Alexander Haig. Brian, himself also a military man (Westpoint, 22 years in the army,) has written several books of military fiction, akin to Tom Clancy. He gave two excellent speeches on his writing and the business side of writing. Very enlightening. As a former professional musician, I was somewhat saddened yet not too surprised that the publishing business was almost identical to the music business.

“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps
run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”
– Hunter S. Thompson

Meg Medina was my favorite presenter. She focused on children’s books, not really my thing – at least not now – but it was a great presentation. I think she grew up near my good friend Carlos and his family in New York City. I’ll have to ask him next time I see him.

So what now? Three things, taken from the Conference:

(1) Learn and try the Snowflake technique of story structure.
(2) Read a book (figures…) called Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
(3) Get and read another book. I don’t have my notes with me, but it’s a workbook on creating children’s books.

Children’s books? First, you never know – it may be successful. Second, I think the exercises will transfer over to any type of writing.

Being an unschooled schlep-rock scribbler, I figure “what have I got to lose?”

If you are in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area next March (2011) check out the CNU Writer’s Conference. It’s a winner!

March 12, 2010

Dead Man’s Hand – finale.

Filed under: Uncategorized — D.J. Lutz @ 12:41 am
Tags: ,

The onlookers stood, jaws gaping open. “What’s this all about? I didn’t do anything. I was on the boat when he shot himself. These guys will vouch for me!” Trevor, looking more than slightly panicked, was reaching for any lifeline he could grab.
“I understand that you were on the boat, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t hire someone to come in and shoot Mr. Shellman. We had a tip come in right after Detective Baxter made the call to 911. Once your hired gun emerged from the water, about two blocks down the street, we were waiting for him. You better believe he’s already talking to the Commonwealth’s Attorney about an amnesty deal.”

Trevor knew he had been set up. Only one other person knew of his plan and that was…Sylvia Shellman. Looking right at her with fire in his eyes, he started to lambaste her for being a squealer. She cut him off with a scathing retort. “Look, you. I had to call the police. I didn’t think you were serious about it at first, until Bud told me that you were just using me to get control of the marina. Don’t play with matters of the heart, boy. You’ll get burned every time. Have fun in jail!” Sylvia had almost a morbid sense of glee in her voice as she told him off. Corporal Barrett, by now finished putting Trevor in cuffs, turned towards Sylvia.

“Before you say anything else, Mrs. Shellman, you are also under arrest for the murder of your husband, Drake Shellman…” Sylvia was in shock, hardly hearing any of her Miranda rights as they were rattled off by rote from the officer securing the handcuffs around her wrists. “I don’t get it,” she said. “I tipped you all off? And this is the treatment I get? I need a lawyer…”

With the two rats leaving the sinking ship by way of a blue and white taxi, the rest of the gang stood there in silence. Calvin helped Dallas search Sylvia’s car, where they found a bloody ice pick. “So, how did you know the lady killed her husband? I thought you already nabbed the gunman?”

Dallas Tippett thought for a moment, trying to put a tremendously complex story into a short verbal narrative. “Well, best I can figure is this – Trevor made plans to have Drake killed in such a way that it would appear to be a suicide. The gunman used chloroform, coming up from behind. We found the contaminated handkerchief part way down the chum chute. What the killer did not know was that old man Shellman was already dead. So all we have on Trevor Lancaster is conspiracy to commit murder and murder for hire. The gunman is being held for conspiracy and abuse of a corpse.”
Calvin acknowledged that this one was one for the history books. “Continue, please Mr. Holmes, how about the fair lady, then?”

“Not more than a minute after your call, another 911 operator received a call claiming that Sylvia was seen going into the office right before the shot was heard. Upon closer inspection, the medical examiner found the actual mortal wounds, two small holes in the heart, caused by an ice pick. Mr. Shellman had bled to death internally before the gunman ever got there. Since he was wearing gloves, he did not realize how cold Drake’s hands were when he fashioned the gun around them. And, if you remember, Mrs. Shellman got out of her car and, without prompting, said that she was sorry the old man was dead. When Bud Spenser called her, he only mentioned that they heard a shot. He had no idea who had been shot. The only way she could have known her husband was dead was if she did it herself. ”

“Geez, I guess that’s what happens when everyone wants to kill you. I guess Kay is one of the few who didn’t have a reason to kill him…”
“I’m sure, given the chance, she might have thought about it. Drake was putting a lien on her boat, somewhat unethically, but it would have been perfectly legal. Thank goodness she was with you when this all happened.”
“Yeah, that’s a relief. On the bright side, it looks like we may be sailing off into the sunset together, at least for a while. She’s selling her boat and we’re taking mine down to the Bahamas.”

“What are going to do? Will your pension cover all of that?”
“Not sure. Life is full of surprises. Drake Shellman found that out the hard way. By the way, have you been up on Bud’s yacht? That’s where they were playing cards.”
“No, why?”
“I took the nickel tour and saw the card table inside the cabin. Drake Shellman had pulled two pair, aces and eights with a nine of diamonds as a kicker.”

“And that’s pertinent how?”

“Officer Tippett, you’ll never make detective without knowing how to play poker, will you? Aces and eights – that’s the Dead Man’s hand…”
After the police department had completed its job, Calvin Baxter returned to his boat. Kay had finished loading the supplies she had brought down at the start of the whole debacle.
“’Bout ready?” he asked.
“Almost. Need to get some ice.” Kay returned to the marina office with two ice chests. Opening one of them up, she filled it to the brim with ice. Carefully maneuvering the second chest over to the chum chute, she lifted the chute lid and dropped a plastic bag inside. Kay Francis had her cake and was eating it, too. Smiling, she walked back down toward the Concept 2, ready to move on with her life. They’ll never find that ice pick, especially since they don’t even know that they should be looking for one…

[The end?]

