Cold Mac & Cheese and other musings

March 6, 2010

5 – Day Thriller

Filed under: Creative Writing — D.J. Lutz @ 4:35 pm
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So it’s been a while, yes indeed, but I have many excuses. Don’t we all? Just finished my first class (grad school, part time) and I have 9 days off before the next one starts. This next week will be fun – five lunch breaks, five one hour sessions to write a short story.

If all goes according to plan, I’ll be finishing just in time to go to the Christopher Newport University Writer’s Conference. Guest speaker is Brian Haig, son of the late Gen. Alexander Haig.

Will I present my short to the crowd at the conference? Hardly. Maybe someday, at a Hampton Roads Writers open-mic session, but first to test the waters and see which pond we have kayaked into. Did you see something in the water?

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November 12, 2009

Cat and tiger 7

Filed under: Uncategorized — D.J. Lutz @ 4:46 am
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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
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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 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 6, 2009

Cat and Tiger – 4?

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

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?

November 1, 2009

Nanowrimo 09

Filed under: Uncategorized — D.J. Lutz @ 11:57 pm

OK, so here it is, November (again) and I foolhardily signed up for Nanowrimo…again. What was I thinking?

To recap: I have Old Pecos, done. Needs editing, but the story is essentially done. Then there’s Checkmate, done. Needs editing, maybe a little development, but essentially…done.

Then there are the two works in progress: Nine Lives and Fire the Canon. Not done. Fire the Canon has more potential at this point, but working on that would be like running a marathon, stopping to tie one shoe, but ignoring the rock in the other shoe. I “could” work on Canon, maybe even finish it, but that would still leave the rock in the other shoe, that is to say – Nine Lives. Nine Lives came first so by default I really should finish it before I do anything else on Canon.

Which brings us to Nanowrimo. Rules being rules, you really shouldn’t use previously written material. However, you can also “win” by writing one word and copying it 49,9999 times. With such nebulous rule interpretation, I think that I can use Nine Lives to an extent, then, with certain caveats. One is that I am changing the title. The other caveat is that I am using the previously written material as a template or guide. (Guides and outlines are specifically allowed under Nanowrimo rules!) The bottom line is that if you had read any of the first version of Nine Lives, you will have to read the story again as I write it, because it won’t be the same. There will be bits and pieces that are the same, but for the most part it will be a new story along the same “old” story line.

I will post the first part tonight, in a few hours. Gotta average a little under 2,000 words a day in order to finish Nanowrimo.

I hope you enjoy reading “The Cat and El Tigre – a Tale of Nine Lives.”

June 22, 2009

Canon 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — D.J. Lutz @ 3:14 am
Tags: , ,

Reaching the auto deck, Toni found her scooter amidst a dozen or so Italian Vespas and American made knock offs. She had an original Vespa, a fire engine red model that had been stored in the museum basement for God knows how long. With no record of ownership, the museum curator, Sir Neal Jeffries, gave it to her as a way to help commute to the ferry. Downtown Bridgeport was no place for a woman to walk alone, especially in the evening after closing time, and Toni had proved to be a hard working and popular employee. The old museum had probably past its’ prime as a tourist destination and the curator knew that fresh, young smiling faces behind the counter were essential to revitalizing the business. He could not afford to lose good help, and Toni Marie Sevilla was the best he had working. With overpriced coffee shops and their ilk opening on every corner, fewer and fewer college kids darkened the door in hopes of getting a minimum wage job.

The rain had let up just enough for Toni to venture over to the rail. Looking forward, she could see the anchor lifting out of the water. No sign of the old woman. The deck crew did not look concerned; apparently they did not see the woman go over the side. The weather had improved, but it was still too poor for search boats, even from the Coast Guard. Of course, if no one knew she was missing, why would they even start a search?

With the ferry pulling into the landing, Toni saw the man with the beret going from car to car, peering in with a flashlight. He had on some sort of badge, probably a phony she thought, to give legitimacy to his search. Toni quickly put on her jet black helmet in hopes he would pass her by; whatever his motive, she knew it couldn’t be good. Her heart starting to pound faster and faster, she watched as the man finished with the last row of cars. He was making his way towards the motorcycles, bicycles and scooters. If ever there was time for a miracle, this was it.

As if on cue, just as the man arrived at the area reserved for two-wheeled vehicles, the deckhands opened the gate to allow vehicles off the ship. Cyclists of all types are allowed off first and as the corrugated steel ramp hit the dock, the roar of Harleys echoed throughout the deck. Like a herd of charging wildebeest, the motorcycles led the pack off the ferry. The man had to take a step back, fearing he would be run down. The scooters were next. Toni made sure she had maneuvered to the farthest side away from the mysterious, would-be detective.

The man spotted Toni as she sped up the ramp. Lunging ahead and trying to block her getaway, the man found himself surrounded by a peleton of bicyclists. The pileup mimicked an accident on the Tour de France. Angry riders, New Yorkers no less, showered the man with verbal epithets. Toni took advantage of his delay, scooting past the ferry terminal and onto the main drag. That’s when she heard a car honk and a familiar voice.

“Hey Toni! Hop in ‘dere, before da rain come back!”