November 12, 2009

Cat and tiger 7

Filed under: Uncategorized — D.J. Lutz @ 4:46 am

Having seen his target dispatched by a fast moving, spiraling chunk of lead traveling at 2,800 feet per second, the sniper slinked back into his spider hole. He had been preparing his nest, his firing position, for almost a week. He had taken great pains to make the trap door cover blend into the shrubbery. While cramped, he had just enough room to stash a leather skin of water, just in case he had to spend more than a day waiting for the coast to clear.

Seeing the oncoming truck was such an opportune blessing for this killer. He had thought he would have to make it look like a drive by shooting, or worse yet, a suicide. He had a throw away pistol, just in the event had to go with Plan C, but he was a long range shooter. Creating a suicide meant he had to get up close. Too many things can go wrong at that point. An unexpected witness can ruin the whole operation. That meant another killing. The contract only specified one kill; any extras would not be compensated. Some of his former colleagues killed for the pleasure of it, not him. He was strictly a businessman.

He knew that he would have to get the girl out into the roadway. He had fired once already and missed, he would not get another opportunity after this one. If only she hadn’t tripped, this whole affair would be over by now and he would be 25 thousand dollars ahead. That first round went blissfully off into the forest never to be found, so his reputation would remain intact. No one wants to hire a sniper that missed a shot, and he had never missed, ever.

His benefactor had almost the perfect plan. A different hit man, somewhat of a local thug really, had been hired to take out the photographer and the girl that day. Make it look like a murder suicide. The idea was that with both out of the way, the local man could take his time and find the stash of crystal meth. It seems that while the intended buyer did not want to part with the cash, they also did not want to leave without the drugs. A dangerous move, double crossing established drug runners, which is why a second shooter had been hired.

Known for his ruthlessness, stealth and above all, accuracy, the man known as the Tiger was hidden up in the hills, ready to clean up any mess made and left by the local talented amateur. He saw the first shooter approach the trailer after the girl had left to go for her usual morning swim. Divide and conquer, he figured. What the man had not anticipated was the photographer putting up a fight. There were shouts, objects breaking inside the trailer, then gunshots, followed by silence. To his trained ear, the Tiger knew that the shots were from hand guns, different handguns. The eerie silence meant a double killing; each probably shooting the other, bullets passing each other on their way to their respective impact zones.

The Tiger waited. There was still the girl to contend with. He watched her as she ran up to the trailer, probably reacting to the pistol shots. She went inside the trailer, saw the dead bodies then certainly panicked. He saw her fly out of the silver airstream, clothes in one hand, camera case in the other. She looked around, probably to see if there were any accomplices and then ran behind the truck which was still hitched to the trailer. The Tiger knew she was scared but obviously not enough to prevent her from getting dressed. “Oh well,” he thought, “the bullet doesn’t care,” since he aims for headshots, exclusively.

The girl popped up from behind the pickup truck, placing the camera case on the side rail in back. She opened the case and, seeing hundreds of small cellophane packets of meth, she let out a gasp. She was so flustered that she had trouble zipping the camera bag back up. That is when Vickie Ortiz started out for the highway. The keys to the truck were back in the trailer; she wanted no part of that scene again. Time to hoof it, she must have thought. Chambering a round, the Tiger settled down into a relaxed prone position, waiting for her to find one of the two ways back civilization, the road or the trail.

He had a clear shot on either path she chose. He could even see the highway off in the distance. With his M14 upgrade and years of practice, the shot would not be difficult.

Vickie must have thought that taking the trail would somehow help her escape from any other badguys. “Geez, make it a little difficult, will ya…” the Tiger whispered. Leading her by a foot, no more, the Tiger started to breath one last time before he slowly squeezed the trigger.

Of course, that shot would miss. It did let Vickie know one thing, though – there was another person out there. She picked up her pace dramatically, dropping the camera bag along the way toward the highway. Looking behind her every few steps, she never saw the man trying to kill her. She knew that with drugs in the mix, she had to escape, since whoever was after the meth would not want any loose ends left wandering the countryside. The Tiger was in shock. Two cases of Maggie’s drawers, in one day no less.

Vickie remembered seeing a small bus station on the side of the road on their way to the lakeside rest area. If she could only get to that building, there may be someone there who could phone for help. Maybe the killer would decide to lay low, with more witnesses. Finally reaching the small structure, her heart sank when she found it closed for the evening. Her only hope would be to flag down a passing vehicle.

Hearing the diesel engine of an approaching truck, Vickie could not decide whether to expose herself to the sniper’s scope by running to the edge of the roadway or miss what may be her only chance at a getaway. A metallic ping above her head erased what little courage she had left. Now, with the irrational thought process of a frightened deer, she ran out to past the roadside, right into the path of speeding Mack truck. Vickie snapped back to reality with just enough time to lunge away from the rolling death machine. The Tiger had been waiting for this moment. His trigger finger was already moving.

The bullet did not kill Vickie. It severed key nerve connectors in the spine, just below the skull, paralyzing her long enough that she could do nothing but watch the fast approaching chrome grillwork slam into her body. The impact caused trauma so vast and so quick, Vickie Ortiz died instantly. The whole affair took less than two seconds. The driver had no chance. It was the perfect accidental traffic fatality. Now the Tiger could retrieve the meth and the cash. He would let the local Barney take care of the double homicide back at the trailer. His job was done.

November 10, 2009

Cat and Tiger 6

Filed under: Uncategorized — D.J. Lutz @ 3:28 am

Returning to the counter, Cat found that her grandfather and Sarge had retreated to a corner booth, somewhat hidden from the front door by a cigarette machine. As she approached the table, Sarge had just lit a Lucky Strike. There was a rocks glass half full of bourbon sitting in front of him.

“I thought this was a diner, not a bar,” she quipped.

“Well, really it’s a private club. The Commonwealth of Virginia, in all its’ glory, has deemed that there will be no bars within these borders. Only restaurants, which, with the proper fee paid for the proper state license, can serve alcohol. I paid the fee; I can serve booze.”

“Same for the cancer sticks?”

“You got a problem with supporting the local farmer, missy?”

“No. I just figured you might want to live a few extra years, that’s all.”

At this point, Elias broke the tension. “You know, there are worse things in life than a decent smoke and a slug of grog. Sarge, what can you tell us about hired guns in the area?”

Sarge took a puff on his filterless cigarette. He made sure to blow a smoke ring across the table, in Cat’s general direction. Sarge let out a muffled chuckle.s

“Sorry Cat. Had to. But let’s call a truce. We can arm wrestle over morals later.” Looking back toward Elias, he pondered out loud, “So, why would Elias Melendez, be looking for a shooter? Shouldn’t the bad guys be looking out for you?”

“We had a young girl shot over in Prosper. From the looks of it, she was tracked, chased and then pushed out in front of an eighteen wheeler on 58.”

“Girl versus truck. Truck always wins. Matter of physics.”

Elias went on. “Here is the interesting part. The shooter’s first shot was not aimed at the girl. He went for the small building she was using for cover.”

“So…you say first shot. That means there is a second shot?”

“Yes. Somehow, the girl ends up in the middle of the road, where she takes a kill shot less than a second before the truck hits her.”

“Man, that’s rough. Any ID on the girl?”

“No. Probably a runaway. No missing persons reports that we know of. Branson is looking into it for me.”

“JB’s nephew? He’s a good man. You don’t need me if you and he are working this case. Why are you here anyway? Can’t be for the food. I own the place and I don’t even like it…”

Elias looked around, then leaned over the table an spoke softly. “Do you still serve tea?”

“Uh…sweet tea or unsweet?” Sarge knew what Elias was asking for, but was hoping that he was wrong.

“No Sarge. Tea.”

Sarge let out a sigh. He had been to this rodeo before. Once Elias Melendez asked for tea, there would be no stopping him until he got it. But Sarge knew that Elias did not want any regular tea.

“Oolong or Pu-erh?” Sarge asked.

“Better make it Pu-erh.”

“Alright,” Cat interjected. “I’m feeling kinda left out here. Anyone care to explain? Anyone? Anyone?”

Sarge looked at her and lifted one eyebrow. “My dear, is it possible that you didn’t know that your grandfather, Elias Mendoza, famed swordsman of Quang Tri, was an accomplished tasseographer?”

“A what?”

Elias explained. “A tasseographer is someone who reads tea leaves. It’s kind of a divining skill.”

“He sees things that no one else sees in the tea leaves.” Sarge spoke with a tone that seemed incredulous, yet his eyes spoke volumes indicating to Cat that not only had Sarge experienced this tea reading phenomena, but it must have apparently produced results.

“Actually, I knew what a tasseographer was; every county fair seems to have one. I was talking about the famed swordsman part.”

“Let me get the tea. Elias, tell her about ’68 and the flag pole.”

Sarge went back behind the counter to the kitchen. Cat could see him getting a step ladder and moving back to the back pantry area. Elias’ voice focused here attention back at the table.

“Well, to make a long story short… I was with the Rangers. We specialized in what were called ‘lerps,’ or long range patrols. First Marine Division had just secure some real estate ahead of our position, when we got the call to move out in front of them and to keep going. I think someone thought that the jarheads had softened the VC up enough that we could just go out and hunt them down. A search and destroy mission, really.”

Sarge had returned with a plain, white porcelain tea cup and a little bundle of something wrapped in a very old, nasty piece of cheesecloth. “Pu-erh. Aged a good thirty nine years, probably more. Water’s a’boilin’.”

“Have you got to the good part yet?” This story seemed to be more exciting to Sarge than her grandfather, Cat surmised.

Elias gave him a dirty look. “My story. Pipe down or I’ll bring send pictures of Sydney to the papers.”

“Papers? Who the hell reads papers anymore.”

“Facebook then.”

“Alright. I’ll go get the water.”

Elias continued. “We helo’d out about ten miles north of the battlefield. I think we were supposed to catch the VC as they were running from the Marines. It didn’t quite go the way we had hoped, thugh.”

By this time, Cat was enthralled. “And so? What happened?!”

“The VC did catch up to us, so that part of the plan worked. The part we didn’t expect was the massive brigade of North Vietnamese Regulars that were coming to aid their VC partners.”

Sarge snapped in, “We was caught between a rock and a hard place, alright. The copters had already left. No air support available for a few hours, it was just us against them.”

“Sounds like you all were in a hurt locker. Clearly you survived, so how did you o it?”

“We only had so many rounds. We decided that instead of trying to stop the attack with huge volumes of fire, we would go with one shot, one kill. It was Sarge’s idea, actually.”

“I figerred that if enough of them VC saw their brothers oing down one by one, they would get the idea that we meant business.”

“No one told the NVA that, though,” Elias laughed. “We ran out of ammo soon enough. Then it was on to and to hand combat.”

“So your grandfather here takes two bayonets, one in each hand, and let out a warrior yell like no one had ever heard. The shooting stopped. He steps up on tree trunk like a politician about to give a speech, and in perfect Vietnamese, challenges their manhood. ‘No guns, just knives’ he would say, only in Vietnamese of course.”

“So one by one, the NVA and VC come out from the treeline, look at me and drop their rifles. They draw out fighting knives…”

“One guy had sticks…”

“Yes, one guy had sticks. But they took me up on the challenge.”

“So did you stab the entire brigade or something?”

“No Cat, that would be insane. After about fifteen bodies were laying around me a Huey gunship arrived, sending rockets into the trees. That gave us the chance to regroup and evac out on another bird.”

“But ever since then, he has been known as the swordsman of Hue City.”

“I though you said Quang Tr?”

“Did I? Well, you get the picture. Looks like the tea is ready to drink. Who gets the honors?”

Elias looked at Sarge. “I am afraid it has to be you, Sarge. You know it’s bad luck to read your own tea leaves and I think you have a connection to the shooter.”