It was Stubs, the local cabbie whose boisterous voice and outgoing personality had become so well known that he had parlayed his cab into a mobile tourist attraction for the village of Port Jefferson. While one could walk through the entirety of Port Jeff without too much trouble, it was chic for the rich and famous to be seen with Stubs. He even had a picture of a few Watergate figures, autographed of course, framed and glued to the ceiling overhead the backseat. It was next to his picture of Elvis.

Stubs popped the trunk lid using an automatic switch below the steering column. Making his way to the back of the cab, he noticed the man with the beret heading their way. “Gets in now; I’ll take care of da scooter, Missy.” Toni didn’t have to be told twice; she knew it would be only a matter of time before the mystery man would reach the cab. Stubs secured the trunk lid with a bungee cord, then turned around – finding himself face to face with the beret man.

All Toni could hear was screaming, painful screaming, coming from the back of the cab. Then came the thud. Somebody had hit the sidewalk and hit it hard. She slunk down in the backseat in a vain attempt to avoid detection by the man. The driver’s door opened. Too scared to look up, Toni got her room key out as a weapon of last resort.

“Well then, lets get you home before da rain, Missy.”

It was Stubs. Wheels screeching, smoke rising from spinning tires, the cab lurched forward into traffic. Sitting upright and struggling to fasten her seat belt, Toni asked “What happened back there? Who was that guy?”

“Beats me, but I didn’t like his attitude. So me and Matilda here gave him a little sumptin, just a little adjustment to his attitude, dat’s all.”

Stubs held up a Cheetah stun gun. “Two point five million volts for only 96 clams…shipping and handling extra, of course. Comes in pink, blue and black. You might wanna get you one of dese items. Came in handy today, I tell ya.”

“Well, whoever he is, he looked like he was up to no good on the ferry. He was after an old lady and I’m afraid she may have fallen overboard trying to get away!”

“Let me make a call, then. Hold on. Stubs knows what to do in a case like dis.”

Stubs reached for his handheld cell phone. His cab didn’t have a meter, nor did it have the traditional Motorola style radio connecting his taxi to some distant dispatcher. Port Jeff was not that big; he knew most if not all of the residents. Locals he would let ride for free; tourists he would drive for tips only. Made more money that way, he claimed.

“Hey Bobby, dis is Stubs, man, you dere?”

Turning toward Toni, he quietly mentioned “Bobby’s mah cousin; he’s da trooper who’s always catchin’ foreign speeders on da highway outside of town.” By foreign, he meant people from out of town.

“Hey ah, Bobby, listen up, man. Dere’s some guy down by the terminal, tryin’ to start trouble wit da locals. I introduced him to Matilda so he’s probably still down for the count. Maybe staggering ‘round, trying to find which way is up. Can you check into it?”

“Thanks, man. Dinner on Sunday? Great. See ya.”

“Thanks Stubs. Your aces in my book.” Toni almost cut herself short. She had just used the same bit of slang heard earlier from the old woman. “Can your cousin look into the lady that fell overboard?”

“No. Dat’s Port Authority’s bidness. Too choppy for a search, anyways. All they have is a couple of speedboats; no helicopters. If there is a body outs dere, it’ll wash up sometime tomorrah, once da tide comes back in.”

The ten minute cab ride over, Stubs pulled into the small parking lot of an old, weatherbeaten antique store. It was past closing time, the only light still lit was the battery-powered hurricane lamp, inside the foyer. The second floor window above the shop’s front door suddenly opened. “Toni, are you alright? We were worried about you. They closed down the ferry because of the storm. Come inside for some tea. Stubs, you wait right there until I come downstairs.”

“Yes, Madame. Your wish is my command dere.”

The front door opened with a creak. An older woman, an octogenarian by years but with the spring in her gait typical of a thirty year old, walked out onto the porch. “Come in, both of you, before the rain starts again. Not fit for neither man or nor beast out here I tell you.”

Stubs had put the scooter inside a small shed, built onto the side of the shop. Walking up to the porch, he declared “Tanks for da offer, Mrs. Parker, but I need to get back to da Terminal. Wit no boat service, dere’s plenty of shoppers needin’ a lift to a hotel.”

“Suit yourself. You know you are always welcome to stop by when you get thirsty, Toni, give this to Mister Stubs; he undoubtedly earned it tonight gallivanting about town in this nasty weather.” Eileen Parker handed a ten dollar bill to Toni. Stubs graciously accepted the tip, clicked his heels together, did a slight English bow, then smartly did an about-face. A few seconds later, he was behind the wheel of his classic blue and white ’58 Chevy taxicab, rolling down the hill toward the main thoroughfare.

Toni flipped the light switch as she entered the antique store. The old coat rack caught the riding jacket as she walked by; the helmet dropping into the umbrella stand. Heading straight for the mahogany wet bar, Toni propping herself up onto a faded red, Naugahyde-covered bar stool, She took off her museum vest, shaking it slightly, hoping to drape it over the next bar stool so it, too, could drip dry.

“Cream or lemon?” asked the hostess.

Not really listening, Toni replied “Both, please.”

“Now deary, you know that the lemon will curdle that cream right up. Why don’t I just give you a slice of lemon. We’ll save the cream for breakfast.”

“Oh… I’m sorry. I’m just a little preoccupied, that’s all.” Toni was looking at her work vest. The name tag was staring her right in the face. It read “Toni Marie.” Nothing unusual about the tag, except now Toni had to ask herself: how did the old lady on the ferry know to call her “Miss Sevilla?”

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