“Hell, just when I survived yesterday’s meatloaf…”

Sarge finished the ho tea in about three gulps. The beads of sweat forming on his now-red forehead told his companions that the tea was still a bit hot to drink.

“There. You satisfied?”

Elis took a saucer and place it on top of the cup. Grabbing both the cup and the saucer, he quickly inverted them, causing the tea leaves to fall onto the saucer.

“Normally,” Elias explained to Cat, “you would let the tea steep once, then discard the water and repeat the process. Tea that has been diffused more than once is much better tasting that what old Sarge just quaffed down, but he’s a trooper. Way to take one for the team, amigo!”

“So do the tea leaves tell you anything” Cat asked?

Elias took out a piece of paper and a pen from his shirt pocket. Looking down at the tea leaves, he wrote down something, then quickly folded the paper so that no one could see his scribble.

“Sarge, did I mention where the girl was shot?”
“Yeah, somewhere on 58.”

“No. I mean, where did the round impact the body.”

Sarge pondered for a second or two. “No, I don’t think you mentioned anything like that, why?”

Cat explained, “The girl was shot once in the neck; severed the spinal column at the base of her skull.”

“Oh geez,” Elias exasperated. “You didn’t mention anything about that, did you. So what do the tea leaves say, as if I didn’t already know…”

Elias reached into his pocket and produced another slip of paper. Handing the paper and his pen to Sarge, Elias asked him to write down one word that describes what he is feeling right now.

Sarge did so, folding his paper as Elias had done.

“Cat, would you like to read the nominees?”

This was not the Academy Awards, to be sure, but Cat took the papers without opening them.

She looked down at the two slips, each starting to unfold on their own. Picking one up, she read aloud “Tiger. Not sure what to make of it, she moved on to the next.

Opening the second paper, she started to speak, but caught herself. Looking up at her grandfather, she said “This one says ‘Tiger,” also. What does this mean?”

Sarge answered. “This means that the world’s best, and cruelest marksman is alive and well in Prosper, Virginia.

November 6, 2009

Cat and Tiger – 4?

Filed under: Uncategorized — D.J. Lutz @ 3:57 am

The County Sherriff, Branson Smythe, was a good man. Grew up in Prosper, played six man football, the kind where you play offense and defense with no break until the game is over. Ended up on scholarship at Tech where he played “relief quarterback,” as he liked to say, hoping that no one would bring up the fact that he was third string. His big claim to fame was in a bowl game once, where he ended up as the holder for a last chance field goal attempt. late in the fourth quarter. The ball was snapped, Branson put the ball down as if to wait for the kicker. Then in one swift, fluid motion, he pulled the ball away, stood up and moved laterally across the field, opposite the stunned defense. He spotted a receiver and made the perfect throw, connecting in the end zone. That touchdown put the Hokies ahead by two points, plus the clock had run out while the ball was in mid flight. Branson Smythe had his fifteen minutes of fame that day.

Today, he was interviewing a truck driver that had just smacked a young girl at seventy miles per hour. Speeding ticket aside, the driver was distraught.

“Man, I saw her just as she ran to the side of the road, but she stopped, so I didn’t think to slow down. I wasn’t going to pick up any hitchhiker anyway, you know. Can’t be too careful these days. But then, she looks behind her real fast like, then takes off across the road. I think she was trying to get across before I got there. Man, I’ll never forget her face. She looked terrified before she even saw me. I had no time to stop, I tell you. No time…”

Well, I tell you what,” Branson slowly replied. “I got your information if we need to get in touch with you, but I think this is going to be just one of those tragic yet unavoidable accidents. I wont be filing any charges against you. Now what I would suggest is that you get yourself down the road about ten miles, to Newton. There’s one of those 24 hour do it yourself car and RV washes there. Get the grill cleaned up at least. Looks like she didn’t have enough mass to really do much damage. No one should be hanging out at the wash this time of night, so you should be able to take care of business without any gawkers. Next run, though, try to keep it under 65. This time of year the deer like to run out into the road. A large buck will do a heck of a lot more damage if you hit him square on”

The driver thanked the Sherriff profusely, then climbed back into the cab. Elias held up his hand, as if to tell him to stay put for a second. “Cat, what do you think?”

“Well, let’s see. Judging from the looks of the left arm, she tried to stop the truck on her way across. That was pretty futile. The grill hit the arm hen the rest of her left side. Probably caused massive internal injuries, broken bones. Any number of which could have been the fatal blow, so to speak.”

Elias nodded his head. “Look at the grill on the truck.”

Cat moved closer to the truck. “Well, it’s big, it’s chrome, it’s made up of flat, metal bars. Little bit of blood splatter up here, where the head must have hit it.”

“Grandpa, do you see something I don’t see?”

“Sherriff, do you need help getting this body to the funeral parlor?” Elias had something in mind, although Cat had yet to determine what it was.

“Elias, I just need help putting the body into the bag and the bag onto the truck. Ol’ Mikey can help me once I get to the funeral home.”

Elias and Cat put on their gloves and then helped Branson carefully place the young girl’s body into the black body bag. Cat had seen this many times, and had helped with the deceased on more than on occasion, but this time it wasn’t a dead Marine, one who had just had a fight with his girlfriend and then decided to race his motorcycle after downing a bottle of whatever was handy at the time.

This time it was a young girl, maybe 18, probably not. “Who is this poor child? Where are her parents? Just what the hell was she doing out here, a this time of day that got herself killed by fifty three feet of moving steel?”

“Don’t you worry, now. I think we will get to the bottom of this murder soon enough,” Elias cryptically commented.

“Excuse, please? You said murder?”

“Probably; we’ll know for sure tomorrow. Glad you came back to town, granddaughter. Seems like you have arrived just in time.”

“Not soon enough, judging by the body count”

“Cat, can I borrow your cell phone? Need to make a call.” Cat flipped open her phone, pressed a green button and the handed it to Elias.

“There you go. All set for you to dial.”

“Thanks, Cat. This won’t take but a second, then we will get on home. I got a feeling we are going to need our sleep.”

“Mikey? This is Elias. Yeah, I’m down here with him. We just loaded the bag onto the truck; Branson should be a your place in about ten f fifteen minutes or so. Listen, Mikey, can I ask a favor…”

With the phone call over, Elias flipped the phone shut and tossed it to Cat as he started walking away, moving towards his own truck. “Come on. Shows over. Nothing to do here until tomorrow, so we might as well get some shut eye.”

Cat was at a loss. She wanted to investigate, since obviously her grandfather had picked up on something, but it was dark, they had no proper equipment and who knew if any of this evidence would stand up in court. This seemed to be a pall falling over the living as the dead was driven off to the comfort of the only funeral home within 60 miles.

The next morning, Marta was cooking huevos con chorizo, eggs with some spicy sausage. She threw in some ancho chile for good measure. “You two were out half the night down at the bus station. You must be starved.”

“Abuela, that smells fantastic!” Cat could not help compare the food her grandmother, her little abuelita, was cooking to the chow cooked by her fellow Marines. Actually, she thought, there was no comparison. But as always, grandma was right in that Cat and her grandpa had indeed spent half the night down at the bus station. The cool night air along with the adrenaline rush of assisting with a fatality had zapped most of Cat’s energy, only she was ust now aware of it.

“Thanks, Mikey. I thought so. Cat and I will be down in a few hours. Thanks again. Awesome job.”

“What was that all about?” Cat was curious now. Her grandfather would have to come up with a pretty good story this time. “Just pass me the Texas Pete, girl. We’ll go down and visit Mikey later this morning and you will understand everything.”

Sometimes when her grandfather spoke, even though the words may have been few, the tone spoke volumes. Elias had something up his sleeve, but he clearly did not want to reveal his hand before the time was right. Cat passed the Texas Pete.

“Dios mio!” exclaimed Marta. “You don’t think my chorizo is spicy enough?” Marta took the little 8 ounce bottle of hot sauce and poor the entire bottle on Elias’ eggs. “You want hot, you got it my friend.”

Elias ate the entire plate of eggs and chorizo, then reached back to the china cabinet and reached for a highball glass. Pulling a steel flask out from his right sock, Elias poured a drink of something, tequila from the looks of it Cat surmised, and then added the last few drops of hot sauce into the drink.

“This will kick start your day. Want some?”

Cat answered without hesitation. “Oh no, you can keep it, thank you very much.”

“We’ll give Mikey some time to take a nap. Then we should go over there. I think you will find that Mikey has uncovered a clue. Almost an essential clue”

Seeing that Cat was partially flummoxed, Elias elaborated. “Think of it this way. Some clues help you solve the mystery right?”

Cat thought for a second, “I suppose so?”

“Well,” Elias continued “Some clues, the really good ones, don’t necessarily solve the mystery, but they do tell a story. A story that says there was crime on this spot.” Cat interrupted. “Now I get it. If we don’t think a crime has occurred, then we won’t even investigate. The murderer gets off”

“Precisely, amiga mia. Pass the salt?

At ten o’clock, the duo went into ‘town’ such as it was, and parked in front of the funeral home. There was a space marked for preachers, and since Elias felt kind of like a preacher at times, he parked there often. An old, hefty man dressed in a black suit came out to greet them.

“Elias, my old friend. How are you these days? And this? Is this little Catalina?”

“Elias. I think you have something to show us?”

“Yes sir, I do.” Noting the urgency mounting in Elias’ voice, Mikey led them to his lab.

Once inside, Mikey pulled a slab out from the bank of nameless human vaults. “There, by the base of the neck. See?”

Elias and Cat peered down at the lifeless female body. “It looks metallic.”

“What’s left of a high speed rifle round, actually. Not sure what make and model, but I still have a few hours of daylight left.”

Cat looked at her grandfather. “Murder.” she proclaimed.

November 5, 2009

Cat & Tiger – 3

Filed under: Uncategorized — D.J. Lutz @ 3:39 am

After dinner, Elias asked his granddaughter if she wanted to see his new shop out behind the trailer. With all of the excitement of coming home, Cat was not tired in the least. “Sounds great, papa. Let’s go take a look!” They left Marta cleaning the dishes…”Go ahead you two, some things never change, I guess…” and headed out the back door.

It was still early evening, with the faint glow of the already set sun just visible above the crest of the foothills. There was a well worn path across the grass, leading from the double wide trailer to a huge red barn. “Now this is a new edition to the old homestead. How tall is this thing, anyway?” Cat wondered out loud. Elias stopped, looked up at the roofline and pointed at the classic rooster shaped weathervane. “The old rooster stands at sixty two feet. This barn has two basic floors, along with some custom work and storage areas inside. It even as a mascot, an old barn owl that sits up in the elm trees. I swear, sometimes I think he just sits there so he can watch me working.”

“Hey, I see him now. Wow, he’s big, even for an owl.”

“Probably has a five or six foot wingspan,” Elias replied.

“Hey, Sparky,” Cat called out. “Sparky” was her generic name for any creature nearby, usually a name reserved for cockroaches, but she upgraded to the owl today. Elias chuckled. He had not heard someone call something Sparky since his days in the RVN. “I guess the old hoot has a name now. Sparky it is. After you, my dear.”

Elias had opened the right side of the double doors and was about to enter when the owl started fluttering his wings. He lifted off the branch with a start, as if to fly out and swoop down on some unsuspecting field mouse. It looked like he was upset that there was a new visitor to “his” barn, perhaps? As Sparky flew off, Cat and her grandfather were showered with a few leave and part of the branch that Sparky had clipped on his abrupt lift off.

“Okay, then. We’ll see you later Sparky. Enjoy your dinner.” With the areal acrobatics show over, Cat entered into the barn, followed by her tour guide. Inside, she stopped to look around. There was a lot to see. This was no ordinate barn. No horses, no hay. No pieces of rusting farm equipment. No, this barn was a barn on the outside, but a machine shop with a twist of inventors lab thrown in for good measure. There was a forge and mini blast furnace in one corner, some lathes and power drills off to the side, and several long tables, each with bits and pieces of wood and metal. A portable grinder had been set up on one table. Safety equipment was strewn about. Whatever Elias was working on, it certainly looked like quite the project.

“So, grandpa, what all do you have going on here?”

“Well, right now I am making some customized hunting knives. Deer season is in a few weeks and a couple of the guys down at the Legion needed new skinning knives. Thought I’d help them out…for a fee.” Elias grinned. “You can’t buy these knives in WalMart, that’s for sure.” He pointed to a table off to the side.

On the table was a display case with a dozen or so knives. Beautiful works of art and craftsmanship. Some had stag handles; others were simple, one piece blades. With the glare of the spotlights over head, the blades had clearly been polished to perfection.

“Did you make all of these?”

“Absolutely. My government pension doesn’t go as far as it used to, so I makea few bucks here and there by customizing knives for hunters, collectors, even quite a few military folks.”

“These are amazing. But…you need all this equipment for making these tiny little knives? Looks a bit much to me…but I am no expert, either.”

Elias had a pensive look on his face. He had more to tell his granddaughter, but he was just not sure when he should, or if he should elaborate. “Well, you know I used to make all sorts of things when I worked for the government. I just never got rid of the gear, that’s all. You never know when you might need to make something, but I know I will have the machines to make it when it comes time.”

That answer, vague as it was to Cat, satisfied her for the time being. “What’s up there, papa?” She was pointing to the wooden stairs leading up to the loft. “You know…something does not add up here. Look at the loft, papa. See how it looks as if it wraps around the entire barn, like a balcony? Yet I don’t think you can get over to that part over there, at the far end. How did you design this? For Sparky?”

“No, my dear. And t appears that those years in Uncle Sam’s Gun and Knife Club have served you well. No one has ever noticed that here are two separate lofts. Come over here, I’ll show you a well kept secret.”

They walked past the knife display, past the drill presses and the band saw, over to where there were two old fashioned wine casks. These barrels were sitting on their sides, wedged onto an old wooden wagon. “Grab a wine glass off the shelf there and pour yourself a drink.” Cat held the glass under the spout and pulled the spigot down. A lovely Merlot started to flow freely into the glass.

“Smell the aroma, the bouquet. It is quite good, this vintage.”

“Okay, papa, I can understand you making hunting knives, but wine? Where are the acres and acres of vineyard? Where are the presses? You can’t make wine like this with a scroll saw, you know.”

“Ah, but you have judged the book by its’ cover. Stand over by the spigot again.”

Elias went to the other cask, standing in front of the spigot. The way the barrels were positioned, Cat and Elias wee facing each other. “Now put the glass on the shelf, for safety…”

“Excuse me? For safety? What ‘safety?’ What do I need to worry about here? Is he wine poisoned or something?”

“Oh no. The wine is good to drink. I get it shipped in from Williamsburg. Beautiful winery there. We should go…”

“Grandfather, focus, please. What are we doing here and why do I need to be safe?”

“Right. Well then, look…but do not touch… the spigot.”

“Okay, now what? Does it do tricks?”

“Now grab the spigot handle, as if you were going to pour yourself a drink, but instead of pulling down – grab ahold of the entire handle assembly and twist counter clockwise.”

Cat tried to turn the spigot. It was moving slowly, but moving.

“Come on now, jarhead. Put something into it.”

Hearing someone call her a “jarhead” really flipped the I’ll-show-you switch in Cat Melendez. She took the handle in her right hand and used her left hand on the cask for balance and leverage. With a sudden jerk, she twisted the entire wine delivery system to the left.

The sound of a pneumatic pump came to life. Cat felt the floor move beneath her feet. Suddenly, she was lifted up to the second floor balcony.

“Geez! You didn’t tell me I was going airborne!”

“Hidden hydraulic platform system in the flooring. You have to know how to activate the switch in order to get the boost, though.”

Elias hit his switch and instantly was standing at the balcony level, still facing Cat. “And to get down, well there is another way.” “Let me show you some things…”

There were a few wooden crates sitting around. A deer head mounted on the wall. Not much else, as far as Cat could determine. Then Elias said “Let us visit the “hidden” rooms. Now that was a statement that intrigued Cat. She looked around, and seeing nothing, said “So what do I have to do here? Pull on an antler to open the trap door or something?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Squeeze the nose. Want some tissue?”

“Very funny, papa.”

Seeing that he was serious with his last comment, Cat still felt pretty stupid as she reached for the quadruped’s nose. One good squeeze and nearby crate opened up, as if by spring. Looking inside the crate, Cat saw that it was actually an opening in the floor, complete with stairs. “Papa, should we go down?”

“Yes, Catalina! There is more to see!”

Cat carefully traversed the stairs back down to the first floor of the barn. But upon arrival, she gazed about and saw that she was now in a different section of the barn. “What is going on, papa? This doesn’t make sense.”

“I put in a fake wall. The only way to get to here is to go up there. From the main entrance to the work shop, you can not get to or even see this part of the barn. It’s where I keep my special projects. Let me show you…”

Elias was cut short by the sound of a rifle shot off in the distance. “Hmmm, sounded like a…”

There was a second shot.

“Someone is out there hunting deer and it is two weeks before the season starts. The Sherriff probably heard those same shots and I imagine he will start wanting to investigate.” Elias looked up at the storm windows. Sparky had come back.

“Well, at least Sparky was not spooked by the whole affair. Let us get back to the house. I wouldn’t want some drunk, overzealous hunter thinking I am a deer.”

Marta was glad to see them. “Your grandfather spends hours, even days I think, in that silly workshop. Just like the old days, right amigo?”

“Yes, dear. But at least I am home tinkering on projects. No more hush hush, late night, fly to Kwajalein type of adventures anymore.”

“And that is why I am still here,” Marta quipped.

“Did you all get enough to eat? I have peach cobbler, right out of the oven…”

Cat knew she had a few months before she had to report to any type of police academy. Some of her grandma’s homemade peach cobbler could do no harm at this point.

It was getting late. Cat was exhausted. She was so looking forward to hitting the rack and then sleeping in. No muster to worry about so she could sleep as late as she wanted. Cat realized that she should have come home sooner after tasting the delicious pie.

With the pie almost totally decimated, the yawns started. Marta announced “Time for bed. Neither cat nor Elias could instigate an effective argument. It was time for bed.

Right as Marta had flipped the last light switch off, the phone rang.

“”Yes? Oh dear. I’ll get him, hold on.”

“El, it is the Sherriff. It’s bad.”

Elias took the phone and greeted the caller. After a few “hmms” and a “maybe” or two, Elias thanked the Sherriff and then hung up the phone.

“What is it? What’s wrong?” Cat wondered out loud.

“Looks like a classic game of pedestrian against the Mack truck, down by the bus station. Mack truck won. Branson needs help with what’s left of the body. Care to go along?”

“Why not. It’s been, oh, I don’t know, a few months since I have last seen traffic fatality. A Mack truck? This should look thoroughly nasty.”

They hopped into the old farm truck and off they chugged.

Pulling up to the bus station she had been at not more than a few hours earlier, Cat could see the classic yellow police tape stretched around the building. Off to the side was a coroner’s blanket. There was the victim. A young girl.

November 3, 2009

Cat & El Tigre – 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — D.J. Lutz @ 3:49 am

The sun had just set over the limestone cropped foothills. The only traffic on Highway 58 had already rolled on by about an hour earlier with the red and white Carolina Trailways bus out of Richmond making its’ last westbound stop for the day. It was quiet, eerily quiet. It was the type of silence that made one stop and wonder why even the birds had stopped chirping. Eighteen year old Vicki Ortiz had little time to notice, however. Her gasping for breath broke the peace. She had been running along a deer trail for a good half hour or more. She had lost track of time. After the rifle shot barely missed her, she decided that looking at her watch was not that important any more. It was mere coincidence, a twist of Providence more likely, that Vicki had tripped slightly on an exposed tree root while making her getaway. Had she remained upright, the 7.62 round would have found its’ mark with deadly consequences. Finally at the dilapidated shack that served as a bus stop for Prosper, Virginia, Vicki had hope, albeit the slimmest of hope that someone, anyone would be driving by…to save her.

Quickly looking behind her, then crouching as if to hide from the still unseen enemy, Vicki carefully moved around the left side of the structure. Once she had made it to the front porch, she rose to peer in the front window. Dark. No lights, no sign of life. Had Vicki arrived an hour earlier, she could have sought and probably gained refuge inside the small but secure waiting area. This night would not prove favorable for the young runaway. Slumping down on the wooden deck, next the locked front door, Vicki took a few seconds to catch her breath and wonder how the hell she had gotten herself into the worst mess she could imagine.

Two years earlier, Vicki Ortiz had been a typical high school kid from Long Island. Typical in that she had the same dreams and ambitions as all the other girls in her high school. She had boyfriends, or at least had boys that she would want as a boyfriend. She liked going to the mall with her friends, even though she knew her family did not have money that could be called disposable income. Her habit was simply to window shop. While others made purchases, she feigned disdain of the very trinkets she longed for.

Her grades were good, yet the issue of money always seemed to be the stopping point when conversations turned towards thoughts of college. Vicki’s parents were undocumented workers from Honduras. Working in a garment factory for less than minimum wage, they knew, as did she that going to college would be no less than a miracle for the bright young woman. Then Vicki Ortiz met an interesting man working at a mall kiosk. Instead of selling jewelry or perfumed hand lotion made of liquid minerals, this man was looking for “the next new face.” He also had a digital camera and some bright lights set up in a makeshift photo booth. “No cost, honey. These are just proof shots to show you what real modeling shots could look like.”

It was what many girls dreamed of – big money, travel, fame. No college degree required. Everything paid for by magazines and sponsors. All she had to do was smile and look gorgeous for the camera. The man explained that the odds of anyone in the mall becoming a supermodel were slim to none, yet the chances of her making a decent living as a print model were better than good. He explained that most girls her age try for the runway gigs. “They want the fashion shows, the swimsuit issues, the ultimate prize of being a “spokesmodel” on television.” If Vicki were to focus on print modeling only, there would be less competition, which in turn meant more photo shoots. The more the camera clicks, the more money she makes. Being a Latina, she was even more marketable, he pronounced. ‘Think World Cup advertising,” he whispered.

She would need her parent’s permission to work with the agency he represented; there were legal releases that needed to be signed. Vicki asked if there would be any travel opportunities. “Almost all of the models travel at first. You can’t start on Madison Avenue right away – you have to work your way up first,” he told her. “Just have your parents sign these forms and show up at the office with your social security card and your driver’s license.”

Vicki knew her parents would disapprove of her dropping out of school to work as a model, but this might be her only chance to break away. Break away from the day to day existence that she and her family had always known. How wonderful it would be to know that tomorrow’s meals were paid for, and most likely provided to her. Her thoughts immediately went to how much money she could then give to her parents, so that they would not have to work 14 hours a day sitting at high speed sewing machines and sergers. This was going to be her big chance. She could not let it go by. Taking the forms home, she hid them in her notebook. After the family had all fallen asleep, she took out her ball point pen and scribbled passable names in the blanks. Instead of going to school, she would just go to the modeling agency. The school would not bother to call. There wee too many kids to provide that kind of service. Being the kid of non resident and “illegal” aliens, the administration would not even notice that Vicki Ortiz was no longer attending school.

The next day, Vicki took the bus to school as she always had. Once they had arrived, she got off with the other kids, but instead of walking in through the front doors of the building, she went around back, towards the shop classrooms. There were a handful of kids walking in the same direction, so nothing looked out of the ordinary. However, once Vicki was in sight of the loading dock doors by the auto shop, she crossed the back parking lot and kept going.

It was only a few blocks to the city bus line which could take her to the agency that the man had mentioned. Twenty minutes later, Vicki Ortiz stepped off the city bus, about to enter a new world. A world full of opportunity and glamour, she thought. She was wrong. Dead wrong.

Meeting the receptionist, Vicki produced the papers that were given to her in the mall. They included the photo shots. “Those will be important. Don’t leave them at home!” she remembered the man telling her. The receptionist, a twenty something young woman that looked like she could really have cared less about being there at all, took the papers and placed them in a bin on her desk. “Drivers license and social security card, please,” she asked. Her tone was nondescript. Emotionless. It was as if she had said the same line hundreds of times. Vicki wondered why the girl worked there if it was such an ordeal. “If modeling doesn’t work out, I’ll just work as the receptionist. I could do way better than this girl,” she thought.

A man dressed in a blue pin stripe suit came through a side door, back by a filing cabinet. “Are you here for the front desk position?”

“No…the man at the mall said something about print modeling?” Vicki was not sure what to make of this guy. He dressed like a boss, he spoke like someone in charge, but was he “in charge?” Then Vicki sensed that this opportunity knocking at the door. She was ready to open that door and answer it. Vicki flashed a smile at the man and announced “I am Vicki Ortiz. And you are…?”

“Bob Gunther. Nice to meet you Vicki. Pamela, do you have Vicki’s paperwork?”

The receptionist reached for the in-box and procured the papers for Mr. Gunther. Vicki noticed that Pamela had not even bothered to look up. “Geez, what a clown, she thought.” Here the county was in the throes of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and Pamela didn’t even seem to appreciate the fact that she had a job. An talk about easy working conditions. No factory here. Just a nice desk with a nice leather chair. Coffee and free bottled water off to the side. A desk radio. What was there not to like?

“Listen Vicki, let’s get you down the hall for some more test shots while I process this paperwork.
I’ll introduce you to my partner, Sheila who will explain how the process works.” Bob and Vicki walked down a short hallway and then through a doorway which led into the studio. This was exactly how Vicki imagined it would be like. Lights on tripods. Stage lights on the floor, a rack of spot lights hanging from the ceiling. Numerous cameras on tables, some on stands. This was impressive.

“Sheila, this is Vicki Ortiz. She is interested in print modeling. Why don’t you explain to her how the selection process works and what happens if the test shots are successful. I’ll be in the file room making copies of the paperwork.”

“Great, Bob, be happy to.” Sheila was a positive force in the room. She had energy, Vicki could sense it. This was a woman who knew what she wanted and had gotten it. This was someone to emulate, Vicki thought.

“Okay, here is how it all happens. You took some test shots at the mall right?”
Vicki nodded, not being sure if Sheila was even expecting a verbal answer. Sheila kept right on talking. “Those shots were good enough to get you in the door today, but we need more now. Better photos. Of course, most girls don’t even make it this far, so you are way ahead of the game.” This sounded exhilarating to the young beauty. “So what do I do now?” Vicki blurted, trying to get a word in edgewise. “Well, we will take some more shots, of course! Only this time, we will use the real equipment, not that cheap old camera at the mall.”

“We will take some shots, then Bob and I will sit down and have a look at them. You can relax in the “green room” while we decide how to proceed.”

“Green room? I am afraid I don’t quite understand these terms yet, I’m sorry.”

“Oh, don’t be sorry. I should have explained. The Green Room is the room where the talent, you know, the actors, or models in our case, relax between shows or photo shoots. The walls are traditionally painted a soothing green, which is why it’s called the Green Room! You’ll love it. Fully stocked with bottled water, carrots, and every once in a while….little Dove chocolates!”

“Sounds great, but…I have a question.” Looking at some of the framed pictures on the wall, Vicki was starting to realize that models sometimes have to pose in the nude, and that was something she was not going to do. She would rather starve than dishonor her parents in that fashion. “These next photos, are they head shots like at the mall or what?”

“Good question. You know, I am impressed by your forward thinking. Many of the girls come in here thinking we just want some skin shots and some of them even ask if we can take those…but we run a legitimate agency here.” Vicki seemed relieved.

“No, we handle print modeling for fashion accounts and retail accounts. I am afraid that the money isn’t six figures, but you get to travel a bit up and down the east coast, all expenses paid, and you get to try on new outfits, have your hair done by professional stylists, and your picture ends up in retail catalogs sent to every house in the nation.”

“Wow, I had no idea!”

“Most people don’t stop to think about it, but every catalog you get in the mailbox is trying to sell you something. More often than not, they are using a pretty, young girl to help sell it. This is your chance to be one of those girls. Listen, the retail stores make a ton of money with those catalogs and they need people like you to help make that money. They make money, you make money. You make money, we make money. The sponsor pays you a flat fee per hour, usually 125 at the start, and sessions usually last six or seven hours. Typically, a retail catalog shoot will take two or three days. Do the math and you could possibly be starting at 750 a day, or 2250 for a three day shoot.”

“Two thousand dollars? For just a few days work? That’s amazing!” Vickie could not fathom that kind of money. She could definitely support her parents with money like that. “You said, ‘I make money, you make money?’ How does that work?”

“Our models sign a standard one year contract that says that the agency gets ten percent of your fee. So at 750 dollars, we make 75 and you still walk with 675. You can’t bet that with a stick, honey.”

“Oh no, I’m not complaining. I just wanted to help support my parents and I think this will be the best way to do it. I have never even seen 675 dollars, let alone made it.”

“Well let’s get some more shots and then see what happens!”

Vicki was on her way. On her way to her doom.

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